Thursday, October 30, 2008

Time flies

Group shot of the volunteers and my injured right middle finger (described later on)!

Quick Recap/Additions
2 weeks down already. I remember the first night I got here I couldn't believe I had only arrived in the morning, because it felt like I had been there two weeks! Well now two weeks have passed, and it barely feels like I've spent a day here. I apologize for not updating sooner - a combination of some personal issues, being busy, and being lazy were responsible for the delay.

Random events I forgot to describe (inserted after the rest of this post was done): We hosted a parilla BBQ last week which was tons of fun! Lots of poker players and their friends came, and our make-your-own skewer style was a bit hit. Later on Daphne, an adorable dog belonging to our friend John joined the party and she was quite the hit. We cooked around 4pm, then took a nap and relaxed...then cooked again around 10! Double-whammy.
Nice day out for a BBQ

Daphne is watching you!
The spit bubble on her left jowel makes this picture an 11/10

Also - we went to a River Plate vs Boca Juniors soccer game. Timing was hugely fortuitous, as this is the game of the year to go to in BA. It also qualifies as the most dangerous thing I have done yet on the trip, as our cab driver kindly dropped us off into a mob of Boca fans while we had River Plate's colors painted on our faces! People hadn't gotten too rowdy yet though, and we got out of there before enough of them realized we were there, or else we honestly probably would have been beaten to a pulp (not joking). Check out my webshots for more pictures!River Plate stadium (colors are red+white, obviously) The fenced/barbed wire/riot policed separate area to the left was the visitor's section

The City and Touristy Events
The reality of the city has set in to some extent - the terrible air quality is aggravating my asthma, and it is impossible to find a peaceful area undisturbed by the perpetual racket on the street. While these things come across as ugly, I know there are plenty of great things about this city, and I am trying not to impose any of my opinions or judgments on it. These things became especially apparent to me when I took a bike tour of the city recently.

In the far back you can see 'The Women's Bridge' - the cool white bridge I explored previously on my own in my Picasa album

All in all, the tour was a lot of fun. I had been cooped up for a few days, only venturing outside the apartment to go to the gym or to get meals. Thus it was nice to do something more active and engaging. I met some cool people - two couples from England, and two girls here teaching English and learning Spanish. Because it's not a high-season for tourism, it seems like most of the foreigners here are a part of a study abroad program, or are hoping to learn Spanish while working teaching English.

As I said, the tour was great - but the closest thing to a 'bike path' that existed was...well...the side of the road. I detailed before about the insanity that is BA driving, so this was a bit unsettling. Nonetheless, it turned it into something of a thrill-ride so I didn't mind too much. The guides were very informative, and while I was tempted to listen to the Spanish guide, I decided to go with the one speaking in English so I could actually learn something about the city instead of catching half of what the other one was saying and trying to fill in the gaps with educated guesses. It also deserves mention that this was the first time in two weeks I had heard anyone mention anything about 'los desaparecidos' and 'la guerra sucia'. I was relieved in a way that people did acknowledge their existence. I was hoping to make it over to the ESMA building where >5,000 people were tortured and killed during that period, but it is closed for renovation.

San Telmo Antique far on Calle Defensa, mobbed with people!

Last Sunday I also visited the San Telmo antique fair, which was quite the event. It was swamped with people and the vibe was good, but many of the things I came across at vendors' blankets that I thought 'oh man that's so unique and cool!' turned out to be some mass-produced trinket to sell to tourists. That said, there were some incredible artists and performers in the street that I was seriously humbled by. The one that struck me the most was the 'Orquesta Tipica' which was almost a dozen musicians - 1 piano, 4 violins, 4 accordian-like instruments, a cello, an upright bass, and a vocalist. The sound they were able to produce in the middle of a packed street with people yelling all over the place was remarkable, and they managed to play expertly despite ragged appearances and old instruments. I asked them 'donde puedo oir mas musica como esta?' - where can I hear more music like this? to which they replied 'como esta? por ningun parte' - like this? Nowhere. I smiled, but realized that hearing traditional tango was probably pretty rare except for touristy tango joints nowadays in BA, which is pretty sad. They did tell me about one of their upcoming gigs though, which I plan on attending if I'm still in the city.

