Friends in Chile

To finish our trip, we left Argentina for Chile, crossing the border quite near Torres del Paine. We had time for one more night in Patagonia, in Punta Arenas, and then one night in Santiago as part of the overly complicated route I picked to come home.

There is not a lot to see in Punta Arenas, but we had time to visit a museum and the cemetery. The museum is a strange amalgamation of natural history, with galleries of stuffed local animals, cultural history, highlighting the geographic, scientific and socializing efforts of the Catholic missionaries, with a newer section dedicated to and, I’m sure, paid for by mining and drilling, which likely sustains the community these days.

In the taxidermy section we were able to put names to some of the birds we had seen during the drive from Calafate, including the ñandu, or lesser rhea (an emu-like bird), the cisne de cuello negro, or black-headed swan (a black-headed swan-like bird) and the flamenco chileno. which I didn’t know existed. In the religious section, we saw the sillón utilized pur el Papa Juan Pablo II en su visit a Magellenas el 4 de Abril de 1987. It was covered in plastic, like the furniture in Frank and Estelle Costanza’s house in Seinfeld.

However, my favourite feature was the small section on Shackleton’s Antarctic misadventures because it featured a plaque dedicated to Luis Pardo, the Chileno sailor who rescued the Ingleses from Isla Elefante. Where else would this man, without whom the expedition may well have ended in greater disaster, be recognized? [Read more…]

Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day

After the tranquility of Estancia Cristina, we returned to tourist reality the next day when we took a group tour to the Perito Moreno glacier. The early morning logistics in Calafate are very impressive. For 3 hours, starting at ~7am, the roads are filled with shuttle buses gathering pasajeros from the many hotels, hostels and B&B’s and taking them to their chosen daily activities.

At 9am we were among the last to get on the small tour bus heading for the Perito Moreno glacier headwall. On the way, we stopped by the roadside several times for views of Lago Argentina, and each time we realized what a sausage factory we were in. Every time, there were a half dozen or so other buses doing exactly the same thing.

Although it was a brisk but clear morning when we left Calafate, by the time we reached the first glacier viewpoint the clouds had moved in, the wind had picked up, and it had begun to rain. [Read more…]

Estancia Cristina

 

We spent an amazing two days at Estancia Cristina.  The Estancia was a working sheep ranch established in 1914, on leased land that was later incorporated into Los Glaciares National Park.  The family working the land was allowed to stay in perpetuity until 1998 when there were no more heirs.

It is now used as a base (after a 3 hour boat ride) for day trips and hikes to and around the Upsala Glacier, and as a small lodge.  We stayed one night, as did one other couple (a German taking a 6 month sabbatical and his Argentine companion).   After the day visitors left, it was just the 4 of us (and the very attentive staff).

We were driven on 4X4 trucks to the glacier, and hiked 14km back to the lodge.  We tried horseback riding!  And we relaxed and soaked up the vistas.

[Read more…]

Deep South

We’ve been in Patagonia since Sabadi afternoon, and it is awesome.  Haven’t posted any updates because we were off the grid at Estancia Cristina for two days: no phone, no TV and minimal WiFi.

More to come…


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Demorado

20140412-093612.jpg

Arrived at AEP this morning for our flight to El Calafate in Patagonia, but it is delayed by ~3 hours. So we are airport-bound.


Go to the next post: Deep South

The Zeitgeist

Buenos Aires skyline, from Calle Hipolito Yrigoyen near Plaza de Mayo

Buenos Aires skyline, from Calle Hipolito Yrigoyen near Plaza de Mayo

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on Buenos Aires, as a place. Now, on our last night before heading to Patagonia, I’m sharing some impressions of

The People.

