Week 6,7, &8: oops…

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Sorry I haven’t written in quite a while. Though on the other hand, maybe it is a welcome relief. I’ve started uploading a bunch of my photos to Facebook, so for those of who complain that I write too much, you can just go there! The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind of adjusting to classes (all in Spanish) and city life more generally. I am convinced that Buenos Aires is one of the most amazing cities in the world- there is such a great street culture, where people are out and about at all hours of the night. Not to mention the endless cafes and bookstores. Seriously, my two favorite things: coffee and books. There is also phenomenal public transportation, so I can take the Subte (subway) or the coletivos (buses) anywhere I want to go. Classes have started too, as I mentioned, which takes up a lot of my time. I’m going to University of Buenos Aires, which is a public university and one of the best universities here. University is virtually free here, which means you have kids from all kinds of backgrounds in the same place, which I really like. Although, with such a huge number of students, the bureaucracy of the school is a little rough to navigate, The students at UBA are really political as well, and I think it reflects the idea that “liberal” here is conservative (I think they mean it in terms of neoliberal economics, but even so, it makes a good point). Che, Evita, Fidel, and countless other progressive Latin American figures grace the walls of the facultad, which are covered floor to ceiling in political posters. It’s actually all really exciting. There seems to be a culture of social justice and activism not just at the school but the society in general, which is admirable, though can make getting places difficult when streets are barricaded by cops and protesters.
Anyway, I’ve been doing all those things that you are supposed to be doing while studying abroad, like going to tour the Casa Rosada (literally, “the Pink House” which is their equivalent of the white house, although the president doesn’t actually live there. I toured the Catedral, which was also exciting, especially in the wake of the selection of an Argentine pope. There have been Vatican flags flying all over the city. I’ve also been to Teatro Colon, which is literally one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever seen. I saw a ballet there, but hopefully I can go back for an orchestra, as it is supposed to have some of the best acoustics in the world. I also went to a tango class with the members of the Human Rights concetration, which was really fun, really long, and somewhat awkward. Turns out, to no one’s surprise, that I am still really bad at being led.

Last weekend I went to the Chinatown here, which was fun, but very small and very touristy. There were some really cool Asian groceries, that also randomly happened to have peanut butter (what?) but it was such a zoo inside with all the tourists that you would have to really know what you were doing. Nonetheless, I got to explore Belgrano, the neighborhood Chinatown is in, and it was very pretty and laid-back. I live a lot closer to downtown, and off some of the main avenues, so the vibe there was a little calmer.

I’ve been trying to go to as many parts of the city as possible, and not just the wealthy enclaves that make up Barrio Norte (Palermo, Recoleta, Belgrano, etc), and so far I’ve really liked San Telmo, which is a little more grimy, but also seems to have a lot more quirks and historic character. One night, we went as a group to a neighborhood known as Boedo, which was also really historic as it had a lot of the building from before the wealthy families moved to the northern neighborhoods during a yellow fever epidemic. My UBA classes are also in a less-affluent area, but I’m not entirely sure what neighborhood it is in- maybe Constitucion? One thing I really won’t miss is my commute. It takes me about 50 minutes to get there on 2 Subte lines. I kind of miss the whole “roll out of bed 5-10 minutes before class starts” thing at Wooster.

So that was sort of the highlights reel of the last couple of weeks. I am excited (but also nervous) to be headed to Cordoba and Mendoza. I leave tonight at 2:30 AM and will meet up with friends in Cordoba, as I booked my tickets later and couldn’t get on the same bus. This week is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and it is also sometimes known as Turismo here, meaning that it is a HUGE travel time. It is one of the only longer breaks we have, so I think that all the kids in the program are trying to get out of BA even though we love it. I’m headed to Cordoba, as I said, where we’ll experience, Jesuit architecture, an awesome nightlife (there are a ton of universities there), artisan fairs, and the Che Guevara museum in one of his childhood homes. From there, we’ll make our way to Mendoza, aka wine country. It lies at the food of the Andes mountain range and is supposedly beautiful. It’s actually closer to Santiago Chile, than it is to BA, but I won’t unfortunately be crossing the border. They are also known for their olive oil, so I’m really excited due to my (somewhat) new-found obsession with cooking! From there its back to Buenos Aires, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share when I get back! Then the weekend after that it’s back to Uruguay with the group, though I’m definitely heading back on my own as well. Miss you all and until next time!

