The below photo is one of my journal two months ago. I believe I was feeling frustrated after yet another cold shower (due to a broken gas line that stayed broken for quite awhile) and felt the need to vent.  Looking at this entry inspired me to write about what I will miss when I leave Buenos Aires this Saturday night. While I still stick with the statement that I will miss “everything,” I’ll try to be a bit more specific here.

1. My host family.

Not only will I miss the perks, like a home cooked dinner every night or a maid to clean my room once a week, but I’ll miss the extended family I’ve gained. Carmen always made me feel so welcome and included on any family activities.  As a result, I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with her brother and his family as well as both of her sons. Living with a host family was the thing I was most nervous about but it turned out to be a very positive experience and I feel extremely lucky to have been placed in this house.

My roommate, Stephanie, my host brother, Nico and I.

My host mom, Carmen, and I at the Teatro Colon.

2. My new friends.

I’ve met some incredible people here from all walks of life and it will be hard to say goodbye to them.  When I moved from Ohio to South Carolina for college, I met many people from various backgrounds and with viewpoints different than my own.  That was at times challenging but also very rewarding.  Coming to Buenos Aires, I had a similar experience but with even newer backgrounds and viewpoints. Knowing and loving friends with different ways of seeing the world is always a positive experience and I will miss the strange cast of characters that have become my friends here.

With my friends Kehala and Phoebe in Mendoza.

The ASA (my program) gang.

3. The ice cream.

Really, it’s indescribable. A creamy, gelato-esqe texture, but rich like ice cream. Just one more cone!

My friend Kehala and I enjoying some yummy Chocolate Mousse ice cream.

4. Spanish.

It sounds obvious, but I will really miss having constant opportunities to work on my Spanish skills. I love walking outside and being surrounded by Spanish (something that was a bit terrifying when I first arrived). I love the way Argentines speak Spanish. They speak with so much passion and exaggeration that it’s almost theatrical.

Answering trivia questions (in Spanish) during my first month here.

5. Traveling.

One thing this experience has taught me is that traveling is not nearly as hard as we pretend it is. There were multiple times here that I decided to take a weekend trip somewhere and simply went. It didn’t take months of planning, it often didn’t take a lot of money. I will miss that spontaneous thinking, but I hope I can bring it back with me. There are so many places to see in the U.S., why not go for a weekend?

Biking in Northern Argentina.

Queer Tango in Argentina

November 7, 2011

At the beginning of my time in Buenos Aires, I wrote an article for National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog about the World Tango Festival and places to learn, watch and dance tango in the city. While researching milongas in the city, I discovered a same-sex milonga called La Marshall. I hadn’t been aware of a gay tango movement and continued to be intrigued by this concept since Argentina tango is so full of gender roles and machismo.

Legendary tango dancer, Carlos Copello performs.

Fast forward three months and I was with a friend at a free milonga which takes place in a large gazebo in Barrancas de Belgrano, a park near my house. After embarrassing ourselves on the dance floor for a bit, we began watching the other couples when I noticed two men dancing together. I was struck by how beautiful and unique the dance was when gender roles where switched up. In that moment I knew what I would be writing my tango paper on.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been taking a tango class at my university this semester. I can’t say that it is always the most thrilling class in the world but I have enjoyed learning a dance that is so culturally important to Buenos Aires. Besides, how many Americans can say they learned tango in Argentina? Probably quite a few, but I digress. About a month ago we were assigned a paper to write. It could be about anything as long as it related to tango. Since it was to be 5 pages, single-spaced, in Spanish, I knew I needed to find a topic I was truly interested in. My new interest in same-sex tango combined with my recent realization that Argentina was the second country in the Americas (after Canada) to legalize gay marriage led me to chose Queer Tango as a topic. I decided to post my paper to share with you what I learned. It is translated from the Spanish it was originally written in so please forgive the lack of grammatical complexity.

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Queer Tango

“Gay Tango is about the sexuality and queer tango is the opening of traditional tango so that women can lead men or other women,” said one follower of the Queer Tango movement.

Queer Tango refers to a new form of dancing Argentine tango that questions the traditional gender roles en the dance. When choosing roles, gender and sexual orientation are ignored. In order to understand the significance of this movement, we should first examine the traditional gender roles of tango and the progression of gay rights in Argentina.