It is always dangerous to generalize, especially after only scratching the surface as we have over the last 3 weeks. However, the view that I am forming is of Argentina as country where some key factions hold grudges that they can’t or won’t let go.  I see this in several places…

  • The animosity the government feels towards those lenders who refused to restructure the government’s debt in 2001 is extreme, and continues to grow more than a decade later.  Argentina is adamant that they will not pay the hold-outs and is taking the matter to the US Supreme Court.  However, if they lose, it’s a sure bet that the government still won’t pay and there is little that the lenders can do.
  • The Malvinas War (or the Falklands War, if you prefer) is a festering sore here.  The incident at La Gota restaurant may or may not have been related, but this is still very much an open issue in Argentina.  Since our trip included Malvinas Day, there has been much in the papers and on the news related to the Malvinas.  “English Square” was renamed years ago, but residents of Calle Inglés were thrilled last week when the government agreed to change their address to Calle 2 de Abril.  In local bookstores, books on the Malvinas are featured near the front of the store, not buried in the history section.  This includes one that looks like an Argentine version of “An Idiot’s Guide to… the Malvinas”.  And Cristina Fernandez Kirchner announced last week that new 50 Peso bills will be issued featuring a map of Las Malvinas.
  • Even the intensity of fútbol rivalries between the BA teams (Boca Juniors, River Plate etc.) seems to me to be evidence that Argentinians want to be winners, and don’t like it at all when things go against them.

Yes, I know this is a sweeping generalization, and I also know that is wrong to equate the views of a country’s elites with those of it “ordinary citizens”. From what I can tell, the vast majority of Argentines are kind, respectful people. It is entirely plausible, even likely, that most people are just trying to live decent lives after having been pushed around by different factions for decades (I am thinking mostly of the military here, but Argentines would probably also include the IMF and other lenders, as well as the UK).

Whatever the reasons, Argentines have passively and actively allowed their country to be, essentially, destroyed. Quoted in a recent op-ed in the NY Times Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, observed that:

Argentina is a unique case of a country that has completed the transition to underdevelopment.

Maybe part of the reason for that is too much focus on the past, and assigning blame, instead of on the future. Blame is not the solution to the debt problem, or to the Malvinas, or to inflation, or anything really. It is a strategy for bullies, and it feels to me that bullies have been, and can be, successful here. [Yesterday’s paro general, being a timely example]. Of course, this is little more than a first impression, and I could be completely wrong.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


Go to the next post: Demorado

Jardin Japones

This is our third week in BsAs and in each of the first two, we had a day off for a public holiday.  This week we had a day off because of the paro general, or general strike.  The trains, buses and subways were all shutdown, as were international flights.  So we pretty much had to stick close to home.  Turns out that there are some very nice Japanese gardens a short walk away.  So after finishing our homework (a short spanish biography of someone famous from your home country: mine, Rob Ford; Heidi’s, Chris Hadfield), we grabbed some sandwiches and the camera to check it out.

[Read more…]

Grads

Just a group shot of our Academia Buenos Aires Spanish class, including teacher Paula (seated) and fellow estudiantes, Ana and Hendrik. Today we wrapped up Level 1. Here is my thesis (with corrections from Paula in italics:

En Buenos Aires, visitamos muchos lugars (lugares) y vimos muchos edificios y parques.  Pero mi actividad favorito (-ita) fue el partido de fútbol entre el (el) “River Plate” y “Newell’s Old Boys”.  El partido estuvo bueno, pero los hinchas de fútbol estuvieron locos.  Disfuté también (-ién) los museos y el cementario (-erio) Recoleta, pero ellos no fueron si (tan) emocionante (-antes).

En Buenos Aires, me molesté (-estó) mas yendo (ir) en subte, porque estuvio (-vo) caliente y lleno.

Also, another protest in Plaza de Mayo this past Monday.  A pretty low key affair,  targeting the offices of BBVA Frances.  They seemed to have shut the place down, and had a truck outside with massive loudspeakers denouncing something terrible that BBVA Frances had done, mixed with amped up rock music to add to the torture.  A guy was shooting fireworks at the windows  as well.  The Bomb squad was standing by, but the whole thing was pretty relaxed.  These things are a semi-regular event here.


Massive transit / government strike tomorrow.

Hope all is well in Canada.

Chao.


Go to the next post: Jardin Japones

So now you’re an expert on Argentina?

i’m working on consolidating my thoughts on Buenos Aires, both the place and the people. Let’s start with…

The Place

Any big city is in a constant state of re-construction as buildings become old, tired and no longer fit for purpose.  This is certainly true in BA, and especially in our Palermo neighbourhood. Here, many of the older residential buildings are already gone, and on nearly every block those which remain are being replaced with new condo-apartments. The new buildings are modern, but seem soul-less compared to the charming European influenced structures they have replaced.

