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Hello Everyone,

Just a quick update, as we are literally packing our bags and trying to get all those little last-minute things done before we leave Buenos Aires!

I think I can safely say that we both have a mixed bag of emotions: excitement, sadness, fear…stress and fatigue.  But, either way, in a few short hours we’re boarding a bus for Bariloche (see map!).  We’ll be taking a 21 hour or so bus ride down South, to start our exploration of Patagonia.  It should be a fantastic few weeks. We’ll spend some time first around the top of Patagonia in Bariloche, then work our way down to El Chatlen (not on the map, but it’s halfway between Bariloche and the tip of Argentina) , then to the very bottom – Ushuaia, in Tierro del Fuego.  We’re really looking forward to seeing some amazing natural beauty in this part of our trip, and we’ll try to post pictures and update when we can.  Internet is going to be uncertain from this point on, but we’ll do our best.

We love you all!

Sharon and Tyler

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We can hardly believe it – in less than two weeks it will be time to move on!

When we came back from our trip to Mendoza, somehow it was already January, and that surreal feeling that the world is moving out of your control was just starting to happen.  Now it is in full motion – time swirling by faster than expected, the list of things to do and time to do it wrestling with each other.  Boxes to mail home, music and movies to download (no laws on that here), pictures to back up, iPod to update, laundry, saying goodbye to our favorite places and people.  The fears and doubts of this trip – what next?  Uh, like, where should we go?  Home? Continue on?  And the hardest questions – how and why.

Buenos Aires and the little side-trips we’ve made have been fun, some of it, even great.  We both wish we had done a few things differently…spent only 3 months here in the city being the major one.  Convincing our friend from Portland to take back a bag of fall clothes and souvenirs for us another.  Having the newest edition of the Lonely Planet so our budget wasn’t blown to pieces.  And the usual suspects are all around us: I wish I’d studied more Spanish, taken more classes, gone to the climbing gyms sooner, made a bigger effort to find a church community.  But, it’s time to just remember the best, try to put into words and cohesive thoughts the lessons we’ve learned, and move on.

And speaking of the lessons we’re learning, why don’t I share a few, before I get into the thick of things?

Being fully present in the moment. I like my friends at home; I don’t like making new friends much and I don’t care for acquaintances.  I’d rather save my energy for those deep relationships that sustain me.  This has some validity, I think, but it’s also quite wrong.  Here, the only friends we can hope for aren’t going to be forever, and we can choose to run from that, or embrace it.  Eventually, I gave in, and I remember one moment, in the most unlikely of places (a bar) someone I had just met, shared a vulnerable history of a twisted past. I was shocked that he would share something so personal to near-strangers (and no, it wasn’t the alcohol talking) and was inspired by it.  This is a lesson I’m always being taught, re-taught, and reminded of, but it was refreshing to revisit it here.

Interruptions and Slow Walking. Life here is always being interrupted.  Strange, sudden government holidays, people coming and going, power outages, traffic jams, subte strikes, you name it.  The Type A part of me doesn’t like when my plans “get messed with” and I don’t like when things aren’t efficient. But, it happens here, and people have the great flexibility to just make the most of it, and I too, am slowly learning. Related to this is the fact that people here walk like tourists at the Space Needle.  They walk painfully slow, randomly stop with no warning, and are generally irritating.  But they’re never in a hurry; they’re enjoying the walk, and they’re smarter for it.  Not only because they’re not allowing stress to enter their realm, but because when you walk slow you don’t get as hot or sweaty.  I enjoy my slow saunters to and from work, and enjoy taking the bus even if it takes longer than the subte (it has better views).  I’m slowly learning not to think about tomorrow, or later today (though I still think planning has a place), but just enjoy the now.

Listening and the art of communication. Having to learn another language has many benefits, but I’ve recently been reminded of one I’d never paid much attention to before.  Listening.  I can understand a lot more Spanish than I can say, in the moment.  I can read books, I can watch movies, but I can’t always respond before the subject changes.  I was painfully reminded of this the other night at a bouldering gym with new friends; I could follow their conversation, but by the time I thought of the correct way to say something, the topic had changed. Now this can also be a lesson in letting go of perfectionism, too.  But, listening.  I’ve always admired people that can get shy people to talk – who just listen and ask questions, rarely talking about themselves, expect to sympathize or relate. I try to do this, and fail miserably, when I’m speaking English.  In Spanish, I find myself listening for long stretches of conversation, being forced to ask questions to clarify or get more information, and rarely talking at all, much less about myself.  And its quite refreshing, and something I hope I can apply to my daily life and interactions back home.