Traditional Gender Roles

In order to understand the Queer Tango movement, it is important to first understand the traditional gender roles of Argentine tango.

The gender roles in traditional Argentine tango are strictly defined. This is immediately evident upon entering a milonga, a traditional argentine dance hall. In many milongas, there are separate sections for men, women and for man-woman pairs. This implies that men will ask women to dance and then lead the dance. In many milongas, the cabeceo is used. The cabeceo is an invitation to dance where a man and woman make eye contact and make a slight tip of the head in order to indicate their agreement to dance. In the invitation to dance, the man and the woman are equal because they both must agree in order for the dance to proceed.

After the cabeceo, the man approaches the woman and embraces her. The man waits until the woman becomes comfortable in the embrace and listens to the music for a few seconds before leading a movement. In this moment, the man has the power in the relationship because the woman now depends on him to direct all the movement.

During the dance, the majority of the woman’s movements are guided by the man. Although she has some opportunity to make subtle decisions, she can only do so within the time and space permitted by the guidance of the man. Her decisions should not interrupt the flow developed by the man.

The masculine role is to make the woman feel comfortable in the embrace and the movement and to protect her from collision. This is a reflection of the masculine role in argentine society. In the traditional argentine society (and in Latin America in general), machismo is very important for the identity of a man. In order to be macho, he must be sure of himself and it is his job to look after the welfare, security and happiness of his woman.

This male-female relationship is reflected on the dance floor. He is confident, she is trusting. The two are happy in their functions and are equal in their relationship. The do not compete, they cooperate and they hold a mutual respect for each other. He respects the femininity of the woman and she respects the masculinity of the man. Each one has unique things to offer to the dance (and to society).

Queer Tango. Via the International Queer Tango Argentino Festival in Hamburg website.

Same-Sex Tango in History

During the Golden Age (1935-1950) of tango it was common for men to learn to dance with men in practices. In some cases, the men learned the follower role first and only after they reached a certain level of experience would they learn the role of the leader.

These practices were not considered homosexual and same-sex tango was confined to these practices. During this time, the women did not have as much freedom to go to the practices like the men. Men wanted to practice in order to meet and impress women in the milongas. Therefore, their only option was to practice with other men. The women represented the motivation to learn tango and practice with other men. Expressing homosexual desire during these practices would have carried a big social taboo. Learning the role of the follower helped the men to be better leaders since they would know what the woman needed from him.

Tango’s dominant male is also evident in the brothel and prostitute origins of the dance. Due to this association, women were less likely to participate in practices even when allowed.

For the women, the norm was to learn tango from male family members, usually at home. Therefore, the women only learned the follower role, while the men tended to learn both roles.

Homosexual Rights in Argentina

The increase of gay rights and the growing acceptance of gays in society has had a significant impact on the acceptance of same-sex and queer tango in Argentina.

Argentina has a long history of being in front of the curve in regard to homosexual rights. For example, sexual activity by persons of the same sex has been legal since 1887. In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, this is still considered illegal.

After the first military coup in 1930, police harassment of homosexuals increased.  However, there are reports that during the Peronist era, Juan Perón ordered the police and the military not to participate in gay bashings.

The first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights organizations were created in 1969. In 1976, the government fought to eradicate the movement and many of the movement’s members were among the disappeared (during Argentina’s “Lost Decade”).

After the military dictatorship, the group La Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (The Homosexual Community of Argentina) made a public campaign for LGBT rights. During the time of re-democratization, a gay bar opened in Buenos Aires for the first time and the LGBT community began to be more open. Today, gay tourists are invited to visit Buenos Aires. The city even has a tourist information center specializing in gay tourism, called Pink Point.

In 2002, civil unions between gays and lesbians was legalized.  And, on July 15, 2010, Argentina became the second country in the Americas and the first in Latina America to legalize gay marriage. At that time, seventy percent (70%) of Argentine citizens were in favor of the legislation.

What is Queer Tango?

Queer Tango is a new method of dancing argentine tango that is free of the traditional heteronormative conventions. The purpose is to dance tango without pre-established gender roles and to be able to exchange the roles of leader and follower.

