Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gap Year Q4 Summary

I’m still technically traveling so I won’t do a full year recap yet, but the little gnomes that compute my statistics have been hard at work on Q4!  And yes, I’m behind on the blog as usual.  There will be more blogs on Chile and Peru (and even Seattle!) coming up!

Total time spent:  91 days and 91 nights
Start:  Afternoon of Wednesday, April 13 at Quito Airport
End:  Afternoon of Wednesday, July 13 at Seattle Airport

Continents visited:  3
1.  South America:  81.7%
2.  North America:  12.4%
3.  Oceania:  4.4%
In transit between continents:  1.5%

Regions visited:  4
1.  South America:  81.7%
2.  North America:  7.9%
3.  Central America:  4.5%
4.  Polynesia:  4.4%
In transit between regions:  1.5%

Countries visited:  8
1.  Chile:  24.58 days / 25 nights  (27.2%)
2.  Peru:  22.33 days / 22 nights  (24.4%)
3.  Colombia:  21.67 days / 22 nights  (23.9%)
4.  United States:  7.33 days / 7 nights  (7.9%)
5.  Panama:  4.08 days / 4 nights  (4.5%)
6.  Argentina:  3.75 days / 4.5 nights  (4.4%)
7.  Paraguay:  2.75 days / 3 nights  (3.1%)
8.  Uruguay:  2.00 days / 2 nights  (2.2%)
In transit between countries:  2.5 days / 1.5 nights  (2.4%)

And just for fun – time spent in countries that drive on the:
1.  Left side of the road:  0%
2.  Right side of the road:  100%

Border crossings:  10
-  8 border crossings by air
-  2 border crossings by ferry (Argentina to Uruguay and back)

Airports visited:  16 (up from 10, 13, and 15 in Q1, Q2, and Q3, respectively)
Panama City, Cartagena, Medellin, Armenia, Bogota, Buenos Aires (Ezeiza), Buenos Aires (Aeroparque), Asuncion, Santiago, Punta Arenas, Easter Island, Lima, Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle

*My flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago also landed to pick up and drop off passengers in Puerto Montt, but I didn’t get off the plane so it doesn’t count.

Airlines flown:  7 (compared to 5, 6, and 9 in Q1, Q2, and Q3, respectively)
Copa, Avianca, Aerolineas Argentinas, Sky, LATAM (formerly LAN), JetBlue, Alaska

1.  Friends & family:  27 nights  (29.7% - Santiago, Asuncion, USA)
2.  Airbnb:  17 nights  (18.7% - Colombia)
3.  Hotels:  13 nights  (14.3% - Peru as part of a tour group)

Other types of accommodation:  hostels (11 nights in Panama City, Cartagena, and Montevideo), guesthouses (10 nights in Buenos Aires, Punta Arenas, and Lima), camping (7 nights on Easter Island and the Inca Trail), lodge (2 nights in the Amazon jungle), homestay (1 awkward night near Lake Titicaca), and in transit (including 1.5 nights in airplanes, 1 night on a bus, and 0.5 nights in an airport.

Bathroom situation:
1.  Private bathroom:  49 nights  (54%)
2.  Shared bathroom:  42 nights  (46%)

And now, for some less statistical lists…

Top 7 Experiences (in chronological order):
I know I did a Top 6 for the first three quarters, but I just can’t narrow down the best for Q4.  So I’m adding one to the list.  And besides, this makes it Top 25 for the year instead of a random Top 24.  So yeah.

