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Playing Hooky in Buenos Aires

This week started off as just another week where I was going to class and going about my daily routine here.  Then I realized that if I didn’t start doing some more sight seeing, on a daily basis, I was never going to get it all in.  So, I played hooky in Buenos Aires.  What would you do if you gave yourself the day off in Buenos Aires?  Well, I went to the fine arts museum (el museo de bellas artes)  and spent the day wondering.  Then I went to the Evita museum.  This was on Thursday.  Friday, I went to class, but then during the weekend I got right back to sight seeing.  On Saturday I took a tour of the manzana de las luces.  This was originally a Jesuit part of town that was also used for city government.  The exciting part of the tour was the tunnels.  There are a serious of tunnels connecting government buildings and churches to the river that were used to “protect the city” (or for government officials to make a quick escape.)  I thought this tour would be really great; unfortunately, the tour let you see about 100 m of a tunnel that was blocked off (real exciting!)  Oh well, the rest of the tour was really interesting. 

During most of the trip I have been able to escape a lot of the emotions associated with culture shock, but as the end of the trip approaches and I face the reality of having to say good-bye I am starting to get much more emotional.  My last week here is going to be exciting and yet very sad at the same time. 


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Only 2 Weeks Left…

You never think that months will turn into weeks or that weeks will turn into days, but now my time here is really starting to wind down.  I again spent the majority of last week in class and doing homework.  (Unfortunate, right?)   However, the class is more than enjoyable and is more like private tutoring than class.  Every other spare second was spent trying to get to different places around B.A. that I haven’t been to yet.  Last week, I paged through my guide book to see if there was anything really important that I hadn’t seen yet.  To my surprise the majority of the places that were described as a must see that I had yet to see were clubs or bars!!!  (I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised considering just how great the night life is here and just how many bars there are)  Well, if there is anyway to go out of B.A. in style it is by painting the town a couple more times…

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As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, we spend a little bit of time every day in class attempting to learn a traditional Argentine card game that is sort of like poker…but mostly not like poker.  It is called truco which means trick, or deceive.  It is played in partners with a Spanish deck of cards.  The game is really complex and after more than a week of practicing; I think I finally understand most of the basic principles.  The game is normally played in teams with the most common number of players being 4 and 6.  Each player is given 3 cards.  Each card has a “value” that allows it to either beat or be beaten by other cards.  The ordered list that says which card beats which is difficult to learn as it does not necessarily go in order and certain cards with the same number have very different values depending on the suit.   During each round it may become necessary for the team to communicate what cards they have, to do this signs are used.  However, there are so many signs that each team plays with the same signs every time making it crucial that you pass the sign to your partner without the other team seeing.  Some of the signals include: raising your eyebrows, winking, twitching your mouth to one side or the other, a silent kiss, biting your lip, blinking both eyes, or leaning your head to one side slightly. To make the game even more complicated add to the mix, that certain words are prohibited and you must only say them in very specific circumstances.  Also, the game comes with its own phrases and lingo.  Once you have learned to play, it really is a fun game as there are so many different ways that you can strategize with your partner or try to trick the other team.  I would love to teach you all how to play when I get back…but somehow I just don’t think that I am patient enough!

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Where My Girls At?

I had passed the last week in Buenos Aires in a pretty laid back manner.  I’m feeling a little lonely considering that all of the girls that were in my life here before have seemingly vanished.  There used to be 5 other girls living here with me.  They have all gone back to the states.  I used to be in class with at least 6 other girls…they too have all left.  My Spanish class this month has only 3 students in it, myself and two other guys.   The class seems like it is going to be a lot of fun.  We are planning on going to the theater and some of our assignments have been things like learning traditional Argentine card games.  We spend a lot of time just talking while the professor writes down things that we say incorrectly.  Then we have to go back and find our own errors. 

I might have been really bored this week with such a lack of estrogen, but I had two saving graces.  Pilar and Julieta, the two grand kids, are on winter break like everybody else.  So, they spent the week in the house and we had a blast.  Julieta gave me a couple of Spanish lessons (she is very studious, so playing teacher seems like a fun thing to do…lucky me!)  We played memory, which was an ingenious idea because she made me say out loud the items pictured on each card in Spanish and she would say them in English. I was surprised by how much simple vocabulary I learned.  Her English is impeccable, and I would say that she writes as well as any 2nd or 3rd grader in the states.  Mariana, Julieta and Pilar’s mom, kept advising me that if I found them bothersome she would force them to “leave me in peace.”  I just laughed and explained that because I never had sisters my patience never seems to run out with little girls. 

