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Archive for May, 2009

Short breaths were forced out of my lungs while my body folded down on my kidneys every few moments. My hair flapped in the wind and only a few fingers of my left hand kept me perilously balanced on the horse. He was in a full gallop, unaware of my fear, and enjoying the speed at which we were travelling. This was not a tame Pensylvania horse, following another directly in front. This was a horse bread in La Cumbre, a valley in the Sierra chicas (the small Sierras) where he was free to run anywhere he pleased, eat grass to his fill, and sun himself almost every day. 

We walked, trotted, and galloped our way through 20km of hills, pastures full of cattle, and streams. We peaked inside an old abandoned gold mine, saw cow bones gnawed out by the native pumas, and the three dogs who accompanied us from the ranch tried their luck chasing some young bulls. Suffice to say, best Sunday in a long time! We set off with only two others in our group–another Nina (I know, how rare) and Sam from the language school, our guide Maxi– a really awesome Argentinian dude, and 15-year-old bad ass kid from the ranch who had to lasso each horse for us. It was sunny, in the 70´s,  the horses were excited for the chance to run around, and the area was stunning, surrounded by the mountains and filled trees, streams, and the occasional homestead.

Much like a chichilla, apparently horse like to roll around in the sand to get the sweat off their back

Much like a chinchilla, apparently horses like to roll around in the sand to get the sweat off their back

And where is Dmitry you may be asking? He was home sick with the flu, which I´ve now inherited.  I know, total bummer, but we are both getting better and I hope that we´ll soon get another chance to go horseback riding together.

Our guide Maxi making BBQ after the ride

Our guide Maxi making BBQ after the ride

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Tango

I´m officially in love with tango music. Its so super beautiful. Last week Laura, the woman who´s housing us, accompanied me to a trio– piano, contra bass, and accordion.  Amazing.

The dancing, however, still leaves my brain twisted into a pretzel. I don´t understand how people can get their legs to move that way.

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Manifestations

Every few minutes I hear a loud bang. When Dmitry and I were walking around the center yesterday we presumed that there was a lot of contruction going on, and the sound is similar to large panels being dropped from the 5th floor onto the ground. We were mistaken, turns out they are bombs. Not to panick, not quite as bad as you are probably thinking, these are merely ´noise bombs.´ The taxi drivers have been protesting since yesterday.  There are lots of police in the streets, and many are blocked off.  There are disagreements between laws controlling taxis vs. car services and its a pretty hot button issue.

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Its so strange how easily and quickly I got attached to Mendoza. It was kind of sad to leave Saturday evening. Dim and I spent our last day in the park, watching a local flamenco festival (with frequent disapproving brow scrunching from Carlos, a friend from the hostel who has clearly seen better in his native Spain).

Flamenco Dancer: mucho suave!When

Dim and I returned to the hostel to pick up our bags, Daniel (the curly haired Italian guy) was in the kitchen, dicing about 10 pounds of chicken for what he said would be the most awesome Chinese themed dinner party ever. He may have not been kidding: there were about 5 girls putting on kabooki makeup (yeah, I know, wrong country), shuffling around with little slippers, and generally holding on tight for an eve of revelry. No joke, Daniel knows how to kick off a good party. We said bye to Mendoza in the highest of spirits before boarding an overnight bus to Cordoba.

And now? We are in Cordoba, the ´´cultural capital´´ of Argentina. So far we´ve seen about a million university students being all kinds of cool and rowdy around town, drinking boatloads of herba mate. The main theater house is closed for a protest, so…will have to get back you on the cultural bit.

Dressed in our finest button down shirt and polo, Dim and I attended our first day of Spanish class. We´ve signed up for several weeks of formal training to get better. Its oddly awesome being in school, doing all kinds of learnin´. I still can´t express too much more than the basics.  At the food market it was all ´may I have this,´ (while pointing to some green veggie) or ´may I have that´(pointing to a hunk of meat). Today I proudly had a relatively easy time understanding our guide on a tour of the city, so, dare I say: progress!

