A weekend trip to Mendoza, Argentina, and fall in Santiago! (baby it’s “cold” outside)

Aaaaaand it’s already the end of March. El tiempo pasó volando (the time has flown)!

  • It just became spring for most of you but is officially fall here! I can wear my sweatpants and long-sleeve fleece to bed again! The mornings and evenings are nice and cool, usually in the 60s – this past Friday was in the 60s all day and everyone was in big coats and I was just LOVING it. Friday was unusually “cold”, but usually it’s still pretty warm in the middle of the day (in the 80s), yet people are still walking around in jeans and sweaters while I’m on the crowded metro in a skirt and tank top, sweating profusely.
  • Schools and universities all started again a few weeks ago, most on what is called “Super Lunes” (Monday, March 6), and it’s called that because it’s one of the busiest days in the city (and the metro definitely showed it). Toddler Leo started “el jardín”, which is preschool! It was super cute to see him leave on his first day with a tiny little backpack. Honestly, I don’t see him much during the week because he leaves at 8:30 (when I’m still sleeping), and comes back around 4:30, when I’m out, and goes to bed before I return home around 11:30pm. I think it’s great that he’s starting preschool for many reasons, but especially because he’s used to playing by himself in the house and only being around adults, so now he’s finally around other kids his age. He’ll have to learn how to play with multiple kids at once, how to communicate with them, and how to share! These are things my parents didn’t have to worry about as much before Jordin and I started preschool because we always had each other. And we’re good at sharing! I always give him all the food on my plate that I don’t want – he’s my personal compost bin.
  • March 8th was International Women’s Day all over the world, and the march in Santiago was great. There were flags, signs, people of all ages, and people playing musical instruments throughout the march. I didn’t participate because I was in between teaching one class and my salsa/bachata classes, but I’m very glad I got to see part of it and be there to feel that energy.

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“Don’t tell me ‘Happy [women’s] day’, get up and fight with me!” 

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  • I’m still having a blast in my salsa and bachata classes – I definitely prefer salsa to bachata because it’s much faster and I’m always moving, but I enjoy both. I know Jordin has said the exact same, but these classes are my favorite part of the week (it’s almost like we’re TWINS with very similar interests…whoa) – I live for my Monday and Wednesday nights! At the end of each class, the teachers leave a few minutes for “baile social” (social dance), and you can do whatever you want. Because the classes are focused on particular steps, baile social is more challenging because no one is calling out the steps you’re about to do – you just go! In salsa, the woman follows the man’s steps, so it’s ideal to dance with someone who knows what he’s doing. This weekend, I finally went to a salsoteca for the first time (I did go when we first arrived in Chile, but went for salsa classes, not baile social, before we found the wayyyyy better classes that we go to now) and it was AWESOME. We arrived at 10:30pm, coming late from a vegan food tasting (more on that later) and thinking that we would miss the classes they were offering at 9 and 10pm before the baile social. Well, we were the FIRST ONES THERE. We stayed until about 3am, and I loved getting to dance with a variety of different guys throughout the night – it’s a great learning experience, and a way to apply what I’ve learned in two months of classes. Jordin has been going to salsotecas for a few weeks, but I’m hoping we can go at least once a week until we leave – it is a BLAST and a half. 