1.  Colombian wedding – I met Martha & Thiago in Namibia last July and they invited me to their big straight wedding!  The food was delicious, the dancing fun, and their friends and family were so nice.  I was so pleased that I was in the right region at the right time!
2.  Buenos Aires – I’ve already gushed about it, but I fucking loved exploring Buenos Aires.  It’s a gorgeous city and I can’t wait to get back to explore more!
3.  Santiago’s museums – Santiago had the best museums in Latin America.  As a nerd, I was in my happy place.  Thank you, Chile!
4.  Punta Arenas – Near the bottom of the planet lies this little city.  It was cold and refreshing, and it was so pretty – I felt like I was in Scandinavia.  I will return one day – I even kissed the toe of a statue to ensure that!
5.  Rapa Nui – Easter Island was interesting, friendly, and beautiful.  There was history, scenery, and a great swimming beach.  Bring on more Polynesia!
6.  Inca Trail – I was a bit nervous about this rough four-day hike, but I did just fine and enjoyed actually exercising and feeling healthy-ish for the first time in ages.  It was also the best way to get to Machu Picchu.  I felt like I really earned my visit at the sacred Inca site!
7.  Seattle – I hadn’t been back to Seattle in four years so I was long overdue to visit my old home city.  It was just so nice to see all of my old friends again, and my good mate Elcid (from Australia) even came to meet me there for the week!  We ate at all of my favourite restaurants, had a trivia team reunion, and took advantage of some new laws that had been passed since my last visit…

Bottom 5 Experiences (in chronological order):
7 tops but only 5 bottoms.  Something isn’t right here.  Or is it?

1.  Ridiculous heat – Just like in parts of Asia, the heat in Panama City and Cartagena was ridiculous.  I could have melted at any given moment.
2.  Bus ride between Medellin and Salento – Despite the driving being fine, the road being smooth, and the trip being not entirely too long, the curvy road made me come close to vomiting.  Fun.
3.  I lost something – I hardly ever lose anything of mine. I had lost a snorkel in the Galapagos and had to pay $40 to replace it, but it wasn’t mine, and I didn’t forget it – it just wasn’t tied to my backpack tight enough.  While changing money at the Bogota Airport, I set down the bag with my green ceramic elephant souvenir that I bought in a market in Armenia, Colombia… and forgot to pick it back up.  I was already through security when I realized my mistake, and the dude on the walkie talkie said it wasn’t there anymore.  I was so mad at myself!  Luckily the elephant was only 30,000 Colombian pesos, which is roughly US$10, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but I was more upset that I actually lost something.
4.  Paraguay’s visa fee – US$135 to enter Paraguay and they didn’t even provide any decent tourist attractions.  Bah, humbug!
5.  Lake Titicaca homestay – Our homestay on Lake Titicaca was just awkward.  No, I don’t want to herd sheep and it’s hard making small talk when the family speaks no English and barely speaks any Spanish (they spoke the native Aymara language).  I also want a flushing toilet.  Sigh.

With the exception of the lost elephant which I was really kicking myself about, there were no major mishaps in Q4.  Woohoo!

Top 3 Places I Could Live (in preferential order):
1.  Seattle – I spent the last week of the official year in Seattle with friends, and I had forgotten how much I love the city.  I just wish it was a few miles north in Canada instead of the USA.
2.  Buenos Aires – I’ve already gushed about how much I love Bs As.  I want to move there.  One day, when my Spanish is better…
3.  Santiago – I LOVE LOVE LOVE Santiago, but it’s in third place because of the constant threat of earthquakes and, more importantly, the air quality.  I would constantly be sick with allergies.

Top 3 Places to Visit Again (in preferential order):
1.  Buenos Aires – 3.5 days was not enough.  Not nearly enough.  Take me back for more!
2.  Patagonia – Punta Arenas was a starter, but I really want to go to the national parks in the region, and go when I can see penguins!  The next South America trip is going to be heavy on Patagonia.
3.  Polynesia – Rapa Nui (Easter Island) was fascinating and I can’t wait to see what the other islands of the region hold.  Anyone want to go to Tahiti?  Cook Islands?  Samoa?

Top 3 Accommodations (in preferential order):
1.  Colombian Airbnbs (Colombia) – Yes, I’m cheating here, but I had 4 Airbnb accommodations in Colombia and I loved them all.  They weren’t badly priced either.  Good work, Colombia!
2.  Lina’s Tango Guesthouse (Buenos Aires) – This cute little guesthouse in the San Telmo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires was exactly that… cute!  The owner was a doll too!
3.  Camping Tipanie Moana (Rapa Nui) – This place is a camping hostel – a cool concept.  The tents were nice, the staff helpful, and the bathrooms clean.  It wasn’t loud, but it was social and I made some friends to hang out and practice my Spanish with!

