Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Riding on the top of trash, and paying for it!!

MACHU PICCHU

"Unless hiking the Inca Trail (to Machu Picchu), visitors must come by train to Aguas Calientes. There is no other way." (Lonely Planet South America). Hah!! There is always a back door my friends, always some other way, never listen to the rules, I bite my thumb at them. The train to Machu Picchu may well be nice, I would sure hope so for the now cheapest price of $30 dollars US for one way from the town closest to the town situated below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes. This train lasts about an hour or two, for those of us from New England, it's roughly equivalent to the exorbitantly priced Amtrak line down to NYC.

This obstacle confronted Tatianna and I when we arrived in Ollantaytambo, the last station foreigners can board the PeruRail train (actually owned by a Chilean-American conglomerate, like all of Machu Picchu), and the place to catch the "backpackers" train to Aguas Calientes. Now, for some that may not seem like much, but for two erstwhile kids trying to make a dollar out of a fifteen cents while we wander and wonder at this great continent, $30 bucks one way is a little prohibitive to one of the most famous sites of South America.

Some time ago, while surfing the internet, I stumbled across a note that told of another way, a "backdoor" if you will. A little more adventure, a little more time, but a lot less money, and that's why I travel. Unfortunately I was unable to find that gem again, and could only encounter rare stories of people walking the 30 km along the railway. Honestly, this is tough, but doable for me, however, given our backpack weights and the burden of a sack of potatoes that we must now carry like an albatross or scarlet letter, the price of a few free nights stay, Tatianna and I decided 20 some odd miles might be pushing it. Luckily, along with the potatoes came the gem again. A Peruvian friend told us of another way to reach Aguas Calientes, a bit of walking, but nothing too much. And so when we arrived in Ollantaytambo and saw the prices, we hopped on a bus across the Andes.

Climbing up out of the Sacred Valley we summited a beautiful pass, sequestered in the driver's cabin of a rambling peruvian bus on an endless dirt road. As night fell we dove into the jungle on the Amazonian side of Perú. After some hours we arrived in a one horse junction town where we would stay. We were told there was another little van that took off into the mountains to the next village on our trek at 3 am, a little early. Instead, we slept in, had a nice breakfast, and caught the afternoon one. Climbing higher and higher into this valley to the north of Aguas Calientes, well off the map, I could feel a tinge or two of excitement. End of the line, a half horse town, and depending on who you believed we only had two or more like five hours of walking ahead of us.

It being 2:30 or so in the afternoon, 2 hours seemed fine, so we started. Crossed a river via a little basket on a wire, and got back on our feet. The way was beautiful and fairly desolate, a dirt road winding along a river. Incredible waterfalls and mountains rose to either side. Finally we arrived, or so we thought. Where we were was the Estacion Hidroelectrica, the end of the railway, and another two hours walk from Aguas Calientes. It was 5, but we pushed on. If you've ever hiked with a 30-40 pound pack for a ways, you know it's tiring, if not, believe me, it's tiring. Trying to focus on railroad tracks as the sun disappears and leaves you in an ethereal grayland for another hour or two makes one cross eyed. A hard slog, but we arrived, found our place to stay, and saved $30!

Machu Picchu, a lesson in how to not push your girlfriend over the edge. Machu Picchu is more expensive than the Taj Mahal. In keeping with the rampant overpricing, the short bus ride from the bottom to the top is about $20 one way. Student tickets are "cheap" but as I am sadly an adult now, entrance is roughly $25 US. Under my petulant impetus, we arose "early" and started the 1-2 hour hike up the mountain, passed continually by hordes of comfortable tourists riding Mercedes Benz "ecologico" buses. We arrived for the beautiful early morning sun hitting the ruins, obscured only by a pea soup of clouds that would last at least another two hours. Oh well. Hiked about some, then continued the climb up the mountain that rises over the ruins.

The Incans were some kind of masochists in my opinion, and perhaps I am as well. The thousand or so stairs to the top were all well and good, and the view fantastic. I then wanted to view another temple down the backside, little did I assume it would include another two thousand stairs, two plus hours more, and the end of Tatianna's energy. (She was a little bitter.) We limped back down after a little more exploration, again surpassed by endless hordes of tourists a bit more sensible than I.

After some hot showers, a little hot springs action for myself, we prepared for the next day's return. The railroad tracks were much easier in the day, and we met a friendly Peruviano along the way who was doing a little fishing. He informed us a train would come along and it was only $8 US for the ten km ride or so. We'll keep on walking thank you very much.

Well, the train did come, and as it passed, Tatianna fulfilled one of her lifelong goals of leaping onto a moving train, leaving me standing on the side of the tracks. Not to be outdone, I got to hustling, sprinted alongside, pack filled with potatoes et al, grabbed a bar and swung on.

