Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Things I have: aching lungs from the altitude, a bloody nose from the dust, an increasing fascination with the clothes and politics and mentality of this country, a great duo of travel buddies, and my Bible which kept me company on the scariest bus ride of my life.
Things I won´t have for a while: ATMs, Wifi, toilet paper, fresh fruit, shaved legs, and stress.
Not too shabby.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Now we're hanging out on the Bolivian border, chewing coca leaves and plotting how to not get denied entry and/or robbed tomorrow morning as we head into Evo Morales territory. Stay tuned.
Whenever I think about being "one with nature," I think about 5th grade camp, when we were forced to hike around in the rain, shower in bathrooms with mud on the floor and then sleep on plastic mattresses in damp cabins. Can you really blame a girl for preferring the indoors after traumatic experiences like "the solo forest walk" during the rainy season at OPI? Well here's a fun newsflash: when you get to be warm, being outside is the business!
Outside of Salta, San Lorenzo is a little hidden gem in the mountains and currently frontrunner for the place I most want to buy property abroad. We gathered up Urux and this Belgian kid on a hike into the forest* and along with our little nature walk came the following bonuses: a baby cow (calf, some might say) running rampant and a zipline across the valley, with a view of Salta in the middle. Zero complaints.
After bussing into Jujuy and suffering from mild heatstroke, I would have done anything to get off the sidewalk and next to a tree. Instead we found tiny little Purmamarca, town of the Siete Colores, a mountain range that actually DOES have seven colors of rock blended into it like a layer cake *whisper* from heaven. The wind whipped through the narrow streets and we had to turn our backs and scrunch our eyes shut against the miniature sandstorms as they stung the backs of our legs and settled between our molars. The Siete Colores hike involved a herd of rams and sheep noisily tumbling down the mountain as we made our way up and a lot of feeling very small and incredulous at the world. I could really get used to this whole "nature" thing if this keeps up.
*Real story: Urux dragged us into the woods. We whined about wearing flipflops in snake territory for the first five minutes, then left the boys in the dust.
PHOTOS TO COME LATER! The internet doesn't work when you're stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wait out another thunder and lightning storm. Look to the sky to catch heavy raindrops in our mouths.
Track down Urux in the bus station and reroute his whole vacation around our plans for him (ie. helping us cross the Bolivian border).
See beautifully and ostentatiously ornate cathedrals...
...including Biblical hieroglyphs made out of cement.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I have now experienced 4 overnight busses in my life, and each one delivered me to the doorstep of something jaw-dropping: 12 hours spent hugging the Croatian coast and fearing for our lives meant that my Mom and I got to spend days in Dubrovnik, one of the most beautiful cities we had ever seen. 10 hours from Tikal, Guatemala to Antigua meant that I got to hike a volcano with two of my best friends that actually looked like Middle Earth. And two days ago, an overnighter from Buenos Aires whisked us out of the smog and bustle of the city and dropped us directly in the middle of a sweltering and gorgeous jungle, in the middle of which crashes the world’s second largest waterfall, evenly splitting the border between Argentina and Brasil. (But of course, it’s never that simple. Due to a late-arriving bus and an overbooked hostel, we stayed with Miguelina, an older lady with a monkey in her front yard and a washboard on the back patio. She insisted on making us salt pastes for our bug bites and scolded us for not leaving more time for the falls. We were only following advice! We didn’t know we’d need 8 whole hours to experience it! Tired, stressed that we had cut ourselves short, we rushed to the national park 4 hours before closing.)
Half of travelling is enjoying the current moment for what it is, despite the fact that it doesn’t look quite like you’d expected it to—you’re more tired or hungover or distracted or hungry than you wanted to be, and the photos of these places don’t take that into account. As the first Spaniard I ever met would say, “PERO VALIÓ LA PENA, NO?!” Yes, it’s worth the exhaustion and time and money and work—it was completely worth it and always will be, because places like Iguazu Falls (or the Grand Canyon, or the Himalayas, or the Sinai Desert) are more than just places; they are states of humble recognition of our own size (very, very small), and our relativity to everything else, and the grandeur of the Creator.