Just like in Q3, I stayed in a few friends’ homes in Q4.  They were obviously my favourite accommodation (not only because they were free!) so I’m not including them in this list.

Q4 makes this one year!  Gap year over!  But I don’t have a job yet… so I’m still traveling, albeit domestically in the USA.  Maybe I’ll go somewhere else new too?  I have no idea.  What I do know is that I wouldn’t mind a Q5 of the gap year, though I really ought to get back to reality.  I’ll get my CV out there soon, but first, let me take a selfie.

With the “Bienvenidos a Panama” sign in the background, this was the first selfie taken of Q4 – right when I arrived at Panama City airport.  Instead of taking an expensive taxi, I figured out the unmarked path to the main road to take a cheapo bus.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Chicken Sushi & Other Chilean Delicacies

No location is complete unless I discuss the food, and with 3.5 weeks in Chile, I had plenty of time to sample the goods.  Let’s be honest, the only real reason you are reading this blog is for the nitty gritty on the grub.  And by “you”, I mean you, Jenny.

A few highlights of my food in Santiago and the rest of Chile:

One of my 103 Things is a restaurant called La Piojera.  Once a hot spot for diplomats and the rich and famous, today the restaurant is filled with businessmen entertaining out-of-town visitors and… tacky tourists like me!  The small traditional menu left me with limited options (damn you, pork!) but I settled on a cazuela – a traditional Chilean beef soup.  Delicious!

I also ate at El Pollo Caballo, a restaurant which serves traditional type chicken dishes.  The name translates to “the chicken horse” and its logo is a rooster riding a horse.  This is the main reason I asked Claudio to take me here.  I’m a sucker for a horse cock!  Elsewhere in the world of restaurants, I ate at Crepes & Waffles about a dozen times over my two weeks in Santiago.  I also walked into the first Wendy’s in Chile only to find that they didn’t have the Frosty dairy dessert.  Fuck you, Wendy’s in Chile.  I walked out.

For any of you wine drinkers out there, you know that Chile is famous for its wine.  Claudio took me on a day trip to Viña Cousiño-Macul – a winery close enough to the city to take the metro and a five minute Uber ride.  We toured the winery and sampled a few of their products before purchasing quite a few bottles to bring back to his house.  For more traditional drinks, I ordered a mote con huesillo which is a peach drink with some sort of husked wheat or barley or sweet corn in it.  I don’t know exactly what was in the cup, but I scarfed it down with my spoon and drank what was left of the peach.  A terremoto – which translates to “earthquake” in Spanish – is cheap ass wine fortified with hard liquor and topped with sorbet.  They called it the terremoto because it feels like the earth is shaking after you drink one.  For champions, another drink which translates to “aftershock” is available after finishing the terremoto.  I was not a champion.  Speaking of alcohol, pisco is a super popular liquor in Chile.  Much like the pavlova dispute between Australia and New Zealand, Chile constantly fights with Peru about where pisco is from.  Peruvians claim that it’s from Pisco, a city in Peru, which makes sense.  But Peru stops making sense when they ban Chilean pisco from entering the country.  Come on… get over it.

While terremotos and pisco sours are nice, I need a coffee in the morning.  I found a few decent cafes in Santiago which served coffee that was good, but not quite as good as in Australia.  Starbucks, however, was advertising and pushing hard the flat whites, a very Australian thing to do.  For those Americans reading this, a flat white is sort of like a latte but different.  It’s an Australian invention and they’ve launched it globally and every Starbucks in Chile had a big sign that said “Que es un Flat White?” (“What is a Flat White?”)  I am super pleased that Australia is taking over the world.  Speaking of Australia taking over the world, Boost was also present in Chile!  Again, for the Americans reading this, Boost is basically the Australian version of Jamba Juice.  I was super stoked to see Boost, but super disappointed that they didn’t have my favourite drink:  the Green Tea Mango Mantra.  Bah, humbug!