Queer Tango consists of two movements – Gay Tango and Gender Neutral Tango.  Gay tango is dancing between two homosexuals of the same sex. Gender Neutral Tango is when the dancers chose principal and secondary roles without considering the sex or the sexual orientation of the members of the pair.

Where traditional tango is the personification of traditional heterosexual gender roles, queer tango does not recognize these roles. It is the result of socio-political movement to free members of the LGBT community from the prevailing norms of heterosexual behavior in society worldwide.

According to Mariana Docampo Falcom, from the milonga Tango Queer in Buenos Aires, the dancers “can freely select the role they want and the gender they prefer to dance with”.

“There are many men that feel very liberated by following, and women that feel liberated by leading, and it has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” said Lexa Rosean, a lesbian that organizes a milonga in New York.

The teaching method is also different in queer tango.  Everyone learns to lead and to follow and the options for exhanching roles during the dance.  This permites the dancers “to explore the dynamic of the relationship more equally,” Falcon said, “the simbolic power that is put on the lead role disappears when either of the partners can fulfill either role”.

Queer Tango challenged and altered traditional gender roles and also frees the dance partnerships of the considerations of the sexual orientation of prospective partners. The queer tango movement grew out of gay tango dancers because ” gay tango is a bit restrictive, and that while some same-sex couples danced together, the ideas of dominant leader and submissive follower were still in play,” said Falcon .

When speaking of queer tango, it is important to note the difference between the terms sexuality, sexual orientation and gender. According to “Tango Voice,” sexuality refers to the expression of desire, sexual orientation refers to the direction of the expression of this desire (whether homosexual or heterosexual) and gender refers to a set of culturally defined roles or a set of expectations for behavior (male or female). By taking into account partner sex, sexual orientation and the assumption of roles, there are sixteen (16) possible combinations of queer tango associations. They are:

(1) Heterosexual Male leader / Heterosexual Female follower

(9) Heterosexual Female leader / Homosexual Female follower
(2) Heterosexual Female leader / Hetersexual Male follower (10) Homosexual Female leader / Heterosexual Female follower
(3) Homosexual Male leader / Homosexual Male follower (11) Heterosexual Male leader / Homosexual Female follower
(4) Homosexual Female leader / Homosexual Female follower (12) Homosexual Male leader / Heterosexual Female follower
(5) Heterosexual Male leader / Hetersexual Male follower (13) Homosexual Male leader / Homosexual Female follower
(6) Heterosexual Male leader / Homosexual Male follower (14) Heterosexual Female leader / Homosexual Male follower
(7) Homosexual Male leader / Hetersexual Male follower (15) Homosexual Female leader /  Hetersexual Male follower
(8) Heterosexual Female leader / Heterosexual Female follower (16) Homosexual Female leader / Homosexual Male follower

Gender neutral tango reduces the number of options to four:

1. Male Leader/ Female Follower

2. Male Leader/ Male Follower

3. Female Leader/ Female Follower

4. Female Leader/ Male Follower

This limits the options almost as much as traditional tango. Whereas gender neutral tango provides the benefit of flexible gender roles, they can cause confusion when the dancers want to use the tango as a form of courtship, as in the golden age. Queer Tango offers more options for dancers.

The History of Queer Tango

While queer tango has become very popular in Argentina during the last two decades, it, surprisingly, did not originate in Argentina. Queer tango was born in Hamburg, Germany, where the first gay milonga opened in the mid 1980s. The first queer tango festival was also held in Hamburg in 2001.

The intent of two of the founders of the movement, Marga Nagel and Ute Walter, was to be inclusive rather than exclusive. All tango enthusiasts who were interested in experimenting with the identities of its functions and with tango in general were invited. Angel and Walter were part of the first queer tango scene that originated in the gay club “Tuc Tuc” in the 1980’s.

The queer tango movement in Germany inspired other countries to start their own queer tango scenes. Queer tango festivals are celebrated around the world, including in Denmark, Sweden, the United States and Argentina.

