Way down south

Praiseland in BA

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Flanders finds Maude’s journal and her sketches of a religious theme park? Um, it exists in real life. In the northern part of Buenos Aires. See videos below.

This is the 30-foot tall animatronic Jesus that rises above a wall. Every 10 minutes. To the Hallelujah chorus.

This is the scene walking around the park. The employees are dressed in costume so sometimes you can’t tell if the statues are real or not. It’s a little creepy.

The creation story. Animals slooowly roll out and open their mouths. Sadly, I failed to capture Adam and Eve popping up.

The final days

Here are pics of the apartment we’ve been living in since mid-March. Yeah, it’s decorated real old lady like. But it’s big and cheap and has a balcony (though the street noise precludes daytime use). 

We’re now in the final 10 day stretch. While I battled a mild case of homesickness a few weeks ago I’m now in full-on sentimental mode and will pretty much have to be forcibly put onto the plane.

It’s going to be really strange to not have the daily language battle. It’s a battle I’ve mostly been winning lately in terms of comprehension but still usually lose in communication. But I’ve grown to like the challenge. I was thinking about being back in Brooklyn and imagining riding my bike and wondering how to take it aboard a bus. In this scenario one of my first thoughts was “how will I even tell the bus driver that I want to bring the bike?”. Then it occurred to me: I can tell him in English. 

These final days are going to be insanely stocked with nostalgia and kitsch. And I’m so excited. Sample activities include: a religious theme park, private tango instruction, bad Argentine ROCK concerts, an expat pub crawl, tango shoe shopping, and an Argentine cattle ranch (complete with native song and dance, in which you’re invited to participate). Oh and a visit to the Casa Rosada where I try to slip past the guards and get my long-awaited Evita balcony imitation pic…….

In our most indulgent trip to date, we travelled around Mendoza (wine country) and Bariloche (chocolate country.) The whole trip took a full week and included 3 overnight buses (including one sans reclining seats). It was worth it.

Mendoza sits in the valley of the Andes and we were able to bike from vineyard to vineyard… an 8-mile journey each way. (Which was good, since we spent the next few days gorging ourselves on the foods of Bariloche.) Mendoza was a nice, medium-sized city but unfortunately they close everything on Good Friday, and our bus didn’t leave until 8pm that night. Our hostel had informed us of this in advance so we stocked up on grocery goods the night before and managed a pretty sweet little picnic. Oh and I finally managed to pawn off my fake 100 peso bill at a restaurant there. Sorry, Mendoza. 

Stop two was Bariloche, in northern Patagonia, an area settled by the Swiss so it has tons of chocolate, Swiss-style cottages, and St. Bernard dogs. The scenery is stunning. Period. It also has a restaurant that served me a meal I’ll recount to my grandkids ad nauseum. (Golf ball-sized gnocchi filled with ricotta, mozzarella, and basil. Sounds simple but was simply delicious.) We also fell in love w/an ice cream place and actually scheduled our last day around indulging in a third visit. The sched for the last day: 10am: depart hostel, 10:30am: buy $35 worth of artisanal chocolate, 11am: drink hot chocolate, 11:30am: ice cream, 12:30: lunch. (Sched for next few weeks: exercise and caloric restriction.)

When I first announced I was moving to Argentina people asked me if i was going to Patagonia. I thought the question rather silly. Me? Patagonia? Isn’t that the place where sporty people go to be sporty? But then I saw pictures and met backpackers and well, sporty or no, I decided I had to go.

We decided to fly to spare ourselves the 40+ hour bus journey (and for not that much more money). The journey to our first stop included super-flat, super-gorgeous landscape replete with wildlife. El Calafate had hills and lakes and mountains and glaciers and pretty much any sort of scenery you could imagine to leave you speechless. We lucked into a really sunny, warmish day. Even still, our tour guide derided our clothes, remarking: “oh I see you’re in your urban gear.” Classic patagonia trekkers we were not.

The journey to “the end of the world,” aka Ushuaia aka the southernmost city in the world necessitated a 16 hour bus ride, including a ferry that our bus boarded across the Magellan strait and including 10+ hour of unpaved road and nothingness until we at last embarked on breath-taking mountainous scenery. After a day on a boat gawking at penguins and sealions and marvelling at our proximity to the point where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet, we asked our hostel owner to recommend an activity for the few short hours we had before making our plane the next day. She suggested a local, scenic park adjacent to another glacier. However, she apparently didn’t take note of our “urban gear” and steered us to a fairly hardcore hiking area which we failed to make a dent in before making a hasty retreat to a yuppified wifi-supported cafe.

At the airport we were chagrined to learn of a “delay” but, when they announced a flight to BA around the time of our scheduled departure, were thrilled to get out sooner than expected. When the flight attendant took half of our boarding passes, though, he insisted that we had to split up and change seats to accommodate a sick passenger. Fine, we thought. Then we got on board and heard the announcement indicating that there was another stop before BA and, suddenly, it (separately) dawned on us: we’re on the wrong efffing flight. Sure enough, when I tried to explain to the flight attendant he admitted that he was looking for me (and JR) to pull us off the plane. As it turned out, another BA flight had been delayed and ended up leaving the same time as our original departure. So off we were marched and were forced to sit another 2 hours before we could board “our” plane. They apparently do not believe in including the original and the delayed times in the monitor. But at least they do believe in offering beer, free of charge, as they do water, coffee, soft drinks, etc.

