Monday, November 19, 2012

Uruguay and Argentina by the Numbers

Greetings friends, first Argentina by the numbers. As you will recall we entered Argentina on October 23, and left a few days ago on November 15. We were in the country for a total of 23 days, and withdrew $2144. We left with a mere $27, most of which was in Chilean and American currency, and we had entered Argentina with about $217. In total we spent $101.91 per day on average. Obviously, this makes Argentina the most expensive country of our trip so far. Some of this seemed justified, Argentina is a fairly modern country with all the high-tech amenities we are used to, however they are having some severe economic difficulties. There are strict currency restrictions preventing locals from changing their pesos into dollars. This has lead to a parallel market which gives a 30% markup in the value of the dollar. For someone traveling to Argentina from their home country it would make much more sense to bring dollars or Euros, or whatever other currency and then change it on the street in Argentina and get a much better rate. Given our style of travel, it did not make sense to carry around thousands of dollars through a dozen countries in anticipation of our arrival, so we really just had the chilean pesos when we crossed the border, where we got the black market rate (which is called bludolar in Argentina) but otherwise we used the ATM and got the official rate. Additionally, Argentina has been experiencing 20+% inflation over the past few years, so it looks like it will only get more expensive, especially as they limit currency transactions, although from what I read it looks like another default/currency devaluation may be in the near future, so as always, check the news before you visit.

Last thursday we said goodbye to our friend Paula and got on the boat from Buenos Aires to Colonia. We opted for the Colonia Express boat which was slightly cheaper than the competition. After undergoing the usual immigration formalities, and getting two more passport stamps, we settled into a cheap hotel in Colonia. Colonia is a very small town with a lot of colonial history both from Portugal and Spain. It is also a major tourist destination for day and weekend trippers from Buenos Aires. Many restaurants and businesses accept Argentine pesos, but the rate is even worse than the bludolar rate. On Thursday we went up to the top of the local lighthouse, and also ate an Uruguayan specialty, chivito. Chivito is served in two varieties, on a plate or on bread. We opted for chivito for two on a plate. Basically we got a plate covered with french fries, with some salad and potato salad on the side. On top of the french fries were two steaks. On top of the steaks were slices of ham, stacked on the ham were slices of cheese, on top of the cheese were fried eggs, topped off with slices of bacon. Obviously this is a very heart healthy meal. On Friday we went to a few different musuems. There are 9 small musuems around town that are part of a single ticket, so we bought that ticket and went to three of them. We also checked out the aquarium and an old naval musuems. All of the musuems are quite small, but there is an entire whale body that had washed up on the shore a long time ago, as well as some exhibits about the indigenous people of the area. Friday was another culinary experience. I ate gramajo which is a mixture of french fries, ham, cheese, onions, and peas in stir fry form. Saturday we took the bus to Montevideo, where the central bus terminal is also located in a giant mall, so after shopping for a bit and grabbing lunch we came to Pocitos (a beach neighborhood) and found a place to stay. As some of you know our parents are coming to visit us in a few days, so we have been given strict instructions to become experts of Montevideo before they arrive. We have already found the beach, and also found a delicious artisan ice creamery. We have also tested the local Uruguayan beers, so far they have a very good porter, more to come on that front later. Today we will be exploring more of the city, we will report back later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Buenos Aires

Greetings from Buenos Aires! Since we last spoke we have had a great time touring around Bs As. On Saturday night there was a city-wide event known as Noche de los Museos, or night of the musuems. No folks, it's not like that Ben Stiller movie, none of the exhibits came to life, but basically most of the musuems in the city are free from 8:00 at night until 3:00 the next morning. It is a really neat idea, although in practice it seems like the city was a little overwhelmed by the turnout. We originally were going to go to the zoo, but the line was about ten blocks long, so we figured we would go to the planetarium instead. The planetarium also had a very long line, but it seemed to be done in groups since the tour started with a video. After visiting the planetarium, and finishing up around midnight we decided to grab some comida arabe and call it a night. Saturday morning, before resting up for our trip to the musuems, we went to a seaside neighborhood called La Boca. La Boca is a very touristy area selling artesania and other interesting handmade items. There are also a lot of touristy restaurants, you can get your picture taken with a tango dancer, etc. After wandering around for a little bit, we had seen pretty much all there was to see, so we had another adventure on the bus getting home. In Buenos Aires, the buses have an electronic payment system where locals swipe their card and money is taken from their account, however for travelers, you must pay the fare. The buses are only equipped with machines that accept coins, and rather inconveniently there is a coin shortage in this country. Luckily we barely had enough metal in our pockets to cover the ride home.

On Sunday we ventured to the Casa Rosada (pink house) similar to the American White House, although the president doesn't actually live there. We also went to the San Telmo neighborhood where they have a street fair. Again, we saw a lot of artesania and standard tourist merchandise, although there were some interesting antique shops as well as vendors selling bills and coins from Argentina's prior currencies. Monday we went back to the Casa Rosada and took a tour, as well as walked to the Congress building. Yesterday we walked to a very nice neighborhood called Recoleta, which is also home to a cemetary for many of the cities wealthy and elite. Many past presidents and generals are buried there, and we recognized many of the names as they are also names of streets, neighborhoods, and towns that we have seen in our travels. We also passed by Evita's crypt.