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  • In my last post, I said that February was my favorite month here so far, and March has been equally great. Everyone keeps saying “queda poco!” (“not much [time] left”) each time we say that we’re leaving in May, and that feeling is really starting to kick in for both Jordin and me. In these last few months, we’ve had a much more active social life because we’re closer with more friends, and are meeting friends of friends who are very generous in inviting us to parties and such. And especially now that I want to go to a salsoteca every weekend as well as hang out with different groups of friends, my time here is starting to feel very short. Jordin and I both agree that staying about a year more would be ideal for our Spanish, friendships, and having enough time to travel throughout Chile. It will be extremely bittersweet to leave in May, but we’re taking advantage of everything we can until then.
  • Typical difficulties in English for my students:
    • Prepositions: in/at/on. In Spanish, the word “en” means ALL of these things, so they often have trouble determining which one is correct in which context.
    • English is FULL of “phrasal verbs” – 2-3 words that have one meaning when used together, but usually a different meaning when used separately. Here are some examples (these make me feel really bad about learning English because this must be HARD):
      • Break:
        • Break down
        • Break in
        • Break into
        • Break up
        • Break out in
        • Break dance
      • Get
        • Get across
        • Get along
        • Get around
        • Get away
        • Get away with
        • Get back
        • Get back at
        • Get back into
        • Get on
        • Get over
        • Get around to
        • Get up
    • Sounds with which native Spanish-speakers have trouble: th, sh, ch
      • “Hair” – the letter a in Spanish just sounds like “ahhh”, as the language is phonetic, so this “air” sound is really difficult. When some of my students say it, it sometimes sounds a little like a pirate saying “har harrrrr”.
      • The letter i in Spanish sounds like our letter e (“eeeee”), so Spanish-speakers often pronounce the following words the same, which sometimes can be a problem:
        • Sheet vs. Shit
        • Beach vs. bitch
        • Sneakers vs. Snickers
        • Sheep vs. Cheap – the difference between these pronunciations is VERY difficult for native Spanish-speakers…the words sound exactly the same to them. Say these two words aloud right now and try to describe the difference – it’s a challenge!
  • I have two young English students – one is 6 and the other is 14. The 14-year-old just started 9th grade and told me all about her schedule in school, which made my jaw drop. First of all, she’s taking biology, chemistry, AND physics this year, while I took one science each year of high school. Second of all, it seems that most high schools here (called “colegio”) operate in similar ways, in that the students take all of their classes in the same classroom with same students all day long, and it’s the teachers that revolve in and out of the classrooms. My student said she has been with the same students since kindergarten, so everyone knows each other very well. School runs from 8am-3:30pm, with two 15-minute breaks throughout the day, before a 45-minute lunch at 2pm. Lunch is at TWO O’CLOCK after they’ve already been there for six hours! In my high school, there were three lunch slots, the earliest of which was 10:30am, and the latest was 11:40am. No wonder these kids are exhausted after school – they’ve been sitting in the same chair in the same room for hours upon hours without moving, they don’t get to eat until 2, and they take three sciences. At least they start at 8am instead of 7:30 like my high school (which will hopefully change in a few years, thanks to the hard work of my mother).
  • I recently met with a professor at Universidad Católica (one of the best universities here, as well as in all of Latin America), who connected me with some people who study and work in public health at the Universidad de Chile (another big university) in the Instituto de Nutrición y Tecnología de los Alimentos (Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology). Thanks to this connection, I will be attending the weekly meetings/lectures through the Centro de Prevención de Obesidad y Enfermedades Crónicas (Center for Prevention of Obesity and Chronic Illnesses) to learn more about various issues in public health in Chile, and specifically in nutrition! I’m unbelievably excited about this, just to learn more about my professional and personal passion – public health – in a country that I love, and in a more formal setting. The first meeting was yesterday! The talk didn’t really involve nutrition, but more how environmental health/lifestyle factors affect disease; the title of the talk was: “Deregulations of miRNome”. Revealing the mechanisms of testicular damage induced by the exposure to endocrine disruptors mixtures. As you can see just by the title, it was very focused on scientific data, specifically biological concepts like endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC), mRNA, etc. There were about 15 people in attendance, and though the talk was entirely in Spanish, the slides of the presentation were in English. I actually really liked this because it helped me visually understand the complex biological information that the presenter was discussing, and I got to listen in Spanish and make the connections with the vocabulary. Though this talk wasn’t focused on my main interests, it’s nice to be in an academic setting again. While I don’t miss my college workload, I do miss the university setting (and I do miss working in Wesleyan’s libraries), so I’m so happy to be getting this experience here.

Mendoza, Argentina!

Two weeks ago, Jordin and I went to Mendoza, Argentina, for the weekend! Mendoza is on the west side of the country, right next to the Andes, and is probably most well-known for its wine – I believe it’s the largest wine-producing region in all of Latin America. Additionally, another big industry is olive oil – more on that below! Jordin and I flew to Mendoza on a Thursday evening – it was a 35-minute flight, literally just going up and over the Andes to get there, and while the first 20 minutes were easy, there was an unbelievable amount of turbulence for the last 15. Apparently the wind direction is perpendicular to the mountains in some way, and this creates significant vertical movement of the airplane (we were going more up and down than side to side). Needless to say, Jordin and I were extremely relieved when we landed safely in Mendoza, as was every other person on the plane. We stayed in a hostel that was walking distance from everything in the main part of town, and everyone there was very friendly and welcoming.

