Yet ANOTHER rainy day…

Day 63.

Viernes (Fri). Nov 13, 2009.

Today has been an interesting day so far. I slept in this morning, waking up around 10am. It has been my first day without school on a weekday since the school was not able to fit me in with a private lesson due to a shortage of teachers. Either way it worked out well for me since they gave me extra hours next week to make up for it.

So my flatmate and I grabbed some lunch down the street at an amazing little local resturaunt.  For the most part it was only older gentlemen in the place, enjoying lunch and coffee with one another. Almost like something you would see in a movie. A truly local place. After lunch we headed out to take pictures in one of the main parts of the city. Since we knew there was a storm coming in, we decided to take the subway in order to speed things up… or so we thought. To start with we went the wrong direction on the subway so we had to retrace our steps with the train. Then we got on to the right train, made a connection with another one… and then missed our stop. After retracing all of our errors, we turned a 25 minute ride into a 1 hour ride. As we were emerging from the underground our first vision was of a dark, grey sky. I think we were able to take about 7 minutes of photos before it started to rain! We got very frustrated and grabbed some ice cream to make up for it. We wanted to feel like our 1 hour trip spent underground was for a reason… so we decided it would be for ice cream. 🙂

So now, I am sitting here in my room, drenched, listening to the rain engulf my room from every side while enjoying the light sound of thunder from time to time. This morning was frustrating but now I am content with an afternoon all to myself to work on my favorite escape, my photography.

Mendoza & Andes Mountains

Day 56-58.

Viernes – Lunes (Fri – Mon). Nov 6-8, 2009.

I just returned from an amazing weekend in the Andes Mountains! It was so nice, once again, to get away from the busy city of Buenos Aires and enjoy the fresh air of the mountains.  On Friday we enjoyed a day of bike riding through the wineries outside the city. We began our self-guided bike tour with a lunch at the Familia Di Tommaso Winery (shown in the first photo with the wine glass in front of the vineyard). It was relaxing which worked out well since we had 10km or so to ride throughout the afternoon. From there we headed over to the Leau Olive Oil Field to see how olive oil is made and have a taste. We finished the afternoon with a ride up to one more winery and finally to the chocolate & liquors factory called Historias & Sabores. The liquors were stout and sweet but were a perfect ending to our bike riding. I can now truly say I have ridden a bike through the vineyards of the Andes Mountains and enjoyed a taste of the wine while riding. Well not while actually on the bike…I don’t believe in drinking and driving…but you get the point 🙂

Saturday consisted of horseback riding along the Andes Mountains.  We took a 2-hour ride west of Mendoza to an estancia (ranch) in the mountains.  Unfortunately, I was given a horse that was very sick and so I ended up at the end of the pack the ENTIRE time. However, I saw this as a plus side and used it to my advantage. With the slow, but beautiful horse, I was able to get some wonderful photographs while riding. After riding for about an hour the tour guide let us actually RUN with our horses. I personally have never fully sprinted on a horse before so it was a new experience. However, with my horse being sick I did not think he would run at all. While all the other horses were sprinting he would just canter very slowly as if he thought he was running, haha. Then, all of a sudden, he took off in a full-on sprint! I wasn’t even ready for it. I nearly fell off the horse and had to hold on to his mane and in front of the saddle to balance myself in order to keep myself aboard. Thankfully he only last about 20 seconds, then he went back to only a fast canter. To say the least…it was exhilarating! After that adventure we moved back over to the estancia and were given the chance to round up the wild horses by the estancia (2nd photo below). After riding around for the afternoon we ended back up at the estancia where they had an asado (cookout) ready for us. It was unlimited meats, salad, vegetables, and wine. Then they finished up with a delicious piece of flan and dulce de leche on top. It was an amazing afternoon. We took our 2-hour ride back in to the city and enjoyed a nap at the hostel before heading out for dinner. After 2 nights in a row of eating meat we decided to go to the best Italian restaurant in the town. When we walked in we felt very under-dressed and knew it was going to be expensive. Either way we ordered our food and enjoyed amazing service from the waiters. In the end we each paid around $8 USD for our meal and wine. Not too bad, huh?