Related to this is communication in general, something I absolutely hate learning (I am a firm believer that one should be allowed to communicate in their natural manner, and that anything else is cheapened), but I do it for my marriage and for my work, and, well, as a general life/social skill I guess.  I am not a good communicator, by any means.  Learning other languages helps with this on a social level, but being, what sometimes feels like trapped, in a so-so city with your spouse in one room, forces one to learn communication in a different light.  Its been difficult, but its also something we never dedicated enough time to in the States because we were “too busy.” Well, now we have worlds of time, and its been interesting to see just how different we are, and also to see just how easy (and hard) some of the fixes can be.  These are lessons we’re just beginning to learn, but I hope they continue, and that God grants us the grace to do so in a loving manner.

Future “Plans”: the how

We’re not sure what the plan is yet (can you believe that?! Me not having a plan, less than two weeks out?! This trip must really be getting to me!).  I bought tickets to spend a day in Colonia, Uruguay Friday to get another stamp to brag about in our passport (it happens, even if you try not to), and consequently renew (hopefully) our tourist visa for another 90 days so we don’t have to rush out of here.  After that our general, sort of plan is “go to Patagonia” but we’re not quite sure how to go about that.  We have some ideas, and we’ll probably end up buying bus tickets to Bariloche next week and hoping it all works out.  We’ve heard rumors its can get expensive down there, which I find strange, as I mostly just want to hike around and look at stuff, maybe even camp if we come across equipment, but we’ll just have to see how it goes.

The idea after that is to make it all the way down to the tip of the continent, Ushuaia, and then? “Up through Chile” however that works out.  There’s been talk of volunteering on an organic farm (WWOOFing) along the way, talk of staying at YYAM bases to save money, of hitchhiking and couchsurfing.  Dreams of making it to Bolivia and Peru, to Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba. That is to say, we really don’t have many answers on the “how”s of the trip, but we have this, perhaps naive, faith that it will all work out, for better or for worse.  Should be interesting.

As for when we’re coming home, well, a recent chat with a friend, among other things, reminded me to keep that on our radar.  We’re still not sure.  There’s been talk of packing up and calling it quits directly from Buenos Aires, or directly after Patagonia, depending on the budget.  There’s been more talk on trying to hold out until at least May or June, and there’s been some talk about coming back in August or September, “if all goes well.”  There’s also been whispers in the back of my head of staying…for as long as…?; of course I have no idea or plan yet, but if some opportunity came along, well…if I can get my cat down there it’d be hard to pass up.  But, no such opportunities exist for us as of yet.

Doubts and the Why’s

As for the “why,” this is more difficult, and I’ve actually written an entire separate blog about it, which I still haven’t finished. I keep asking myself, is this worth it? Why are we here?  Why did we do this again? We could be at home, with my cat, having a normal life where I can eat all the cheap, spicy Mexican food I please and hang out with people I love everyday.  So, why are we here, spending all this money?  Is it just to learn a language? Just to experience a culture?  Haven’t I done that already? Are we actually doing what God wants for us, or are we doing some mumbled, half-assed version of what God wants? Why can’t I be given clarity, or peace? We have an idea, a romanticizing idea, of this great exploratory travel, where we spend hardly any money and meet great people and have revelatory experiences along the way. Not only has this been done before, it’s very hard to do in today’s world.  So then, what’s left?  We’re not with a church…we’re not missionaries…we’re not with any kind of program…we’re not in any kind of commitment.  I like these things because they lend me structure and security (but are those false?), but here without those things on this trip, I am haunted and full of doubt.  I try to have peace that it will make sense someday, that some opportunity will come along and it will be great, that when it’s all said and done I’ll say, this was the trip of a lifetime, totally worth it!  But most of the time, I just feel overly privileged and lost.