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Skiing, hiking, and exploring in Patagonia


My trip to Bariloche was amazing.  The town itself has a very touristy feel and the whole place tries to sell itself as the “Switzerland” of Argentina.  They tout homemade chocolates, Swiss fondue, and there were even St. Bernards.  Beyond this though, Bariloche was an awesome place to visit just because of the beautiful scenery.  The beauty there is breathtaking and waking up everyday to such scenery was well worth it.   I went with one of the guys that Jess knew from her study abroad program.  During the trip to Colonia I mentioned that I would be interested in seeing southern Argentina, but that I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to go.  Greg, said he would also be interested in making the trip and would even teach me how to ski.  Since I felt much safer traveling with a guy; I took him up on the offer.  As luck would have it we were very good travel partners.  We have a similar disposition (for example, Greg was happy as long as we were both quietly reading on the bus!) For those of you wondering; this travel partnership was purely platonic, since Greg has a very serious girlfriend back in Wisconsin.  In fact we spent every night just chilling in the hostel so that he could chat with her online. 


I learned how to ski!  Unfortunately, the region hadn’t had much snow so only a very small part of the Cero Catedral was open to skiers.   This also meant that all of the easy runs, located at the bottom of the hill, were closed!  So, I had to get on the ski lift having never even tried out a bunny hill.  At that point, I was thinking that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Luckily, all of that time I spent in ice-skates when I was younger paid dividends here.  I didn’t fall when I got off the ski-lift.  I might have looked a little less than graceful, but I did just fine.  I did spend a large part of the morning on my bum, but by the afternoon I was definitely getting the hang of things.  Once, I started to get over the fear that someone was going to run into me (the whole place was pretty crowded) I had a really good time.  Also, the views from the mountain were spectacular.  At one point we just took off our skis and sat at the top of the mountain staring off into the distance, when an Argentine condor decided to grace us with its presence. 


I was a little sore from skiing, but really overall, not too bad.  We rented a car and drove to el Bolsón, a little town about two hours south of Bariloche.  The town is nestled in between some pretty tall peaks and boasts quite the artisan’s fair as well as a beautiful national park just to the south of town.  Just driving there was an adventure in itself.  We had to stop about every ten minutes or so and take pictures.  Once we finally reached the town; we walked through the fair.  Afterwards we continued on to the lakeside national park, where we ate our sack lunches and listened to the waves roll in.  Later we drove back to Bariloche and had another surprise waiting for us.  Before, we could return the car we had to fill the tank, but we couldn’t find the right type of gasoline.  It turns out that the whole town had missed their daily shipment.  We ended up taking the car back without gas; and they drove us to a place outside of town where they knew we could find the right type of gas. 


We went on a boat tour that took us to various points within the national park including isla Victoria.  There we went on a guided nature hike and then spent the rest of the day exploring the island on our own.  The weather was horrible and it rained heavily during our tour.  We were cold and damp and ready for the boat ride back by early afternoon.  Despite the bad weather the scenery was once again beyond words. 


We took the morning off and slept in.  After a late breakfast we took a bus to the edge of town and took a ski lift up to cero Campanario.  The view from hear was absolutely breath taking.  It was probably the best thing we did all week.  To continue the lazy day we headed back to the hostel and read all afternoon.   For supper we finally went out and had the fondue; which lived up to all of the hype.


For our last full day we went on a hiking excursion that lead us back into the national park.  We rode in a van down a very windy gravel road for about an hour.  Then we hiked for about an hour to a beautiful waterfall.  (Cascada los cesares) Afterwards, we hiked back to the van and continued on to spot were we ate sacked lunches and played some Frisbee with the Brits that were also part of the tour group.  After lunch we drove a little bit further and hiked to the black glacier.  The hike was a little treacherous since the snow was packed down and in places was covered by some ice.  Nevertheless, we all made it to the glacier safely.  The glacier is black because it moves so fast that it picks up the dirt as it goes.  The mountain (cero Tronador) has 8 glaciers.  While we were close by we heard a large noise that sounded like thunder.  Our guide explained that the ice had broken on the other side of the mountain.   (Tronador means thunderer)  The hike back was even more treacherous than the hike to the glacier.  Most of us slipped or fell at some point.  I lost my footing going up a steep incline and slid backwards on my stomach for about 10 feet.  Somehow I managed to scratch my stomach on a rock. (I would’ve thought that skiing was the most dangerous thing that I did, but it turn out that hiking was the more dangerous activity this time around!)  I was a little sore on Saturday from the fall, but it wasn’t anything too terribly overwhelming. 

