I made my first thanksgiving turkey yesterday. It was not a complete disaster.
The kitchen in this apartment is designed for one of the seven dwarves. Most likely grumpy because that’s the only way I feel when I’m inside. It is so small I can’t even turn 45 degrees without breaking anything. My tally is 4 glasses and a plate so far. That’s an average of 1 item a week and I haven’t even lived here that long.
As holiday season approaches and families back home started to get together for thanksgiving, I became a little daunted by what I’ve gotten myself into traveling far away from home. At times this week, I was definitely thinking about home more than usual.
Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate being with family and enjoy a delicious meal together. For this, it’s one of my favorite holidays. However, yesterday I was really lucky yesterday to be able to get together with friends–old and new. I cooked a turkey with the help of Ollie Klingenstein and Elliot Taft, two fellow Americans who have been traveling and working on ranches in South America. I introduced the magic of thanksgiving to three awesome Argentinians.
Back in early October, I got a message from Eliot. He knew I was going to be in South America sometime towards the end of this year so he wrote me, saying that he and Ollie were going to meet me in Buenos Aires for Thanksgiving. I laughed it off there, understanding the flakiness of travelers. Plans change, you meet people, find out about new places–anything can happen–so I wasn’t entirely convinced that we were actually going to cross paths. But they made it happen.
Ollie, a rugby teammate taking a semester off college to get learn from the winds and sands of Central and South America, came in on a flight from Lima at 5 in the morning. We caught, shared stories of our travels so far, then went later that afternoon to pick up Eliot at the ferry terminal who was coming in from Montevideo after working at a dude ranch for a couple of months.
We walked around, I showed them a place to get a 60 cent sausage sandwich, which is likely what kept me bent over the toilet, fully emptying my stomach for the next day. We went shopping, very lucky to find a turkey.
Pumpkin pie is easily my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, but pumpkin pie producing products were no were to be found. Emily Norton hooked it up with a sweet potato pie…we never tried it. It’s still in the fridge. The other Argentine twist to the meal was replacing cranberry sauce with a pear/fig marmalade. Its harder, and usually used to compliment crackers and cheese. Adding some water, it made a great substitute though.
We had a blast cooking all day, listening to CCR, Zac Brown Band, Trampled by Turtles, and a whole lot of other music to make us feel at home. Unfortunately we missed out on some key events: no football, no catch in the back yard, and no post dinner dog walks. But, it was great to be connected with good friends and to share the holiday with new ones. Thanksgiving this year was different, but absolutely memorable.
In order to get a better understanding of what the brute force of water looks like, I went to Las Cataratas de Iguazú in the Northeastern-most corner of Argentina. Tucked in between the corner of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay are the Iguazu waterfalls, easily one of the most sublime natural features I have ever laid eyes on.
My friend Emily and I traveled by bus. We left Buenos Aires at 3:30 Friday Afternoon and got to the bus stop in Puerto Iguazu at 10:30 on Saturday. It was 19 hours of non-stop bussing–about the same time of non-stop driving as it took me, Sarah Johnson, Lulu Oakes, Julie Bender, Zina Huxley-Riecher Phil Cuddeback, Alex Thompson, and Ben Richmond to get from the Old Crow Medicine Show concert in Savannah, Georgia back to Bowdoin for school the next day.
Bus travel in Argentina is very popular, though. A bus trip of that magnitude is a pretty standard, especially compared to the United States. On the road I would say 15% of the other vehicles we passed were coach buses. Another 20% were logging trucks, then the remainder were trucks, cars, motorcycles and scooters–carrying more than they could handle. Once you get outside of Buenos Aires, its quite common to see trucks and cars from the past couple decades. I’m used to seeing outdated cars rotting on the sides of the road in Northern Maine, here, there were cars and trucks from the 60s, 70s, and 80s rotting on the side of the road and also still rolling on past me the roads.
18 hours on the bus wasn’t so uncomfortable. We opted to spend the extra ten dollars and get a Semi-Cama seat, which is basically a lazy boy chair that reclines to about 150 degrees. It would have been easy to sleep if it wasn’t for the audio of awful movies projecting directly through the mis-wired speaker like a PA system to the whole bus, rather than only being able to be heard when plugged into the audio-jack. In Bear-Grylls fashion, I rigged up my fleece, with this all purpose heavy duty twisty ties from EMS and jammed a pillow in between the fleece and the speaker, as air tight as I could crank it to muffle the whining rants of the atrocious video content. I figured the guys that rotate through driving 18 hour shifts must see so many movies that it may become very slim picking. Or they just have bad taste.