A friendly Peruviano let me in the locked car, and I sat down as if nothing had happened. The conductor came through, and even though I tried valiantly to ignore him, he informed me I had to move to the "tourist" car, thbbtpt. Then he requested I pay the 8 dollar tarifa. I began a long spiel about how I didn't have the money, I had only recently boarded the train (which he didn't appreciate) and I felt it was unjust to be required to pay the full fare for half the ride. 8 dollars, he repeated, and kindly showed me the tariff list. Yes yes, and I went on with wild gesticulations of disagreement, when suddenly, another conductor threw open the tour and shouted "Hay una turista en el maquina!!!" (There is a female tourist in the engine car!!). I smiled, that's my Tatianna.

They took off to apprehend the "turista," and left another less diligent fellow to mind me. At one point the train slowed to a stop and I tried to make my break but I was told to sit back down. Being a well mannered individual, I complied graciously. A few minutes later, my "guard" decided to relieve himself and visit the little chico's room and I surreptitiously unlocked the door and gingerly stepped off with only a slight stumble. Waved the train goodbye and continued on my merry way, hoping to run into Tatianna.

After some time and questioning of the locals, who all knew of the gringa that jumped the train, I found her well back on the tracks. Apparently the first stop of the train had been the conductor throwing her from the train in a rather ungentlemanly manner, shame on him. Milling about, completely ignored by the train officials we had so recently duped, we waited for the truck that would return us to the town we had started from two days before, this time, no walking thank god.

The truck arrived, and after they loaded it with suspicious blue barrels, we were told to hop on. The driver wanted Tatianna and the other gringa (white female) to ride in the cab with him ( suprise ), but Tatianna being game, we clambered on top and let the other less adventurous couple ride inside. "What's in the barrels?" we asked. "Oh all the trash from Machu Picchu!" Super, and with us as the additional trash on top (they all liked that joke) we lumbered on out.

After only a minor fiasco with the dump truck driver ( trying to overcharge us for riding on his trash, the nerve) we crossed the river via basket on a wire again, and set up camp with a truckload of gringos on some sort of tour that had found our little backdoor. In the morning, hiked down to some incredibly well done thermal pools and then ran back to town for the van that would take us out of there. Junction town revisited, and grabbed a bus for Cuzco. Only slightly delayed by a wall of rocks in the road, but these things are normal when travelling through backdoors. All told, we had a three day adventure for about the same price as the one way train ticket, hoorah as Al Pacino would say.

CUZCO

Due to random connections of Tatianna's, we had a free place to stay in the Sacred Valley, in the town of Urubamba. Lovely joint, wanted us to go horseback riding with them at a measly 40 times the going rate of other places, but oh well. We decided to take a day and go visit some ruins in Cuzco. On the bus ride there, Tatianna slept while I saw all these fascinating ruins from the window. We arrived and realized, those were the ruins we had come to see, drat. So we set about walking around.

Stumbled across a bunch of people in costume getting loaded and dancing. Well, as you can imagine, soon we too were imbibing in the local culture. While I negotiated a reasonable bride price for Tatianna with a lecherous man named Jesus, she danced with a man with a 10 inch tongue and colorful socks. The situation got a little awkward, it tends to and I don't know why, so we took our gracious leave.

Filled to the brim with national pride and the national beer, we were absent mindedly looking for a baño when we stumbled across a crowd and some street performers. Gringos not being so common in that area of town, and my long blonde hair being something of an abnormality, we drew a little attention and were invited into the circle and the performance. This is how I came to dance with a short man in a seventh grade pink prom dress, and subsequently whip him.

We also were duped into hawking wafers for the buskers (street performers) for their day's take. I must say I sold the most by far, I think the people were sympathetic to my plight, for if I did not sell all my snacks, the performers were going to steal Tatianna. We then sat down to enjoy the rest of the show, sort of obligated as the guests of honor in the center of the crowd. All the while, the few bottles of beer and water we had taken were rising to our ears, finally we could take no more, leapt up and dove out of the crowd, not even taking the time to say goodbye.

Ah sweet relief, we ambled through some markets, came across the most delicious thing ever, churros, fried dough stuffed with some sort of sweet lard (don't knock it 'till you've tried it) and grabbed the next bus home. The next day, bid our farewells to the horseback folks, they sang us a sweet song and the son told us about the backdoor to MP. The father then asked a "small" favor of us. Could we please take a small sack of Peruvian potatoes to his daughter in the States? Sure! Oh, five pounds of potatoes, and so, I have five pounds of peruvian potatoes in my bag, my albatross for three free nights stay.

NOW

We are in Ayacucho, birthplace of the "Sendero Luminoso" ( or Shining Path ) a guerrilla terrorist group responsible for 40 to 60000 "disappearances" in the late 80's and early 90's, it's a great little city. To arrive here, we arose at 5 am in our Cuzco hotel with no water ( don't worry, we didn't pay very much ), took a 4 hour bus to Abancay, from there a 6 hour bus on a terrible dirt road to Andahuaylas, and then a ten hour bus on a worse dirt road over night. Yeah!

