Yes, this blog is a little lengthy, but we’ve been pretty busy the last week and a half…
Beautiful Buenos Aires
Bryan and I were extremely fortunate to have two personal tour guides in Buenos Aires – Manuel and Julie. Manuel is a friend’s cousin and he graciously offered to show us around the city and insisted we stay at his apartment. Buenos Aires looks more like a European city than a South American city. There’s a good reason for this – all of the materials for the majority of the impressive old buildings you see were shipped from Europe in the 1800’s when the city first began. Can you imagine how long it took to send all of the heavy stone and other materials by boat from Europe? Some of the buildings and large homes took 20 years to construct!
We were so lucky to have an insider’s look into this vibrant city. Manuel is an expert on his city and knew all of the interesting stories behind the buildings. A few streets from his apartment, Manuel pointed out a building that is the only Gothic-style building in America that isn’t a church. The building was the pride and joy of the architect who designed it. Sadly, when it was almost near completion he discovered that there was a major structural problem that would cause its collapse. He was so devastated by this that he committed suicide. However, the building still stands strong today and serves as the College of Engineering. No one has ever been able to figure out what structural issue the architect found. A few minutes later, Manuel pointed out an enormous skyscraper called the Kavanagh building. Corina Kavanagh’s daughter fell in love with a man whose affluent parents didn’t approve of the relationship. The parents forbid the couple to marry. For revenge, Corina invested all of her inheritance to build the first skyscraper in Latin America to block the family’s views. Corina situated the Kavanagh building directly in between the family’s enormous home and private church. We saw another building across the street that looked normal to me until Manuel pointed out that many of the windows were painted on. The owner ran out of money while the building was under construction and couldn’t afford to install real windows on one of the sides.
The Casa Rosada (the Argentine President’s office) is a blush pink color. The color didn’t seem as pretty after Manuel explained that they used the blood from killing 400 bulls to make the paint color. They did this every time the palace was repainted until the 1970’s. On Monday morning, we were taking some more pictures of Casa Rosada when we witnessed Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s daily commute to her office (she is Argentina’s first elected female president). A helicopter landed across the street and a black car with darkly tinted windows pulled up to take her to Casa Rosada. We later found out that she was there to meet with Actor Sean Penn. They were discussing the conflict over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands between the U.K. and Argentina (Penn supports Argentina), as well as Haiti’s security policy. Casa Rosada is also the spot where Evita and former President Perón spoke to the Argentine people (remember the movie Evita starring Madonna?) .
Speaking of Evita, we toured the Recoleta Cemetery where she is buried. The cemetery is also the burial site of many Argentine Presidents and other important figures. The cemetery looks more like a small town with pathways and elaborate mausoleums. Manuel had plenty of good stories for here as well. There was a young woman named Rufina Cambaceres who was engaged to the President but died on her wedding day. Her body was put in a coffin in a mausoleum. Days later, a cleaning lady found that Rufina had tried to claw her way out of the coffin before dying. It turns out that she wasn’t really dead but had suffered from catalepsy and was buried alive! This story terrified a wealthy department store owner. He decided to build his mausoleum with a key, an alarm, and an escape route in case this happened to him. Every year on his birthday he crawled into his coffin and practiced escaping.
During weekdays in Buenos Aires the streets and parks are filled with Paseaperros – professional dog-walkers with literal herds of dogs. It’s amusing to see someone walking up to 15 dogs of all different sizes and breeds at the same time. Legally, the dog-walkers are only allowed to have 10 dogs at a time but many had much more than that. Dogs in South America are much better behaved than U.S. dogs so it seems to work ok. With that many dogs, the walkers don’t have the chance to stop and pick-up after them so you need to watch your step around the city (Bryan learned this lesson the hard way!).
La Boca neighborhood is easy to spot with its brightly multi-color painted buildings. The area is rougher and more of a working-class neighborhood. You definitely don’t want to be there at night. During the day, La Boca is filled with tourists looking to see Buenos Aires’ infamous tango. Many places offer “free shows” as long as you buy some of their overpriced drinks or food. There are many places to see more legit shows and even receive tango lessons throughout the city. But you know Bryan wasn’t interested in learning to tango. He was more interested in La Boca’s well-known soccer team, the Boca Juniors. The team is one of the best (if not the very best) soccer teams in the world! Manuel tried all week to score us some Boca tickets but it was impossible. It was their first game of the season and they weren’t offering tickets to the public. We will just have to return to Buenos Aires for a Boca Juniors game someday!
Meat, More Meat, Sweets, and Maté
I’ve eaten more meat in the last weekend than I normally do in 6 months. No lie. We had Choripan for lunch, Bondiola and Churrasco for dinner, Carne Asada, Chinchulin, Mollejas, more Bondiolla, Vacio, Tapa De Asado and Costillas for Sunday brunch at the Parrilla the following day. These are all different types and cuts of meat. I read on the menu that the Mollejas were translated as “Sweet Breads” so I dug right in when the plate arrived. I soon discovered that “Sweet Breads” were neither sweet nor bread. They tasted like chicken, but are actually the throat or neck meat of a cow. My eating pace slowed drastically when I learned this! And the sweet, chewy Chinchulin is cow intestines (I passed on the seconds after I learned that info). In an Argentine Parrilla the Asador (Barbequer) has an enormous grill with all different slabs of meat. It’s common for Argentines to eat a few types of different meats for an appetizer, followed by large pieces of meat for the main course. Often they don’t have any food besides meat during a meal. Our main dish came out on its own small burning grill to sit on the table so we didn’t have to worry about cold meat. If I didn’t think about which species or body part of animal I was eating, I enjoyed the meat and actually found it quite tasty. I’ve never been much of a meat eater ( I mostly just eat poultry and fish a few times a week) and I don’t eat many “cute animals” (cows and pigs). But I felt like if I didn’t eat meat in Argentina I’d be missing out on a huge part of their way of life. Bryan had no hesitation and looked like a Tyrannosaurus Rex devouring his huge plates of meat.
