Tag Archives: south america

A Short List of the Things I’ll Miss

18 Jun

Meat, Meat, and More Meat

Next month I’m going back to the United States for at least two years. People keep asking me for how long and that’s my general response–“at least 2 years,” because in reality who knows what the future holds. After all, I’m going to be studying U.S. Foreign Policy with a focus in Latin America, so it’s very well possible that I’ll end up right back here. Yet at this point in time I have no idea if I’ll be back in 5 months on vacation or in 5 years to live here again. Another thing my friends have been asking me is what I’ll miss when I go back home. Here’s just a short list of the things I’ll miss about Buenos Aires and Argentina (not in any particular order):

Dulce de Leche, the rich caramel-like creamy stuff used in any kind of dessert

Empanadas. The best ones usually come from random places or estancias, but there’s a place around the corner from the office owned by a Brazilian family from Bahia, and every time I come in the mom comments about my eyes and jokes around. I’ll miss that.

Great steaks. Even though I don’t eat meat as much as I’d like to because of the cost, when you get a good steak in Argentina, it’s pure heaven.

Fernet and cola. Hands down one of my favorite drinks. Mixed with 2-3 ice cubes and ONLY Coke regular.

That's me! On the right

Excellent, fairly cheap wine. Both red and white varieties are lining the shelves of the neighborhood supermarket, kiosk, restaurant, gym, post office, bus stop, etc.

Alfajores. I don’t eat many candies or junk food, but I love helping myself to a good alfajor cookie once in a while. The two best brands are Havanna and Cachafaz, but equally delicious is the Capitan del Espacio from Zona Sur, though only as a triple layer. For some reason the single layer is just meh.

Maté tea. Both in drinking and simply socializing with people. Get a few people together and bullshit over some mate for a while. Also helps in staving off hunger for a few extra minutes.

Road races. Buenos Aires is probably the capital of Latin America in terms of running races. I’ve gotten very into running while here and have already been disappointed by the options in the United States. A deep search showed me that aside from 5k races and a few marathons sprinkled in, there aren’t that many races throughout the United States. Maybe because most Americans don’t run, but drive. I’m still hoping I just haven’t found the right source yet.

Mate with friends

Random sketchy bars/clubs. South America is full of random little dives and sketchy bars where it feels like a slamming door will set the place off. Not exactly like the Wild West, but there’s just the feeling of imminent danger, which is somehow so attractive. Leading me to the next thing…

The feeling of doing something so unique and interesting that I otherwise never would have done back home. Even this means sometimes putting myself in danger or stretching my personal comfort to its max. Living an amazing life rather than reading about it.

Meeting new friends who reinforce that there are good and interesting people all over the world. We all share similar interests and desires, and friendship is one of the most precious things I’ve been able to take away from my time here.

Of course these are just some of the things that come into my mind right now. There are clearly more, and as the days get closer to my departure I will no doubt add to it. I’ll probably add to it after I publish this list. And then when I’m home. And then days, months, and years later. Until I come back and do it all again.

The Malvinas Issue…Again

17 Jun

Once again the issue of the Argentine claim to sovereignty over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands is a hot issue here, almost causing a rift between Argentina and the United Kingdom. After living in Buenos Aires for almost two years, I’m tired of hearing this same story again. I’ve seen Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner campaign and campaign to get the islands back, but to no avail. And continually, English representatives have shown no willingness to talk about it.

On Wednesday, June 15th British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a Parliamentary speech that Argentina’s soveriegnty claim over the Malvinas islands “is not negotiable. Period!” Recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Argentina on his birthday and while here, Kirchner petitioned once again for the return of the islands to Argentina. Though the islands are thousands of miles away from the United Kingdom and seem to serve no major strategic purpose, there is the potential for oil drilling there, which is an obvious reason for why the UK would want to hold on to them.

The next day, Kirchner said that his comments were “mediocre and almost stupid”, adding to the tensions. The Malvinas Islands have been an issue here well before the failed military campaign of the 1980s which eventually led to the end of the dictatorship in Argentina. It seems that everytime some bit of bad news comes out of this country the president brings up the Malvinas issue again, which is probably an attempt at bolsering nationalism and focusing blame on someone else. It’s not an unknown tactic.

Luckily the Buenos Aires Herald has been there all along to cover the stories, and today came out with a story on illegal unemployment and unemployment. The article stated:

Illegal labour reached 34.1 percent of the total amount of jobs in Argentina during the first quarter of the year, the Indec National Statistics bureau reported.

Meanwhile, unemployment stood at 7.4 percent during the first three months of the year.

The highest unemployment rate was found among economically active women up to 29 years old (16.6 percent), while the lowest rate was found among economically active men between ages 30 and 64 (4.7 percent).

It doesn’t look to well for a president seeking re-election that a large chunk of the workforce isn’t registered or paying taxes (guilty as I am, I too am working in the black).

And also without much surprise, this morning for the third time in a week one of the free newspapers handed out at bus stops and subway stations, handed out to most workers during the commute when they’re angry and tired of the transit problems, had a giant headline about the Malvinas. So at least their rage can be centered on something other than the fact that the daily commute is such a mess. For a change of pace, anyway.

Going Back, But Slightly Different

6 Jun

Last week during lunch Leo brought up something which I’ve often thought about throughout the last almost three years. He asked curiously, though without malicious intent, what will happen to me once I go back to the United States. More than anything, he was saying how he’d like to see how I act in my element, back where I come from in the country that I grew up in. After all of this time here in Buenos Aires, almost two years, I’m become Argentinized. I expect that things won’t work well, I love a good piece of meat, and of course, I reach for my mate more often than a cup of coffee. So Leo wanted to know what will become of me now that I’ve gone through so many changes and struggled so much to become more like a porteño. It’s a tough one to answer and you might not like the answer.

