Monday, December 20, 2010

Argentina, Redeemed

Just when I was prepared to hate Argentina and everything it stands for, it turns around and becomes AWESOME. It's beautiful, there's tons to see, and the taxis actually have meters! It's such a relief to not have to engage in a battle of wits with the driver every time you have to take a cab somewhere. (I inevitably lose.) As great as it's been, though, we've been trying to get through it quite quickly because we're a bit tired of South America. I'm ready for some Kiwis. So the last 3 weeks have been a blur of activity - we've been to Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, and the delightfully palindromic Neuquen, home to the fossils of the world's largest dinosaurs (bigger than the T. rex!) and 100-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. As evolution nerds, there's no way we could pass that up.

(Note: if 3 cities in 3 weeks doesn't exactly sound like a "blur of activity," please remember that getting anywhere in Argentina usually requires a 20-hour overnight bus ride, effectively ensuring that every move takes us 2 days. Looking forward to New Zealand, which is 10 times smaller.)

There's not much to say about Iguazu Falls except that they were stunningly beautiful.

(Pictures couldn't possibly do them any justice, but to see our attempts, click here.)

Buenos Aires was a ridiculously fun city. Everything people do there, they do to the absolute extreme, with a lust for life that is contagious and exciting. It's beautiful, sophisticated, and vibrant in a way that I haven't experienced before. People routinely eat dinner at 10pm, get drinks at 12, and party til 7am. I'm not entirely sure how these people hold down jobs. Then there are the endless amazing restaurants, pubs, and free music shows, as well as beautiful architecture, tons of museums, and chic cafes. The people are gorgeous and almost too well-dressed. Add to that an almost obsessive penchant for drinking yerba mate out of little gourds and dancing tango at every possible opportunity, and it adds up to a place that sucks you in and doesn't easily let go.

We spent the first 4 days in a cute, upscale suburb called Palermo Viejo, not doing much except shopping, strolling around and EATING. Being a vegetarian here simply doesn't work (unless you're okay with getting scurvy), so we temporarily abandoned that plan and ended up switching to the other extreme, as you do. We ate steak almost every night we were in the city, and can I just say, HOLY FUCK, steak here is good. If there was ever a place to fall off the veggie wagon, this was the place to do it. I like to think that all of our steaks came from the same cow, so not much harm done, right...? =/

The next 4 days we were in San Telmo, just outside the city center. This neighborhood was a lot grungier. Dumpster diving takes on a whole new meaning here -- we saw several homeless guys with trash-filled sacks literally the size of cars, precariously balanced on carts. On every block, we had to dodge several piles of dog poop, as well as dripping air conditioners. Graffiti and trash decorated the streets instead of trees. The seedy underbelly of the city could definitely be felt here.

However, San Telmo is home to the San Telmo Sunday Market, one of my favorite parts of the whole city. The market is devoted to local artists' crafts, so everything was wonderfully creative, handmade, and cheap. The atmosphere was dizzyingly energetic - it felt like half the city was milling about here. Amidst all this, we stumbled upon an unbearably cute elderly couple dancing tango, surrounded by crowds of people. The man donned an old suit and a sideways hat, and shuffled around so smoothly that he could've probably done it in his sleep. SO ADORABLE. A few minutes later I came upon a drumming band, rocking out in the middle of the market so hard that it made my heart explode a bit. I gave them 10 pesos for exploding my heart and rocked out with them for 4 or 5 songs, reluctant to leave. LOVED being here. So much life.

The other experience I will never forget was seeing a tango show at a small restaurant downtown. We chose to go to a casual, cheap show because we didn't want to have to make reservations (I'm lazy), and I'm so glad we did. We turned out to be the only tourists there, so it was a brief glimpse into true Argentine culture. Everyone sang along with the classic Argentine songs the singer performed (perhaps almost too passionately at times), and in the end, many people got up to dance amidst the dinner tables. You see so many things when you travel that are simply for the benefit of tourists, an exaggerated caricature of their culture, that when you see something real like this, it's beautiful and very touching.

(We didn't take nearly enough photos of Buenos Aires, but to see a few more pictures, click here.)

Neuquen seemed like a tiny, quaint little city after Buenos Aires. We did a day-trip from there to Villa El Chocon to see a museum housing the bones of the gigantic dinosaur (literally, it's called Gigantosaurus carolinii) and some dinosaur footprints by the nearby lake. Due to a scheduling mishap, we ended up with about 8 hours in which to see the museum and the footprints, so for a while there, it seemed like it was going to be a day filled with lots of thumb-twiddling. We took as long as we possibly could in the museum, reading every sign, in Spanish and in English, and then drank coffee as slowly as we could to stretch the time before starting our walk to the lake.

