Hola familia y amigos! There are Christmas decorations everywhere in Santiago and it’s very confusing to me because it’s at least 80 degrees every day. I definitely miss the colder weather, especially when I’m walking or running. But on the bright side, I have my first Christmas tree ever! Our family put up holiday decorations and lights and a tree and all that jazz, so I finally get my Christmas experience.
Two weeks ago, Jordin and I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with three friends, and it was AWESOME. Many of you may remember that I lived in Buenos Aires for 5 weeks during my public health study abroad semester in the spring of 2015, and I absolutely loved it then and fell even more in love with the city this time around. We went with our friend Adam, who is a junior at Tufts, and two of his friends who are also studying abroad in Santiago this semester. All three of them had finished their classes and exams for the semester, and topped off their abroad experiences by doing some last-minute traveling. But because none of them had been to Argentina before, I was the planner and the guide of the trip. I usually like doing this, but this meant I was constantly taking out my map, making me look like the ultimate tourist. But that’s okay! We spent our 4 full days walking everywhere (an obvious activity with me as the guide, but thankfully our friends also love to walk). We had a marvelous time and I wish we could do it all over again.
Jordin and I arrived on Saturday evening (December 3rd), a day before our Tufts friends arrived, and we settled in before a long day of walking on Sunday. It also gave us some time to adjust to the Argentinian accent before our friends came – they pronounce the “ll” and “y” sound like “sh”, so the phrase “Yo me llamo Rachael” is pronounced “Sho me shamo Rachael”. This is so so different that most Spanish dialects – it’s hard to decide whether the Argentinian or Chilean dialect is harder to understand! But the city of Buenos Aires is unbelievably different than Santiago, especially in the architecture – it is incredibly European because of all the European immigration in the last century or so, especially from Italy and Spain. It’s also much more humid than Santiago, and you can’t see the Andes mountains like you can there. For someone who likes to explore by walking and seeing, Buenos Aires is definitely the city for this – just being surrounded by so many beautiful buildings is enough of an experience of the city without even doing anything. The buildings are generally much taller than they are in Santiago, and thus it feels like a much bigger city. Santiago feels like it focuses more on the nature/outdoorsy aspects of the country, as it lies between the Andes Mountains, there are many national parks within a few hours of the city, and it’s easy to get outside Santiago and go to the coast for the beaches. If you know me, you know that I love both walking everywhere AND national parks, so both of these cities work for me. But the vibrant culture in Buenos Aires is almost palpable, and the architecture is more incredible with every turn. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to return and would highly recommend this city to anyone who wants to travel to Latin America!
We all stayed in an apartment building two blocks away from El Obelisco (The Obelisk), which looks like the Washington Monument, which is a very central area of the city. On Sunday morning, we walked to the area of Recoleta, where there is a big artisan crafts fair every weekend. When I lived here in 2015, I probably went to this fair five or six times – it’s awesome. There are vendors with all sorts of crafts, like paintings, jewelry, tons of mate (the most popular non-alcoholic drink in Argentina, and popular throughout Latin America – a type of tea that people drink all the time out of a special cup, which is usually a hollowed-out gourd) cups and their accompanying metal straws (“bombilla”), and other unique crafts. One vendor, who was in his 70s or 80s and has been selling his crafts at the fair for over 30 years, creates figurines of various types of jobs made of metal forks and spoons. They were all incredible! Jordin bought one of a chemist, which includes test tubes and all. Later in the afternoon, we went to the Casa Rosada (“The Pink House”), which is where the President of Argentina works (but does not live). It’s a gorgeous building on the outside and the inside – on the weekends they give free tours, and because our tour was in Argentinian Spanish, neither of us ended up understanding much of it. But just being inside the building was enough – each room is enormous and filled with gold (photo below) . We learned that the house is pink because it was painted with a mixture of chalk and blood…if so, that’s a LOT of blood. After our tour, we walked just one block to another popular street fair in the neighborhood of San Telmo, and this fair goes on for about 10 blocks. We were told that while the crafts fair in Recoleta is more geared toward tourists, this one attracts more locals (though there were still plenty of tourists). I love to buy art as remembrances of places I’ve traveled, so I bought an awesome painting of the city that was painted with COFFEE – super unique and very reasonably priced. Just as I remembered, throughout the streets of the San Telmo street fair, there are people selling all sorts of food – fresh squeezed orange juice (which is everyone in both Buenos Aires and Santiago), various meat things, and of course, vegan food! We bought delicious veggie burgers, made of lentils, chickpeas, and arvejas (I described these in my last post – they’re a mix between lentils and split peas), only to pass by three other vendors soon after with even more options.