It feels silly, taking photos of something like this. Like shots of a particularly gorgeous sunset (which we were also blessed with on the way home), you have to include a disclaimer when showing shots to people who weren’t there: “It was really more massive than this 3x5 shows. You had to hear the thunder to really understand it. It’s not exactly what this looks like.” But, in minute attempts to capture pieces of existence, photographs stand as small reminders of big things. I won’t even be mad if you don’t think these are that impressive.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Best Restaurant Owner: Gay New Jerseyan Kevin, owner of Empire Thai, because he sat with us for three hours and told us facts about history, called Maradona a “horse’s ass,” and let us sample his fancy schmancy vodka
Best Serious Statue That Looks Ridiculous Now That a Pigeon Landed on Its Head:
Best Waiter: tie between Julio at Café Victoria for his absolute sincerity and the fact that he doesn’t try to creep on girls like all the other waiters there/ the African kid at Pizza Libre, because he smiles like he means it and doesn’t give us attitude when we ask for the bill
Best Effort After a Long Day: the exhausted guy who could barely squeak out an “hermosssaaa” as we passed… man, you can only creep on so many chicks before you just get tired, you know?
Best Billboard: Looking closely is worth your time.
Best Ignoring of Personal Space: the entire populace of this city. This is one cultural adjustment I may never make.
Best Dream World: Alvear Palace Hotel. Additional thanks for letting us walk through all the prom gowns and pretend like we belonged there. And for the fact that we stole some minor items from the bathroom.
Best Musician: Our esteemed neighbor Jose Cullen!
Best Jewish Family Taking an Awkward Family Photo:
Best Douchey Line in a Bar: “Typical Americans,” from Gabriel “Like the Angel” Argentine, when we wouldn’t go dancing with him. Querido Gabriel; time for me to let you in on a little nationalistic newsflash of my own. In America, guys have to think of something more interesting to say than “do you like this band?” before girls will dance with them. Sorry brah.
Best Baked Pumpkin Filled with Pancetta, Corn and Cheese: Bodega Campo, when can I move in?
Best Waste of a Work Day: tie between our apartment doorman and the Argentine postal service
Best Gift from a Stranger: the piece of candy Marlo picked up for an old lady who dropped it on the sidewalk, who was then so touched that Marlo bothered that she gave it to her. Marlo is now keeping it as a good-luck charm
Best Accidental English Mangling: referring to the Catholic church as a cult. Friendly reminder, not all cognates translate directly!
Best Grave at Recoleta: three way tie between Evita/ the one with a real human leg bone just sitting in its busted up coffin/ the sassy statue of a leaning man
Best Reminder That Hipsters are the Same Everywhere: the angsty band we saw at La Cigale; 3 out of 4 had plaid flannel shirts and all had skinny jeans. We were so loudly enamored with their Capitol Hill look that they tracked us down after the show to give us a free CD.
Best Lack of Decision Making on a Hairstyle: this guy. Can’t choose between a mullet, rattail, Mohawk or just a normal buzz? Yeah, just do all four.
Best Deal on Artichokes: 10 for 12 pesos
Best Vitamin C Bomb: the guys who squeeze you 8 oranges on the spot.
Best Unidentified Dance Move While Drinking Wine Out of a Mug: Marlo A. Hartung.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Original plan: Colonia, Uruguay. Until people told us it was expensive and boring compared to the utopian Tigre, the town of 500 rivers that look like tiger stripes. "It's a little Venice!" people said. "It's the best kept secret in Argentina! You have to go! They have water-ambulances and water-schoolbusses and water-pizza delivery!"
So on another hot and sunny morning, we hopped on the train with the unwashed masses and headed an hour north to check out Tigre for ourselves.
At first, we laughed at the droplets. Then got a little quieter when lightning streaked above us. Then completely gave up trying to stay dry as every single business, boat launch, and water taxi closed up shop and we were left outside, wading through puddles as deep as our shins and laughing as hard as we could about our luck.
Eventually a tour bus driver swung his doors open, pulled us onboard, and gave us towels and garbage bags to put over ourselves. Then, in classic Argentine style, took pictures on his camera phone and asked us when we would all have dinner together. (Sir, that all depends on how quickly we recover from the whooping cough that I feel developing in my lungs as we speak.)
