Wayward Travels

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blood, sweat, and tears...

...are what have brought me home. Literally. I have taken ill the last few days of my trip and especially since returning. A trip to the doctor, 4 units of IV fluids, antibiotics, serious doses of fever-reducing Tylenol, and some TLC have returned me to the upright position--only for minutes at a time, though. As such, I never got a chance to write about San Telmo, or Teatro Colon, or reflections on my journey, or any of that. Oh well. For now I'm going to focus solely on getting better. Kind of an anticlimatic last entry to an otherwise wonderful trip. Thanks for reading along, and I look forward to seeing many of you in person again soon. Ciao.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Number 59 and non-Euclidean geometry

Well, I had a lovely day in Recoleta wandering through a huge fería with all sorts of vendors and artisans. I took the 59 bus there--a quick 15 min ride--and enjoyed strolling through the absolute maze of stalls. Every and any imaginable craft and knick-knack and article of clothing could be found, from mates to belts to windchimes to ashtrays to incense to knit scarves to jewelry of all ilk to puppets to you name it. Perfomers ranging from mimes to guitarists filled the park and the air, mingling with the sounds and smells of food vendors tempting the hungry. I was very happy.
I also visited the Museo Nacional de Bella Artes (fine arts museum), which in addition to being very well-maintained and having a decent collection, was also free. I got tired after going through the European collection, so took a bit of a nap under a tree outside and then re-entered to have a look at the Argentine collection. But extreme sleepiness (was it something I ate?) took over, and I made the executive decision to go back to the hostel for a bit of a rest before going out tonight. So I hoped back on the bus around 5:15. I should have been snoring by 6pm in bed, but alas, I was foolish enough to think that simply re-boarding the #59 bus would loop around to where I got on this morning. After a time, I noticed that we were no longer on the map of Buenos Aires. Soon, we seemed to be deep in a residential area. A bit later, I saw a sign that said "Buenos Aires -->" and noticed some very large and very suburban mall. Not long after that, I was the only person on the bus. The driver stopped and told me to get out. I asked him how to get to "el centro" and he had a chuckle in his eye. It was past 7 o´clock. I had been on the bus for nearly 2 hours. We were far from el centro. So I waited in the parking lot with over a dozen #59 buses until the driver had a snack and got back on board and waved me in. We drove all the way back, picking up and dropping off people along the way. It did not take long for me to realize that the routes are not circular, rather they are linear. I had taken the right bus the wrong way. So I finally made it back to the hostel. What should have been a 15 bus ride took three hours. The way I see it, that´s a heck of a deal for 80 centavos.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

¡El Tango!

What could capture Buenos Aires better than the tango? This evening I saw a wonderful tango show at the magestic and historic Cafe Tortoni. A sultry, sophisticated dance, the tango originated in the brothels, but some came to international class when the dance was brought to Paris. Tango refers to the music, the dance, and even the songs of this art form. Tonight´s show featured two singers who sang some of the true classics of tango, two dancers who absolutely dazzled, and three musicians who brought this music to life. Tango music can be played by a variety of instruments, but tonight´s trio played the classic combination of the piano, upright bass, and bandeón (a sort of accordian). The bandeón player´s fingers somehow navigated a seemingly unintelligible array of buttons and keys, the bassist played with soul, and the pianist´s hands seemed to dance on the entire length of the keyboard. The tango as a dance is a passionate, disciplined one. The dancers´ footwork was a marvel; they stepped so quickly and precisely with kicks and turns and twist and more. If dancing well is like two people moving as one, then success! While most of the footwork and motions were quite rapid, a few slow segments left me feeling positively voyeuristic, as the dancers proved the sultry, sexy heritage to the tango drives the dance at all points. I am excited to see some street performances of tango in San Telmo on Sunday, and who knows--maybe I´ll go to another show or (gasp) even a lesson. Hooray for tango. I loved it!
I sat in the front row of the small venue at a table with three older folks from Florida, who have come to Argentina as part of their tango club in Jacksonville. How fantastic! Two have travelled much of the world, from Europe to Antarctica to Africa. To hear the gentleman talk made me dream of what kind of person I´d like to be when Í´m 65 and what the years between now and then could look like. In addition to the company of these fine folks, I enjoyed a delicious drink whose name I don´t know... it came in two copper vessels, one with steamed milk, one with a rich, dense chocolate. I did one of those "what are those folks at the next table having and can I have one please?" numbers and was truly rewarded. The chocolate was so rich and thick (almost as good as Guatemala) and required a healthy dose of water at the end. Sure, it set me back a few pesos, but wow.
All in all, I am newly invigorated by the tango, and can only recommend that you see a good tango show when you come to Bs. As. So come.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Leaky faucet...