A local soda named “Pap” made me giggle for a while.  It’s papaya flavoured soda.

On a side note, my favourite drink discovery while in Latin America was the Vanilla Rooibus tea from Starbucks.  It was all over Latin America but it’s not at Starbucks in the USA.  WTF, Starbucks???

Yes, I had dessert.  Because I fucking love dessert.  And that dessert took the form of ice cream from two places in Santiago:  the super famous Emporio La Rosa and the less famous Heladeria Mo.  I liked them both equally.  Emporio La Rosa claims that they are one of the 25 best ice creams in the world.  I’m not sure where that comes from, but their ice cream was super delicious.  Heladeria Mo was also super delicious and I think their variety of flavours was superior to Emporio La Rosa.

Chilean food:
In addition to the cazuela, my Chilean food staple was empanadas.  Lots of empanadas.  Empanadas are found all over Latin America but they originate in Chile.  And I could eat them all day long.  Seriously.  I also had a homemade sopapilla made my Claudio’s mum.  Yummy!  And that’s about all I can think of when I think of super traditional Chilean foods.  And the reason for that is…

International food:
Santiago has a ton of international food.  It’s a big city and it’s pretty cosmopolitan so this fact shouldn’t come as a surprise.  I had Mexican food in Santiago (surprise!) and Chinese food.  I had plenty of pizza and Italian food, went to a vegetarian restaurant, and devoured a handful of churros.  But I mainly stuck to the most popular Chilean foods, which are Peruvian food and sushi.  Let me explain.

Peruvian food:
Ok, so the USA has Mexican food.  Australia has Thai food.  And Britain has Indian food.  Chile is greedy and they’ve adopted two types of cuisine as their own:  Peruvian food and sushi.  Everywhere you go, you’ll see Peruvian food.  And sushi.  Not in the same restaurants, of course.  Peruvian food is ubiquitous.  It’s hard to walk a block without stumbling on a Peruvian restaurant.  They are everywhere!  And this is fine.  Peruvian food isn’t too spicy which sits well with Chileans.  Peru is also next door so there are quite a few Peruvians in Chile to cook their cuisine.  I didn’t complain, though I only had Peruvian food once because I was heading to Peru next and figured I should save the Peruvian food for when I’m actually in Peru.

Chilean chicken sushi:
Sushi, on the other hand, was put into my mouth a hell of a lot of times.  Like, a lot a lot.  Mainly because there weren’t too many restaurants around near where I was staying except for a decent sushi joint.  Like Peruvian food, sushi is everywhere in Santiago… and Chile in general.  It’s not Japanese quality, but it’s still pretty good.  The funny thing is that the most common type of sushi that I saw was chicken sushi.

I know that’s weird, but let me explain.

Once upon a time, there was a problem with the fish around the coast of Chile.  I think there was algae or something that the salmon were eating and therefore made them unfit for human consumption.  Or something like that.  So, faced with a lack of salmon, and with tuna being very expensive in Chile, sushi restaurants began to substitute with chicken – cooked chicken of course (because only in Japan can people get away with eating raw chicken and not die).  People apparently liked the chicken sushi and it stuck.  Also in Chilean sushi are rolls are that lightly cooked.  They bread the outside of the roll and lightly cook it.  I don’t think it’s fried because it wasn’t oily or greasy at all, but they somehow cook it and make it warm and a wee bit crispy on the outside.  Who knew?

I like Chilean sushi.  A+ for taking a cuisine and making it your own without totally destroying it.  I’m looking at you, Cuban pizza.

Ok, now that I’ve talked about the food, I can get back to our regularly scheduled programming.  I visited two more locations in Chile:  Punta Arenas and Easter Island.  Those blogs are coming right up.  I don’t have a selfie of me eating Chilean food (because my hands are always full of food and not my phone or camera) so this will have to do.

