ADVENTURES IN TIGRE
Mar 01 2014
I can't believe I've been traveling for over 100 days now. I finally made one of my first excursions outside of Buenos Aires, to the town of Tigre. We took the local commuter train there, which I think was maybe 25 cents each way (public transit in Argentina is remarkably cheap). Tigre is an interesting place in it's own right but more importantly it is the gateway into the wilds of the Parana Delta, a sprawling labyrinth of rivers, islands, and forests, the whole of which marks the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Having taken way too many photos, I've broken them up into little sections. Enjoy!
So our adventure began at the Belgrano C station in Chinatown. This would be my first time on the Buenos Aires commuter rail. The train is very basic (no doors, no windows, hardly even any seats really) but that's all part of the allure. And in truth the transit system is more sophisticated than it may seem at first glace. The trains, subways, and buses all use the same contactless card (called the SUBE) which can be recharged at any convenient store. Our ride to Tigre was well under an hour.
Tigre was originally named after the panthers the Europeans used to hunt there (Tigre is Spanish for Tiger, in case that wasn't obvious). Today it's a bustling little tourist town, the green Venice of Argentina. And really we could have spent the entire day here; there are several museums, river walks, rows of restaurants, a massive outdoor market, and even an amusement park. But the real reason people come to Tigre, the real reason we came, was to head into the delta... and to lose ourselves in the belly of this great natural beast.
THE BOAT RIDE
The Parana Delta is a massive landscape crisscrossed by dozens of rivers, some that reach as far north as Brazil and Paraguay. We saw but the tiniest fraction of the Delta on our boat ride. The rivers here nearest to Tigre have been developed with homes and cabins. The rivers themselves are the streets and every home has a tiny dock where passengers wave down long boats acting like public buses. It was one of these long boats that we took to Tres Bocas (the Three Mouths). The fare was about $3 each way. One of the more interesting sites along the way is the former home of President Domingo Sarmiento (1868–1874), who fought to make education a universal right in Argentina and whose likeness now adorns the 50 peso bill (and whose house is protected in a glass box).
Go home boat. You're drunk.
Tres Bocas is an island area in the Delta. This was our ultimate destination. The island is littered with tiny inlets, makeshift foot bridges, and a rather rambling trail that decays into infinity as it pushes deeper into the heart of the Delta. The trail starts off with promise; it's a well maintained concrete walkway linking together many nice docks (each of which apparently comes with it's own dog), several fancy vacation homes, and even a restaurant. By it's end however the trail devolves into a muddy dirt trail following narrow and un-moving waters; at this point it's footbridges are held up with nothing more than the ruined boards of long abandoned cabins, and there is a constant haze of mosquitos bearing down on any intrepid traveler willing to make it this far. All that is to say, I actually really enjoyed the hike!
I don't always spontaneously burst into a dance, but when I do, I just walked through one of these webs.
No adventure is complete without a picnic. Unable to find a spot in the mosquito ridden interior of the island we settled for a campground along the river where we could both enjoy a little sun and swim in the river. This was not our first picnic together and if there's a common theme to our picnics, it's that we always bring wine but never a corkscrew to open it. But there's no problem physical force and a little violence can't solve.
After our picnic we caught one of the last long boats back to Tigre. We strolled the town a little as the sun set. And then we had an asado (my first in Argentina actually) at a parrilla along the river. An asado is a South American social event based around a grill. A parrilla is simply a grillhouse and ours brought the grill right to our tabletop. Sizzling kidneys never looked so... well they still looked pretty unappetizing actually. After our asado we booked it back to the train station only to find that we missed the last train. But that's why Baby Jesus made the city bus.
|ARGENTINA • ADVENTURE • PHOTOS • TIGRE|
BUENOS AIRES ZOO
Feb 17 2014
Well the weather in Buenos Aires has gone from week after week of 100 degree weather and blinding sun to week after week of torrential downpours randomly pounding the city day and night. The storms swallow the city, flood the streets, shake the very foundations of the world and then, just as quickly as they come, they're gone. But all this is to say I haven't been up to much tourism lately.
