Fatal Attractions

You’re in a foreign place, and you’re not entirely sure what it is that you’re supposed to be doing with yourself.

Fear not, veterans like Lonely Planet, Google, and Wikipedia are waiting to be consulted in order to help us get out of our dingy hotel rooms.

Getting a candid account from a local of a favorite restaurant, or the truth behind the museum that grossly overcharges people for admission is much preferred in my experience. However, travel guides and blogs are great sources for travel inspiration, if you do not have the luxury of receiving recommendations by word of mouth.

What really hits close to home are the tourist attractions listed in every book and URL that simply do not live up to the hype.

Near Carcross, there is a small, man-made suspension bridge that has high walls surrounding it, so that any curious passerby isn’t entirely sure what is behind them but is willing to shell out the cash to find out. All because they spotted it in a free pamphlet from the visitor centre.

In Argentina, I tried to be careful to avoid getting swept up in the long lines of visitors  being herded towards outings that aren’t quite worth the price or excitement they stir.

We missed our step a few times, including an overpriced parilla (grill) that made each of my roommates nauseated at the thought of trying anything from the heaping pile of poorly cooked chicken, steak, kidneys, intestines, and blood sausage.

There was also our day trip to the barrio called La Boca, famous for being the origin of tango and having an apparently impressive soccer-I mean, football- stadium. Upon first look at the brightly colored houses, souvenirs as far as the eye could see and employees flagging you down to eat at their restaurants or take a $20 US photo with you and a tango dancer made me think of one thing: it looked as though every stereotype of tourism had projectile vomited all over the the small tourist-y part of the neighbourhood.

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But despite a few errors in judgement, we also managed to find a few gems that turned out to be perfectly precious. A while ago, we visited the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires, Cafe Tortoni. I had been wanting to visit the cafe for a while but I was worried it would be another attraction that was anticipated in excess. Once we stepped inside the extravagant interior and were gracefully placed at a table with rapid service of Argentine hot chocolate and churros, I knew it was not about to be a fatal attraction.

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So how does one decide whether to take the plunge on an infamous tourist attraction? There is no simple answer. You can put trust in a local’s word or a Lonely Planet author’s recommendation but the final decision is always in your hands. At the end of the day, when you buy into the hype you will get a success story or a horrendous cautionary tale to tell at dinner parties.

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Ya Te Extraño

I am now sitting in the Buenos Aires airport, slightly tipsy from the wine I had with lunch, and my harsh reality is finally sinking in. 

The party is over, and it is time to go home.

At the risk of sounding like a cliche garnished with cheese, I am saddened to say ciao to one of my favourite places in the world, and the people I met in it.

Even though I am armed with a carry-on bag full of some of my favourite things, including new shoes, medialunas from Pertutti, and Milka alfajores, I am in an unshakable funk.

The only word to describe how I have spent the past six weeks would be overindulgence. 

From the food, to the wine, to the people that I have spent nearly all of my time with. It is now at an ending point. 

One of my friends and I started calling our “study abroad” Fantasy Land. And that was exactly what it was. Our biggest concerns included whether to go to class or not, which restaurant to try, and if we felt like going clubbing or to a bar at night. 

Now, all of the tenants in Fantasy Land will have to go cold-turkey from seeing each other. 

Why Everybody Needs a Vacation

I came to Buenos Aires to attend a Spanish school and simultaneously participate in a Spanish/journalism program. It isn’t technically an exchange or a study abroad program, but since I will (hopefully) be getting credits from my university for doing the program, sometimes it feels more like work than carefree travel.

Classes can go from 9-5:40 with a lunch break in between. Anybody who knows me since university will know that it costs me an arm, leg, and a venti Pike Place from Starbucks to get me out of bed and into a lecture hall. Combine a genuine dislike of classes with being in an exciting, foreign city and the result is simply this: after almost a month of being at ECELA and attending (or trying to attend) classes… I needed a vacation. Which is why a hastily planned trip to Iguazú easily became the highlight of my trip thus far.

When I say vacation, what I really mean is specifically the kind of getaway that involves a warm, tropical place and not a lot of activity besides tanning, reading, and enjoying little luxuries.

Whilst packing for Argentina, I envisioned outfits of swingy summer dresses and espadrilles. I figured there would be salsa music erupting from the streets as I saunter around the city, sipping iced coffee and enjoying the average 20 degree Celsius winter weather.

I can laugh about this vision I had now, as it is clearly far from what I had imagined in Buenos Aires. However, when talk started about going to Iguazú falls, where the weather was predicted to hot and sunny, I had no decisions to make. I was going to Iguazú; not even my bank account could stop me.

Iguazú translates to mean “big water”. The falls were just that, and more. Seeing world renowned places and natural wonders are part of the travel experience that never disappoints a tourist.

However, the weekend was about much more than the waterfalls.

One of the things I love about vacations is that “what happens in _______, stays in _______” mentality that is adopted all over the world. When some people go on vacation, they do things that they ordinarily wouldn’t. They are bolder, and looking to try new and exciting things.

For us, that meant climbing into a boat and being whisked to the base of one of the waterfalls, whilst getting completely soaked from head to toe. I have never felt water pressure like that before, where your eyelids lose function and suddenly you can’t even open your eyes. That also meant going on an anti-climactic safari, where more than one of us almost fell asleep after seeing so many trees and so little monkeys.

We also found what I consider the best ice cream I have ever tasted. Not a word of a lie, the tiramisú was a crowd pleaser for all of us, and enough motivation to go back and indulge multiple times during the weekend.