Ayacucho is great, maybe three other tourists in the whole town, bumping action in the plaza and market place. Had a discussion about meat prices in Croatia with a butcheress (we're from there, didn't you know?), held a set of bull horns, part of the bloody skull still attached up to my head for a photo, watched a man remove a frog from it's body ( this is difficult to explain ), and did a little anonymous people watching while indulging in a local treat, like a milksicle. Soon we head to the coast, a little sunworship and fish eating.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Soy Federale!!

Today we arrived in Cuzco, Perú. Once capital to the Incas and now to fanny pack toting tourists from the world over. Lovely city though, as we arrived at about 6 am, we headed into the central plaza, and what luck, the giant cathedral looming over the gardens had it's doors flung wide open. Odd thing, the churches here charge an entry fee, unless you happen to arrive during the hours of worship, when tourism is strictly prohibited. Tatianna and I put on our best Catholic school girl faces, difficult considering I have a month old beard and a confounding pounding in my head from the night before (more later), and went in to pay our respects and gawk at the awe inspiring carved wood altars and 30 ft portraits of Jesus and his lambs.

Afterwards we sated our hunger with real breakfast!! ( a much bigger deal than you might think sitting comfortably in your American kitchens with all sorts of goodies for the breaking of the fast ). The coffee was more like three espressos in a large cup, and after two, I am writing this email with a little bit of the jitters.

So my confounding pounding. We left Copacabana, Bolivia yesterday on a busload of Israelis for Puno, Perú. Dropped off our bags in the bus terminal and meandered into town. The main drag was just one large market, getting increasingly interesting, climaxing with an endless array of parilladas (bbq's) featuring all sorts of meat, my favorite, whole guinea pig. We had a bite to eat on the family side, then headed over to the pounding disco side for a little revelry. Peruvian beer is not particulary strong, but combine terrific deals with terrific altitudes and latin music, and you have a party. Tatianna made friends with some local boys, who gave us chiclets. Well, I suppose they were more friendly with me, but their intentions were plain, I am one good looking rubio (blonde) but I imagine the latin boys fancied the gringa to my side a shade more.

Anywho, they left, and a great bear of a man that had been trying to get us to join him at his table brought us another round of cuenqueña (peruvian beer), so we were obliged to go an join them. After many, arriba, abajo, afrente, adentro ( to the up, down, out front, and inside ) cheers, we were a littly rosy. Turns out, the whole place was filled with Policia Nacional de Perú. As Tatianna said, muy buen compania, very good drinking company. After a round or two, one of them gave me his badge for a photo op, and then to keep, which is what I have hanging around my chest right now. Hence, I am a Federale!!

A round or two more, and the gun was brought out for authentic Dirty Harry style photography. All the meanwhile, Tatianna and I had been pretending to be from Croatia, so as to avoid awkward conversations and english. Trouble with these sorts of lies, someone has always been there and wants to know things that any decent Croat would know. The guy that gave me his badge had studied in Croatia some years before, drat. Needless to say, we covered up our deceit with aplomb.

As things were getting a little blurry, we made for a bathroom break. Tatianna danced with an old red haired lady in the baño that had been pounding them back at the table next to us for at least twice as long as us, while I made use of the urinario, half of an oil drum behind a stack of plastic buckets next to which were sitting the ladies that charged the entry fee, what privacy, how posh! Almost right up there with the bathroom in the Felix, the bar at the top of the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong ( a must see in the world bathroom tour ). Upon leaving, we were "accosted" by another parillada operator, also a little tipsy it seemed, trying to solicit some business. Luckily... I suppose, the bear of a man, who happened to be some sort of police "jefe" (chief), showed up out of concern for us, and escorted us most graciously back to the table. At this point it became obvious that the "jefe" was interested in being more than just friends with one of us (sadly not me) and our little world got a little uncomfortable. After much debating, we made it clear it was time to go, and beat a hasty retreat. Tatianna singing a stirring rendition of an Irish drinking song in Spanish all the merry way back to the terminal. Then a bus ride, and here we are in Cuzco.

La Paz was a fun city, truly breath taking, as in, it is difficult to breath. It runs down the center of a valley, which climbs steeply from either side of the main drag. We stayed on the quiet side, and traversed each day to the more raucous. I unfortunately left my mp3 charger in southern bolivia, and after much confusing debate over the phone with the hotel in the south that I knew had it, I gave up and decided to try and find a replacement charger. Thus began our foray into the Bolivian electronics world. We found a Bolivian super geek who seemed more than up to the challenge of making a replacement charger. With my player in his hands, and a hefty fee, we went on our merry way. He showed up at the hotel that night ( what service! ) with my replacement and was all smiles and grins. Looked like it worked, it didn't.