The unfortunate media let me focus on appreciating the Argentine ranch-land out the window. The setting sun cast an orange glow across the landscape, which looked quite a lot like rural texas with barns, farms, cows, low-lying brush, and the occasional crop-field windmill. It was nice to be able to see the sun fully descend down the horizon rather than being cast in darkness an hour early behind the shadow of Buenos Aires’ buildings.
The most satisfying part of the bus trip was the coffee. In Argentina the go-to coffee is café con leche, a really frothy and milky 4th cousin of coffee. I really miss the big mug of black coffee that is easy to fill up and lasts much longer than the european expresso style in a little teacup. The bus had just what I had been missing, and lots of it, in a vat approximately the same size as crate for medium sized dogs.
Even though I drank a few styrofoam cups of coffee, I slept through to the morning, waking up to shift around a bit every hour or so. We arrived in Puerto Iguazu and found the hostel. It was a really nice place, with a little swimming pool in the back. It cost 252 pesos for two people for two nights. Thats 25 dollars, or just about 6.50/night.
The hostel was in town–a place with stray dogs, abandoned buildings, restaurants, and bars that cater to the park’s visitors. The place had an authentic South American feel. The roads were stained red from the iron-rich jungle soil, and all around was thick brush and a limitless expanse of trees. The town is just a little pocket of streets, telephone wires, and buildings, completely enveloped all around by jungle.
It was another 20 minute bus ride to the park. Sheraton has a hotel directly inside Iguazu national park, but that was a little pricey. We spent two days in the park, both days on the Argentine side. There are also great views from Brazil, but we planned the trip last minute and didn’t have time to straighten out a Brazilian Visa. Europeans can travel to Brazil without a problem, but Americans need to pay a fee and get it sorted before hand. The closest I got to Brazil was on a boat on the river that powered its way up the rapids and right underneath some of the smaller waterfalls. The river is the border. The border is still the country, so I’m checking it off my list. I’ve been to Brazil.
In two days, we hiked all the trails in the park, took a boat ride underneath the falls, spotted a toucan, a couple jungle raccoons, a whole lot of beastly lizards, and some funky butterflies. One of the highlights of the park was a longer, less popular trail where after a 3.5 km walk you get to a natural pool below a waterfall where you can swim. The whole place was really incredible. Pictures can’t do justice to the space, the immensity of the currents, or the beautiful jungle climate surrounding. In the Iguazu National Park, there are between 150 to 300 waterfalls, depending on the water level of the Iguazu River. About half of the water from the river flows into one channel, named the Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat.
I just got back to Baires after another big bus ride. We took another company back, one that loves to blast air conditioning. I was shivering like a penguin the whole night in shorts and a tank top, extremely envious of the people in front of me who knew we were traveling by ice box and packed their winter gear and a blanket. If the sounds were the distinctive feature on the first bus, the smells were the feature of the second. We sat in the very back, right in front of the motor, so got drugged up by the 18 hours of smelling gasoline.
Ayer, yo fui a un evento se llama la fuerza bruta. Fue muy ruidoso. Pero en general, fue un evento spectacular, un poco como de ‘el grupo de hombre azul.’ Hubo mujeres que estuvieron bailar encima de mi y los actores tocaron música con tambores y cosas electrónicas. En Buenos Aires tambien, Emily, una chica que está un estudiante de Bowdoin y va a graduarse este año. Yo y Emily fuimos a la Fuerza Bruta.
Después del concierto, sentamos a una mesa cerca del Cemetario de Recolata y tomamos una bebida. Hablamos sobre amigos en los estados unidos y comimos nachos! Que bueno!
Mama…cierra su orejas y ojos…!!!
Este mañana, yo anduve una motocicleta por la ciudad detrás de Paddy que manejó esa. Fuimos al banco para cambiar mi dinero. Los calles de Buenos Aires son locos, y yo tenía miedo cuando manejamos por el avenida de Santa Fe.