Finally, the other reason why everybody needs a vacation is simply because every once in a while, a person needs to take a step back from the fast pace of day-to-day life and have some R&R. For me that meant drinking 3 litres of beer by the pool and reading about sure-fire methods of cocaine smuggling from experienced traffickers in Bolivia’s San Pedro prison. But to each their own.

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Chicos Eat Chivitos in Uruguay

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My time in Carcross prepared me for what I witnessed in Uruguay.

Upon arriving at the port where our ferry would be leaving from, my friends from ECELA and I would be herded around like sheep until the end of our tour in Colonia, Uruguay.

We would not be the only visitors in one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. Our tour director Maria informed us that there are more than three million visitors annually. Fortunately for us, winter is not their busy season.

Our walking tour was offered to us in English. It appears that the more tourist-y a place is in South America, the more likely you might get a little more than a mouthful of Spanish you do not understand. We ambled along the preserved cobblestone streets, trying not to giggle at Maria’s seemingly pre-rehearsed speech.

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The town itself was beautiful and tranquil; the kind of place people would want to retire to. For the girls on the trip, fictional wedding plans were being concocted.

One of the highlights of our day trip was the consumption of Uruguay’s national dish, the chivito. This sandwich is not for the faint of heart. Made up of a slice of filet mignon topped with ham, bacon, mayonnaise, ketchup, cheese and a fried egg all on a bed of french fries, the chivito is straight out of Epic Meal Time. 

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With full bellies ready for an hour of rocking back-and-forth on the ferry back to Buenos Aires, we left Colonia with just the right amount of peace to take on the chaos that inevitably would follow.

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My Travel Romance

When things get rough in Buenos Aires, there’s one thing that always makes everything better.

I never thought the cliché of falling in love whilst travelling would happen to me. But like love in most forms, it happened when I was least expecting it.

It was in a café near my apartment. I was ordering breakfast. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, something I had seen before, and thought I knew how to say. “Dos croissants por favor,” I said rather confidently. Little did I know, the familiar friend I was going to start the morning with was actually called a medialuna. It is the name of my favorite yoga pose, the half-moon. 

Croissants in France are night and day in comparison to the oversized and over-fattened North American versions; the medialuna was no different.

It was love at first bite. Petite and glazed in something sticky and sweet, I found my perfect counterpart. 

The medialuna is the breakfast of almost every Argentine. You can find them anywhere, even Starbucks and McDonalds. 

Just when I thought I would miss my former affair- a daily bagel shmeared in cream cheese- I found myself waking up instantly craving the sweet, sugar-coated treats.

We have already enjoyed two weeks of each other’s company, and I have no doubts the next month will be just as sweet. Although we haven’t yet discussed what will become of our relationship once I return to Canada, but I already have a plan that involves saran wrap, and a bigger carry-on bag.

 

 

 

 

Weekend Getaway

One week in the untiring city of Buenos Aires had us all looking forward to a weekend trip to Mendoza, the province in which you can find some of Argentina’s best wine.

The 15-hour bus ride proved to be the best sleep I’ve had since arriving in Argentina. This was due to the free wine with dinner, and seats that make a half-bed by reclining and propping your feet on a footstool. 

By the time we arrived at our hostel, it was time to get ready for a bike tour that included visits to three wineries. Of course, the language barrier between the people on the tour from France, Brazil, Australia, USA, and Canada didn’t matter much when it came to wine tasting. 

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Mendoza, as a city, is very tourist oriented. Mostly everyone we encountered spoke a little English, which was a refreshing change to Buenos Aires. It is a much smaller city, where feral dogs run free, and family is a focus. 

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It was nice to get back to nature and indulgence; whether we were strolling through the parks, hiring a taxi driver to take us on a personal tour to the Andes, or overindulging in Malbecs and Cabernets.

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Hospitality

They say what goes around comes around, and I fully expected karma to pay me a visit when I got to Argentina. I have a low patience threshold when it comes to dealing with visitors to Carcross, and so far in Buenos Aires I haven’t encountered many people who are willing to assist me with the many things I have been struggling with. 

Sometimes all a confused Canadian needs is a little South American hospitality. 

I speak broken Spanish; 90 per cent present tense, with limited vocabulary. In return, I get  little to no sympathy from locals, as well as telepathic messages saying something like, “Figure it out, so I can move on with my day.”

However, yesterday… I had a break through.

We were surprised with a rainstorm yesterday afternoon while walking about my neighbourhood, Recoleta. Shamefully dressed in a light jacket with no hood and canvas shoes, my choice of clothing was not doing me justice while hopping about large puddles. We took cover in a zapatería (shoe store) and I was ready to buy my first souvenir: a pair of brown, studded combat boots.

I carried my salvation from cold and soggy feet up to the counter and attempted to ask for directions to the nearest ATM. Expecting the automated response of rapid, incognizable Spanish, I was surprised to see the man in front of me disappear to a room behind the counter. Great, I thought, this man can’t even be in my presence. 

Instead, he returned with an umbrella and followed me out the door to physically point me in the right direction. New boots on my feet, I felt my insides warm up and an unshakable smile appear on my face. It felt so nice to get help from someone. 

In Carcross, the language isn’t usually a large barrier between us and other visitors as much as our levels of patience. To be warm, welcoming, and helpful to those who are desperate for a direction is something for me to strive towards. Because when the role is reversed, relief washes over you when someone helps you out of a storm.