Our friends arrived on Sunday night, and on Monday morning we set out for a day of walking around the city to some of my favorite places. The first stop was El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore which was originally a theater in the early 1900s, then a cinema in the late 1920s. It’s an unbelievable building – I could spend all day there. In the last few years, it was rated as the second most beautiful bookshop in the world (rated by both The Guardian and BBC). The stage is now a bookstore! (Look at the picture below…and then keep looking because you KNOW you want to visit.) We then walked to Recoleta (where the crafts fair is on the weekends) to walk through a famous cemetery, which is the oldest public cemetery in Buenos Areas in which many notable Argentinians are buried, including Eva (Evita) Perón. This is no ordinary cemetery – it’s full of mausoleums and statues (almost every grave), with all sorts of architectural styles. It’s laid out like a grid, and you can walk through each section like you would walk city block, and each walkway is lined with trees.
After the cemetery, we walked a short distance to the Floralis Generica, the official name of a giant steel flower sculpture that is surrounded by a fountain in the middle of a park. This flower opens up during the day and closes at night, just like many real flowers do, and it came to Buenos Aires in 2002. This flower is about 75 feet high, and when it is fully open, the petals span about 100 feet wide, and when closed, about 50 feet wide. I hadn’t gone when I was here before, so it was awesome to see it for the first time. The flower wasn’t fully open when we went, even at midday. Here is a cool video I found that shows the process of it opening and closing!
On Monday night, we went to a percussion concert called La Bomba del Tiempo, which I went to when I was here before and absolutely loved. It’s a group of 15-20 musicians on one stage, all playing different types of percussion instruments. Every few songs, the conductor switches places with someone in the band, and the type of songs change with each new conductor. They all looked like they were having so much fun (some of the conductors danced like crazy during it), and it’s just a really cool atmosphere and an experience very different from a typical concert. We also all tried the popular Argentinian drink, Fernet-Cola. Fernet is an alcohol that is extremely bitter and strong, so when it’s mixed with coke/pepsi, those are two things put together that I don’t like – needless to say, I did not drink much of it, but it’s always good to try something new.
On Tuesday, we spent the morning walking through the streets with a couple of attractions in mind, but mostly just wandering. We walked to the Casa Rosada so our friends could see it (from the outside), then to Café Tortoni, which is the oldest café in South America. It was built in 1858, and lots of famous people have visited, including a particular nasty woman whom I admire so much (photo below). We also came upon some little bookstores and each bought a few books, especially because they were reasonably priced and the books in Santiago tend to be pretty expensive. I bought a book of the 20 most famous Pablo Neruda poems (he was a famous Chilean poet – I studied some of his works in my Spanish classes at Wesleyan), as well as The Wizard of Oz in Spanish, called “El Mago de Oz”. I really need to be reading and watching TV in Spanish to learn more vocabulary.
In the afternoon, we took a bus to La Boca, the most colorful neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Even though we took a bus at 2:30pm, there was a ton of traffic, so it took us an hour to get there (this is interesting comparison for the bus ride back, which took 15 minutes). It’s called La Boca because it is located at the “mouth” of the city (“boca” = mouth), near its old port. The tourist destination in La Boca is called Caminito, but we wandered around for 25 minutes looking for that before we found it. I’m actually really glad we got the chance to do that, because most tourists think of La Boca as just those few colorful blocks, while actually, most of the neighborhood is fairly poor. Once we got to Caminito, we saw the beautiful colored walls, shops, and of course, tango in the street – La Boca is known for this.
On Tuesday night, Jordin, Adam, and I headed out to a tango class that was only a few blocks away. Jordin and I both have many years of dance experience: he was on the Tufts Ballroom team for four years and knows how to tango (but not the Argentinian tango), and I danced every semester in college as well, but not competitively and not ballroom. The class we attended had five men and five women in total, which made it easy to partner up, and the teacher was fantastic at giving individual help as well as directing the class as a whole. Adam and I were the only beginners there, and even though the teacher had most people switch partners every few songs (which is very helpful), by the end, she had Adam and I stay together since we were at such a significantly lower level than everyone else…and we still had a blast. After the class, we met up with our other two friends (they didn’t go to the tango class) and then met up with a friend of Adam’s who is from Buenos Aires. We all went out to get gelato at a popular chain called Freddo, which is all over Buenos Aires. Because of the Italian influence in the city, gelato is extremely popular, and of course they have a handful of vegan flavors (sorbets). Then we went to a bar for a few hours where everyone except me ordered a fernet-cola, and I tried another unique drink on the sweeter side. A few sips of fernet at the concert was enough to sustain me for the entire week.