To see more photos of my food in Santiago, see my other Chilean albums.  I didn’t have enough to make a complete album.  Santiago food was super good, but let’s be honest:  it was no Mexico City.  Nowhere is.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Santiago Side Trips & 1 Dodgy Poet

I’m devoting a whole separate blog to Santiago side trips because I didn’t have room in my Santiago blog for them.  That’s piss poor editing on my part.  This is a short one, so enjoy.

A few highlights of my time just outside Santiago:

This little town is a short drive from Santiago. It’s known for its pottery, which mainly consists of lots of ceramic pigs.  It’s also known as the world record holder for largest empanada ever.  This fact was far more exciting than ceramic pigs.  While I didn’t have the world’s largest empanada while I was there, I’m certain I could work magic on it.

Valparaiso is a port city about 1.5 hours away from Santiago and the second largest metropolitan area in the country (after Santiago).  Once an important stopover for ships after they passed around Cape Horn or through the Strait of Magellan, Valparaiso went into decline when the Panama Canal opened.  But the city found a bit of a renaissance when its historical centre was named a UNESCO World Heritage site and tourists began flocking to see it.  I took a free walking tour which gave an excellent history of the city.  The colourful houses that fill the historic centre of the city were painted with leftover paint from fishing boats.  Boat owners painted their boats bright colours to help avoid accidents in the area’s thick fog.  The homes are mainly constructed of corrugated metal leftover from cargo containers.  The containers were filled with rubbish and used to balance ships passing around the treacherous waters of Cape Horn.  They were then dumped in Valparaiso and the locals took advantage of the free materials.  Valparaiso is also home to lots of street art, the oldest Protestant church in Latin America, and the oldest Protestant church in Latin America that was allowed to have a cross on it (before that, only the Catholics could advertise their churches).

While in Valparaiso, my friends and I visited La Sebastiana – the Valparaiso home of Pablo Neruda.  I mentioned in my last blog that Pablo Neruda – the famed Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet – also had a home that I visited in Santiago.  In fact, he had three homes.  During my visit to two of these three homes, I began to question just how good Mr. Neruda actually was.  He was a communist and was a friend of communist president Salvador Allende, but Allende’s work during his time in office included taking homes from the rich that were deemed unnecessary or too big.  Yet, Neruda was allowed to keep his three homes.  Interesting.  It left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as I put two and two together.  Aside from this, his house in Valparaiso was gorgeous.  It was nautical themed due to the poet’s love for the ocean and had sweeping views of the city and the coast beyond.

Viña del Mar:
Adjacent to Valparaiso lies Viña del Mar.  While Valparaiso is a bit gritty in places, Viña del Mar is an upscale, more residential city.  It’s beaches, promenades, and restaurants were reminiscent of Miami.

And that’s all.  See, I told you this was a short blog.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll start drafting a much more important blog:  one about Chilean food.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Pomaire, Valparaiso, and Viña del Mar, see my Santiago photos linked from the last blog.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Santiago de Chile

Just like Japan, I had a lot of time allocated to Chile because I have a friend there (free lodging!)  So, I must start the blog out with a special thanks to Claudio, his mum, his brother, and the sassiest gatita around, Isidora.  Of my 3.5 weeks in the country, I had roughly two full weeks allocated to Santiago, so I had a great opportunity to thoroughly explore Chile’s capital.

After Buenos Aires, I thought that surely nowhere else could compete to win the award for favourite city on the gap year, but Santiago surprisingly put on a show and made me think twice.  Santiago is a big city, but not too big.  By Latin American standards, it’s clean, it’s orderly, and it’s safe.  The mass transit is excellent, though the metro system does get really crowded at peak hours… and sometimes at non-peak hours too.  Chile is one of the wealthiest countries in the region (so wealthy in fact that Chileans are the only Latin Americans with visa-free access to the United States) and this wealth is reflected in Santiago:  swanky malls, well-maintained parks (as opposed to non-well-maintained parks like in many places in Latin America), good restaurants, legitimate gelato, and drinkable tap water.

