Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Córdoba and Suburbs

Córdoba, Argentina.Córdoba is a city—and province—in Argentina, located slightly north of Buenos Aires and roughly centered longitudinally. It is almost a half-millennium old, was once an important Spanish center, and was named after its namesake in Spain. Its population is around 1.4 million.

Okay. Now that the formal description is out of the way, on to my impressions and what I did while there. The feeling is basically like you're in a miniature and toned-down Buenos Aires. The people are friendly, ice cream cones are cheap, and there is a street just like Florida in Buenos Aires. This is a street that is closed to traffic where vendors sell their wares. Córdoba's version is called 9 de Julio, a common street name in various Córdoba, Argentina.cities in Argentina, named after their independence day. By the way, pretty much no one gives a crap about independence day in Argentina—opposite end of the spectrum from the States.

My second day in Córdoba, I met a guy named Bruno who lives in Rio Gallegos (way down south) and is originally from Río Cuarto, a few hours south of Córdoba. We bummed around together for several days, which was nice, because I could practice my Spanish a fair amount and he is very familiar with the area, so I'm sure I saw some places I wouldn't have otherwise seen.

One day, we went to Alta Gracia, hometown of Che Guevara, my least hated communist, probably just because I like The Motorcycle Diaries, a movie about his adventurous travels through South America. We also visited an old Jesuit Mission. Jesuit Mission, Alta Gracia.Quite lovely. It's about a one-half-hour bus ride from the city and cost about 5 pesos each way.

That night, after getting back to the city, we went to a concert of a rock band, Callejeros, from Buenos Aires. They were clearly popular—the place was packed. The crowd was into it, for sure. As the concert was starting, beer cups, about 2/3 empty, were flying into the air and showering spectators with the fermented yellow concoction. We stayed for a while, but left early.

Jesuit Mission, Alta Gracia.Another day, we went to Tanti, about an hour away by bus, and costing 8 pesos and 50 centavos each way—a whopping $6. There is a lovely creek there with all sorts of natural rock formations and a few restaurants. It's apparently quite a tourist attraction, as three tour buses showed up while we were there. Thankfully, we had some time to ourselves before the invasion.

One last little tidbit. A large sugar cone with two scoops of ice cream costs 9 pesos, or about $3, in Buenos Aires. I bought one in Córdoba for 3 pesos and 50 centavos—about $1.17. It's a nice city and worth a visit, both for what's in it and around it.

NOTE: The buses in Córdoba work a little differently than those in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires, you just get on the bus and drop your change in the slot. In Córdoba, you have to swing by a kiosk—a dime a dozen in Latin America—and purchase a token. When you get on the bus, you hand the token to the driver and he prints out a ticket for you, which you just grab from the machine, as in Buenos Aires.

Tanti, Argentina, near Córdoba. Bruno Yours Truly   Che's bike.Callejeros Córdoba, Argentina. Córdoba, Argentina. Córdoba, Argentina. A foot-operated cotton candy machine. A 3 peso 50 centavo ice cream cone. Iglesia de los Capuchinos Iglesia de los Capuchinos Iglesia de los Capuchinos

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Photos

Just added photos of El Chalten on my photo Web site.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Photos

There are two new galleries on my photo Web site: El Calafate, and Los Glaciares National Park.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Onward and—Westward

Nadia I went back to Buenos Aires just to get my package—the stuff that had been stolen from me a month-and-a-half earlier. I ended up working, renting an apartment, learning to dance Salsa (again), and making loads of good friends. My stuff also came in the mail.

All good things must come to an end, so about a week ago, I bought a bus ticket. Yesterday was my last day in Buenos Aires and I saw two of my closest friends. It couldn't have been a much better last day—except if it had been longer! I spent several hours with Nadia, a Tango fanatic, math whiz, and all-around sweetheart. To end the day, my friend Adrian showed up at the bus station just a few minutes before I left. I saw him out the bus window and ran down to give him a kiss—that's the way we do it here—and hug good buy. We were able to chat for several minutes before I had to go.

Adrian I boarded the bus for Córdoba, Argentina, and we pulled out of Retiro, Buenos Aires, at 10:00 PM. We arrived at the bus station in Córdoba at about 8:00 this morning. I grabbed a taxi to the hostel at which I had previously made a reservation, then got a couple hours' sleep.