Tyler and I have been talking a lot about this tension I have, and many others have as well. We grew up in what some would call a sort of legalistic, hyper-emotional Christianity.  If we didn’t do our devotionals every day, if we didn’t cry at worship and retreats, we were bad Christians, riddled with guilt, our relationship with God nearly salvageable. Sounds silly now, but that’s what it felt like, in many ways.  So, later in life, as the classic cycle goes, we rebelled.  We’re all about the emergent church, we don’t need structure, we don’t need rules, it’s all about the heart-relationship, and that’s personal.  While this has many benefits, it’s not quite right either.  Because of this, I see many friends who live in hip “communities” with a lax mission, many of them eventually “realizing” they don’t need the Christian faith anyway.  A slippery slope, either way.  And thus, the circle comes ’round again, and I find myself saying, spiritually (and let’s be honest, physically) I’m a spoiled brat. I barely have an ounce of spiritual discipline (and I always eat exactly what I want). I need to take some things from that legalism (the discipline side) and add it into that flexible emergent stuff, and see what happens!  Well that’s all great, but, how do we add in the discipline to this, very lax, emergent-style trip? We get the obvious (read our Bible and pray, duh! and yet, that seems so hard), but..what else can we do? And how do we keep the balance of freedom/grace/discipline without it turning into that old enemy legalism?  An interesting journey indeed…

After all is said and done, I’m still excited about some of the lessons I/we am/are learning. And I comfort myself with the fact that God can use any experience to His good, and that even if we’re doing things the wrong way (have I made a grave mistake?!) we’re still learning important lessons, and they’re still going to be used in some awesome way in the future, and someday we’ll realize all that.

Thoughts?  Comments?  We always appreciate hearing from everyone (we also got quite a few Christmas cards – thanks!).

Love,

Sharon

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Hello!

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.

December 24th

our neighbor's christmas decorations, complete with mechanized carols...

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.

December 25

my christmas present was finding this kitten at a friend's hostel!

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.

we spent new year's eve climbing high in uspallata...

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

starting the new year in the shadow of the roof of the americas..

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.

Facing Fears

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.

view from the thermal pools in cachuete

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.

For pictures from our little vacation, check the links here, and here.

Happy New Year’s Everyone!

—Sharon

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Spice is Found!

First, per usual, quick updates:

I’m continuing my massive project at my internship, which I’ve titled, “archiving to change the world” – I’ve been surrounded by piles of papers for two weeks, but at least I have a steady, independent project to do, and the folks in the scholarship office love me for doing their dirty work; they reward me with vegan chocolate cookies and tell my boss I’m a genius.  Tyler is continuing Spanish classes… We’ve become good friends with some of our former roommates (translating for them at a police station helped quite a bit) which has improved our moods, and thanks to going to Mar del Plata with my internship, I have some local friends as well, which as also made things more fun.  We have also finally taken our first tango lessons, and even made it through a dance in a very crowded milonga!

We’re still trying to decide what plans to make for Christmas, as we both have almost 2 weeks off work and school. We will most likely travel somewhere in Argentina, either up north (Salta/Jujuy) or west (Cordoba/Mendoza).  Our home-stay has gotten quiet as all the other students except for us have left…and our neighbors across the street have put up Christmas lights that play irritating, mechanized Christmas jingles…all…the…time. But, at least there’s a few signs of Christmas spirit here!

Also, a few more pictures have been posted here of our recent forays, not too interesting but I will share nonetheless.

Now, for the dish, on the dish. As some of you may know, we’ve gotten into the  habit of going to Chinatown on weekends in search for food that actually has flavor, and, if we’re lucky, spice!  On our last visit, I noticed a Thai restaurant, and even though I was so full of chow mein and kung pao chicken I thought I would explode, I drooled over the menu for about 10 minutes and vowed to come back.

This past Saturday morning, I did some internet research about Thai restaurants in Buenos Aires and made my pick (don’t go to the one recommended in the Lonely Planet, it got terrible reviews…).  Ironically, my “pick” was the very restaurant I had vowed to return to some weeks earlier.

