Yesterday I went to renew my visa at the immigration office, giving me a first-hand look at how it all unfolds. These processes make me appreciate so much more the struggles that people from other countries go through to be able to come to/stay/live in the U.S., and the relative ease of my experience with it here thus far is not something I take for granted. The 2 1/2 hours I spent waiting for various pieces to fall into place made for great people-watching (something I would have missed out on if I’d remembered to bring a book with me!). It is quite humbling to be one of just a handful of European-looking folks in a massive crowd of people filing various papers, paying fees, and trying to handle a foreign bureaucracy. For many of them, though, at least they have the added benefit of speaking the language – I don’t have any hard facts but suspect that the majority of immigrants are coming from Paraguay and Bolivia, and others from further afield in Latin America. I also saw some Brazilians, but the next biggest group after Spanish-speakers seemed to be Asians. The only real problem I encountered personally was discovering that the last stamp in my passport was placed on top of a strip of clear tape (apparently used when I had pages added to my passport), and some of the ink was rubbing off – making it hard to tell how long a stay I was granted and what date I entered. I had to go to another area where they verify and repair stamps, to get a printout and have someone notarize my entry stamp, basically, before I could get the renewal. No big deal, it just added about 30 minutes to the process. And, unfortunately, just a week ago the price to renew TRIPLED, so this was no longer a cheap endeavor (well, it’s all relative – still less than US$100). It would have been cheaper to go to Uruguay, if only I’d thought I had the time to do that this week.
Archive for the ‘Argentina’ Category
I know I haven’t been writing much – things have been busy, as usual, but this week with especially good reason… I’m gearing up to go here:
More details when I get back from eight relaxing days of yoga, hiking, horseback riding, and more yoga in what promises to be a spectacular setting!
Day 12 is coming to a close, and except for going a little overboard on the herbed goat cheese today, I’m feeling great. Have jumpstarted the needed weight loss (apparently eating whatever you want for eight months will catch up with you eventually, but eating only raw foods is a pretty easy way to get back on track) and am confident I can continue eating more veggies and taking better care of myself (I’ve also been exercising pretty much every day since the beginning of January).
It’s been a good week in other ways, too, most obviously noted by the several more things I’ve crossed off The List! Last week during dinner with some Couchsurfers and other travelers there was talk of weekend outings, and I was definitely interested since work was petering off late in the week. Next thing you know, five of us—from Australia, the States, and England—were loading up a rental car and heading into the Andes for two days! #2 on the list, spontaneous road trip? Check! It was a great couple days, with stunning vistas around every turn, driving to the tippy-top of the mountains between Chile and Argentina (where we even saw some snow flurries!), and taking a short hike/walk to an overlook for Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas (check out the pictures). The second day found several of us horseback riding (#19) in a beautiful valley surrounded by red hills and snow-capped mountains.
In the midst of trying to decide what to do next—upload photos to Flickr, write a blog post, send an email, call my brother, get back to the spreadsheet I’m working on to track my work, etc.—my mouse clicked on over to the bookmark for this here blog, without my even thinking about it. That darn subconscious knows my readers are hungry for news, I guess!
Number one news item: I have Internet. In my apartment. It was finally installed and connected on Monday. I’m sitting at my “desk” to write this. Here, you even get a picture:
The table’s considerably messier at the moment, and my current couchsurfer’s backpack is in the corner by the window, but you get the idea. I’ll upload more pictures soon.
In other “news,” I’m on Day 3 of a 13-day summer cleanse. You ease off “normal” food at the beginning and ease back on at the end, so here on Day 3 I’ve given up alcohol, caffeine, meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, bread, starches, and grains. Which leaves, basically, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts! I’ll be eating some combination of those things (or less, one day is only fruit) for the next week, then slowly start to add foods back in. So far I feel pretty good, with a decent amount of energy and no serious hunger pangs. I’ve even started getting up earlier, which is quite an accomplishment (though not saying much; we’re talking 9 am instead of, oh, 10:30. I’ve been pretty low-energy here!).
I’m having fun in Mendoza, though haven’t done a lot of the available activities yet. I’ve been wine-tasting (once officially, I’ve also done plenty at home!), and went paragliding last week, which was fabulous yet again. I didn’t make it to Gualeguaychu for Carnival; it was just too complicated. But I’ve just seen some pictures and it looks incredible! If I’m here next year, I will definitely try to get there (it’s only 3 hours from BA, but at least 15 from here!). I am hoping to head out for an overnight trip to the mountains in the next few days with some other Couchsurfers, and maybe go horseback riding there.
I’ve hosted a lot of Couchsurfers here—more than I did in BA in the whole time I was there—and have enjoyed them all. Here’s a pic of the solid crew (four people who live here, including me, and four surfers) we had here for a few days (I only hosted two of them):
As my friend Juan (in orange above) pointed out, “I’m meeting so many great people. The bad thing is that they keep leaving.”
I’ve been admonished for not posting here more often… and I will try to do a better job, but the fact remains that until I have Internet in my apartment, my (limited) time online is usually focused on other things. But it’s Sunday afternoon, I’ve finished my work for the day, and I have nothing else to do but drink a beer, write this post, and wait to hear from a friend about what’s going on tonight.
