Sunday, October 31, 2010

All By Myself

So Alexandre has been in São Paulo since last Wednesday, and will be there until the Formatura on November 11th. He is there for reviews for his residency tests... 8 hours of class, Monday - Friday, for 12 days. But that means a lot of weekdays here by myself. Dear Buddy Bruna went home until the graduation (she's not doing the reviews), which makes it even harder! Poo. They're all in São Paulo without me.

Alexandre and I met at his parents' house this weekend because it's between our house and São Paulo and also because we needed to finish up the last of our formatura shopping (yes, all shopping must be under the watchful eye of the MIL! At least we're done). And now he's back down there and now I'm back up here. 

I don't do well with soooo much alone time. Like, I'm all about having an afternoon by myself or whatever, but I already have mornings to myself when Alexandre is here. And Wednesday nights, because that's soccer night. And most Sunday afternoons, because that's soccer afternoon (Oh, the perils of having a Brazilian husfriend!).

I'm trying to fill all this alone time with lots of walks and work and making to-do lists of things that I don't want to do (most involve cleaning) but that I'll have to do at some point before the in-laws arrive next week. 

On my morning walk on Thursday, I followed a little river that runs close to the apartment. I was only in a 2-mile radius or so, and I saw 10 different kinds of birds...and those are just the ones I can name and recognize. And that's just the birds. The biodiversity astounds me.

I don't mind walking alone, but I hate eating out alone, which means more cooking (ok, more delivery) while Alex is gone. This is a blessing in disguise, I guess. Saving money and calories. 

Today, I had the long bus ride back home by myself. I don't mind the bus rides so much. I can listen to my headphones and read and gorge myself on the stunning views of the countryside out the window. 

But now I'm back home. I think I've read all of the internets.  I might just go to sleep early like an old retiree so I can more easily resist the temptation to make myself a caipirinha out of boredom.

I AM planning a little barbecue for the girls I hang out with for the holiday on Tuesday, and so far, all the RSVPs have been "yes". So don't worry, I AM trying to be social instead of just hiding away in the apartment. When I've got my little group here on Tuesday, I'll try to make plans for the other nights of the week, too. The problem with being more social is that I teach afternoons and evenings, so the bulk of my free time is before lunch, when everyone else is at work.

I moved my Friday afternoon class so that I can meet Alexandre in Sampa Querida and we can play in the big city for the weekend. Bruna's gonna take the bus back with me on Sunday, and then it's formatura week! I just need to keep myself busy for the next few days.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Formatura Dress: Sneak Peek!

Since I know all of you (Nancy) are dying to know what my formatura dresses look like, so here's a picture that I stole during my last fitting for one of the extra formal dresses:

See what I mean about Academy Awards? 
Also, you can see the MIL in the mirror!

We're renting this one. I don't have anything else in the near future that I'd need to wear it for. 

T-11 days and counting!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Special Student Needs Your Help

So today was an interesting day in my little teacher world.

I have a student whose brother lives in the US. He moved there legally on a work visa and is now in the middle of the green card process. While living in the US, he met a lovely Mexican woman who was also living and working legally in the US under one of the live-work visas offered under NAFTA.

So the student's Brazilian brother and his Mexican girlfriend decided to get married. While planning their wedding, the girlfriend lost her job (the one that was providing her visa). She still has a tourist visa for the US, so she stayed in the US with that, and the two of them consulted American lawyers. These lawyers told them to marry in Mexico, and then file at the US Embassy in Mexico City, that the boyfriend could declare her as his spouse from there and they'd be able to come back no problem. They said that the process would only take one day in Mexico.

However, I have a feeling that these lawyers were specialized in marriages between Mexican citizens and American citizens, because, as you guys can imagine, their advice was wrong and things didn't exactly work out as planned.

After their wedding in Mexico City, the couple went to the US Embassy, bringing all the paperwork that the lawyers had told them to bring and expecting something easy peasy. But when they got there, the employees in the embassy informed them that the Brazilian husband was, in fact, NOT allowed to declare her as his spouse and bring her back into the US, especially from a US Embassy (because he is Brazilian, not American). They said that the work visa he has does not permit him to bring a spouse from a US Embassy, and that he can't add her to his green card process this late in the game. The US Embassy employees told them that it was best that they go to Brazil, because the husband is a Brazilian citizen, and try to figure something out in the American Embassies here.

