Monday, June 15, 2009

Iguazu Disney Falls

Prelude: Because of the swine flu, Mike and I were able to take a vacation and we decided to head north to the Iguazu Falls-to dengue fever territory. I had heard that it’s a must see and since they are the second biggest falls in the world and since we live only about 20 hours away, we said why not.

Traveling to Waterfall Disneyland

We got our tickets for Thursday night so we could sleep most of the night before waking up in Puerto Iguazu. We got fed chicken and veggies, meat and cheese, and tea and whiskey. I can’t stress enough how great the long distance buses are here.

When we arrived in Puerto Iguazu we asked a man in the bus terminal where the campground
was close to town. He asked if we wanted Camping Americana and we said yes not having a clue what Americana meant. We went to the local bus stop and waited to catch a bus up the road. The driver told us where to get off and we came upon a very developed well lit campground that had a pool, restaurant, snack bar, fancy bathrooms, and cabanas. There was nothing rustic about it, including the high price. We kindly asked where the REAL campground was. They pointed us up the road and we came upon a more natural looking campground that was more of what we envisioned. Unfortunately, there is no camping in the Iguazu national park so the best we could do was stay close to town. We were the only campers so we had our pick of camping spots. We walked around the campground and found an avocado tree. I was elated and so I scurried around like a hungry little squirrel collecting them for future meals.

Puerto Iguazu is a town on the Brazilian and Paraguayan border. Part of the area is jungle and thats why town had a very tropical feel-the smells, the palm trees, the humid warmth. All the roads were made of a red clay that got on everything and must’ve been good to build with but not to get on your hands and clothes. All the trees were fruiting and had humoungus leaves. In our small campsite there were fig, orange, papaya, and avocado trees. It felt like Costa Rica. Plus it was so warm unlike frigid Buenos Aires.

After we arrived, we hung around the campsite setting up camp and catching up on sleep from the relaxing but not totally comfortable bus ride. After a while, we walked into town and walked along the very touristy streets. We looked in some shops and found that they sell pets in jars in Iguazu!

Also, we heard lots of Portuguese because the majority of travelers there were from Brazil. It was fun to listen and try to imitate them although we weren’t very good. Mike likened Portuguese to speaking like you're a deaf-mute; this horrible yet hilarious comparison entertaine
d us the rest of the weekend! Then we discovered this hot spot where there were stands selling olives, cheeses, meats, and all kinds of yummys. We sampled a bunch of delicious olives in various oils and stuffed with all kinds of good things. Then we saw people sitting and eating small platters of meat, cheese, olives, and wine or beer.

We saw one particular hot spot and tried to sit where everyone else was but ended up at a table next to the happening spot. It had much less charm and no other clients. Plus the waitress didn’t speak Spanish very well and got our order wrong. We stuck with her out of pity but watched all the other tables across from us enjoying their meals and chatting away in Portuguese. It was like we were exiled from the cool kids table from Brazil to the nerds in Paraguay. So sad! After our dinner/snack we walked back and Mike got some cheap ice cream at a cute shop. We headed to bed early so we could get up and head to the falls because the busloads of jubilados and Americans.

Saturday-Hitting up the Falls:
We got up early and Mike started a fire in our parrilla (grill made out of a half barrel) to make hot tea and granola. After about an hour we had eaten and gotten ready. We headed to the bus stop and a very full bus
rolled up. “Oh no” we thought, “Damn, other people are heading to the Falls at the same time we are. Its going to be crowded!” And yes it was. We heard lots of loud Americans all around us. We tried and keep our mouths shut not to add to the raucousness.

We arrived at Iguazu National Park and unloaded with the rest of the tourists. After we paid our lofty entrance fee, we had to pass through a few archways, 5 gift shops, a food court and a train entrance. This wasn’t a National park-It
was DISNEYLAND with waterfalls. We couldn’t believe how the nature part was second to making money part.

We decided to take a short hike to the first set of waterfalls instead of taking the tram. Upon arrival at the upper falls, we were taken aback by the beauty but also horrified to see how the drought that’s been hurting Argentina from north to south really was affecting the falls. I had seen photos of how water normally streamed down all sides of the cliffs. But what we saw was a few falls here and there. There also were numerous boats down below going into the falls, helicopters flying over them, and a giant hotel on both the Argentine and Brazil sides of the falls. It was not at all what I had envisioned as a peaceful and natural refuge of water and jungle.

The trails led you to see the falls from above and below. The most incredible fall was called La Garganta del Diablo (the Devils Throat) which was breathtaking. It was like a full blast of water being gargled down the devils throat and then spit out on the land below. Truly indescribable! We were splashed with drops of water and surrounded by rainbows. An amazing experience.