This morning we went to the local zoo. Although not quite as elaborate as the zoo in Cali, it housed a great deal of animals. Also, they have brought in some of the rabbit/kangaroo rodents that we saw in Patagonia and they are hopping all around the zoo. Tonight we are planning to watch some tango, and then tomorrow morning we have to be up bright and early to catch the ferry to Uruguay! See you in Colonia!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cordoba to Buenos Aires

Hello dear readers! We've had a fun and relaxed few days, so let me bring you up to date! Tuesday, we headed back to the art museums that had been closed the day before. We started at the Museo de Bellas Artes Emilio Carrafa, which features several modern art installations. Some were very interesting, including a photography exhibit of gun owners in Switzerland and another featuring the winners or a national young artist competition. We then headed to thw Palacio Ferrerya which featured more traditonal classic art as well as an exhibit of art featuring some atrocities from the dictatorship. Some other couch surfers came to stay with our host, so we spent the afternoon talking to them and sharing our various adventures. Wednesday, we were quite lazy, enjoying the heat, and had another delicious pancho (hot dog) for lunch. That night, we boarded our bus to Buenos Aires. Here in BsAs (prounounced bees-ayz), we are staying with our friend Paula, whom I know from Los Angeles who is now studying for her masters. She lives in the very hip neighborhood of Palermo. Of course, we were quite tired from our night journey and spent most of the day resting, though we did venture out to explore the neighborhood cafes and had lunch. Last night, there was a large protest downtown, but it was peaceful we heard. The forecast for today was rain, but when we woke up in the morning the sky was clear, so we decided to head out of doors until the rain arrived. We wandered through the Jardin Botanico and then went to the Museo Evita, about the famous Eva Perón. When we exited the museum, the sky had turned dark and it was quite windy. We weren't too far from home, so we thought we could get home quickly, but the rain was quicker. It started POURING! We were soaked from head to toe by the time we got home! Matt ran quickly across the street to buy some empanadas and sandwiches for lunch, then we dried off and have enjoyed the rest of the day indoors. It's still raining, so we'll just stay in for the night and continue our adventures tomorrow! That's all for now, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Greetings from Córdoba! We left Puerto Madryn last Thursday and grabbed a night bus to Córdoba, arriving a little late on Friday morning. We had made plans to stay with a fellow couchsurfer here, and called him when we arrived. We still hadn´t yet purchased a SIM card for Argentina, so while we were in the locutorio we inquired in that regard. We decided to pick up a $5 SIM card (a little over $1 US) so that we could communicate while we are here. Carlos, whom we met on couchsurfing, picked us up and took us to his apartment before he went back to work. We relaxed for a little bit, then made plans to meet up with our friend Paula, who is a university student here in Córdoba. We wandered around the city a bit until we met her and then she gave us a walking/driving tour of the city. We saw many important buildings, as well as the University City. There are a lot of universities and colleges here and the city has a very youthful feel to it. It is also significantly warmer than the last few places we have been. We have even had to use the air conditioning, a welcome change from the snowy Ushuaia.

On Saturday we explored the city some more and in the early afternoon we decided to escape the heat by watching a movie. We saw the new 007 movie and I think it´s fair to say that we were the only people not reading the subtitles judging by when we laughed and when the rest of the audience laughed. We went out to dinner with Carlos and a few of his friends and tried some interesting new empanadas. On Sunday we took the bus up to the Sierras around Córdoba. In the Sierras there are a lot of quaint little towns and villages and it seems like a weekend/summer getaway for a lot of the city dwellers. We hiked around for a little bit and eventually settled down on a ¨beach¨for a few hours. This beach is actually the bank of a river, and there were plenty of hippies hanging out with their juggling, guitar-playing, substance-smoking selves. After a quick lunch at the Argentina standard lunchtime of about 4:00 PM we grabbed a bus back to town.

Yesterday we made the superhuman effort of waking up early so that we could go see a few musuems in town. We went to the Cabildo, a municipal building sort of like city hall which has a musuem and then ventured to a few other musuems in the city only to discover that they are closed on Mondays! We had no other choice but to eat. We found a nice little cafe in the square and I had a few medialunas (croissants) and Sarah had some cold cuts. We came back to Carlos´apartment for a brief siesta, then took our books to the park for an afternoon of reading. On the way we decided to get a pancho, which is Argentine Spanish for hot dog. As you might expect, a hot dog here is nothing like a hot dog in America. My hot dog came with olives, onions, cheese, chimichurri sauce, a ¨rain¨of french fries, and chopped up tomatoes and onions. Sarah was less adventurous with her hot dogging, but redeemed herself with a trip to the ice cream truck next door. It was so hot in the park that after reading for a little bit we decided to go to a little cafe and have a beer to cool off. Today we are going to try to get to the musuems again, and tomorrow we head off to Buenos Aires!