The wife could legally go back to the US on her tourist visa, but (a) she could only stay for 60 days and they'd still have to solve this problem; and (b) she's worried it would look suspicious if she goes in on a tourist visa and says "yes, I'm here to visit my husband!".  So now she's here in Brazil.

Because of his job and their budget, the husband is back in the US. They just spent a lot of money on a wedding, and the husband doesn't have the money or vacation days to hang out in Brazil indefinitely while they try to work things out. So she's staying with his in-laws here in our small town, and he's working until the end of the year, when he'll have more vacation time and can come down to Brazil.

They're trying to figure out what they can remotely (well, the wife and the in-laws here, and the husband in the US). They know (well, they've been told) that they have to make an appointment at the US Embassy in Rio to get their marriage certified and see what they're options are, but that's all they know for now.

So that's where you guys come in! I know that some of you have been in similar situations,  so I'm reaching out on behalf of my student's sister-in-law to see if any of you have any information. I mean, it's a unique case because the husband is not an American citizen, but he's allowed to live there legally and everything. I mean, even if you guys can just recommend good websites or blogs or lawyers, I can pass on the information to them. (I moderate my comments, so if you want to put up an email address or anything, I can write it down without publishing the comment, thus keeping any private information private.)

But can I just say how super super great it is to have this student's sister-in-law in town? I mean, she's been in the US for a while, so her English is practically fluent. She also has heard of where I grew up and therefore doesn't think it's strange at all that I'm an American who speaks (well, spoke) Spanish and knows lots of stuff about Mexican culture. So it basically feels like having one of my own around. She came to class with her sister-in-law (mostly to get out of the house, I think). Her SIL's English is pretty advanced, too, so we had a great time just chatting and ignoring the book. But I have to say that it IS an extra challenge teaching an ESL student and an EFL student at the same time. Both their needs and their errors are totally different. (Well, because Spanish and Portuguese are so similar, some of their errors are the same.)

I also realized how lazy I've gotten teaching students that all speak the same language. I used to have all kinds of creative ways of explaining English things to classes with mixed native languages. But here in Brazil, I just explain things in Portuguese, (a) to save time and (b) to assure that they're getting the right translation. So if this girl keeps coming to class, I'm gonna have to step up my game a bit!

But yes. The 3 of us will hopefully go out a bit. My student's SIL and I are similar in that we're strangers in a strange land (though the land is less strange for me now), and that we both need to get out of the house a bit more.

But in the meantime, if you guys have any information or advice about her visa situation, it would be greatly appreciated!!!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Bird in Town!

Ok friends, I've been so good and I haven't put up any bird posts for weeks. But today I am very excited because I finally identified a new bird I've been seeing around town lately. It's big but it's always so quick and/or far away.  But today Alexandre and I went out to run errands, and I saw 3 on a telephone wire in a field down the street from where we had parked. I made him walk all the way down there with me to stomp through the field a bit and check them out close-up. (I guess I didn't "make" him. He could've just waited at the car. But what can I say? My enthusiasm is contagious!)

It was a guira cuckoo, or anu-branco in Portuguese! Look at its big tail and its little mohawk!
I didn't take this picture. I found it here. But I'll get my own soon!

I'm extra glad it was this one because (a) it's one of the last birds I have to identify in my little bird book (time for a better one...) and (b) every time I see it in the bird book, I think of this Joanna Newsom song, because it's called a cuckoo.

It's exciting. I think they must migrate here once the dry season passes. I just love living where the birds come for the winter. :) 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to Survive Formatura Planning with your MIL

So this weekend, I'm at Alexandre's parents' house alone, because he had a big review for the residency tests today but I had to come to get fitted for my dresses for the formatura.  (The Argentina posts are kind of behind and outdated. I've been home for a week.)

The last time we came to take care of formatura things (to get Alexandre's suits and to pick out my dresses), it was not successful emotionally. That is because I tried to give my opinions on things that I was buying and wearing, which is apparently not the way you do things for your husfriend's graduation when your MIL is involved.

So this week, I went into the shopping with more patience, an open mind, and a preemptive sense of defeat. So I'm going to share my advice with all of you fine people.

