Monthly Archives: April 2010

Dancing in La Boca

Alright, alright. I’ve left you all hanging long enough…

Last week’s Mystery Snapshot comes from El Caminito, an extremely touristy couple blocks in the famously colorful La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Most people are either completely turned off from the “performance” that has become La Boca, or they love it. While, yes, it’s disgustingly touristy, I try very hard to look beyond the Argentina-times-a-hundred show they put on, and into the slightly less obvious moments that sprout from the details within the loud (in appearance and sound) neighborhood.

Old man in La Boca, edge of touristy part.

Home to the Boca Juniors soccer stadium, the neighborhood sits on a very polluted portion of the Riachuelo River, where rusting ships and old warehouses decompose. At the end of the 19th century, thousands of European immigrants settled into this neighborhood. With little to their name, people built homes from the metal scraps of boats, and used leftover paint from the shipyards to color their scrappy metal homes. Never having enough paint to color the entire wall, the neighborhood became a mash-up of brightly colored homes made from cheap and rusting materials. Now, ironic as always, tourists eat it all up with a spoon.

Colorful wall made from metal scraps, La Boca.

The colorful homes aren’t the only trademark of this neighborhood. Tango — the national dance of Buenos Aires, which originated in brothels much like those once prevalent in La Boca — can be found everywhere you turn, in every form. People singing tango, playing tango, dancing tango, watching tango… It’s in-your-face, almost too much to enjoy it for what it is. It’s like you want a mouthful so you can taste it, savor it, but they shove a bit too much down your throat and you almost gag.

Tango in La Boca.

That said, if you can tune out the Disneyworld-esque shenanigans, you can see some real dancing, hear some beautiful music, and enjoy a neighborhood that is really unique, and quite poor, under the caked-on makeup of tourism. Beyond the very small section of La Boca dedicated to tourists, there is still a very real, working class neighborhood. And behind the colorful doors and shutters, real Argentines are watching TV, cheering on the Boca Juniors as if their lives depended on it.

The real La Boca.

The actual dance shown in last week’s photo is probably La Chacarera, an Argentinean folk dance that involves dancing on a wooden board with a lot of stomping and twirling. My Argentine friend Mali (Mariano M., who I met while I studying abroad in Barcelona), sent me this YouTube video in case you want to see the dance in action. I also found this video (pretty bad but it’ll give you the idea), which was actually taken in La Boca by some tourist. The dance I captured might  have some of influence from the Argentine dance, called the zamba (not the Brazilian samba), judging by the flying scarves. I’m no expert, but there you have it.

In other news, Shannon and I are having a lot of fun. I’m trying to balance my writing assignment with giving Shannon a well-rounded first-experience in Argentina, and then I have new friends and lots of family to see at all times. It’s amazing how busy we’ve been, and how much work there is to do! But yesterday, even though I was working on a Sunday (well, technically I am working every day, but yesterday’s assignment involved going to an awesome archaeology museum and a fancy polo store in San Telmo), Shannon and I found time to stop, smell the chorizo, and sip a delightful cafe con leche at a lovely poet’s cafe in San Telmo.

Sunday afternoon at a cafe in San Telmo.

It’s hard to believe we’ve only got about ten days left for our adventures in Buenos Aires. There is SO much I still want to do! I’d say this is the calm before the storm, but I think I’ve sort of been in the middle of the storm for almost a month now. Both of us are in the midst of huge changes, about to begin big new chapters in our lives that will lead us… who knows where? But Argentina is doing us both a lot of good. Seeds of change have been planted in both our lives; it’s almost time to watch how things grow… 🙂

A tree grows in San Telmo.

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Baila Argentina

Today, I am off to a slightly slower start than normal after an unexpectedly full night. It began at a delicious parrilla in Palermo with new friends Courtney N. and Mabel. We savored the sabores of thyme-covered lomo de bife and french fries with about 8 different sauces to choose from, and washed down the succulent red meat with a couple healthy glasses of velvet-red malbec.

Dinner was followed by a quick jarra de Quilmes at a nearby bar, then a short taxi ride to a drumming club in Abasto where we met up with my cousin Hernan (a drummer/musician himself), and his friends. The next few hours became a happy blur of smoke, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, clarinets, a few unidentifiable instruments, drums, smiles, Spanish, and crazy haircuts (Argentines often rock haircuts such as: the mullet, the rat-tail, the dread-locks, the buzz-cut-with-pony-tail, the long-hair-with-random-chunk-shaved-off, or the curly of-European-descent ‘fro. My personal favorite is the one that mixes three or more of these styles together on one head — probably the most common!).