As soon as we entered the door, I knew it would be great.  For one, it had great decor, and a great vibe.  Two, everyone was ordering this mysterious, delicious-looking minty-green blended deliciousness drink.  We sat down, perused the menu, and decided to go with a classic order we would place in Seattle, a classic testing strategy: spring rolls, phad thai with tofu, and a curry (red curry with mango, I think).  We ordered some “te rojo frio” hoping that would be some sort of strange interpretation for thai iced tea (it was not) but it was delicious and nonetheless, I think it had rose water and orange in it – interesting flavors!  Eventually we caved and ordered one of the “green drinks” (seriously, Tyler asked for the “traigo verde”) as well, which turned out to be blended mint lemonade, and perfect.

phad thai

 

The phad thai was surprisingly good, though it helped that my expectations were quite low.  There was definitely NO spiciness whatsoever (all it needed was some chili oil and red pepper flakes) but the flavors and ingredients were spot-on.  The noodles were wider than we’re used to, but they tasted great so I can let is slide.  The tofu was a little…different…sweet somehow, but not bad, not bad at all.  Overall, I would give this 4/5 Sharon Stars, a rating system I just made up.  It gets a slightly higher score because phad thai is fairly difficult to find, and it had limes!

Next up – spring rolls.  I have long been obsessed with both egg rolls and their delicious tiny brother, spring rolls.  While this spring rolls lacked the traditional “spring roll tiny factor” they made up for it in flavor, and unique dipping sauces.  While we did have the usual sweet-hot chili sauce available from a strange starter of sort of, Indonesian style puffed rice-chips, the spring rolls themselves were served with a choice of two sauces: a tamarind sauce, or a soy-garlic sauce.  I preferred the tamarind. The spring rolls were also near-perfect – filled with yummy vegetables and cilantro (a nice touch) but, I despise when food, especially appetizers which are meant to be shared, is served in odd numbers.  They should know better. Great presentation though!

 

curry

 

Next up, the star of the show: the curry!!  We like spicy food, really spicy food. We usually order things with 4 or 5 stars.  We always complain that food here lacks both flavor and spice.  We like the Chinese food because we could at least get a hint of spice, more than can be said for Mexican food we’ve found here.  Here, at this wonderful Thai restaurant, we found a spice we couldn’t even handle. Maybe we have become whimps due to our lack of exposure recently, but I doubt it (I was sick, the whole reason I wanted curry was so I could taste something…). That “flower” is made out of a pepper.  It was almost as spicy-hot as that time at Rasha Thai that Tyler actually had to ask for a glass of milk (they only had half-and-half).  But not only was it spicy, it was delicious, perfect for a stormy Saturday and me with my congested head.  For a few glimmering, sweaty minutes, I could breathe freely.  I could burn my taste buds off.  I could chug my (Tyler’s) drink.  It…was…glorious.  The only downsides were that Tyler ordered it with pork, not my favorite, the mango was inconsistent (sometimes bordering crunchy, rarely sweet, never juicy), and for some reason, the concept of “pour curry over rice” doesn’t exist here, so eating was a bit awkward.  But, having finally found something that’s genuinely spicy makes it all worth it. 4/5 Sharon Stars.

The other overall downside, and it’s a big one, was that our Saturday lunch was as expensive as it would be in Seattle.  Seriously. The same price.  Dinner at Rasha in Seattle, or dinner/lunch at Neo Lotus Thai in Buenos Aires.  Same price.  This is not a touristy neighborhood, but it is damn expensive; the exchange rate does not help you here like it might in other restaurants. But, in my humble opinion, it’s totally worth it for food you can actually taste, good service (which translates to “amazing” by Argentine standards), and it’s got great ambiance. 3.5 out of 5 Sharon Stars overall.

Now, I know some of you may be wondering, why does it take Thai food, beer, or Mexican food to warrant a blog?  Shouldn’t you be blogging about Argentine food?  Shouldn’t you be looking for the local restaurants?  Why seek out food from home?  Well, I have some answers: one, home food is comfort.  Two, we eat “local” food every day.  It is not great. And when we have gone out to amazing local restaurants (a parilla in Iguazu, to be exact) I was too excited about it to take pictures (much like the amazing ice cream at Volta).  Also, pizza, pasta, empanadas, and dulce de leche, the stars of Argentine food, do not photograph well and aren’t that interesting (they’re all brown/beige!). But, we will try to post about it more in the future!

More serious posts to come.  Happy Holidays!

 

 

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At Iguazύ Falls

 

Me, after 18 or so hours on a bus: “I think we must be close to home…”

…Honk! Honk! Honk! Loud traffic noises persist; I glance out the window and see a sea of cars.