Went back the next day and dropped it off again, still no worky later on. In the end, I got nothing, he got some of my money ( something about these latin countries is really making me soft ). We had lunch in a little hole in the wall place with WWF (world wide wrestling) on the big screen, in spanish. The best was the match between "The Legend" and "Icon" For those of you not into wrestling, "Legend" is the almighty Hulk Hogan back in action ( if you don't know the Hulk, well, I'm sorry) and Icon is the reincarnation of Shawn Michaels a great one from the early nineties. The old lady that ran the joint sat down and watched a few suplexes with us, good times.

From La Paz to Copacabana. We sneaked onto a boat out to the Isla del Sol, the birthplace of the Inca, with a Bolivian couple and an Israeli couple. As it was nearing the end of the day, and Lago Titicaca was beginning to put up some waves, the boat driver convinced us it would be much easier to let us out early, and it was only a short walk. We jumped off, and I swear over the boat engine and waves I heard maniacal laughter. So the Bolivian guy had a few broken toes, and thus an entire foot cast. We hiked up the stairs from the dock only to find ourselves fenced inside of some Incan ruins. I made a quick escape over the fence, thank you college days, but the rest were not so foxy. The rest made a prison break under the fence, a few torn pants, but none the worse. We then began the hour plus long slog in the dark, with 2 and half flashlights for six people along a rocky manure strewn trail. With a thunder storm closing in, how exciting.

I learned a few new curse words from the Bolivian chap that evening, and as the couple was most grateful for our patient assistance and carrying of their luggage, they took us all out to dinner. Bolivian dining is even slower than Argentine, so after two hours of waiting, some food finally arrived, and it was gone in as many minutes. The next day Tatianna and I hiked to the north end of the island, slugging all our gear, well, I with a mine and her's, but hey, that's what I'm here for. She had joked about hiring a burro, and I'm free. We camped out on the shore, but as we were with spitting distance of the water, and another thunderstorm was passing close by, the fright of the waves taking us out to join the long lost Incans kept one of us awake most of the evening, which of course meant both of us. The next day, tired and sore, made it back to Copacabana, and then on to Perú, today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Baila con llamas

For some time I have fancied the cow. While roaming about India with my sister ages ago, we discovered the secret language of "moo" and I communed with many holy beasts. Something about their painted horns and that je ne sais quoi in their faces just draws me to them. That and they're darned tasty sliced, diced, and grilled. My apologies my love, but I have found another.

I encountered my first llama in the altiplano of Bolivia. Instantly in my head the song began, "could this be love? could this be love that I'm looking for?" Running around trying to hug a llama is a difficult feat anywhere, 15000 feet makes it a delirious challenge. While a sexy beast, she is sadly rather elusive as well. Those bobby tails just kept slipping from my grasp, their tricycle streamered ears twitching in confounding mockery of my desires, "I just want to love you!" Well, I never hugged one, but I got the second best thing; last night, I ate one, and it was good.

It has been a blessing for me getting out of BsAs. As far as cities go, it really does have a lot going for it, but I am not made for the hustle and bustle of such a place. Cordoba seemed a more manageable place, for the day I was there. There is also a huge difference, for me, in the people outside of BsAs. More relaxed, more open, I suppose the same could be said for most of the world's cities.

It truly did surprise me, the degree of difference between the people of BsAs and those of northern Argentina. One would almost assume either BsAs is another country, or the north isn't Argentina. I suppose coming from the States, where there is a fairly similar distribution of appearance ( some people are going to have issue with that statement ) I am accustomed to driving 40 hours and looking around and seeing "Americans." But it amazes me that the people I considered "Argentines" ( upper class Porteños ) don't exist outside of BsAs. I always noted riding the subway from San Telmo or other southern Barrios to the north the difference in the people, and you rarely saw the northern barrio folks in the south. Apparently, they don't go out of the city either ( another "superior" comment I suppose, but well, whatever, it's easier to be absolute about things and backpedal later ). Point is, I liked the difference, it exposed me to another side of Argentina, flushed out the country's character for me a touch. And they have spicy food in the north, thank god! Sadly, I haven't had a decent steak in weeks.

The one change I am reeling from is being back on the gringo trail full force. I am currently sitting in a line of American, Israeli, Australian, and possibly Scandinavian interneters. For the past four days in the Salar, the only Bolivians I've encountered were tour drivers. It was beautiful, but definitely not the way I am used to travelling. I suppose if I had more time, I could have wandered mindlessly lost for a month on my own, but places to be, things to do.

Other than that, I crossed the bridge into Bolivia with a flood of shuffling workers, each grandmother easily carrying 3 times my baggage at twice my speed. "Vamos gringo!!" was a common mantra for these folks, hmm, I wonder who they were talking to.

