I should have looked at the calendar beforehand

Trip Start Aug 09, 2006
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Flag of Argentina  ,
Saturday, August 18, 2007

Who knew it was so cold in South America?  For a guy who doesn´t see himself in NYC because of the weather, my timing is a bit off.  Leaving South American summer for NY winter, then leaving  NY summer for South American winter.  I´m an idiot.  Its gotten quite a bit warmer but the first week and a half or so were brutal.  The first thing that crossed my mind is that I was glad I didn´t board the plane in shorts or sandals back in New York.  It was exciting coming back to South America, but I don´t think I´ll ever match the excitement of last August.  That was the first time I had been so far away from the U.S.  But it is good to be back travelling and being totally free again.

It was easy grabbing a shuttle into town, and the subway.  And if I had any reservations about leaving home again they were gone the first night, as I went out to a tango show in Buenos Aires drinking wine.  The music is so good and I actually recognized two songs.  It seems like every tango is really sad emotional music. 

Did a bunch of walking around, sight seeing and stuff.  A couple things stand out. 
Casa Rosada (the Pink House, like our White House) has a large area in front that has been an important site historically for protests, speeches and stuff.  Still, every thursday, mothers of missing children from the Dirty War go out and march.  Without giving a history lesson, Argentina was ruled by a junta in the late 70s early 80s and about 30,000 people disappeared (were dropped into the Atlantic).
Also, there is a memorial to the Falklands Island War, which Argentines refuse to acknowledge is territory of Great Britain and refuse to acknowledge the name, preferring Islas Malvinas, even on maps and things.

The wine is so cheap here...I´ve never been much of wine drinker, but when in Rome...  Steak and wine every day is so awesome.

Went out to La Boca, a neighborhood just south of San Telmo where I´ve been staying.  Its just a touch rough, but theres a touristy strip, El Caminito, famous for all sorts of colorful buildings.  I decided thats how I want to paint my house someday.  The wall, window, shutters, knobs, paneling, all different colors.  There is an artist and musician who are largely responsible for creating El Caminito.  The artists name was Quinquela I think.  Went to his museum too.  There was a tango orchestra in the street, and we found out later that that day was the 95th anniversary of something or other.

Also hit up San Telmo´s huge street market, but I remember that the highlight of that day was that I was really excited to go to a Boca Juniors game here in BA.  They play in La Boca and are traditionally a powerhouse in Argentina and South America.  Near the stadium, it was like a college football vibe back home.  The weather was a little chilly, people all over the streets, sidewalks, cooking out and drinking.  Everybody having a good time.  We scored tickets to the first game of the new season.   And they were champs the year before, so lots of pregame songs, marching round the field with the trophy, confetti explosion, etc..  It was really a great environment.  Too bad the game didn´t exactly live up (ended up 0-0, go figure).  We thought it was pretty funny that they had to play the whole game running on confetti that was on the field.  And they unrolled this HUGE flag, spelling C.A.B.J.  I can´t even guess how many people it covered up.  The stadium was huge.  I remember that I went to a  game in Uruguay that had a bunch of goals, and the vibe was cool, but our high school field was probably better than theirs.  And of course, they don´t mess around at these things.  Barbed wire, super-armed police stationed around.  Anyway, the away team´s (Rosario)crazy fan section was in the bleechers seated above us.  Not sure how bright that idea is because all game long we were getting spit on.  One girl had a nice warm lugie rolling down her sleeve.  Ended up having a BBQ later that night.  Good times.

Later made my way to Recoleta, a pretty posh neighborhood where the famous cemetary is.  Has all sorts of important people of Argentina´s past, most famously Evita.  Not a normal cemetary though.  No grass, just sidewalks as you walk from tomb to tomb.  One plot can fit 40 dead bodies, and I think it cost around $250,000 to get one.  Also hit up La Boca one more time, going to a wax/history museum. 