I just found out that Ian killed himself the day after we landed, and I can't stop shaking. I think of all the people in my life who mean so much to me and don't want to waste a minute in telling them. It's so cliche to talk about the transience of time and how life is short, but reading the obituaries and seeing familiar faces is just a reminder that I don't want to let a day go by without hugging my mom and telling my world how thankful I am for each person.
If you're reading this, you mean more to me than you know. Don't forget to pass it on... today, not tomorrow.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
However, even in the city of a thousand fashion hits, there is at least one MAJOR miss. Now this unfortunate look can be seen on all ages, body types and confidence levels, which is part of why it’s so upsetting. Here we have a classic example of the Pants That Will Not Be Contained:
(I Wear Wrinkled American Apparel Dresses and Cowboy Boots Every Day and Thus Have No Room to Judge)
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The experience was quite globalized. We listened to the movie in German, read it in Spanish, and I whispered the English translations to Marlo.
Entre Nosotros won a bunch of awards in Germany, but we both hated it. Especially the ending.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Yanks out of Latin America!
Uniforms warp men and make them crazy.
We're here to protect you.
Freedom to choose! Free, legal abortion!
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
I did not know what true love was until I met you. Thank you for opening mine eyes.
Provoleta, remember when we didn’t know each other? When you were just being an appetizer of fried cheese and I was doing my thing and our paths never crossed? I now consider those days the Dark Ages. I want to get my PhD in the art of frying cheese and my final thesis will be a book of sonnets dedicated to you.
Oh papas fritas, I’ve known you for a long time, but your face is more beautiful when you crowd out all the table space that would otherwise be dedicated to green vegetables (I used to be really into green veggies, papas fritas, but I’m leaving them for you. I am). You are large, in charge, and ready to party. I respect that.
San Telmo wineries, the consistency with which you have delivered vino tinto to me time and again has not only earned my trust but also my love. You’re cheap, but not in a trashy way, don’t get me wrong. I can’t imagine a dinner without you and don’t even want to think about what it would be like.
Marlo’s Birthday Dinner, these are all side qualities that don’t mean as much to me as the main event: carne a punto. Oh, super rare steak, where do I even begin? You are the size of my head, you are so rare I want to ride you home instead of in a taxi, and remember when you put on that chimichurri sauce and my taste buds wept openly? That was a little embarrassing but worth it because I think I’m in love with you, bife de lomo. I really do.
And just when I thought our chance had passed, you went and saved the best for last! FLAN WITH DULCE DE LECHE that was like unicorns and sunshine leaping directly into our mouths. Fairly certain I saw angels blow kisses onto every delightful spoonful.
Marlo’s Birthday Dinner, at the end of the day, I’m just a girl, standing in front of a massive feast, asking it to love her as much as she loves it. Run, no, roll away with me! We were meant to be!
Thursday, November 05, 2009
We had spent a ridiculous day in Palermo. We wanted to see the Islamic Cultural Center and just happened to arrive there at the exact same time as two busloads of old ladies. These were not your average old ladies; they were exactly who we want to be in our eighties: well-dressed and obnoxious. They had no idea what was going on, and our tour was punctuated with loud questions like: “What happens if you are walking down the sidewalk when it’s time for prayer?” and “What level of heaven can women get to?” (Dear Elderly: get your world religions straight). They also enjoyed barreling into us to get a better view of the prayer room and interrupting us when we were trying to ask questions ourselves. Ok, ladies, just because you speak better Spanish than we do doesn’t mean we can’t have a turn too! Shoooot.
Exhausted by old women, we headed for the Planetorium to see what kind of space show they have (my dream jobs that will never happen, in order of likelihood: 1) paleontologist 2) next Stephen Hawking) 3) Olympic figure skater). It was our lucky day, because an entire school had gone on a field trip to the exact same showing of History of the Universe! So in one fell swoop we went from battling cranky old bats to battling 8.3 million middle schoolers with ice cream cones (and thereby becoming the cranky old bats ourselves). Of course, as soon as the show started and we spent a few minutes whispering about how much we hate kids, we promptly fell asleep and missed the whole thing. We woke up in time to get a rundown of all the planets, make awkward eye contact with a middle schooler who judged us for snoozing and call it a day.
