Friday, January 30, 2009

Chile & Argentina

On January 6, I took a bus from the Bolivian border to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. The bus ride was mostly all downhill and it seemed to be about 20 degrees warmer when I got there, which I was happy about. I got a room and a bus ticket out of town for the next day.

San Pedro is an adobe style town in the Chilean desert. With it's trendy restaurants and shops, it reminded me of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Due to having a cold and due to lack of sleep, I went to bed early and slept late. So late that a guy was knocking on my door the next day. OK, so I didn't know that checkout was at 10:00. I also didn't know that Chile was an hour ahead of Bolivia.

I bought a first class bus ticket to Santiago that left at 4:00pm on January 7. The first class seats recline to 180 degrees so even I can sleep. This was nice because it was a 23 hour bus ride. When I got to Santiago, I really didn't want to get off the bus. The bus was really comfortable and the movie (Ratatouille) wasn't over yet.

I got into Santiago on January 8 and spent about four days there.

Chile seemed to be a well-organized country. The streets are named, addresses are numbered, they have an efficient, clean subway, and pretty sweet malls. It has been called the Germany of South America.

Not much out of the ordinary happened in Chile, but I had a good time. I went to another club with some people I met at the hostel. We got there about 1:00am and it closed at 5:00am. They played good music and not just techno crap. It was pretty decent. I watched my first Titans game of the season (with commentary in Spanish). It was the Ravens playoff game. Wow, what a crappy game! I took a day trip to Valopraiso on the coast. There didn't seem to be much going on in Valpraiso. It was a sunday and the central market was open. I bought some fresh tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches. It's summer in Chile.

On January 13, I took a six hour bus ride to Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is a wine growing region noted for it's malbecs. I saw a lot of vineyards in Chile and in Mendoza. I'm not sure what it is about grapes, but they only seem to grow in beautiful locations. I went on a tour of some wineries and had one of the best lunches ever.

44,000 liters of cabernet sauvignon.

On January 16 I took an overnight bus to Buenos Aires. I actually had a few things I needed to do once I got to BA. First of all, I had to see a dentist. I was flossing a little too hard and chipped a tooth. The same tooth I seemed to have trouble with flossing earlier and that the Panamanian dentist said was fine. I don't know what it is, but more than once I've been to the dentist when I thought something funny was going on with a tooth, they would say it was fine, only to have it chip or break a few months down the road. I went the Dental Argentina Clinic ( It's a clinic that specializes in tourists from the US and Canada. It was a good experience. I thought I would need a crown, but got an overlay, which is a less sever form of tooth repair that keeps more of the actual tooth. It cost about $340 US for the exam, x-ray, and the overlay. I went for the prep work and impression on January 20 and went back on January 26 to have the inlay put in and completed. I've been reading a lot about medical tourism. I didn't think I would be experiencing it myself. I'm pretty pleased with the results.

The other thing I had to do in BA was go to the Brazilian Consulate and get my visa. Brazil requires Americans and Canadians to get a visa ahead of time. It cost 520 pesos (about $150 US). I wasn't really sure what to expect. I've heard very differing stories on what documents one needs to get a Brazilian visa. The consulate's website stated I needed to bring a passport sized photo and copies of my passport, yellow fever certificate, two months of bank statements, and round trip ticket to and from Brazil. I had all those things except the round trip ticket. I only had a ticket leaving Brazil, so I was a but worried that I would have to get it and come back. I didn't really know what to expect in a Consulate's office. I was picturing a really nice office with mahogany desks and maybe animal skins on the floor. It actually looked a lot like the DMV. It was kind of dark and dingy and had three windows. I greeted the lady and spoke to her in Spanish. She didn't ask for any of that stuff other than the photo. She just asked if I had a credit card. She didn't want to see it, she just asked for it. Three days later I had my visa to enter Brazil.

If Chile is the Germany of South America, then Argintina is the Italy. Buenos Aires has a distinct European look and feel. If you took Rome, set Paris on top, and added a crazy amount of beef, you would have Buenos Aires. I stayed at the Milhouse Hostel. You gotta love a place named after a character on the Simpsons (and thus, named after our 37th president).

I have a love-hate relationship with Argentina. On one hand, it's a very cosmopolitan place with great food. I had some really, really, really, really good steaks. The people are really friendly. The women are ridiculously gorgeous. On the other hand, there are some thing that really drove me crazy. There are not enough coins in circulation. Every time you buy something you normally have this back and forth so you can pay with money that they can make change for. Twice I was refused because we couldn't make the change work. Two times store owners lost sales because of lack of change. This would be frustrating enough, but add to that the fact that you need 1 peso coins to ride the buses. I think in America we'd be taking to the streets if something like that happened. It seemed like something that can be corrected fairly easily. Just open the mint and make some more coins! Also, going out is weird. In the states, going out until 2:00 or 3:00am is considered a pretty late night. In Buenos Aires, going out means going to clubs. The clubs don't get started until 2:30. They go until about 8:00 in the morning. Often, people will leave a club at 8:00 am and go to another club until about 10:00 am. I don't get this. How did these hours come to be?

Also, my backpack got stolen again in an internet cafe in Mendoza. It was my fault. I didn't loop it around my foot. Mendoza was really nice and I just got too comfortable and didn't watch myself. It was found in the bathroom minus my Ipod before I knew what had happened. Damn it!!!!!!

Recoleta Cemetary - a city within a city. The most expensive real estate in town.

Grave of Juan and Eva Peron

Casa Rosada - The presidential palace.

Tango is the national dance of Argentina, but no one actually does it. Tango was started by pimps and prostitutes in the immigrant neighborhood of La Boca. It's popularity spread and it became the national dance. However, it faded in the 50's and 60's. People quit learning how to tango. In the last 10 or so years there have been efforts to revive the tango. But today, tango exists mostly as performances for tourists. People don't go to tango clubs and dance the way people in other countries dance salsa and meringue.

Me trying to tango dance.

Real tango dancers.

Pro-Palestinian rally on the street outside my hostel in Buenos Aires.

Along with the obligatory burning of the American flag.

On January 24, a bunch of us loaded up and went to Mar Del Plata (about five hours away) for a day on the beach and a soccer match. The Beach at Mar Del Plata was small, but very crowded. Most of the women wore thong bikinis. That is not necessarily a good thing. Women of all shapes and sizes and ages were wearing these things, so you had to take the good, the bad, and the ugly. Still, there was something kind of cool about Argentinian women letting it all hang out and not being too self conscious about not having perfect bodies.

The soccer match was Boca Junior vs River Plate. They are supposedly the two best teams in Argentina and bitter rivals. The match was exactly what I expected. Argentinians are passionate people and they are extremely passionate about soccer, or futbol. The crowd, which was more entertaining than the game, chanted and jumped up and down during the whole match. I have some video of the crowd. I'll try to upload, but the internet connections have been too slow so far.

There was a large police presence at the match. Apparently, it is perfectly acceptable to throw trash out onto the field. The cops made me throw away my camera batteries on the way in, so the pics I have are from other peoples cameras. The game started at about 10:20 and ended about 12:20. It's really a late-night country. Boca won 2-1.

On January 26, I took a bus to Puerto Iguazu, on the Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay border to see Iguazu Falls, which I'll include in the next post covering Brazil.


Ozzy Nelson said...

I think I would enjoy Argentina. Really.

Shaun said...

That sounds like an awesome place.
Enjoying the thorough updates...