Crossing Borders in South America
01.02.2011 - 03.02.2011
First off I would like to apologize for the delay since my last post. Hopefully the ensuing stories, along with the somewhat lame excuse that editing and uploading the photos on this site takes more than a while, will work for now and I work to get back on track now that I have started adjusting to Buenos Aires.
My final two full days were good ones and definitely helped to put a good cap on the trip. On the first of the two days, Feb. 1, I went with the previously-mentioned Spaniard and a friend he met on travellerspoint.com (gotta give a shout out to the hosting site, which apparently is also very good for asking locals about things to do in their hometown/city) to the vineyard Concha y Toro, which lies just outside the city. Getting there was cheap and efficient as always thanks to the subway system, and after getting off at the last stop at city limits we took a microbus to the bodega and some of the vineyard grounds. The most interesting part for me was that we all took a tour in Spanish, which meant I had to bring my a-game in order to learn about the company's roots, methods of production, and about the different kinds and characteristics or wine produced. My most interesting takeaways from the experience were as follows:
- Tourguides are roughly the same across all languages and cultures - same hyperboles and embellishments, same gift for the stage, same seemingly endless knowledge of the stories and tangents that make their place unique
- Concha y Toro is an over 100-year old company named after its founder Melchor Concha y Toro and is the largest exporter of wine in Chile
- The main way of distinguishing different types of wine is by looking at the leaves of the plant that the grape is on
- The Carmenere grape, which at one point was thought to be extinct, is unique to Chile and makes one of its more celebrated wines
- Wine tours abroad aren't necessarily cheaper in South America at roughly $15 for a quick tour and two tastings, but at least they don't short-pour a brother
After the wine tour we went to what was described as a "country restaurant" on the walk back to the metro. One thing that was a very delicious surprise pebre, a type of salsa made of aji-powder, chilis, garlic, tomatoes, and garlic, and is served with bread before the courses are served. As a big fan of spices and sauces myself, I threw it on pretty every aspect of my meal, and it gave my fish that right blend of flavor and kick it so needed. Another interesting discovery was that water without gas is typically unavailable, so choices fall between beer and soda in the drinks department (tap water is considered unsafe because of high chlorine levels).
My last real highlight of the days was being able to find another pair of shorts for the hot weather ahead for a mere $8, less than a bottle of pisco no less.
My final full day in Chile was the one that I indicated in the Google map. Because I didn't have enough money left to use public transportation and didn't want to spend $10 to take out more, so 17km and many memories later, my kittens hurt beyond belief.
First, I went to the Pre-Colombian Art Museum to see a very concise yet complete account of the art and customs of indigenous people spanning from the Yucatan peninsula to Patagonia. Something I found interesting was the common threads of cultures using drinking vessels to portray the people and animals around them, the allusions to animals in mythology as seen in masks and sculptures of deities, and the very blatant marks of fertility that characterized art with women. My favorite exhibit dealt with yarn and weaving in Andean culture, and I was surprised to see such intricate and colorful rugs dating back thousands of years.
From here I went to two great food places. The first was Rosa's Emporium, that has had steady locals for days and is known for its delicious pastries, ice creams, and interesting dishes. I had a delicious gelato with a scoop of banana and palm honey and another of green tea mango. After this, I trekked to El Ambassador, whose claim to fame is having the best empanadas in the city. In a very quirky and dated deli I got to meet the old owner and see his wares. An empanada or two later, I definitely had to concur that the thinner crust and better ingredients set it above the rest.