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On Friday, we took a bike tour to two different vineyards! This was an awesome way to get to know the region more, as well as taste some of the best wines in the world. The tour company had a taxi pick us up at our hostel and drive us a few miles outside of the city to the place where we would begin the tour. It was just the two of us with one guide from the company, which was nice, and definitely much easier in terms of biking to each vineyard. We biked about 40 minutes to the first vineyard, Viña Carmelo Patti, which was very small, artisanal, and had a family-feel. We didn’t actually go into the vineyard, but spent the whole time in a building with the owner, and a few other people who came for the tasting. He gave us many general tips about wine:

  • When you bring the wine home, take off the metal wrapping and look at the cork – if the cork looks intact and there’s enough space between it and the wine, it’s good and you can keep it. If the cork has wine in it, it means that air can get into the bottle and the wine won’t keep for a long time, so you should go back and exchange it. He said that if you would do that for a shirt with a hole in it, why not for wine?wine opener.jpg
  • The best way to open a bottle of wine is not by using a corkscrew, but by using this opener, which I am pleased to say that I’ve used many times because my dad has used one for years! This doesn’t puncture the cork, so there’s no risk of any part of the cork falling into the bottle.

At this first vineyard, we tried 3 types of wine: Malbec (famous in Argentina), Cabernet, and a blend called Gran Assemblage. All I can really say is that they were all red and they were all good.

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We then biked another 35 minutes or so to the second vineyard, Viña Nieto Senetiner, which could not have been more different from the first. This vineyard was much bigger, looked like a villa with Spanish-style buildings and fountains, and there were grapes as far as the eye could see – aka until the beautiful, snow-capped Andes mountains! We were put in a tour group with about 12 other people who had just come from two other vineyards. One woman, probably in her 50s, came up to Jordin and me with her husband and said, “Estamos BORRACHOS” (“WE’RE SO DRUNK”) – they had tried five wines at each of the two previous vineyards, and apparently those glasses were generously poured. She continued to entertain us for the entire tour. We went on a little tour of the vineyard and saw hundreds of barrels of wine as well as fresh grapes right from the plant.

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During the tasting (“degustación”), we tried three types of wine: Chardonay, Bonarda, and Malbec. Our tour guide explained that there are three things to do in the process of wine tasting: look at the color, smell it, and then taste it in two sips – the first is to accustom your tongue, and the second is to actually taste the flavor. I also enjoyed all of these wines (one white, two reds), but couldn’t really tell you much more about them. However, here they are in case you want to buy them in the states.

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We biked back to where the tour started – if you know Jordin and me, you know that we’re very much lightweights in terms of holding our liquor. We were served only a few sips of each wine, but after trying six of them, these lightweights could FEEL IT. Biking could have been very dangerous if we were as drunk as that woman, but thankfully we held it together and no one fell.

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After arriving back at the bike place, we went directly to Pasrai, an “olivícola” where they produce olive oil! The facility also produces a variety of dried fruits after olive season is over, and that is where the name Pasrai comes from – “pasa” means raisin in Spanish, so they created of combination of “Pas” for pasa and “Rai” for raisin. The facility produces 80,000 liters (21,000 gallons) of extra virgin olive oil every year. Here is a quick rundown of how they make the olive oil:

  1. Crush the olives within 48 hours of harvesting them in a big machine, including the pits, because it’s very difficult to remove the pits and save the rest of the olive.
  2. Put the olives in a colander and spin them to try and separate some of the liquid from the solid.
  3. Put the olive paste in some sort of tube to remove the liquid. The paste is then useless for further production of this olive oil, so it is then sold to other places who use it to produce lesser-quality olive oil.
  4. There are two parts of the next step: the IMG_8442liquid is now separated into water and oil (see photo), but the oil is extremely thick and there are pieces of the skin in it. Some people like to buy this oil, but it’s extremely strong. Most of the oil then goes through a 14-tank system – in each tank, the liquid goes in through the bottom and leaves through the top, and after 14 tanks, the oil is left in the last tanks and the water is left in the first ones. They are now separate!
  5. The thick olive oil, now separated from the water, goes through a cellulose strainer, and after this process, you have extra virgin olive oil like you would see in the store!