According to the website of the International Queer Tango Festival in Hamburg, “the intention of Queer theory is to analyze the prevalent heterosexual norms and open possibilities for development. This can be achieved through the release of sensual experiences – eroticism, sexuality, fantasies – its heteronormative orientation and giving encouragement to be creative and fun. ”

Tango is the dance of Buenos Aires and should be open to all community members who want to learn. Queer Tango opens this cultural pastime to a greater number of participants. It also allows the dancers to experiment with gender roles, which is significant in a world where gender roles are constantly being blurred, while also providing an outlet open to gay and lesbian tango dancers.

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Sources

GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture

Tenth International Queer Tango Argentino Festival, Hamburg

Finn, Maria. “Dancing Scruffy Cheek-to-Scruffy Cheek: Gay Tango.”

Forero, Juan. “Argentina becomes second nation in Americas to legalize gay marriage.” The Seattle Times

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Hunt, Mary Ellen. “Queer tango throws out leader-follower rules.” San Francisco Chronicle

Spiritus Temporis

Queer Tango Argentina

Tango Voice

ToTango

“Tango Gender Equality.” ToTango

Malbec and Mate in Mendoza

November 7, 2011

A month ago, two of my friends and I made a pretty impromptu decision to spend a weekend in Mendoza. I knew I wanted to see the famous wine country before I returned to the U.S. and since we had only a few free weekends remaining we decided to go for it.

A week after buying our bus tickets, Phoebe, Kehala and I were on an overnight bus (18 hours) to Mendoza city. Luckily we got the three front seats on the upper deck, giving us an entire front window to look out.

My travel buddies, Kehala and Phoebe, checking our map during the bus ride from Buenos Aires.

After surviving the questionable dinner we were served, we arrived in Mendoza around 11 am on a Friday. We found our hostel (Hostel Estacion Mendoza) and immediately started exploring the town. The city is pretty small (population about 111,000) so it was a nice change from Buenos Aires.

We visited the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (Municipal Museum of Modern Art) which is located under the fountain in Plaza Independencia. It was pretty cool to walk under the fountain and into an art museum. The entrance fee was cheap (about $5 USD) but the museum was underwhelming. They had an interesting photography exhibit on Brazilian Laborers in the 1940s but after visiting art museums in Buenos Aires, this one couldn’t stack up.

Old barrels in the Museo del Vino.

But, let’s be honest, we weren’t in Mendoza for the art. So, Saturday morning, we packed some snacks and made our way to Mr. Hugo’s Bike Tours on Rioja Street, which is accessible via Buses 171, 172 and 173. “Mr. Hugo” was a jovial older man that eagerly greeted us with plastic cups of cheap wine. We waited our turn and met with one of the employees who gave us a map and suggestions of his favorite stops. We paid AR$30 for each bike for the day, stashed our complementary bottles of water and hit the road.

The map did a good job of leading us to the vineyards (although it was decidedly not to scale) and we enjoyed the freedom of having our own timetable. Our first stop was the Museo del Vino, an old, still functioning winery turned museum. We explored the rooms of old wine-making equipment, were perplexed by the Hall of Weapons and tasted the Museum’s Malbec, which was quite delicious and rivaled many of the bottles I’ve had in Buenos Aires (although I’m no oenologist).

Phoebe and I enjoying a wine tasting at the Museo del Vino.

We then made our way to a Liquor, Olive Oil and Chocolate Factory where we tasted a number of yummy jams, olive oils, olives, chocolates and liquors. The olives in Mendoza were absolutely delectable. My host mom could spend hours talking about the divinity of Mendoza olives, so trust me, they’re yummy. We had a quick picnic lunch in the factory’s lawn and moved on.

Biking the wine trail.

We arrived at Trapiche Vineyards, the largest producer of wine in Argentina, only to discover there was no more space on the tours. Unfazed, we rode to the Beer Garden on our map. The “garden” turned out to be a family’s backyard with picnic tables and couches scattered about. We handed the mother our coupons for a free snack with a pint of beer (blonde ale, red ale or dark lager) and watched as the father stuffed homemade empanadas. After sitting down on a couch, the couple’s adorable 8-year-old daughter brought out our chips and beer (apparently liquor laws aren’t as strict here). The beer was a great way to relax after biking all morning. (Taking a break from tasting wine by having a beer, it’s a rough life, I know.) If you use Mr. Huge, be sure to stop at the Beer Garden, it was a great place to rest and meet other bikers from the trail.