After a long 2 days of riding on bikes and horseback we unanimously made the decision to have a relaxing day. We took a taxi out to the largest park in the city (4th photo below). In fact, the park is massive in itself. There is a lake along the side of it where we ate lunch with a view of the lake. Two of us ordered hamburgers and it turns out in the restaurant if you order a hamburger it comes with only meat and cheese….no bread! I am sorry but isn’t the definition of a hamburger: meat with a piece of bread on each side?! After our (half) lunch we wandered into the park where we picked up some ice cream from an ice cream truck in the park. Thankfully though, they were not playing annoying music the entire time. The ice cream was absolutely amazing and hit the spot. We sat out at the park enjoying our ice cream while we watched all of the locals play futbol (soccer) with family and friends.

The weekend was quite eventful and relaxing at the same time. It is always nice to have a break away from the big city for a weekend!

Iguazu Falls

Day 43-45.

Viernes – Lunes (Fri – Mon). Oct 24-26, 2009.

Talk about an amazing experience….

This past weekend a few of my friends and I embarked on a journey to see the largest set of waterfalls in the world! The Iguazu Falls are located right along the border of Argentina & Brazil, only miles away from Paraguay. The journey from Bs. As. takes about 18 hours by bus which is nothing. After a few 20+ hour bus rides you tend to get use to it.

To start! We left Friday afternoon on a bus departing at 14:15. I had to wait at the front of the bus station for a friend since I had his bus ticket and because he didn´t really know where to go when he got there and the station is big and can be a bit confusing. He was coming by taxi and got stuck in traffic on his way to the station. I stood out front until 14:13 and then gave up on him because I did not want to miss the bus. I took off running for the bus knowing that I had only minutes left. While running with all my bags on my back I look to my left and there is my friend, running in pace with me with a big cheesy smile, waving at me! Once we both saw each other we started sprinting as fast as we could. We felt like we were in a movie, cutting through people, hitting them, and continue to run. It was like a typical movie with someone about to miss their plane. Without fail, we were located in the last section of the bus station. I think we ran about 2 miles in the end, or at least that is what it felt like! When we got one of the girls that we were traveling with was there flirting with the bus driver trying to stall them for us. She told the bus driver that her girlfriends were coming and that they were very pretty. Once we arrived she told the driver, see…”muy linda” (see, very pretty”). But hey at least she got to practice her Spanish! 🙂 Thanks Sara!

We arrived on Saturday morning at about 7am only to realize we had left a beautiful and warm sunny Bs. As. to enjoy an amazing day of rain in Iguazu. It literally rained all day and we started to think that the largest set of waterfalls were actually coming off the roof of our hostel! On a good note, we happened to stay in the best hostel I have ever been in (and I have been in a lot of hostels!). The hostel was huge and had 2 billiards tables, table tennis, fuseball, a movie room, many computers, and couches all around. However, the computers did not last long as the electricity went out for most of the day. Sadly enough, we saw people typing long messages on the computers to friends back home when all of a sudden… bam, no power. You definitely got to hear some reactions from a few upset people. We were able to get for about an hour and grab some lunch in the city. We went to a little pizza place that served the best pizza that I have ever had! Later that night we took part in a candlelit barbeque (since the power was still out) in the hostel which was amazing. For $7.50USD we had a bottomless BBQ with some amazing meats. Then, the power came back on toward the end of dinner and they put on a truly fun and interactive Brazilian show for the hostel. I was chosen in the first group of audience participation. I had to go up in front of the entire place and dance for the Brazilian girl, competing against 8 other guys. In the end I guess I was not half bad… Since I was the winner…she choose me! I guess that was better than my dancing in Cancun when I was pulled up on a stage and I lost to my friends´dad. After my performance I was able to get my friend, Nicolas, chosen to performing for the final group. He had EASY competition as he had to dance against 2 guys that did know what the definition of ´having rythm´was. They were terrible. inevitably he was chosen and he lucked out. They added another girl to the show (which was VERY attractive) when he was dancing. He got to dance with both girls in front of the hostel, however, they did pull a trick on him. One girl sat down on a chair as the other girl stood in front of him (while his faced away from the girl on the chair) and the girl standing with him, danced with him and moved him backwards towards the chair. She moved him back until he was able to ´sit´on the girl and give her a lap dance without looking at the girl on the chair. Then the girls switched positions and he did the same thing again. However, this time while he was moving back to give the ´hot´ girl a lap dance a guy switched with the ´hot´ girl and he ended up giving the guy a lap dance for about 3 seconds until he noticed it was a guy. It was quite a fun day in the end! Especially for being trapped in a hostel all day long.

