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Last weeks in Argentina and the return to Virginia

Time July 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, this is going to be my final blog, and there is so much that happened the last few weeks of my time in Argentina that it is going to be hard to cover everything, but I’ll do my best.  So, I finally got back from Iguazú Falls and it was crunch time for my classes.  I had already taken the final exam for my Sociedad y Estado class, but I still had finals, papers, and presentations for my remaining three courses.  I also had a trip to Santiago de Chile to plan, plus I had to make sure I really enjoyed my last few weeks in Argentina, so it was about to be a real challenge to balance everything that I had to do.

I managed to get everything done, even if some of it was last minute, but there was one major hitch in my plans.  Several weeks before finals week in UCA, I asked my professors when the exams were going to be, and they told me the 1st and 11th of July.  Well, my flight home was scheduled for the 9th, so that meant I would have to take the exam on the 1st.  That would be perfect because I wanted at least a weeklong window to plan my trip to Chile.  Unfortunately, either my professor was wrong or the dates were changed because about two weeks before the date of the exam, and the day that I was planning on booking the micro and hostels to Chile, UCA sent an email with exam dates, mine being the 4th and 11th.  First of all, who has an exam on the 4th of July?  What a joke.  Second, and most importantly, my trip to Chile was going to have to be canceled.  I was absolutely devastated.  And finally, my professors still hadn’t let us know whether the exam was going to be written or oral.  In the end, I ended up going into the exam on the 4th still not completely sure of whether I would be taking a written or an oral final, the exam wasn’t clearly explained at all, so I hadn’t studied properly, and it just solidified my view of the argentine university system.  A quilombo (complete mess).  Oh well, after that was finally all over, I wrote my final paper for my class at Di Tella, and I was free from school at last!

Now, what did I do my last few days in Argentina?  Well, I decided that it would be a great idea to spend some of the money that I would have been spending on my trip to Chile on meals in Buenos Aires.  So, the last week of my time in Buenos Aires, I ate like a king.  I tried a huge variety of places, from argentine parrillas to Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Peruvian food.  The food was incredible.  At the Peruvian place we found, La Conga, in fairly unsafe Barrio Once, we ate some incredible food for really cheap.  My friend and I split a 1.5L of coke zero and then we each ordered an entree.  Once was a mountain of peruvian rice called chaufa, filled with beef, chicken, egg, and vegetables, served with two incredible dipping sauces.  Then we also got some sort of marinated steak that was cut into pieces and piled high with peppers, onions, french fries, and served with rice on the side.  It was impossible to finish all the food, even though we showed up really hungry, and the bill came out to be $64 PESOS. That’s roughly US$16 for amazing food, for two people.  We went back later that week.

As for being in Buenos Aires the last week, I was so glad that my trip to Chile was canceled.  As it is, I feel like I didn’t have enough time in the city to really say goodbye.  I was able to go to some of my favorite bars and clubs, said bye to some of my good friends, and spend time with the people who had really changed my life.  The last week, my life basically consisted of waking up, eating, doing any work I had left, going out to eat again, and then going out for the night.  It was an incredible last week, and I wouldn’t change it for anything… except once again, what happened with my flight.  But I’ll get to that in a second.

It turned out that my host parents’ only chance to get to see their family in Puerto Madryn was to leave Buenos Aires on a bus (since their flights had been canceled for a month) a week before I left the country.  The goodbye with them was so sad, and it was so hard to believe that my parents for the past 5 months were leaving, and that I probably wouldn’t be seeing them again for years.  It was hard to take, but I guess it released some of the pressure on me when I had to say my final goodbye to the people I had to leave when on my way to the airport.  So, in the end, I was left with Sebastián for the last week, and everything ended up working out all right :)

So, Saturday July 9th, el día de la independencia argentina, I showed up to Ezeiza International airport at 8:00 for my 10:30 flight, went to check in, and was told that there was a group of little girls that took my seat on the flight, my seat that had been reserved about 7 months prior.  After about an hour and a half of arguing, pleading, and just waiting for what seemed like nothing, I was sent to a hotel in a remis to wait for a flight he next night that I was promised I would be on.  Aside from the hotel and remis, I was also given compensation for LAN giving away the seat that I had reserved over half a year ago.  Well, the first night wasn’t so bad, I was able to see my friend off on his flight, but then came the thing that had been a plague to my semester in Argentina.  CENIZA.  Apparently, a cloud of ceniza had moved over the airport, and all flights were canceled, once again.  So, we were sent back to the hotel and were told that we would be called the next day with information about a new flight.  Well, turns out that we never got the call, and a flight left at 1:45pm.  We were told then that we wouldn’t get on a flight until the next, THIRD, day.  Luckily, one of the supervisors who had dealt with us the very first day was able to get us onto a plane… to Santiago.  So, after much stress, confusion, and frustration, at least we were out of Buenos Aires.  Although it wasn’t exactly the greatest taste left in my mouth, the good thing is that it made it much easier to leave the place that I had called home for the past 5 months.  A flight to Santiago, one to Miami, and then one to DC finally got me home, and ended my nearly 24-hour travel time along with my semester abroad in Buenos Aires.  I was glad to be home, but wasn’t really sure how to feel about the whole situation.