This is, in the words of a travel guide writer, is what Niagara Falls appears to be when compared with the likes of the Cataratas de Iguazú. He may be right. Last night I had the most sublime experience of seeing the falls under the glow of a full moon. The experience was divine, but it is all mine, for me, and I won´t write about it here.
Another guidebook author quipped that El Parque Nacional de Iguazú might better be called the Iguazú theme park, and nothing could be truer. I went today by daylight, and this time the experience was much closer to the groomed and packaged experience of Disneyland than that of a rugged national park. "Trails" were constructed walkways with handrails, "Park rangers" were staff with blue-and-green t-shirts, souvenier shops replaced ranger stations. Even the "Nautical Adventure" (a maid-of-the-mist-style boat right on a speed boat) had long lines and the feel of a theme part ride. And the tourists came in absolute DROVES. I was overwhelmed.
Still, there was no detracting from the splendor of the waterfalls (stunning, varied, expansive, impressive, gorgeous) and their backdrop (cliffs, sky, rivers, trees, wild fauna). I was one of those camera-toting tourists, and I´m sure I´ve taken enough pictures to bore even the most tolerant of you who wishes to see them. But even if you could enlarge them two-hundred-fold and add a filharmonic score from Mozart, you still wouldn´t be able to get the idea anyway. It´s not your fault. It simply can´t be done. But when I tell you about it, you´ll see that look in my eye, the same look I´ll have when I talk about Perito Moreno or Semuc Champey or Siete Altares or sunrise at Mount Haleakala or midnight ascent of Santa Maria (okay so all but one of those weren´t in Argentina, but I´m saying that this is up there), and you´ll know.
As my parents have noted, there is a bit of a gap in the blog, due in part to lack of things to say, a lack of will to write, and the fact that I spent many hours on busses to get here (which, thank goodness, were more comfortable that the recent horror from Córdoba to Rosario). I´ve decided to cut my stay in Iguazú a bit early, and moved my flight to Bs. As. from Friday to tomorrow. Seems to me, if I´m going to tool around a city for an extra day, I´d rather it be Buenos Aires than the small, red-dirt (but charming overall) town of Puerto Iguazú. Plus, I´ve had a hankering for Armenian food ever since Emily and Sarah left.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

We like the cars that go boom.

Today was sunny and festive and rather enjoyable. Being Sunday and Independence Day and good weather, people were out and about and there was much going on. My impression of Rosario has improved. I began the day by attending another free guitar concert (though on a much smaller scale) in the municipal building and then walked along the waterfront. Ferías, or sidewalk artisan markets, were up and in full Sunday swing. Families flew kites. Couples smooched. Vendors yelled their food items for sale and performers drew crowds. And everyone (by "everyone," I mean EV-ER-Y-ONE) was drinking mate. Every cluster of people sitting and chatting, or walking along, or manning a fería booth was centered around a mate cup and a thermos of hot water. I´ve never seen anything like it. To give you a sense, more people drink mate and drink it often than the number and frequency of cigarette smoking. This is a big deal.
I also walked many, many blocks to visit Parque Independencia. In so doing, I discovered the bustling Avenida Pellegrini and broad, spacious, tree-lined Bv. Otoño. These two streets made me feel better about Rosario. Anyway, the park was absolutely alive with people and activity. A car show was happening as part of the Independence Day celebrations and all sorts of entertaining vehicles were lined up for display along the curving roads within the park...ranging from antiques like the Ford Model "A" to classic cars like the original Mustang to new, flashy numbers that had been souped up with lights and all manner of sound systems. And there were SO MANY entertaining cars to look at. I had much fun, despite the fact that I really have little interest in or knowledge about cars in general. I also stumbled upon a sort of amusement park for children and could not help but smile at the sight of all those niños having a ball on the bumper cars and teacups. I bought a bag of sugary popcorn and just strolled through it all. The park is large, with a stadium, rec areas, green space, a children´s museum, and a lake (with paddleboats and fountains). As a result of all this strolling, I missed the World Cup final. The story on CNN makes it seem like it was a great game. Boo for me.
This evening I tried to visit the planetarium/observatory, but somehow ended up in a sort of science museum. I enjoyed this, but even though I have a decent grasp of Spanish and science, the combination of trying to do both at the same time eventually did me in.
Truth be told, I´m getting a little homesick and am looking forward to the 17th. The way to counter this is to move on to the next place, and for this I´ll be glad to hit the road for Posadas tomorrow.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


