¡HOLA! ¡Estoy en Buenos Aires, Argentinaaaaa! And I am LOVING it. I couldn’t be happier here – I still can’t believe I have such little time left – while I’m so excited to explore Buenos Aires, I’m also pretty exhausted from traveling and being constantly “on”. Our schedule is always crazy, but especially being on Argentine hours makes it even harder to adjust. I don’t want to rush through our time in Argentina, but I also am looking forward to more stability when I return to the U.S. in a few weeks. But more on that later – I’m SO excited to make the best of this country and end the program with a bang. It took us a mere 40.5 hours on 3 planes to get here from Cape Town, which is only 2.5 hours shorter than our trip across the world to Vietnam. So that makes sense. Also, tidbit about Dubai airport: it’s not as great as I thought it would be (at least my terminal wasn’t). Also, the falafel was pretty bad. Airline ratings based on 2 most important qualities:
- Frequency of snacks: Singapore Airlines (you have to go to the back and ask for snacks and they’ll reveal a wide spread, including fruit, chocolate, and oats n honey bars. Yaaaaas).
- Movie selection: Emirates (literally the best possible movies. Disney. New releases. “Film Club” aka all the best movies, new-ish and old”). I watched Tangled, Finding Nemo, Pay It Forward, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Monsters Inc., and Mrs. Doubtfire. It was fantastic.
A piece of sad news about our last group flight: I left my journal on the last plane. I only started a handwritten journal in South Africa, so I would be more upset about it if it included the whole semester, but I’m still sad. I’m going to try and buy a new one here since the crafts are so unique. Onto Buenos Aires (BA) – just like my first post from Vietnam, I’m going to talk about general things I’ve noticed in BA before what I’m doing here because there is SO much to talk about. I’m now only 1 hour ahead of the East Coast, so I can finally text/call people at normal hours now, when we’re both awake and doing similar things. There are a lot of things I’m getting used to here that are really different home, but this country is also the most similar to home, which is really exciting and different from the rest of this trip. For one, this city reminds me so much of parts of both Philly and New York City. I haven’t spent much time in NYC, but so many streets in BA remind me of the Upper West Side, and there’s a street that I saw the other day that looks like Times Square. For the most part, BA is organized into a grid, at least in the individual neighborhoods, which make it extremely easy to navigate. We all have maps (but obviously we don’t look like tourists!!), and the city blocks (“cuadras” en español) are pretty short, so walking 10-20 blocks won’t take very long. There are a lot of streets of cobblestone, which remind me a lot of Philly, so exploring a new city that reminds me of home is really nice. The best part about being here so far is being able to speak Spanish! I’ve taken it for 5 semesters, since my first semester of college, but I’ve never been heavily immersed in a Spanish-speaking country, except for my vacation to Costa Rica over winter break. But that was mostly asking for coffee for my mom and making classic Norr/Metz family requests at dinner (please replace _______ with more vegetables). But Argentine Spanish is very different from other Spanish in South America – for the most part, the two biggest differences are using “vos” in the “tú” form, and the accent, which makes “ll” or “y” sound like “sh”. So the word llamo sounds like “shamo”. Very different, but I’m getting used to it! One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, though, is how late things start here. People eat dinner at 9-10pm at night, and don’t go out until 2 or 3am. I’ve only been out one night since I’ve gotten here, and I didn’t get home until 5am, which is when the club just starts getting good. 12:30am in Buenos Aires is like 9pm in the U.S. – people are walking their dogs, still sitting at dinner, and kids are running around. I’ve mentioned before that I want to live in South America for at least 1 year at some point, probably Buenos Aires, but I don’t think I could ever get used to that.
Things I CAN get used to:
- Walking wherever I want and not getting stared at – this city is so diverse to begin with, in that no one looks like one particular race/ethnicity/religion etc, and there are already a lot of foreigners, so I’m loving not getting stared at when I walk down the street, hop on the subway, or go to a club. Once I start talking, however, everyone knows I’m not from here.
