Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pic Posting

Post trip editing has taken it's toll on me. With all the back-to-work, er, work to do as well as taking on a lot of photography jobs, I haven't been as quick as I had hoped to organize the hundreds (and hundreds) of images from our trip. It is happening, however, and to prove it check out "Cono Sur" Photoset by Bhlubarber (that's me, Dave) on Flickr. If you are so inclined, please leave comments and let me know what you think. For all those in Vancouver, don't worry, you'll still get your slide show....soon!

Saturday, February 10, 2007


It's the end of our first trip together, and the first real backpacking trip for both of us. The new sights, smells, feelings of excitement and nervousness, movement from place to place and meeting all those amazing people combined for an experience we will never forget. We learned a lot of lessons along the way - how to plan as you go, when to make the jump from the bus and when to stay on it, how to communicate in another language and keeping your energy and wits about you during so many overwhelming moments.

Argentina and Chile are places we felt very welcomed and safe. We are already planning our next trip down to South America, some new places and perhaps, some new friends to visit as well. But that's not for another few years. In the meantime, we're taking the best of our travels to heart and incorporating our newfound outlook in the 'global village' that we find ourselves living in.

With that in mind, here's a little list of what we'll try to forget and what will stay with us forever.

Things we won't miss

• Unimaginative "standard" menus - not that the food was bad, but try a little variety sometimes!
• Convenience shops stocking only crackers, biscuits and tiny cookies - when it's the only source of food on a 5-hour bus ride
• Paying for toilet paper - in the washrooms, that is
• Absence of toilet seats
• "Cheese" - unless you get the artisan-crafted heavy cheeses, queso is not very tasty at all
• Jamon on everything - whether you like it or not!
• Dated music - late 80s adult contemporary rules the roost
• Tripping on dislodged sidewalk tiles
• Road apples of the canine variety under your feet on the big city sidewalks
• Buying bottled water daily and throwing out the empties
• Seeing litterbugs toss rubbish anywhere - a few "Keep Argentina Beautiful" signs could go a long way
and finally.....
• Big dog balls swinging everywhere! (Bob Barker should be flown down for some education)

Things we'll miss

• The friendly "Hola" or "Buena" everywhere you go
• The best palta and tomato we've ever had (in Chile)
• Helados - Dulce de Leche Montanes (con nuez y rhum) is the best ice cream ever!
• Litros de cerveza - at $2.50 ARG a pop, it's cheaper than water and oh, so tasty
• Speaking Spanish while still just learning it and receiving encouragement from strangers
• The "bang for your buck" - Canadian dollars go a long way down here, especially in Argentina where prices are familiar but the exchange makes it a third of the price
• Comfy buses for those long hauls - again, Greyhound could learn a thing or twelve
• Beautifully tiled sidewalks and floors and the old architecture above it all
• Petting perros in need of love - so many to choose from too!
• Mamushka chocolate shop and their amazing tiramisu bar
• Sidewalk cafes and having a drink anywhere you like
• The big, crazy precordillera and the Andes towering behind at sunset
and finally....
• The super-friendly, always smiling, never condescending, beautiful people of the Southern Cone!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Words to live by, soul food and freedom

Argentinians express their angst, their love, their poetry visibly throught the ancient art of scrawling on walls. It's not enough to simply deface a poster or scratch with chalk on the pavement. Old brick buildings become soapboxes for their political rantings, lucid poet meanderings and bombastic blasts of momentary fury ("Bush Muerte!"). No structure is too sacred for the paint can - from banks to churches, statues to plazas, private homes and vehicles.

In fact, the greater the importance on a public structure, the more likely it seems to be a target for graffiti. Could be the authority they see in a statue of San Martin or the oppressive doors of the grand old national bank (especially since 2001) that makes it easier to rail against the machinery.

If a spraycan can be used for vulgar displays of passion, so can it too be used for beautiful expressions of art. But hidden within these painted puzzles are cryptic messages of non-conformity, subversive mutations on recognizable icons, and just plain funny little eyecatchers.