On Sunday we all went out to the Argentinian side of the waterfalls. We started by going to the top of the Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil) which is the largest waterfalls there. It is absolutely surreal as you stand about the waterfall. The water looks fake as it is hard to conceive such a tremendous natural marvel. After enjoying the view for a while we took a boat that drove down the river (on the lower part of the fall) and we were given a front row view of the waterfalls from the boat. Then after snapping our photos they drove the boat into the waterfalls, twice. The water that day was extremely powerful from raining so much the day before. We departed the boat, drenched of course, and toured the rest of the falls on foot. We ended up walking across the top of all the falls and took photos of every angle. It was truly unbelivable…especially for a photographer!

On the last day Tess (from Arizona) and myself could not go with our friends to see the waterfalls from the Brazilian side. It turns out, in order for anyone from the States to enter Brazil they must pay for a $150USD visa. Both of us felt that it was not worth only to go for 3 hours. The waterfalls are divided between Brazil & Argentina but it turns out that the falls are about 80% in Argentina & 20% in Brazil. With this being the case, from the Argentinian side is it more about the feel of being apart of the falls and from the Brazilian side it is more about the visual part of seeing all the falls. Either way we just stayed at the hostel while they enjoyed the falls from the Brazilian side.

Our bus ride home was nice except for the fact that they checked our passports 4 times on the way back. The weird part is that we never left Argentina while on the bus but yet the immigration patrol boarded our bus multiple times to check us! The nice part was we got to see Seven Pounds which turned out to be a great movie.

The weekend turned out to be a great success and I recommend everyone to check it out if they come out this way!

OUtx & La Boca

Day 36-37.

Viernes – Domigo (Fri – Sun). Oct 17-18, 2009.

This past weekend I gathered my international friends together and took them out to the American Expat Bar here called “El Alamo“. I decided to introduce my friends to College Football in the States. It was the perfect game to show them… OU vs TX. We showed up at the bar to realize we were the only ones there to start with. However, about 10 minutes before the game we were outnumbered. Roughly 30-40 Texas Longhorn fans showed up dressed in their ugly burnt orange shirts. We, being about 5 people, decided to give them the large side of the bar and we sat on the opposite side. The game was a lot of fun and we drank a bunch of Quilmes (the local beer here in Buenos Aires).  I have come up with a different name for it though… I call it “Kill Me” (since it is pronounced”Kill-Me” in Spanish) because it gives you the worst hangovers, ever! Either way, we drank and watched a very low scoring college football game and yet we almost beat Texas with our backup QB. Personally I thought that for Texas being the #3 team in the nation they played a terrible game against a weak OU team. Just wait for next year Texas! I will always cheer “Boomer Sooner” no matter what country I am in and how badly outnumbered I am!!

On Sunday, I ventured out to yet another “barrio” (neighboorhood) here in Bs. As.  I went to one of the most famous barrios… La Boca.  From around the world most people think of this barrio when then think of Buenos Aires because it is the one with the brightly painted walls all along the streets.  As you walk down the streets the walls jump out at you and you become engulfed with every primary color known to man. While being distracted by the walls, you find tango dancers dancing all over the streets and performing for restauraunts on the streets of the barrio.  We sat down and enjoyed a wonderful lunch with a table in the front row of a tango stage. For about an hour we watched an amazing tango dance between some of the best dancers we have seen throughout the city (photo below). Afterwards, we walked around and took in the little barrio realizing that it is extremly tiny. Just before leaving we wandered through one of the museums to learn about the city through some of the earliest painters. From the top of the museum we enjoyed the view of the most polluted river in all of South America. Sounds pretty, right?? However, from the other side you can see the famous La Boca Futbol (Soccer) Stadium that is painted with yet another set of bright colors. It is painted just like a huge IKEA… bright blue & yellow. It turns out that the stadium was actually painted that color because it is suppose to respresent something about the Swedish coming here and those are the colors of the Swedish flag. I will have to research a bit more of what exactly it has to do with the Swedish, haha.


