Monday, December 29, 2008

National Flag Monument

My camera doesn´t take very good night shots, but I thought this one turned out quite well.

From Argentina

This was the site where the original Argentine flag was flown. The flame is in dedication to all the dead Argentine soldiers. And beneath the pillared part of the monument is a cool museum with flags from every member of the Organization of American States, as well as soil from most of them. There´s also a tower, which you can see in the background. You can get to the top via elevator.

Off to Buenos Aires in the morning.

A note about hostels in Argentina

Argentina has provided, by far, the best hostel experiences I´ve ever had. The level of services is far above those you typically find in China and New Zealand (which does have some great hostels).

As a rule, you get:

-breakfast included
-free Internet
-free wifi
-lots of help with travel arrangements

They also clean like mad. The hostel in BA where I´m staying again for New Year´s festivities has a cleaning staff that works throughout the day. It´s great.

And speaking of´s EVERYWHERE. I´d say 75 percent of cafes provide it. You can find it at malls and at bus stations. There´s a public square here in Rosario that provides Internet access. Amazing.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Felizes fiestas

Whew. The fun never stops in Córdoba... We had a huge dinner on Christmas eve... sushi, beef, rabbit paella and more. Plus lots and lots and lots of champagne. Some great people have been staying at this hostel. We did secret Santa (Papá Noel invisible) and watched fireworks in the street. I present to you the following photographic evidence of said fun night. I´ll let you make up captions for them and try to fill in the gaps.

From Argentina

From Argentina

From Argentina

From Argentina

From Argentina

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

At least it´s not snowing

We´ve had a lot of rain lately. Rained last night. Rained during the day. Rained in Mendoza last week and flooded the street.

From Argentina

There was a good two inches of water in the street. Apparently, when it rains a lot, the entire city floods. Since it´s technically in the desert, they´ve installed a citywide irrigation system along the streets. Without that to take a lot of the water, it would have been quite ugly.


I caught another football game last week before I left Buenos Aires. The last game of the season for the Boca Juniors. They won, which put them in a three-way tie for champion of the league. Tonight´s the final match of a three-game playoff of sorts ot identify which of the three takes the crown.

I had a much better seat at the last game. I could actually see the rest of the stadium.

From Argentina

And in case you didn´t understand it before, security really is a big deal.

From Argentina

Grape juice

From Argentina

Mendoza is the country´s main wine region. To enjoy what the area has to offer, it´s popular to hop on a bike and tour some vineyards. With the help of Mr. Hugo, several of us grabbed bikes and pedaled from site to site. We visited three vineyards, a chocolate/liquour factory and an olive plantation. Upon returning to Mr. Hugo´s, we were treated to bottle after bottle of local wine--all included in his 25-peso fee.

Now I´m in Córdoba, the nation´s second-largest city. I´ll spend Christmas here--there´s some great folks staying at the hostel. I´ll be back in BA for New Year´s festivities. Sounds like I´m going to spend the evening with some folks who work at my hostel there--a good group of locals.

More soon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How is anyone here skinny?

Argentine cuisine isn´t exactly world-renowned, but it is quite good. Obviously, the country is known for its beef (I can confirm that this is for good reason). But there´s plenty more to eat here than a thick juicy steak. Including the ginormous amounts of beef, the diet here is horrendous. Vegetables here typically include potatoes (fried or mashed), plain lettuce, tomatoes, onions and sometimes mashed pumpkin. Lots of breads--all refined grain, of course. I´ll be going into seclusion when I return, while I burn off a few extra pounds.

Beef: It´s what´s for dinner (and lunch)

First, a few words on the steak. They really do eat tons of it. I ate the best steak of my life in Buenos Aires. A tenderloin (bife de lomo). Juicy. HUGE. Less than US$10. And I´ve had several decent steaks for even less than that. Argentines love an asado, or barbecue. They lay out every part of the cow across the parilla (grill).

This was an asado at the hostel where I stayed in BA. You can see short ribes on the left, with chinchulines (small intestines) in front of them (yes I tried them...crunchy on the outside; pastey on the inside). Chorizos are in the middle, with some morcilla, or blood sausage, in front of them. And to the right, we´ve got a couple kidneys. They taste like beef, but are pretty fatty. And the bife de chorizo (sirloin) isn´t even on the grill yet.

From Argentina

Italians at heart

There´s lots of italian blood in Argentina. BA even has a local slang based on Italian words. And so there´s lots of pizza and pasta. Quite popular is the basic pizza de muzzarella, usually topped with oregano and a few olives. The pizza below cost me 10 pesos, or three bucks.