So here's some photos of the Zoo. I actually went here a few weeks ago but was too busy to edit the photos until now. I particularly like the fact that these strange bunny like creatures called Mara are allowed to run around, sleep in other animal's pens, and chase zoo visitors around. You go, Mara.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • PHOTOS • ZOO|
GOODBYE PALERMO SOHO
Feb 03 2014
I moved to Palermo Chico over the weekend. The new place is tiny but cozy. I'll try to post photos soon. Palermo Chico is considered one of the more upscale parts of the city but already I miss the sort of worn and battered appeal of my old hood. Oh well. So it goes. I did manage to host a small get together before leaving. We were the motley mix of Americans, Europeans, and Argentinians. I think everyone had a good time. Incidentally I should say the shindig also marked three months since I left New York, three months of being on the road, three months since starting this travel chapter of my life. And so far, I'm happy to report, no regrets.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • PALERMO • PARTY|
TANGO DE ARGENTINA
Jan 30 2014
Well it would be a travesty if I were to visit Argentina and not see at least one Tango show. Tango is, of course, the national dance of Argentina. Quite a few Latin American countries have national dances; Samba in Brazil, Merengue in the DR, Rumba in Cuba, just to name a few. Dance is an immensely important part of Spanish (and Portuguese) culture. The United States, by contrast, has no national dance but quite a few states have a state dance. The overwhelming majority, 24 states in total, have Square Dancing as their official state dance but places like Wisconsin has Polka, Kentucky has Clogging, and Hawaii has Hulu. Different styles of Swing are popular as well. I'm partial to the Lindy Hop (New York) and the Charleston (Ohio) myself.
Well here are my photos of the Tango dancers in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. I can't always fit the full photo in the previews below so be sure to click on them to see them full-sized. I was rather mesmerized by these particular two dancers. I may not enjoy dancing personally (hate it actually), but Tango is really more than just a dance, it's something of a visual performing art.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • DANCE • SAN TELMO • TANGO|
THE BLUE DOLLAR
Jan 29 2014
An interesting development this week in Argentina's always interesting economy (I'm expanding on something I mentioned yesterday). The government has just announced that it is lifting (with caveats) the restrictions on sales of the US Dollar. As I mentioned before the government imposed this ban in 2012. The goal was to prevent capital flight which would ultimately drain the national reserves. Other measures put into place included a 35% tax on credit card purchases abroad and a near total ban on internet purchases from other countries. The government was going to make Argentinians spend pesos and spend them in Argentina, no matter how drastic the measures had to be.
With the restriction on dollars came a black market for them (known as the Blue Market, which I suppose sounds less criminal). Argentinians of all stripes wanted to invest in dollars to hedge their bets against the inflation of their own currency, which has been hitting the nation in the range of 25-30% per year. Officially the government denies inflation is that bad but independent observers and even the IMF have been critical of the 'official' numbers published internally in Argentina. And last week the value of the peso fell 8% against the dollar in a single day; a clear sign something had to change.
The Blue Market works in the favor of foreigners like myself. When I arrived I could sell my dollars under the table at a cueva (Spanish for 'cave'; aka an otherwise ordinary shop that buys and sells dollars illegally) for around 8.9 pesos per dollar. But just a few weeks later I could sell them for 10.4 pesos per dollar. And last week I was offered 12 pesos per dollar (I'm not saying I did sell them; only that I could). So within just a month's time the country has theoretically become 25% cheaper for me. Even the most unaware tourist realizes that's a fast and tumultuous change to be occurring in a major country's economy just while on vacation. Meanwhile until recently the official exchange rate, the one I'd get at a bank or on my credit card, was around 6.9 pesos per dollar. There's one other Latin American country where these dollar restrictions exist and that's Venezuela. But Venezuela receives very little US tourism and it's tourists who supply the dollars into the underground market. As such the black market rate in Venezuela is more than 1000% the official rate.
No one can predict the future (though as Fareed Zakaria points out; following the Venezuela model is probably a bad idea). And I hope the best for Argentina. I've been here long enough to start to feel like more than a tourist; this is not just 'some country' I'm passing through anymore. This is a place where I have friends, where I've made memories, where I've learned a bit more about myself... and one day soon I hope it's the place that gives me a noticeable accent in Spanish! But more than that, for the time being, it's home.
|ARGENTINA • CURRENCY • POLITICS|
NEIGHBORHOODS // LA BOCA
Jan 27 2014
I took advantage of a beautiful day and went to La Boca with a friend over the weekend. For the most part La Boca is a working class neighborhood. From what I've been told it borders on seedy, particularly at night. Outbreaks of yellow fever in the 1800's prevented La Boca from ever truly flourishing and it became a tenement district for poor immigrants arriving from Europe (like the US, Argentina was one of the world's major immigrant countries). Today there are still many immigrants, mostly from other parts of South America. It would otherwise be a nondescript neighborhood if not for the many artists and writers that call it home and it's somewhat interesting history of anarchist politics.