The facility produces olive oil with many different flavors – regular, garlic, ají/picante (hot pepper), basil, oregano, and lemon. Anyone can flavor their own olive oil, but it must be done through dehydrated spices, NOT fresh ones. This is because fresh spices contain water, which can oxidize the oil and make it go bad (ask chemist Jordin for more details). We tried all of these flavors and enjoyed them all! I’ve never tried flavored olive oil before, but Jordin is already excited to try to flavor his own when we get back home.

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That evening we walked to Plaza Independencia, the biggest and main plaza in Mendoza (there are lots of plazas/parks), because there was an artisanal fair there from 4-11pm. We arrived at 5:30 and it was basically empty. We learned that siesta (nap) time in Mendoza is from 1 or 2pm until 5, and everything is completely closed.

On Saturday morning, we walked to a hill called “Cerro de la Gloria”, which we heard had a beautiful view of the city. The walk there from our hostel was about 40 minutes, and the climb to the top of the hill was 10 minutes…the view was not what we were expecting, but it was a beautiful day and we could see mountains in all directions.

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For lunch, we went to an awesome vegan restaurant, which surprisingly is not the only vegan restaurant in Mendoza (I say surprisingly because everyone told us about the meat in Mendoza). It was a buffet, pay-by-weight place that’s only open three hours a day, so it gets pretty crowded and all the food goes very fast. I took a video on snapchat and one of my Chilean friends responded by saying he didn’t know that much vegan food existed (#JustVeganThings). After lunch, we went on a free walking tour of Mendoza and learned a lot!:

  • An earthquake in 1861 destroyed almost everything in the town.
  • There’s a statue in Plaza España that shows two women (see photo below)- on the left is a women with a book who represents Spain, and appears more mature. On the right is a younger-looking woman (supposed to be less mature), almost naked, and holding grapes, which apparently represent being more of a scavenger and using the natural resources – she represents Argentina. Additionally, the woman Spain is gripping the arm of the woman Argentina, showing that she is very dominant, as opposed to a mother figure. These statues are somewhat of an insult to Argentina because she’s being depicted as immature and completely reliant on Spain, while the Argentinians did not feel that way.

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  • There aren’t any “pure” native/indigenous people in Argentina because they all were exported to other countries as slaves by the Spanish, or killed. Anyone who wasn’t European was considered barbarian and was exterminated.
  • Argentina became independent from Spain in 1816, but will always have a cultural relationship with Spain. Argentina has always looked to Spain for help, as opposed to the rest of South America.
  • The majority of the architecture in Mendoza is nothing special – pretty plain, brutalist buildings, but the city planners prioritized safety over appearance and built everything to be able to withstand earthquakes. The attractive theme of Mendoza is the natural element – there are many plazas and tons of beautiful tall trees. It’s a sort of microclimate, with pine trees growing next to palm trees. It’s always windy, but it’s a dry wind. The wet wind comes from the Pacific, goes through Chile and loses its water by snowing in the Andes, so when it arrives Mendoza it’s dry. This is why Mendoza is a desert-like climate.
  • All of the streets have canals on both sides, which were the main form of irrigation.
  • Government buildings are scattered throughout the city, including in green areas (with plazas), and this was planned for the principle of health and to avoid the spread of disease among government officials.
  • Currently, all museums are closed permanently in Mendoza (!!!). There is a lot of budget cutting, and the government basically said that art doesn’t matter (hmm, this sounds familiar). There are strikes all over the country by teachers who want higher wages, as the government is trying to privatize many universities.
  • All of the provinces in Argentina have a designated meeting place for every Thursday at 11pm for the silent walking of mothers and grandmothers of children who disappeared during the military regime that started in the 1970s. 30,000 people disappeared, and movement started in the 1970s by women who were pushing for information on what happened to their children. I learned about this when I lived in Buenos Aires two years ago as well.
  • We finished the tour on the roof of a building that used to be the tallest in the city (at 10 stories high), with a beautiful view!