Day 27-32.

Jueves – Martes (Thu – Tue). Oct 8-13, 2009.

So we had a 3 day weekend this past weekend due to Columbus Day on Monday. I really wanted to go somewhere and take advantage of our extra day off from school, so I did. I was randomly talking to one of my friends, Nickey, from school and she was saying that she was going to take a bus ride down to Bariloche, Argentina for the weekend. I had been told by many people to visit this city so I jumped on board and went with her! She did forewarn me that it was a 22 hour bus ride, but I thought she meant in total duration…however, it turned out that it was a 22 hour bus ride EACH WAY!

The city is located in the Lake District of Argentina and is in the southern part of the Andes Mountains. Overall, the town looks as if it should be in Switzerland. The snow-capped mountains in the backdrop of the city and the beautiful lakes make it a perfect replica of Switzerland. It actually turns out that the city was basically built for tourism.  Many people found out about it in Switzerland which created a huge movement of Swiss citizens into the area. In fact, there is a town called Colonia Suiza (Swiss Colony) next to Bariloche.  One specialty that they brought over from Switzerland was chocolate. As you walk down the streets of the main square you will see chocoalte shops one after another. The entire city is primarily made up of steak restaurants, clothing stores, and chocolate shops.

We arrived in Bariloche on Friday afternoon. After settling in at our hostel we went out to Cerro Otto which is one of the view points from on top of a nearby mountain.  The view from the top was absolutely beautiful but the wind made it miserable. We had left a warm and rainy Buenos Aires only to enjoy the extremly cold and windy city of Bariloche. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel and took advantage of the amazing jacuzzi they had. The jacuzzi is located on the 2nd floor and has large windows on two sides giving viewers a spectacular backdrop of the snow-capped mountains. We enjoyed being able to finally relax after our 22 hour bus ride to the city. That night we enjoyed our first meal in the city. Argentina is known for their steak and Bariloche kept that reputation up. We shared a bottle of Malbec and had a huge portion of their local steak. After our meal we headed over to the night club, Dusk, and had a beer. While there we watched an interesting fashion show which we did not really enjoy. We also noticed that everyone in the place, especially the girls, were so young since many of the Argentinean schools take a school trip to the city when they graduate.

The second day we took a tour by car of the nearby mountains. Half of the tour was in a car until we got to the the national forest. Then we followed our tour guide on foot through a trail in the forest. The weather was not the best that day but the walk through the forest was very peaceful and relaxing. We were also able to see a random forest within a forest. They have trees called Arrayans that are only located in this one area and the trees are unusual because they have soft bark. They are of bright orange color which makes them stand out from the rest of the forest. During the tour our guide asked us if we wanted to go to a ‘breadery’ to get something to eat. We assumed that she was saying ‘bakery’ with her thick accent but when we pulled up to the ‘breadery’ it actually turned out to be a ‘brewery’ haha. So we ended up drinking some beer from around the world which was a perfect substitute for food! After dinner that evening we decided to try out the local Irish Pub in the city. This Irish Pub was a bit different then I was expecting though. The atmosphere was very Irish and they had Guinness, Kilkenny, and many other Irish beers on the menu. However, it turned out that they did not serve ANY Irish beers. They only served the local Quilmes beer and other hard liqour drinks which really confused me seeing that we were in an IRISH Pub!