As with any city, there are a few downsides.  The threat of earthquakes is a big minus.  I can’t handle that shit.  The current left-wing government has had their approval ratings plummet, and I was witness to several student protests during my stay (thanks for the residual tear gas!)  Gay rights are coming along but Chile is still behind Argentina and Uruguay.  Nestled between the giant Andes immediately to the east and another coastal mountain range immediately to the west, the city offers stunning views of snow-capped mountains… which also trap huge amounts of smog in Santiago’s valley.  The air was often terrible.  When it comes to Santiago vs Buenos Aires, I think Santiago is a more liveable city, but the air quality is so bad that it bumps it to the #2 spot behind Bs As.  Also, for as weird as Argentine Spanish is, Chilean Spanish is actually that much weirder.  They talk super fast and they seem to have their own vocabulary separate from Spanish.  Sigh.

But, the handful of negatives aside, Santiago is a fantastic city to explore.

A few highlights of my time in Santiago:

Introductory sights:
I signed up for one of those free walking tours on my first Monday (when most of the museums are closed) and learned about the city and its history while being guided around.  This helped me plot my itinerary for the rest of my stay.  The tour mainly stayed in the historical centre, so I thought I’d check off the obligatory churches while there.  I visited the Catedral Metropolitana and the Iglesia de San Francisco which is the oldest colonial building still standing in Santiago.  Attached to the church is the Museo de Arte Colonial which I went to not because I wanted to see more damn paintings of Jesus, but because I really had to pee and admission was only $1.

History lessons:
Most of the museums in Santiago are superb.  The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino is, in my professional opinion, the best pre-Colombian art museum in all of Latin America.  Unlike the many others I visited, the Chilean installment is smaller, with only a handful of artifacts from each period and region, and excellent captions that are concise yet informative.  The other museums each have about a million of the same artifact on display over and over and over again and so much text that I just had to pick and choose what to read.  Highlights include mummies from different Andean cultures, Paracas funerary clothes from Peru, and wooden statues from the indigenous Mapuche people from southern Chile.

Instead of just looking at crappy old paintings, the Museo Historico Nacional comes with an excellent audio guide which tells the history of the country through the artwork on display.  Events include the discovery of the Strait of Magellan and the War of the Pacific which Chile fought against Peru and Bolivia.

I learned some of the country’s less exciting history at Londres 38, a nondescript house where the military dictatorship tortured and killed dissidents.  The much larger Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) features the complete story of the crimes committed during the military dictatorship in the 1970’s and 1980’s, though conveniently leaves out the crimes committed by the communists which brought on the military junta that took over the country.

Pretty museums:
The art museums in Santiago are exceptional.  The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) has both temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection which they rotate to fit a given theme.  When I visited, the permanent collection consisted of both old and new art demonstrating themes surrounding masculinity, femininity, domestic violence, alternative genders, homosexuality, and more.  Fantastic.  The attached Museo de Arte Contemporaneo has an interesting collection of newer art, including giant maps of Latin America with the most common slang word for “penis” and “vagina” written in each country.  I LOVE IT.  I also visited the Museo de Artes Visuales but it was half-closed for an event that day, the Centro Gabriela Mistral but it has no info in English, and the Centro Cultural La Moneda which focuses more on temporary exhibitions and I didn’t need to see Egyptian mummies while in Latin America.

For something a bit different, I visited the Museo de la Moda (Fashion Museum).  The private collection based in the collector’s (giant) home rotates its exhibitions.  When I visited, the whole place was devoted to Marilyn Monroe – news articles, artifacts, and most importantly, her clothing.  Each piece was displayed with a background picture of her wearing the item.

Pretty views:
My friend used to work for the company that built the Costanera Center, the tallest tower in Latin America.  Of course he had to take me up to the observation deck to show off his past work.  We also took the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal – a large mountain right in the middle of the city.  The mountain has excellent views of the surrounding city (and its pollution) and also has a big ass statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.  Because this is Latin America and everything needs to be ruined with Catholicism.  Nearby, I enjoyed the much smaller Cerro Santa Lucia much more than its larger counterpart.  It’s walkable and the top is eye-level with many of the surrounding buildings, giving a different sort of perspective than the big sweeping views that Costanera and Cerro San Cristobal offer.