So, being back in the States has been interesting.  I had some trouble at first using words in English.  Especially ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ which were so easily said ‘permiso’ y ‘gracias’ every single say in Buenos Aires.  But it was so great to finally see my family and my best friends :)  But now that I’ve been back for a few days, I’d love to go back.  There’s nothing like Buenos Aires, and Stafford, Virginia just doesn’t compare.  I’m going to miss going out to a cafe for a cold Quilmes at 2am for a chill night, going to get a coffee at any time of the day or night, or going to a boliche until it’s light outside again.  The culture of Argentina was incredible, and I wish I could bring some of that here.  I miss my friends and the life I had there so much.  It’s great to be back, the food here is definitely something I missed, and as I already said, my friends and family, but Argentina was just so fun.  It’s an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and something that I will NEVER forget as long as I live.  I miss you Argentina, and I CAN’T WAIT to go back!  Chau for now…

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Iguazú… Continued

Time July 15th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Iguazú… Continued by

We arrived at the national park to see the waterfalls and began walking along the paths to the falls.  Without exaggeration, these waterfalls were the most incredible sight I had ever seen.  The sheer amount of water falling down and the number of falls were simply incredible… I couldn’t believe a place like this was even real.  In our day at the park, we took a boat ride underneath of the waterfalls, made a trip over to an island surrounded by the falls, and saw La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat).  That part of the falls was absolutely amazing.  It’s hard to even explain without being there.  So, after all of the travel issues, the trip to Iguazú was a success.  After the long day, we got back to the hostel, rested up a bit, and then went out for dinner.  The air that night was actually incredibly cold for being ‘subtropical’ climate.  We had a good dinner at this local place and then headed back to get some sleep before we had to be on a flight back to BsAs in the morning… little did we know, it would be canceled by ceniza as well.

After an extra night in Iguazú, we eventually had to take a bus back to the city because flights were canceled for days due to the volcanic ash.  The 18-hour bus ride cost us $471 pesos (more than half of our round-trip flight), but it had to be done.  Oh, and we are still waiting on reimbursement from Aerolineas Argentinas, almost a month later.  Oh well, the trip was worth every penny.

Also, because of our delayed flight, we were given an extra day in the Iguazú area, so we decided to take full advantage.  Once my friends and I finally rolled out of bed, we hopped on a bus that was headed to Foz do Iguaçu, Brasil.  Now, according to everything we had heard, Brazil has a $140 entrance fee, and a visa is necessary for Americans to enter the country… but we were going to try our luck anyway.  We arrived at the border of Argentina and Brazil with passports and argentine residency documents in hand and we were actually able to slide right through border control into the largest country in South America.  Now, I wish that I had some amazing story about an incredible day in Brazil, but we were only really able to stay there for about three hours since it was quickly getting dark, so we walked around the small city for a bit and then posted up at a cafe for some brazilian beer.  It was a nice, short day trip, and in the end, we can all say that we got to visit Brazil!  It was interesting to hear the language instantly switch from Spanish to Portuguese, and it was muuuuuch easier to read than it was to understand what people were saying.  The little city wasn’t much, about the equivalent of Puerto Iguazú on the Argentine side, but it was great to be able to brag to the rest of our friends in the program, none of who had made it to the Brazilian side, at least without paying.  All in all, it was a perfect way to end one of the best weekends of my life.  Other than seeing the toucans at the airport… that was awesome too 😛

 

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Iguazú Falls

Time July 8th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The one place that everyone is supposed to go see while spending an extended amount of time in Argentina is Puerto Iguazú.  Almost every study abroad student travels there, and it’s supposed to be one of the new wonders of the world.  The pictures on google images are incredible, but from what I had seen from people’s pictures on Facebook, the cataratas (waterfalls) didn’t seem TOO incredible. WRONG. The falls are one of the greatest sights I have seen in my life, and it was my favorite trip since being in Argentina.  However, as always with me, it didn’t come without a few complications…

Ceniza.  I had no idea what that word was until Volcan Puyehue erupted in Chile.  From that day, ‘las cenizas’ were probably the two words I heard most because the ceniza (ash) from the volcano coated Argentina with a film of gray.  Patagonia was hardest hit and Buenos Aires only got a very thin coat of ash, but the problems it caused were ridiculous.  Our Friday flight to Iguazú was canceled, but luckily we were able to get on a plane Saturday.  Our return was laiden with even more problems… our Monday flight was canceled.  Then after waiting in the airport on Tuesday for flights that just kept getting delayed and eventually canceled, we had to buy tickets for an omnibus that took 18 hours to get back to Buenos Aires.  Therefore, ceniza is now probably my least favorite word in the Spanish language.