Tyler: “Yep, it sounds like we’re back in the city!”

 

When Tyler and I lived in Seattle, he didn’t like it very much.  Whenever we left to go backpacking or camping, or just to spend a weekend away, we would come back and he would say “These trips away just remind me of how much I don’t like the city.”  I would chide him for being so negative, but yesterday this was brought to me in a new light.  We just returned from a lovely long weekend from an amazing place, Iguazύ Falls. It’s a place of national parks and natural wonders, up in the far northwest corner where a little finger of Argentine land borders Brazil and Paraguay, and where wide rivers suddenly plummet into dozens of jaw-dropping waterfalls.  Pictures from the trip and more comments can be found here and here.  It was truly amazing and I feel blessed to have gone.  But it reminded me of something that’s been simmering in the back of my mind for several weeks now, something that I’ve tried to give time to develop, and yet still remains, more or less, the same, and the shocking juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and the city’s chaos put it into perspective.

This place, Buenos Aires, is, undoubtedly, unlike any other city, that I, or Tyler, have ever been to.  And not to brag, but we’ve gotten around.  It’s an enigma; I try to compare it other cities, to compartmentalize it in my typical individualistic, American, postmodern way. San Telmo is like Paris, Avenida Corrientes like Mexico City, maybe this neighborhood is more like Spain, this one like Madison Park or Madrona in Seattle, Galerias Pacificos and Avenida Florida are like Les Halles…but it’s all in vain.  Not only are there too many cars, too many people, and too much noise for this city to truly be the “Paris” of Latin America, the vibe is completely different.  The rhythm of the city is unfamiliar and mysterious.  We’re still trying to “figure out” the people – are they generally nice, open, gregarious, or reserved, snobbish, and closed?  Do they like Americans and other foreigners, or are we a nuisance?   So far, all we’ve determined is that porteños – those who were born in Buenos Aires proper, in the Capital Federal – are proud of their status.  And that they really do eat more desserts than any people I’ve ever known – we’ve had dulce de leche if not twice, at least once a day, each day, since we’ve been here.   Our experiences have been a mix of seemingly rude, slow servers at cafes and restaurants, pushy salesman, courteous bus drivers, and our amazing host-mom, Julia.  Some parts of the city are simply adorable, peaceful and chic; others have a hip, urban feel; others poor; others run-down, reminiscent of a by-gone age of glory; others feel downright ritzy; it’s truly a patchwork maze, meant to be accepted as-is.

While this presents an enticing challenge, in summary, I do not love it here.   While I tried not to have expectations, it is not as I had subconsciously imagined it.  I am not enchanted or in love with this place. However, I don’t dislike it either. It’s fascinating, there are many things I like, many things that are interesting, unique, challenging, and that present ample opportunities to learn and grow, but there is something off-kilter about it all that does not agree with me.  Maybe it’s because I do not want to pick up their ridiculous, though beautiful, accent (I’ve been doing it anyway, to fit in and be better understood. I’m hoping I can drop it the second we cross the border). Or because their fashion, aside from outstanding leather handbags, purses, boots, and shoes, is not that great (are genie-pants and camel-toe shoes happening in the US?). Maybe it’s because I haven’t “figured it out yet” or made friends with locals, or even many friends at all.  It just feels like yet another place, another stop along the road, another place of things to see, food to try, of shops and restaurants and bars, people passing through…all…meaningless.  I don’t feel a sense of community. I think a key thing to this feeling is that I am not helping or involved with anything here (unless you count my internship, which today consists of writing this blog).   It is difficult to get involved because we’re outsiders, not only that, we’re still learning the language, the history, and the culture, and it can take a lifetime learning these things before you can really make significant contributions and feel connected and like you belong to a community.  I was just achieving this in Seattle when we left, and it seems impossible to achieve here.  It is a nice place, it has charm, it has great qualities, but it’s like it doesn’t “fit.”  I want to love it here; I try to love it, if I’m truly honest, it’s all façade.

