Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Sorry it's been a while since my last update. A lot has happened and yet it also seems like considerably little. I'll explain what that means shortly.

First, I have to start with the more unfortunate news. A few weekends ago, while out at a club in Buenos Aires, my wallet was stolen from my purse. It happened completely without me noticing, probably as I was making my way through the crowded dance floor. Luckily I had very little money on me, and all of the things stolen were replaceable. Then, only a few days later, a friend had her necklace ripped off her neck by a young teenager while we were walking down the street! This was in broad daylight in a nice neighborhood. Needless to say, these events (and others- at least 4 other people in our program have been robbed) changed my opinion of Buenos Aires, at least for a little while. I couldn't help but feel violated and frustrated at living in a big city with all of its humanity, which can be exhilarating and overwhelming and scary all at the same time.

In our orientation at the beginning of the program, we were told that in adapting to another culture, one goes through certain stages. First there's the honeymoon period, where you fall in love with the culture and all the new experiences it has to offer, where every day you can go to a different museum or bar, you can meet new people, you can try new foods, the possibilities seem endless. Then, inevitably, that honeymoon period has to end, and you begin to notice things that bother you about the culture, whether it's how the people act, or different customs, or maybe you get robbed- any of these things can thrust you into the period called "negotiations." In this stage, basically, you can certainly be aware of what you like and dislike about the culture, and yet you still must navigate through and live in your new home, therefore you establish a new way of thinking about the culture and all the great and not-so-great things it has to offer. Lastly, you can accept the culture for what it is, and learn to love it once again (this time with more life experience).

As you can probably guess, I went through these stages in the last couple of weeks, starting with when I was pick-pocketed. After losing trust in this city, I had to learn how to fall in love with Buenos Aires once again. I also had to realize that being robbed was a result of Argentina's current economic crisis, and the increased thefts of students in my program (and the best exchange rate we've had yet) is only an indication of the economic problems getting worse for this country. Additionally, this experience will only make me a smarter traveler in the future, and I got to learn this lesson with relatively little negative consequences. Looking back, I believe it is incredibly important to go through these "stages" of culture shock in order to ultimately feel at home in a new country- but I am so happy to say I love Buenos Aires once again! You can see now why while not many "big" events have happened, I feel like lots has changed since my last blog entry.

Here's what's new in my life lately:

  • In my last few entries, I neglected to mention the biggest news in Argentina for the past month! The newly inaugurated Pope Francisco is from Argentina and is the first Pope from Latin America! The whole country has been so excited, even non-practicing Catholics. I believe it's a point of pride for Argentina and the rest of South America. I happened to be reading in a cafe when the news was announced, and the reaction was surreal. People were crying and hugging, and it was not difficult to get swept up in the excitement. The roomie and I woke up at dawn one morning to head to the main plaza and watch his inauguration ceremony on large TV screens.
Plaza de Mayo

El Obelisco draped in the Vatican flags
  • I went to a futbol game!!! It was the Argentine National team versus Venezuela, AND it was a qualifying game for the World Cup. We got to see Messi play, and Argentina swept 3-0. It was such a fun time, with the stadium completely filled, and all of the fans yelling out cheers and wearing Messi jerseys. 

  • During Easter break, I and three other girls ventured out of the city for a couple of days to an eco yoga retreat! It is located on a rustic farm about an hour outside of Buenos Aires, and little did we know that it is run by Hare Krishnas! It was quite the experience; we took meditation and yoga classes, saw a lecture about the Hare Krishna religion, went to music therapy, ate vegan food, and slept in eco-friendly bunkhouses. It was so peaceful and relaxing, and we got to visit the dairy farm next door where the owner introduced us to the cows and fed us ice cream. It was definitely necessary to get out of the hustle and bustle of city life to breathe a little in the countryside (and get eaten by mosquitos, of course).
El Templo

  • My friend Vi and I took the most amazing bike tour of all of the street art in Buenos Aires. Here, street art is respected and even commissioned, and the police allow the artists to do their thing, even in broad daylight! We rode bikes around a few key neighborhoods and saw multitudes of fantastic murals, stopping at each to learn a bit about the most prominent Buenos Aires street artists. 
Vi and her bike

This is actually the outside of a closed-door restaurant.

(For more pictures, check my Facebook page!)

Coming up next for me: Going to Colonia, Uruguay this weekend to renew our visas and explore a new place! Next weekend is the opera Carmen at Teatro Colon! And soon after I'll be heading back to California (which I honestly cannot believe). More updates soon!

Sidenote: It has come to my attention that the floods in Argentina have made national news. While I want to make it clear that I was not directly touched by the flooding in any way, certain provinces of Buenos Aires (such as La Plata) were greatly affected, with more than fifty people dying as a result. I am safe, but it is definitely a tragedy here in Argentina.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mi Cumpleaños and Iguazú Falls

Right after returning from Patagonia, it was time to celebrate my 21st birthday! Something that my friends and I here have really been missing about the United States is brunch- it is culturally not a common thing to have a big breakfast here in Argentina. But on my birthday, we found a wonderful cafe in the neighborhood Villa Crespo where they had a delicious Sunday brunch. A group of us girls went and enjoyed ourselves immensely! After doing some window shopping, we went to a park near my house for some mate (a very popular tea here in Argentina that is shared amongst friends and family). After a brief siesta, my housemate Frances and I had a great dinner with our host mom, complete with helado (ice cream) and champagne! Afterwards, we went to a friend's apartment, and then a gay club (which is apparently the place to be on Sunday nights) full of attractive gay Argentine men! We danced all night, made some friends, and went to bed happy in the wee hours of the morning. Overall, it was an awesome birthday, but I don't think I'll really feel 21 until I'm asked for my ID in the good ol' US of A.

Lovely brunch with the ladies

We started a new term in school, and I'm now in the advanced spanish class, which is only three hours a day, giving us lots of free time, which is great because I still have so much to explore in Buenos Aires!

In the meantime, this weekend our entire program traveled to Iguazú Falls in the very north of Argentina. Iguazú Falls are one of the new 7 wonders of the world and the widest waterfalls in the world, spanning about 2 miles. To get there, we took a 20-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, which seems hellish, but Argentina buses are actually quite luxurious, especially if you buy a cama (bed) ticket. The seats recline back almost all the way, meals are served, there's a bathroom, and they show films. It was a long but relatively comfortable journey. I especially enjoyed watching the surrounding landscape change from city to farmland to tropical jungle. Once we arrived at our hostel, we immediately jumped in the pool to wash off our travels, which needless to say felt amazing. Afterward, we walked to town and visited Tres Fronteras (Three Borders), where were were able to see Brazil and Paraguay while standing on Argentine soil.

Paraguay is on the left, Brazil on the right, I'm standing in Argentina.
On Saturday, we headed to the national park to see the waterfalls. We hiked around and saw some smaller falls, then took a wild boat ride where we literally drove into the falls, getting absolutely soaked in the process! The pressure of the water was insane; I thought my contacts were going to fly out of my eyeballs! Next we walked along the upper decks above the falls, giving us a different perspective. The park was full of wildlife, including butterflies, birds, coati (a kind of raccoon/anteater hybrid), and monkeys!!! Apparently we were very fortunate to see the monkeys as they are kind of a rarity. Our last activity of the day was visiting the Gargantas del Diablo, which are massive falls that form almost a full circle that we could look at from above. The falls were so powerful, yet so incredibly beautiful, with rainbows continuously appearing and reappearing, and mist constantly rising from the base of the falls. The pictures honestly don't do it justice, but you'll have to take my word for it- these waterfalls are certainly a wonder of the world.


The crazy boat ride.

Gargantas del Diablo

After we returned from the falls, we spent some more time relaxing by the pool, and that evening there was an asado and a dance show! On Sunday we started out on the long journey back to Buenos Aires. It was such a fun and relaxing weekend- it's going to be hard to get back into the daily grind after being so spoiled with all of this traveling!

P.S. As always, for more photos you can check out my Facebook page!

Patagonia Lovin'!

Holas todos!

I'd like to apologize for being a little tardy on my blog posting- these last few weeks have been a whirlwind (in a really, really good way), which I will expand upon in the next couple of posts. So read on!

First of all: PATAGONIA! I spent a wonderful week in one of the southernmost regions of the world, traveling between two of the most popular destinations in the area, El Calafate and El Chaltén. I'll just go ahead and break things down, day by day.

Day 1: We got an early start to catch a flight from Jorge Newbury airport in BA to El Calafate. Once we arrived, my friend Erin and I checked in at our amazing hostel, America del Sur. The view from the communal dining room was incredible, looking out over a picturesque glacial lake and mountain range.

The lobby of America del Sur

The view from the dining room
The staff were super friendly and helpful, booking all of our excursions and bus tickets for us, and the floors were heated! Which, in our case, was a little extreme because the weekend we were there happened to be beautiful, sunny, and warm- a rarity in Patagonia. Anyway, after checking in, we explored El Calafate for a while. It's a cute mountain town that reminded us of Lake Tahoe in some ways, with lots of cafes, restaurants, and backpacking outfitters. We walked along the lake, where there were supposedly flamingos, but we didn't see any, but it was gorgeous all the same. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping as we were planning to cook dinner at the hostel. Once we arrived back at the hostel, we cooked an awesome dinner and watched an amazing sunset with the rest of the guests (at around 10 pm because we were so far south).

Day 2: We woke up early yet again to catch the bus for Big Ice ice trekking at Perito Moreno glacier (one of the largest in the world). The bus drove us through Glacier National Park, where we were lucky to see an unforgettable sunrise over the lakes, rivers, and mountains of the region- the landscape was like nothing I'd ever seen before.

Sunrise over Glacier National Park
Our first stop was the visitor's center with expansive lookouts offering a panoramic view of the glacier- we were lucky to beat the crowds there and snapped some great photos before moving on.

Next we took a boat across the lake, where we saw yet another impressive view of the glacier. Once we arrived on the other side, we went on an hour long hike through the forest to where we'd embark on the glacier for trekking. After our hike, our guides fitted us with crampons and harnesses (just in case, or so they said) and we hopped on the ice for our trekking!

On the boat
We spent about 4 hours on the ice, exploring caves, crevasses, rivers, and mountains. It was really interesting because even the guides didn't know what we'd find, as the glacier is constantly moving and changing. The crampons made me feel really secure, though, and the guides were careful to check the ice for holes before we walked anywhere. The day was incredibly clear and warm, making the colors on the ice glisten. Erin and I would keep looking at each other and saying "Is this really happening? Are we really on a glacier?" We ate lunch next to a flowing glacial river, and kept discussing how lucky we were.

After the trek, we were happy to take the crampons off our sore feet, and on the boat ride back to the bus, we were served whiskey on the rocks (glacial ice!) and alfahores (popular Argentine dessert). A very classy ending to an amazing journey! Needless to say, we slept the whole bus ride home.

Day 3: We had some time to kill before our bus to El Chaltén, so we asked the hostel what we should do with our afternoon. They suggested a zip line tour. It was pretty cheap, so we decided to go for it. The so-called "zip line tour" turned out to be so much more than that! The two guides were really fun, and our group was an entertaining mix of international people. After two zip lines, we rappelled down a cliff face, and rock climbed up another rock wall. Next we scaled a rock face using a clamping technique that was common during WWII. It was so much fun, a complete adrenaline rush, and we got to try things we'd never done before! Heading to the tour, we had no expectations, which proved to make the day a success!

Day 4: We woke up in El Chaltén to a lovely, sunny morning. Having met up with our friends Frannie and Iliana the night before, we planned for a hike to Laguna del Torre, one of the best hikes the region has to offer. We set out on the 6 hour hike, which proved to be beautiful, snaking along a river, climbing up rocky mountains, and traversing through forests. The final view, though, of Lago Torre and Cerro Torre, was unforgettable. We stopped for lunch and marveled at the most impressive view of dramatic peaks and a mountain glacier. That night we went out for dinner at a lovely brewery in town and went to bed with bellies full and bodies tired!

We made it!

Day 5: Frannie, Iliana, and our other friend Kate woke up early to go horse back riding, while Erin and I slept in a little and explored El Chaltén. It is even smaller than El Calafate, and is mostly an outpost town for backpackers and hikers in the region. There is one main street, and the whole town is surrounding by impressive mountains.

Downtown Chaltén
 After lunch, we met up with the other girls to go on a shorter hike to a waterfall. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and the perfect last adventure in El Chaltén. That evening, a group of friends from our program had finished their very own backpacking adventure, and returned to town dirty, tired, and in desperate need of beer and good food. So we had a nice dinner and drinks, and stayed up most of the night at our hostel sharing stories from our various travels.

The "trickling" falls
Lovely dinner with friends
Day 6: Our second to last day was mainly one for traveling, as we took the bus back to El Calafate with the rest of the group. We checked in at the same wonderful hostel as before, and had a relaxing evening. After venturing into the cold night for delicious calafate gelato (calafate is the namesake berry of the region, kind of like a blueberry), we went to bed early.

Day 7: On our last day in Patagonia, Erin and I took a shuttle to Glaciarium, the new glacier museum in El Calafate. The museum was really informative and interactive, and it was very beneficial to learn about the science behind glaciers and glacier movement after having already been on the ice. Additionally, we treated ourselves to a visit to the Ice Bar, a bar made entirely of- you guessed it- ice (the only bar with glacier ice in the world!) Everything, from the walls and seats to the cups and shot glasses were made of ice. We were given ponchos to stay warm, and were only allowed to stay inside for less than 30 minutes. In that time, though, we made the most of it and befriended the bartender. It was quite the experience! After we returned to town, we took a shuttle to the airport and made our way back to Buenos Aires, not quite ready to leave such an amazing region.

Our new friend the bartender!

Legend says that if you eat a calafate berry in Patagonia, you are destined to return. Well I ate the berry, and I already can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Buenas Ondas

In my third week of living here in Buenos Aires, I'm beginning to understand what the porteños mean by a popular phrase "buenas ondas" (good vibes). In my short time here I've found myself in many situations where I've felt some definite buenas ondas- sunbathing in the parks in Palermo, watching live drum performances, drinking mate with friends, and dancing in the rain all night at a club.
There's a certain dichotomy present here in Buenos Aires. It is, after all, a fast-paced city with lots of traffic, an incredibly confusing (but also very cheap- apparently the cheapest in South America!) public transportation system, and tall, tall buildings. And yet it is one of the less daunting cities I've visited, as the people walk slower and take long lunches, there are parks and public spaces on every block, and (as I've mentioned before) national holidays are frequent. I like that people here are so passionate about politics (dinners with my host mother often consist of her ranting about her dislike of Cristina Fernandez, who is Argentina's president, and public assistance programs) and yet at the same time they don't seem to sweat the small stuff. I get so aggravated when I'm on a crowded, hot bus that keeps stopping to pick up even more sweaty people, but the porteños around me simply shift around to make more room. I need to keep that in mind and chill out, which will guarantee some buenas ondas!
In other news, I'm halfway through my spanish intensive course and just had a midterm. The class is going well and is helping me a lot with my interactions outside of class. I'm continuing to explore the city and have had a lot of great experiences lately. The last two Monday nights I attended a live improv drum performance called La Bomba del Tiempo. It's an incredibly fun dance party where they serve gigantic beers and that will inevitably end in a mosh pit. The rhythms that this group can create are so catchy and lively, and they are so cohesive; it really is amazing.
(Not my photo; I was having too much fun to take any!)
The last two Saturday nights my friends and I have gone to a boliche called Terrazas which is a huge club with indoor and outdoor bars and dance floors right on the river, and both nights I have danced until the sun came up. Watching the sun rise at Terrazas is something I will never forget!
I've also been hitting up the touristy stuff and have visited the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano Buenos Aires), which displays art by prominent Latin American artists, the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden), and the Jardin Japones (Japanese Garden) in Palermo.
Frannie enjoying art at MALBA
Jardin Botanico
Jardin Botanico
Jardin Japones
Two weeks ago our program went on a tour of the Recoleta Cemetery, which is apparently the third best in the world (according to the experts). It is where Buenos Aires' richest and most powerful citizens are kept in huge and extravagant mausoleums after they die. There I got to see where the famous Evita is buried, interestingly enough in her family's modest mausoleum and not her husband Juan Peron's (as he remarried after her death it was thought to be inappropriate to bury them together).
Recoleta Cemetery
Evita's tomb
I've found my favorite bookstore in the world, and it is literally a block away from my apartment! It's called Ateneo, and it's an old theater that has been converted into a bookstore and cafe. I like to go do homework there because it's just so fancy!

That's all for now! I've bought a plane ticket for Patagonia for my Spring Break the first week of March which I'm very excited about. More updates later.