How to Survive (and Maybe Even Enjoy) Formatura Planning with your Mother-in-Law:

1. Go into the event (and by "event", I mean the shopping, not even the actual formatura) remembering this very important fact: This is your husfriend's graduation, but it is not his day and it's not about him. Even though you're his wifriend, it's not about you either, nor is it about the two of you together. You might be able to get more say when it comes to planning for your wedding day (emphasis on the "might"). But as for this formatura, it's all about your MIL: how great she looks, how great she makes everyone else look, and how excellent her planning and logistical skills are. (It is irrelevant that you and your husfriend are really the ones taking care of most of the gritty planning things, like hotel and restaurant and salon reservations and all that. THIS IS HER DAY, remember?)

2. When the MIL recommends some stores that she wants to go to for your shoes and dresses, accept these stores. The stores might sell horrendously ugly things. The stores might be way out of your price range. That's ok. I'll tell you how to handle these hiccups later.

3. In the stores, just smile politely while the MIL tells every employee within earshot about how you are her AMERICAN daughter-in-law and how you two desperately need their help to find just the right thing for her son's graduation from MEDICAL SCHOOL, after which he will be a certified DOCTOR.  Did she mention that her DOCTOR son is married to an AMERICAN? Remember that your MIL is not doing this to show off or anything. She's just really, really proud and excited. She's dreamed about this day since she was a young gynecologist pregnant with her first-born son, dreamed about him graduating as the next generation of doctors and finding the right girl.

4. Prepare some answers beforehand for the routine questions that various store employees will ask you over the course of the day. Here, I'll help you:

"Yup, I'm American."
"I've been in Brazil for almost 3 years now."
"You think I speak Portuguese so well already? Why, thank you."
"Of course, I am liking Brazil. It's a great country, especially with its great fashion from stores like these."
"Yes, I am aware that I am bem branquinha. Sou mesmo."
"I agree, my mother-in-law IS a very nice woman indeed."

5. Accept the fact that, once you get past the introductions and formalities, the MIL and the employees will shoo you into a dressing room or dressing area and start throwing obscene amounts of things at you to try on. If you're in a dress store, expect to try on like, 50 dresses. If you're in a shoe store, expect to try on 150 pairs of shoes.

6. Get comfortable with being naked in front of a bunch of women you just met. Get comfortable with them making constant comments on your body and skin color while you're trying on countless dresses. Feel better knowing that most of the comments, while slightly inappropriate in other cultures (such as your own), are usually positive and always well-meaning: "You have such cute little boobs." "Mas nossa, you are REALLY white! Look at what a pretty skin color you have!" and "You are a very tall young lady."

7. Get comfortable with a bunch of these women's hands on you while you're trying on the dresses, including the MIL's. They'll be taking it upon themselves to pull up your zippers (ALL zippers), adjust your straps, button and unbutton your buttons, and, if they're your MIL, even give your underwear a little un-wedgie-ing. They're not trying to treat you like a little girl who can't dress herself (ok, they kind of are). They're just really excited to see how the dress looks, and they also want to show you how friendly and helpful they are to improve their chances of you buying the dress and contributing to their commission.

8. Remember that, just because you're the one wearing and buying these products, your opinion is not important (see number 1). So when your MIL asks, "What do you think?" Answer with, "What do YOU think?" You will save yourself so much time and headache by just taking it off and moving on to the next one if she doesn't like it.

9. However, there ARE ways to get out of buying shoes or dresses that you don't like. The important thing is to mirror her enthusiasm. If she hands you a pair of zebra-print heels with sparkling gems and has a huge smile on her face, you will also have a huge smile on your face. DO NOT refuse to try things on, because that means you are rejecting her taste and she will pout and insist "mas ficaria LINDO, você não acha?!" until you finally agree with her.

But the technique is to be SO disappointed after you try the thing on-- Not because you don't love it-- you DO-- but because it just "doesn't feel right!" That's what you say. "Oh, how sad! These yellow suede shoes are sooo cute, but they're just way too tight on my toes! What a shame... let's try another." Your MIL does care about your comfort, so playing the too small / too big / too tight / too short card will get you out of buying something outrageously tacky.

10. Oftentimes, the MIL wants you to buy things that are way too expensive. She forgets that, even though she is an established doctor, you are just a young teacher and you lack her disposable income and obsession with clothes. If you don't really like the expensive shoes/dresses anyway, you can employ the tactics from number 9. But if you totally love it, you can make lamenting comments about how it's just a bit out of your budget, and the enthusiastic MIL will jump right in to share the cost.