- Taking public transportation – we didn’t get to do much of this in Vietnam or South Africa, since we mostly relied on cabs in Vietnam and we used private buses in Bushbuckridge and cabs in Cape Town, so being here is quite a change. To get to school, we take the subway (el subte) or the bus (el collectivo). The subways are very well-organized and look just like the T in Boston – even during rush hour, when they are absolutely PACKED like pickles and you can’t move or breathe, they still run on time. I only took a bus once during rush hour, and I will never do it again – I was on it for almost 2 hours because of traffic. But the subways only run until 9pm or so, so I take busses after that, even in the wee hours of the morning (they run all night). Since the hours are so strange here, people are out in the streets walking their dogs (SO MANY DOGS – I’ll touch on that later) and hanging with their friends all night long, so I’ve never been alone on an empty street. Petty crime is the biggest crime in Buenos Aires, so everyone holds their bags in front of them (backpacks included), especially on public transportation. Regardless, I’ve never felt unsafe here since there are always so many people around, but it’s still important to be aware all the time. While the busses can be confusing (yesterday, I got on 3 wrong busses before I got on the right one – I wasn’t on the wrong number, but they told me I was on the wrong side of the street, though my map told me otherwise).
Things to which I’m still adjusting (starting in Cape Town):
- Having running water – washing my hands, brushing my teeth, showering, and using a toilet still seem new to me. After having almost no running water for 3 weeks in Bushbuckridge, I’m still not used to drinking the tap water here,
- Reliable internet access – my homestay has internet, and our classroom does too. This is still soooo weird. It’s also relatively easy to find at cafes and restaurants around the city, so it’s not hard to message someone throughout the day. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m overcompensating for the almost 6 weeks I had without/very little access to internet (rural stay in Vietnam, 1 week in Johannesburg, 3 weeks in Bushbuckridge, and 1 week in Cape Town. It’s not like I’m hanging out at home with my computer when I should be out, but I definitely am using it more often than I should.
Homestay – I absolutely LOVE my homestay! My host mom’s name is Marta, and technically she could be my grandmother because she’s 82 years old! I never would’ve guessed she’s that old, because she’s really active and able and seems to be pretty busy. I live in Belgrano, which is an area in the northern part of BA, and it’s definitely more upscale than some other areas. We live in an apartment which is such a grandmother apartment – I don’t know if it’s the old teacups, the furniture, or the bric-a-brac figurines on the tables, but it reminds me so much of my grandmothers. It’s pretty spacious, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a small patio, a kitchen with a small laundry room, a dining room, and a living room, and it’s so nice to have the space to move around and spread out. Marta has lived here for about 50 years, and raised both of her sons here (my homestay partner, Maddy, and I live in one of their old rooms). Marta used to be a teacher, and now I’m not sure what she does (I’ll talk to her more about that), but she likes to swim and walk (just like my family!) and is TOO CUTE. She has two sons, one of whom lives nearby in BA and one in Spain, and the daughter of the son in BA goes to Stanford. I met her on skype the other night (Marta skypes with people ALL the time, and the phone also never stops ringing – she’s super popular). She’s been to the U.S. multiple times, and her son and daughter-in-law (Eduardo and Ines, whose daughter goes to Stanford) go there twice a year. On our first night, Marta took us for a walk around the neighborhood (I knew I liked her immediately when she suggested a walk). Our neighborhood is full of restaurants, clothing stores, and food stores, especially for fruits and vegetables. I love running and walking in the neighborhood because I always find new parks and areas that I haven’t explored, though I have gotten lost a few times. We’re about 4 blocks from the subway stop, and there are bus stops all down the street, so it’s not hard to get places. Marta is super accommodating when it comes to food. Everyone told me that Buenos Aires would be the hardest place to be vegan, and while they do eat a lot of meat here, it’s not that difficult for me. Especially because there are a lot of vegetarian restaurants, and I can finally FINALLY eat any food I want (aka all fruits and vegetables, raw or cooked). Marta loves to cook, and she has been making all of these delicious vegetables dishes. The only thing I have to complain about is that she puts salt on salad…not into it. Marta speaks some English (her children and grandchildren are pretty fluent), but we speak only Spanish in the house and it’s AWESOME. That’s exactly what I wanted in my homestay experience, and while it can be hard, I’m learning so much every day.