Been having some trouble sticking to a budget and avoiding altitude sickness. It's just so darned rewarding to splurge here, and whiskey tastes so good at 15000 ft in a thermal pool. The next day wandering around with your brain swabbed in cotton isn't as pleasant, but how do you make the sacrifice, please tell me? Bloody Lonely Planet advises "abstain from alcohol" well, I never was a fan of Bush's ABC's.

Curious to go to La Paz, see how it differs from BsAs. Bolivia is interesting, the little I have seen of it. The ability to maintain a conversation with people has really enhanced my experience here so far. It is, and is not, what I expected. It's poor I suppose, but not as desperate as I had thought. Perhaps it will be worse in the big city, but as of yet, everyone has been awfully friendly.

Sometimes I think India really jaded me to the world, or at least made me very very suspicious of everyone and everything. Our guide asked if we wanted to stay in one of the salt hotels in the Salar, and I immediately wondered where the scam was. Turns out it was a lovely place, and I nearly licked my way through a wall, mmm, llama and salt. Today I drove our group across the Salar, felt very useful and it was a pleasure to drive after five months of abstinence. In the meantime, taught our guide some Bob Marley songs, thus propagating the truth that he really is everywhere.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Farewell mi amor, I never ate anything so tasty

I have left Buenos Aires. In four months I did many things. I picked up a smattering of Spanish, a bit of a panza, some good friends, some people I will need to avoid should I return, and a healthy respect for city life. I never went here, nor here, and really to any number of touristic places in the city of BsAs. However, I did manage to go to a healthy number of places listed here, and that's really what I think this city is all about.

Now that I'm out of there, I can say some things liberally. Porteños are some kind of people. First, all people that live in BsAs are technically porteños, but for me, there are the people that live in the city, and then there are porteños. They typically live in the northern barrios, will often ask you what barrio you live in, a sort of meter of judgement, think Mar Del Plata is the greatest place on earth, well, Miami, and then Punta Del Este, but unfortunately times are tough, and Argentina is a third world country.

Now, I'm a bit cynical towards this as for me, this is third world, and not so much this. But I taught many accountants, and I know all the economic statistics point to Argentina's third world status. It's just a tough thing to accept. That aside, porteños are a nice bunch, rather arrogant though. The difference between Argentina and Buenos Aires really becomes apparent the moment you leave the city. I really spent the majority of my time only in Buenos Aires, and now with my remaining days in this country, am seeing just how nice it can be. This is all heavily biased with the fact that I don't like cities, BA was an experiment for me, and I doubt I'll live in a large city again, but who knows.

Negative things out of the way, I really am sad to leave. It took a while, but I finally started to make a life there. Frustrations abound from living in another language. I never felt like any of my strictly spanish-speaking friends knew who I was, and could never be certain that my understanding of them was complete or sufficient. With charm and wit, you can always make friends, keeping them after the third or fourth conversation is the challenge. The folks I knew had a mountain of patience with me, and lord knows why, but often took me out and showed me around even when I rarely said a word.

I was fortunate to see many sides to that massive place, high falooting snobsters, and dumpster divers. In the upper middle class world of my english classes, I saw a very different reality of Argentina than that which existed just blocks away. Their concerns, their interests, all so disparate from that which took place on the very streets they walk. As I thought about this, it is not so great of a difference from that of the States, or even European countries. It just so happens we have better programs at moving problems out of sight, out of mind.

I was having a conversation in Spanish with a French expat once, and he pointed out perhaps one of the best things, at least for me, about Argentina. He had lived in Perú for a year, and while it was beautiful, incredible, all those apellations, it faulted a few things. The first being of course he couldn't make enough to scratch by there, the second, after a certain time, there was always a gap between him and Peruvian friends he made, generally economic. Whereas Argentine's, perhaps because of their pride, are much easier to be friends with.

Yes there still remains an economic disparity, and in cases a grand one, but they'll never hit you up for a dollar. Well, the folks on the street surely will, even though they have a sandwich and are well dressed, they'll happily casually put their hand out. But your average Argentine, or at least Porteño, doesn't view extrañjeros as that much different. Which is a blessing if you've been through some Asian countries. I could walk around anonymous, occasionally even asked for directions, which I could give! Cultural differences are interesting to look at, but in comparison, I would at times be too exhausted to leave my room in India, but here, it's a shame to stay inside, you might make a new friend out there.

Just don't say you're from the States. Two more times, these girls were from Paraguay, one even said I had "la boca linda," thanks to my dentista! Regardless, we get to the "donde sos" part, and they take off! It's obvious I'm not Argentine, 6'3" on a good day, blonde hair down to my shoulders, blue eyes and white enough to blind yours, but damn, I need to avoid the "donde sos" question. Oh well, maybe I'll be from Icelandia from now on.