In the 1960's local artists succeeded in converting a disused alley into an arts corridor. Most famously the run down houses were painted in bright colors. That alley, known as the Caminito, has grown into something of a tourist attraction in recent years, even as tourists are cautioned not to wonder too far from it's (very) well policed borders. I appreciate what has been done here and I assume and hope that it has created some economic investment for the actual residents of the neighborhood, but to me La Boca is something of a soul crushing tourist trap. Those colored houses, once home to authentic artists, have been gutted and turned into tiny malls selling kitschy souvenirs. Actors in traditional tango outfits charge tourist money to have their photos taken with them. I'm not against tourist areas in general but something about this part of La Boca feels like there's little authenticity left in its cobblestone streets.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • LA BOCA • NEIGHBORHOODS • PHOTOS • TANGO|
NEIGHBORHOODS // SAN TELMO
Jan 22 2014
Let me just start off by saying summer flus are the worst. I've been sick nearly a week now. Mostly a sore throat but also fatigue, sore muscles, headaches. Swallowing has been like downing a glass full of daggers. That's never fun. I haven't had the energy to study (and I haven't been outside in three days - what is this thing they call the sun?). But today I'm feeling much better. Being locked inside has given me a little time to do some planning. Firstly, as you might notice, I re-branded my last few blog entries. They are now all part of a photo essay of the many diverse neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. So far I have Palermo Soho, Recoleta, El Centro, Barrio Chino, and today I'm adding San Telmo. There are still a few more neighborhoods I want to check out, particularly Once, La Bocca, and Puerto Madero. I'll add those once I'm better and go visit them.
Also I'll be moving to Palermo Chico at the end of next week. I found a cheaper apartment and I'm going to use the money I save to hire a private teacher. I'll miss my little apartment in Palermo Soho. Not that Palermo Chico is so very far away, but it was this apartment that was my refuge from the exotic and sometimes chaotic world that was Buenos Aires when I first arrived. So I'm going to throw a small going away shindig next week. Incidentally the party will also fall on the three month mark of my travels. Three months since leaving New York; since leaving my job; my world; my life. But I'll ponder that more when the day comes.
The other plan that I've been tossing around in my state of flu-induced delirium is a road trip. But more on that later.
So, anyway, San Telmo. Yes. Yes. Very nice. The neighborhood sits just east of the city center. It's the oldest neighborhood in the city and well preserved in the sense that there aren't a million housing towers everywhere. The majority of the streets are cobblestone, most of the original architecture is intact (if not somewhat damaged by time -- there's certainly a faded grandeur to be found here). It was never a wealthy district, indeed it was primarily industrial and home to dockworkers; Saint Telmo is after all the patron saint of sailors; but perhaps this is what allowed the district to be preserved. The wealthier areas of the city seem to have all been bulldozed for fancy housing towers. San Telmo is, for good reason, quite popular with tourists and artists alike. There are antique markets around every corner, tango shows in the tiny plazas, and a sense of authenticity that is somewhat lost in places like Palermo which have perfected the art of serving manicured decay with a side of fancy truffles.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • GNOMES • NEIGHBORHOODS • PHOTOS • SAN TELMO|
NEIGHBORHOODS // EL CENTRO
Jan 19 2014
Yet another week of 98 degree weather. To avoid the heat I've spent most of the week indoors, either studying in my apartment or at my favorite cafe around the corner. I mentioned before that Argentina is experiencing record temperatures. In a normal year Buenos Aires is slightly cooler than New York in the summer and considerably warmer than New York in the winter. Sounded ideal when I originally made my plans. What I hadn't expected is that I'd be walking into a sauna. And to make matters worse there have been sporadic brownouts across the city, some lasting days at a time. Fortunately I haven't been affected by those yet.