The three of us enjoying some relaxation time at the beer garden.

Try not to get too jealous.

We then began a longer trek to Mevi Vineyards. On the way I realized I had a flat tire, which forced us to stop at a gas station and call Mr. Hugo. We waited about 20 minutes for a man to drive me out a new bike and then hit the road again. We finally made it to Mevi, our last stop of the day due to the flat-tire-delay. This chic, modern vineyard was well worth the wait. The white, clean-lined building was a beautiful contrast to the fields of grapes. The three of us enjoyed relaxing in the sun on the back porch before trying seven of the vineyard’s wines. The Malbec was my favorite (duh!) but I also enjoyed the Syrah.  We did one tasting of “young” wines, wines that had been fermenting for less than a year. It was interesting to taste the young wine and compare it to the same wine that had fermenting for a more standard time (1-2 years), which is what made up our second tasting.

The infamous tire.

Relaxing on the balcony at Mevi vineyards.

A tasting of "young" wines.

A tasting of reserves.

After we got back to Mr. Hugo’s, we sat on the porch and rehashed our day with other bikers.  We met a couple of Portuguese girls and three Danish guys that we ended up having dinner with back in the city.  One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting other people from such a variety of backgrounds.

The next morning, we went rafting with a company our hostel suggested. Since it was early in the season, the rapids were still quite small (about level 2) but it was fun for a first-timer like me!

Later on, we spent some time exploring the city and while playing cards back at our hostel, a college student that works there invited us to go hang out at the park with some of his friends.  He told us they would be playing music, drinking mate and just hanging out.  We were excited to hang out with some locals and eagerly followed. When we got to the park, we were greeted by a large group of Argentine hippies.  One of the highlights of my trip was the hour or so we spent listening to music, drinking mate and watching people dance. They were some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met and I was sad to have to head back to Buenos Aires so soon after meeting them.

Enjoying the drum circle.

Sipping some mate and listening to the music.

Overall it was a great trip and I would highly recommend visiting wine country if you’re ever in Argentina. It’s a wonderful contrast to the bustling city life I’ve been immersed in these past 5 months.

What’s this?! An actual blog post? I know, I know, it’s been awhile. Very sorry for the long absence but I promise I will be updating this week with stories of my latest adventures. Pinky swear.

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September 11th was the date for this year’s Festival of the Moon(La Festival de la Luna), one of the oldest and most important holidays in Chinese culture.  For the first time, Buenos Aires’ Chinatown hosted an outdoor festival to honor the holiday. Conveniently, Barrio Chino is a mere three blocks from my house so I decided to check it out with a few girlfriends of mine.

According to the flier I received, the holiday occurs every year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month when, according to legend, the moon is the most full and bright of the whole year.

Paper lanterns hang above the street during the Festival de la Luna in Buenos Aires' Chinatown.

And, according to legend, Chang Er flew to the moon where she now lives and you may see her dancing up there during the Moon Festival. The festival is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture.  Families often reunite to watch the full moon and celebrate together.

Martial Arts show during the Moon Festival. They were pretty impressive.

Buenos Aires’ Chinatown is quite small, as I mentioned in a previous post, but there was a crowd of people stuffed into  four blocks. Some friends and I browsed the market stands, listened to a singer, watched a Martial Arts show and enjoyed some “Asian Cuisine” at a restaurant. Hey, it can’t be entirely authentic, we are in Argentina after all.

Members of the Chinatown Association carried the dragon through the streets.

We enjoyed watching the dragon meander through the streets.

Altogether it was a nice, relaxing day and a good way to enjoy some of the early spring weather we were having. It was also pretty exciting to experience some Chinese culture while living in South America.

My first experience with Melon Popcicles. So yummy!

This past Friday, my host University put on an International Night. It was a chance for all the international students to mix and mingle and for the local students to meet some foreigners. Students from each country decorated tables with information showing the history and culture of their homelands. Each country also brought in traditional food and, of course, booze from their regions.

The party started off with a group of us from my tango class performing a choreographed tango show. I can’t say we were very impressive, but it sure was a lot of fun!

My tango partner, Eugenio, and I.