It was one of those nights that only comes when you travel. We didn’t even plan to go out, and a couple text messages later, we were surrounded by a happy, bopping crowd of Argentines loving every second of the funky band, which was followed by a very intense Senegalese drummer and his  drumming troupe. It was fascinating to watch him control the stage, with his long arms outstretched to the audience like he was psyching us up for battle, an intense look in his eyes, his short dreads spread out from his face like a deep, dark lion king…

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to listen to good drumming. It’s a feeling. For some reason, I LOVE IT. More than you’d assume. I feel so connected to drumming, like it’s creeping through the floor into my body when someone plays. All you can do is just let it move you; let it bounce around in your hips, try and catch it with your feet, let it thump around you, and enjoy. So that’s what we did, until the wee hours of last night.

Unfortunately, I have no photographs to capture the experience. But I do have this shot from a couple days ago…  Here, I offer you a new Mystery Snapshot. (How dare I write an entire post last time with NO photograph?!)

I took this Mystery Snapshot the other day. Tell me which Buenos Aires neighborhood this might be, what you know about it, and whatever you can tell me about what’s going on in the photo…

Mystery Dance

I love this shot 🙂 Am I allowed to say that?

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Buenos Dias Buenos Aires

Ahhh, a good night’s rest, a strong cup of coffee, Lola the Laptop at my fingertips, birds singing above me and the sound of traffic seven stories below me. It’s been almost a week since I arrived in Buenos Aires, and I’m feeling very  much at home. Technically, I am.

I arrived in fog so thick I couldn’t see the tip of the wing. Our plane came in for a landing and rain drops splattered against the windows. For someone expecting “partly cloudy skies” I was a tad disappointed, but not too bothered. The last time I landed in fog that thick was when I arrived at Tokyo’s Narita airport. I just remember seeing nothing but white, sometimes layers of white, and I was waiting for the plane to descend from the clouds when suddenly we felt a thud and were on the ground. I could have sworn we were about thousand feet in the air, which was a bit disconcerting. Maybe it was that half-Ambien I took (mentioned in a previous entry).

Unfortunately, it rained almost non-stop for the first 2.5 days in BA and was in the 50’s, much cooler than I expected. But my friend Shannon (who arrived at 5am the following morning) and I decided we would hit the ground running. We bought cheap umbrellas, swung by the bakery downstairs for a couple medialunas (I believe one should always have a bakery downstairs), buttoned up, and set out to tackle the first neighborhood of my VIVA Guides assignment: San Telmo.

I had it all mapped out: the order in which we’d hit three museums, a couple streets I remember as being “interesting” enough to let my restaurant radar do the picking, and I decided that I would use my psychic abilities to find the statue of a littler girl named Mafalda that I had to write 300 words about.

It was chilly. Our umbrellas were like bad boyfriends, barely protecting us from the elements and not even caring, but we managed. The streets were a little dead. It felt like most Argentines woke up, looked outside, and went “meh, I don’t feel like going to work today… So I won’t. ”

I was excited when we found the first museum, El Museo Penitenciario (the Penitentiary Museum). We both agreed it was a Penitentiary-Museum-kind-of-day. Unfortunately, the sign on the door simply said, “Closed until further notice.” Darn. OK, we thought, no biggie. Onto the next one, the Museo de Arte Moderno. Because of the rain and our flimsy umbrellas, I decided to cheat and ask someone for directions instead of pulling out my map (I love maps — I can find my way on foot ANYWHERE in ANY city).

I asked a group of security guards at one of the official-looking buildings where I could find the Museum of Modern Art. The response from a female guard, one word: “CERRADO” (“CLOSED”). I asked, “closed….For the day, or until when?” This elicited the same response: “CERRADO.” I decided to try one more time… “Yes, I understand it’s closed right now, but when will it be open?” The response this time, “el 25 de mayo.” Hmm… I leave BsAs May 7, and I know when people don’t want to chat. This woman was done answering questions. My assignment was off to a bumpy start, but Shannon and I were determined to hit another target.