La Orquesta Tipica in San Telmo

Speaking of the city, I finally got out of it for about...2 hours! I had heard La Tigre was a great day trip, so I decided to go check it out on my own. It was easy to get to Retiro train station (the big hub for busses and trains in BA), and the round-trip ticket to Tigre cost a grand total of 2.20 pesos (I am proud of this fact, because foreigners usually pay a higher price, so I must have appeared like a local! Or...he just felt bad for me), and about 45 minutes later I arrived. I must nice as it was to be out of the city, La Tigre was pretty lame. I'd compare it to a far more touristy, dirty, crowded Concord river (ironically it has a similar historical significance as the Concord river as well). I took a short boat tour of the area, but couldn't hear anything the guide was saying due to a shoddy sound system. The (relatively) fresh air was a nice change, but I didn't spend long there because there wasn't much to do.

The not-so-spectacular Tigre

Note: All pics during volunteering were taken by the group organizer, Elena.
I know there isn't any real difference in privacy, but because I don't feel right posting picture of the kids directly in this blog, they are in my picasa album, which is linked elsewhere in this blog.

Today, without a doubt, has been my most engaging and mentally exhausting day of the trip so far. The volunteer group I had been approached by while roaming downtown that I mentioned in the last post sent me an email saying they would be doing their thing at the children's hospital today and that I should come, so I decided 'why not'? I must admit I was a bit nervous, as my Spanish is decent but not great, and they told me I should bring my guitar, but I didn't have any music prepared. I arrived outside and was greeted by Johnny, an incredibly funny nice guy my age who was also volunteering (he was from BA), and told him I'd be right back because I needed to get some money from an ATM. Unfortunately, on my way out of the phone-booth style ATM I smashed my right middle finger in the door which ripped off a good 1/3 of the fingernail off along with a chunk of skin underneath it and immediately started to bleed profusely. I had no idea my finger could bleed that much, but thankfully I was in fact right next to the hospital, so they fixed me right up and despite my finger being completely wrapped in gauze, I could still play the guitar so I wasn't worried.

The Volunteer Group for 'Mundo Mejor'

The volunteer group turned out to be an incredibly talented, friendly group (all roughly my age, and all from Buenos Aires except for one girl from Germany who was also volunteering for her first time). I changed into the ridiculous outfit they gave me once I realized the others were also doing so, and we quickly ran over what we'd be doing for the kids which involved playing/singing some songs, and a comedy sketch of 'the boy who cried wolf'. I played one of the townspeople that repremanded the boy after he misled me many times! One example of the spontaneous nature of the whole thing, was, just before the wolf came creeping out, he quickly ran up to me and whispered 'When I come out, play wolf music!!!'. I would have laughed if I wasn't so busy trying to think of what 'wolf music' was exactly. Thankfully, I think I was able to pull it off.

The room itself that we performed in must have been some sort of children's ICU. There were about 15 beds along the walls, all with extremely ill or injured children. I hadn't known what to expect, and believe me when I say that dancing, singing, and playing guitar while entering that room felt incredibly wrong (well, wrong isn't the right word...but it didn't feel natural). These kids were not in good shape, and it was an interesting challenge acting happy and funny while surrounded by such misery. We played our songs, did our skit, and then spent some time one-on-one with the kids just chatting and making them balloons. Seeing the kids laugh and smile was extremely moving, given the circumstances. The child I talked with, Rodrigo, seemed to be in a happy mindset despite being completely bedridden. When I asked him how he wanted me to make his balloon, I was beyond relieved to hear sim say 'simple normal'. The only thing I knew how to make was a sword, and the few I had practiced looked more like bizzare sporks. I made him a few balloons and we talked briefly about what he liked to do and what music he liked. Then, as we were about to leave, we were informed there was a particularly sick child in a separate room that wanted attention, so we spent some time with him. After some introductions, the organizer Elena thrust my guitar into my hands and told me to play a song. To say I was caught off-guard would be quite the understatement, but I managed to play a broken version of Hotel California with probably 50% 'creative' words. Thankfully everyone liked it, and a little while later, I was back in my normal clothes and back home. Before I left, though, Elena mentioned they have a volunteer's house where they occasionally have big dinners, and invited me to one which I look forward to greatly after I get back from Patagonia.