For me, the winning tables were the United States, Germany ,China and Mexico.  The USA table featured liters of Budweiser (I never realized how awful that beer was until after drinking really good beer in Argentina for two months), Cheeze-Its (yes!) and Oreos with peanut butter (double yes!).

The USA table after some major damage to the Cheeze-Its.

The German table featured men dressed in lederhosen, liters of Warsteiner and Becks, pretzels and radishes (I still don’t understand the latter).

The German table.

The Chinese table had a variety of homemade traditional Chinese dishes – which were all delicious. They were so popular that they ran out of plates and chopsticks so I ate my food out of a cup with a knife – college ingenuity at its finest.

My favorite table was the Mexican table. They showed everyone how to do tequila shots “like real Mexicans,” according to my tango partner Eugenio, who is a “real Mexican”. These consisted of a tequila shot with a drop of hot sauce, followed by a chaser of chili powder. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it, I was pleasantly surprised. Most importantly, the Mexican table had homemade quesadillas and chips with homemade guacamole, beans and hot sauces. And it was actually spicy! (It’s impossible to get spicy food in Buenos Aires)

The Mexican table.

I loved having the opportunity to hang out with my classmates in a more informal setting. I was also amazing to see so many different cultures in one place – we have so much more in common than we have differences and I loved being in an environment where we were able to appreciate and learn about those differences rather than criticize them. Maybe the way to solve the world’s problems is to get everyone in the same room with some good food, good drinks and lots of dancing. Well, it’s worth a shot!

Thanks to my friend David for letting me use some of his photos for this post! Check out his blog here.

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This post first appeared on August 1 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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If you had told me a year ago that this past Wednesday I would have started my day before the sun rose by climbing into a pick-up truck with two Argentine men and one American to drive two hours into the Andes while rocking to ACDC’s You Shook Me All Night Long, I would have told you that you were insane.  But, that’s exactly how my most recent Wednesday began.

After the completion of our month-long intensive Spanish course, we had a week break to do some traveling.  My friend Campbell and I decided to head up to Salta, in Northern Argentina, to escape the city and get some fresh air.  The Friday evening after our last class, we climbed into a bus and 22 hours later, arrived in Salta. We spent our first couple of days exploring the city and it’s main squares (reminded me a lot of Savannah, Georgia) and visiting the various art museums.

Monday afternoon, we popped into a bike rental place to see if we could rent some mountain bikes for the day.  Francisco informed us that we could rent the bikes overnight and ride up to a little mountain town called La Caldera.  It sounded like an adventure to us so we loaded up the bikes with our backpacks and headed up Route 9 North – a road no wider than 12 feet.  It took about 2 hours to ride the nearly 20 miles to the town, since it was mostly uphill the whole way.  We arrived to La Caldera, a tiny town that consists of about 5 blocks and whose main tourist attraction is a giant statue of Jesus on top of a mountain, and began looking for a place the stay that night.  We found a beautiful hostel on the edge of town that was well worth the less than $20 each we spent to stay there.  After checking in, we rode the two and a half miles to the Dam north of town.  We relaxed and read our books for while on the edge of the lake.  In other words, it was heaven.

The next day we rode up the mountain to see the “famous” Cristo statue.  It was interesting and slightly creepy but a feat of engineering nonetheless.  I was surprised that the number of mini-vans full of tourists that arrived there on a Tuesday morning.  While the statue didn’t enamor me, I did fall in love with the town. If I’m ever forced to go on the run, I’m moving to La Caldera.

We said goodbye to the quaint little town and rode back down to Salta, which only took about 45 minutes since it was a downhill coast most of the way.  We checked into a hostel, took a nap, ate a wonderful dinner at a cute little parilla, chatted with the French and Swiss travelers at our hostel and went to bed.  We had an early morning the next day.