A friend of mine living here that I met in Uruguay last time told me that there is free theater every Monday at a bunch of different places.  So I went out there with a friend from the hostel, and man was it cool.  First off, a super cool small venue for eating, drinking, live music, theater, whatever.  Met a bunch of cool people in line also.  There were two short plays.  Both about the Dirty War.  The first  was basically a reenactment of what was going on, very sad.  The next was sort of a two person dialogue show.  They talked about their dads a bit.  It was a true story, and the woman who wrote it, along with her granddaughter were in the audience.  The woman´s son, and the granddaughter´s father and mother were "disappeared".  At the end, along with actors, piano player...everybody went around doing a thing with their hand over their eyes or mouth, demonstrating whether their father, mother or both were victim.  It was a very powerful moment and you could see the obvious emotion on everybody´s faces.  Wasn´t a dry eye in the house.  The granddaughter was my age, and the old woman not THAT old.  It was pretty freaky that this thing was not that long ago, and that there are still lots of people trying to deal with it today.  Most of the disappeared were students or labor activists.  (Actually, the book I read about the 2001 financial crisis here mentioned that the only silver lining was that the military stayed out of it.  Even when everything hit the fan, looting, chaos, and they were going through presidents like kleenex, the military didn´t seize power as they have in the past.  Recent military rule was too recent and the memories too fresh, so the people would have really lost it and flipped the country upside down if that had happened)  Also a bit unusual, when I went to the museum at Casa Rosada, theres obviously a whole bunch of stuff about history, presidents, and stuff.  But they stop listing presidents and displaying historical stuff after 1976, when the junta took over.  Its either suspicious, or they´re still trying to sort out how history should look on those years.

Later met up with 2 friends that I had met on the last trip.  That was so fun.  Dinner lasted 4 hours and we caught up on everything.  As it turns out, one of them was having a birthday in a week.  So you arrive here with no plans, but they quickly accumulate.  Its great seeing people all over again.  Its funny, they dont believe you´re actually coming back.  I think I´m the Jobless Wonder to a lot of folks here (and family too, perhaps  ;) 

So, I left for Colonia and then Montevideo for another friend´s birthday there, knowing I´d be back here for another birthday.  Colonia is a quick boat trip from BA, so while I went over for awhile, I went over with a couple friends just making a day trip out of it.  And if BA was cold, Colonia was frigid.  It is a really small town, mostly known for being old and having a Old District where you see stuff from the old settlement.  It was always changing hands after battles between the Porguguese and Spanish so some streets and houses look one way, and some another way.  The whole vibe was a big step away from BA.  Very chill.  And I had some of my new favorite food of all time.  Like a meat pastry coated in sugar.  But I couldn´t believe how cold it was here.  The hostel was really just an open courtyard with rooms around it.  So no heat.  So folks were just gathered around a fireplace in the kitchen area.  I slept in all my clothes, memories of Oak St, and got out of there early the next morning. 

Immediately after arriving in Montevideo, I took a bus to my favorite restaurant and gorged on my favorite meal.  Thats one of the great things about returning to places is you know there are certain things you missed.  One of the many reasons I can´t wait to return to Brazil.  And again, it was really exciting to see friends that I was with last time here.  Spent most of the time hanging with Veronica and Laura, who also let me stay with them.  A lot of the next few days were spent re-living old memories of favorite bars, music, mate, acquaintences, Pilsen...  They are both teachers and last time they were on a month´s vacation which is why we got to hang out so much.  But we did this time too, so I don´t really know how they survive.  I guess the system is a lot different, for one.  You don´t teach for a school.  You teach for like 4 or 5 or whatever, always driving around to teach a class here and another there.  Sometimes wouldn´t get done working until 11, but then didn´t have to work until noon.  And sometimes just decided not to go in at all.  Weird.  And just like last time, when you went out nobody comes home before the sun is up.  One night last time, there was Bryan Adams and Uruguay´s most famous candombe muscian in the same dive bar.

Actually, I guess I should say a word or two about Montevideo since I never wrote about it last time.  Its a big city but super chill.  And it has beaches, which make it better than BA in my opinion.  And mate, the tea, has got to be the biggest thing you notice here.  Argentina has the reputation as mate drinkers, but as Uruguayans will tell you (and its true), they don´t drink anywhere near as much and folks from Uruguay do.  Everybody around with their gourd and thermos, looking like they have an armful of groceries.  Its also the first place I really saw a big amount of other South American tourists.  Didn´t meet a lot in Brazil.  Also, I had a favorite empanada place I couldn´t wait to get back to.  And the Mercado del Puerto is a big famous spot to go eat or hang out.  The amount of meat thats thrown on the grill here, I´m not sure will be topped in Argentina even though, again, they´ve got the rep.  Actually, you hear it often and there is a lot of truth in it, that Uruguay is like a smaller Argentina.  Montevideo is similar to BA.  The countryside in Uruguay is similar to Argentina´s agricultural regions. The steak, the mate, the language accent, the tango.  Quite a few similarities but Uruguays is missing the reputation for conceitedness, like the Argentines have (though I haven´t experienced it yet).