So I DID meet an orthodontist! Well, a student of orthodontology. I went to the bus terminal today to buy my ticket to Iguazú (only to find that I could only purchase a ticket to Posadas, at which point I will have to find another bus to go the final 5 hours to Iguazú) and as I waited at a bus stop to take a city colectivo (public bus), I struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow who asked me if I was here for the orthodontists´conference. We had a nice little chat (in Spanish), and this is the sort of random, friendly interaction that I love so much when travelling.
Speaking of buses, I would like to dedicate just a few words to my bus ride from Córdoba to Rosario last night: No fun. At all. Some of you (dad) may still have the impression (as did I, naïvely) that all long-distance buses are the delightful coche cama that I described earlier. No. Not at all. The midnight bus I took (I almost didn´t take it at all, since it came to a different platform than I was told, in a VERY crowded bus terminal) was a cramped affair with compact little chairs in which I got no sleep at all and--had I the energy to do so--I almost became very upset. True, it was a decent bus in the scheme of things...but I would have prefered the Guatemalan chickenbus to that vehicle--for at least the chickenbus makes no false claims about what a great ride one can expect.
I finally arrived around 6 am, tired and bleary-eyed and sore, and took a cab to the hostel, where I was inform that they had no reservation with my name and, lamentably, were completely full. Still not really having the energy to get upset about how things were progressing, I pushed them further, insisting I had a reservation, made by Claudia of Córdoba Backpackers. We had a bit of a back-and-forth about this ("I´m sorry, it´s not here." "It must be. I have a reservation." "All are beds are occupied.") until I was told, "Oh look. Here is your reservation, made yesterday by a Claudia of Córdoba Backpackers." I refrained from an I-told-you-so because the situation still remained that they had no beds at that moment. I put my back on the ground and slept on the couch in the lobby/tv room/office until one opened up around 11. I also was denied a cup of coffee. I am not pleased.
Still, I managed at long last to get a bed, a shower, and I headed off in the city of Rosario. This turned out to be a giant disappointment because everything was closed (siesta?) and it was grey and rainy. Kicking myself about having made this stop part of my trip at all (based, ignobly on an "it was nice" comment by Ivan from Whales in the Mendoza hostel), I saw the main sight of Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina. Rosario is "La Cuna (cradle) de la Bandera (flag)" and a fellow named Belgrano is the Betsy Ross behind the blue-and-white flag. The giant monument to the flag sits against the Río Paraná and boasts a sort of covered, columned pavilion with an eternal flame to Argentine soldiers, a giant walkway of cascading steps, and a very large tower (which, for one peso, you can ascend on the elevator for views of the city and river).
Other than that, I walked around in the rain, ate lunch (the server refered to me as niña, I tried not to be offended), and walked around some more.
One highlight to the greyness was to be found in "Isla de los Inventos," a sort of hands-on childrens´musuem. Needless to say, I went in and elbowed with the mobs of children and their chaperones to try all the activities. The paper exhibit was my favorite. I got to made recycled paper from waste paper, paint a paper using some technique based on the principle than oil is hydrophobic, bind a book (this part was lame), carve a stamp and use it to create a sort of lithograph (but not quite), and more. There were plenty of other things, and I was pleased to pass a little while there and--what´s more--see that it was sunny by the time I left. The clouds had passed and I was feeling better.
I also saw a fair number of cars parked along the river, each with a guy or two outside dangling a fishing rods over the 5-meter embankment while a woman (wife?) sat in the car sipping mate. Just your average Saturday trip to catch dinner, perhaps.
Speaking of mate, I must note it is the understated but ubiquitous national drink of Argentina (and Uruguay, for that matter). Even though I have purchased a calabaza, bombilla, and yerba, I am a neophyte when it comes to this brew. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_(beverage) for actual information.
Having torn through several books in English (travelling alone is like that), I have purchased a Spanish version of Tolstoy. Before you think I´m reading literature, let me tell you the title: "Cuentos Para Niños." This may be just about my reading level.
So I´ll be in Rosario for a few more days (tomorrow is Independence Day as well as the World Cup Final) and Monday afternoon I head to Iguazú (or, rather, Posadas). I made a very specific point of requesting coche cama. So this way, if I need to be upset about something (like not sleeping), at least I´ll be well-rested enough to do so.