Week 5: Buenos Aires

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Sooo….Tuesday! Tuesday, Feb 26, was the first full day in Buenos Aires, and our first day of orientation. I walked to Circolo Italiano with my host mom. Circolo Italiano is basically a nice space you can rent out for weddings or conferences, or for orientation for 120ish foreigners. The people introduced themselves and gave us a TON of paperwork, including emergency contact info etc. I’m sure you all can imagine what an orientation is like-long and somewhat boring. The best thing they gave us though was the Guia T, which is basically a pocket sized (or rather, purse-sized) transportation bible of streets maps, subway guides, and bus routes. I haven’t yet gotten seriously lost thanks to this guide. They also had us ask any questions that we had anonymously, and let me just say that some of the things were extremely random, such as where to find a boyfriend. Seriously, no offense, I don’t think the program advisor can help you with that. On Wednesday, we had to take our Spanish placement exams, and we walked as a group to the building, a guy came out of a dumpster we walked past and “gave” us our first piropo, which is basically a really long catcall. So as it turns out, one place to find a boyfriend is in a dumpster. Returning to the Spanish exam, it was fairly easy, though as always writing was a little difficult for me, and my mic didn’t really work during the speaking component, so we’ll see how it goes.
Other information that we got from IFSA was the visa process, as we came here as tourists and need to switch to students. I thought we would do it with more guidance, but we are more or less on our own. So hopefully it will work out. We also got a ton of information about how to register at all the different universities, which all have different add/drop dates, but again we do it ourselves. It’s weird to think it’s winding down there and we’ve barely started. Also, I can register myself in the US, but it’s a completely different system here, and after a week and a half I’m not entirely confident that I won’t screw everything up. It’s a huge source of stress, and probably the lack of organization and consistency is one of the hardest cultural adjustments for me to deal with when it comes to academics.
On Wednesday night, we went out to dinner as a group at a restaurant called La Escondida in Palermo Viejo, which is supposedly the place to go out. It was a nice dinner of salad, steak, chicken, empanadas and wine, and I met a lot of really cool people, including some people I’ve been exploring the city with, but more on that later.
On Thursday, we got more info on all the universities and then visited UTDT, where I wanted to take a class. However, since I’m doing the Human Rights concentration, I can’t take any more classes with foreigners, which the advisors failed to tell me on Saturday when I registered, even though on the Tuesday after they made it very clear. Sigh. Friday was also a day of college visits, and all of the schools seem really good, but each has its own “personality.”
As I said, I went to the IFSA offices on Saturday morning to talk to advisors, but then I spent the afternoon with Hannah, a girl I met at the dinner. We went to the Japanese Garden, which is apparently one of the biggest outside of Japan. It was beautiful and really peaceful, which I enjoyed. There were ponds with koi, a lot of displays and monuments, and really artfully arranged trees. They were also selling tiny bonsai, which were like $100 though so I didn’t do it. I almost bought a 10$ totoro keychain, but I forced myself to resist as 10$ for a keychain is ridiculous, even if it is Miyazaki. We also stopped and ate an vanilla and red bean paste ice cream sandwich with in the shape of a fish, so all in all a very successful excursion. Right next to the Japanese Garden was the German Plaza, which was much smaller (and free) but also really interesting. We walked to the zoo, which was both cool, and in some instances depressing when the animals were in tiny cages. I was completely exhausted after walking around all these places. We then walked to Recoleta cemetery, even though we didn’t go in, to meet another girl to go to dinner in Palermo Viejo. We had to walk really far, took the bus too far, got off, found a taxi, got left off in a sketch area where the restaurant no longer existed. We then booked it back to one of the main thoroughfares and found a really adorable atmospheric cafe. We finished up around midnight, and I didn’t yet have it in me to go to a boliche (dance club) since that would mean starting at 3 AM and staying out til about 6 or 7AM ,so I just went home and to sleep.
Sunday was super nice and laid back , as well. I got up late and went to meet some different girls in the program to work on our photography project. We had to photograph certain themes and turn them in (today is the actual speaking component). We walked all around the downtown center area and Recoleta, and then stopped for a snack at a cafe. I then spent the night watching movies with my host mom and her adult daughter.
Monday orientation resumed, but the topics were more about where and how to travel, history, art, cinema, etc. I was trying to figure out about my UTDT class, so it was stressful. To get away from the Circolo and office, I just went and chilled in a Starbucks. I know I can do that in the US and that I should go to a local cafe, but do they have Dulce de Leche frappucinos (with or without chocolate chips)? No, they do not. We’ve also started our Spanish classes (even though we don’t have our level placements yet, and it is extremely boring. Not to be obnoxious, but I feel like I already know what they are trying to teach us.
Monday night was our first optional excursion/activity. Since they are “free” (even though let’s be real I paid for it in the program fee) I am trying to go to all of them. Plus, it’s not like I’m doing anything else yet. I’m either out with the IFSA kids or in my apartment. So anyway, they took us to the “Time Bomb” drum show, which was super cool. It was a pretty Rasta/alternative crowd though. I’m surprised that that was the first excursion they chose to take us to. I think people imagine plays or opera or tango or whatever (which will also happen), but this was definitely geared less for tourists and more for the kids that live around the area, or so it seemed.
The introductory human rights class was Tuesday, and it was pretty interesting I must say. There are two “modules”- one is political human rights, for example studying the dictatorship and genocides, and the other they have grouped into “social”- gender, LGBTQ, immigration, workers rights, etc. Argentina is actually more progressive than the US in a lot of ways-they have a federal Marriage Equality Law that includes adoption and was passed in 2010, as well as a law that prevents the trans community from medical discrimination. I signed but for political but I honestly wish I could study both, and luckily they are pretty closely related so I’m hoping it works out in my favor. I also met for the first time with my advisor, so I hope she can help me as much as my advisors in the US do.
Wednesday was more of the same about tourism and culture, but we also did a tour of La Recoleta cemetery. It was super cool, though I can’t imagine how much some of the memorials or mausoleums cost. Of course the grave everyone wants to visit is Evita Peron, but there are no signs leading to her crypt, and it was definitely one of the simpler ones. Just walking around was stunning, with all the different styles of architecture (?) and the sheer size. My guide book said it was a “city within a city” and I just thought they were being dramatic but that is actually what it was like. There were also quite a few feral cats roaming around the cemetery, which adds to the creepiness a bit.
I had to return to the Circolo for Spanish again (it gets slightly tiring coming and going all the time) and the time blocks are just awkward enough that it’s not worth it to go home, but then I raced back to change and shower. Then there was the second excursion of going to a play. I thought they would take us to see an Argentine play, but it was a British play translated into Spanish. The English title is “The Lion in Winter” and is all about King Henry II and the problem of which of his sons will succeed him. It was interesting, if slightly incestuous, but all I could think about was the super ratty wig the female protagonist was wearing. It was ridiculously blond and poufy, but it didn’t move ever. So maybe I am still too immature for “theatre.” I just hope I didn’t upset the program advisor behind me. It seemed like the group was going somewhere together, and I wish I would have stuck around, but I promised someone that we’d walk back together. Even though I feel safer here than I expected, it’s still not exactly a blast walking around a huge city alone at night. It was also pretty late, so I bought a simple dinner at a kiosko and pretty much went to bed immediately after.
And that brings me to this morning (Thursday). I woke up around 7:30, but it turns out that I didn’t have anything until 11, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to write it all out. I am going to try to upload photos to Facebook and stuff, so you all can see everything I’ve been doing for the past month. Miss you all and be sure to keep in touch!