Random factoid 1: there are 130,000 students enrolled in Universidad National de Cordoba. By the consitution, the government is obligated to offer free education to all, so it is no surprise that plenty of young things take them up on that offer. However, combined with the dreadful economic crisis here, it also means there are lots of taxis driver engineers and the term ´fuga de cerebros´(brain drain) is well known since many leave the country in search of employment in the States or Europe. 

Random factoid 2: Residents of Cordoba take their right to question the government very seriously. There are frequent protests, like right now most banks have graffiti and egg drippings on them, due to employees asking for higher salaries to match inflation. That´s right, the employees of the bank actually grafitied their own buildings! Professor salaries are lower than those of street cleaners and so last year children missed 30 days of school because their teachers were on strike. Crazy stuff…

Next time, I will end on a more happy note, maybe I ´splain the custom of drinking matte. Later chicos!

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Potrerillos

After a few days of fattening up on Argentinian beef at Mendoza´s many restaurants (the city, rebuilt with extra wide streets after the 1861 earthquake, is a mecca of outdoor dining), Nina and I decided to head back into the Andes – this time from the Argentinian side.   Although we weren´t quite up for climbing the nearby  Aconcagua, our new friend Josep whom we met at the Hostel was heading out for a week-long trip to the more accessible Cordon Del Plata and invited us to tag along for the first few days.

Only a 90 minute van ride outside of Mendoza, we were already at 2500 meters, dropping off our stuff at the ski lodge type hostel place and heading out for a hike up to one of the smaller nearby peaks Arenales (still not bad at 3300 meters!).  The Andes here were completely different from anything I´ve seen (maybe I just haven´t done much mountain hiking though).  We  started out casually strolling through lush green valleys and ended up out of breath, scrambling up steep cliffs. 

Tiny Argentinian cows make for the most delicious of stakes.

Tiny Argentinian cows make for the most delicious of steaks.

 
At the peak, we got a full 360 degree view of ice and snow covered peaks as well as mountain lakes and villages down below.. pretty sweet.

The Austrian guy taking the picture said this pose was the cool thing to do among mountaineers.  Also, that dog followed us all the way up from the bottom.  Pretty impressive considering the whole time,  only gave him a tiny piece of ham.
The Austrian guy taking the picture said this pose was the cool thing to do among mountaineers. Also, that dog followed us all the way up from the bottom. Pretty impressive considering the whole time, only gave him a tiny piece of ham.
Another thing I really liked about these mountains is that they are full of mules (that you can pet!! see video on Flickr) and cows freely grazing wherever they feel.   From talking to Josep (in Spanish!!), who is from a mountaineous region of Catalan, I learned that this is a actually part of an awesome system:  the locals can just let their flocks out in a valley and since there is no food at the mountain tops, the herd will be sure to stay put in the valley.
Josep and a Mule

Josep and a Mule

The next day we did another hike – this time into the valley where Josep planned to set up base camp for the next few nights.  Beautiful place with lots of mountain streams full of tasty water (also I´m sure it´s nice not to have to take 5 days of water with you).  Got to see my first condor with what looked like a 3 meter wingspan.  A little scary, but seemed like he was eyeing the cows more than us.
A very lonely cow

A very lonely cow

Overall definitely an awesome trip.

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Teremoto?

Apparently,  yesterday Mendoza was at the epicenter of  an ¨earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale.¨ I say ¨apparently¨ because engrossed in a conversation while sitting in a wobbly plastic lawnchair by the pool in our Hostel´s backyard, drinking my third cup of Yerba Matte, I noticed nothing…   The Italian communist, on the other hand, was rather distraught.

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Trip Map: new!

Now you can follow our travels on a map! Yeah, how about that?
Look all the way on top of this page. See the green bar at the top? Click on where it says ¨Trip Map,¨ sandwiched between ¨Home¨and ¨About¨ There you go.

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