I'll miss you Buenos Aires, and I'll probably be back. All your crazy Argentine idiosyncrasies, just keep the meat cheap, the sacacorcho nearby, and a pair of bigass fancy shades to cover the late night's festivities.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Que cheto!

I went to an event the other night, Vinos y Rouge, a promotional thing to bring women and wine together, like makeup and clothes(seriously, that was the moniker). Because for too wine has been the territory of the man, and now it is time for the woman to come into her own. There is a word here, cheto, very sheik, top, maybe snobby, and that's what it was. Models, free drinks and food, fashion, black ties and gowns, and funky fashion wear, lots of nice cars, free drinks and food, all held at the local Hippodromo, or horse track. Needless to say, my friend and I were the only ones to show up on foot, and we strolled right past the waiting security checking VIP invites. Sometimes it is a blessing to be a foreigner, especially a white english speaking one.

However, I can't say I fit in perfectly, my attire was slightly less than posh that evening, my friend at least had a button down shirt. Regardless, I mingled easily. Chatted up these old ladies, both widowers, that now breed horses (hey ho sugar mama!!). I imagine their plastic surgeon has enough money now to breed horses as well, however he should be fired for they were not great works of art. I kept worrying that one of the lady's eyes was going to fall down. We were given a lot discourse on the advantages of joining the local elite wine and cubano's club, once a year they go to Havana for cigars and drinks. Had to break Roberto's heart and say we wouldn't be joining today, but would be happy to take his business card.
I was there about three hours, and with at least two dozen booths serving wine, champagne, and beer, I rolled out when they closed the place down. I don't believe I caused too much of a scene, but in these situations, it's rather difficult to be sure.

The night before, I went to an art gallery, the artist being the father of a friend of my cousin's. I strolled over with the same friend to the barrio known as Belgrano, a rather fancy part of town. Allow me to paint a picture, I was in flip flops, jeans, my Rolling Stones t-shirt, "Pierde tus sueños, quizás pierdas la razón" with a button down shirt Helen P. made with birds on the back (they look like splotches of white paint at first glance). The man at the door asked my name for the list (there's a list?), and I bumbled about saying how I was friends with the artist's family and we were all very important people, yadda yadda, I'm white, I speak miserable spanish, adelante, go forward! Of course the place was filled with more high-art types, all moderately older in suits or nice dresses, clean shaven generally, and I'd say a fair smattering of plastic surgery in the mix. We stuck out, however, the great equalizer in these sorts of functions, booze and snacks, made me feel right at home. That is until I put my foot in my mouth when I told my cousin's friend that I liked the paintings of her father in the other room more than the one's we were standing near. Those were not her father's paintings.

I went to the Cataratas de Iguazú for the weekend. Sometimes I don't make very wise decisions. Taking a 15 hour bus ride for a weekend trip could fall under that category. However, the buses here are incredibly comfortable, it's more like a moving living room. Your seat is something like a lazyboy, and they show delightfully awful movies for the majority of the journey. The one whiskey per seat rule really needs to be banned ( but as with everything, I find if you ask real nice, you can find a little leeway ). I also did not appreciate being woken up at 6 for breakfast when there were 6 hours still remaining of the journey. Crazy Argentines.

For those of you that have done a little youthful travel, you may be versed on the subject of hostels. If not, allow me to shed some light on the subject, in my completely unbiased, objective manner. I hate hostels. They're generally dingy, it's reminiscent of some kind of bad summer camp, filled with kids that just want to move their party to some other locale without actually feeling like they are someplace else. (Political correctness is about to be defenestrated), in addition they are almost always filled with a certain type of foreign youth. Now I like just about everybody ( sometimes ). However, groups of single nationalities are just bad.

The British and their Commonwealth associates (australians, kiwis, south africans, to a lesser extent canadians) drink a great deal, make a lot of noise, lose all their dignified composure, and get upset when little old ladies in foreign countries don't understand English. All these kids go to hostels and do their there. The Israelis do a lot of drugs, rarely have composure, and get upset with little old ladies that try and make a living selling things by turning a profit. They also fill hostels. In my "vacations", I think I've stayed roughly 4 or 5 nights in a hostel, one was okay, but that was a beach in Uruguay, there were only a few Uruguayans there, and an Italian. You may get the impression that I paint Americans in a favorable light, no worries, I dislike them as well, but we only go on package tours and get shuttled from our hotel to a designated safe for tourism zone, we're pretty German in that sense. Just to put aside any thoughts that I have general animosity towards these groups, the majority of friend's I've made on the road are Israeli or Commonwealther. It's just that there are different types of people, and the hostel ones, Dave no likey.