Week 4: :Piriapolis-The Beach!

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Ok, so I have been so ridiculously busy since arriving in BA that it has been hard to even find time to write this. The program people at IFSA have been keeping us busy with mandatory orientation stuff, and the first week was basically like a huge Syllabus Monday over and over and over again, though it’s getting somewhat better now with the sessions talking more about the culture and history rather than tips for not getting mugged, etc. But before I get into that, I still need to write about my last week in Uruguay: at the beach!
So on Monday, February 18, Cecilia and I went out for dinner and ice cream together, which was a really fun time, and she was able to offer a lot of suggestions for things to do and places to go. Unfortunately, I didn’t have too much time left in Montevideo. On Tuesday though, I was able to go to Ciudad Vieja, which as the name implies, is the historic, colonial center of the city. You can see the old city walls, and there are a lot of pretty buildings and important museums. For example there was a really cool museum in the Casa del Gobierno which housed historical artifacts from a majority of the past presidents of Uruguay. There were also a bunch of street vendors selling things and a really awesome bookshop. I bought 2 CDs which I can’t stop listening to, and a necklace of tiny flowers sealed into plastic, with an old coin as the backing. Later that night, Flo’s cousin came over and we all went to another soccer game together. It was a fun time despite the rain, and I got a flag that I’ll have to put up in my dorm room. Hopefully my roommate is ok with all the random flags I collect on my voyages- the Buddhist prayer flags right next to a soccer club’s flag. I was supposed to see a outdoor play with Cecilia, but because of the rain it was cancelled. Though I wanted to see it, it worked out since I had to pack my bags since we were leaving the next day for the beach.
Wednesday, I woke up super late and we went directly to a lunch of pretty greasy chinese food. It was actually an interesting experience though to how the Uruguayan interpretation of Chinese food varies from ours (both of which obviously vary from what is actually eaten in China). We then went to the bus station, and 2 hours later, we met the parents at the beach (Piriapolis). Flo and I walked around the town center and shops for a bit, but it was raining pretty hard so we didn’t lay on the beach or anything. It was still raining on Thursday morning, so we drove around 2 different cerros, which I have no idea how to describe. They are basically really big hills, and the views from the top were phenomenal- of the beaches and the surrounding area. When we were at the top of one, I realized that I had been there in 2009, but I had no recollection of being anywhere other than at the top of the hill. I guess we didn’t go to the beach in the winter haha. I recognized it from the tiny round chapel of San Antonio where you can supposedly ask for a boyfriend. Too bad I opted to stay dry in the car and not go in hahaha. There were also a bunch of really beautiful red rocks dotting the shore of the beach
We then drove to Piria’s castle. Piria was an Argentine who developed the whole area (in Uruguay), and he built himself a pretty ostentatious castle a little way back from the beach. According to my friend, he started out selling sweets on the street and later became fabulously wealthy. He was also apparently slightly crazy, as he had an obsession with alchemy and trying to find a way to live forever. The castle itself was beautiful, but the upstairs part with his furniture and stuff was closed for renovation, so I only got to see the downstairs part (which was still good).
The dad left in the afternoon, as he had to go back to work, and of course after he left it stopped raining. So we all got ready and went to the beach for half the day, and spent the evening shopping and walking around and I bought some books and jewelry and just souvenir type stuff. On Friday, we laid on the beach all day and I got about as tan as I can physically be, and at night there was a really cool artesan fair. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of going to art shows with my mom, but the vendors here generally had more dreads and piercings than she does (thank GOD). Saturday was also a good beach day, although there was some sort of jellyfish storm, with giant blobs of them coming up on the beach. They call jellyfish “living waters” which is also kind of an accurate name as well. We bought fresh seafood at a beach stall, and the mom made literally the best paella I have ever eaten. We basically just hung out that night watching the latest Maradona scandal unfold (seriously, that family is so messed up, but at the same time I feel really bad for them since they are always followed around by the media). Sunday we returned to Montevideo in the afternoon, and in the evening Cecilia and a bunch of Flo’s friends came over to hang out and eat pizza. It was a nice night, but I was stressing the whole time about traveling with 6 months worth of stuff by myself in a huge city and foreign country, so I probably wasn’t the most fun.
On Monday the 25th, I took the Buquebus (“boat-bus” ferry) from Colonia to Buenos Aires (I took a bus from Montevideo to Colonia). I’m not sure what I was expecting in terms of the boat, but it was way nicer than whatever they were. It had super comfortable seats, tvs, track lighting, bars and a shop all on board. Also immigration/customs was very easy. Although things were not clearly marked on the tickets or on the arrivals/departures display. It was very go stand over here and wait, and just hope youre getting on the right boat. Somehow it works though, even though it would be pure chaos in the US. I landed at the port, which was scary, and got into a remise, or private car, which was probably the most sketch thing I’ve done thus far. The stand was inside the ferry terminal, so I assumed it was legit, but it when we walked to the car, it was literally just an unmarked car. It also happened to cost 2x as much as it should have. I went to the busy downtown area directly to the IFSA office, which I apparently wasn’t supposed to do, but then IFSA paid for the taxi to get me to my apartment, which helped offset the cost of the first one. My new host mom was waiting for me and so excited to give me a tour of the apartment, which was really nice, but all I wanted to do was unpack, shower and sleep. The orientation officially started Tuesday (even though it said we HAD TO BE THERE BY MONDAY at 3, which is why I went directly to the office), so it was nice to have some time to unwind and relax. The mom had hot dogs, since she didn’t know what I would eat, and I went pretty much directly to sleep. My next post will cover all of the excitement of BA :)