The wildlife we saw were butterflies of various brilliant colors, birds with crazily designed beaks, monkeys in the tree tops, and coatis, which are basically the equivalent to urban raccoons. They are very comfortable around people and were not afraid to climb up on people to get food. Although somewhat cute, I was weary after seeing all the warning signs about not feeding or petting the WILD coatis. Unfortunately other tourists were not heading the warnings and were very adamant about giving them food. Gross!!!

After many hours of walking, tramming, and photo taking, we were exhausted and headed back to town. We picked up some meat and other sustenance to make a grilled meal. When we arrived home, we had a visitor-a kittie that we named Jaguarate. He sat with us while we made dinner and sat under the parilla while Mike grilled the meat and heated up water for Ramen noodles (always a great camping meal). Dinner was scrumptious and Jague joined us through the meal, receiving all kinds of fat cutoff pieces. He even stayed by our tent at night.

Sunday-Firemen and Farewells:
Sunday we woke up late and relaxed at camp until we were ready to go to town and get small gifts for friends. It’s a tradition to bring back alfajores (delicious cookies) for people from various regions of Argentina. We got some alfajores and mate to try from the Missiones region where the falls are located. On
our walk back to camp, we stopped by the fire station which had antique fire trucks.

Mike wanted to take some photos of their awesome old Mercedes Benz trucks so I went and talked to the two fireman on call. They turned out to be the nicest guys. They showed us the trucks from front to back, played us the siren, showed us the station, and even fed us and shared mate tea with us. It was great hospitality. They were curious to know about us and us about them. I even bought a fireman shirt from them (I think it was one of the guys because it seemed well worn but smelled clean so I went with it). We said our goodbyes to the friendly firemen and headed back to camp.

It was our last day we cleaned up camp and watched the nearby GIANT ants collecting leaves and taking them to their ant hill. It was like a National Geographic show but LIVE! After a while, we had to catch the city bus back to the main bus station to head back to the city. As we boarded, surrounded by annoying American college students, I waved good-bye to our little tropical vacation and the closest I’ve ever been to Brazil. Chau!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mike's Bday and Extras

Mike’s Cumpleaños
During the moving process, we managed to squeeze in celebrating Mike’s 31st. On his actual b-day, we went out to a delicious Korean meal (food we hadn’t eaten yet here). It was incredible to taste such great spice and yummy dishes that Korean’s prepare so well. Both of our palettes were pleased.

The next night, a friend of ours-Andrew-whose birthday is two days after Mike’s, planned a get together at a bar in Las Cañitas (the chi-chi neighborhood that we thought about moving into). It was great to have friends from Frisbee, our former neighbors, and other BA friends come and celebrate. The bar was named Van Kooning (after the painter) and it had a wild décor of brick, deer horns, and multi-leveled rooms. Plus, they had over 50 beers from around the world and cocktails, both things which are rare to find in a bar here. We got there early to reserve huge room near an outdoor terrace. Mike, Andrew, his girlfriend (Belu), and I all munched on a giant picada platter consisting of cheese, meat, olives, eggplant, hummus, grapes, and bread. It was tasty and overwhelming. Then Belu busted out 3 cakes she had made-1 for Andrew, 1 for Mike, and 1 for everyone else. It was very sweet and they were amazingly delicious.

The night went on until about 5:30 am and ended with 2 bottles of champagne on the house. There were about 8 stragglers who all left together and wandered to the bus stop. We got home and crashed in our new place on the floor because the bed hasn’t arrived yet. It was a nice way to end a stressful week of moving and hard work. Luckily I have a nice long weekend to recover (its Argentina’s “almost” independence day-the real one is in July).

Extras-I‘m finally legal! After 5 months of getting papers sent from the states, resent, verified, translated into Spanish, stamped, and spending a long day at immigrations, I finally got my work visa. Along with that comes health care and my own bank account where my paychecks are directly deposited. It feels good to be legit.

Swine flu comes to Buenos Aires- I just found out that there were a few cases of swine flu at my school (which includes a Kindergarten, Primary and High school) and so we’re closed for 15 days as stated by the health inspector of Argentina. Unexpected vacation or notice that I may be contagious….mmm. Thanks to this scare, I get some time off and Mike and I will be visiting Iguazu Falls (a famous waterfall near the Brazil and Paraguay border) this weekend. Woohoo! I never thought I'd be so thankful to pigs. Hope you're healthy..oink.

And of course FRISBEE!!!
Our team is currently in first place (out of 4 teams-now we're cooking with gas) and we're full of gusto. Here's a recent photo. Oh and our name is Big Red for two reasons. One is that Red means web or network in Spanish and we have players from all over the world (Argentina, Colombia, Japan, Canada and the US). And the other reason is that one of the co-captains loves the chewing gun with the same name-jajajaja.

