CAFES OF BUENOS AIRES
Apr 12 2014
Buenos Aires isn't anything, if not a city of cafes. It's a common sight to see men and women, often sitting alone, reading the newspaper, drinking coffee and eating medialunas (croissants). As a testament to their sheer numbers, the cafes of Buenos Aires are almost never crowded. This cafe culture is one of the aspects of the city that I'll truly miss when I leave. I've spent a great number of hours at these cafes; writing, reading, studying, chatting... and planning the next big adventure.
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • CAFES|
Apr 12 2014
I haven't had much to post these last few weeks as I've been focused on studying Spanish (I can now hold very basic conversations!). In a few weeks I'll be leaving Buenos Aires to crisscross South America and continue on my travels but in the meantime I'm enjoying life in my new apartment in San Telmo, one of the city's more historic and diverse neighborhoods. If my old neighborhood of Palermo was something of a Hipster/Expat playground, then San Telmo is more authentically South America. It can be beautiful, it can be decrepit, it can be safe, it can be shady, it can be tranquil, it can explode into unrest. All walks of life call San Telmo home; the privileged, the immigrant, the drunkard, the hosteler. And of course me.
Here are some views from my rooftop (with my friend Ana graciously posing):
|ARGENTINA • BUENOS AIRES • CITY VIEWS|
Apr 06 2014
A painting my uncle in Michigan did of one of my Colonia photos.
|URUGUAY • ART • COLONIA|
ADVENTURES IN URUGUAY
Mar 19 2014
So one issue that arises while traveling the world is that as a tourist you're only given a limited number of days before you must leave. In the case of Argentina I was given 90 days. And those 90 days, I'm sad to say, are up. So I left Argentina (and returned a day later at which time they happily gave me another stamp for another 90 days... so it goes). Still, I had to accomplish the actual act of leaving and fortunately for me, Uruguay is only an hour away by ferry. So I grabbed a friend and we traveled across the great Rio Del Plata Bay to the mystical realm of Uruguay and specifically to the tiny town of Colonia Del Sacramento, a place somehow frozen in time. And it is there our adventure begins.
There are a few ferry companies that service Uruguay; either to Colonia or to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. We took ColoniaExpress, which is the cheapest of the bunch. You may not be able to see much out the dirty and foggy windows, but we ended up where we needed to be (along with three busloads of exhausted rugby players who took the ferry with us).
Colonia was founded in 1680 and is one of the oldest cities in Uruguay. It was traded back and forth between Portugal and Spain nearly ten times during its first 200 years of existence, so the streets and architecture have the characteristics of both nations. Today the entire historic center is a World Heritage Site. We arrived just a week or so after Carnival had ended (Carnival being one of South America's biggest festivals) and we stayed on a Sunday and Monday, so pretty much we had the entire city to ourselves. For us Colonia became a time machine, a chance to step back how many centuries to a place not only of amazing beauty but also of amazing tranquility; for Colonia is shaded by great and ancient trees, the streets are so old as to practically be part of the earth, and the entire town hugs a peninsula where the sounds of the ocean waves rolling in are never far away.
As far as I could tell we were the sole guests at our hostel. And I'd be very close to declaring this the greatest hostel on Earth. The building is ancient and charming. The bedrooms have balconies opening to cobblestone plazas in the heart of town, and on three sides are views of the ocean, majestic and peaceful. Even the key was a piece of history. You can see our hostel below, pinched between my friend Marina's fingers.
An old town requires old cars. Colonia Del Sacramento does not disappoint.
How did I take those amazing vista shots of the town? I climbed El Faro, the lighthouse.
COLONIA AT NIGHT
Morning, keep the streets empty for me.
Though I officially missed Carnival by more than a week, we were lucky enough to stumble upon a somewhat surreal traveling amusement park and it's band of wayward Carnival performers (with one group singing about pot of all things). It's worth mentioning that last year Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the sale, cultivation, and distribution of Marijuana. So with rides, songs, and fireworks we ended a very successful day in the magical little nation of Uruguay.
Our second and final day. For this we have a swim and lunch on the beach before heading back to the ferry and home.
And so ends another adventure.
|URUGUAY • ADVENTURE • COLONIA • HISTORIC TOWN • LIGHTHOUSE • PHOTOS|
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|