Week 3: Rutas de America, Carnaval, and a fun night in Montevideo

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How can I even begin to write about how awesome this week was? It’s technically one AM on Tuesday, but I want to try to stick to the schedule as much as possible so that I don’t get bogged down trying to explain too much cool stuff.  The week started out very peacefully, with me sleeping in late, taking siestas, chilling poolside, getting tan (or at least as tan as I can be), talking to my family on Skype and ended busily.   I don’r remember doing anything specifically on Monday or Tuesday, which means they were good days (haha), and on Wednesday I hung out with the world’s cutest baby and hung out at the grocery store with the family.

My friend had gone to visit her boyfriend in a neighboring town for Valentine’s Day, so I just kind of did my own thing. When she returned on Thursday afternoon (Valentine’s day) we ended up going to the Buena Onda (good vibes/waves) ice cream shop. It kind of reminded me of a Ben and Jerry’s. They advertise that their ice cream comes from “vacas contentas” or happy cows, and while I don’t know if that was true, their ice cream was certainly good.  That night, we went to Flo’s friend (and my friend) Leticia’s house, where we played Just Dance on the Wii with her family. You know, just in case I didn’t make a fool of myself at the karaoke. Unfortunately, I am definitely better at karaoke than dancing, which isn’t saying much for either activity hahaha. It was a fun, laid back day, and even though they celebrate Valentine’s Day here, it was definitely a nice escape from all the ridiculous hype around the holiday in the US.

Friday was when things started to pick up. There is a bicycle race that exists here, in which the participants bike the roads of the whole country, going through different cities and towns along the way. Fortunately for me, the  Rutas de America race went through Flores, and Flo and I went so that I could see it. There were a ton of people out and about, despite the extreme heat. I was sweating just standing there (hot, right? I know), so I have no idea how the cyclists were able to do it. There was a lot of hype, with signs being waved, camera crews, ambulance and police presence, etc. So it was a high energy event, even though the cyclists blew through in probably under 5 minutes.  Fortunately, I had my camera ready as they came through, so there will be a pretty cool video on facebook at some point.

I then spent the afternoon running errands with the sister- getting money at the band, buying my ticket to Buenos Aires (I’ll be going on the Buquebus, or “Boat-Bus,” and looking for a way to charge my new camera. I tried to stop and visit my high school teacher’s mother, who still lives in the town, but she wasn’t at home when I went.

In the evening, one of our friends stopped  by. She had just got back from the beach in Colonia, and we just spend an hour or two catching up. When the parents got back around 11-11:30, we went out to dinner, where we ordered Chivito. For the uninitiated, chivito is a bed of french fries topped with ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, and more french fries. Oh, and mayonnaise if you want. Definitely not kosher. We again ran into Leticia and her family, so we all ended up eating together. As far as I know, the only faux pax I committed was almost knocking over the plastic Venus di Milo statue.

Saturday, was the  “candombe” portion of the Carnaval parade.  I have been told that Uruguayan carnaval is the longest in the world, and that it lasts for more than 40 days with parades and plays, etc.  My ultra-nerdy travel guidebook (that I unashamedly love-thanks Mom!) said that Uruguayan carnaval also tends to be more vibrant than in Argentina, though I obviously do not speak from experience. We watched from the office of the Dad’s horse racing club, and it was the perfect spot. Candombe is originates with the Afro-Uruguayan community, and was a musical form that the slaves would use. At night they would slip away from the owners and go outside the city gates where they would play drums and dance. Basically, each school or group of candombe practitioners is called a “comparsa” and there are certain components that each group will have. First in each group comes the banner naming the group and where they are from. Then comes people carrying a moon and usually 2 stars, which I was told symbolize the coming of night. Then there were different dancers, with  certain “types” that appeared in every group, for example, 2 or 3 “old couples” or a comical old man and woman. Then came the dancers, also known as vedettes, and they are all ridiculously beautiful. Seriously, it is a good way to get a complex hahah.  If I were that hot, I would probably wear as little as they do. Anyway, they are then followed by about 50 people on drums, and it is so loud that you can literally feel the drums in your bones. I got a LOT of good photos and pictures,  and so I will be sure to upload some. There was also a little bit of capoeira, the martial arts-dance fusion, which is more Brazilian than Uruguayan,  but I’m really glad that I got to see it. There were supposed to be 25 groups, but 34 showed up, so you can imagine that the parade lasted for about 3-4 hours and ended at about 2 AM