(Dinosaur footprints are quite hard to photograph because they blend in so well. They were about 2 feet across, astonishingly big.)

As we walked, a dog suddenly appeared, sprinting towards us, happy as a clam and jumping all over us with uncontrollable glee. He was so immediately and unnervingly friendly, that at first we got a bit scared because we thought maybe he had rabies. We pushed him off of us and kept walking as fast as possible, hoping he wouldn't bite our faces off. But as we walked, it became obvious that he wasn't rabid, he was just an unnaturally social and happy dog. He ran in front of us, and then behind us, and then around us, and then into the surrounding fields and back, his energy and curiosity entirely inexhaustible. We couldn't figure out if he was stray or not - his coat was clean and his teeth looked healthy. We ended up naming him Dogosaurus.

Dogosaurus walked with us all the way to the lake, came with us to see the dinosaur footprints, hung out on the beach with us, and then walked back with us. As the day drew nearer to its end, we desperately hoped he would find his way home so we wouldn't have to abandon him as our bus drove away. But he didn't -- he waited for us for an hour outside of a restaurant, and then followed us back into town and waited at the bus stop with us. Just as we were preparing to say our tearful goodbyes and feel like monsters for abandoning the cutest dog of all time, Dogosaurus disappeared! I guess he knew that tearful goodbyes were coming and wanted to avoid the awkwardness. That's how I usually avoid those types of situations too.

So it turned out to be a marvelous day -- not boring for a single second of those 8 hours -- thanks to Dogosaurus, our little gift from the universe.

(More dinosaur pictures are here.)

Today we spent the day in Trelew and Gaiman, two small Welsh (?!) towns on the coast of Argentina. I think this is maybe the only area in the world where you can see signs both in Welsh and in Spanish. We had tea and all-you-can-eat pastries at a Welsh teahouse, which was, and I'm not overstating here, the BEST THING EVER. I don't understand how America has adopted so many traditions and foods from so many cultures, and yet this one has gone unnoticed. Bubble tea - yes. All-you-can-eat pastries and tea - no. What a sad world we live in.

A Welsh and Spanish Jehovah's Witness Church:

All-you-can-eat pastries and tea. LOVE.

(Trelew pictures here and Gaiman pictures here.)

Tomorrow we're seeing PENGUINS, and, if I haven't died of cuteness overload by that point, then after that we're going to see one of the world's only expanding glaciers outside of Antarctica. As it expands, the pressure in the ice builds to such extremes that icebergs the size of houses fall off its edges. Fuck yeah. I'm really glad we gave this place a chance.

The one thing that has continued to be a huge challenge is the way Argentines talk. When I took Spanish in school, I learned the Spanish they speak in northern South America. So until now, I was getting pretty cocky, thinking I was about halfway to being fluent. Then along comes Argentina and I'm back to feeling like a complete beginner. There are several changes that, when combined, makes it sound like they're not even speaking Spanish.

- "Y" sounds have changed to "zh" and "s" sounds have changed to "th."
- Their word order is usually all flipped around.
- They use entirely different words for many things, including the words for "you are," which is a pretty important phrase. It's as if someone took the phrase "you are" in English and changed it to "fleb gleb."
- They speak extremely fast, and slur their words together.

Putting all of these changes together, it's the equivalent of going to California and someone asking "Where are you from?" and then going to New York, where they instead slur to you: "From zhere fleb gleb pathing?" Perhaps you will understand when I say, with all due respect, that to me they sound like my friend Kelly after she just had her wisdom teeth pulled, which makes every interaction extremely difficult, albeit somewhat amusing, even after being here 3 weeks.

However, they have waterfalls, Buenos Aires, dinosaurs, Welsh tea houses, penguins, glaciers, and Tierra del Fuego, and that's not even a tiny fraction of what there is to see here. So I guess I don't mind it here too much. :)


  1. Bhaha, Dogasaurus. Brilliant.
    I've decided that I'm going to become un-allergic to cats one day so I can get one and name it Montel. I don't know why, but I think it's a pretty great name.

  2. HAHA!!! You were worried it had rabies. PRICELESS!! That's pretty damn adorable you had your own dog for a day :)
    All-you-can-eat-pastries... Genius..

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