11. The MIL will likely get into such a tizzy at the store that she'll start insisting that you try on and buy a bunch of other cute, non-formatura clothes while you're at it. She may say, "since you've already got your clothes off, why not try on these adorable shorts? They're on sale and would look so cute on you!" Depending on your preferences/budget, you can go ahead and buy these clothes too. Or you can employ tactics from 9 and 10. Or you can distract her by saying, "oh, let's just put these aside for a second-- can we try on this formatura dress one more time? I just want to make sure it looks ok from the back."

12. Even though the MIL picked out her own clothes weeks ago, she may still, on a whim, decide to try on some things alongside you, just for fun. Repeat after me: Everything she tries on makes her look young and beautiful.

13. Remember that, when it comes to Formatura shopping, everything's about God. The MIL and store employees will refer to God constantly.
"Godwilling (se Deus quiser), we'll find a pair of shoes at this store."
"Oh, which son is graduating, the one I prayed for when he had his vestibular? Hallelujah!"
"The credit card machine is working? Oh, thank God!"

Personally, I don't think God cares much about the goings-on of my formatura shopping. Well, actually, he must care about me a little, because he paired me up with a good intentioned (albeit a bit tactless) MIL, and spared me from having to shop with the sister-in-law for her dresses at the same time.

Formatura shopping is a lot of work, but if you follow my steps, you'll end up looking fantastic, and may even bond a bit with your mother-in-law to boot. :)

The Tigre River /El Rio Tigre in Buenos Aires

So while in Buenos Aires, Kristin and I read quite a few websites, blogs, and forums saying what a great day trip the city of Tigre and its namesake river was. One girl's blog said the city was terrible, but we decided to be optimistic and try it out anyway. We should've listened to her.

We followed the directions that we'd read on a few websites, which told us to take the Buenos Aires subway to the end of the blue line, and then to buy very cheap tickets onto a train (part of the public transportation network) that would then lead us to the city of Tigre. In Tigre, our plan was to take a boat ride around the river, have lunch on the boat or an island, and then visit the big open air market that everyone talked about on the blogs.

Everyone raved about the train ride, how it was fun and cheap. Well. It was cheap, yes, because it's a government-supported train. The 40-minute ride was only 2 Argentinian pesos, round trip. And I think it was also cheap because it passes through all the poorest parts of greater Buenos Aires. So I'm not sure who decided that it was a nice ride... on a dirty, graffiti-ridden train with destroyed seats passing through Argentine ghettos. Some very suspicious characters got on and off, one crazy guy was smoking on the train and pacing, and the soundtrack to our ride was the constant stream of men yelling and trying to sell useless things like knock-off "name-brand" purses and measuring tape. Not the most enjoyable excursion.

So then we got into Tigre. The view outside the train station was nice enough, so our hopes were higher.

There was a sign that said "tourist's circuit" with an arrow pointing to a bridge and then a road that lend along the river bank. So we followed it.

That's when the smell hit us. What smell, you ask? The smell of polluted water and rotting fish:

The glorious Rio Tigre, full of trash and dead fish

Kristin's face in the next picture says it all. I think the whole day was worth it, just to have gotten this picture:

We talked to a few of the boat companies to see about the rides along the river. (I mean, maybe it was cleaner upstream?) But the cheapest one we found was 50 pesos for an hour-long ride with lunch on the boat. Not so bad, except the boat didn't make any stops, just circled around some tiny islands, and the lady just would NOT tell us what the lunch was. "Really good lunch for you!! Don't worry! Don't worry! We take care of all the lunch!" She said in English. Kristin's a vegetarian, so that just wouldn't do. But even if she wasn't, I refuse to pay for something if someone won't tell me what it is, especially if that something is food. For all we know, it could've been the dead fish from the river.

So we ended up giving up on the boat ride idea. I mean, if I have 50 pesos to spend, I'd much rather spend it on a nice bottle of Argentinian wine than on a kitschy boat ride along a small contaminated river with a bunch of American retirees and a mystery meat lunch. I was getting hungry, which always puts me in a bad mood, especially when that hunger is accompanied by the smell of sewage and annoying-ass people trying to take advantage of me because I am a tourist. So I was pretty grouchy, but I was trying to be patient.