After the parade, we returned to the plaza to hang out and drink a little before going to the club. There were a TON of people in the plaza and the club, since the comparsas came from all over the country. We went to the club at about 3:30 AM. I didn’t really want to go, as I was exhausted, but I ended up having a good time, and stayed until about 6:30.  On Sunday, I woke up around 11 and got ready to go out to lunch at the restaurant.  When I came back, I slept until about 6 PM. I wanted to treat the family to a meal out at a restaurant, since it was my last full day at their house, but they wouldn’t let me. So instead, the sister suggested that I pick a food that I like and cook it for the family. I decided to make fried rice. I cooked it outside on a sort of propane camping stove, as it would make the house really hot if I cooked inside.  One thing that I don’t like about the stoves here is that they have to be lit manually. For example, I have to turn on the gas and then light it with a lighter. I know it is a stupid problem to have, but I am definitely scared of inadvertently blowing something up. Nonetheless, after a couple of tries I got the hang of it and  the fried rice came out really well. One embarrassment that I had was not knowing how to debone and de-skin a chicken. We always buy the skinless boneless chicken breast, but I don’t want anyone ever to think I am some sort of useless diva. So the mom helped me with that, but I watched everything, and hopefully, should the need arise,  I could successfully debone a chicken.

Sunday night was also the second night of Carnaval, but this time it was the more Brazilian-influenced samba style carnaval parade.  Many of the groups, though not all, came from the northern border region of Urguay, where there is much more of a Brazilian influence. For example, in some towns people are bilingual in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as a sort of mixture of the two. The groups are called “escolas do samba” or “samba schools” in Portuguese. This parade/competition (because the different comparsas and escolas compete against other groups of the same style) was much shorter, and there was live singing, as well as drumming and dancing. Additionally, each school had a different theme, which was at least for me, a little more interesting than the comparsas, which were all comprised of the same components. For example, one of the themes was classic fairytales, so you could see Cinderella dancing next to Peter Pan, etc. There was also a traffic safety theme, in which the sister of Diego Forlan (the soccer star) participated in. She was in an accident that had left her paralyzed when she was 18, and it was definitely a powerful image.  There was also a social networking theme, with corresponding costumes. There were also Japanese and African themes, though some of the images and iconography were maybe not what we would consider politically correct in the US. Despite all that though, it was interesting to see a different culture’s perspective on other cultures. I took less pictures and videos due to a battery shortage on my part, but I still got some good ones. I have to say though, it was nice to just be in the moment and enjoy it rather than worrying about documenting every second.

Monday I woke up late, and quickly ate lunch and packed up, as we had a bus to Montevideo. I swapped with Flo’s boyfriend who had come to visit, so that they could sit together during the ride. I sat  by myself (except for the inevitable screaming baby next to me), but it was sort of nice to have a couple of hours to just sit and zone by myself (I know I’m weird).  We arrived in Tres Cruces and took a taxi back to the apartment. I know I’ve said it before, but this apartment is AWESOME. Hardwood and tile floors, excellent location, etc. I clearly watch too much House Hunters. Or I’m just secretly a 40 year old woman. Seriously though, if I ever have enough money to travel back and forth frequently, I would love to get a place somewhere in Uruguay. Anyway, Flo had some people from her design class over, and I just hung out, scoping out maps of where I’ll be living in BA and things to do while I’m there. I also took a siesta (this will be a rough habit to reverse when I return to the US).

A little after 9 PM, last year’s Spanish language TA came to pick me up outside the apartment. We went to Punta Carretas, a beachfront barrio of Montevideo and ate at a restaurant called La Criolla. I had something similar to raviolis with a 4 cheese sauce, which is another thing I am getting addicted to here. Of course, all the delicious things are bad for me, but whatever.  We talked about Wooster a lot, but also about changes in job and life since returning to Uruguay. She also updated me on the lives of the other TAs, and all of them seem to be doing well.  After we finished, we went to get ice cream at a place called Las Delicias, which was very aptly named. If you guess the weight of your ice cream bowl, its free. I guessed 185g and it was 190g, so close but no cigar. Maybe I’ll go back and order the exact same thing, though that might be playing the system. Considering my complete lack of comprehension of the metric system, it was a lucky fluke. We talked some more about things I could do in and around Montevideo. Though I’ve only ever spent like 5 full days in the city, I feel like I haven’t explored it as much as it deserves. Maybe tomorrow morning, I can go and walk around or take some sort of bus. In the evening I am going to another Peñarol game at the Estadio Centenario, and it will be a blast. I try to buy a flag of every country I go to, (though I still need an Indian one) but I already have a ton of Uruguayan flags, so maybe I can buy a Peñarol flag this time around.

Anyway, Cecilia and I had a great time chatting, and then she drove through the scenic route, though it was unfortunately dark, past Las Ramblas (the beachfront walkways), more of Punto Carretas,  and the American embassy, also known as “the Bunker.” Seriously, it looks completely ridiculous among the beachfront community and the apartment complexes. Why do we pick the most severe designs possible? Probably sheer intimidation. Also, me being the nerd that I am, we stopped at the MERCOSUR headquarters and I got a picture in front of the building. It was totally beautiful, but I couldn’t tell if it was old or built new to look old. We drove by the Golf Club and Parque Rodó, where I went the first day. Basically, I got a nice tour and good company, so it was a successful night. Depending on when the Peñarol game ends tomorrow, the 3 of us (Flo, Cecilia and I) might go out to see a Carnaval play, which I haven’t yet been able to see.  It is now officially 3 AM here and I am running out of steam, as you probably are too, so I will sign off. Next week’s post should be good too, as I will have been to Piriapolis, (a beach) and will be arriving in BA! Until next time!

