Impressions of Returning: airport culture shock, overwhelming sense of how much and loud and boorishly people speak, journal subjected to purgatory, pounds of digital photos, baseball on tv, trump university, flabby’s trivia night, showers and new clothes, family and fenway, morning maté, night racing at churchill, missed weddings, indigo girls and pride, craigslist scouring, father’s day, newspapers in english, parents coming and parents going, passion fruit bubble tea, taco truck, and molly marshall kicking off the SBC.
It usually takes about a week for the culture shock to wear off. I’ve spent that time lamenting my lost journal (which I’d planned on using to finish posting about the trip) and uploading photos to my website. Check out the Photo Galleries if you’re interested. (There’s also a link on the sidebar.)
Once I finish mourning, I plan on re-writing over again about the last few action-packed days of Buenos Aires. A taste: Boca Juniors-Racing futbol hooligans, ticket heists, and rumbling, crumbling stadiums; great steak and great wine; Tango lessons and a show at a milonga; guacho dancing at Mataderos market; more steak and wine; a visit to former homes of Che Guevara and Julio Luis Borges; and an encounter with Eva Peron.
The Lonely Planet brags that ¨perhaps no other place says as much about Argentinian society¨ as the Cemetario Recoleta, where Argentina´s rich and well-connected dead repose. Argentinians have a certain obsession with death, and it is on full display in this most unique and spectacular place.
The cemetery is a veritable city, narrow streets with intersections and cul-de-sacs, streetlights and major thoroughfares. Names of the dead fill in for numbers in addresses. Peering down one path (avenue?) from the main courtyard (town plaza?), one expects to see signs hung for the general store, pub, and barbership. Each mausoleum contains an entryway with a door, some with a series of steps reminiscent of a brownstone from an eastcoast city. It is a city not of brown, however, but of white and gray marble. Ornate columns and domes and statuettes adorn most, while a cross and a bas relief plaque garnish the simplest. Where Buenos Aires boasts pavement and cobblestone, Recoleta shows brown tile, enjoyed by a fleet of cats lying in the sun.
Evita has one of the least impressive tombs, though certainly the most popular. I can´t help but wonder whether anyone outside of Argentina and the most avid Latin American history buffs would care if not for the musical and Madonna.
The second stop on my tour was the Plaza Mayor, fronted by the Casa Rosada (Pink House), where the president lives and where Evita (and Madonna) made her famous speeches from the balcony to throbbing crowds. The Plaza was curiously divided by a giant barricade, I suppose to quell protestors, of which I saw several groups during my short time there.
One group with banners requested better care for veterans of the war with Britain in the Falkland Islands (¨two bald men fighting over a comb,¨ Borges wrote). It reminded me of the fatigue and tatoo-clad Vietnam Veterans selling bumper stickers in front of the Mall pond in Washington, D.C.
Another interesting sight were the various and sundry plaques remembering those who disappeared (¨los desaparacidos¨) during the reign of the military junta which ended with the aforementioned war in 1982. Seems like most city plazas have some sort of monument, albeit small, to the memory of disappeared lawyers, or teachers, or other specific poplulation group. Apparently, on Thursdays, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo still march for a full account of atrocities committed during the ¨Dirty War.¨
Also notable are the number of homeless, seemingly unmolested, in the parks and plazas of Bs. As. In most manifestations I´m familiar with, the transient must stay versatile and compact, always leary, always vulnerable. They must e able to move quickly if perstered by authorities, or if in danger. What I saw were homeless comfortable in their skin, in their digs. Large, queen-sized mattresses with blanketsñ laundry strung up on tree branches, unbothered by the light of day, sleeping through the noon day sun, pots, pans, cooking utensils in cabinets of trees and shrubbery.
Disclaimer: Though I have slept on the street and seek some solidarity in vulnerability, I am ignorant of most aspects of street life. I have a plank in my eye, if you will. In addition to a huge cultural gap, I have a lifestyle gap, of sorts, so I can´t pretend to have any real understanding. The best I can do is observe similarities and differences. I notice a difference in the hassle given to the homeless here. In my experience, homeless in the U.S. have no place to be. Here, at a cursory glance, it seems they do.
I continued through the Plaza to the Catedral Metropolitana, which houses the tomb of José de San Martín. After liberating, Argentina, Chile, Peru and part of Ecuador, he met with the liberator of the northern part of South America, Simon Bolívar in Guayaquil. Nobody knows what transpired, but San Martín immediately left the continent for good; it wasn´t until his death that he returned to Argentina. Today he is Argentina´s most revered hero. To have been a fly on the wall in that meeting…
I took a cafe con leche and a churro at the Cafe Tortoni, favorite coffee joint of Julio Luis Borges and Carlos Gardel, est. 1893. Currently, it´s home to mostly overpriced victuals and tourists. Reminiscent of the Pushkin Cafe in Moscow, it is ornate, uppity, and still worth the visit.
Next door is the Academía Nacional de Tango, where my new German friend, Katharina, and I would meet for classes several times over the next week so that I could stomp on her feet in my hiking boots.
The Misiones province of Argentina is the primary yerba mate growing region in the country.
Fanning the flames of my growing mate addiction, Luci and I went in search of a mate factory to explore.
In the small village of Esperanza, an hour outside Puerto Iguazu, relaxing on his day off (Sunday) outside the Gamarra Hermanos secadora (drier), we found Ricardo. After some gentle urging, he agreed to show us around the plant.
Ricardo gave us an authentic glimpse at the production of mate, and didn´t expect a thing for it. He was genuinely surprised when we gave him a cash tip. Which, for me, begs the question:
What´s the difference between Wine and Mate? In Mendoza, the tourist industry thrives and the upper crust lives a life of leisure. In Esperanza, blue collar workers labor in anonymity, few caring about the existence of their factories and their sweat to produce the cultic national beverage. Why?
I spent last weekend in the Misiones province of Argentina to view the awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls. One of the stars of the movie The Mission, which we watched in Sunday School during my senior year in high school, its like, the biggest waterfall in the world, or something.
After a week without posting, its time for a bullet point list:
-Had the supreme privilege of seeing the godfather of funk himself, George Clinton, perform in an old abandoned factory in Santiago. The show was like a 3-ring circus featuring about 20 people on stage at a time. Clinton plays the ring leader (with some assistance), introducing and promoting different members of the group as they take center stage and display their unique talents. Clothing ranged from one guy in a diaper to another in white feather pants and top hat to Clinton´s famous tie-dyed dreadlocks. At 68 years old, he does pretty well just being on stage, but in comparison to actual performers, he doesn´t do much. While it didn´t compare to Red Hot Chili Peppers in Caracas, the music never stopped once and I got to hear ¨We Want the Funk¨from the grandmaster of funk himself. The Chileans meanwhile, amused me with their various incantations of the word ¨funk¨as they sang along.
-As Peru was culturally very similar to Bolivia, so Argentina has proven culturally similar to Chile. Crossing from Bolivia to Chile, however, is like changing worlds.
-Made Rotary connections in Mendoza, Argentina, and was invited to a parrilla. A parrilla is basically an Argentinian barbeque with huge hunks of meat (apologies to Jimmy Buffett) and wine flowing freely (mixed with soda water to ensure you last the night). Rotarians have proven to be extraordinarily kind and generous.
-As Rotarians are wont to make visitors do, I was asked to stand and give a speech–impromptu–and in Spanish. I felt like a clutz, but they applauded at the end, so who knows? You lose so much in translation. I am used to being able to express myself accurately, succinctly, subtly. When I speak in Spanish about idea, emotions, etc., I lose all subtlty and can only paint using a wide, frayed brush, missing particulars and getting color on the floorboard. I need some painter´s tape…
-I´ve been exceedingly fortunate in the last week, after travelling solo through Chile, to have found some wonderful people to hang out with. Jonatan in Valparaiso. Angela in Santiago. Gabriella and Angel in Argentina. And, of course…
-I need to thank Erica for introducing me to her friend Luci. I have now met each of her 567 family members in Mendoza, and had at least that many cups of maté. Thanks to them, I´ve had the opportunity to experience a very authentic side of Argentinian culture: family meals, outings, traditional food and drink, and…
-Witnessed an Argentinian futbol match with Luci and her uncle, Rodolfo. The hometown team, Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba faced off against the higher ranked Colon team, and unfortunately, took a 3-1 loss. Though the game was not a sell out, it was wild to see the ¨barra brava¨, the Argentinian version of soccer hooligans.
-Its amazing how EXHAUSTED I get after having to concentrate on Spanish for extending periods of time (i.e. full days of ¨family time¨).
-Mendoza is captital of Argentinian wine country. Earlier this week, thanks to one of Luci´s cousins, I had a private tour of one of the ¨bodegas¨ and yesterday, rented a bicycle and spent the afternoon cruising between bodegas on two wheels.
-Luci´s grandmothers, as well as her cousin Esequiel, have been teaching me how to properly serve maté. I´m becoming addicted. Maté is a strongly caffeinated tea that is to Argentinian culture what afternoon tea to British culture. Only cooler. It is a green herb with piping hot water that is served in a wooden cup with a metal straw called a bombilla and passed around like a bong.
-Fun fact: Older than, and thus not named for the famous revolutionary, Luci´s grandfather´s name is Fidel Castro.
-Tonight, its off to Iguazu Falls via 36-hour bus trip. Hopefully, it won´t be quite as bad as it sounds. The buses in South America have been fantastic. You pay a little extra for a lower level (out of two) seat and its like sitting in first class on an airplane. Food, movies, and the seats lay out enough to make for a manageably comfortable sleep.
The wide variety of weather on the trip, as well as my various states of health, have validated my gear selection. I don´t think there´s anything I packed that I haven´t used at least once. From the 2-jacket, sweater, long john´s, boots, bolivian hat combo in the altiplano to the shorts, t-shirt, sandal maneuver in sunny locales like Arequipa and Viscuña, versatility has been the name of the game.
Even the first aid kit has been utilized fully. Usually, its a just-in-case preparation (as in, just in case I need to carry 5 extra pounds). This trip, I think I´ve dipped into every last ziplock bag–malaria and altitude pills, antibiotics and immodium, moleskin and ibuprofen, even the little film cannister of safety pins my mother insisted that I carry. Heck, even the sleeping bag, which I despaired over bringing, has saved my life on a couple of cold, sick nights.
The only thing that hasn´t served me well was my IPod, which rebelled against the idea of travel and has refused to function since the plane ride.