Lauren's adventure in Ecuador

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Argentina and Chile bound

I´m back! I have so much to say, but I'm going to attempt to keep it short. (Right, Lauren, right.) I'm currently in Córdoba, Argentina, and I'm with my peach, Kjell, so things are fabulous. Kjell and I met up in Buenos Aires on June 8th, and after some initial obstacles (airport being closed, cancelled flights, etc.), we had a marvelous rendezvous. It had been almost six months since I had seen him. We immediately turned to our Lonely Planet Argentina and Chile guides, and started planning away. Yes, that's right, we had nothing planned before we got here, but things have turned out well for flying by the seat of our pants. On the first night Kjell treated me to an amazing steak dinner at a place in Buenos Aires called La Cabelleriza. This place can make a meat lover out of anyone. It was muy sabroso, and I'm still dreaming about it. This has been the best meal we have had to date because food and just about everything is twice as expensive as Ecuador, and I am missing my home away from home and the $1.25 meals and 5 cent bananas. Buenos Aires is like any other major European city. The architecture is stunning, and I couldn't get over it's extreme contrast to Quito and all of Ecuador for that matter. The difference is night and day. Designer shops line the streets, people talk on cell phones without hesitation in public, leather goods abound, and there are multitudes of cultural events. The only downside was that it was COLD, and that practically everything was closed that we wanted to see. I'm not kidding. We had high hopes for Buenos Aires, but after going to the Teatro Colonial, the Casa Rosada, etc., and seeing that they were closed, the wind was taken out of our sail. I just began to laugh as we walked around and saw huge "Cerrado" (closed) signs in the windows. We should have heeded the forewarning, because Buenos Aires was only a precursor for what was to follow. Buenos Aires did treat us to many memorable things. We saw a tango show, took a really fun tango class, saw an awesome, bohemian antique market, visited an interesting artesan fair, went to a fútbol game (Boca Jrs. v. Belgrano) in the stadium of the in/famous Maradona, visited an Evita Perón museum, walked across the famous space-age bridge, tested out some steaks, acted like true tourists in a boulevard called "El Caminito", passed through the famous La Recoleta cemetery (where Evita is buried), and ate in the very hip and eclectic El Palermo barrio of Buenos Aires. In spite of every other thing being closed, we made the best of the city, and we're still seeing how traveling in the low season has it's benefits but disadvantages as well.

We then headed to the most remarkable waterfalls I have ever seen: Iguazú falls. My mouth has never dropped in front of waterfalls before, but I serioulsy couldn't marvel enough at the mammoth drop-offs. Kjell and I spent all day there, winding around the paths and taking the sights in from all possible angles. We even went on a motor boat directly into the falls and were freezing like the tourists we are, but it was worth it. One of the falls apart from the rest was called The Devil's Throat, and it captivated me. I'll hopefully put a picture up later because it was an abyss that I can't describe. It's absolutely amazing- a convergence of all the rivers that falls into a massive hole in a two-tiered drop. You hopefully can get the idea.

After Iguazú we headed on our first overnight bus, which was a bit of a haul. It was a 22 hour journey, but it wasn't so bad because we were able to sleep, and following Latin American tradition, they entertained us with the most horrible movies known to man that we laughed about. Kjell and I do a lot of that it seems. We're just about always laughing. I told him today that people must look at us and think, "What can those two kids possibly be laughing at so much all day long?" I love it. Anyway, we stopped over in a rather dull town called Tucumán, but we found a gem of a restaurant and tried locro, this crazy mystery stew. It came to us with all kinds of strange meat that we put to the side. It was a foray into adventurous eating that doesn't need to be repeated, but it was fun. Empanadas (love of my life) are better! We then headed to Cafayate, a town known for it's white wines. There are Rutas del Vino (wine routes) in both Chile and Argentina, so we wanted to see what a wine town was all about. But hey, what luck, it was a national holiday, and all the wineries were, you guessed it, c-l-o-s-e-d! We laughed again. We did have enough luck to go to one, however. We also went on a great, 46 km bikeride through a gorge of scenery like no other. We saw unbelievable rock formations and mountains. It was a tough journey, but it gave us needed exercise after so many bus rides. We had a lovely tuna picnic (note, tuna is our best friend), and really enjoyed being insane and biking the whole gorge. Only wimps take cars!

Kjell really wanted to go paragliding, so we went to a town that is famed for it's flying. La Cumbre treated Kjell to a majestic overlook and lush valley as he tandemed with the guide. It was a REALLY relaxed town, and this means, haha, most things were closed! We really enjoyed the free breakfast though:) They are nothing like Ecuador's feasts, but we are appreciating all of the endless, calorie-laden bread products Argentina has to offer and it's world class hot chocolate (called The Submarino). They serve it as a hot glass of milk, and then you're able to dunk a whole bar of chocolate into it (hence, the submarine).

We spent today in the college town of Córdoba, and it treated us well. It has seven universities, so we checked some out. (Don't worry, the idea of law school here crossed my mind, but it quickly left). Kjell played some chess in the plaza like a champ, and I enjoyed watching him play with the Argentinians, and he won! We wandered around the market and bought amazing meat and cheese for lunch. They have tons of that here, but we made the mistake of eating cured, but raw meat a week ago because we didn't realize that meat was served crudo, or raw, here. Hmnnn. We've since learned to ask before ordering.

General observations about Argentina so far:
1) The men´s haircuts are awesome. They sport some serious mullets, and it makes me laugh. We're both waiting to find a good place to get our hair cut in true Argentine fashion. We need to work on the clothes though so we pull off the trying-but-not-really grunge, chic bohemian thing.
2) The country is enormous, and I am already starting to cringe when I see the double-decker overnight buses that I can now begin to call my second home.
3) The accent cracks me up. It sounds more like Italian than Spanish, and they pronounce the y, ll, and j differently.
4) It's difficult to eat both well and cheaply. Hello tuna.
5) I should have checked into the whole southern hemisphere´s winter in June and July thing. About that...
6) People are really helpful and go out of their way to greet you and say "Buenas tardes" with mucho, mucho gusto.
7) Everyone smokes, and that's how the women stay so thin I'm convinced.
8) They serve agua con gas (carbonated water) with all coffee/café drinks, and I love it! I also love the really cute little spoons they have.
9) Everyone drinks maté. It's awesome. I read a lot about maté in my Argentine lit classes in college because the famed gauchos of the Pampas used to drink it and pass it around the bonfire to stay warm. The tradition has stuck, and everyone walks around with a thermos of hot water, their gourd with maté in it, and the bombilla (self-straining straw). To the North American this seems to be a cumbersome load to carry, but it's second nature for everyone to carry the thermos and gourd around here. High-school ages kids drink it on the bus, older people drink it on benches, salespeople have it behind the counter, young 20-somethings take it on dates-the works! It's a maté obsession here, but what a healthy way to go, right?
10) There are sweets and candy stores on every corner, and they always tempt us. We give in daily.
11) Poverty is not as apparent as in Ecuador, and I still can't believe Ecuador and Argentina exist on the same continent. The physical indigenous characteristics aren't as apparent as in Ecuador, and there is an obvious European descendency. It's nice for once that people can't pick me out as a foreigner just by looking at me. When I speak it's a different story- I'm caught!
12) Wine is sold on every corner, and it's possible to buy wine-by-the-glass for $1.25.

I told you I'd try to keep it short! Next off is Mendoza on a night bus. I hope everyone is doing well and is ready to eat mountains of salads with me when I come home. I get back July 12th in Tampa. More to come soon!