Week 2: Trinidad, Flores

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So all in all it has been a pretty relaxing and restful week, and this will  be a pretty short post. My host sister left Sunday and spent Monday through Thursday in Montevideo. I decided to stay here in order to spend more time with the family and save a little money on bus fare (I will definitely be headed back to Montevideo before I leave though-there are people to see and a Copa Libertadores game to go to [got my ticket today]!)

                Anyway, I spent a lot of time in the grocery store meeting neighbors and friends, and just watching after the two little girls.  They are both adorable, but the younger one is insanely cute-always smiling and happy. She fell out of her crib on Friday, and the mom was beside herself with panic. So there was a rushed trip to the emergency room but fortunately all was well. There was a lot of blood but it was just one of those tiny cuts in the mouth that bleed a ton. Although scary, I’m just grateful it wasn’t worse.

                I also read a LOT, which is good and bad. I decided to put the whole reading thing on hold. It is too easy for me to get lost in the books and my own head (haha, sad but true), and I’m here to meet people, challenge myself, and work on my Spanish. I can’t do that if I’m spending all of my time lost in a book. The mom asked me multiple times if I wanted to have some people over to use the pool and just hang out. I kept saying no because I was scared of not being able to communicate and accidentally offending someone or having them think I’m weird (which will probably happen regardless hahaha). But then I realized that if I don’t invite people and act reserved, they are probably more likely to think that. Plus the only way to get better is to make mistakes! I felt like I had wasted a lot of time, but it’s only the second week, so I’m not going to beat myself up, and just start pushing myself as much as I can right now.

                In the whole being brave and pushing myself thing, I decided to go out on my own and go shopping for some clothes.  The town is safe, so my only fear was communication (and maybe getting lost). Sure enough I got lost, which was totally stupid because later  I realized that I could see the grocery store from where I was if I only looked around. Anyway, it wasn’t a huge deal because I was able to reorient myself by walking back to the plaza and retracing my steps, but the family definitely found it amusing. Also, the shopping was pretty much the same (no bartering or really pushy vendors like in India) so I was fine. 

                We ended up not going out on Friday, since a lot of the group of girls have exams coming up and need to study. Plus, Saturday is the bigger night to go out, and there was going to be a dance in the club that Saturday.  Saturday, we were in the grocery store and then Flo (my host sister) got a call from her friend. We were invited to go to her friend’s aunt’s house for American-style burgers, and just to hang out. They recently moved back to Uruguay from the US and the uncle speaks no Spanish, which I did not realize and started out speaking Spanish to him (oops).  The burgers were great, as was the company. I had a blast singing karaoke with the cousins, though I’m sure the neighbors aren’t too pleased with me.

We hung out there until about midnight when we came back and the girls got ready and drumming. Carnaval goes on for weeks, but all the parades and stuff are this week for us, so I should have a lot of photos and it should be really exciting.  Anyway, the sun came up, and at 7:30 I was dead on my feet and had to come home, even though the others kept dancing. 

                Sunday, as you can imagine, was spent sleeping, though we did wake up for a very nice lunch at a place called El Portal. SO GOOD.  Then I came back and slept more. We had an asado (grilled meat), and the sister, her husband, and baby came over, and then I went back to sleep.

Today (Monday), was also quiet. I went to get some shoes-all I brought was flip-flops (oops) and my ticket for the Copa Libertadores game. I love this family  SO SO much, but they do so much for me and I don’t know how to sufficiently reciprocate.  They let me live with them, feed me,  pay for my food in restaurants, buy me copious amounts of diet Coke, the mom does my laundry, and when I went to buy the tickets for both soccer games, they have paid. When I protest, they just wave it off. Not to mention the sister including me all the time with her friends.  I have done  and will do the same for them if/when they come to the US, but I really want to do something nice for them but I have no idea how….

                In the afternoon, Flo and I hung out, watching TV and just chilling. She has a lot of clothes to get ready for the fashion show, so she is busy with that. I went to the Plaza with the same friend who invited us to her house and one of the other girls, and we just sat around talking. It was nice to be able to finally be able to contribute to the conversation without having to pause every 5 seconds and think about every  word. Hopefully my new Spanish-only policy will help.  We finished dinner and now I am writing up this, since I promised weekly posts. Miss you all, and stay well until next week! xoxo

P.S. I tried making mac and cheese for the family on Saturday., as it was something they had heard about from the host sister and wanted to try. I couldn’t find box mac and cheese so I spent well over an  hour and a stick of butter making my own. It came out pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the Panera mac and cheese that the sister loved when she came to visit me!

Week 1: Montevideo and Flores

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I have decided to do weekly blog posts, so that I can focus on the important stuff without getting bogged down in a lot of details. It seemed to work for some of my friends who studied abroad last semester. I am going to try to update on Mondays. So without further ado…

 

                Last Sunday, I left the snow and freezing temperatures of Pittsburgh to fly to Miami sometime in the afternoon. I then had an overnight flight from Miami to Montevideo. I was wearing a sweatshirt and wool socks when I left Pittsburgh, and when I arrived in Montevideo around midday it was easily 95 degrees. I’m surprised that I didn’t die of heat stroke in the different customs and immigration lines, but once I was dressed more appropriately, the weather was definitely a welcome change. My Spanish was good enough to navigate the airport, but once I reunited with my host mom, sister, and a friend outside the airport, it was painfully clear to me that I haven’t been keeping up with it as much as I should have. Although everyone was really kind though and they keep saying how much I have improved. I’m not sure how I should feel about that, as it must have been atrocious the last time.