On Wednesday, our last full day in Buenos Aires, we walked to the Jewish neighborhood of Buenos Aires, called Once/Barracas. The streets were packed with people selling various types of goods, which made it hard to walk at times. We went into a bunch of stores selling Jewish objects, and the storeowners gave us the names and locations other places to check out. We wandered into a Jewish bakery (so many bagels), a kosher sushi restaurant, a store selling various Jewish cultural items (including cards that said “Feliz Januca”), and more. We also saw a Jewish synagogue from the outside, where we were not allowed to take any pictures. The synagogues in Buenos Aires (and in Santiago, as I’ve heard) are strictly protected and they won’t hesitate to almost interrogate people who want to enter, as they are constantly worried about violent acts. We also saw the outside of a JCC (Jewish Community Center), where the wall was covered in many names of people who were killed when the JCC was bombed in the 1990s. Additionally, almost every doorway in this neighborhood had a mezuzah, which was really cool to see. In the afternoon, we went to the neighborhood of Palermo Soho, which is a very upscale neighborhood with many exceedingly expensive stores that are fun to look at from the outside, but not fun once you look at your wallet. From there, Jordin and I went to visit my incredible host mom, Marta
, from when I lived in Buenos Aires in March/April of 2015. Marta is 83 years old, just as spunky, and she is looking better than ever. I was so happy to see her and return to my old apartment and just talk (she asked us about Trump, no surprise). I’m so happy that Jordin got to meet her as well – she is just the CUTEST lady.
After visiting with Marta, Jordin and I returned to Palermo Soho to go out to a nice final dinner with our friends. We picked the restaurant earlier in the day, and first they told us that they were having an event that night so we could only sit outside, but after we told them we wanted to sit outside and if we could make a reservation at 8, they said we could sit anywhere, since the event won’t be arriving until later – this was them laughing in our faces because 8pm is VERY early to eat in Argentina. We actually didn’t get our food until 9:15, which we think is because the cooks just didn’t have the food ready because it was so early. But no matter – we splurged on a bottle of Argentinian Malbec, which is made in Mendoza (the main wine country area of Argentina), and we talked about more differences between Chile and the United States, and the different ways in which one of the countries is ahead of the other – here are a few:
- Chilean culture is more of a machismo culture than the U.S., as it’s more normalized here (even though no one can doubt that it is also normalized in the U.S.)
- Chile has a National Women’s Service in their constitution that crafts bills about women’s rights – awesome. While I believe and hope that the U.S. will have this someday, we’re much farther behind in this aspect.
One of the defining moments of this trip is something we laughed about when taking pictures – in the U.S., people say “cheese” because of the way the mouth is shaped to form a smile. Apparently in Spanish-speaking cultures, they say “whiskeeeeey” because it forms the same shape. But we decided to just translate “cheese” into Spanish by saying “quesooooooo”, and it definitely did not work out in the same smiles, and we have the pictures to prove it.
A few more things that are important to know about Argentina:
- Mate (the tea mentioned above) – everyone walks around with it and drinks it all day long.
- Dulce de leche – a spread/dessert/necessary part of Argentinians’ lives that is everywhere
- Alfajores – an Argentinian dessert created with two round cookies with a filling between then, which is usually dulce de leche. There are at least 20 different kinds of these sold at every kiosco (corner store), and people eat them for breakfast, a snack, desserts, you name it.
- Fashion – People have told me that they think Chile is five years behind the U.S. in many different ways, especially with fashion. Sometimes, I’m walking down the street and I feel like I’ve walked into the 80s or 90s. Shirts with English slogans on them are very popular in both Chile and Argentina, and what is ESPECIALLY popular is platform shoes: people even wear sneakers and flip flops with platforms on them. This is how I know I stand out in Chile, because I don’t have any platform shoes here (yet). But the fashion in Argentina is different than in Chile – it’s definitely more European and more posh.
A few highlights from last week (in Chile):
- At Spanglish Party last Tuesday, three different people whom I had JUST met invited me to parties in the following days, one of which I was able to attend, which was a birthday celebration with only six people. Like I’ve said before, I would never expect something like this to happen in the U.S. – people are very very welcoming toward us here.
- I regret to inform you that the apricots on the tree on our patio are all gone, as their season has now passed – my mornings will never be the same. The last ones were sadly turned into jam. Luckily, the other day I passed by a house where I saw an apricot tree in full bloom, and I stole a few for myself while walking (if the tree hangs out over the fence, I think that’s allowed).
- We tried a new Chilean dish called Charquicán, which is stew with lots of veggies. It had a new food called “luche”, which is a type of seaweed, but different than cochayuyo – the internet told me that in English it’s called sea lettuce.
- The best part of my week: we were talking with our host family about the radio, and how most people don’t like hearing a recording of their own voice. After discussing our feelings about our own voices, I told them how cute Mel’s voice is, and Aly told me that she thinks I’m in love with her (“Creo que estás enamorada de tu hermana”). While of course this is true, it’s funny because when I was abroad last time, multiple friends told me the same thing. I guess it just shows how excited I am to see that little lady so soon! (And hopefully she talks to all of her friends about me the same way I talk to everyone about her.)
I can’t believe it’s already the end of December, and that we’ve been here for almost three full months. Thank you so much for following along with our adventures here. I’m sending lots of besos y abrazos from Santiago – happy holidays and Happy New Year to all!