From Argentina

And there´s a boatload of pasta, typically made fresh at the restaurant. You pick your pasta (spaghettis, raviolis and ñoquis are the most popular) and then your sauce (tomato, bolognese, pesto, cheese, etc). Delicious.

My favorite, ñoquis (gnocchi in Italian; they´re potato dumplings) with pesto sauce. It´s almost gone for a reason

From Argentina


In order to make it from a 1:30 lunch to dinner at 10:30, you often need a snack. I often substitute these snacks for a lunch, as they´re cheaper by far.

Empanadas are dynamite. Little pastries filled with ground beef, ham and cheese or any number of other combinations, it´s a mission for me to find the best. A day without an empanada is a sad one indeed. My favorite is caprese--mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.

From Argentina

Choripan also is a great snack. The name comes from the ingredients: chorizo and pan, or bread. And this brings me to something very important, as you must must must top your choripan with

CHIMICHURI. Slather it on everything from the obligatory rolls to your steak and sandwiches. It´s oil, vinegar, oregano, garlic and usually some chili, depending on the recipe. Awesome.

Argentines also like a sandwich. Quite common is a simple tostada, a white-bread sandwich with ham and cheese, grilled.


Breakfast is simple, and it´s also, as a rule, included with your hostel stay. Coffee--usually cafe con leche--and medialunas (literally "half moons." Croissants). Smear some dulce de leche, a creamier version of caramel, on your croissants and you´re having desayuno Argentine style.


Of course there´s flan. Of course there´s tirimasu. But why would I waste my time on those when there´s gelato (known here as helado)?? For as little as US$1.50, you can have a small cone piled high with four inches of ice cream. Popular flavors are dulce de leche, a variety of chocolates and fruits. Get at least two flavors to do it right. Like empanadas, I enjoy an helado more often than I should.

I haven´t eaten this well so regularly in my life. Are you drooling yet? Want to come join me?

Now I have to go decide which of these treats is going to be my lunch!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Segunda semana

I decided, pretty much on a whim, to take a Spanish class for a couple weeks. It´s been good to have somewhere structured to practice, but we´re studying things at quite a high level (I tested into level five of nine)--verb tenses that I don´t exactly need to use in basic conversation. Some have no exact equivalent in English. But tomorrow is my last class.

Just a couple quick updates for youse all...

Last Saturday, I went a little way north of BA to Tigre. It was a nice change from the loud city. It lies on the Plate river delta. We took a water taxi through the rivers and canals, passing many rowing clubs on the way, to an Island with no cars. Very nice break from the city.

From Argentina

From Argentina

I´ve spent a lot of time just relaxing on the hostel´s roof, enjoying a Quilmes beer and conversation--in English and Spanish--with my fellow travelers. I´ve made quite a few good friends since I´ve been here.

From Argentina

I also went to a market on Sunday--a huge market. I will get photos this Sunday. Quite cool. It was a holiday weekend so there were lots of other small events going on, including a concert by a brass band in the Plaza de Mayo, where the goverment offices sit. They played such standards as CCR´s Green River and a Madonna medley (she was in town for a series of show).

Lastly, I know you all wanted to see what my foot looks like, post glass incident. Here it is mostly healed. I had already taken one stitch out.

From Argentina

I´m in town until Monday, I think. I´m going to head off to the northwest and see Cordoba, Argetina´s second-largest city, and Mendoza, the country´s chief wine-growing region, and probably another stop or two. Then it´s back to BA for New Year´s and after that, onto the south of the country, where I´ll see glaciers, lakes, mountains and maybe even visit the world´s southernmost city.

But before I jet, I´m going to catch the last Boca Juniors game of the season on Sunday. Bound to be a blast!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

No hay cambio

Getting change in Buenos Aires often is a hectic procedure. An article from one of my favorite news sources, Slate online magazine, discusses the issue, noting that there seems to be a shortage of coins, particularly one-peso coins, or monedas. It´s also quite difficult to get a five-peso note.

Some examples:

I dropped my laundry off for washing today. It costs 15 pesos. Unfortunately, I only had a hundred-peso note (since I´m getting charged $2.50 every time I take out cash, I take out several hundred pesos a go. ATMs here do distribute 10s and 20s, so i´ll usually take out something like 490 pesos.) Of course there was no change, but he said I could pay later. Eventually, I tracked down a 50 and five 10s. Even still, he didn´t have a five to give me as change. Hopefully I can get some change when I pay for my Internet time.

I bought some clothes the other day. The total was about 55 pesos, and I presented another hundie. It took the woman several minutes to track down the correct change.

Lastly, I have a pocket of five- and 10-centavo coins because 25 and 50 coins also are relatively hard to come by.