We finally arrived at the next museum, and sure enough, it said “Closed today.” Why?! We still don’t know. Shannon and I looked at each other, laughed, and I just said, “Welcome to Argentina!” Hehe. It’s her first time.

Ever since the initial speed bumps, we’ve had a lot of success. The sun came out, I’ve been hitting restaurants, bars, milongas (underground tango spots), museums, parks, and ice cream shops as planned. Not gonna lie — it’s a LOT of work, but I’m enjoying the assignment because I’m learning about this city and some of its neighborhoods in a new way, becoming more familiar, becoming less familiar, all at the same time.

Yesterday, after an awesome night at La Puerta Roja, a hip and popular speakeasy-style bar (yes, with a red door) where I got to talk with one of the awesome owners (who is from New Zealand), made friends with the bartender (an Israeli), and drink with an Australian and an Argentine (speaking all in Spanish – I promise! I made that a rule!), Shannon and I decided to take it easy. I found a tea place I love, called Tea Connection, which put big smiles on both our hungover faces (the effects of making friends with a bartender). Then we wandered through the nearby park, browsed the very impressive and beautiful artisan market just down the street from my apartment in Recoleta, and ate fresh squeezed juice with candied almonds (both made in front of us) while taking in the sounds of the city. A drumming troop — 10 to 12 young Argentines pounding on drums of different sizes and shapes — gave an upbeat, pulse to the market. Groups of friends lay out in the grass, sipping bombillas of mate, playing guitar, singing, and eating fruit in the sun.

When you are in a foreign city, and all the senses are suddenly awakened — with the smell of roasting nuts, the sound of drumming, the sight of preppy, hippy, and Rastafarian locals blending with English and Portuguese-speaking tourists, the sun feeling strong and warm on your winterized skin, the orange juice tasting sweet, the aroma of smoked meat constantly mixing in the breeze — only then do you feel like you’re finally there.

I’m here — home, but far away — and with the sun shining this morning, I’m going to go finish my coffee on the terrace before another day of Buenos Aires-living swallows us up.

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Iguazu

As some of you figured out, the Mystery Snapshot I posted is a photograph I took in January 2005 of Las Cataratas de Iguazu, more fondly known as Iguazu Falls. I took the photo from Argentina, but it is technically the point at which Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all meet. For a steep fee, Americans can buy a one-day Visa, cross a little bridge, and see the waterfalls from the Brazilian side, but EVERYONE knows that it’s a much better view (and there are more trails and beautiful things to see, of course) from the ARGENTINEAN side. (Argentines are proud? What?! I don’t know what you’re talking about…)

Approaching Iguazu Falls, Argentina.

Visiting the falls in January is visiting them in the dead of summer, when they are at their fullest and the Amazon is bursting like a wet sponge with humidity. My friends Kerry, Molly and I flew in from Mendoza, Argentina. I vividly remember seeing this mist rising from an endless patch of lush green tree tops as the plane descended. It was a mist created by the crashing falls, and it was so powerful and grand that it could be seen from thousands of feet in the air.

Iguazu Mist, Argentina.

My photographs of Iguazu are alright, but you should definitely Google images of the falls to get a better idea of how impressive they are. The one thing I should mention is the sound. Imagine the constant ROAR of rushing, angry, powerful, water that constantly moans from beyond the trees. It’s so loud when you’re nearby that it’s hard to hear anything else. This YouTube video captures the sound pretty well, and tells you a little more about Iguazu.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Mas Cataratas, Iguazu.

While sometimes you can look UP at the waterfalls, there are also some lookout points where you are literally above them looking down and INTO the falls, like you’re doing a strep throat test of a wild monster foaming at the mouth. One of the waterfalls (the longest in height, at almost 300 feet) is aptly called La Garganta del Diablo or “the Throat of the Devil,” which I think captures the scary yet beautiful power of the falls.

Garganta del Diablo, Iguazu. Argentina.

The Throat of the Devil. Iguazu, Argentina.

Along with elevated trails above the water, hikes through the Amazon, and beautiful paths and lookout points to enjoy as you approach the many falls, I also recommend taking a boat (as many people do) in and out of a couple of the safer falls. It’s one thing to hear and see the falls, but it’s another thing to dash through them and let them pour over you, if only temporarily.