Within the major cities of Argentina that we visited, the creativity and style that these illegal bursts of colour provide greatly added to the character of the city and the voices of those who need to be heard.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit
It seems that everyone in Argentina works. Kids, moms, dads, grannies, and teenagers. With a little bit of inventiveness, one can be in business for oneself within an afternoon. On a hot, dusty day pick up an armful of brooms and take to the streets hawking your wares along the way. If it's raining, get in on the umbrella trade. A full busload of folk heading off on an eight-hour trip? Better take your thermos of coffee and cooler of sandwiches onto the bus and work that aisle for sales before it pulls out, taking 40 potential customers with it. And better yet, if you have a more artisitic streak, it is very easy to join up with one of the dozens of Feria Artesanals happening every night, in every neighbourhood in every town. These aren't your typical craft fairs either. Everyone pours their heart and soul into creating something "coming from me" and the diversity in jewelry, carvings, clothing, food and wine, music to name a few is astounding. It's not just shopping for trinkets here, it's more like storytelling - you get to know the artist and the whole history of why and how this particular item came to be before it lands in your hands.

Relaxed pace
No water this morning? No problem. It'll be back by this afternoon, tonight...manana latest. In the meantime, do you want a cerveza or cafe? Relax. It's not going to hurt you to have your dinner an hour or two after you've met up with someone. Or hit the nightspots after dinner, after coffee and after a stop at the desert shop. Why get impatient waiting for your bill when you can just keep the conversation flowing, albeit without a refill on your drink. It's a different pace here - the pressure and need to get everything done now, on time, exactly when you want vanishes after a few weeks. And it feels very good.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rocket to the crypt

Walking through Bs. As. is tough enough what with the cars, taxis, buses and pedestrians all claiming right of way at all times. Plus you are always on the lookout for rogue dog-deposits and missing sidewalk tiles while trying to catch a glance at that gargoyle above you. Navigating isn't always easy on foot, so why not take our lives in our hands and get on the street itself to join the foray. Renting a couple of bright orange cruisers to ride one of the busiest streets was exciting in an oh-geez-i-might-die kind of way - somewhat fitting since we were heading to the Cementerio de La Recoleta. The buses spew filthy exhaust making it dark ahead, motos pass within inches while hubcaps whizz off cars and towards Sandra's bike - all this while circumnavigating a huge roundabout and trying to make it all the way before the light changes and it's a full on charge of headlights towards you. Whew! Quite a change from the relaxed rides to bodegas we were used to.

We made it to La Cementerio in one piece, dying of heat and sucking back pomello juice like crazy. This place is one of the largest above-ground cemetaries in the world and the final resting place for many of Argentina's leaders, hereoes, religious figures and of course, the centerpiece for the tourists - Eva 'Evita' Peron's gravesite. Everything in this massive maze is over the top ornate - some of the mausoleums are well over three stories tall and decked out like miniature cathedrals with huge sculptures, crosses and weeping angels.

It's rather sobering to walk through the pathways and notice that behind the broken glass on that particular window are shelves of coffins, and downstairs in the crypt are 16 more. You can reach out and touch the brass handles and curved tops, weathered and dusty from years of sitting. Cats wander amongst the tombs, caretakers mop and sweep the steps and fresh flowers greet visitors to family plots.

The cemetary was started in 1820 as a 'regular' graveyard but became the elite resting place it is now in 1881. Since then it has become somewhat of an open-air museum of glorious artwork, carvings and architecture in the most devoted of styles. We could have spent many more hours here walking and taking photos, contemplating, but had to return our bikes by the end of the day so into the sun and back to the black top. If we didn't make it we told each other - nothing too fancy, ok?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Full Circle

We rode our final coche cama bus to Buenos Aires - arriving early on a hot, humid day to the city where it all began - for us that is. It's with a "world of experience" that we navigate the city again. With only 6 weeks under our belts, it really feels like we have learned a lot about the language, the customs and dealing with day to day life on the move. No more ham on every meal. Hardly a confused look on the faces of bus drivers, servers or shopkeepers we inquire. We rarely pull out our little black book of translations anymore and we are actually getting compliments from Porteños about our "bueno español" to which we reply "really?, thanks...er, gracias!"

Coming back here to Bs. As. felt good. Not only is it a fantastic city to look at and feel, but the neighbourhood we settled in - San Telmo - is rich in history and charm. Artists and musicians mingle and perform under the shade of trees aside antique shops selling silver from the 19th century, squeeze boxes decades old and seltzer bottles from days gone by.

There's Tango in the square during the day surruonded by some of the finest, classic cafes in all of Argentina where folks like Carlos Gardel - the 'songbird of Buenos Aires' - and South America's most famous poet/writer Jorge Luis Borges used to hang out and compose their art. These places still have their original espresso machines from the mid-1800s, admittedly more for show than use these days - some of them appear ready to fly away with all the crazy doo-dads coming off them.