I sort of realized a long time ago, back before leaving Ecuador, that you eventually reach a point where you can’t simply go back to how things were before. You can’t just go home and assume that your friends are the same, that the same shows will be on TV, or that the town will look exactly the same. You go through untold changes when living abroad and can’t just assume that it’s one sided. But that goes without saying. So after so much time away from what I grew up in, could I still consider myself your typical American? The truth is I don’t think so. And would I want to go back to that if I could? In retrospect, probably not.

It’s not that I don’t like the United States, it’s not that at all. It’s my country of birth and I’ll always have it as my own. But I’m not typical anymore, not in any sense of the word. Maybe I never was, and that’s what got me interested in living abroad in the first place. I try to relay the fact that the States are made up of so many diverse and unique people that saying we are one thing is nearly impossible, yet you can’t deny a certain stereotype or two when it mocks you to your face, and whether it be loud and obnoxious in bars or lacking a general sense of history and geography, I’ve tried to counter those arguments to friends here by setting an example. But then a friend from back home will ask me how Mexico is, thinking they’re funny, and it kind of makes my stomach hurt to think I’m going to be heading back into that atmosphere.

Not all Americans are like that, and since I’m going to be studying a Masters in International Relations, the people I’ll soon meet will hopefully think the way I do, or if not at least give me something new to think about. Leo was wondering if I’ll miss having mate in the morning, but I think he was also saying that I’m currently a model citizen. Many Argentinians (among other people throughout the world) can’t stand most Americans, and it took a long time for them to trust me and let me in enough to admit this. I’m an exception for them, and he’s wondering if I’m going to go home and become the same kind of person that usually puts him off.

I already feel the difference and have for a long time. It’s not a sense of superiority over others back home who haven’t experienced what I have, but rather a sense of inferiority in that I belong to such a small portion of the population who “get it”. It’s almost useless in trying to relate it to someone who doesn’t have their own personal experience with it, but to at least attempt it I’ll need more words and more time to better understand it myself. I first need to go home and test the waters, see how I feel, and then decide how far gone I am. I’ll keep you advised.

How Do You Speak My Language So Well?

30 May

Adelia was a friend of mine when I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain back in 2007. Years had passed without much communication, until a few months back when she began to ask me for advice on South America before a big move to Brazil. And now, after a month in Brazil, she’s in Buenos Aires for a week-long visit, and on Friday we saw each other for the first time in four years.

Even after the long time apart, she looks just as I remember, and though we’d liked to have caught up right then and there, with six other Brazilians in the pregame talking loudly and vying for attention, the best we could wiggle out was “4 years in 30 seconds, go!” One thing did happen, however, which was much more interesting. When I first got to the apartment in Las Cañitas where she’s staying with her old roommate from Sevilla (who is actually studying a Masters here) the Brazilians in the house didn’t pay much attention to me except for one who I chatted it up with. But soon they all headed out on the balcony and with Adelia speaking a few words in Portuguese, suddenly they all opened up.

I almost felt badly for her at first, knowing exactly what it feels like, You become the toy in the party and everyone wants to ask questions or grill you on something. It can be nerve wracking the first few times it happens, yet it’s also thrilling, to be able to communicate in another language. Adelia started speaking in Portuguese and the Brazilians broke into huge smiles and claimed disbelief that a foreigner could speak so well. Apparently she has an accent from some region in northwestern Brazil which couldn’t be explained by the fact that she’s from Florida. Shy and humble, she said the standard, “Oh no, I don’t speak that well…” but the Brazilians wanted more, wanted to know how she could speak their language so well. I could relate to my own triumphs with this in Spanish.

For me it was also impressive; the last time I saw Adelia we were both beginner Spanish speakers, and now here we were, in Argentina both fluent but in different languages. I don’t speak Portuguese but with the Spanish and a French background (high school education), I’m able to loosely keep up. The Brazilians even wanted to talk to me and find out how I could speak Spanish so well, as if the realization that you could speak another language was a ticket in, and it really is. As people always say, “language opens doors.”

In a single conversation we were continuously switching from Spanish-Portuguese-English, often all in the same sentence. Someone on the outside would have been totally confused by the situation. These experiences are always priceless and explain why we travel. There’s a huge difference in how you speak and also understand a culture, and it often will direct how deep the conversation can go. On a number of occasions, for example, someone here has opened up to me and told me to leave Argentina and go back home, yet not in a xenophobic way. The fact that I could speak to them well enough showed that I perhaps wasn’t just another tourist, and that they could say more to me than just “Welcome to my city” or “It’s a beautiful country”.

Study a foreign language and learn about another culture. In fact, just today the New York Times ran a piece on The Bilingual Advantage, stating that it can also help prevent or slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. You would be surprised at how valuable just a few words or phrases can be, and it really makes a trip overseas worthwhile.

Northwestern Argentina, in Video

25 May

Purmamarca, in Photos

18 May

The village of Purmamarca

Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven Color Hill)

Striking differences in the colors of the hills

Desert scenery in the Province of Jujuy

Southwestern Bolivia, in Video, Part II

17 May

Cachi, in Photos

17 May

Riding up to Cachi in the Cuesta del Obispo

The Recta de Tin Tin

The Nevado de Cachi

The church in Cachi