Nuevo Departamento

The Big Move

Our lease at our apartment was ending at the end of May and we debated whether or not to stay and keep paying a pretty hefty rent. Mike’s still looking for a job and I get paid in pesos so it was draining both of us. Ultimately, we wanted to save money and I wanted to be closer to my work. I was commuting over an hour everyday and it was destroying my soul and making me a very angry commuter. So we started looking at furnished places around town in neighborhoods closer to my school. We found one in a great (but very chi-chi) neighborhood. It ended up being way more expensive than we had thought because we had to pay first months rent ($750), a deposit ($750), and a real estate agent fee (another whopping $750).

I went to work the next day after discovering how we’d go broke if we moved into another touristy furnished apartment. My co-workers were listening to my tragic situation and then one (Mora) told me she had an unfurnished place for rent in a perfectly placed location. Mike and I went to look at it one Friday while the current renter was just moving out, and we loved it. It’s smaller than are previous place but it has two levels and is cute as all get up. Plus my commute will only be 1 short train ride and 7 blocks to walk VS. 1 long train ride and two packed subway rides or a bus that takes over 1 hour and basically tours the entire city.

Plus, all the furnishings are going to be lent to us by people from my work. Mora’s lending us a couch and bed while others have given us a comforter, pillows and silverware. I really think we’re the luckiest foreigners in this big ole city. Well almost everything is being lent to us. We did have to buy a fridge (the first time in both Mike and my life!). He found one on Mercardo Libre which is a Latin version of EBay and accidentally clicked buy. It all worked out fine since we got a used functioning fridge that was delivered from down the street. Sweetness! Oh and the best part about the new hood is the fact that there is a Middle-eastern restaurant not too far away. I couldn’t be happier to eat food other than breads, pastas, and meat. Mmm…falafel!!

The weather has been nuts¡ The weekend we moved happened to be the hottest weekend in 50 years! Its supposed to be winter and the last few days have been in the 80’s while last week it was in the 50’s. Whoever doesn’t believe in global warming needs to check out BA.

ChinaChinaTOWN-Buenos Aires

Mike found this interesting link to an article about the cool Barrio Chino (China Town) here in BA. Check it out!!

April 25th-Wedding Time

Prelude: Times have not always been easy living in BA away from family and friends, my native tongue, and the diversity of food that we are spoiled with in the states (if I eat another empanada, I will soon become one). However, we have been lucky enough to build a community that keeps us going and invites us to various events such as weddings!

Maxi and Moni’s Wedding
Argentine Wedding Do’s and Don’ts OR Faux Paux Central

Our good friend from Frisbee named Maxi recently got married. He at first invited us to the reception around midnight after the ceremony and dinner. However, a few friends canceled last minute so we got to attend the entire event. It was really amazing to see and Maxi and his bride Moni, who happen to be the most perfect couple, it makes you want to puke. He’s a banker, she’s a preschool teacher. They run marathons, have a beautiful house, love to travel and are going to Asia and South Africa on their honeymoon. Yowzas¡

Take this quiz and experience some of the things we learned the hard way.

True or False Quiz

1) Bring a wedding gift to the wedding.
False. Unfortunately we didn’t know this and lugged around a big tea set with us from the wedding to the reception and than back home again. We first noticed when we arrived at the wedding that none of the other guests had gift bags. We asked our wedding translator (Ale-a good friend of Maxi and another Frisbee player) what the deal was. He explained that everyone sends a gift to the couple’s home or they buy something off a registry and the bride and groom pick it up after the wedding. DOH!

2) Dance close to the kitchen during the couple’s first waltz.
False. The actual first dance at the wedding was to Cher’s Do You Believe (which I could not believe any heterosexual couple would pick for their first dance). However, we were out on the outdoor patio when the song was playing so we didn’t know to come inside to watch the couple’s first dance. But we made it time to catch the first waltz, which is kind of like a snowball dance where a variety of people rotate dancing with the bride and groom.
Mike and I decided to have our own waltz next to the caterer kitchen. At one point, we started tipping over and so Mike put his hand out to support us against the wall. Unfortunately the wall was really a door to the kitchen and we fell into the kitchen while all the wait staff stared at these invasive guests. We were mortified so we decided to take our moves outside away from any walls.

3) Stay until at least 5 in the morning when the wedding reception officially ends.
True! Mike and I were worn out at about 3:30 although the party was still going strong . There was a 2 year old girl on the dance floor making everyone smile and dance like her; Maxi’s brother was still pouring shots of excellent Russian vodka (from where he lives now); and grandpa was flirting with the young single women. We knew if we didn’t leave soon, we may collapse on the dance floor. The next day we found out we had just missed the cutting and eating of the wedding cake which happened around 4am! We couldn’t believe how late these people celebrate.

All in all it was a fabulous experience and I have been pushing any Argentine couples I know to tie the knot before December so I can enjoy more good times.