Ok, so knowing about all the extra work we had done that day dealing with various age groups and coming to terms with our own misanthropic tendencies, could anyone blame a girl for peeking into a fancy bar on the way home and thinking, “Martinis would be a good life decision right now”? I think not! With the helpful encouragement of my friend Marlo, we walked into the fanciest bar in downtown Buenos Aires and ordered two dirty gins with extra olives.
About halfway through our drinks, we took a looksy and noticed that we were the only people in the bar not wearing suits, the only people under 40, and the only women.
“What the hell. Did we just walk into a gentleman’s club?” Marlo hissed at me. Wide-eyed, we took stock and saw no strippers, decided to finish our drinks and take our mismatched travelling outfits out of there. This is about the same point in time when we began to realize that we probably couldn’t afford to pay for our martinis. Whoopsy! Real panic set in as we came to new awareness that this was no dive bar and we tried to remember how to say “WE CAN WASH DISHES! DON’T PUT US IN JAIL!”
At this point I’m sure you’re very nervous for us but fret not, I’m not writing this from the back of a kitchen in the business district. Luckily, conversation was begun with two suits at the bar about relative merits of local fútbol teams, and we somehow ended up on their tab. Thanks, business dudes in a fancy watering hole. Sorry for treading in your territory, we shall not make the same mistake twice!
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
- Last Thursday, I found myself at a tiny restaurant eating pancetta out of a pumpkin and discussing politics and religion with a bilingual socialist revolutionary. I met Diego at Cafe Victoria (this is the view, which I will never cease to be delighted with) and we met up for coffee/dinner not long after. Diego is a fascinating character with the energy of a kindergartner and the drive of Eugene Debs, who went from being "a Christian militant to an atheist" because he couldn't justify the world he saw with the world Christianity presupposes (I'll have to write about that conversation another day). As we chatted in the corner of the tiny restaurant, a pinstriped and graying man walked in with a gorgeous blonde and belted out a perfect note, which was promptly matched from behind the bar by a dusky voiced woman with long hair and a massive grin. The warmup notes then turned into a full-fledged tango show for a restaurant that was empty... besides us. My Malbec swirled in the glass, the music filled in the cracks between the bricks, and I realized again what a lucky girl I am. "Para ella!" the woman called out, gesturing to me, la americana, and the guitarrista struck up a folk song to wrap up. Yep, nights like this are how I can justify quitting my job...
- Marlo and I got cool again when we stayed out till 9 am. No one needs to know that it was an accident, or how excited we got when we left the party to discover a light sky. Our throats scratchy from smoking hookah, our ears ringing from the Colombian band that changed our lives, we got so energized from our all-nighter that we dragged Martin across the city on foot to go see the Floralis. GREAT PLAN, ladies. We were so tired by the time we got there that we had to taxi home. So much for being 19 again.
- I was wandering the side streets in San Telmo for some quality time with my camera when I glanced up and got a wave from a guy standing on his front porch, a wrought-iron jut peeking out of a wall full of flowers. It was such a beautiful building but I was too shy to take his picture, so I just grinned and kept walking. Halfway up the next block, I heard someone calling to me so I turned around to see the same fellow jogging towards me. Picture a young, Argentine version of Cosmo Kramer and we are on the same page with Esteban. He ended up walking me back to my neighborhood (don't worry ya'll, we took main streets to avoid creepstering) and I was pleased to finally meet someone who didn't speak English. For a mile or so, we had the most pleasant, unexpected chat about the relative merits of working vs. travelling ("Pero no tiene ritmo!"--"Without work, there's no rhythm to life!"). I told him how much I loved the architecture in the city right when we hit a block surrounded by bland, terrible apartments, and we laughed at how 1970s architecture was nothing to write home about. "But it's also a sad city," he explained. "All of our beautiful buildings are just imitations of the same ones in Europe; we are always trying to copy other people." How nice it was, to take a walk and have a chat with someone I'd never met before and would never meet again, and not worry about places to be or time to be spent doing other things.
Another week and a half left in this massive city of dirt, and I can't wait to see what little storms await us next.