At about noon, I headed out for a walk, for some photography, and for a bite to eat—just wanted to get a feel for the city. I ended up spotting a bunch of teenagers sitting around on milk crates outside a corner store playing guitars, singing, and just hanging out. They all attend a high-school just a couple blocks away and can be found in this very spot every day during their lunch hour(s) doing this exact same thing. They were very laid back and friendly. They pointed out some spots on my map of the city that I should visit and even made a few suggestions for other parts of the Córdoba province (there is a city in each province in Argentina with the same name as the province). They told me about a club at which one of their bunch will be playing in his band tonight. I bought a ticket from him—7 pesos, or about $2.25, double that at the door, a beer included—and will head out of the hostel for the party at around 11:45.

Getting some sightseeing help. Right now, I am in the city of Córdoba which is in the province of Córdoba. Next week I'll be heading farther west to the province of Mendoza, and, coincidentally, to the city of Mendoza, where my friend Dina, whom I met when studying Spanish in Buenos Aires, is continuing her studies at another branch of the same school. She's from L.A. and is quite the character. She's a good friend.

I got a ride from one of the students and her boyfriend to the big mall in town roughly a mile away. After I checked it out a bit and got lunch in the food court, I walked back to the hostel, taking in the sights and snapping a few shots along the way.

Tidbits from Buenos Aires

  • I was waiting for the bus the other night to go to Salsa class, but it didn't come. I was running low on time, so I hailed a cab. I ended up having a great conversation with the driver.
    • I said it must be difficult to drive a cab in such a big city. He said it's no problem. I asked if he had to take a test. Twenty-five years ago, when he began driving, he bribed the official who gives the test, and he got his license. He said this is the way it's done. Most people in the city know where they need to go, so they could just tell him. Eventually, he learned the city. Now, he pretty much knows the whole city, at least good enough to get you close. On occasion, with a little help from the ride, it's no problem.
    • The other thing he mentioned is how, nowadays, kids tend to leave the home at an early age, as in the States and Europe. When he was a kid, the family stayed together (as in Eastern Europe today, and maybe other regions like Asia). He prefers the traditional structure. There are still families who live together here in Buenos Aires—grandparents, parents, and children—and I even know some of them, but it's less common than in decades past.
  • I don't think I wrote about this before, so I'll mention it now. When I first got back to Buenos Aires two months ago, I stayed in a hostel called Hostel Estoril. It was extremely cheap. For this reason, I thought I was in Israel. That is to say, Israelis are known for traveling on the cheap. In fact, they can find something that's really, really cheap, and still barter to get a better deal. This hostel was super inexpensive, and it was probably 90% Israelis. I had never heard much Hebrew before, but that's about all I heard for two weeks. In fact, my Hebrew is now better than my Spanish.
  • Along with my camera and other items that I purchased over the Internet to have sent down, I bought a very small travel guitar. It was sent down separately, so I went to the post office on a second day to pick it up. When my number was called, I went through the door and into the back to get it. The guy put it on the table and opened it up. He asked if it was new. I said yes. The declared value on the package was $500—approximately the cost of the guitar along with a few other items in the box (extra strings, a pitch pipe, a cable, etc.). He told me I would have to pay a 50% import tax and I could walk down to the end where there is a "bank." Long story short, I told him I wasn't going to pay anything and didn't want it, so he taped the box back up and took it away, to send it back to the address of origin. I find it interesting that Argentina is actually willing to pay money just because I wouldn't let them rape me. Not very smart, in my not-so-humble opinion.
  • I ran out of albuterol (my inhaler for asthma) and figured I'd try to get more before leaving the biggest city in Argentina. There's a pharmacy on every corner, so I went into one. They didn't have the exact same drug, so they gave me an alternative. She said it does the same thing. I bought two of them, at ten bucks a pop. It seems to do the trick—no prescription necessary.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Photos

I just uploaded about 350 photos from Ushuaia and vicinity. To see, check my photo site.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Living, Dancing, and Friends in Latin America

Patricio, my Spanish teacher. When I set off on this trip, I really wanted to experience life in Latin America. To get to know the culture, the people, and, of course, the language. Living here in Buenos Aires for almost two months, my hopes have been met, if not exceeded.

Numerous times after several different dance classes, I have gone out to eat with the instructors and other students. What a great experience just to hang out with locals, almost as if I'm one of them.

A couple weeks ago, one of my Salsa classes had two guest instructors. We had a shorter than normal Salsa lesson, then the guest instructors taught us some introductory Lunch with Patricio.Tango. We were then treated to a Tango performance. The male Tango instructor, León, has been friends with Henry—the Salsa instructor—for years. In fact, he was one of Henry's Salsa instructors. Four days later, I attended the actual Tango class. After that class, the instructor invited me over to his house, along with his partner and his girlfriend. We just hung out, talked, and of course ate. After all, it wasn't even midnight yet—barely past dinner.

During one of my first Salsa classes here, I met a guy named Adrian, another photography addict (he really likes my D3). We became friends and have seen each other numerous times since. This past Thursday, we met at the Obelisk in the downtown area at 9:30 P.M., hopped on a bus, drove across town, and went to his apartment, where he lives with his mother, a very sweet woman. She fixed us dinner and we hung out, chatted, and watched some dance videos.

My Salsa class at Club Mambo—Henry, on the right, is the professor. My original plan was never to stay in one place this long, but having to wait a while to get my gear in the mail turned into a blessing. I've made lots of good friends and gotten to live in Latin America. I couldn't have asked for more.


Andrea, from Salsa class. Soledad, Henry's partner. Carina, from Salsa class. León and Nadia, Tango professors. Juan Manuel, one of my favorite Salsa professors. Pablo, my other favorite Salsa teacher. I also go to his Rueda de Casino class. Adrian and his mother.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What's Better Than Christmas?

The Third of July, that's what! I got a box full of goodies today: Nikon D3, iPod, headphones, MicroTrack II digital audio recorder, pocket knives, and various and sundry other items. It has been three full months since I was robbed of some of my most valuable items. My 5-year visa for Brazil cannot be replaced. Still, I'm very happy today. I can once again get cash from an ATM—that will be a pleasant change.

FedEx wanted almost $900 to fly the box from Seattle down to Buenos Aires, but the USPS did it for around $120. It got here in one week. I feared theft or paying monstrous import taxes, but I lost sleep for no reason. The box appeared untouched. All items were inside and in tact. I didn't pay a penny when I picked up my extremely valuable replacement items this morning.

When you ship a package from the States via USPS to Buenos Aires, Argentina, it will end up getting handled by Correo Argentino, Argentina's version of the USPS. It will end up at the post office in the barrio of Retiro. You will receive a slip in the mail apprising you of the package's arrival, which you then take to the customs portion of the post office to pick up your package.

The package of the person standing in front of me was opened and inspected. I saw a bottle of wine, but am not sure what else was there. Quite frankly, I don't know what will or won't get opened. I was told, however, by FedEx that I should declare the value of the package at a dollar amount less than $1,000 so as to avoid import taxes. Maybe I was lucky that things went so smoothly. From what I was led to believe, I got off pretty easy.

From the moment I got back to the apartment with my goodies, I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face—haven't tried, either.

The Cover of a Book

From the time we're young, we're taught "don't judge a book by its cover." I don't remember, but I imagine our parents are the first ones to teach us this. I suspect a teacher mentions it now and again. Friends probably say it. The question I have, then, is where do we all learn to judge books by their covers?

If we assume that our parents actually lived what they preached, then a reasonable explanation might be simply that it's human nature to look at a guy with long hair, or a girl with tattoos or a shaved head or purple hair, or a person we consider homely, and think ill of them. I think it's more than simply our nature, though. I think society creates expectations of how people should look. If someone is wearing torn up rags, then something must be wrong with them. Along with our nature, this prepares us for a nice long life of judging others.

I have met folks on this trip who wore rags, who had tattoos, who wore their hair in a way different than that in which I wear mine, who come from different cultures and speak different languages, and who have different political and religious views, all of whom were splendid folks. I didn't, however, necessarily think positively about them prior to getting to know them. I glanced at the cover and figured the book must suck.

Well, I've added another item to my to-do list on this trip—quit judging books by their covers. Since I've observed this flaw in myself, I've judged yet more books by their covers. It will be difficult to quit doing it. I don't know why it is so ingrained in my being, but it is. Hopefully, I'll have many more months of meeting books with wacky covers to practice and work my way towards achieving one additional goal before "normal" life begins again—actually, I hope "normal" life never begins again.