Friday, December 21, 2007

An Authentic South American Experience I Had In Argentina

I wanted to share with you a wonderful experience I had in Argentina the first day I arrived there. I had arrived in the afternoon, and after finding myself a fair place to sleep (which cost at the time about $12 a night), I hung out with this American girl that was on the flight with me to Buenos Aires. We went to grab some dinner at around 7 pm, and coming to the end of the meal we heard banging and some faint music coming from the street. We asked for the check and then went over to see what the "commotion" was all about. Little did we know it was the Argentinian Carnaval... I mean I heard about the Brazilian one, but never thought in Argentina they celebrate it like this.
The street was filled with dancers and magnificently decorated carts carrying more dancers with peacock feathers all around them, and musical bands following them, drumming bands, trumpet bands, it was truly a marvelous celebration of colors and sounds. No cars were of course allowed in the street, and Avenida Corrientes came alive with an endless stream of festivities, color, and music.
Everyone was standing on the sidewalk of this broad avenue, watching the parade go by; children on their fathers' shoulders, young people, old people, shopkeepers...everyone was there.

But this was just the beginning. After about 3 hours of parading (apparently we arrived LATE!), it began to rain...and I don't mean just drizzle kind-of-rain, I mean tropical pour-a-bucket-over-your-head kind of rain. Everyone went fleeing under the little shops' little roofs. And the rain wouldn't stop.

We waited for maybe 15 minutes under there...thousands of people waiting for the rain to end, watching an empty street flood. Across this wide street, straight across was one of the batucadas (drumming bands). They figured we've been waiting so long, why not entertain the crowd, so they began playing. Wow, this was an experience I'll never forget. They played their rhythmic music with only their drums, this kind of Brazilian rhythm, and the crowd was swaying along with them...all in the rain.

Suddenly this one guy gets out there in the middle of the street in the pouring rain and starts dancing to the music; no shirt, no shoes, but all passion. Just dancing. And the band continues, and the people swaying, and the guy dancing. I thought I was in Heaven. This was crazy. Then suddenly another guy came to dance with this first guy, both beautifully moving to the beat, then this girl also went out there in the rain in the middle of the street to dance with the guys. Can you imagine what an experience? 3 people dancing in the rain in the middle of the street while a drumming band is playing and thousands of people are watching!!

Slowly people began to join, as did I (the American girl wasn't interested in dancing so I said goodbye and went to enjoy the moment), and 5 minutes later THE WHOLE STREET was filled with people dancing to the beat of the batucada. UNBELIEVABLE!!

We danced there for about 2-3 hours more, no one let the procession continue, and when the police came and asked the people to move and allow cars to cross, no one budged, and they wouldn't let the police near the band. They finally gave up and let us dance there, and even enjoyed watching the people break out into this unstoppable celebration of life.

This to me matched no other Latin American experience ever, and was truly a moment in life to remember and reminisce about. Though it happened about 9 years ago, it still moves me while I write it now....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Argentina - Part I

OK, so I first want to tell you about Argentina. If you look on the South American map, the fascinating country of Argentina is bordered to the west by Chile, the North with Bolivia and Paraguay, on the east by Uruguay, Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, while to the south is the Beagle Channel marking its boundaries. When I was in Argentina it was before the economic crisis, and the dollar and the peso were one-in-the-same. Today it is about 3 pesos to the dollar, and eveything is very cheap to whoever comes with foreign currency.

Argentina is a great country to visit. Its people are very very nice, the culture is very European but the feeling of South America is always in the air. The prices are very affordable, there are thousands of places to see, great food (it's the meat capital of the world!), the music is superb, and the women are....don't even get me started on the beautiful!

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, has much to offer. You can spend days, weeks, and months, and still be fascinated by the city. There's so much to see there, and the
porteƱos - the local inhabitants of Buenos Aires - are such nice people. If you're ever in Buenos Aires go visit the San Telmo region, where Tango is heard from every tavern, and the buildings are preserved as they were a century ago. Make sure you go at night to hear the lovely music being played and if you're lucky, see a show. La Boca is a very run-down part of town, except for its caminito - the only nice part of town - with its colorful houses and tango dancing in the streets. La Recoletta will offer you a touristy cemetery with all the great people of Argentinian history buried there, such as Juan Peron and his wife Evita, and many other rich and famous. Be sure to check out the artisan market being held in Recoletta every Sunday. If you're looking for touristy shops head over to Calle Florida right smack in the middle of the city. You'll find everything there from real-leather belts and gaucho hats to genuine mates.