In our two weeks here, we saw only one example where architectural history had been preserved in a new construction project. On a walk one afternoon, we passed a boutique hotel which added several floors of modern glass and steel above an old building, but retained the original facade to keep the street-scape intact.  Much more common is the approach taken by Nike at their Avenida Santa Fe location, and pictured below. The only traditional features that are visible are those reflected from the building across the street.

I am really glad we found an apartment in one of the older buildings.  Even though it is quirky and noisy, I think it has added much to our stay. However the interior rooms are dark, because a new building was constructed just a couple of meters away. And there are water stains on the ceiling. And the water heater needs to be relit once a day, or more. And I speculate that the reason the rooftop terazza is permanently closed, is because it needs work that the residents aren’t prepared to underwrite.

Despite the efforts at re-development, it feels like the the city is in slow decline. There are showpiece buildings scattered around, but the majority look dirty, tired and shabby. Graffiti is rampant at street level, and there are patches of grime on the upper floors. The University’s Faculty of Social Sciences building, is in such bad condition that it is hard to believe it is still in use.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough new development, or sufficient effort to maintain the status quo. BA’s hot, humid summers, and the dismal climate for economic development are taking their toll, and slowly winning.


Go to the next post: Grads

Phantoms of Florida Street

A much better description than I have been able to write. I don’t agree with him regarding the quality of empañadas in Bs. As., but that’s a quibble.


Go to the next post: So now you’re an expert on Argentina?

This Spanish Thing

On the one hand, I am pleased that I can now recognize and understand some of the text I encounter everyday here in Buenos Aires.. I like one of the free commuter newspapers here in BA because it tends to use simple vocabulary, and I can sometimes pick up the gist of the stories. The gist, mind you, not the details.

That is Paula, our Spanish teacher, in the photo BTW.

On the other hand it is really frustrating that I am unable to express anything verbally, except the most basic caveman dialogue: “Me hungry”, “I like beef in Argentina”. I feel like I have just barely begun to move the needle.

The whole experience affirms my respect and awe for people who have attained a modicum of fluency in more than one language. The German teenager exchange student in our class, for example. He already communicates effectively in German and English, but moved here for several months in order to add Spanish. Or Ana, the Swiss lawyer who joined us this week. She took 4 months off work to travel South America, and is adding Spanish to her abilities in German, Italian, English and French. The Brazilian riot police officer who sat at the table next to us at dinner last night, who easily switched from Portuguese to English and was working on Spanish (and who was way nicer than you would ever expect a riot police officer to be). They are all capable of things that are far beyond me.


Go to the next post: Phantoms of Florida Street

Last Weekend in BA Photos

This weekend we went over the edge.  Tired of showing up to be the first ones in the restaurant, we went out for dinner last night at 12:30 am.  At that time everything happens in black and white.  Here are some shots from Lo de Jesus restaurante.

Today we visited El Alteneo bookstore, which is in a refurbished theatre.  It’s a very neat idea. We even had a snack at the café located on the stage.

[Read more…]

Valar Morghulis

After class on Thursday, we went for a walk in the Retiro and Recoleta barrios.  We recruited Ceri to guide us once again.

It was interesting because we pass under these neighbourhoods every day on the subte, but didn’t realize quite how different they are from both Palermo, where we are staying, and the city centre, where the school is.  This is a much quieter neighbourhood and clearly very affluent.  The best hotels and apartments are here.  Most of the huge mansions have been repurposed into government buildings or embassies, but a few massive private residences remain.

[Read more…]

Este Hombre

Needed a trim - this man did it

Needed a trim – this man did it

After two weeks here in Buenos Aires, I was starting to feel the need for a trim. Este hombre has a small barbershop on the street leading to the cambio. So I stopped by, and now I feel muy bueno.  I just feel bad that I forgot ask his name.


Update:  when I wrote this yesterday, I made the mistake of saying esa hombre instead of este hombre. I used the feminine form of “that”, when I needed to use the masculine form of “this”.  Sorry about that, hope it is right now. Its a learning process.


Go to the next post: Valar Morghulis

River Plate

We decided that it was necessary for us, being in the home country of Maradona, to go to a fútbol game. Leery of large public gatherings, we signed up for a tour to see a local team, “River Plate”, play against “Newell’s Old Boys”. I had never heard of either team, but have since learned that River Plate (or River) is the most successful professional team in Argentina.