                After we left the airport, we took a bus to a taxi stand, and went to my friend’s apartment. She kept saying that it was small but nice, but it didn’t even seem small to me after living in a dorm room for two and a half years. It was really nice, but most importantly it was cool (temperature-wise). They gave me time to shower and change, and then my host sister and mom and I went out to a restaurant called The Gaucho.  A gaucho, for the uninitiated, is the Uruguayan/Argentine equivalent (or at least as close as it comes) to the American cowboy. It is Carnaval here, and the restaurant was decorated with all kinds of streamers and  masks. Carnaval spans weeks, with different parades all around the city and country every night. There are also carnaval plays that seem to have undertones of social commentary, from what I can tell (which is not much). Anyway, they treated me to a really nice lunch of meat, meat and more meat, and then we went out and about in Montevideo. We walked the streets around my friend’s apartment, looking at all the shops and important streets. From what I gathered, she is right off one of the most important avenues and directly downtown.  We also went to visit her university, and the building that specifically houses the law “faculty” that she is in. The building was ridiculously beautiful, which is saying something considering how pretty Wooster is. There is a terrace in the middle of the building, which means that it is beautiful now, but pretty chilly in the winter. The architect who designed it built it was asked to build one in Cuba, and Mamá Ana told me that the floor plans were accidentally switched, which means the building in Cuba gets super hot.

                We also went to the National Library of Uruguay, and it had huge old dusty tomes, as well as newer political posters from the 70s and 80s. We just looked around briefly, but it was still a cool experience. We then went to Parque Rodó, a really beautiful old park with a lake. It was also close to the Rambla, the walkway along the beachfront, and the park houses a small amusement park. It was a good day, but it was oppressively hot and I was tired from traveling.  Later that night, I went to my friend’s design  class with her. It was in a beautiful old, colonial building, and the class seemed pretty interesting, but I was so exhausted that I walked back to the apartment myself and fell asleep.

                The next couple of days were also extremely hot, so we were somewhat lazy. I unpacked my stuff, and we walked the streets, and took the buses  to a jewelry store where my friend buys supplies for her jewelry business.  I bought some beads for my mom (I hope she likes them) and tried to talk to the shop owner who had no idea what I was trying to say. I was super disappointed in myself, and it made me nervous that people are just indulging me and that they actually have no idea what I am trying to say. Flo told me it’s mostly my accent and that other than that my Spanish is OK, so I’ve been trying to work on my pronunciation.

                My friend, Flo,  is seriously so talented and I am amazed by all she does-law student, fashion design classes (and yes, her clothes will be worn by professional models on a runway somewhere-the show is in March), and she has a jewelry business based off of Facebook, where she sells quite a bit of stuff. And here I am, a couch potato just chilling out at her house.  SO Tuesday and Wednesday during the day we mostly just hung out and talked (though we did do a bit of shopping). Tuesday we watched a documentary about the fans of her favorite soccer team, Peñarol. The fans were super dedicated, like painting their houses black and gold (same color and the Steelers and Pens!) and supporting the team even more when they are losing. There is no bandwagon effect for these people. Wednesday night was SUPER fun, because we went to a friendly match between Peñarol and a team from Paraguay. It went really fast, which is a sign that I had a good time! I thought it was half time when the game was over. We sat in one of the less-rowdy sections, which was a good way to start, as people were jumping up and down, chanting, and lighting fireworks in the section behind the nets.  And this was just for a relatively informal match, mind you! We are going to go back to a more serious game  in a week or two, and I am excited to see what it will be like then. Another cool thing is that the stadium that the game was in was where the FIRST EVER WORLD CUP was hosted in 1930. It was cool to see a little bit of soccer history in a place where the sport is so important.

                Thursday morning, we took a bus to a bus (haha) which would take us back to Trinidad, Flores, the town where I stayed in 2009.  It was great to come back, and to be honest even though Montevideo was definitely cool, it felt great to be back in Trinidad. The family was there to greet us and we came back to a big lunch (the most important meal of the day :) I went back to the supermarket the family owns, and it was just as nice as ever! The family worked step by step to build it up and it is a really nice place.  I also went to meet my friends grandmother ( I didn’t get the chance last time). She is 90 years old, but acts 3 decades younger. I thought that maybe there was a reason I didn’t meet her the first time, and I was worried that there was some reason. Also, with my Spanish being what it was I was nervous that I might accidentally offend her. She was SO NICE though, and super chill, as far as grandmothers go, and it was a good way to start my first day back in Flores. We then went to visit her sister, who is now married and lives a little ways outside of the city. Her new house was pretty big and nice, but I would be worried living out in the countryside by myself. The sister’s baby, Renata is literally the cutest kid I have ever seen, and as a rule I am not that into babies (haha). So anyway, after all the visiting, I came back, unpacked and hung out.

                Friday, Flo and I hung out in her backyard, which this time of year is literally a tropical paradise. They also have a pool, which is a nice treat when it is this hot. We spent the day tanning and talking, which in actuality was me turning pinker than I usually am. Unfortunately, I just can’t get that beautiful tan that a lot of them have. Basically, on day one, Flo told me (in a nice way) that I look like a gringa, and that I will need to be extra careful walking around big cities by myself. Ever since then I’ve been trying to change that, but I think I am only exacerbating the problem by trying to fix it.  I also played with her four-year old niece, Guille, who is also ridiculously cute. I had a lot of fun playing in the water, so maybe I like kids more than I admit. She is going to be one of those girls who gets her way all the time though, so she will definitely be a handful as she gets older.