Upcoming Trip!
What's this about Patagonia you say? Yes, finally! Ian and I have a 5:45 AM flight out of Buenos Aires on Saturday, heading to El Calafate. We will jump right into the action with a boat ride to, and a short day hike on, the Perito Moreno glacier! I am extremely excited for this - especially the celebratory brandy + glacier ice drink we receive after we hike a ways on top of it. That night or the next morning we head to Puerto Natales (~6 hour bus ride), where we will prepare and depart for Torres del Paine national park in Chile on a 4 night/5 day trek on 'The W'. This area is supposed to be one of the best in the world for these hikes, and thankfully is very well organized and set-up. We are not joining with a tour group or anything, which makes it much more exciting I think, but we will be taking extra precautions for safety's sake.
The Perito Moreno glacier - 'awesome' in the true sense of the word

Torres del Paine national park in Chile - where I'll be trekking

The trek itself (The 'W') is a shortened version of the full circuit, which usually takes at least 8 days to complete. There are many 'refugios' cabins that we might hop between, or we might rent camping gear. We will base our decision on what the locals suggest - maybe we'll do some sort of combo. Wildlife is harmless thankfully - except for pumas - but they are incredibly rare (farrrr more rare and reclusive than bears in Yosemite, for example). Thankfully no parts of the hike are considered dangerous, and our main obstacles will be outrageously strong winds and the cold (but it's summer, so it's not that cold). Mom, don't worry, we're being very careful and dliberate with our preparation!
'The W'

Earlier today we went to 'Fugate' hiking store (recommended by south american explorers club) to get the gear we didn't have and couldn't rent. Unfortunately it was closed when we got there, but when I told the owner we needed gear for El Calafate y Torres del Paine, he opened the store for us because he could probably tell we were gonna be buying a lot. He was extremely helpful, and when I told him he had been recommended to us by something we read at South American Explorers Club, he gave us an addition 10% off the already very inexpensive equipment. I asked him about his products, and all of it is made domestically. I was happy that I could support a local gear store while getting great quality equipment for not much money. In total we purchased:
1 Long underwear pants
1 Long underwear top
4 pairs sock liners
1 pair hiking socks
2 pairs gloves
2 fleece hats
4 meters of rope

for only 488 pesos (under $150 US!). He gave us his card if we had any questions, we thanked him, and left satisfied. I sitll need to pick up a few things (emergency whistle, food, etc.), but the rest can be rented in Puerto Natales for very cheap.

Tonight we're splurging and hitting up some fine dining with buddies, tomorrow is designated for some more prep, relaxation, and then of course...halloween! Not sure if Ian and I will be calling it an early night or just stay up, because our bedtime has rarely been before 3AM the last 2 weeks straight (not because we're party animals, only because normal dinner doesn't end before midnight), and we will have to leave for the airport by 3:30.

Wow that was an incredibly long blog post - hope you guys enjoyed it. As always - comments encouraged!!! I will do my best to respond to them quickly now, so check back for answers to any questions (I have responded to previous questions in the earlier post as well).



aunt nan said...

noah- what a great post! and all of those activities: music, hospital visits (more music) and bike tour (could that be due to aunt nan's idea? i'm so delighted you did that- plus met cool people on it and learned more about the city, even if that meant more pollution!). i'm thrilled that you are about to leave for such an amazing sounding adventure. try to call me either tonite or Friday morning- tomorrow - before you depart. i'm impressed. what a turn around. you are in the groove. and i'm sorry to say: you will be on a GALCIER on US election nite- ohmygod- you might be the last people on the planet to find out who wins! pray for us-obama, that is
aunt nan

rick said...

hey - cool post
guess you can still hold a pick in your right hand
not quite sure of the implication of your esma buliding comment - like, when it's renovated they'll be able to make say 10,000 people disappear?? hehheh
when you get down to patagonia you HAVE to ask someone, why is this huge white glacier named "little black dog?"

jill said...

noah - wow. thanks for the great update. awesome you get to see the glacier before it slips away. (i hear 20 years left for the south american glaciers). hope the air is better on the trail than in the city. counting the days to the next installment! take good care. -mumzah