After this I hoofed it over for a Spanish tour at la Chascona, one of the three houses owned by the late/ great poet Pablo Neruda of Chile. What made this place worth the walk were the three distinct parts of the complex that were built at different times and gave it real character. The first echoed of a boat, as Neruda loved the sea, and had low-slung ceilings, maritime art, and a trap door in the back. Before the Chilean government used it to flood the house, there even was a canal running through the center of the property toward it. The second building had posts made of pine and cypress and art by Diego Rivera, a friend of Neruda's, and Fornasetti before he became hugely famous. The last, which was a study room, had madonna statues from the Church, the Nobel prize he won, as well as various beautifully written manuscripts, works, mementos. Best of all, I got to use my ISIC student card to pay only $5 for both places, saving roughly $8
That night, I had an interesting dinner/ conversation at the hostel with two Portuguese guys who were travelling the length of South America and had just been through Brazil and Patagonia. We talked about Lisbon (how it is like the "Golden Gates," or San Francisco), politics (how there are only two choices but never a true winner), and their trials and tribulations going from place to place via bus (took them 25 hours to get from an airport in Argentina to Santiago). We shared Patagonian beers, wine, and ice cream, and all in all had a great time.
One person who was also at the table and deserves a separate paragraph is an Israeli fellow I met. Something that has been pretty fascinating to me that has been relayed to me by almost everyone I met is the sheer number of Israelis in South America. Apparently it is a very big destination after military service and there is even a travel service centered here called the "Gringo" that helps to guide people and help them find places to stay amongst comrades and things to do. What impresses me most is their anything-goes, adventurous mentality, as most have an idea of what they might like but are open to anything at a moment's notice. For example, the guy who was with us met a Chilean girl from Santiago and had come up from Pucon, which he visited on a whim while in Bariloche, to see.
The first half of my day was relatively uneventful, consisting of my typical last-minute packing, final goodbye with all of the friends on the hostel staff, and taking the good-ol "Centropuerto" to the airport. The real fun started after I arrived in Buenos Aires, or Buenos as it is affectionately known.
What most struck me was the sheer amount of traffic on the huge swaths of road, the humidity that enveloped you on all sides, and the sheer size and beauty of the city. One immediately can see why it is the "Paris of South America" as there are huge parks, open boulevards, and a variety or beautiful architecture and statues that are eerily reminiscent of parts of Paris. Also, three major things stand out to me thus far when comparing it to Santiago:
- 1. It is noticeably cheaper in all aspects.
- 2. The Spanish is georgeous but hard to understand. And this was coming from Chileans I met in the hostel, who self-proclaimed their3 Spanish "sloppy" and "ad-lib" in comparison
- 3. The city is a lot edgier. This deals with the safety on the streets after hours, the countless people I have seen picking through garbage and leaving the remnants strewn about the street, and the abundance of graffitti on everything.
In regards to my hostel, so far so great. There is a pub and restaurant on the ground floor that has food and drink specials each day. My room has a nice view overlooking the outdoor patio, a comfortable bed, and a good fan to circulate air. Also the staff is friendly and tries to help you with a huge book that gives you special deals throughout the city. In this way they truly encourage and help you to meet other people and explore everything in the city.
Having said that, I jumped on the bandwagon immediately by signing up for the All-You-Can-Eat BBQ. For a mere $10, I got a glass of wine, salad, bread, and heaps of the freshly prepared cuts of Meat that make this place famous, along with chicken and chorizo. I also got a chance to speak to a Chilean ex-pat and her Swedish boyfriend, two Chileans, and a gang of guys from Chile. From here, we took advantage of a deal through the hostel and the 8 of us bought exclusive passes to get into the "Club HipHop Culture" for a discount.
After taking a taxi there, which along with public transportation here is extremely cheap, I was in familiar territory and got to show Argentina by gringo moves by busting out to 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, and all the other rap crap that us Americans have the pleasure of calling our own. I would characterize the fashion, which was supposed to be hip, as somewhere between the late 90s and early 00s, with crip-walking and break-dancing to boot. Once you get over the seeming 10-1 ratio of guys to girls and the fact that the girls aren't interested despite the near countless waves of men that wash up around them, I had a great time dancing and "acting a fool." After 4 AM when the Salsa music was put back on, I lost my role in the driver's seat and mostly confined myself to the sidelines trying to figure it out. We ended up taking the taxi home around 6 AM as the first glows of the new day were out. Funnily enough, its not even like we were the last ones out, as there was plenty iof Argentinos out and about.
As long as I take full advantage of mid-day siestas and drink plenty of mate, I think I am going to be able to keep up with this place.
Lot to process but I hope you like it.