People who have gone to B.A. and loved it, people that played a large part in getting me excited to go and take the plunge, always spoke of a unique energy here; a vibe; a pulse unlike any other.  “You have to go! It’s unlike any other place in the world!”  It is unlike any other place in the world, but in my experience, the pulse is quite weak.  What many people see as quaint European charm just makes me ache for Paris.  Sure, there is some amazing architecture, sure, they eat croissants and call them medialunas and there are some gems among them, and there are some good cafes, but it’s like a faded copy; the original is just better.  Sure, there is a bit of that Latin American energy that I love, but it’s also watered down and bland, like the food.  It’s an interesting mix but I guess I want it all one way or nothing, the same way I want to either travel or settle down; the in-between doesn’t often sit well with me. What I love about Latin American isn’t present enough here, and what reminds me of Europe or France just makes me realize how much it misses the mark.  The people here joke about how Argentines have an identity crisis – they spent so much time trying to be like Europe, forgetting that they’re in Latin America, that they emerged from a dictatorship not knowing what defines them.  They are confused and they haven’t found an answer yet, and I think this is what hurts them; what makes me feel like something is lacking.

And, if food is a way into a man, or women’s, heart, well, maybe this is why I don’t love it here.  The food is bland, I mean, they don’t even use black pepper (Chris Wheeler would love it, as would Moira Carpenter – hello!), bland.  The pastries are mostly dry and un-flavorful, unless you go to one place we’ve found courtesy of our program.  The “pizza” lacks both real mozzarella and a tomato sauce that consists of something more than literally canned tomatoes (where is the garlic? The oregano? The basil, for god’s sake the basil!), not to mention the crust is never…well…right – neither thin nor doughy, with maybe a few exceptions of some overpriced restaurants and one catering company.  Sure, I like empanadas; we went to a parilla and I found out I like both chorizo (more like polish sausage than the spicy kind we’re used to in the US), morcilla (blood sausage), and of course, the steaks are great.  The wines are also great, though the best ones have been hard to find and pricey.  And I’m sure we can find amazing, creative, fresh, unique, and flavorful food in fancy restaurants for a fancy price. The ice cream is good, the cafes are nice, but these are almost all things I can get in any number of places and that aren’t unique, in my opinion, to Buenos Aires.

I don’t mean to sound completely negative, I am merely trying to put together thoughts and feelings about this place.  Maybe the things that disagree with me are due to personal qualities I should work on changing or developing; or perhaps I am self-centered, whining and complaining too much, making it too difficult to be happy and content, and these are lessons God is teaching me now. I look forward to learning them. I also want to distinguish that these thoughts or about the city of Buenos Aires; I think the country of Argentina will be quite different.  I am enjoying my time here.  Though it can be at times, bittersweet, for example, I love the weather and the sunshine, but I also miss the fall, and the snow the PNW just got that seems to have put everyone in the holiday spirit, which I only feel the slightest hint of here. I enjoy getting to know the people around me, going to museums, exploring the city, listening to music on the subway, (both on my iPod and the buskers); I enjoy the cultural idioms, I love the language, I enjoy getting to know the art, the music, the films, the politics, and history; oftentimes I feel as if I’m wandering about, delighted by the smallest things here. I enjoy the experience of my internship; that I have so much free time with Tyler, that I have time to read, to exercise (though I haven’t taken advantage of that much!), and to just think and write.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s a beautiful time of year here.  I enjoy that I’m learning to understand how Tyler felt living in Seattle and I think it’s creating some healthy compassion for me.  I’m thankful to have free time to think about things I need to work on in my relationship with Christ; to ponder God’s plan for my life, to hope and dream about how the experiences I’m having now might be used in the future.  I look for the positive things each day and try to enjoy each moment to its fullest. But, people keep asking if I like it here or what it’s like, and I feel they deserved an appropriate, thorough, response.  🙂

Salud and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!  We miss you all dearly and think of you often!  And we welcome your thoughts and comments, and prayers!

Sharon

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Quick November Update

Somehow, almost three weeks have passed sans a single entry!  It’s certainly not for lack of interesting things we’ve been seeing and doing and thinking about, but a serious lack of motivation and limited computer resources between my internship and Tyler’s Spanish studies.