Aside from the travel complications, every other part of our trip was perfect.  Puerto Iguazú is in a province called Misiones and it is the northeastern-most in the country.  Therefore, the climate is subtropical… it was nearly 80 degrees while we were there, as opposed to 60s in Buenos Aires.  Once we landed we took two remises to our hostel since there were seven of us.  The airport is about 25 minutes from the Marco Polo Hostel in the middle of Puerto Iguazú, and the ride costed A$100.. not terrible.  Anyway, we had a room to ourselved in the hostel, which was great.  It was a nice place with a pool, bar, ping pong and fooseball.  So our first night we went out for a drink and discovered that Avenida Brasil is lined with little stores selling cheeses, meats, and massive amounts of olives.  So we sat right down and had some drinks, picado (basically like antipasto), and olives stuffed with cheese and sausage.  The food was great!  After that, we went back to the hostel for a bit and then went out for dinner.  The food was salty, but good and it was cheaper than BsAs.  We hung out for a while in the hostel after that, and then went to bed so that we could have a full day at the park on Sunday.

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¡Que te cumplas feliz!

Time May 26th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Wow. Today is May 25, el Día de la Declaración de Independencia Argentina.  Time has FLOWN BY. May has flown by. Now I only have 45 days left in Argentina, and it’s scary… I don’t want to leave.  It’s going by way too quickly, but instead of complaining about it, I’ve enjoyed every day and I have had an incredible time during this past month.

My birthday was May 10th. I celebrated two separate days since it was unfortunate enough to fall on a Tuesday… but I guess that ended up working out for the best.  Since dinners aren’t provided for students on Saturdays, a friend planned a dinner for that night, three days before my actual birthday.  Now, instead of just rambling on about how great it was, I’ll try to throw some culture in there too.  There’s this running feed on our Facebook group that begins with, “You know you’re in Buenos Aires when:” and then everyone proceeds to post his or her argentine happenings.  Well, this is the perfect time to use one of them.  You know you’re in Buenos Aires when: you show up for your birthday dinner twenty minutes after the reservation and you’re one of the first people there.  Friends continue to trickle in for the next two hours, and no one really seems to take notice.  Dinner ends up lasting three and a half hours, and it ends with champagne and the traditional “que te cumplas feliz” happy birthday song. It was a great dinner, and ended up being a great night.  My host parents’ grandson who I’ve become friends with invited all 14 of us over to pregame before going out to a boliche.  Awesome night!  He lives a few blocks from 9 de Julio on the 10th floor, with a great view.  It was picturesque. It was incredible, a great way to bring me into my third decade.  Then on Tuesday, four close friends and I celebrated my actual birthday at a bar called Magdalena’s and then a boliche, Kika, which is known for its Tuesday night parties.  Once again, you know when you’re in Buenos Aires WHEN…  It was another incredible night.  One of my best friends here was so generous and bought us a table in the VIP section with 2 buckets of champagne and drinks.  There were 5 of us…. so you can imagine how that night ended.  Let’s just say I didn’t really feel like stopping in Plaza Miserere on the way home to get my usual 4-peso superpancho to end the night.

The next weekend we had an IFSA- planned trip to Rosario, Argentina, the third largest city in the country, located in la Provincia Santa Fe.  It is about a 4-hour bus ride from BsAs to the city that’s on the edge of the Parana River, and we had two full days and one night to enjoy it as much as possible. Well, we started immediately.  We found a place to get some lunch and were told to be back to meet the group for a walking tour of the city in 40 minutes.  Well, this is Argentina… we were at lunch for 2 hours, and therefore decided to take a walking tour ourselves, litros in hand.  It was a blast, so much so that I needed to recoup with a nap before dinner.  Now, dinner… we decided that IFSA had a plan with the dinner that they took us out to.  That plan was to stuff us so much with great food that we wouldn’t want to go out that night.  Success.  Now, let me break down this dinner.  We were all SO hungry, so the breadbaskets came out and were demolished. Mistake one.  Then we all got served an empanada de carne, followed by a lettuce and then a spinach salad.  Delicious.  What came next confused all of us.  Huge platter with brain, intestines, blood sausage, and chorizo.  Damnit IFSA!  Why would you feed us these things?  Needless to say, they were accompanied by platters of papas fritas, so everyone wolfed down the chorizo and the fries.  Mistake 2.  Sitting with what seemed like half a ton of fries in my stomach, steak knives were brought out to all of us, and we were served red wine.  Then platters with all different cuts of steak, and more papas fritas.  Well, at that point I could barely fit any more food into my stomach, but I had to eat some of the great Argentine meat.  It was delicious and we were all about to explode.  So of course after that, ice cream followed.  Then we were all asked if we wanted some after-dinner coffee.  It was great, but there was no way any of us were in the mood to go to one of Rosario’s many heavily talked-about boliches.  Damnit IFSA, got us again.  Now, don’t think that we didn’t take advantage of having a night in a new city, all put up in hotel rooms.  We went to the store and bought the necessary beverages, and partied in one of the rooms.  It was so much fun, a great mix of people, and a craaaaazy night.  Yes, we stayed in the room and started off by playing charades, but it was an awesome time.  The next day, we had a lunch from IFSA, which seemed to be more of a recovery period, and then a tour of the Parana on a ferry.  It was really nice, the river was huge, and it was something that I had never seen before.  Horses waded through the water at every turn, people had raised houses in the middle of the river, with boats to get to the city… it was really something amazing.  Something different, something Argentina.  We all left Rosario completely wiped out after an awesome weekend.

Now to prevent complete boredom with my drawn-out stories, I’m going to give the highlights of the rest of the time since I last posted a blog…

Went to my first ‘undercover’ bar.  We had to ring a doorbell, enter four at a time, walk inside a telephone booth, and then press the pass code in order to get in.  It was a really nice bar with specialty drinks (unfortunately with really ‘special’ prices), but it was cool to have been in a bar like that all the same.

Got ripped off by a taxi.  Big surprise, right?  I asked him if he had change for 100 pesos.  Stupid.  Always carry smaller change for taxis (although this country refuses to print adequate amounts of smaller bills and the precious monedas, forcing people to always scheme ways to break their hundreds, but that’s a rant for another time).  He swapped out my hundred for a two and proceeded to tell me that I had mistakenly given him a two.  Now, despite how I may come off with all these robbery stories, I’m no moron.  I now keep my hundreds in the little pocket of my jeans, so I know that I gave him a hundred.  Hijo de puta.  I then had to give him another hundred to ‘pay for the cab ride,’ since I wasn’t about to get shot by an angry, possibly drunk, taxista.  Needless to say, I ended up spending 140 pesos (U$S35) for a taxi that was supposed to be 40 pesos.  Whatever.  You live and you learn, and that guy now has bad karma.  Sucks for him.  And me.

Telos.  I’ll make this brief and impersonal.  These are places, similar to hotels, but rooms can be rented hourly.  In a city where it’s hard to get any personal space, especially since the majority of kids my age still live at home, it’s a convenient was to spend some time… alone with someone else.  Neon blue lights, mirrored street doors, and trees in front of the already-opaque windows generally indicate that you’ve found one.  Others can be entered by garage.  It all depends on which telo you end up near.  They’re easy, convenient, very clean, and relatively cheap.

Classes.  Well… apparently I’m the luckiest guy in the world.  My class at Di Tella was canceled for 2 1/2 weeks for ‘travel,’ my castellano class was canceled this week, today is feriado, and so in total I have 1 class that I need to attend all week.  Tough, right?  Argentina, I love you.  And it ended up really working out for me since I’m now stuck in bed with what I’m self-diagnosing myself as strep throat.  Let’s just hope those “antibióticos” that my host dad gave me do the trick…

Til next time,

Chau chau.

 

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Mendoza: Wine Country

Time May 2nd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Semana Santa in Buenos Aires is the equivalent of Spring Break in the States.  Being that the people here don’t exactly practice their proclaimed religion, the holy week is spent traveling and taking a break from the city.  You might be asking yourself how the millions of people leave the city?  Well… some have cars, a few fly, and EVERYONE ELSE leaves through Retiro Bus Station.  Now, Retiro is a really interesting place.  It’s an enormous station surrounded by a nice mix of third-world-looking slums on one side and large commercial buildings across the street.  About a month ago, the group of girls who ran the crime scene at this bus station was apparently arrested, but it’s not somewhere that anyone would want to be stuck in alone and confused.  Anyway, we made our way through the station that felt more like a can of restless sardines than anything else, waited an extra hour with bags across our shoulders for our bus that was about an hour late.  Finally, we were able to escape the absolute chaos of the terminal, and we were on our way to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, famed for its vineyards that produce Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, among many other varieties of wine.

I would describe the climate of Mendoza as a strange mix between New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California, and none of the above.  The actual city, population ~110,000, sits at the base of the Andes Mountains and is much closer to Santiago de Chile than it is to Buenos Aires (5 hours compared to 14).  Anyway, we made it to our hostel and spent the first day in the huge park to the north of the city, where we relaxed, drank, and two of my friends played soccer with a group of Argentine kids.  That night we went out to dinner and then went to the only boliche that we could find in the city… it was a fun night.  So the next day after we forced ourselves out of bed, we headed for the bus that would take us to Mr. Hugo’s, the infamous place to rent bikes to ride around the wineries of Maipu.  Now, if what you have in mind right now is a stroll on a bike through the green vineyard-filled valleys of Argentina, that’s what I was thinking too—but I was wrong.  Instead, we biked through an apparently abandoned industrial area where construction had been terminated without completion.  Spotted in between the dusty roads and tall Dr. Seuss trees are the wineries.  The vines are able to grow in the climate because of the irrigation system, through which the Andes melt water is brought down to flood the vineyards every so often.  We went on a tour of one winery and listened to a talk at another… a few friends bought some bottles, and then we pedaled back to Mr. Hugo’s, had some free wine, and went home after an exhausting day.  It wasn’t quite what I had expected, but it was nice to be able to see some wineries in Argentina.

The next day we signed up to go on a rafting trip.  We had no idea about any of the details, just that we were going on a full-day trip down some river with rapids.  We booked our excursion through our hostel and we were picked up in the morning and driven into the mountains.  The company that we went with was very small (we were the only people going rafting through it that day), but the people seemed nice.  So we got into our wetsuits and headed to the Mendoza River for the fun.  The river was a color I had never seen before, almost turquoise, from the melted snow from the tops of the Andes, and it was about 8°C (that’s about 47°F).  The five of us and our guide put in, and were on our way down the river.  Since it was April, the water was lower than it’s peak in the summer months of January/February, so the rapids were only Class 2 and 3, which I was completely fine with.  I wasn’t too keen on being thrown over into the frigid water, as I was already nearing hypothermia from being splashed by the boats from another company and by the water from the rapids that got us all completely wet.  The trip was 2 or 3 hours, and was really a great experience.  I can now say that I’ve been rafting through the Andes, and it was accompanied by truly breath-taking views of the mountains.  The sight at the end of the trip was one of the greatest I had ever seen… the hazy mountains were completely surrounding us as the crystal clear water of the river rushed by us.  It’s a site that I will never forget, which is good because none of us had our cameras with us, and mine had broken the day before.

After another great night of going out (the best Mexican food that I have had to this point in Argentina followed by some fun bars), we had arrived to our last day in the West.  We ended up spending it just chillin around the city, taking it easy.  It was really a relaxing time in Mendoza… we had lots of fun, had some great experiences, and got to take in some of the city.  Definitely a fun trip!  Although somehow I ended up buying no wine to bring home… My host mom wasn’t too enthused by the fact that I didn’t bring her back any, so I got a nice 16-peso Mendoza label from the store across from my apartment.  Looks like I’ll be doing something similar for my parents at home, I’ll just have to make it a point to pop open a new bottle to test out every week from now till the end… I’m not complaining.

 

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Bad Decisions

Time April 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So this post unfortunately isn’t as light-hearted as the others, but it’s something that needs to be written, as it reflects some of the real, less favorable, aspects of studying abroad in Buenos Aires…

One of the most heavily stressed components of the IFSA Orientation is safety–rules to live by, guidelines, etc.  The problem is actually abiding by all of the rules; especially when they’re just a list of things that you just shove in the back of your mind in order to have a fun, uninhibited time.  Anyway, so far in Buenos Aires, I have been part of crimes three times… as the victim (or witness), of course.

The first came in Mar del Plata when a friend and I made the wrong decision to follow some locals into a dimly lit park.  The two guys sat us down, stuck their hands into our pockets to grab our money/phones/anything of value. Result: My loss of 90 pesos, a bruised neck. My friend’s loss of 10 pesos, a 120-dollar watch, and scratches.  In my opinion, we were lucky not to have been hurt worse, as there was no one else around, and the guys were apparently unarmed.

The second situation, and by far the worst, occurred right here in Buenos Aires… actually in one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the country, none other than Recoleta.  Three friends and I were sitting under a tree in Plaza Francia with some drinks as the sun went down.  We were far too comfortable (sad to say, huh?), and were chatting in English.  Although I had noticed that we were the only people still sitting in the grass, there were still people within 10 yards of us, so I hadn’t become too nervous by that point of the night.  Then, a middle-aged guy came up to us trying to sell maps, which we refused, in Spanish, but he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.  After trying to grab my friend’s beer, I gave up a few precious monedas, and it appeared as if he was going to leave us alone.  Now flustered, I told my friends that we needed to get out of there, as it no longer felt safe.  Before we could gather all of our things, out of the corner of my eye, a well-dressed man in a blazer and khakis approached us.  I whispered to my friend that something felt wrong, but before we could even comprehend the situation, a gun was pulled on us.  “Dame la plata, toda la plata!” (Give me your money. All of your money!).  One of my girl friends began to back away and had enough courage to start screaming “AYUDA!” giving me the courage to do the same.  As we backed away, our other two friends were frozen in place.  We were able to attract enough attention that the ladrón left with 100 pesos and the credit card of one of my friends.  Police were found AND called, but nothing was done.  Far luckier than the Mar del Plata experience, all four of us were safe and unharmed (although incredibly shaken-up and in shock) after being gunned down and robbed.

The third experience with robbery occurred 6 days later, in the city as well.  My friend and I left a disco in Montserrat around 3 am and were walking along 9 de Julio in search of a cab.  After calling two of our other friends, the girl that I was with was texting on her blackberry as a boy (no more than 14 years old) pushed her down and swiped her several hundred-dollar phone.  Sprinting after him to no avail, she fell on the street and was bleeding from her knees and elbows.  Unfortunately, she was the same girl who had enough courage the week before to call for help as we were held up at gun point.  The second terrifying situation in less than a week for both of us, but this time, she lost something of incredible value (her way to stay in communication with her mom, sister and boyfriend).  We managed to get a cab home for her, and then I walked back to my apartment from her place (another unwise decision, as I was whistled at by 3 prostitutes and had to walk through an unsafe zone at 4 am), but I didn’t have enough money for a cab, and I only had enough monedas for one more bus ride, and intoxicated, I believed that it was more important to save them for later than to get home safely.  Luckily for me, I had no problems and got home without a scratch.  My friend was not so lucky, she has lost a lot of faith in the goodness of people here, and her view of this city has been tainted.  It’s a real shame. :(

Now, what is to be learned from these situations:

1. Do not linger in parks at night, no matter which neighborhood you are in and how safe you think you are.

2. DON’T GET TOO COMFORATBLE. Letting your guard down is easy, especially when alcohol is involved.  It’s not an easy task having to be alert 24/7, but when safety is involved (which is always), it’s imperative.

3. ENGLISH IS BAD. Speak in Castellano as much as possible; otherwise you become an obvious, foreign, BIG target for crime.

4. Unless completely necessary, don’t use phones/iPODs/electronics in the street.

5. When out at night, be EXTRA careful.. There are less people around, and you become a bigger target.

6. Safety > Saving a few extra bucks.  It’s much better to take a taxi or colectivo home if it insures your safety. Monedas (as precious as they are to take a colectivo) are replaceable. YOUR LIFE IS NOT.

7. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS!

It really pains me to write a post on robbery, mugging, and safety, but it’s something that really needs to be addressed, as it is a huge part of living in Buenos Aires.  Caution has to be taken, and it’s really important to be aware of your surroundings and to be smart when it comes to ensuring your safety.  I truly love this city, so it’s no fun to write about its ugly side.  I hope that I will be able to take my own advice and make sure that my friends and I are safe from now on.  SO, hopefully this will be the one and only post about safety that I have to write this semester. Fingers crossed.

‘Til next time, chau chau.

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URUGUAY! oh, and scorpions…

Time March 29th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So the weekend before last was my trip to Uruguay (one of IFSA’s included excursions), but before I get to the details about that, I’ve gotta share what my day had in store for me today…

Of course I can’t go one blog without talking about food, so I’ll start off with lunch.  I was walking down Corrientes and ran into a sandwich shop that sells pre-made sandwiches/salads/empanadas/tartas etc., so I decided to go in for a salad since I barely have the opportunity to eat something healthy for lunch.  Anyway, salad and sandwich in-hand i scooped up a little lidded soufflé cup of caesar dressing to put on my salad when one of the workers came out with a load of others that were… get this… RANCH. I basically died right there, as I thought my month-long search for ranch was over.  Welp, I was wrong.  I got back to my apartment and decided I was going to dip my sandwich in the ranch and have the caesar on my salad.  To my terrible disappointment, the ranch tasted like an unsavory blend of butter and mayo.  So then I went in for my salad and the aroma of fish hit my nose.  I remember looking on the back of bottles of caesar in the states and seeing anchovy at the bottom of the ingredient list, but this scent felt like it was penetrating my brain.  I couldn’t even finish the salad; it was so disappointing! So, now that I’ve written a sizeable paragraph about how my quest for sauce in Argentina has failed once again, I’ll continue on with the rest of my day.

Figuring out classes here is terrible.  Point blank.  In short, I’m now only going to be taking 4 classes for a total of 14 credits (one short of my normal 15-credit load), BUT it’s only going to transfer as 12 credits at UVa because my school isn’t going to accept Di Tella’s strange 5-credit-per-class rule.  I was going to take an art class to make it a total of 17 here and 15 at home, but then IFSA sent me my mandatory castellano schedule, and that plan died.  So, in the end, I’ll be taking 12 credits (US… I feel like I’m exchanging currency), and they’re only Tues-Thurs.  I’m not complaining about the schedule, I just feel like I’m a bit of a waste of life.  Anyway, I got home from a run at the park to clear my head from the class nonsense, and Norma brought me into my bathroom and was telling me to pour half a gallon of bleach down the flood drain after I use the bathroom because there is some sort of infestation of bugs (of which I couldn’t understand the translation).  So as we were laughing about how much she was freaking out, I asked her how to spell the insect’s name in castellano. Translation: scorpion.  Apparently a neighbor downstairs walked into her living room to find her dog barking at a scorpion on the floor, claws raised, stinger pointed.  I was actually a little taken aback, but as Norma ran around pretending like she had pincers snapping at Sebastian’s feet, I kinda forgot about it.  Then my dad came in later and told me to wear shoes around the house, and when I get up I need to shake out my shoes to make sure none crawl inside because those “hijos de puta” (translate it for yourself) crawl into dark places.  I’m still traipsing around in bare feet because bugs don’t bother me too much, but who knows what I’ll be thinking when I go to sleep in the dark tonight.

Okay, so now for Uruguay.  If I could choose a few words to describe my trip, they would be:

Tranquil

Quiet

Beach

Relaxed.

Not a bad combo, huh?  Anyone who makes their way to Buenos Aires for a week or more HAS TO make their way to Colonia, Uruguay.  The only formerly Portuguese town in Uruguay, population ~26,000, is a truly amazing place, and I enjoyed every second I was there.  The beaches are much nicer than those in Mar del Plata, you can get there on a 50-minute ferry ride (although of course ours was the 3-hour one), and it’s just a great place to relax and get out of the go-go-go mindset of BsAs.  Although my friends joked that you could buy a sandwich for 1,000,000 pesos, which would equal $1, the exchange rate was 19-1.  Even though I treated myself to some nicer meals, food was generally cheaper than in BsAs, the shady cobblestone streets were populated with a decent amount of mate-in-hand residents and tourists, and a lot of the IFSA kids were buzzing by on four-wheelers, vespas, and golf carts.  A perfect setting.

The first day, we went for lunch at the director of the program (Mario)’s house for lunch.  It was INCREDIBLE. His estancia was enormous, furnished with a pool, ponds, lemon orchard, fruit trees, and a 15-minute walk from the beach.  From the moment that I set my foot down on the soil until I heaved my much-darker body back onto the ferry, I was relaxed and completely enjoying every part of the trip.  Viva Uruguay! I’m definitely going back.

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Yanquis en la Playa

Time March 14th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Mar del Plata was an… experience, to say the least. Our group of 11 Americans stuck out like a sore thumb, but it was INCREDIBLE.  The beach itself was decent… reminded me of Virginia Beach (surrounded by hotels, reddish sand, silty water, and looots of people).  But at the same time, it’s a beach in Argentina, so all the rules and restrictions don’t apply.  At times, it felt like a baseball game, as Brazillians and Argentines alike walked the beach shouting to the world that they were selling fruit salad, watches, beads, ice cream, and pretty much anything else that you can think of.  After about an hour and a half of us searching the city for coolers and ice (two not-so-argentine commodities), we were finally able to relax on the beach with drink-in-hand and not a care in the world.  We had a blast kicking around the soccer ball, riding waves, and laying out on the crowded beach, and we quickly figured out why this beach was called Playa Popular.  It seemed like everyone from the city was there on the beach, and they were all looking at the pale American spectacle that was loud and English with two large heavily-used coolers in the middle of the beach.  Although we stuck out, we still had a blast, and our holiday weekend in Mar del Plata was off to a great start!

The night life… INSANE. After our second day at the beach (a much nicer beach about a 30-minute ride to the South on a colectivo), we had a nice dinner at a Mexican place and then headed out to the bars. Well into the night, we eventually made it to this boliche that was wiiiiild to say the least.  There were several rooms, all playing different music, and then outdoor areas to cool off from the steamy inner rooms.  It was the best night out that I had experienced to that point since being in Argentina. Incredible.

It seemed like our stay flew by in the blink of an eye, and in no time we were back at the disorganized bus station, attempting to make our way back into the big city.  It was an unforgettable weekend, and although the beaches weren’t the greatest, the food, people, and night life definitely made it an amazing trip!

Now as the smell of food wafts into my open window, I’m going to wander around a bit to see if I can find a librería to find some school supplies (although I doubt any will be open, being that it’s a Saturday).  School officially starts this week, and it’s definitely going to be hard to stay sane with the hectic and disorganized Argentine university system.  But that’s how this country is… and you gotta embrace it because in the end, leaving boliches in the daylight, eating 25-cent facturas, and being in the company of some of the nicest people in the world definitely makes it worthwhile.

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Do they ever sleep?!

Time March 7th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So far in Buenos Aires, I have noticed a multitide of similarities and differences between the Porteño and American cultures. The most noticeable differences revolve around the daily schedules. Porteños are people that don’t sleep. They go to bed late, if at all, and wake up early in the morning to attend classes or work. On the weekends, the lack of sleep is exaggerated. The people go out for dinners no earlier than 10, go to bars, cafés, or friends’ houses around midnight, and then they go out to party and celebrate the weekends at the VERY EARLIEST 2 am. Once they finally make it out to the boliches or bars, they are up for good. As I walk home from bars or boliches after what I believed was an incredibly late night, I see people eating medialunas and café as the sun is rising, just having left the bars. The culture is incredible… very little sleep, lots of time socializing, and enjoying every last second of the weekend. As for their eating habits and schedules, porteños eat much less and at different times, compared to Americans. For breakfast, medialunas and café is the small meal of choice, and lunch isn’t much larger (or healthier). Dinner, in general, comes much later than in the United States, and it is the largest meal of the day, although it does not compare to the size of traditional American dinners. The way that these people function during the day is as follows: lots of café, yerba mate, and junkfood high in sugar. I still haven’t gotten over how incredibly different these daily habits are, and it definitely takes some adjusting in order to fit in with the lifestyle here.
The week is hectic, Saturday seems to pass in a blur, but all of a sudden when Sunday rolls around, everything seems to come to a screeching halt. On Sundays, porteños relax. Hundreds and thousands will migrate to the closest parks within the city, where people lounge around with family and friends, drinking mate, eating snack food, kicking around futbols, and just enjoying life in general. Unlike in the United States, Sunday is not another day for progress, but rather a day to be with family and socialize. Very few stores are open (I tried to do my laundry, but failed to find any laundromat open anywhere around my apartment), and the people truly just enjoy their time with one another. One may think that in a Latin American country, church would dominate the life of the people on Sunday, but in fact, only about 30% of self-described Catholics attend church. It really is much much different than I expected, and I love almost everything about living here in Buenos Aires that I have encountered to far :)
Having said that, there are a few aspects of life here that are not so appealing. The first that comes to mind is related to crime. While walking around, taking public transportation, and pretty much in every aspect of life in Buenos Aires, one has to be completely aware of his or her surroundings, as petty crime is absolutely rampant. In our IFSA-Butler group, several people have been pickpocketed, have had cameras stolen, have been grabbed and violated, and it’s really a part of life that is hard to get accustomed to. Just the other day on the colectivo, a little boy jumped up to the open window from the street and tried to grab a Blackberry that was in a girl’s hand. Absolutely crazy! Other than that, the city is HUGE, so learning the colectivo routes is a daunting task. Aside from these things, I haven’t encountered much that I haven’t liked about the city.
This weekend, I’m going to be traveling 5 hours South of Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata, one of Argentina’s few beach resort cities. I will be staying in a hostel with 10 friends from the program, and we leave for the bus at 4 am! I’m so excited, and I’ll definitely be back with an update when I return.
Chau!

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In Buenos Aires!

Time March 7th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I arrived in Buenos Aires on Monday, and it’s been a crazy four days already! My host family is really great… My host mom, Norma, is so nice. We do the traditional right-cheek kiss every time i get home from orientation, and she doesn’t seem to ever get annoyed when I get confused and ask her to repeat things. My host dad, Martin, is a doctor and works three days a week. He’s really great as well. We were actually talking about how I took the subte (metro) home from orientation the other night instead of the colectivo (bus), and he said “That’s my boy!” in English. I was really taken aback, but I was so excited that he referred to me as ‘my boy’.
As for orientation, it’s been really informative, although somewhat boring at times. We’ve gone over everything from safe and unsafe locations in the city to family relations, getting to know portenos, and speaking castellano. I’ve met a lot of new friends, and everything has gone really well :)
Now for the exciting part…
Last night was the first night that I went out, and it was incredible. Night life here in BsAs in amazing! A friend and I met up and took the colectivo to a bar in Recoleta, where we met a bunch of friends from IFSA-Butler. From there, we went to a club in Palermo called La Bruja, where we got a pass for a free drink, and admission was free. The dance floor was packed, strobe lights were everywhere, fans were blowing so that it didn’t get too steamy, and lots of great music was playing (everything from Shakira to David Guetta and the Black Eyed Peas). You can imagine how intense the club scene is being that we left after 4am and it was still going steady… and not only La Bruja, but most of the other clubs around us as well. It was definitely a night I will never forget. I didn’t get home and into bed until 5:30. I can’t wait until it’s the weekend, and how insane it must be during the real crazy nights!

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1 Week Before Departure

Time February 14th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My flight for Buenos Aires is now only 6 days away!  I haven’t even started packing yet, but saying goobyes has already been hard.  I spent my last full weekend in Charlottesville, saying bye to my friends who are back at school.  Saying goodbye for 5 months was a lot harder than I thought…

I will probably end up bringing two checked bags, along with my backpack and tennis bag as carry ons, but we’ll see how the packing goes… (I’ll be flying American Airlines to Miami, before taking the group flight to Argentina, and they charge $25 to check one bag and $35 for the second), so hopefully I’ll be able to cram!  We’ll see though, I always have a hard time packing and take more than I need.

I have already emailed my host mom, and she seems incredibly nice! She replied the next day, and was excited to meet me and calmed some of my worries that I have about the language barrier.  I will be living with Norma, her husband, and their son in an apartment right off of the A-Line (I think it is in the Once neighborhood, but it could also be Almagro–I guess I’ll find out once I arrive and become acquainted with the city).

A few other things that have been on my mind are the group flight from Miami to Buenos Aires, finding my way from my host family’s apartment to the IFSA-Butler office in the city, and what the orientation will entail.  There isn’t anyone else from UVa participating in this program, so I’m not going in knowing anyone, which is a little nerve-racking.  I’m definitely nervous, but at the same time, so excited for this experience!  I’ll definitely try to post another blog once I’ve started packing and when the actual day gets closer!

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