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On Sunday at 9am, we took a bus back to Santiago! Because we were going for only a few days, we didn’t want to take the bus both ways because of how long the journey is, but we knew we wanted to take it one of the ways to have the opportunity to drive through the Andes Mountains. If you know me, you know I don’t like to sit for a long time, but I absolutely loved this drive. It took 7 hours to arrive in Santiago – six hours driving, and one hour at the Argentina-Chile border. That one hour at the border felt like nothing because we had heard from other people who waited at the border between 2-6 hours. This drive through the mountains was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or done before – we saw mountains of all colors: green and grassy mountains that ascended really fast (like we saw in the Sacred Valley in Peru), red like in New Mexico, and gray with snow like those in Glacier National Park and in Torres del Paine (Patagonia). Additionally, the drive wasn’t steep, as I expected it to be – most of the roads were pretty flat and very well paved, with many other cars and busses on them throughout the day. Our bus driver drove slowly (and it was a double-decker bus, so that was important), and there was only one section with a bunch of hairpin-like curves, which we went around veryyyyyyyy slowly. The views were incredible the entire time. I’m so glad that we got the views from both the plane and the bus: here is a small compilation of the types of mountains we saw!

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The journey begins!

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Argentina-Chile border!

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Back to Santiago! A few smaller updates:

  • During one meal at home, Aly (host mom) said that Chile is the only country in Latin America that doesn’t celebrate the traditions, food, etc. of its native people (Mapuche), as do other countries in Latin America, such as Peru and the Incas.
  • Jordin and I are continually infuriated by the waste here in Santiago. First, the water bottles – everyone buys bottled water, both for their houses and on the go (it’s always sold on the street and in the metro). I have rarely seen people with a reusable bottle, and when I do, they’re usually foreigners (everyone looks surprised when they see mine). Also, water fountains don’t exist – I described them to Chilean a friend recently and he had no idea what I was talking about. Second, the number of plastic bags that people use at the supermarket is unreal. Jordin and I always just use a drawstring/tote bag if we have to get something, but everyone else uses new plastic bags each time. I know this also is very common in the United States, but I constantly see people with ONE SMALL THING in a plastic bag, even if they have other bags.
  • This weekend, Jordin and I went to a vegan/vegetarian food tasting (for free!) and tried about 10 different delicious dishes, one of which was HUMMUS so Jordin and I were in heaven. The best part was that the chef made various cultural dishes, from green Thai curry to Indian dal, and each dish was full of spices. Chilean food isn’t known for using spices (besides salt and merken, the smoky dried hot pepper), and I’ve missed spices since the day I arrived. The chef said that for Chileans, using 5-6 spices would be WAY too much – in my experience here, I can attest to that. So I very much enjoyed this food tasting. However, Jordin and I went straight from there to meet friends at the salsoteca, and as we were leaving we realized that the chef was going to give us a container of hummus to go! Devastatingly, we couldn’t take it because we wouldn’t be returning home until the wee hours of the morning. Once we were in the elevator, Jordin said, “WE JUST LOST FREE HUMMUS!!!” A sad truth for the Metz twins.
  • I visited a hospital recently (not for me) and was surprised at the conditions there – the bathrooms were pretty dirty, and one of them had soap outside the bathroom, so for people who aren’t germ-conscious like us, they may not wash their hands at all. One of my goals is to learn more about the health system here before I leave.
  • Here is the most entertaining part of this post, and the best thing you’ll see after watching the video of Paul Ryan saying that we’re so terribly unlucky to be “living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future”. Remember in my post about Patagonia and Machu Picchu, I mentioned that on our hike up Wayna Picchu (the huge mountain in the back of all classic Machu Picchu photos), we saw a man dressed in long pants, a button-down shirt, a vest, and a tie dancing on the edge of the mountain? As a recap, he creates videos of himself dancing in travel destinations and posts them on his website and youtube channel. He calls himself the Dancing Accountant (though he told us he’s not actually an accountant, and has no formal dance training). Well, he finally posted the video of him at Machu Picchu, and it’s a compilation of his travels around Latin America. I highly recommend giving it at watch – the best part is, you can hear my voice at the very end saying, “That was incredible”! #Famous 
    • (Click on that link to watch it or CLICK ON THIS ONE if you’re confused about where that one is!)

This weekend, Jordin and I are headed on our last trip within Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, aka the Atacama Desert in the very north of Chile, which is one of the driest places on earth! We’re incredibly excited – keep a look out for some instagram updates! @metziculous

Thank you for making it to the bottom! If you have any comments, advice, or questions, please email/Facebook message me! We only have about seven weeks left (!) and want to make the most out of them, so if you have any suggestions for more things to inquire/learn about, to do, or people to meet, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Besos y abrazos!!

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