If soccer (or as the English call it - football) is your thing, then Argentina is the place you want to be. With world famous players of past and present, Argentinian futbol is a soccer lover's delight. The leading teams are Boca Juniors and River Plate, and if you're lucky enough to see a game between these two longtime rivals you're in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Try staying alive and alert in these games, as tensions tend to get high and violence is no stranger in these matches even among the crowd.

If meat is your game head over to any parillada and take your pick of the world's finest beef at very affordable prices. Though you may think all-you-can-eat buffets are low-level, here they are anything but that. Also,
with roots in Italy, Argentinians make excellent pizza AND ice-cream so make sure to try out Argentinian pizza and ice-cream; you'll be pleasantly surprised at their quality, and Argentinians are very proud of these two almost-national foods.

Buenos Aires is a very special city; vibrant and hip and indeed a big city. Be sure to keep safe, and guard your belongings as pickpockets and muggings are not strangers to this town. Oh, and keep up your Spanish. You'll be needing it, since most Argentinians don't speak English at all,and the only way of communicating with them is by first learning Spanish. I'll give you more information about this in another post.

Che...hasta luego

Sunday, December 2, 2007

South American Culture

If you're thinking about travelling to South America, let me tell you a bit about the South American culture. The South American map is divided into many countries, but for now I'll be talking about the Spanish speaking countries; have a look at the South American map. Can you identify the Spanish-speaking countries? All countries except Brazil, Suriname, and the Guyanas speak Spanish. But although they speak the same language, their cultures are different. Argentina and Chile are more European countries in their customs and manners. They are both heavily influenced by Europeans, as Argentina is populated with many Italians and Chile with many Germans and Austrians,a s well as by a much more Indigenous influence. Argentinians are a very warm people, welcoming guests and foreigners, but like very much to complain about their country. Argentina is a very Westernized country, but the undercurrent there is very 3rd world-like. I'll be doing a piece on each country to let you know in more detail about each country. Chile is more heavily influenced by "colder" cultures: Germans, Austrians, and the Indigenous inhabitants. Chileans have a relatively clean country, modernized, and European. Argentinians and Chileans have a sibling rivalry between them about modernization. But Chile's undercurrent is 3rd world as well, though not as much as Argentinians. They are also not a complaining culture, but rather a quieter, more relaxed society. Uruguay, the close Argentinian neighbor, is a poor country in its resources, relying heavily on its "older brother" - Argentina- to supply its tourism, and financial aid. Their cultures are one-in-the-same, though they would never admit that :)

The Andian countries - Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador - are countries heavily influenced by Indigenous people. They are usually a very hard-working sort of people, highly subdued given their past Spanish tyranny, and moderately friendly. They are usually reluctant to bring foreigners into their lives and culture.

Heading north on the South American map, Colombia and Venezuela are a friendly and happy bunch. Salsa music is usually heard on the streets and from the cars in both countries, though in the last years Venezuela has undergone through a tyrannical change, and seems like some of the joy has dissipated from the country's inhabitants. Nevertheless, their people are joyful, their countries are beautiful, their people are friendly, and their women are gorgeous!

In my next posts i'll be talking about more travel tips and my experiences from touring the South American continent.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Looking for a South American Map?

Are you about to travel to South America? looking for a South American map? You've come to the right place. If you need such a map for school that's one thing, so here's a link to a great South American map resource.

If you're looking for a South American map for traveling, then let me tell you: I've travelled all over the South American continent a few years ago for quite a while, and had a blast. It would be wise to have a South American map handy though. It's important if you're planning your trip across several countries, or if you just want to gain a bit more insight about where you are relative to other countries in the region. Just to give you an example, I was in Colombia and wanted to head over to Panama. So I took out my South American map and thought I would take a bus across. Little did I know that between Colombia and Panama there lies a jungle inhabited by some fierce guerrilla fighters. It was only by chance that another traveler told me about this fact and that buses don't even enter the jungle. Anyway, if you're planning on traveling, take a map with you, it's important, and it will serve you well...

Oh, I don't know if you're interested but if you want to check out some Spanish courses, I took some that were really great. I'll be posting links next time, but for now, keep safe and be sure to check your South American map before you leave...hasta luego, amigos....see you on the next post ;-)