Pero, todavía tengo mi cabeza. Que suerte!
Antes de mi clases de español, yo busqué por un restaurante que se llama un buen libro. El restaurante tiene un sandwich muy famoso porque el sandwich es largo y grande y parato. Pero no pude econtrarlo. Que lastima!
Después de clase, yo estaba caminado por el avenida de 9 de julio y yo compré dos libros. Una la página está en Ingles, y el otra pgina al lado está en castellaño. Es muy bueno para aprender. Con una chica de Geneve, en pais Swiss, que yo encontré en la tienda de los libros, yo volví a mi Barrio. Yo voy a descansar un poco sobre un sillón y después, voy a pensar como que yo quiero cenar.
Tambien, mi amiga de mi apartamento limpió todo de mi dormitorio y tambien sacó mis ropas en la lavaropa. Yo traje ella flores. Que linda!
Yo soy muy divertido para escribir todo de esto en español. Woof woof.
In the past 23 years and 19 days of my life, I’ve gotten used to turning people’s heads as they pass by me on the street.
My striking good looks are currently highlighted by a dirty mustache and hair that’s getting longer and shaggier by the day. My attire consistently includes four t-shirts that reek of mildew. I fear that people are no longer tracking my swagger down the street with their jaws-dropped and drooling. Rather, the recent behavior looks like frantically digging through handbags for gas-masks and scanning the streets (and sidewalks) for the closest motorcycle to hop on and zip as far away as possible.
I’m a dirty traveler with a mustache. I’m loving it.
Doing laundry has been a particular challenge for me here in Buenos Aires. Drying your laundry is dependent on sunny weather so that it drys quickly after you hang it outside of your bedroom window. Its been unusually damp and rainy for most of the ten days I’ve been here. I’ve neglected to consult the weather report during my laundry routine. But I’m learning.
Today I swing by Proyecto ‘Ace, the artist residency I’m going to work at in January. It’s a beautiful space, really well put together with an impressive print-making studio, a gallery space, and a small tower studio. There are currently a few South and Central American artists that cycle through there. I’m going to be joined from a young female artist from Turkey who just graduated from Parsons in New York. The roof has an tiled terrace which will be great to catch some sun during the hot summer months. They’ve invited me to come by there and work for three weeks in January. I’m excited to take the influences from my five months of this experience and just have a concentrated period where I’ll be able to make some paintings. It will be exciting to see what it’s like to treat painting as a real job–the studio opens at 9 and closes at 6. After, it’s my impression that all the younger artists get together for food and drinks. Should be fun
The energizer bunny is part Argentinian. These people don’t stop all night long, especially when Clarity is playing. EatSleepRaveRepeat. This Saturday I went to an all night electronic music festival set in the ecological reserve of Buenos Aires. The ecological reserve is an amazing space set aside for wildlife right next to the city. It’s great to go for runs and just escape. Buenos Aires is pretty wild, you can just cross over an avenue and you get to a part of the city that looks distinctly different from every other neighborhood, or barrio.
On Friday, I met Chris, a rugby friend of the Bowdoin Rugby Godfather, Andy Palmer. Andy and Chris went on tour in New Zealand together after they graduated from Bowdoin and Dartmouth, respectively, in the early 90s. Chris picked me up from a Subte (subway stop) a little north of the city and we drove through the city to a bar in the barrio called Palermo. Chris drives the way I imagine he played rugby. He said himself, “if I saw myself driving around Buenos Aires, I would probably be out on the street brawling with him. I drive like a total asshole.” We were weaving in and out of traffic, but getting to where we needed to go with intent and purpose.
Chris owns a couple of businesses down here in Buenos Aires. One of them is a vending company, so we went to a bar that uses his machines. Chris told me a bit about Buenos Aires, highlighting the financial mistakes that the Argentine government is making right now. The government is printing off a lot of money, so the inflation rate is extremely high and Argentines have no incentive to save their earnings. One way to bypass saving is to buy luxury cars and save income in material assets rather than in accounts in the bank. Down here, cars retain about 95% of their value over three or four years. But now, there are hundreds of thousands of more cars on the streets, but no new roads. Congestion is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. This method of savings does not align with environmentalism either.
The government’s monetary controls also messes with US dollar-peso conversion rates. The government exchanges dollars for 5 pesos, but the actual Argentine value of the dollar is about 10 pesos, so if you bring dollars directly into the country, you’re twice as rich. I wish I knew this when I came in.
Chris also mentioned the corruption in Argentina. He told me about one of his factories in the outskirts of the city where the municipal laws conflict with the regional laws with conflict with the national laws. The laws contradict each other and sometimes a certain party needs to be paid off. He told me that school children in Argentina were interviewed about how they felt about stealing or lying to make more money. 65% of them saw no problem with it.
One of his other quotes was “Argentina is the best country in the world with the worst 40 million inhabitants.” It has amazing natural features and boundless resources, but it has a disorganized and corrupt government.
I saw a prime example of how ‘wild, wild west’ it is down here. We parked outside the bar in Palermo and as we exited his VW pick-up, he was approached by a raggedy, seemingly homeless guy telling him to pay 100 pesos for the parking. There was no meter, no parking sticker…nothing. I was confused so I asked what was going on. He told met that the guys there will scratch up your car and steal you hubcaps and maybe even smash some windows if you don’t pay them. They pay a part of their earnings off to the local police so the police turn a blind eye to it.
Buenos Aires, not like home.
Nevertheless, Chris summarized by saying the benefits of living in Buenos Aires outweigh all the nuisances. At the moment, I totally agree. It’s great living in a place so out of my element. People are especially friendly, at the moment, I’m amigos with the fruit, vegetable, and egg vendor down the street, the manager of the cross fit gym, and a guy who sells me empanadas every afternoon close to where I’m taking spanish classes.
It’s wonderful feeling completely at home in a foreign place. I’ve been away from home for quite a long time at this point. My argentine roommate, Maria struggles to believe that I essentially left home at 14 for boarding school. Here in Argentina, it’s common for children to stay at home until 28 or older. Maria just left home three years ago and moved into this apartment around the corner from her parents.
For almost a decade now, I’ve been, and felt, pretty nomadic. My Watson year is adding some sugar to the benefits of quickly adapting and place-making. So, it’s nice building myself a nest in a semi-permanent location.
I’ve gotten into a routine. Working out at a cross fit gym, taking spanish classes, exploring different barrios–conciously not taking any pictures so that I’m not a target to be mugged. Just about every night, I go to this place Freddo for ice cream just about every night. Today, for example, I got 4.4 pounds of ice cream for 13 dollars. #worthit
I’ll start taking the camera out sometime soon and share some shots with you. I hope this pleases those of you who have accused me of being lazy and not keeping up with the blog. Admittedly, yes I’ve been lazy. But life is good. Hope all is well up there.
I’ve got a story to tell. Travel here was notable.
On the train ride from Roma Tiburtina to Fuimicini Airport, someone was having serious gastro-intestinal issues. This was not any normal fart, in fact it was one of the most awful smells that has ever been registered in my brain. That’s saying something after spending the past four years with a bunch of dingos on my college rugby team, where a lot of off-putting smells were produced from a whole lot of off-putting activities. This smell was so potently rank that it sent the whole 60 seat train carriage spasming in their seats. I’d imagine that this would work better than tear gas. My fellow sufferers were grasping at their arm rests with looks of desperation. At one point I played would you rather…have a broken arm from jumping out of the train buckling through Rome at least at a 90kmh tick or deal with this stench produced just about on cue every 4 and a half minutes for another half hour. It was like opening the drawer of the fridge where you keep wet spinach that’s been soaking there for over a year. Or quiche. Disgusting, messed up quiche.
I’ve never seen a more chaotic plane boarding process than watching the Italians and Argentinians mob their way onto the Boeing 777. Woah nelly. The plane is right outside and the pilot is hanging out in the corner back there. Lets all cool down a second. People were so frantic to get on board that they were trying to sneak in through the first class ‘sky lounge priority boarding’ entrance. The whole scenario reminded me of the part in Titanic when everyone was fighting for survival and trying to get one of the last spots on a safety boat. I just sat back and watched this hollywood quality entertainment unveil before me.
I’d relate to the commotion if everyone was rushing to get to their first class seat where they were served champagne and strawberries from the vine. But, the 99% of us were not heading into la la land. People are pushing and shoving to sit in a sardine can for 14 hours? Shit. Their vacation must have really been a downer. Maybe these plane-boarders were just trying to get as far as possible from the man with the seriously diseased GI tract. I understand now.
I was sitting directly over the wing of the Alitalia 777 on the window next to a Argentinian couple. I tested my spanish to set a benchmark. I determined it couldn’t get any worse. Which is good. There’s room to improve. My spanglish though, I was very proud of my spanglish. I understood about half of the words that they were saying to me, and I was able to convey about a quarter of my thoughts to them, so all in all we had about an eighth of a conversation. And that’s pushing it.
The flight was bumpy. The whole way. I was like baby trying to sleep in a cradle that was being rocked by a gorilla. I got some good sleep, although patchy, and the 14 hour flight went by quicker than I had imagined.
At one point, I just stared out at the stars from the cloud-top perch of the airplane. Up above the clouds, the universe was bright and crystal clear. The galaxies were illuminated. Below me was an abyss. A vacuum of darkness. The Sahara desert. I was in the midst of peace and quiet of the sleepy plane cabin yet I felt so rampantly and completely alive. It was one of those moments. Then the gorilla came back and rocked me back to sleep.
The sun caught up with us once again and rose over the horizon after an extended period of night. I looked down below the massive wing into South America. Mountains, lakes, large features, and unpopulated terrain. I got a glimpse of Montevideo and the plane braked and descended quickly into EZE airport. I got a flyby past Buenos Aires and landed safe and sound. The cabin erupted in applause when we landed. Is that an Italian thing to do? Or just an elderly person thing to do? Or was it because it was such a long flight. But a computer mostly did it anyways, right? Anyways, I was surprised by the applause. I didn’t clap. But thanks Mr. Pilot for taking me across the pond safely.
I got in line in passport control. Waited in line for ten minutes, sort of sleep walking. I got to the booth. Hola, como estas? I said with a big grin, proud of myself for sparking off a conversation…correctly. Nailed it. We went through the regular passport control conversation. Then he said, Have you paid your reciprocity tax? All of a sudden I got this flashback to reading about Visa requirements for Argentina. You don’t need to register for a Visa, you just need to pay your way into the country. $150 bucks. Oh man. No, silly little David forgot. Follow me, he said as he got out of his official booth and escorted me through a long corridor and into a holding cell.
The holding cell was a blank room with three chairs, one already occupied. The room was just big enough to fit a mini-cooper snugly, the plaster on the walls was chipping and revealing concrete behind. There were 9,312 grayish tiles in the room. Yes, that’s how long I waited.
When I first came into the room, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing there. My passport is a little sketchy. My picture is from when I was 15 and I have an Indian, a Chinese, and a Kenyan visa in my passport (even though I have never been to Kenya nor do I have any plans to head in that direction) so I’m sure I seem slightly odd to immigration officers. Was I going back here to get interrogated? Bring it on. But when I got into the room, there was already a guy there. He was a Brit, built like a rugby player–a tight-head prop (lineman for the football analogy)–who looked as mean as a gator. He looked like a trouble-maker so maybe in fact I was being detained for something.
But it all came clear when I sat down next to him and he said to me in a cheery british accent, mate, I’m guessing you forgot to pay the visa too ha ha he. He was all clad up in a nice suit, and he started laughing about how he got to miss out on the boring business meeting he was supposed to be present for in the city center. He got sorted out in the first five minutes I was there, but he told me that it takes a while.
I had to wait a long time to wait and get it all figured out. The whole time I was really worried that someone was going to pick up my bag and run off with it. The saving grace was that nothing in my checked bag was more valuable than the bag itself. In Italy, I put it down on the street outside of a car mechanic’s garage so half of the bag is stained a different color and reeks of gasoline. That was likely a deterrent. Good move Davie!
Into the holding pen strolls another character, Rory. Rory is a tan and long haired surfer bro who just landed from Hawaii. He pulled the smart move. Rory admitted right away to the border guards that he hadn’t paid the Visa, so he was ushered past the 10 minute line (great move) and right into the holding pen. He had a Dakine backpack with a miniature skateboard attached to it. For his whole trip he’d packed up in two small backpacks. A leather jacket hung around the straps of one of them. This guy was very clearly a boy in a man’s body. Awesome. We got to talking. He was especially free-spirited and care-free. His aura led me to believe that he was used to a certain type of lifestyle. Even the biggest ski-bums and surfers I’ve met aren’t this chilled out. Maybe he’s a celebrity, I thought. It turned out that I was, in fact, sitting next to Rory Bushfield!