In a bit of good news there was a day last week that was only in the high 80's. So I took advantage and ventured into the city center. I'd have explored much more of the city by now if the heat would just let up for a little while (I'll be here for another month or two, however, so I really don't feel rushed to see everything right away). Anyway, one of my friends gave me a tour of El Centro (the Center), where the majority of the city's financial institutions and government buildings are located. By far the grandest architecture in the city is here. Yet probably the most striking landmark is not a landmark at all; it's the Avenue 9 de Julio. The avenue was originally planned in 1888 but was blocked by landowners until 1935. It was created by tearing down a row of city blocks in the city center a kilometer long and turning them into an avenue. Today it's generally considered the widest avenue in the world and is dedicated to Argentina's Independence Day (July 9th, 1816). Since I can't take an aerial shot myself, the first photo below is from the Wikipedia Commons (all the rest are mine though).
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • EL CENTRO • NEIGHBORHOODS • PHOTOS|
NEIGHBORHOODS // PALERMO SOHO
Jan 13 2014
I've been in Buenos Aires almost a month now. I feel I can start to write a little about my experience here. Palermo (my neighborhood) is quite large and has been divvied up now into smaller neighborhoods. Each of these smaller neighborhoods is given a trendy name to make it more marketable. There's Palermo Chico, Palermo Hollywood, even a Palermo Queens (which, cleverly, is not actually in Palermo). I myself am on the border of Palermo Soho and Palermo Botanico. Palermo Soho is probably the trendiest, or at least most bohemian, of all the Palermo districts. I've posted a few photos below. I also have other photos of Palermo Soho here that I took when I first arrived.
Palermo can at times look and feel a lot like Brooklyn (where I used to live). There's a grungy quality to the streetscape; broken sidewalks, copious amounts of graffiti, a hint of chaos here and there. But it's all an artfully maintained aesthetic. The crowds are young, fashionable, upscale, and there's no shortage of foreign backpackers at the bars. So in that regard my transition to Buenos Aires has been easy. New York prepares you for a lot.
But I occasionally do hit walls of frustration; and not just regarding the language (which is improving slowly, but improving). Oddly enough, finding food to cook at home has been difficult. I'm still not quite sure why that is. The supermarkets carry very little fresh food. The selection is mainly pre-packaged things, like crackers, dry noodles, canned vegetables. And even then the selection is pretty abysmal; maybe three kinds of cereal, no potato chips but a million types of chocolate wafers. Milk only comes in a bag or box. Pasta sauce comes in bags as well.
What has been happening to me is one market might carry the cereal I want but no eggs, another will have pasta but oddly no pasta sauce, another will have eggs but no frozen vegetables. Food shopping then becomes an exercise of multiple markets all several blocks apart. There are a few giant markets here and there, but they're always crowded, they're expensive, and there's really no guarantee their selection is going to be much better. An additional two kinds of cereal isn't worth the hassle.
And that's just for pre-packaged food. Fresh foods are found at different stores entirely. Fruits at fruterias. Meat at carnicerías. Bread at panaderías (though I still haven't stumbled upon a good bakery yet). Unlike the supermarkets, I don't mind this particular division of labor; there's something charming about visiting the local butcher and then the Chinese grocer. However it's at this point my language skills are clearly a liability. At a market I can grab what I want off the shelves and they can ring me up. All very simple. At the specialty stores on the other hand you're dealing with a person behind a counter; there's a bit more negotiation about what you want, how it's going to be prepared, and how much it's going to cost you. Well when that ceases to be a painful experience (for all parties involved), at least I'll know that I'm finally somewhat, almost, maybe a little bit fluent. So it goes.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • NEIGHBORHOODS • PALERMO • PHOTOS|
NEIGHBORHOODS // BARRIO CHINO
Jan 11 2014
Today was one of my first big expeditions outside of my neighborhood of Palermo here in Buenos Aires. I loaded my backpack with water and snacks and set off on foot for Belgrano. Specifically I set off for Chinatown (known in Spanish as Barrio Chino) which is near the center of Belgrano. My impression of Belgrano is that it's a rather upscale and wealthy neighborhood. Big avenues with lots of shopping. Well maintained residential towers, some quite posh with 70's styled square moats. Quite a few international embassies are located here as well, often housed in beautiful (but gated) mansions set on cobblestone streets (the US embassy though is actually in Palermo, not far from my apartment).
So finally after about an hour walking I reached Chinatown. It's small, perhaps only five blocks. But those five blocks are tightly packed with shops and character. Like most Chinatowns it caters to a pan-Asian community. I believe this one was originally settled by Taiwanese immigrants. I took a few photos.
|ARGENTINA • BELGRANO • BUENOS AIRES • CHINATOWN • NEIGHBORHOODS|