San Telmo's charm rubs off into the cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks - it's almost like visiting Europe but it's still a Latin American country we're in and signs of that are everywhere. Horses with carts sometimes compete with taxis under gorgeous, French-inspired colonial apartments that are hundreds of years old. Every doorway is eight feet tall, every key is of the old, hang-it-around-your-neck antique variety. Rooms are never under 12-feet tall and the attention to every detail, from door-knockers to intricate caritedades is incredible. It's a city that lives it's grandeur from the past, still reeling in some aspects from the hard times of a few years ago, but, creating a new reality that only adds to the concrete history all around.

Wandering the streets of Bs. As. really is a feast for the senses as this city never sleeps, in fact it only really seems to wake up late in the eve when the music starts up, the lights go down and the energy perculates into the night. We've got our work cut out for us in the next few days...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

(Still) Waiting for the Wind

Córdoba province is in the geographical heart of Argentina, surrounded by the central sierras - lovely rocky, green mountains that seem to meander in all directions for miles. Two hours north of Córdoba city is La Cumbre - a funky little town that prides itself on being one of the top spots in the world for para-pente (para-gliding). With this in mind we hopped a minibus from the city and booked a spot with a few of the best pilots around. The first morning we were scheduled to fly, we awoke to thunder and rain - obviously not the best conditions. When the sun came out at noon we prayed for wind, but alas, nothing doing in that department. A little bit of cabalgatas in the mountains took our minds off ´being stuck on earth´ (and our horses were actively interested in galloping whenever you made the notion which was very fun).
Day two and again we awoke early in the morn to bad news - sunshine a plenty, but absolutely no wind to speak of. Damn! Time was getting shorter and we still hadn´t even been to the launch site. This time we spent the day lounging by the backyard pool, sharing maté with vacationing porteños and feasting at a vegetarian-friendly asado with a dozen friends. It was pretty good alright, but we better be gliding tomorrow!
Day three: bad news at 9am but a glimmer of hope for midday. Finally, at noon we were picked up by our pilots, whisked out to Cuchi Corral and watched as one solitary hang-glider took off and quickly floated down to earth in no time at all.

Not good. The wind was changing and pilots were building their wings, when the the flag posts finalized everything. It was gusting - hard - but in the wrong direction. No flying today, and, sadly for us, no flying in Argentina this time round.
We were bummed. Luckily, the town of La Cumbre and the hostel we stayed at made up for this disappointment, and we now have friends in Buenos Aires to visit in a few days. And maybe, we´ll be back one day bringing good luck and fair winds in tow.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Heroes and History

Casa de Che
Ernesto ´Che´ Guevera´s legend is strong here in Argentina. He was born in Rosario, went to university in Córdoba and Buenos Aires and lived his adolecense in Alta Gracia, a small mountain town just south of Córdoba. We went for a visit to the Museo de la Casa de Che - one of the homes little Ernestito lived in while growing up. It´s now a museum filled with photos, letters and writings, bicycles, chess boards and cigars.

The highlight was seeing La Poderosa II - the 1939 Norton motorcycle that Che rode along with his amigo Alberto Granado though South America in 1951/52. It was on this trip that Che formed many of his ideas on Marxism and armed, socialist revolution as the only means for change. Within a few years of that journey, he would reconnect with Fidel Castro in Guatemala and enter Cuba as the leader of a revolution that brought Castro to power and installed Guevera as the head of the national bank among other things. It was interesting seeing some of the currency and state documents from this era on display. The house was recently visited by Castro and Hugo Chavez, but we were there on the ´gratis mercioles´ along with dozens of Argentines intersted in knowing more about one of their national heroes. Though he is usually identified with Cuba, in Argentina, there is no mistake that Che Guevera was, and remains, one of their own.

The Jesuits
In Córdoba province, and in much of Northwestern Argentina, the influence of the Jesuits is strong. Who these people are exactly is still a bit of a mystery to us, but the legacy in architecture that they left behind is quite stunning.

Many of the extremely well-preserved ´estancias´ date from the 16th century. In this province alone there are five world heritage sites, and in the city of Córdoba there are univerisities and entire blocks of Jesuit buildings from the 1600s. They made the first dams, started the first schools, built massive stone churches and raised cattle, spun looms and essentially made little civilizations wherever they went. Until they were unceremoniously expulsed from the continent in 1767 that is. In the city, they recently uncovered an entire block of underground crypts that are over 400 years old. There is a lot of history here and it´s funny to think that while Buenos Aires was still a backwater pueblo, the cities of Mendoza, Córdoba and Salta to the north were bustling economic, cultural and artisitic centres that really shaped Argentina´s national identity.