Of the many, many things I love about this country, wine may top the list. Not only is it ridiculously cheap (some (bad) bottles for literally under a dollar, good wine for $4, great wine for $8), but it is also ridiculously abundant. In addition to grocery and wine stores, you can get wine pretty much anywhere, if you know where to look. One night after our local grocery had closed we went off in search of wine. One grocery (and I use that term loosely, really more like a bodega) that appeared to be closed had a window slightly open. “Tiene vino?,” I sheepishly asked. Yes, yes they did have vino. She asked if I wanted one that cost more than or less than 10 pesos (~ $3). I, of course, said less. I think she asked red or white but I’m not even sure. Nonetheless she emerged with one of our favorite types of cheapish reds, after hours, much less than what it would cost at a restaurant.
Another night we were en route to a friend of friend’s birthday party when we realized we had forgotten to buy wine. So we tried a trick JR learned in Spain: asking a restaurant to sell us bottles “to go.” And I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. 2 bottles for about $15. Long after everything else had closed. Hurrah surrepetitious sales!

Of the many, many things I love about this country, wine may top the list. Not only is it ridiculously cheap (some (bad) bottles for literally under a dollar, good wine for $4, great wine for $8), but it is also ridiculously abundant. In addition to grocery and wine stores, you can get wine pretty much anywhere, if you know where to look. One night after our local grocery had closed we went off in search of wine. One grocery (and I use that term loosely, really more like a bodega) that appeared to be closed had a window slightly open. “Tiene vino?,” I sheepishly asked. Yes, yes they did have vino. She asked if I wanted one that cost more than or less than 10 pesos (~ $3). I, of course, said less. I think she asked red or white but I’m not even sure. Nonetheless she emerged with one of our favorite types of cheapish reds, after hours, much less than what it would cost at a restaurant.

Another night we were en route to a friend of friend’s birthday party when we realized we had forgotten to buy wine. So we tried a trick JR learned in Spain: asking a restaurant to sell us bottles “to go.” And I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. 2 bottles for about $15. Long after everything else had closed. Hurrah surrepetitious sales!

Before arriving here I read in my guidebook that there are a number of petty-crime things of which you should always be aware. 1) cabbies will either refuse to break larger bills or 2) give you back fake currency or 3) use shady meters which are rigged up to a button they can press at their leisure to increase the fare. [Sadly this last one came to pass recently.] I also read that purse-snatching is incredibly, incredibly common. Even in so-called “nice restaurants.” To combat this, they have hooks where you can latch your bag to your chair. Not only do they have these, but the waiters will urge you to use them (and will delay taking your order until you do so.)

Stores use metal gates to lock up when they close at night but have developed a system to get out of the building when customers need to leave at/near/after closing: a tiny tiny door. We experienced this during our first visit to a post office. It was nearly closing time and the gates came down. “How will we get out?,” asked a visibly nervous JR. As it turned out, we would emerge through this tiny door. And it’s not just for stores. We recently had to make a (non-emergency) hospital visit and found ourselves exiting the same way.

Oh and our Spanish teacher told us about the time after the economic collapse of 01 when “spiderman” thieves would scale down to balconies from above and break into apartments… which maybe explains why our Argentine friends lock the windows and draw the (heavy-duty) shades even in their 6th floor apartment…. 

Basement tango! 
Surprising thing: Argentines do actually tango. There are “milongas” all over the city where you go to tango. It’s basically a big dance floor surrounded by tables where you can eat, drink, watch tango and of course, get dragged into participating.
We went to one in the basement of the Armenian Cultural Center. Four dollars gets you in and another four gets you a delicious bottle of wine. We arrived at 10:30 for our 90 minute lesson. I had fully expected most everyone in the lesson to be gringo/ or tourist but it honestly seemed about 90% locals. Which was awesome except for the fact that instructions were given in rapid Spanish.
After learning the 7 basic steps you’re forced to partner up and have at it. As with most any dance, my success is almost wholly dependent upon the skill of my partner. Some pros had evidently snuck into beginner class and were really patient with me. (In a totally uncreepy way.) Not to get all Argentine about it but an amazing sort of synchronicity happens when a good tango’er leads you around and it feels like you’re taking the steps as one unit. (Maybe there’s no way to not make it sound a little creepy.)
We had reserved a table after the lesson so that we could watch the pros dance. I had read that if you don’t want to dance then you should avoid making eye contact with any men. Which totally didn’t work. But it was really really fun.

Basement tango! 

Surprising thing: Argentines do actually tango. There are “milongas” all over the city where you go to tango. It’s basically a big dance floor surrounded by tables where you can eat, drink, watch tango and of course, get dragged into participating.

We went to one in the basement of the Armenian Cultural Center. Four dollars gets you in and another four gets you a delicious bottle of wine. We arrived at 10:30 for our 90 minute lesson. I had fully expected most everyone in the lesson to be gringo/ or tourist but it honestly seemed about 90% locals. Which was awesome except for the fact that instructions were given in rapid Spanish.

After learning the 7 basic steps you’re forced to partner up and have at it. As with most any dance, my success is almost wholly dependent upon the skill of my partner. Some pros had evidently snuck into beginner class and were really patient with me. (In a totally uncreepy way.) Not to get all Argentine about it but an amazing sort of synchronicity happens when a good tango’er leads you around and it feels like you’re taking the steps as one unit. (Maybe there’s no way to not make it sound a little creepy.)

We had reserved a table after the lesson so that we could watch the pros dance. I had read that if you don’t want to dance then you should avoid making eye contact with any men. Which totally didn’t work. But it was really really fun.