                Friday night, we went to the central Plaza at about 1:30 AM and I got to see  a lot of Flo’s (and my) friends who I haven’t seen since 2009. We sat around drinking beer and just hanging out. I also met a fellow American, which was cool and kind of unexpected in a small town in the interior of Uruguay. It was nice to speak some English (though I speak it with Flo so she can practice. I really shouldn’t be lazy with my Spanish but I can speak Spanish with the parents and everyone else, so I’m not too worried).  It was so hot, even at that time of night, that we were just sweating sitting still. The beer probably didn’t help either.  Soon, though it got really windy and dusty as a storm was rolling in, and we had to run home pretty  quickly from the dust, leaves and rain.  It stormed all night, but I like hearing rain when I sleep, so it was pretty peaceful.

                Saturday was another lazy day, and we hung out poolside with Guille, and 2 of Flo’s friends. I mostly just sit and listen, since I can sort of keep up if I listen carefully, and also, I don’t have much to add since I didn’t know a lot of the people or places they were talking about.  I also read a lot, and I have finished 3 books since I’ve been here. I’m doing my best to keep my anti-social tendencies in check though (I’m only half joking). Once I start a book, I get lost in it and it is hard for me to detach myself from that.  We got ready to go out to a dance I’d been hearing about all weekend. We got ready and listened to music, and then her friends started showing up. We didn’t leave the house until 3:30 in the morning and stayed out until about 6. Even at 6, we were “las viejas” (the old women) who left the party early. Flo’s knee was hurting for whatever reason, and I was exhausted, as usually in Wooster, I would already be sleeping at 3:30. Also, I was getting a lot of attention at the club, which although somewhat flattering, was also a little awkward for me, as I am more used to flying under the radar.

                Since we were out so late the night before, I slept until about 2 PM on Sunday, and was woken up by Guille, who at the age of four, told me that I must get up now. Thinking that it was going to be another pool day, I put on my swimsuit and cover-up, only to walk in on the Sunday family reunion. Flo’s boyfriend, grandmother, brother-in-law, sister, and basically the whole family was there and I wasn’t even wearing pants. Awkward. I was still exhausted from the night before, so my Spanish and everything else was a little rough. I escaped back to my room to put on some actual clothes.  As I woke up more, I was able to be more social and got to know Flo’s boyfriend, who was visiting from his town to meet me.  We chatted, and asked each other the basic getting to know you questions. They have known each other since they were 14, but only started dating last year. He participates in the long distance horse races that they do here (as does Papá Roberto-Flo’s dad), and that is how they met. Pretty cute, I must say.  Anyway we ended up passing the afternoon peacefully and at about 10 PM we went out to the Festival Internacional de la Música Tropical, where they basically played cumbia (a popular type of music played in clubs, and apparently, international festivals. I got to learn about Uruguayan social groups too, and Flo’s friends had fun (I think) pointing out the different kind of people there.  It was fun, but also really cold (the weather changes quickly here) and so we came back around midnight and we ordered pizza. I got to watch the end of the Super Bowl due to some sort of power outage, and I tried to explain it to Flo’s boyfriend, Pablo, who was asking a lot of questions. My sports vocab definitely needs some work. We went to bed when the game was ending, as I didn’t officially want to see the Ravens win and it was about 2 or 3 AM here. I could definitely get used to this going to bed late-waking up late thing.

                Finally, your last paragraph until next week. I woke up around 11 and ate some breakfast and watched the X games with Pablo. He asked me if I knew how to snowboard, and I said yes, but not at all like those guys. They hardly ever get snow, and not enough to ski or snowboard. Anyway, Flo and Pablo had a bus to catch at 12:30 to Montevideo as she has design classes and he has a veterinary exam. I decided to stay here with the family, though at some point I will be going back to Montevideo.  Today was another quiet pool day, I finished another book, and talked politics with Mamá Ana. Since then I’ve been writing, and now it is  “la hora de la leche” aka tea time, and I am off.  After that we are off to the family-run supermarket, El Caballito (The Little Horse). Mamá Ana says hi to everyone, and I hope everyone stays well until next week! 

Conclusion of the Carribean and the Start of the Southern Cone

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Though it may be surprising to you, fighting technology is actually NOT my favorite thing to do in my free time, and thus I never finished my posts about the Caribbean. From the Bahamas, we went to St. Martin, which had really awesome French and Dutch colonial architecture. We went to Orient Bay Beach, which was really beatiful, but seriously overcrowded. We then continued on to St. Thomas, where I spent the entirety of the day at Maagen’s Bay, which apparently has the honor of being one of top 10 beaches in the world. I think I’ve been to 3 of the 10, which is not bad for only being 21. Maybe it can be on the bucket list to get to all the best beaches. Not a bad life, I must say. We then went to Grand Turks and Caicos, which although built up around the tourist areas was pretty depressing outside of that. One of the guys in our group told us that they talked to their taxi driver and apparently the island of Grand Turk was decimated by a hurricane a couple of years back and had only received $7 million in assistance. I don’t care how small the country is, its pretty much impossible to rebuild with that little. There were some nice newer buildings (and obviously the ultra touristy port was developed) but most seemed to be empty, and quite a few houses seemed to be made of scrap metal and wood. We walked all around the island though, and the people we encountered were very friendly. We also had some awesome homemade ginger beer. The flavor was super intense, and it was good, but you definitely had to drink it through your teeth to filter out the ginger chunks. It was a cool island to end with, and honestly I felt it was the one that was probably the most ‘real’ or what it would be like to live on one of these little islands.