The rest:
Markets were on the agenda because I love markets.  Mercado Central is pretty much only a seafood market so I wasn’t all too impressed.  Persa Bio Bio is a ridiculously massive collection of markets that sells everything you can imagine… as long as it’s shitty.  Vega Central is the big food market.  My friend wasn’t too enthusiastic because it’s in a dodgy part of town, but I just wanted to buy all of the fresh fruit.  I visited a few parks, most notably the Parque de las Esculturas (Park of the Sculptures) and Parque Bicentenario – a huge park with nice walking trails and green spaces.  We took a guided tour of the Palacio de la Moneda – formerly the mint and now the presidential office – where Communist president Salvador Allende committed suicide rather than be captured by the military in 1973.  Finally, there was La Chascona – the Santiago home of Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda.  I’ll bitch about him in the next installment.  This installment is already too long.  For those of you wondering why I didn’t mention food, don’t you worry.  I got you covered next time.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Santiago, follow this link:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Typical Gushing About Buenos Aires

Ok, let’s just get right down to the point:  I’m not your first friend to travel to Buenos Aires.  And I’m not going to be your first friend to gush about how amazing it is.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Buenos Aires – and Argentina as a whole – have some problems.  The economy is up and down and usually uncertain.  The country also had a little debt problem and a little inflation problem.  The city’s taxi drivers are quite possibly the dodgiest in Latin America, which is quite an accomplishment.  And the country keeps claiming that the Falkland Islands are part of Argentina even though we all know that they are British.  There was a war.  There was a vote.  They speak English.  They are British.  But aside from all that…

Buenos Aires (often abbreviated to Bs As) is fucking awesome.  Like, awesome awesome.  Of all the cities I’ve visited on my gap year, Buenos Aires is my favourite.  It isn’t the cleanest of the lot, nor the safest, but there’s something about Bs As that just makes you want to stay there longer… and longer… and longer.  Walking around, the city looks straight out of Europe, and the culture reflects this:  the perfect blend of Latin American and European traits.

Buenos Aires has gays.  Lots of gays.  I fucking love the gays.  Well, most of them.  Argentina was well ahead of many “western” countries in passing marriage equality.  Buenos Aires has Jews.  Lots of Jews.  I fucking love the Jews.  Well, most of them.  It has one of the largest populations in the world and by far the largest in Latin America.  Buenos Aires has more Jews than all of Australia.  I’m gay.  I’m Jewy.  I should move there.  I sort of want to move there!

Also, Argentine men are hot.  H. O. T. HOT.

Transport is decent, there are lots of food options, a plethora of attractions, and the city has all of the comforts you’d expect from a rich Western country.  I love it.

A few highlights of my time in Buenos Aires:

Walking around:
The city is great for walking as many of the main sights are within walking distance (if you’re prepared to walk a bit of a distance).  Exploring the city on foot, I passed by the Casa Rosada (the pink house – the Argentine version of the White House – which is closed to tourists), Plaza de Mayo, Plaza San Martin (and its monument to the Falklands War which would be sad had Argentina not started the war), a big obelisk, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and random statues of cartoons from comic strips.  Fun!

Rather than hit up the big history museums, I decided to check out El Zanjon de Granados instead.  El Zanjon de Granados is an old house that has been restored and converted into a museum.  The house once was home to a super rich family, but later basically became a slum with something like 23 families plus stores housed inside.  Abandoned for a long time, a businessman purchased it in hopes of converting it to a restaurant, but later found ruins of other houses beneath, tunnels that were used to reroute a creek that flowed beneath the house, and lots of other buried treasures which tell the story of the city’s past.  Instead of the restaurant, he made it into a museum.  Superb.

