I apologize for being lazy about the postings, again (one computer for two people doesn’t work out well for us, especially with traveling in the mix) But, I will take the time now to share with those interested, how we spent our holidays here in Argentina.
As I’ve commented to a few people, the big day here is actually Christmas Eve. People usually gather with their families for a big dinner at about…10 or 11 p.m. The classic Christmas dish is vite thonel which is a sort of chilled roast beef dish, served with a mayonnaise-tuna-pea sauce. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? It’s usually served with ensalata rusa which is like potato salad, plus beets, usually minus celery, and various other salads and cold dishes. For a humorous and entertaining blog entry from our program, Road2Argentina, about Christmas in Buenos Aires, see this link.
Before the big dinner, we spent the 24th sleeping in, watching “Its a Wonderful Life” and basically doing absolutely nothing. I think it was 95F that day, so it was too hot to do much else, and most places were closed anyway. We had dinner with our host-family, who invited her sister, a few friends, and their kids over for a nice potluck dinner on her balcony. We contributed deviled eggs and pasta salad to the dishes, which were more 0r less well received (there was another hard-boiled egg dish, where the eggs were cut in half and smothered with salsa golf, a mayonnaise-ketchup blend). We started dinner at about 10 or 10:30, and it started out mostly awkward and a bit strange, with the guests maybe feeling uncomfortable with us there (we sure felt out of place!) and maybe wondering if they should speak in Spanish or the little English they knew. After a few glasses of wine, things started to get better.
As midnight approached, everyone started setting off fireworks. And here, it’s not just sparklers and piccolo petes, they set off real, big fireworks – from rooftops, balconies, the streets, you name it. It seemed like there were a few organized displays at nearby parks, but for the most part it was loud, chaotic, madness. At midnight we made a toast with hard sparkling cider, and wished each other a “feliz navidad!” Afterwords we sat around for awhile, munching on the food, Tyler and I at this point feeling like we were celebrating the 4th of July rather than Christmas. Really, it felt like 4th of July, we even had ice cream for dessert.
At about 1:30 a.m., we got a call from Tyler’s friend inviting us over to their house. Seeing as we were still hanging out on the balcony, wide-awake, we decided to walk over. Tyler’s friend was staying at his cousin’s house, who is, I think, an art trader from Italy. Needless to say, the house was quite impressive. Here, our Italian friend insisted that everyone eat pan dulce which he served with a chocolate, sweetened-condensed milk sauce that made it delectable. Afterward, we basically hung around his amazing house, playing wii, playing and singing songs on the guitar, and having interesting conversations in a mix of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and English (but mostly Spanish…) until the sun came up, when we finally walked back home.
It was truly a unique holiday, but we were grateful to spend it together, and to be able to be fully present with new friends and acquaintances.
On Christmas Day, we didn’t do much. We slept in quite late (obviously) and maybe watched another movie, I can’t recall. We spent some time Skyping or trying to Skype our friend’s and family, and relaxing all day once again, avoiding what we could of the heat. It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas at all. We had leftovers for dinner that night with our host-family, and later took our leftovers to a friend staying in a hostel nearby. From there we made an attempt to go out for a Christmas drink, but after a long walk to a place with too much of a cover-charge, and another long walk to a bar that was closed (again!) we gave up and went home. Not exactly an eventful Christmas, but we didn’t mind too much seeing as it just felt like a hot summer’s day anyway (it was!).
New Year’s Eve
On the 27th, we had bus tickets to head to Mendoza, 14 hours easy of Buenos Aires, in the foothills of the Andes, home of wine (Argentina is famous for Malbec) and, for me, mountains and rock climbing. We spent a few days in Mendoza, riding bikes to wineries in the surrounding towns, went rock climbing for a day, and mostly relaxed in the cooler, certainly less humid, climate there. On the 30th, we bought bus tickets to Uspallata, in the Andes, close to the Chilean border. We spent a day sort of wandering around the tiny town, setting up plans for the next few days.
On New Year’s Eve we spent the morning rock climbing, and the afternoon riding bikes in the countryside, trying to find these supposed Incan ruins (we didn’t quite make it, turns out). We ate dinner in the only restaurant in town that was open, and had a fascinating, insane conversation with a South African who walked up to our table and just started talking to us about “the new world order.” After dinner we still had an hour to go until the “big moment” and being so tired from the day’s activities, I opted to take a nap, and put on warmer clothes. The nap ended at about 11:57, and by the time we were up and ready it was after midnight. We went for a walk outside, watching the locals set off frenzied fireworks, searching for friends we had met climbing that morning. We never found our friends, or the supposed party they invited us to, but we did have a nice time walking around, observing how such a small, rural town celebrates. And, we were in bed by 1 a.m., as we had to get up early the next day.
New Year’s Day
We were up bright and early on the first day of 2011, off to explore the Andes. Apparently, so did 2 other former Seattleites (what are the chances?!) which luckily brought the price down and made for a much more interesting trip. Our guide drove us all over the mountains, spouting off facts and stories in Spanish, stopping at Cristo Redentor on the Chilean-border, Puente del Inca (a natural-made bridge of mineral and rocks), Parque Aconcagua (where we hiked around the “Roof of the Americas”, the tallest mountain outside
the Himalayas), and a few other little historical points and towns along the way. It was a great way to spend the first day of the year! We even made it back to town in time to catch the next bus back to Mendoza that night (everything on this trip was at the last minute…).
We spent the night in Mendoza, back at .our…err…cheap, very cheap hostel, and the next day packed our bags, made the final long walk to the bus station, threw our bags in storage, and caught a bus to Cachuete, an even smaller town, famous for it’s thermal waters. We spent a few hours relaxing the (crowded) pools, admired how smart the Argentines were to grill giant hunks of meat over wood fires and pack picnics along for the day.
At the end of the day, one of my worst traveling fears became reality: we missed our bus back to Mendoza, which consequently meant we would miss our bus back to Buenos Aires. I had thought the bus driver mentioned that the buses would leave from a different location than the drop-off point, and as we walked to where I assumed the location would be, our lovely bus passed us by, ignored our wild waves and pleas for it to stop. I knew the next bus didn’t leave for hours (which would be hours too late) but I still walked the bus office to see what the options where. Are there taxis here? No. Are there other buses? No. Is there any other way to get back to Mendoza? I don’t think so. Great. We resolved to do the only thing we could do – hitchhike our way into town.
The problem? Almost no cars had room for us, and most people just weren’t ready to leave yet. After walking to the edge of town, and seeing a taxi, who said he was “occupied” and refused to stop for us (we later saw him eating in a restaurant…) I decided to ask a nice looking old-lady in the store what she knew. At first I got the usual answers…next bus leaves at 6 something, there’s no taxis. After explaining to her, twice, our situation, she called over to a friend picnicking next-door, and I explained our little predicament to him. He agreed to drive us to Mendoza, for a price, of course (US$35…bye bye budget for dinner…and going out, at all, for the next week!). Seeing as this was much less expensive than buying new bus tickets (and seeing as it was very unlikely we could find new tickets, as everyone was heading back from vacations) we took it, and had a nice chat along the way, and discovered that a car gets you there in 1/3 of the time as a bus, if you take the right shortcuts. We arrived at the bus station in plenty of time (we even sat and had a coffee) and made it back to the hot, humid, crowded, noisy city of B.A., in plenty of time.
Happy New Year’s Everyone!