Friday, July 07, 2006

You can take my body out of my home...

...but you can´t take the homebody out of me. It turns out that whether I´m in Córdoba or Wellesley, I´m still me. The concert was great--an evening of music centered around the classical guitar but including (at various times and in various combinations) another guitar, a flute, a recorder, percussion, alto sax, sax, tenor sax, voice, keyboards, and an accordian. Crazy. The Teatro de San Martín is a magestic 5-storied venue with balconies and red velvet and gold trim. Not to shabby, to say the least. After the show, Lacy and I went to get dinner at a sort of Argentine Hard Rock Cafe (called Johnny B. Good) and I nearly flipped my gourd taking in the familiarity of an American-style menu, with things like salads and quesadillas. Lacy drank something called Fernet with Coca-cola, which is some sort of vile alcoholic brew that for some unknown reason is popular in Córdoba. Since the boliches (dance clubs) don´t really start until 2 or 3 am (!), we had a few hours to pass after our midnight meal. We made a stop at Lacy´s apartment and then went to a bar with a neat inner outdoor courtyard. It was a warm night and one could see the stars. I had no interest in drinking but kept Lacy company as she partook of the special--2 liters of Budweiser for 10 pesos. First of all, that´s about 3 dollars and change. Second of all, of all the beers to import from the U.S., Budweiser seems to be the king of beers here as well (although local brews do brisk business as well). All of this took us past 2am, when I had a stunning realization. I don´t like to go out to bars in the States, and I don´t like to do it here, either. I don´t much frequent the dance clubs in the States, and can´t imagine it would be different in the southern hemisphere. It turns out that this whole mythical Argentine nightlife is EXACTLY THE SAME as in the U.S.--dinner, drinks, dancing. The restaurants are the same, the bars are the same, the beer is the same, the people are the same, the music is the same, the clubs are the same. It all just happens 3 hours later here. In the end, I made it home by 3am, having forgone the drinking and the dance club and settling into the happy conclusion that no matter where I am, I prefer a book and a couch to a beer and a club any day of the week. And so: you can take my body out of my home, but you can´t take the homebody out of me. This lesson having been learned, I spent today doing what seems to be the staple of Argentine life--waiting. Waiting is a way of life here. I waited for hours to get a hostel reservation in my next destination, then to book my bus ticket, then to cash traveler´s checks, then to book a flight, then to order my dinner... So much time spent waiting. Granted, my New England impatience and Latin American attitude of chill don´t mix. But Argentines really are okay waiting. A lot. Consider: you are walking down the street and see a line of about 23 people assembled patiently outside a door. What are these people waiting for? An ATM! Every ATM in the center of town can be located by the line of 6-26 people waiting patiently and orderly for their turn. Dear New England readers, tell me: if you saw even a dozen people waiting to use the ATM, would you stop and quietly stand in line? Or would you keep walking, perhaps thinking of where else you could go or how much work you could get done in the time it would take you to stand there? There is a way of life here that I think is ultimately much healthier than the pace I´m used to in Boston, but it will take time to adjust. Tonight I take the midnight bus to Rosario. I´m not sure what I´ll do there, but I hear there is a convention of orthodontists, so that might liven things up (in addition to making it extremely difficult to book a bed, even in a hostel). Then--the monster bus ride to Iguazú. Two days or so there to see the falls (which I hear have been kind of low, thanks to a paucity of precipitation) and then I fly back to Bs. As. And--believe it or not, in just 9.5 days from now I´ll be back home, marvelling at how dirty my apartment is and how much Dana Hall work I still need to square away. Maybe I´ll think about going to the bars and clubbing. (Uh-huh...) But until then, I´m going to work on mastering the art of relaxed waiting. Ready, go.