So, I was close to being forced to stay in a hostel in Puerto Iguazú. Luckily, a fat shirtless man watering his flowers and I started chatting. We agreed on the loathesome nature of hostels, and he told me his sister rents private rooms on the same "manzana" (literally apple, but in this context, block). Same price as a bunkbed, my own room and bath. Super!! (Sidenote, if you've been travelling for a while, finding a nice place to stay is really a highlight of your day).

Took a nap, then went wandering about the town. Made friends with the artesaniales in the plaza. These people are everywhere in Argentina. Latinos that have given up their roots, and roam about selling handmade knicknacks. They are generally very friendly, occasionally violent, and at the least interesting. They share everything, but the devil with that is they want you to share as well, and I lost half my sandwich to two of them and didn't have money to buy another. Got schooled by old man in chess, but at least I loss with grace and took the majority of his kingdom down with me.

The next day went to the Parque, did some touristy stuff. The Falls really are incredible, and the engineering in placing catwalks right up to their edge, 100s of yards out in the river, is pretty neat. However, the throngs of Brazilians and Argentine package tourists (see I don't discriminate, latinos can be just as bad), made me feel a little claustrophobic. So I wandered off down a jungle trail to a more secluded waterfall, swam a little bit, hung out with a cook from the Sheraton Internacional, she snuck me out some food from the hotel and my hunger was sated once more.

The next day headed down to the Tres Fronteras, the border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, situated on the confluence of the rios Paraná and Iguazú. Odd thing about this place is, they have poles for the flags of Paraguay and Brazil, but no flags. Same goes for the other two, which you can see across the water. One might be moved to imagine issues between the friendly countries, or I've spent too much time near disputed border zones and am always looking for something more scintillating than watching a ferry chug along.

Returned to BsAs via yet another 15 hour journey, this one with military checks! Since I've recently quit work, I have a whole lot more time to do whatever the devil I want. One of the things I've wanted to do is a choripan comparison test. There is a beautiful park near where I live, La Reserva Ecológica. I often go run and wander about. In front of this park there is a long avenue. Typically, this sort of location would be developed with shishi cafes and the like, but this is Argentina! Instead there are roughly two dozen mobile parilla huts, all selling the same goods. The most popular, the choripan. Choripan is mix of two words, chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread). I have always wanted to eat as many different choripans as possible, simply for the sake of bettering my knowledge of this city. Tuesday, I did this. After my second, I felt a sharp pain down my right arm, I wrote this off since generally the symptom of a heart attack is down your left side. However, after my fourth, I was done. Looking back, after two days of subsequent digestive issues, I am rather disappointed in my performance. Perhaps I should have followed
Takeru Kobayashi's championship strategy of soaking my buns in water first, but would that really have been the same thing?

Yup, my life here is pretty tough.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mas cojer el burro, por insistidor, no por bonito

A great thing about learning languages are the idiomatic expressions. I especially like this one, as it is true, and says a great deal about Latin culture on the whole. I won't translate it because you never know when your mother will stumble across your blog.

In other news, I ventured out to Parque Rivadavia last Sunday. Linea A is now perhaps my favorite subte line here. It's traversed by classic cars, old style lighting, wooden seats and doors, and at any moment they may just lose that final screw and go flying into the other side. The park is great, it's filled with book and magazine sellers, and most importantly cheap music. The majority runs at 5 mangoes a pop, but you can buy 5 for 20, a solid deal. Depending on the stall, you can buy double disc albums as one, so then you're really getting a bargain. There is an issue with music shopping though, it's like a box of chocolates... Except that chocolate is generally delicious and music can be downright cacophonic.

I'd say I had just under 50% success. Trouble with asking the opinion of a salesman is they want to sell you things. Esta bueno? Si si, como no. Everything in their opinion is platinum, if it means you'll buy it. I purchased some Argentine music on the assumption that I should accustom myself to all aspects of the culture here. Truth is, I am not a fanatico for Rock Nacional. Nor for Charly Garcia, "Be damned!" you might say to me, but everyone has an opinion. It's all rather grating, and has little of the class or soul that I tend to like in my music, or the beat and booty shake I enjoy in my hiphop or electronica. The lyrics are often potent and at times incendiary, but the overall package lives up to my expectations of Industria Argentina. Should you have some solid recommendations, I'd gladly take them. Additionally, beware when buying rebarato cd's, they are often rebarato for a reason, damned "you get what you pay for" law. Comes nowhere close to buying music in Asia, where you can listen to every cd in the store 5 times just for fun, but I like throwing darts from time to time.

My cousin, the asador, had a little fiesta at his house Saturday. I stuffed myself and took a little too much of the good stuff as usual. There are those that claim to have a skinny person dying to get out of their fat body. I have a fat person bound in chains inside this flaco, and he stays quiet as long as I give him 5 to 10 kilos of meat a week. Either that or all those jokes I make about tapeworms aren't so funny, Asia! His wife asked me to bring some plastic plates and "silverware" for the party. As it turns out, this is no small task. Me thinks the Chinese don't particularly believe in these items. After 5 stores, I found one clerk (the first put up her hands and ran away when I said something in spanish, I am going to have to ask for a refund from my teacher ) who cheerily showed me a rack of things hidden on the side of the cold drinks fridge. Not quite sufficient, but I bought what they had anyway so as to not turn up empty handed.

I seem to be getting a reputation in this town for eating too much and falling asleep immediately afterwards. The majority of my friends have come to expect my absence if I tell them I'm going out to eat. Generally I wake up a few hours later with a mountain of meat in my stomach fighting an Iraqi style battle with digestion. It seems my brain is Mr. Bush, and just like him, doesn't think at all. To say my eyes are too big is something of an understatement.

I went out last night and had a very entertaining conversation with one of the many hombres that sell futuristic crap out of their bags. The basic gist of which made me question yet again why I came to Argentina and not to Brasil. Hystericas, todas hystericas!! I said, "but I don't speak Portuguese.." "It's for the better, you get the sympathy booty" (note, all translated, and nicely). Well, I'm in the ballroom, tengo que bailar.

Monday, March 20, 2006

La peor pelicula de todos!!

I went down to Mar Del Plata the other weekend for a little break from the bustle of the big city. I didn't realize I was going for a film festival, but these things happen when you've only spoken a language for a month or two and you spend all your time in the company of non-english speakers. But I was game, having not seen too many films since coming down here, and well, it was an International Film festival.

We arrived (by auto, que bueno) Friday night to my roommate's house ( well the house of his mother ), and ate well. Went over to his cousin's place, and ate some more. The eating seems to be a rather common theme in my life here, have to have something to look forward to. Saturday morning we were awoken bright and early via intercom to eat some more, fantastic medialunes. Better than any I've yet to have in this city, and that's no small amount.

We headed out to purchase our barrage of film entradas ( this is when I found out I would be spending 8 hours a day in movie theatres ). Everything was done by name since no one had any insight as to the content of any given film. My favorite was "Bang Bang Orangutang." Had a little tour of Mar Del, kind of like a shabby version of Atlantic City. I have become accustomed to being underwhelmed by places that Argentines tell me are incredible, Mar Del being one, Villa de Angostura another. Don't get me wrong, the locations are great, but the development, well, another thing entirely. I think they are all trying to convince themselves how great it is to be Argentine since they can't leave after the devaluation (personal theory). That said, I do like Argentina.

So, first movie was "Frontieras," a sad story about a few Africans from different backgrounds all trying to make it to Spain and a better world. As can be expected, it ended on a downnote. "Bang Bang Orangutang," a swedish/danish film, started with all the glitz and oddness one might expect from those spunky Scandinavians. Lots of loud rock, crazy colors, funny accents, and then, in the first five minutes, the main character ran over his 5 year old son, Oscar. It became progressively weirder from then on, but was all in all a solid film. "Le Fleuve," another return to Africa type film was just boring, although brief nudity goes a long way to restoring the merit to any film.

However, excessive nudity can do much to damage one's psyche, as we would find out in the next film, "Batalla en el Cielo." The opening credits were accompanied by loud Mexican nationalist music, which then cut to silence and a somewhat obese unattractive mexican man's face. As the camera pans down, turns out he's naked in a cold grey room. The further down we go, he's receiving fellatio from a young girl, graphic, graphic, graphic. While I don't want to go into details as I had many pesadillas (nightmares) of this film, it got worse. The gordo had a gorda for a wife, roughly 1 metre wide, and they too made graphic graphic love. I'd say 25% left the film, I took a nap.

The next day I made my first asado! Well, with a little help from my roommate, but I made the fire, watched the meat, all those necessary manly tasks. This is a truly segregated country, the girls we were with had no idea what to do with the parilla. They offered to help, but only in the kitchen or in the bringing of the mate to me. Which was acceptable.

After wallowing in my digestive juices, we hit up another movie marathon. Solo Dios Sabe, a very sad beautiful Brazilian story, some campy Spanish flick. Princip y Fin, a documentary on the eldery of rural Brazil, this was a little difficult for me, all in Portuguese with Spanish subtitles, and a whole lot of dialogue. I managed, but left a little tired. Finally, C.R.A.Z.Y., a touching story of a young French Canadian boy and his route out of the closet in his traditional family, replete with an old bedouin man in the deserts of Israel. Easily the best of all, good soundtrack, strong character development, well laid storyline.

Hopped a night bus back to BsAs, just in time to take a shower and head off to my first english class of the morning.

I cannot understand why so many Argentines willingly go into the english teaching profession. Perhaps if you are more professional it is more rewarding, that would explain why my enjoyment level is so low.