For our last day we decided to enjoy the outdoors in a different way. We booked a two hour horseback riding session into the mountains. It had been a long time since I had ridden on horseback but it was so worth it. We rode up the mountain with about 8 other people and enjoyed many views as we climbed to the top. From the top you could see the main lake and mountain valley of the Andes. After our ride we walked around the city to get some last photos but we did not last long. The wind and cold wore us down so we headed into a chocolate shop and enjoyed a warm Submarino (hot chocolate).

Overall, the two 22 hour bus rides was very worth it. It was such a nice escape from the busy city of Buenos Aires and it was nice to enjoy a little bit of cold weather. I was able to get a little taste of my winter weather that I would normally have in the States this time of year…but I won’t see that kind of cold weather for quite some time here!

Alto Palermo & Galeria

So last night was ridiculous. I do not know how they stay up till 8 in the morning without stopping. I was so worn out by 4am. I almost started falling asleep at the bar and that was after a 3 hour nap in the afternoon.

Anyway, the night turned out to be really fun. I met up with 20 classmates at the La Celeste Restaurnt in Palermo. It was a very nice place and I love how inexpensive everything is out here. In the end I ordered a plate of pasta, glass of wine, and a desert for $12 USD. In the states that same meal would have cost me at least $40 USD. So far I have been here a week and I still have not spent over $100 USD.

After dinner we all headed out to Sugar in Palermo. The place was packed but yet not too bad. We were able to get drinks all night without waiting too long and had a lot of fun. The drinks down here cost around $10 ARS which is equivalent to $2.50 USD.

This morning I got up around noon since I stayed out so late. I really did’t feel very good this morning from last night so I just went shopping for some jeans. In the end I actually didn’t even buy any but I was able to check out two of the main shopping areas they have here. One is called Alto Palermo which is a very high-end shopping mall here and the other is called the Galeria. The Galeria is aimed towards the younger crowd and the punk/rock/goth crowd. I was walking through with a polo pull-over on and felt so out of place. Everyone there was wearing black clothes, chains, and had piercings and tattoos, haha.

First Cup of Coffee & Subte Strike

Day 5.

Miercoles. (Wed) Sept 16, 2009

What an interesting day! Quite a bit happened. School was fun yet again and of course I learned a ton of words, haha. So I tried something new today. I have only had coffee once in my life and I could not stand it. However, today, I was so tired I just decided to try it. Plus, I figured I might as well try it since I am in South America of all places! Turns out… I love it! I can’t even believe I just said that! As long as you add 4 pounds of sugar and 2 gallons of milk to your coffee…it tastes great! 🙂

After class I walked down one of the main shopping streets and bought a backpack. I was in desperate need of one and I knew that it is suppose to rain tomorrow so I needed to pick one up. Not bad, the backpack cost me $15 USD. Everything out here is inexpensive. I walked around the shopping area for a bit and then went out with a couple of the classmates for a coffee. The two guys I went with are both from London so we talked a bit about culture and the differences between ours and throughout the world. I love getting to talk with people from all over the world and learn first hand about their cultures.

Now for the most exciting part of the day… The Subte (Subway) union went on Strike today from 14-16h (2-4pm). They marched out on the main street (Ave. 9 de Julio) with flags and signs everywhere. There were so many people striking and setting off fire crackers and little explosions. Wait no… big explosions. Of course, being who I am, I got into the middle of it all and started taking photos and videos. It was exciting and got my adrenaline running! In one of the videos I was able to capture one of the strikers punching another one! (See video below for it… it is at the very end of the video). After the Strike was over I took the Subte home which was quite an experience. It was absolutely insane how many people were riding on the Subte since it was free. Every train car was packed like sardins. No joke. I had to actually wait for 2 trains in order to find one that I could physically cram myself into. I have never seen anything like it in my life. I couldn’t even believe I was doing it!

For dinner, I ate with my host mother Alejandra. Today was a big step for me because for the first time I talked to her ONLY in Spanish. We spent nearly 2 hours together talking back and forth about a number of topics and yet we never spoke English. I can’t believe I was able to do that after only 5 days! After 6 months of this I should be doing realllly well!!! I can’t wait to be fluent!

CLICK HERE to see the Subte Strike Video