Important things I’ve noticed in BA / things that are impossible NOT to notice in BA:
- Empanadas – these are absolutely everywhere. People eat them for lunch, snacks, dinner, and there are so many different kinds. Sadly, most of them aren’t vegan, but I had the chance to go to an amazing outdoor market two days in a row (it’s only two days per month, so I got lucky) where they had tons of vegan options, like lentil and quinoa burgers, seitan, and empanadas with “carne vegetal”, so I got my empanadas! These empanadas were also the size of my face. Very worth it.
- Pay-by-weight / buffets – for those of us with less money to spend (i.e. us with our tiny lunch stipends), these buffet places are great places to go to lunch, and they’re everywhere. I prefer them over restaurants because they have so many vegan options and are significantly cheaper. My friends and I have actually been going to a vegetarian one near our school, where I had tofu for the first time since Vietnam! They also serve tons of raw vegetables, stir fry, cold salads (lentils, tabouli, cous cous), so it’s basically heaven for me.
- Dulce de leche – it’s everywhere. This caramely confection is an ice cream flavor, cake icing, and sometimes even in empanadas.
- Kioscos (kiosks) are essentially corner/convenience stores, and there are approximately 4 on every corner. They’re probably every other store walking down the street. Most of the items that they sell are drinks (sometimes alcohol), gum, snacks, and tons of alfejores.
- Alfejores – these are the beignets of New Orleans, the Chaco Pies of Vietnam, and the Fat Cakes of South Africa. They’re chocolate desserts filled with dulce de leche, and people eat them all the time. You can get fancier ones at bakeries or commercial ones at kioscos, but they. are. everywhere.
- Dogs – not only do people walk their dogs at all hours of the night, but they walk MANY dogs; I’ve seen up to 10 dogs being walked at once! Thus, because there are so many dogs, there is so much dog poop. Not only do I have to be aware of my surroundings because of pickpocketers, but also I have to be looking down to make sure I don’t step in anything. I already made that mistake on the first day, and I’m not letting it happen again.
- Mate is a type of tea that people drink all day every day. You steep the leaves in hot water in a special mate cup, typically a hollowed out gourd. The metal straw is called a bombilla (pronounced “bombisha” with the Argentine accent). The way people talk about mate, it’s like marijuana in the U.S. People drink mate in the park with their friends and pass it around in a circle. It probably doesn’t help that the leaves also look like marijuana – if I walked down the street with it in the U.S., I would definitely get some strange looks. I actually haven’t done mate here yet (I can’t say it without it sounding like a drug!), but I’ve had it at home a few times with my friend Julia who studied abroad here a year ago. Mate is super bitter, but it could definitely grow on me. Hopefully the next time I post I will have had it!
- Tango – there are tango clubs, lessons, and dancing everywhere! We all had the awesome chance to take a lesson last week, and I have to say, it’s really hard. I respect Jordin so much more now after spending 2 hours taking little steps around a circle.
- Platform shoes – little girls, teenagers, young adults, and older women are ALL wearing shoes with platforms, aka a few inches of extra material to make them taller (not necessarily heels). I’m talking platform sneakers, platform flip flops, platform boots, and platform birkenstocks. And more. While people here are generally pretty attractive and fashionable, this is one fashion statement I’m definitely not into. There is NO way that can be comfortable.
- Fashion – people here generally look pretty nice, but at the same time, they look comfortable. People watching here is PRIME – people are beautiful, look really diverse, and wear the funniest clothing. Most popular are shirts with the most ridiculous slogans in English:
- “Everything that glitters is not gold”
- “You are just a little out of my limit”
- “I want to start today over”
- “New York loves me”
- “This is not a reality show”
- “Shopping is my cardio”
- “All you need is love. Or a dog.”
- And, my all time favorite, “I eat glitter for breakfast” (like WHAT IS THIS??? Are you Ke$ha?)
I have so much more to say, but I’m going to put that in the next post to save you some reading time tonight. I’ll start talking about what we’re actually doing here in addition to all the new things I’m experiencing in Buenos Aires. ¡Hasta luego!