So anyway, of course, the birthday bash was awesome.  I have another favorite food, gramajo.  And my friend took me to a place with free tango lessons.  Was very basic, but we did manage to learn one cool move.  The place was pretty funny, like an old run down community-ed center with its random assortment of people trying to learn tango.  Tango is something that I could definitely learn.  Samba in Brazil was super fun, but super difficult starting I thought (my samba is pretty much just running in place).  Not so with tango.

Later checked out an art museum of Torres-Garcia, who has done a couple famous works you see a lot of in Montevideo.  One is of a fish, the other of an upside down South America, the point being earth doesn´t have an up and down.  For South Americans, they are the up.  Think outside the box, blablabla.  Also went back to where I used to work, which is all dark, empty, and depressing now.  There were some things I wanted to do in Uruguay last time that I never made time for, and I can´t do them now either because the weather is crap, so I will have to return to Uruguay some other time.

The one place I could go to that I wanted was the thermal springs in the north, near Salto.  There are a bunch of different ones, but I went to Las Termas Daymán.  Salto was about 6 hours from Montevideo, so I got to see the countryside, which I really hadn´t yet.  It was surprisingly familiar.  Take away the scattered palm trees and orange tree orchards, and you might guess that you were in mid-northern Michigan.  Relatively flat, agricultural, trees...

Got in Salto, asked the guy at the tourist kiosk where a cheap spot was, and walked downtown.  It was a hotel that was actually pretty nice. Large outdoor courtyard, I had my own room, bathroom, tv...crazy.  All for hostel price.  I think Salto is the 2nd biggest city in Uruguay and it only has 100,000 people.  The whole country has 3mil and half are in Montevideo.  Next day took the bus out to the Termas, which were a bit south of Salto.  The ride out was a bit funny because I caught at the same time all the kids are going to school.  So it was me on the bus with about 30 little kids.  At the termas, there are a bunch of hotels around all advertising pools, jacuzzis, spas, etc.., so it looks like everybody is getting what they can out of the water down there.  Entering the grounds of Termas del Daymán is only 2 bucks and its like a huge park area.  Maybe a dozen weirdly shaped pools, steaming hot, fields for soccer, places for BBQ, kid playground stuff...  I bet it gets a lot more use in January.  For now, folks only went into the pools.   Was really nice.  Just like a jacuzzi.  But Veronica and Laura laughed at me a bit, because its not as fun going alone.  Theres not a whole lot to do other than sit in hot water.  The steam would come off the water, but the weather was cold and windy, so there was all this steam just blowing accross the ground.  The whole thing reminded me of me and Mike when we were younger up in the UP jumping from his grandpa´s sauna into the snow back and forth.

Next day, crossed the Rio Uruguay and the border, back in Argentina. You cross the river by going over a decent sized dam they built there.  Believe it or not, with all the traveling, this was my first land border crossing.  All the rest were by air or sea.  Immigrations was a snap, but I was the only foreigner on the bus, so I took a little bit longer and if I didn´t say something, I think the bus would have left without me.  I feel like I´ve been in Argentina the least, but my passport is full of Argentina stamps because I keep coming in and out.  This never happened on Brazilian buses, but so far I have seen "300" and "Maid in Manhattan" on the buses.

Not sure how much longer in BA, but before leaving there are still a few old friends I want to see.  Actually was debating heading north to Paraguay or something to avoid the cold, and just come back down later in the year.  But already it has warmed up at least 10 degrees.  I´m sure I forgot to mention something, but my brain is fried right now.  I´m uploading a few photos from the last time in Montevideo, since I didn´t before, and I didn´t really take any new ones.
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