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.