The article really nails the situation on the head, and offers some explanations. It´s a very interesting read.

Now can anyone break my 50?

Monday, December 01, 2008

La primera semana

Lots of great food, a football match and a trip to the hospital (via ambulance, no less)...what an exciting first week in Buenos Aires. I hope you´ll forgive me for the delay in my first post from this amazing city, but I have been a busy guy.

Buenos Aires is a great city. It feels very European--lots of wide boulevards and plazas and cafes. It has dozens of distinct barrios, or neighborhoods. Each has a unique character. I´m staying in the microcentro, the center of the city. This has positioned me well for lots of exploring on foot.

Not far from where I´m staying is the Plaza de Mayo. Adjacent to the plaza is the Casa Rosada, the office of the president. It´s also where Madonna sang ¨Don´t cry for me Argentina.¨

From Argentina

One thing I enjoy about the city is its numerous parks, perfect places for an afternoon siesta after a big lunch.

From Argentina

And, as I mentioned before, the city has a number of sprawling boulevards, including, apparently, the widest street in the world--as wide as one city block. Avenida Calle de Julio is the main north-south artery in the city. In the center is one of Buenos Aires´ more well-known landmarks, an obelisk dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the city´s founding.

From Argentina

One of the city´s most famous barrios is La Boca. It´s a very colorful neighborhood, with a small tourist area loaded with cafes and tango clubs. Many of the cafes have small stages outside where couples dance the tango. (In case you didn´t know, the tango is from Argentina).

From Argentina

The neighborhood is known for being a bit rough. This was more than evident during last night´s Boca Juniors game. The Boca Juniors are one of the world´s most famous football clubs. Diego Maradona, who was recently named the coach of the national team, played for them a couple decades ago.

The police had cordoned off an area around the stadium. To get within one block, you had to go through a police checkpoint and get frisked.

From Argentina

And to enter the stadium, you had to be frisked once more. Inside, the field itself is surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire. The general seating section (where I sat) also is circled with a tall fence. As you might guess, futbol games in Argentina have gotten out of hand now and then. But last night´s game was without incident. It was, however, exciting as hell--one of the funnest things I´ve done during all of my travels so far. The crowd sang and chanted constantly. They had a different song for every part of the game--welcoming the team, yellow cards, goals. They even had one to sing at the police while we waited to be released from the stadium (they do it in sections, so that the crowd is better dispersed.)

The crowd welcomes the team onto the field:

From Argentina

And now, in a first for this trip, some videos. Here are two from the match, the first is the crowd welcoming the team onto the field, and the second is the fans celebrating the Boca victory.

A few other highlights:

--The city has a pretty extensive subway network, the Subte. The oldest line is like no other subway I´ve been on. The line, built in the 19-teens, features wooden cars with doors that are manually opened. It´s really cool.

From Argentina

--The Recoleta neighborhood has lots of beautiful buildings and feels quite Paris-like. It also features a cool cemetery, which includes the mausoleum of Eva Peron. The cemetery is entirely above-ground tombs.

From Argentina

--Lastly, I´m sure I got your attention when I mentioned a hospital visit. I found a bar to watch the Nebraska game on Friday night. Among the people I met there were two locals who had recently spend two months living in Omaha, during training with First Data. Small world, eh? Anyway, at the end of the game, a glass fell from the bar and sliced open the top of my foot. There was a lot of blood.

The bar´s security guy told me that he called an ambulance to take me to the hospital. Not only did I think this was a bit much (though it was clear I did need stitches), but I told him that I didn´t have much money on me and no identification. Doesn´t matter, he said, it´s free. Free? Yes, don´t worry. Wow. I tried to insist upon taking a taxi instead--surely the ambulance could be put to better use somewhere else. No, it´s fine, the ambulance will be here soon. Long story short, I got an ambulance ride and three stitches for nothing. I didn´t even sign have to sign a consent to treatment form. Apparently, outpatient services at the public hospitals are free in Argentina, regardless of your nationality.

Anyway, what happens from here? I don´t know. I have no plan. I will be in BsAs at least through Thursday. I´m quite happy to stay in the city for a little while, as there´s a lot to see and its a lot of fun. The locals are very nice, and happy to have a conversation with foreigners. I´m actually amazed at how much Spanish I remember, having had my last class more than three years ago. I guess eight years of learning kinda seals it into your memory. The locals can be a bit hard to understand, but if I explain that I´m a foreigner, they speak slowly. And really, I´ve been speaking Spanish more than half the time. I´ve been hanging out with people from around the world who speak Spanish. It´s great.

More later this week. I´m very happy with my decision to come here.