We walked up and down the streets that ran parallel to the river, but didn't see any restaurants that tickled our fancy. We did, however, see a little city office of information and tourism. We decided to pop in and see if the girl knew something that we didn't, if there was some reason that we were missing that people seemed to like this place so much. She told us that we could find lots of restaurants on the street that we had just walked up (really??), and then she recommended the casino and the kiddie amusement park (yes, because Kristin must be my 60-year-old grandma and I, her 12-year old granddaughter). Kristin asked her about the open-air market, and she gave us directions. She really was a very nice woman... just a little too optimistic about her city's sights, I guess.

So we walked toward the market. On the way there, we passed a little restaurant that said that its profits went to a women's shelter in town, so we decided to eat there. It was pretty good, actually. I got a salad, a ground beef empanada, and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate style is called submarino, which is hot milk and a chocolate bar that you add in yourself. Yum.

Please excuse my hair. It was sooooo humid. 

Then we found the open air market. 90% of the booths were selling housewares (furniture, decorations, cushions, fake plants...) imported from Asia. Think Pier 1. It's probably great for families living in Buenos Aires who'd like something a little different for their house, but not so necessary for an American (or even a Brazilian) tourist. I got my hopes up when I saw a stand selling masks, because Alexandre collects them. But when I saw 15 of the same mask, I got suspicious. I asked the lady where they were from, and she said "Indonesia." Not exactly quality Argentine art. 

The market DID have some pretty fruit stands, though: 
I mean, markets are always fun to walk around, even if you don't buy anything. But I guess my point is that you could find nice markets in Buenos Aires proper, too.

So... we tried. After walking around the market, we walked around the city some more. We saw this very helpful sign:
No fishing. Ya know, just in case you were thinking about it.

Mid-afternoon, we threw in the towel on Tigre and headed back to Buenos Aires. 

My final word on the Tigre River? Don't go, even if you're swayed by the cheap transportation prices. Buenos Aires has way cooler things to offer.  

At least I got that hilarious picture of Kristin.

Read about our day trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay here.
Read about my final thoughts on the Buenos Aires trip here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

A popular day trip for people living or traveling around greater Buenos Aires is a sleepy little old-fashioned town called Colónia. Colonia is actually in Uruguay, not Argentina. Kristin and I found this cool blog with tips on planning the day trip, so we just followed that guy's advice.

We took a ferry across the Paraná River Delta. It was my first time on a ferry! However, the Paraná River and I are becoming very well acquainted. Its source is in Curitiba (where Alexandre and I went on vacation with his parents), and it's the same river that makes the border between Brazil and Argentina (passed over it!), AND it leads down to Foz do Iguaçu! So it's been a part of like, almost every vacation I've been on in the last year.

the ferry

the delta... are you as sick of seeing this jacket as I am?

Yes, so, the ferry! It was fancy. I was a little disappointed that it didn't have an outside deck part, only an inside seating part (so I couldn't pretend I was in a Paul Bowels story or even on a Grey's Anatomy episode). But the inside part had regular train-style seats, and then also had some couches and armchairs, which we were lucky enough to snag on the ride back.

The ferry ride took just under an hour, and it spit us out at the port in Colonia, Uruguay!

Most of the trip (including the ferry ride) focuses on shopping and Duty Free nonsense and way too many perfume ads and all that, but once you get past that, you get into a cute little town that was one of the first colonial cities settled by the Portuguese in South America. It still has most of its historical buildings (including the original drawbridge!). Some historical stuff: The region was fought over between Portugal and Spain for a couple hundred years until Uruguay finally declared its independence from both.

Kristin on the Drawbridge

But we got to see some interesting streets and sights:

As you can see in the pictures, it was a rainy day-- kinda bad luck. We had lunch at a seaside restaurant that was built up to look like a castle. I got a yummy chicken soup that was perfect for the cold weather.

By the time we finished lunch, it had started raining pretty hard. So we decided to visit the museums and try to wait it out. They were poorly made and forgettable. If you go to Colonia, don't waste your time in the museums. They had no like, contexts. Like they'd have names: “Portuguese Historical Museum”, but then just a bunch of random unlabeled artifacts, like old porcelain washbowls and stuff. Bleh.