Here are the helpful tips from the website of the company that organizes the excursions…

Recommendations

– Dress simply, bring a camera and some extra cash
– River Plate Team Colors: Red and White
– Arch Nemesis Team Colors: Blue and Yellow (Do NOT wear for the love of all that is holy)
– Leave your credit cards, passports and anything of value at your hotel.

The email confirmation also mentions that “for the time being”, the opposing team fans are not permitted to attend any games. So we will be among River fans only. [Read more…]

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

It has been a little more than a week since the last public holiday in Argentina, so of course it is time for another.  2 Abril is Día del Veterano y de los Caídos en la Guerra de Malvinas, or Malvinas Day.  No school today, but we made up the class time with a very long day on Monday.

Today we went looking, again, for Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, or MALBA, and this time we found it. [Read more…]

ENE-O-ELE-A

Last night, Sunday, we visited NOLA, a “closed door” restaurant here in Buenos Aires. This is not really a resaurant, but more like a dinner party in the home of chef Liza Puglia and her marido, Fransisco. [Read more…]

Rodeo Day

Nuestros Caballos

Nuestros Caballos

It rained again on Sunday, but we ventured out to Nuestros Caballos y Nuestros Perros, which is an annual event much like the Royal Winter Fair, but focusing solely on doggies and horsies.   I don’t know enough about horses, OK I know nothing really, to appreciate the different breeds that were on display, but watching the gauchos compete in the rodeo was really interesting.  We watched a little bit of barrel racing, but a lot of a competition where a calf was released from a chute at one corner of the field, and 2 gauchos pinned the calf between their horses.   [Read more…]

Being in Buenos Aires

Today we have a special appearance by guest, and first time, blogger.  Over to you, Heidi….


So, we’ve been here a week now and, after the initial shock of being pickpocketed, we’re finally settling into a routine. Here are some of my observations this week:

  • If you’re English, don’t go into any traditional BA restaurants or bars. You won’t get served.
  • In the grocery stores, eggs are kept at room temperature.
  • The wine is really, really good and really, really cheap.
  • The beef is really, really good and really, really tender. In some restaurants, you are supplied with regular dinner knives, not steak knives.
  • When the Argentines say they don’t eat dinner until 10pm, they mean it. You feel kind of stupid being the only ones in a restaurant at 8:45pm. At 9:15, a couple with a young child comes into the restaurant.
  • The cooking temperature on an old gas stove is either hot or really, really hot. Forget about simmering anything.
  • Your landlady shows you how to use the washer, but adds that you must wear rubber-soled shoes when you use it. You ask why. She shows you the electrical cord….the plug is not grounded. You find out the hard way that she was right.
  • Wet clothes hanging in the kitchen (no dryer) will take days to dry if you don’t get a good cross breeze going between the two windows.
  • Portenos (Buenos Aires residents) love their dogs. It’s 25C outside and just spitting rain. You don’t even have an umbrella up, but the dogs have on their raincoats.
  • Only tourists wear shorts. (Poor Stuart…before we left home he said he couldn’t wait to put on a pair of shorts.)
  • It’s odd to carry just cash in your purse (no credit cards, no ID), and small amounts at that. Larger bills in the interior zippered pocket and some bills in each of the two zippered compartments. A conversation from the first morning after S is pick pocketed:

H – How much money do you think I should take today?

S – Take 300 hundred pesos.

H – That much?

S – It’s only $30!

  • BA city buses run red lights.

Go to the next post: Rodeo Day

Sabado en Palermo

SMB + HVW @ Floralis Genérica

SMB + HVW @ Floralis Genérica

On Saturday, we spent some time in our own neighbourhood of Palermo.  We were looking for “MALBA”, a museum of Latin American art, but we found “MNBA”, the Argentine national art museum.  We went in anyway.  I was a bit underwhelmed; the collection is quite small, but includes pieces by many famous European artists (Rembrandt, Monet, Gaugin, etc) which I am sure were respectable but didn’t stand out.  The lack of audio guides, in Spanish or English, was a disappointment.  The building is also quite plain, and I added to my collection of miniaturized photos of museum lobbies, but it isn’t that impressive.

On the way there we stopped at the Floralis Genérica, and on the way back we stopped to watch a RC sailboat race.


Go to the next post: Being in Buenos Aires