Waterfalls, Iguazu.

Do feel free to share your experience with the falls if you’ve had one. There is much more I could say about them, but I’m a little pressed for time. They are absolutely beautiful, though. And even though Iguazu is a bit of a deadbeat town, a short weekend trip to Iguazu is completely worth it. The “almost” World Wonder is truly an amazing sight.

Iguazu Falls in the distance, Argentina.

Tonight, I head to Buenos Aires for a month where I’ll be on a writing assignment for VIVA Guides (joined by my friend Shannon). Whoohoo! About one week after the trip, I move to Quito for my new job and adventure. Right now, I feel a bit like I’m caught in the current of one of these waterfalls. Life is rushing and roaring around me and I’m completely in the middle of lots of noise, change, and maybe a bit of chaos. But, I’ve gotta say… it’s all pretty beautiful.

It’s time to see things from the Argentine side of the noise, again.

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Whirlwind

HELLO, T w/ T readers! No, I have not forgotten you.

First, I want to thank everyone who submitted song suggestions for my travel playlist. You inspired me to download some new tunes, and I will surely take your suggestions with me on my next adventures. I’ll update the playlist as soon as I have a chance. Until then, feel free to keep the music ideas coming!

As some of you know, my life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately… And the chaos has only just begun! I’m constantly buzzing around and am CRAZY nonstop busy with a task-list that seems endless.  BUT, it’s all exciting. I got back from an exceedingly long trip from Italy Sunday evening (flight was delayed 2 hrs, then took 9.5 hrs, then we waited 45 minutes on the plane for a gate to open up at the overly busy JFK terminal,  then another 45 minutes for our stuff, and then an HOUR for a cab from the airport, which was followed by a bit of Easter Sunday traffic). Sitting on a plane for 10 hrs  (I was seated in the middle of the middle — this is what happens when I don’t book the ticket myself! I’m an aisle girl, through and through!) during the daytime is not exactly my dream come true, but it was a pleasant enough flight.  I watched 3 movies, including the not-smooth transition from Precious (yep, I cried just a drop or two) to Paranormal Activity, which I actually enjoyed not paying for and watching on a plane full of people. Hehe.

Between landing Sunday evening (on Euro-time… I was exhausted!) and now, I have spent a good portion of every day waiting for someone to call my crumpled up three-digit number at the Ecuadorian Consulate in midtown. Sitting in a room full of Ecuadorians is a good little preview of what’s to come. For starters, at 5’9”, I could estimate that I am an average of two feet taller than most Ecuadorians (and I was the only “white” in a room full of 50-100 tan people with jet black, slicked back hair – although I don’t feel totally WHITE, but whatevs), sometimes even with two standing on top of each other! Maybe it’s because of the altitude in Quito that these people are all so low to the ground, but it’s kind of cool… Hehe. I don’t know. I was trying to learn more about the Ecuadorian culture, perhaps some tidbit that would explain their indigenous features (the straight, downward pointed nose, short bulky stature, small limbs, and tiny hands), but all I got was an Ecuadorian DVD about a tribe in the north that has some ritual where the members of the tribe puke all their food up into one big delicious bowl of slop. Needless to say, neither I nor the real Ecuadorians in the room were enjoying the entertainment provided by the consulate.

Speaking of, I have to head to the Ecuadorian Consulate now (it opens at 8am) to HOPEFULLY pick up my Visa and passport, which I need by Friday because on Monday I am off to Argentina! See what I mean? I’m scrambling to take care of big things in the cracks of major trips! I’ve barely even thought about Argentina, I’m so obsessed with Ecuador right now, but it’s time to switch modes.

Oy. Another 10-hr flight awaits… and another adventure. Time is WHOOSHING by! But birds are chirping, New York City is completely blooming, petals are flying everywhere, I smell cherry blossoms and magnolias in the street air, and the city is just bursting with happiness right now. I LOVE THIS WEATHER. I’m going for a bike ride along the Hudson River every day, and hopefully I’ll squeeze in a row on the Harlem before Monday. I might be busy as heck, but I’m definitely out there smelling the roses. I promise.

Now, to get us (me) in the South American mood, here’s a Mystery Snapshot from a South American country. Tell me what you see, more specifically where it is located (what country or countries -HINT- it might capture), and what you know about this place….

HAPPY SPRING!

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