So first of all, lesson learned: I cannot move into an apartment, sign a contract, or pay any money until I confirm that there is working Internet, already installed. The agent and landlord are off the hook this time, since it’s the Internet company that told me directly they’d install it that same week I visited the office; I’ve been back twice since to complain, and was finally given a straight answer (I think!) on Friday: I shouldn’t have been told it could be installed so quickly, and with the added complication of major storms in the last week, there’s a major backlog, so it will be up to 10 more working days. UGH. I’m realizing I probably should have just sucked it up and taken one of the much-cheaper rooms in a house that already had Internet.
What else? I miss Buenos Aires, but I like Mendoza. It’s definitely mellower, with a serious siesta-time every afternoon, a main plaza that’s a gathering point for everyone in town, and one street where most of the bars are concentrated (not too far from me, conveniently!). I’ve made some friends through Couchsurfing, as usual, and have even seen some familiar faces from Buenos Aires pass through town, with more on the way. I am hoping to get up into the mountains sometime soon—there are a lot of activities to do around here—trekking, horseback-riding, kayaking, rafting, etc. etc. Not to mention paragliding, which I definitely need to do again. There’s even a 10-day instruction course offered… I’d love to do it, but need to find out how much it costs and how many hours it requires. I’m also thinking about trying to get to Gualeguaychu, one of the best spots in Argentina for Carnival, next weekend to join the BA couchsurfers who will be camping there, but unfortunately the damn Internet situation complicates matters—I really don’t feel I can leave town and risk missing my window for installation, if it hasn’t happened by then.
So my apartment contract is until March 24. I don’t think I’ll be staying in Mendoza beyond then, but I have to figure out what’s next—if I’ll just hightail it back to BA, or try to check out some other part of Argentina on the way, or what. So many options!
Random thought for the day: Argentines love Erasure, especially the song “Oh L’Amour,” which I hear practically every day. A remix version is on the radio right now in the café where I’m working, and I’ve probably heard it at every nightclub I’ve been to in this country. My friend Claudio said in the early ’90s they were huge here. And then he started singing “A Little Respect.” I love Erasure too, but there’s no accounting for taste: Argentines also love the Shania Twain song “Man, I Feel Like a Woman”—I’ve heard this played in “hip” bars and everyone sings along—and the next song on the radio as I type this is OMC’s “How Bizarre.” Indeed.
Things have been harder than anticipated since I arrived in Mendoza—namely, tracking down reliable Internet access is tough so I’m all kinds of out of the loop, finding an apartment is not easy, and working when everyone else is playing kind of sucks. But I am trying to focus more on the wine than whining! I’m staying in a complex of tourist apartments run by a hostel, so I have the benefit of my own little apartment, plus breakfast included (though I’m rarely up in time to enjoy it) and common areas for meeting people. It’s been really hot here, so I actually didn’t even drink any wine the first week or so I was here—beer or an icy cocktail always seemed so much more appealing. My first wine was a bottle of Cabernet shared with a guy from Alaska staying in the same apartment place—he had just bought the bottle while on a tour of one of the local bodegas. Quite nice, especially enjoyed out on a terrace glowing with the light of the late-“afternoon” sun at 9 pm*. I went wine-tasting the next day and bought two bottles, and dinner the last two nights has been out with other Americans enjoying more tasty, inexpensive wine. So far, so good!
I have finally found an apartment, but am waiting for Internet installation, so don’t feel out of the woods just yet. But I am also finding people to hang out with, and enjoying the shady tree-lined streets, and daydreaming of all kinds of adventures for the coming months, so things aren’t all bad.
*If you haven’t heard, in late December the congress in Argentina approved a plan to implement daylight savings time (for the first time ever), and the clocks sprung forward just a week later. I don’t mind it, since it means it’s light outside until around 10 pm, but some are grumbling about it, and I just read that the province of San Luis has had enough, and is going back to “regular time.”
No matter how much I like where I am, I’m pretty much always up for a change of scenery. The contract on my apartment in Buenos Aires ends tomorrow, so I’m off to Mendoza, the capital of Mendoza province, which is Argentina’s prime wine country and along the border with Chile (and the Andes!). Just gotta get through the next 24 hours… then it’s a 12-hour bus ride to my new home for the next few months or so. More soon…
There are police officers stationed on many street corners in BA—tonight there was one on the corner where I waited to board the bus, and another at the corner where I got off the bus. They seem more useful/reliable at night, I suppose—during the day I feel like I often see them hanging out together near the McDonald’s, smoking cigarettes. The other day a young policeman was standing in front of me on the bus—presumably off-duty, since he had his headphones on—so I was checking out his uniform. Pretty standard issue, black pants, black shirt, black bulletproof vest, black holster of black weapons. Then I noticed that all of the patches on his sleeves were attached with velcro. I spent the rest of my bus ride pondering the pros and cons of attaching one’s Policía Federal de Argentina and other patches in such a temporary manner. Do you buy basic black shirts, and they hand out the patches at headquarters, including additional stripes when you advance in rank? Do you take the patches off when you wash your shirt? The patches did look much dirtier than the shirt. What if in a tussle a shady character grabs your police patch and runs off with it? I guess at least you’d hear/feel it happening…