Monday, October 20, 2008

Welcome to Buenos Aires

Leon Enters our first OneWorld flight

Newly added: for clarity, here is the link to my photo album with more pics:
Includes not-described-below pictures of a boca-river soccer game worth looking at, I'll describe them next blog update.

The trip got off to a great start. About 5 minutes after take-off I was attempting to explain to Leon when to write accents in Spanish, and the guy sitting next to us offered to help. Pablo, an Argentine businessman (about 35 y.o.) was returning home from his four day vacation in NYC where he was meeting two of his high school friends. Him and his friends made this annual vacation to a new spot each year, as they had separated since school and wanted to stay in touch. Despite his trip only being four days long, and our trip being a year long, I saw a sort of similarity between his situation and ours. We talked with him for hours on the flight (in Spanish of course), and what I thought was going to be an eternity which I would fill with reading guidebooks, watching in-flight movies, and sleeping, flew by (pun not intended), and before I knew it we were landing 5,000 miles away.Before we even got to the apartment - we met up with Ian and Daniel, a poker
player from Sweden that we have been hanging out with frequently, at 'Cafe Seis'

Customs was a breeze and Leon and I soon discovered just how insane Argentine drivers are. I wondered to myself how it was possible that there weren't accidents all the time, both car-car and car-pedestrian. Soon enough I realized that yes, these accidents did happen all the time! Yesterday I was walking to a music store to buy a small guitar when I heard a sound like an empty soda can being stomped on. I looked up in time to see a jeep flipping over on it's side after it had been hit in the side by a minivan). A small crowd gathered, but the driver hopped out of the topside door and acted like nothing unusual had really happened.

Chilling on our favorite patio in the world

I have been exploring a fair amount locally (our neighborhood, Palermo, is an awesome mix of an old-city feel with trendy cafes and plazas). One recurring theme I have seen in my short time here is the contrast of clean and filth, new and abandoned. There is trash strewn about all over the place, thanks to an absurd system of recycling where the city leaves it to homeless people to rip open and dig through trash bags to find recyclables, which they can turn in for a small paycheck, instead of promoting an easy to use public recycling system. On the other hand, the city has clearly put an enormous effort into making the city more green by having every single street completely lined with enormous, gorgeous trees. It reminds me of memorial drive in Cambridge, but everywhere, more colorful, and on smaller streets. There is the strongest dog-culture I have seen anywhere here, with happy dogs running around all over the place. For every four or five people I come upon, I see a dog. However, there are mangy strays roaming around as well, and the sidewalks are covered with dog crap. There are well-maintained historic buildings in much of Palermo as well as downtown (beautiful 8-10 story castle-like apartment buildings), as well as a new influx of reflective mirror-covered office buildings (which I don't really like, but some people do), but they are countered by an abundant supply of completely abandoned or neglected construction sites that stick out like nasty pimples on an otherwise beautiful face.
This picture sums it up - Nice new and old buildings on one side, Old abandoned ones on the other, ample beautiful green space, and me stuck in the middle of all of it not knowing what to think.

Me in front of the Casa Rosada, the main government building in the city

A typical cheapo lunch - 'el bife', y agua con gas. In front of the eco preserve (more pictures in the web album linked at the bottom)

The people here have been extremely nice so far, and I think that being confident with my Spanish has had an enormous influence on how I am perceived in the area. I was approached while I was wandering alone downtown and asked for money to support a volunteer group, but instead I started a conversation with them asking about what they did, and was invited to come join them on Thursday, which I plan on doing. I am trying to strike up mini-conversations where there would otherwise be a two-sentence exchange like at a restaurant or in a taxi. I have to say that I have probably been a little lucky so far with my social encounters, as one of the guys we went to a soccer game with yesterday was robbed twice on his first day here!

Maybe a banzi tree to spice up our apartment?

The poker players and their friends have been a huge part of our social life here, and I'm definitely thankful to Ian for connecting us with them. They are all really nice people (unlike many other poker players, the ones that are happy to travel to faraway countries tend to be of a different mindset), and I expect to spend a good amount of time with them in the area here. I'm hoping to branch out on my own though as well to explore other areas of the city, and of Argentina as a whole. At a party hosted by a poker player, I spoke with two Australian guys from Perth that absolutely raved about their city and insisted that I go there. I was struck by how enthusiastic they were about their city, because as much as I love Boston, if asked about it by a stranger, I would certainly recommend visiting it, but I wouldn't have done it with the fervor that these guys did. Anyways, they convinced me, and I will add it into my own itinerary.

Leon, Me, Daniel, Ian, Brant, Will, at one of the many great restaurants in our neighborhood

For local trips, I am hoping to fit in many places, and what I thought was going to be a laid-back, relaxed month in Buenos Aires is becoming significantly more dynamic. Because the three weeks after our lease expires is already half-committed with a Macchu Pichu trip, I will probably be venturing out during our lease as well to fit in a number of stops:
-Puerto Madryn, a long bus ride or short flight away to the south, is supposedly the best scuba diving spot in Argentina. Only a few dozen meters off shore is a deep trench that Orca whales use like a superhighway. I am hoping to do some whale-watching and seal diving (hoping to dive with a whale as well, one of the things on my 'must-do before dying' list) for a few days there.
-Bariloche, also a very long bus ride or 2-3 hour flight, is southwest of BA near the border of Chile and is supposed to have extraordinary hikes and treks. It is right on the mountains, and is normally visited for ski vacations, but summer activities also thrive there.
-Ushaia, near the southern tip of South America, is supposed to be an place like no other, with an incredible landscape and coast. It is the launching point for many ferries to the Antarctic, but I probably don't have time for that.
-Iguazu falls is an absolute must, and Ian and I are planning our trip there probably as soon as next week. Don't need to say a whole lot about that, as it is one of the 'travel wonders of the world' according to wikipedia, but we expect to spend at least 3 days there to experience it.
-Colonia and Punto del Este are two spots in Uruguay that I really want to visit. It's an easy ferry to get to the country, and from there it's not too hard to get to either. Colonia will probably just be a day trip since it's so close, and Punto del Este will be at least a couple days.

Mendoza and Bahia Blanca are also on the list, but I probably can't fit everything in with only 7 weeks in the continent, and I don't want this to turn into a travel-frenzy or get burnt out this soon into the trip.

Today Leon and I are heading to see the Recoleta cemetary and pay our respects to Evita. Other plans are a poker dinner tomorrow, a cookout on Wednesday we are hosting thanks to our awesome patio+parilla grill, and drinks at one of Ian's favorite bars.

I finally set up my web album that I will post all my pictures at, it is:

Check it out for more fun pictures
I will try to update the blog at the end of the week.

Comments and questions are encouraged!



phoenix said...

hey great pics pal!


Adrian said...

you must go to a boca juniors or river plate soccer game.

Noah said...

Haha Adrian I didn't mention it yet but yesterday we spent all day at a boca-river game, it was absolute madness w/100k people. pics will be posted on the photo album and i will describe it next update.

Adrian said...

Congratulations on surviving el classico!

cflanders said...

Wow, I assume the barbed wire was for the soccer game? Shows how crazy the fans are!

rick said...

hey dog -
all good, blogs + pics
one thing: is that hat a river hat (putting you at risk in boca-land) or a boca hat (vice-versa)?

Noah said...

Good question dad - Indeed it is a River hat. When we were buying the tickets, I ignorantly asked 'cual equipo debemos apoyar?' to which the guy was taken aback and wide-eyed. He responded "Chicos...CLARO...rojo y blanco" - the colors of river. We would have been pulverized if we wore boca gear in the River stadium unless we had gotten seats with the separate visitors' section.