For art, I visited the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) where I saw a painting of a bird stealing an empanada.  YES!  You go, bird!  But the art highlight was hands down the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires.  The modern art museum has all of the typical modern art you’d expect to see (but with proper curation, a rarity in this part of the world), but it also had a special installation:  La Menesunda.  Controversial when it first was created in 1965, this installation art is basically a giant fun house which makes you think you are trippin’ on something.  Walking through – up stairs, down stairs, through refrigerator doors – visitors are treated to a naked man lying in bed, the inside of a women’s head (filled with thoughts of make-up), neon lights, videos, and the chance to stand in a glass box in the middle of a room with a fan blowing paper everywhere.  It was so weird.  I want to go again!

Also in Bs As, I visited the city’s Jewish museum… because Jews.

Guided tours:
While in Bs As, I took three guided tours of famous buildings.  The first, the Palacio del Congreso, is the seat of Argentina’s legislative branch of government.  The building looks like the US Congress, and the inside is gorgeous, but I think the tour was a bit scattered and not really all that well-run.  Uruguay did a MUCH better job.  Teatro Colon is world famous and the city’s main theatre.  Gorgeous on the inside and outside, the tour explained about the construction, various styles of architecture, and more.  Excellent.  But the real winner was the Palacio Barolo – a 22-story skyscraper.  Finished in 1923, the building was once the tallest in South America.  Its Italian architect designed it after Dante’s Divine Comedy – with the 22 floors (one for each canto of the work) representing heaven (upper floors), purgatory (middle floors), and hell (lower floors and basement) – and the outside also represents this heritage, with red, green, and white paint to match the Italian flag.  The 22nd floor is just a small lighthouse where we crammed nine people.  It felt like the Wonkavator and the views were fantastic.

Cementerio de la Recoleta:
One of my 103 Things for a good reason, the Cementerio de la Recoleta is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.  The cemetery is no ordinary cemetery.  It has no pretty lawns or tombstones.  All it has are row after row of mausoleums – the majority with ornate architecture to show off the wealth of the families.  Some of the mausoleums are big – with room for 30 or 40 bodies of family members inside – and are built in varying architectural styles:  Greek, Roman, Arab, and more.  Many have stained glass and marble statues, and some even tell stories of the people buried inside (which I learned all about on my guided tour).  While the majority of those buried there are Catholic, I did spot at least one Jewish tomb, and various other denominations.  The residents include ex-presidents, the upper crust of Argentine society, and even some family pets, but the most famous person buried there is Eva Peron (aka Evita), an ex-First Lady of Argentina.  Though famous and adored by the masses, her tomb is rather non-descript.  Her remains had originally been embalmed and displayed for the masses to view, but was removed to Italy for safekeeping when a military dictatorship took over.  Returned years later, no monument was ever built to house her remains (as was the original plan), but her body was instead interred in her family’s mausoleum in the cemetery.

Food and other stuff:
So, I didn’t see a tango show, despite staying at the super cute Lina’s Tango Guesthouse.  And I didn’t go eat copious amounts of meat like most tourists do.  But that’s ok – don’t judge me.  I’m saving those two things for next time.  And there will be a text time.  In lieu of a whole animal’s worth of beef, I had some delicious pizza and surprisingly delicious Mexican food.  A lovely local girl named Florencia, who I befriended in my hostel in Mexico City months earlier, took me out to one of the city’s “bar notables” – famous, historical restaurants which keep their old school charm, often brew their own beer, and serve the basic staples of Argentine cuisine:  pastas, sandwiches, and meat, often in the form of a milanesa (basically their version of a schnitzel).  It was Florencia who also gave me my first alfajor – two cookies with a dulce de leche filling between them, all covered in chocolate.  I WANT MORE ALFAJORES… NOW!!!

Three and a half days in Bs As was not nearly enough.  I was so sad to leave, but comforted in the fact that I’m definitely going back one day.  Plus, I have much more of Argentina to explore:  Patagonia, the wine region, and more.  The next gap year plans are already in the works (just as soon as I marry rich…)  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Buenos Aires, follow this link: