some changes…

surprise!  we’re back!  we arrived in portland late friday night and surprised everyone.  my brother was the only one who knew of our plans.  the time was just right for us to come home.  we were ready to get back.  our trip was wonderful, we learned more than we ever imagined and we made the decision to come back to portland where we’ll be staying indefinitely.  our last day in buenos aires was beautiful.  fall had definitely set in as the leaves were changing color and starting to fall, but it was 71 degrees and blue skies for our last day.  the transition to being back has been strange, but getting more normal as time passes.  i’m looking for work and oliver is getting his business up and running again- anyone need their house painted??  for the time being we’re living in oliver’s parents basement.  it feels luxurious.  we have a room that is larger than anything we’ve stayed in since we left, there is a washer and dryer right outside of the room!, and i get to cook again!!  thanks for all the support and keeping in touch with us while we were away.  looking forward to reconnecting with everyone!  chau.

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our night at the milonga

as the saying goes when in buenos aires do as the “portenos” (locals from buenos aires) do… so we took our first tango class tonight.  what a night!  we arrived promptly at 9pm and the building was still closed.  shouldn’t surprise me, we should be used to argentine time by now.  the class only started 20 minutes late, which i should probably be thankful for.  i have watched a lot of tango and it is mesmerising and looks so difficult, but i came to find out tonight that even the most basic steps are more involved than i thought.  it is so captivating to watch and i might just have to stick to watching based on how hard the first lesson was!  we had a really great time nonetheless and i’m so glad we tried our hand at it.  after the hour lesson there was a milonga (open dance floor where people practice and show off their tango moves) and a live orchestra.  we have seen them performing on the street before, but their performance tonight was incredible!  i couldn’t decide what was more entertaining- the tango dancers, or the band performing tango… i’m serious.  i just kept looking back and forth hoping not to miss anything.  the tango orchestra is made up of three violins, one viola, a bass, a piano player, four accordion players, and a singer every once in awhile.  i think i can safely say the accordion is my new favorite instrument and so exciting to watch.  i sat trying to take it all in, but i know when i’m back in portland this night will seem like a distant dream.  it is one of those incredible nights that seems like it is out of another world.  i’m one lucky girl to be here!

fun with family and friends

Happy May Day, or for those of you Argentine’s, happy Labor Day!  We have heard the city really shuts down today- even the taxi driver’s take the day off.  I’m interested to see what the city looks like out on the streets today! 

My brother arrived a few days ago and we are having a lot of fun showing him the city that now feels like home to us.  We are eating our way through the beef capital and even my brother who is the steak connoisseur of the group needs a break from the steak.  Last night we had the biggest blow out yet.  After two bloody rib eyes the size of our heads split amongst the three of us, the usual basket of bread, and a molten chocolate lava cake we took a taxi home and were sitting on the couch at 1:30am in a food coma. 

A couple of days ago was the 29th of the month and that means ñocchi!  This has become my favorite thing to eat and on the 29th of every month all of the pasta shops make lots of ñocchi in interesting flavors like pumpkin.  Our friends from Portland that we had met on the farm are finally in the same city at the same time and came over for a big ñocchi dinner.  We spent the afternoon and evening in the kitchen making a big feast.  It is so nice to have an apartment with a kitchen as I have been missing cooking more than anything else since being away!   We bought two different flavors of ñocchi and Ryan made his amazing red sauce and I a bolognaise.  We sat down and had a very long meal with great conversation, food and music.  It was definitely a night to remember.

Our Shopping Mall Experience

We took an overnight bus from Salta to Buenos Aires two nights ago.  Those buses are really starting to get to me.  The first one was fine but after more then 25 bus rides I can honestly say I hate them.  Even the nice ones are dirty.  The food is awful, the bathroom is always covered in urine and when you have 50 people on an overnight bus you are bound to have at least one snorer.  That means no sleep.  We arrived in BA and are staying at the home of a nice older couple in an area on the outskirts of town (about 45 minutes).  The area is called Adrogue.  It is a high class area with beautiful homes and a nice shopping/ restaurant area.  Clean air and quiet, a far cry from the big city of BA. We are heading into BA on Sunday to meet Ryan and spend a little over a week sharing the city with him.  After that we have no plans.  We have been trying to take it easy and not get overly concerned with planning lately.  It it going well.  I have almost completed an entire book of Sudoku.  

Yesterday we spent most of the afternoon and evening at a Mall.  An Argentina Mall.  Come on, don’t tell me if you weren’t spending 6 months in a foreign country you wouldn’t want to know what their malls look like?  Well…. They look the same. Exactly the same.  From the shops to the food court to even the arcades.  We went there more specifically to watch a movie.  Something we had been wanting to do as well.  We ended up watching 2: Duplicidad (Duplicity) and Simplemente no te quiere (He’s just not that into you).  I got to pick the first and Erin picked the second if you couldn’t tell.  Between movies we played our hand at the electric arm game, the one where you try to grab a stuffed animal,  except for this one was for a watch.  The 1st go at it was a total failure but the 2nd time around I had the watch in the metal arm and was carrying it over to drop it down the chute when the machine started shaking violently and dropped the watch.  We were so pissed.  Those things are rigged.  We really needed that watch.  We have broken one and the one we are using now doesn’t have a band.  Oh well, we are trying to enjoy ourselves so what do we need a watch for.

el dengue fever

When we were planning our trip to Argentina we spent an afternoon with an infectious disease doctor at the travel clinic in Portland.  We left vaccinated for diseases I’d never thought twice about and a handful of prescriptions.  I thought we were covered for everything we could possibly encounter on our trip.  When I was checking my email a few days ago and looking at the yahoo news briefs I ran across one about a dengue fever alert in Argentina.  Since then we have seen alerts all over the news and Internet concerning a dengue fever outbreak.  According to the news the outbreak is on the brink of being declared a national epidemic in Argentina.  Dengue is a virus spread through infected mosquitoes.  Apparently this virus is usually secluded to provinces in the north and rarely causes fatalities, but three severe cases have hit Buenos Aires in the last month.  There have been more and more fatal cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever (a complication of the virus) lately and with the spread out of the north into the capital it has become big news here.  Seeing as though we’ve been in the north now for the last couple of weeks Oliver and I are starting to get a little nervous and more cautious.  We’ve been watching the Argentine news for more information and reading everything we can get our hands on.  Since mosquitoes love me I have been wearing jeans, long sleeves and using DEET whenever I go out even though it is still quite hot here.  The people here in Purmamarca where we have been staying for the last few days have told us not to worry because Purmamarca is at high altitude and apparently dengue mosquitoes stay in the low altitudes.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

The other thing that is very interesting about this situation is how different they handle things compared to the United States.  The only things we have heard have been on the news and there is very little if any talk around the town.  If this were going on at home, I would imagine there would be signs of it around the city.  I.e. People talking about it, signs up to warn people, bug spray being sold all over town, etc.  But there is none of that here.  People are going about their days in this sleepy town as usual. 

 

the northwest (of argentina)

After having traveled throughout Argentina and seeing many different areas of the country, I have found what I think is my favorite area- the Northwest!   Of all the areas we have traveled to I would have never guessed that this would be the area I liked most.  The provinces of Salta and Jujuy (pronounced hu-huy) are so rich in culture, history, varied natural beauty, and archeology.  We have explored all the hard to reach areas of the region and have really taken the time to get to know the area.  It is surprising to me that after two weeks we are still seeing and learning new things and has yet to become bored with our surroundings.  Aside from the large city of Salta we have visited many tiny pueblo towns with the most indigenous feel of anywhere we have been.  It seems the people and towns here haven’t changed for hundreds of years ago.  The roads are unpaved and the casas (houses) are made from natural adobe bricks and rocks, which come from the earth.  There are no wood houses to be found.  On several properties on the outskirts of the pueblos we have seen the ground dug out and the clay along with straw and mud used to form “bricks.”  Here we have found hundreds of these bricks drying in rows in the sun. These will undoubtedly be used for new construction around town. 

Most of the people in Purmamarca are artisans but I am certain there is a great deal of mining that also happens here. The mountains around Purmamarca are beautiful.  Striped like a rainbow.  There is red- iron, yellow- sulfur, green- copper, white- salt.  Purmamarca is situated at the base of “cerro del siete colors” or mountain of seven colors and this describes the mountain perfectly.  The people have dark leathery skin and you can tell they live a hard life.  They dress in bright colors with sweaters and hats knitted from llama, vicuna, guanaco and sheep – all of which are plentiful in the area.  They eat the meat of these animals as well as grains and produce that grow in the area.  It is nearly impossible to find anything imported in this town.  The people here are a true example of living off the land.  There is no gas station in town and we were surprised to even find a bank. 

One of my favorite meals was at a small, beautiful restaurant in town.  We had a delicious meal of quinoa, local vegetables and torrontes wine.  It was a nice break from all the beef and bread.  The area surrounding Purmamarca is made up of eye-catching rock formations, huge cactus, querbradas (a river valley situated between two mountains), high altitude pampas (plains), roaming wild donkeys, vicunas and guanacos (two types of smaller and wild llama-type animals).  My favorite place in the Northwest has been Salinas Grande.  This is a large, high altitude, dry lakebed that now makes up a salt flat.  Today we visited the area for a second time. Last week we had a mishap and accidentally deleted our pictures from our camera.  We felt that it was so amazing and warranted a second trip to relive and recapture the experience.  The second time around was as breathtaking as the first.  It is so different and otherworldly.  On the way to Salinas Grande on a national route that leads to Chile you ascend to 4170 meters.  This is the highest altitude I have ever been at and I could definitely feel it in my chest.  It is unbelievable to me that people live their whole lives at this altitude.  It is definitely a different way of life than anything I can comprehend.  We are headed back into Salta tomorrow, which is the large city three hours south of here to stay at our favorite bed and breakfast once again (lucky us!). 

Salta

1 week ago we were in Patagonia, Puerto Natales, Chile to be exact, completing our Torres del Paine trek.  Today I sit in the lobby of our hotel in the city of Salta, Argentina.  The total distance between the two cities can be compared to the distance between Dallas Texas and Anchorage Alaska.  Originally the plan was to stick to the road and travel by bus, however, because of the distance we decided to fly back to Buenos Aires and then take the 20 hour bus ride northwest to Salta.  Best decision of the trip.  It would have taken us close to 5 days and at least 5 bus changes to make the trip.  Luckily we found a last minute deal and we only had to shell out $120 US for the trip.  We think the bus would have cost more. 

We have spent the last week here in Salta and the surrounding area.  We couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend Holy Week.  The churches are packed every night for mass and the festivities are incomparable to the United States.  I would guess that Holy Week is the most important week of the year in South America, with Carnival being close in the running.  You can find Mass being held almost every hour of every day.  It’s been difficult finding a hotel room and for the first time we have had to book in advance.  Something that isn’t normal here in Argentina, at least for us.  The first place we stayed was a small bed and breakfast that Erin and I both agree is in the running for our favorite place in Argentina.  Right now we are trying to find a way to stay in Salta a few more nights so that we can stay there again.  The owner is the kindest lady we have ever met.  She goes beyond the call of duty helping us find alternative housing since she was totally booked this weekend.  One night she even sat down with us for over an hour discussing some of the best places to visit in the area, and her breakfasts are incredible.  For the first time we ate something different than bread!

The last 4 days we have been touring the area by car.  They have been long days but worth it.  The landscape seems to change around every bend of the road.  From thick green forests to deserts with red mountains and amazing rock formations.  Neither words nor pictures can describe the scenery.  We have visited amazing pueblos (small towns built right into the hillside out of natural clay), seen ancient ruins, walked on salt flats, eaten amazing food, and sampled wine from a region where the grapes grow straight out of the dessert sand.  We couldn’t have guessed this was all here, especially since Salta was a place we had previously thought worthy of skipping.  I would definitely put this area in the highlights of our entire trip.

Today is Easter.  We are missing our family and surely the best Easter egg hunt of our lives (so Kaylynn says), but we are enjoying being in a city where Easter isn’t just a passing day.  This morning we woke early to watch the sunrise from the top of a hill in the city.  It was a grueling climb up the biggest staircase I have ever seen (1070 steps).  We followed a path that included the Stations of The Cross and the most incredible views of the city.  It was dark most of the way, but we made it just in time to see the sun come up through the fog.  Truly a beautiful sight.  We are headed off to mass in a few minutes, thinking about spending the next 2 weeks in the area before Erin’s brother arrives and we head back to the big city.  We wish everyone back home a Happy Easter and look forward to sharing all of our pictures and memories on our return.