What’s new:

Here is a link to photos from a few weeks ago when we went to the Recoleta Cemetery, where all the famous Argentine are laid to rest.  Tyler went on a tour with his Spanish class and later took me back to share what he could remember/understand.  It’s a beautiful place with lots of cats and really cool-looking sepulchers, many from Italian designs. There was also a brewery nearby that we went to (of course) and later that week we went to a show called Fuerza Bruta, which is an amazing and unique sort of post-modern interactive art/theater experience.

Here is a link to photos from this past week when I went to the MALBA (Argentine Museum of Modern Art), when Tyler and I went to Tigre for a day, a town just outside of Buenos Aires on the river delta, pictures from last Saturday when almost all the museums and cultural centers in the city were open to 3 a.m., free, and had special events going on – we went to a few near our house: an astronomy place and the Museum of Natural History. Finally, there are also pictures from a field trip with Tyler’s Spanish class went on yesterday that I tagged along with, of Plaza Congreso and the Palacio Barolo, which was designed by an Italian architect to be a sort of mausoleum to Dante. Comments on the photos will, of course, give more details and humorous comments.

Other than our occasional sightseeing and getting to know the city, our daily routine goes something like this:

9 a.m.: Sharon gets up, gets ready

9:30 a.m.: Sharon drags Tyler out of bed for breakfast, which usually consists of instant coffee, some sort of pastry, usually slathered with dulce de leche, dried out toasts, crackers, and a variety of cookies.

10:30 a.m.: Sharon leaves for her internship in San Nicholas, in the center of downtown

10:30 – 12:30 p.m.: Tyler does whatever Tyler does before he leaves for class…showers? cleans the room? plays guitar? Spanish homework? Only Tyler knows.

1-4 p.m.: Tyler’s in Spanish class, Sharon’s still interning…

4:30 p.m.: We usually get home, around the same time.

4:30 – 8 p.m.: Various thrilling things might take place: maybe we’ll buy cheap vegetables down the street or go to the grocery store, maybe I’ll buy ice cream from the grumpy lady next door, maybe we’ll go to happy hour at Antares and eat delicious fries and beers, maybe Sharon will pass out while Tyler does flashcards and plays WoW…

8 – 9 p.m.: Dinner, usually something frozen that’s been re-heated, with a fresh salad to appease me.  Sometimes, we’ll have a treat of choripan or empanadas, or morcilla (blood sausage)…

9 p.m. – ?:  If we were cool, we’d go out and party, but usually, I read books while Tyler studies, or we watch movies; Tyler is acquiring a growing library of Spanish movies with painstakingly acquired Spanish subtitles…

And, repeat Monday-Thursday for Sharon, who has Friday’s off, where I generally nothing productive, and Monday-Friday for Tyler. Weekends are  a gamble.

So far my internship is very up and down; some days are good, some not so good, I have a character of a boss but overall it’s an interesting experience.  The organization does very cool work to educate young people and get them involved and active in democracy, and they have offices all over the country, so the work is interesting.  I’ve most tagged along to a few events (presentation by students on service-learning projects, press conference about a youth summit coming up, seminar on mother-infant nutrition), researched people and organizations at the events, and worked on a bit of program coordination for an event coming up next weekend.  It’s been interesting seeing how an office is run here and getting to know the other interns. But more on that later.

Final bit of news: today we’re off to Iguazú to see the infamous waterfalls (“Paradise Falls” in the movie UP, also seen in the latest Indiana Jones flick), so we should have more pictures and stories to tell when we get back on Tuesday.

Chau for now,

Sharon and Tyler

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First, a few quick updates for those less interested in our beer-tasting notes:

  • We both passed our written and oral Spanish exams this week.  Tyler got an excellent score of 89% overall and has officially completed Level 3 and will be moving on to Level 4 on Tuesday.  He’s now in the Upper-Intermediate Cycle, woohoo!  I passed my class (Level 6, Upper-Advanced Cycle) with an astonishing overall score of 90%.   I honestly thought I would get a low-B at most, and Tyler thought he would have to repeat his class, so we are both pleasantly surprised.
  • Theoretically this coming week I’ll start my internship at ConcienciaR2A hasn’t set up an interview yet, so I still don’t have any details.  Once I know my schedule, I’ll probably continue taking private Spanish lessons through the UBA/CUI, or continue onto the advanced cycles of classes if I have time. For now, I’m looking forward to some free-time.
  • There’s recent photos of what we’ve been up to here.