The rain didn't let up by the time we got through the museums, so we had to change our plans a bit. Our original plan was to rent scooters and ride them along the highway to the beaches (the thing to do in Colonia!). But then we decided to rent a golf cart instead, which turned out to be highly entertaining and probably a little safer, considering I've never been on any kind of motorized two-wheel vehicle in my life, scooter or otherwise.

Funny golf cart pictures!

Soon after that, we had to return the golf cart and head back to the port to catch the ferry back to Buenos Aires. The Delta is actually the border between 2 time zones, so Colonia is an hour ahead of Buenos Aires. That meant we had hour less than we thought we did. We could've stayed longer for a later ferry, but with the rain and cold in the tiny town, we decided against it.

Colonia is totally cute and a big change from Buenos Aires. I recommend it for a quick little day trip to get out of the rush of the big city and see something different!

I have a couple more days here in Buenos Aires. I'm not sure what we're going to do, but I am going to resist shopping at all the cute little clothing boutiques around town. Must... resist...!

Read about my final thoughts on Buenos Aires here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Buenos Aires!

My posts are so behind. I actually have 3 more written in reserve, and I just post them when I get internet. But I'm going home today (Saturday) and I'll get everything up tomorrow!

After our long day in Ushuaia with no hotel room and then our long, late-night trip back to Kristin's apartment in Buenos Aires, we decided to spend the next day resting a bit. We slept in, I got to talk to Alexandre on the phone a bit, we made lunch in the apartment and read and enjoyed the nice weather from the 7th-floor balcony.

Our afternoon was a little more complicated. Well at first, we had a good time-- we went to “La Boca”, the famous historical neighborhood in Buenos Aires. We got all kinds of cool pictures, and watched tango dancing on a makeshift outdoor stage and soaked in all the tourist-y stuff. I also got a soccer t-shirt from the Boca team for Alexandre (by request). (You can click on the pictures to make them bigger.)

But then our taxi driver took us on a wild overpriced goose chase back to the subway station, but we were at his mercy because everyone told us that the neighborhood just outside of “La Boca” is a dangerous one and don't try walking back to the subway station and la de da. So he ripped us off and we argued with him a bit and then just gave up, gave him the exact change, and went to the subway.

So thennnnn we were on the subway and we got off the train to switch to another line. Our plan was to take the metro to a popular Argentinian barbecue restaurant for dinner. While we were waiting for the next line, the Train Gods announced over the loudspeakers that the line was “interrupted indefinitely”, basically like “you can wait and hope for the best, or you can figure something else out” (I'm paraphrasing).

So. It was hot inside the train station and we were hungry. So we decided to just get out of the station and take a taxi to the restaurant. BUT. We just couldn't get to a good spot on the avenue to actually catch a cab. So then, hungry, frustrated, and dejected, we decided to walk down a bit to try to find another road that would be easier to get a taxi from. BUT THEN! We saw a restaurant! It looked cute and quaint and Buenos Aires-esque. So then Kristin had a bright idea: Why not just eat there? By the time we finished, the subway would probably be ready again.

So it turned out that the Train Gods acted in our favor. The accidental restaurant was delicious. Some of the best meat I've ever had! (Ushuaia was great, but it's not exactly famous for the food...can't imagine much grows on the Tundra...) Anyway, at our accidental restaurant, the waiter was so helpful and attentive. And the decorations! Well, see for yourself:

mmmm.... beef covered in ham.

inside the restaurant
Where's Waldo Kristin?

So it was one of those “when one door closes, another opens” kinda evenings. But everything worked out!

I'm gonna use the end of this entry to throw in my pictures from the Buenos Aires zoo. I went last week while Kristin was in Spanish class. I had more fun with the wild animals that just happened to be wandering around the zoo, as opposed to those in exhibits...

Like this crazy dog-rabbit hybrid that I can't find the name of:

And a little beaver thing, which is called copio in Spanish.

And the baby duckies:

And the southern screamer just chillin' in the grass:

And there were some really big birds roaming freely in the trees. Once I get home, I'll have more time to look them up.

As for the exhibits, I was happy to see the little goats in the petting zoo. Goats always make me so happy.

They also had a “tropical rainforest” building exhibit, which was just full of animals that I've seen in the wild in Brazil, like toucans and parrots and the monkeys from the monkey park.