I have to admit the meat was good. But of course the desserts are my favorite. Along with meat, Buenos Aires is serious about Dulce de Leche. It tastes like caramel but it’s much creamier and not as sticky. They put Dulce de Leche in nearly every dessert. I particularly enjoyed the very popular Alfajors – a few cookies with dulce de leche in between and completely covered in chocolate. I’m eating one right now. YUM.
You’ll begin to notice in Argentina, Uruguay and especially Paraguay that many people walk around with thermoses with a cup and straw attached. They are drinking the three countries’ national drink – maté. The thermoses are filled with hot or cold water and they pour it into the cups filled with herbs. The special straw has a filter at the end so you don’t suck up the herbs while sipping. People in this region drink maté all day. It’s a social custom to drink and share the maté among friends and family. I was offered some in Uruguay and it has a very herby, grassy taste. They say it’s an acquired taste.
If you want to hang with Argentines, don’t expect to go to bed early! They don’t eat dinner until around 10 p.m. or later….but NEVER before 10 p.m. They’ll usually take a shower after dinner, go out to a bar or a friend’s place for awhile, and then hit the “Disco” from 5 – 7 a.m. The party doesn’t start until the wee hours of the morning (the time when bars and clubs in the U.S. have long been closed). We tried this on Friday night with Manuel and his buddies. Surprisingly, we made it until after 5 a.m. but not without a struggle. The streets were filled with party-goers headed to the disco at 5 a.m. when we walked back to Manuel’s place. We have gotten used to eating dinner late at night though (especially after a big protein-filled lunch!)
There’s another Buenos Aires custom that Bryan has struggled with – cheek kissing. As I was typing this blog, one of Manuel’s friends came by and gave us the traditional cheek kiss when she arrived and when she left. Bryan didn’t know which side she was going for so he nearly kissed her on the lips both times. We all laughed and explained this was something we weren’t accustomed to.
Getting in and out of apartments in Buenos Aires is not a simple feat. You must have your key to get out of the apartment building. The main doors are all locked both from the inside and outside. This was shocking to us. What if there was a fire? We often found ourselves locked inside Manuel’s apartment building before he kindly gave us his spare key for our stay. 🙂
A few days in Uruguay
A 3-hour ferry ride across the river from Buenos Aires brings you to Uruguay. We spent a day in the adorable, quaint town of Colonia del Sacramento. Throughout history, the fort town was repeatedly conquered and changed hands many times between Portugal, Spain, and Brazil before becoming part of Uruguay. In the historic center, there is an old drawbridge that used to be the only entrance to the town.
Our time in Uruguay started off on a rough note. On the way to the ferry, our taxi attempted to cross three lanes of traffic and slammed into another car. Luckily, everyone was alright and we made it to the ferry on-time. When we arrived in Uruguay’s capital city Montevideo, Bryan actually decided it was time to do laundry in a washing machine. We took a bag of clothes to the nearby laundromat. About a half hour later, Bryan remembered that he had forgotten to remove his Argentine pesos from one of his many pockets (he had separated his Argentine and Uruguayan money into separate pockets to avoid confusion when paying). We ran back to the laundromat but his pockets were all emptied and the woman claimed she didn’t see any money. It was tough to swallow losing the equivalent $125 USD to some lying laundry lady. This was something that would have happened anywhere so we didn’t blame Uruguay. We ended our Uruguay experience on a positive note by biking Montevideo’s long coastline, enjoying an impromptu Samba band rehearsal, and following it up with some delicious wine, steak, and desserts.
We almost lost another chunk of money on our way back to Argentina. When we went through immigration to leave Uruguay they asked for a stub of paper that was on our ferry ticket when we arrived three days ago. Of course we had no idea this was something we needed to keep. We threw it in the trash like all of the hundreds of ticket stubs we acquiire during our travels. Uruguay Immigrations was shocked to hear we had thrown the paper out and sent us to another official’s desk. The man there said this paper was our tourist card and we now needed to pay 700 pesos ($35 USD) each to get out of the country. Luckily, the guy relaxed and told us to go ahead without paying but not to throw out our tourist card next time we were in Uruguay.
Big Upcoming Plans
It’s official . . . we will be hitting ALL SEVEN continents during our travels! We have booked a cruise to Antarctica! And we got it for 65% off as a last-minute deal! We’ll be on our 11-day tour of Antarctica aboard Antarctic Dream from February 15th – 26th. During this time we’ll be off the grid and without Wifi. I’m sure we will have plenty of photos and adventures to share when we return.
We’d like to wish Grandma Munch & Dad Waugh each a very Happy Birthday this upcoming Saturday! 🙂
We’d also like to thank our wonderful hosts and new friends in Buenos Aires – Manuel and Julie! They are some of the nicest and most welcoming people and showed us an incredible time in the city! 🙂