At 6:45 am the next day, my alarm went off and we quickly packed our backpacks, shoveled some cornflakes and coffee into our mouths and met two Argentine men, Facundo and Santiago, outside our hostel next to their new pick-up truck.  Facundo, “Facu,” was the guide we had hired for a two-day trek through the Andes.  Santiago, “Santi,” was driving us to the start of the trail.  Two hours later, after listening to a strange mix of Lady Gaga, ACDC and Simple Plan, we arrived to the trailhead.  We spent the next two days trekking our way through the Andes, meeting the local mountain people along the way.  The next evening, we arrived back in Salta, filthy and sore but happy and relaxed.  I can honestly say that our four days of biking and hiking were some of the happiest of my life.  It was so nice to be away from smog and Internet and people and just sit and look at the mountains.

Well, since this post is getting rather lengthy and I doubt many readers have made it this far, I’ll end here and post later this week with some more details of my Northern Argentina Adventure.

Chau!

“Researching” San Telmo

August 25, 2011

This post first appeared on July 18 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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Our latest class assignment was to explore one of the 48 neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and give a presentation about the barrio to the class.  My group and I decided to explore San Telmo, the smallest barrioin the city.  Therefore, I spent last week exploring the various sights in this small corner of Buenos Aires.

Back in the 17th century, San Telmo was an industrial area home to the city’s dockworkers and brickmakers.  Later on, in the mid-1850s, the neighborhood started to improve with the addition of better housing, cobblestone streets, running water, lighting and the addition of the still popular wholesale market in the center of San Telmo.  These improvements drew the well-to-do porteños to San Telmo until a yellow fever epidemic struck in the 1870s, pushing the wealthy to Barrio Norte and Recoleta [for a previous post about the Recoleta Cemetary, click here].  During the wave of immigrants in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the large old buildings were converted to tenement housing that was home to communities of British, Greek, Italian and Russian immigrants. Beginning in the 1950s, San Telmo began developing the bohemian reputation that it still maintains today.  San Telmo’s multi-cultural history, cobblestone streets and artsy vibe makes it a wonderful place to go for a walk or sit in a café and people-watch.

The well-to-do history of San Telmo is obvious in the beautiful architecture that fills this small neighborhood and the narrow cobblestone streets can lead you to believe that you’re strolling through Rome (or at least, what I imagine Rome is like).  In the center of the barrio is a small antiques, produce and meat market that is always full of interesting things for sale. I even found a store that was selling a U.S. dollar bill – good thing I know where to find one of those now.  All joking aside, the market is filled with beautiful antiques, old record and poster shops, and some of the most delicious looking meats and cheeses I’ve seen.

On Sundays, many of the streets in San Telmo are closed for the feria – the artisans street market – where everything from jewelry to mate cups to underwear is peddled.  The feria gives San Telmo a very congested feeling on Sundays that causes many of the residents to flee, but it is a nice thing to visit once or twice.

My classmates and I certainly preferred San Telmo on days other than Sunday.  One Saturday, we went to a café called Bar Federal on the corner of Peru and Carlos Calvo (in case anyone’s in the area).  It was by far one of my favorite places so far.  After standing around awkwardly waiting for a table to open up, we pounced on a table in the corner by the window before the mozo even had a chance to clear it (that’s just how things are done here).

Our site director Gaby, a San Telmo resident, told us that Bar Federal is known for its “finger food” so we decided to go with an aperitivo platter – the Gran Federal, I believe.  After ordering some cervezas and Cokes for the table, the waiter brought us a heaping basket of various breads.  No one in Buenos Aires is ever in a hurry and this café was particularly relaxed, but about an hour later, the Gran Federal arrived.  It was a large wood cutting board covered with jamón, Roquefort cheese, bite size pieces of tortillas españolas, salami, olives, more cheese, pâté and hearts of palm.

After chowing down and resisting the urge to lick the cutting board, we decided to order another course.  About 2 and half hours had passed since we first arrived so this was already one of the longer lunches of my life.  Campbell and I decided to share a dish of papas fritas (French fries) covered with pancetta and fried eggs while Kenzie and Steph ordered a Spanish tortilla with chorizo and cheese.  Another 45 minutes later, we got our food and it was as delicious as we had imagined.  All told, the lunch was about 4 hours and we all had a fantastic time.  This café seemed to really echo the bohemian sentiment in San Telmo and it was, of course, necessary “research” for our project.  Even though the presentation has come and gone, we still have a list of places in San Telmo to explore.  And, after hearing all the other presentations, I have a list of places in other barrios to add to my to-do list.