Overall the trip was breathtaking; the pictures cannot do this place justice. 

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Off to Bariloche

THe last week flew by.  I spent the majority of my time in class and studying.  However, the weather was gorgeous so every other spare moment was spent outside enjoying the nice weather.  It was Jessi´s last week in Buenos Aires so we went to a lot of the tourity destinations we had yet to see.  We also cooked supper one night for our host family.  We wanted to make something really American that you normally wouldn´t find in Argentina.  We settled on an American breakfast and made scrambled eggs, pancakes, and bacon.  I would have never decided to cook if it wouldn´t have been for Jessi, but she really wanted to so I said I would be her helper.  We asked how  you would describe this person in Spanish and the answer was surprising… Juanita.  There is a popular cooking show here and Juanita is the assistant.  So add Juanita to my growing list of nick names.  

Although I had been struggling in my Spanish class, this week it all sort of came together.  It isn´t that I put in a whole lot of extra effort, but all of sudden everything sort of made sense.  I can tell that I´ve really improved significantly in just the last couple of weeks.  All the extra confidence paid off as my second final exam went well, and I managed to get a 9 in this class as well!  (The grading system is based on numbers instead of letters, but this would translate back as an ¨A¨)  

Yesterday, I had to say farwell to Jessi and start the last leg of my trip here.  Fortunately, I have a week off of class!!!  For the week of I am going to Bariloche.  This is a ski resort town in the South of Argentina, close to the border with Chile.  This is the place where all of the young Argentinians go after graduating for high school.  It is also THE place to ski in South America.   I will be in Bariloche for a week….so don´t worry if I don´t post for awhile!

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Time Flies When You’re Having Fun…

So I’ve realized that it has been awhile since you’ve heard from me!  The good thing is that you haven’t missed much.  I’ve spent a lot of time the last week just studying and getting caught up with my school work.  My class is pretty hard, but I’ve been learning a lot so no harm done.   After I got back from Cordoba I had to go to class right away.  That Tuesday was a long day, but fortunately Wednesday was the July 9th independence holiday and thus I did get an extra day off.  Unfortunately, Argentineans would rather spend the day relaxing as opposed to making a spectacle and so there really wasn’t anything extra going on in Buenos Aires; although one Argentine from the provinces told me that they have fireworks there.  We spent the day at the zoo; we were not the only ones who thought this was a good idea because the place was packed.  It was a really interesting day.  I really enjoyed seeing some of the South American animals that you wouldn’t see in your typical American zoo.  Also, the zoo was designed in a way that allowed you to be a lot closer to the animals than you would be in the states.  Thursday and Friday it was back to class for two more days.  On Friday afternoon, Jess and I ventured to a mall to wander around.  This particular mall is the biggest one in Buenos Aires and it has a carnival on the third floor. 

On Saturday it was off to Colonia, Uruguay.  I needed to make this one day trip at some point so that I comply with immigration law!  The problem is that I don’t have a student visa, nor do I really need one. However, that means that I need to leave the country at least once in order to legally remain here as a tourist.  I can stay in the country as a tourist for 90 days.  My trip is 95 days.  Going to Uruguay gives me a fresh 90 days.  Colonia is a small, historic city that lives on tourism.  To get there we took a ferry from Buenos Aires.  The ferry was really nice; but the ride was pretty long (3 hours each way.) While we were in Colonia, we took a city tour, had a big lunch, and rented a golf cart.  We used the golf cart to drive around a see the rest of the city.  It was a lot of fun.  Not only that the weather was beautiful.  It was a long day, but also a very fun day. 

On Sunday, I finally made it to Boca and el Caminito.  This is the area of town that has the vibrantly painted houses that you see in the picture every time you read my blog.  It is a dangerous part of town since a shanty town is located very close by.  The block that is el Caminito, however, is a tourist trap and within that zone you are perfectly safe.   We ate lunch at a sidewalk café and watched an impromptu tango show that also included a folk dance.  The weather was absolutely beautiful again and we spent the whole day walking outside enjoying it. 

The last few days the weather has remained absolutely beautiful.  Every day has been about 70 degrees with plenty of sunshine.  Although, I’ve been spending lots of time studying in and in class I have been able to spend some time outside enjoying the nice weather as well.  It isn’t supposed to last very long so I have to enjoy it while I can! 

My time here is slipping by so fast… I feel like I just landed here yesterday but in fact it has been almost two months! 

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