Oh, and they have this “boat ride” that they market the heck out of at the front of the zoo (because the ticket with the boat ride is more expensive). I was expecting like, a live version of the Jungle Cruise. It was totally piddly and short and anti-climactic. It was seriously like 95 seconds around a dirty man-made pond, and the employees didn't say a single word to any of us passengers. So don't waste your money on the more expensive ticket.

So it wasn't the greatest zoo in the world, but it was a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. :)

Read more about my Buenos Aires trip and the Tigre River day trip here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our Last Day in Ushuaia

Our last day in Ushuaia was a long one. We had to check out at 10am, but our flight wasn't until 9:45pm. So basically we had to entertain ourselves for almost 12 hours.

The first part of the day was easy enough to fill, and memorable to boot! We went on a boat tour of the Beagle Canal, where Darwin was when he wrote about HIS adventures in Ushuaia! We had a great tour guide lady who used the time between stops and islands to give the group little “classes” (for lack of a better word) about local information.

We saw sea lions! And then we saw cormorants nesting! And then we saw a huge cormorant colony! It was nice to see the cousins of the tropical cormorants that we have where I live in Brazil.

Kristin's not trying to push me... we're just trying not to fall over on the very rocky boat!

Imperial Cormorants! I was so happy to see them up close

Imperial cormorant colony.... it was cold

The lighthouse at the end of the world! There's only one that's more southernly than this one.

our first steps onto the little island

views from the island trail


Goodbye, cold island

After our cold but beautiful tour, we went back to the mainland. When we got there, the city was smack in the middle of its “Birthday Parade”. Just a bunch of kids in Karate school uniforms, and police officers on horses. Typical small town parade. Cute!

Unfortunately, it was hard to find a restaurant open for lunch when the whole city was down at the pier watching the parade. But we eventually did. It was nothing memorable. Ushuaia is fantastic, but you certainly shouldn't go to the Antarctic steppe for fine dining.

Then we gave ourselves a city tour. Basically we just walked up into the neighborhoods and took funny pictures and enjoyed the views of the Bay and got an idea of how the locals live (and finally saw a couple of meat and vegetable markets-- as it turns out, they don't all eat at restaurants for every meal :P ).

After our self-guided tour, we went to the local Indian tribe museum. It's small but interesting. Fun fact: The most populous tribe from the region didn't wear clothes! The idea of clothes (animal skin) was actually cumbersome while trying to hunt in the ocean, the snow, and the rain. So they used seal lion fat as like, a protective oil in the cold!

It was such a good museum (thought of you, Rachel) because it focused on the tribe in a humanistic, relationship way, as opposed to an abstract, anthropological way. Let me explain. I always get annoyed when museums describe indian tribes in anthropological terms, as if other cultures don't do exactly the same things. So instead of saying useless things like “This tribe built shelters for protection from the elements!” and “This tribe had initiation rites for boys to become men!”, the museum said things like “men and women were equal in the relationship and shared all responsibilities” and “whoever hunted that day shared their food with whoever was around”. Does that make sense? Like it actually gave you an idea of the tribe's morals and values and stuff.

After all that, we still had a couple of hours to kill. So we went to a happy hour at a bar for a drink, and then we just went to the airport early to read.

In a future entry, I'm going to write out everything we did in Ushuaia and our recommendations, so that you can have a great of a trip there as we did!

Read more about my Buenos Aires trip here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


That's right! I'm running around Argentina with Kristin this week.

We're having a fabulous time!

We spent the first 2 days of my trip in Buenos Aires. Kristin is staying in BA for a few weeks to study Spanish. So she's renting an apartment with a kitchen (very helpful!) and got there a week before I did.

the view from Kristin's apartment... I can't believe my piddly little camera got this picture

Fiona wrote a nice post about how it's important for ex-pats to just be plain ol' tourists sometimes. I have to say that it's kind of nice to just be whisked around to typical tourist-y things with other tourists and with English-speaking tour guides so I don't have to think as hard, going to easy-to-manage tourist-y bars and restaurants, etc. After the mental workout of figuring out how to live in a foreign country, getting around as a tourist is easy-peasy.