Rory Bushfield is a Canadian professional skier, filmmaker, and reality star. Bushfield is a former member of Canada’s World Cup team, skiing moguls. He has also competed in slopestyle skiing before focusing on backcountry skiing and filmmaking. (wikipedia).
The detainment cell was sort of like hanging outside the principals office, waiting to get told off for pouring chocolate pudding on the blonde girl we had a crush on, hoping that this would make her fall madly in love with me.
I later found out that Rory Bushfield was the husband of Sarah Burke, the skier who tragically died last year after a half-pipe accident. He is traveling around the world, living his life to the fullest, the way he knows Burke would have wanted him to live and the way he would have wanted her to go on if he had a tragic accident himself. I have a profound respect for Rory. It was really pretty cool to get to spend time with him.
In the rush after they finally released me, I was so flabbergasted that I forgot to realize that the Argentinian border control never gave me my credit card back. It’s stuck at the Alitalia office in Ezeiza Airport.
One of the border guards, who seemed earlier like he was getting off on giving me a hard time, turned out to be my number one fan after he released me from the cell. He had read the letter from the Watson HQ explaining who I am and why I was doing so much concentrated traveling. The guard started asking me questions about how my trip was going and what I was excited about later. He helped me find my bag, which at this point was in the unclaimed baggage department, he walked with me through customs, and even waited for me when I went to the bathroom. The whole time we just chatted. It was pretty strange. He was just about my age so I didn’t think he was asking the questions in a suspicious, border guard kind of way. But I was considering whether this was some sort of cross-examination. After I got through customs he said, okay, I have to go back to work now. Nice talking to you. Buenos dias. That sealed it. I think this guy was genuinely interested.
A slew of conversations ensued after and set a great, positive first impression of Argentinians as friendly and talkative. This was extremely refreshing after the ‘mind your own business’ attitude of southern Europe. After I left the terminal to find the shuttle, there were two middle aged women who were asking me questions in Spanish. They didn’t speak any English and knew I didn’t speak much Spanish, but they were determined to have a conversation with me. With sign language, and a little bit of acting, we got somewhere. It made waiting in line for the shuttle quite pleasant. One of them told me that I looked like Prince William. Thanks. I get hit on my older women much more than girls my age. Why?!?
Yesterday, my first day, was great. I found a spanish school, took the placement test, and passed into a intermediary-beginner course. I get to start tomorrow, jumping mid-week into a course rather than needing to wait until Monday. In the afternoon, I went to a free trial of a cross-fit class. It was entirely in Spanish. I misunderstood the work-out. I thought we had to do 5 rounds of 15 push-ups, 10 pull-ups, 5 box jumps within 17 minutes, but it was really just as many rounds as possible in the 17 minutes. Oops. I went really hard at the beginning and was gassed by about the 12th minute and got pulled out. Embarrassing. First time doing cross-fit is rumored to be tough. Tougher doing in a foreign language.
My roommates are awesome. Two are from Buenos Aires, Paddy and Maria. Maria is going to be a great spanish coach. We sat down for a bit in the living room and she refused to speak or let me speak English, which really is great. Paddy and Maria are both in their early 30s but they are welcoming hosts. The living situation here is great so far.
Like many people in my generation, I’ve been playing a lot more Lou Reed and really digging in after his death. What is that about being an artist? Your recognition takes off once you hit the grave.
Here are my thoughts so far.
The most amazing this about this fellowship is that it throws you into situations you are entirely unprepared for and the challenge is to make some sort of structure for yourself out of the madness. It happens so many times in a concentrated period and allows for education, growth, self-reflection, and just awareness.
You’re thrown out onto slippery, uneven ground and look for your footing. I walked out onto the streets of Buenos Aires yesterday. The language barrier is intimidating. Toilets are whirlpooling the other way The whole place had this crazy flare. Very much a different world. I look forward to seeing how I grasp ahold of life here.