the Taster at Antares

Imagine a terrible, terrible land, where the only beer to be had is water/urine colored, tastes about the same, or, if you’re lucky, it might be skunky, a mediocre stout, or an overly sweet red.   And the latter three are considered novelties and are almost impossible to find in a restaurant or bar and have to hunted down in select supermarkets.  You begin to feel blessed if you can find Heineken, like it’s the best day of your life if it’s on tap.  No, this isn’t the American Midwest, and no, the delicious, well-priced Malbecs do not make up for it.  Sometimes,  you just need a good micro-brew, or even, just beer that’s not from a bottle.  And that is like a treasure-hunt in Buenos Aires.

After some internet research and a conversation with a fellow Oregonian (an adopted Oregonian, like myself), we discovered Antares, a micro-brewery near our house.  They even have a few locations throughout Argentina.  Intrigued, I hunted down their website to see if they were the real-deal, to see if they existed, to see how high the prices were.  All seemed fair and real enough (AR$ 24 per pint, or about US$6 – a little pricey but worth the pain), so we went.

They server little beers with dessert, what could be better?

And it’s my new favorite place.  Besides often having to wait to get in if you arrive past 9:30 (they have a strange system here of “one person in, one person out” after they reach capacity, but that means that if you’re a group of 3, you have to wait until a table of 3 leaves to get in, which means you never know how long you’ll have to wait and the door person will get very annoyed with you if you try to ask.  This isn’t Antares fault however, it’s a Buenos Aires thing.) the place is great.  They place good music (in Spanish and English), it has a great atmosphere that’s a little trendy without overdoing it, and they have a really nice bathroom setup that’s hard to explain. Plus, the food isn’t bad either, though, as always, it is in an adorable Argentine “I’m trying to be like chili-cheese fries but I just can’t handle an iota of spice” sort-of way that applies to pretty much everything they consume here.  It even carried over into the beers a little bit. Overall they seemed a little timid of bold flavors, but managed to make some interesting brews that will keep us coming back when we get our cravings.  Plus, if we come during happy hour (oddly, its literally an hour, 7-8) they’re 2 for 1, which is hard to beat.

The offerings, with our notes:

  • Oktoberfest:  they tried to make a traditional German-beer here and really just failed.  It was the first one I tried so I know my taste-buds weren’t deceiving me.  It just tasted like beerish-sparkling water.  But, it was a special offering which I considered to be a bonus taster, so we won’t hold it against them too much.
  • Kolsch: This beer also had the watered-down factor working against it, but it also had some ever-so-faint flavors of flowers and light fruits, and was quite refreshing.  Serve with the (Tyler: AMAZING, Sharon: weird, not sweet-enough, graham-cracker-flavor lacking crust, but amazing whipped cream and blueberry sauce) cheesecake and we won’t complain.  Sidenote: Tyler and our roommate Michael made me go back here the next day to eat the cheesecake again.
  • Scotch: This was a version of a red ale, that I remember as more or less being overly sweet and somewhat uninteresting.  Pass.
  • Honey Beer: This was the winner for me.  It’s refreshing, has a medium-body, with perfectly balanced flavors of honey, white flowers, and citrus without being overly sweet.  Plus at 7.5% alcohol it’s got a little bang for it’s buck.
  • Barley Wine: A close second to Honey Beer, and probably Tyler’s favorite.  This has a whopping 10% alcohol level and reminds me a bit of Hales’ Wee-Heavy Winter Ale.  Its surprisingly well balanced with some malty-sweetness and hopiness. My second choice.
  • Porter: It’s a decent porter; even better when you put vanilla ice cream in it.  Has good chocolate and coffee notes.
  • Cream Stout: In the Irish style of Guinness, this is a pitch-black stout that’s frothy, smooth, and chocolaty-sweet. Not my thing but others really like it.
  • Imperial Stout:.  Now here’s a stout I love. With an 8.5% alcohol level to stand up the malty-sweetness, it’s a much more interesting and balanced beer, like dark chocolate, roasted espresso, and tobacco.  My third favorite.

Overall, we like this place: it’s close to our house, the service is decent, and they have amazing desserts and promising looking apps and entrees. Plus, we’re really excited to finally have a little taste of northwest-style micro-brews!

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