I've only spent 2 days in Buenos Aires, so I'm not an expert, and I'm sure after living here I'd get a deeper understanding of it and would think differently, but so far it just feels kind of generic (but keep in mind that I'm just doing typical tourist-y stuff, which I'm sure is causing this feeling). Kristin keeps comparing it to New York. But it's fun because almost everyone I've met has been super friendly (albeit curt and efficient), it has a lot of beautiful parks and plazas and a lot of great bars, and everything is huge and clean and organized.

Kristin and me on the 2nd widest Avenue in the world 

I'm not sure if other Americans living abroad do this, but whenever I go to other, bigger, foreign cities, I end up eating very little local food because I'm so excited to be in a big city with immigrants again where I eat my tried and true international favorites. The last time I was in Sao Paulo with dear buddy Bruna, we went to a Thai restaurant. In Buenos Aires, Kristin and I went to a Middle Eastern restaurant, and I've been drinking only cheap margaritas and even cheaper wine all week (the wine is local!). But I know, I know, I need to get to an Argentinian parrilla. I will, I promise.

Trying to speak Spanish again is quite the doozy. But I am rockin' the Portunhol! I get away with it and people are nice about it because I'm young and sprightly and I smile a lot. If I think before I speak (psh), I can usually get out a sentence that's like 90% Spanish and only 10% Portuguese. But sometimes if I'm feeling lazy or if I can't remember the Spanish word, I just speak in Portuguese and people figure it out. My new word is Obrigracias. Because I start saying obrigada and remember to say gracias halfway through. My drunken metaphor from last night was that, in terms of comfort and self-ness, English is my skin in this freezing and harsh terrain. Spanish is like a nice thin jacket that'll get me by but leaves me lacking something, and Portuguese is like a big warm coat that I can wiggle around in. Eh? Eh? You guys like it?

Anyway, right now, Kristin and I are in USHUAIA!! “The end of the world!” Patagonia! This place is beeeaauauuuuutttiiiiffuuulllll.

I've never seen any terrain like it. Kristin and I thought it could be accurately described as “tundra”, but apparently the word “tundra” only refers to northern regions. Wikipedia refers to the land here as “a region of steppelike plains”. Ushuaia proper has a ton of trees, but our airplane stopped in a city called Rio Gallegos, and it didn't have a single tree. So, so interesting:

I have a reoccurring dream in which I'm stuck out in the ocean at a place that looks just like this.

Yes yes, so Ushuaia! In case you don't remember from my other posts or already know, it's considered (by one definition) the southernmost city in the world.
It's just. Gorgeous.
Pristine waters. Snow-capped mountains (according to our taxi driver, some are technically glaciers). Ancient forests. Islands. Tiny little Scandanavian-style houses and a quaint downtown area.

We're staying in a fantastic hotel, which I'll write more about later once I'm not in it.

On our first day, we went to... bum bum bum.... a penguin island!! We had to take a bus ride to a small pier, from which we took a tiny freezing boat ride to the secluded island where 2 penguin species migrate to.
OMG! Penguins!

all those little black and white dots are penguins!

Then today, we went to the national park to hike around. Again, freezing but breathtaking. The cold makes everything feel so clean and fresh. I'll let the pictures do the talking:
Can you see the huge mountain in the background?

Did I mention the cold?? The high today was 43F / 6C without factoring in wind chill. Quite possibly the coldest place this California-born traveler has even been. But part of it may just be psychological, knowing that I'm so close to Antarctica.

Tomorrow is our last day. We check our early but fly out late, so we're leaving our bags at the hotel and then going on a tour of the Beagle Channel (which includes a bird island!).

Speaking of birds, I've been so disappointed with what I thought was going to be a bird-filled vacation. The birds in Buenos Aires are the same ones we have in my part of Brazil, and the birds here in Ushuaia are elusive little stinkers! I can hear all kinds of different ones, but I can almost never see them up in the trees. Sometimes I'll catch one that just landed on a fence or something, but they're so quick. So I haven't gotten ANY pictures yet! :( :(

Well, I'll get the rest of the pictures up once my internet is faster. Some of the penguin pictures are already up on the Flickr album on the right side of the screen.

It's midnight now, and fireworks just started going off over the Beagle Channel. They're shaking the hotel room walls as I type. The 12th is the day that the city of Ushuaia honors as its "birthday". Time to celebrate one of the most beautiful places in the world. :)

Read More about my Buenos Aires and Ushuaia trip here.
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