Mendoza, Argentina – Wine Country

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July 11-14, we were in Mendoza – the main wine capital of IMG_7034Argentina. And let me tell ya, do they know how to do it right there. Almost any wine you get you can’t go wrong with. It’s so abundant there that they almost give it away for free. In fact, out hostel did! Every night they had free wine for the guests staying there; granted, it wasn’t the finest of the fine, but hey I’m not complaining… Free wine! But even the stuff you did had to pay for was dirt cheap. We bought several bottles of very good wine and each was under $10 USD! I’m not kidding – like really good wine for $4-$8! Mendoza is most famous for their Malbec (type of red wine – vino tinto) IMG_7035wines and I have to agree when they say that you’ll always be satisfied if you choose a Malbec.

IMG_7011Outside of Mendoza is the Maipú region, which is really where the vineyards (viñas) are located. The dirt roads out there are just lined with vineyard after vineyard and it’s gorgeous. Despite the fact that IMG_7008it’s winter and the vines are all brown and fruitless, it was still a gorgeous day. The towering Andes to the west and beautiful tree-shaded roads to explore. Marelle, Lindsey, and I rented bikes from a lovely man named Mr. Hugo and took in the beautiful weather, biking about 20 km (more or less) to different IMG_7006vineyards, a brewery, and an olive oil tasting. We had plenty of delicious wines, beers, and tasty snacks along the way. At the olive oil place, they also had marmalade and different liquors to try as well. There they had this very unique honey-IMG_7009like spread that was made from Chardonnay wine and it was amazing! So very very tasty. But that wasn’t even the most unique thing we tried there. We also tasted a number of specialty liquors such as dulce de leche con banana, ananá (pineapple), durazno (peach), liquor de pimientos (pepper liquor – super spicy, talk about a burning sensation), and last but definitely not least Absinthe. Now I don’t know much about Absinthe, but I do know it is illegal in the United States if that gives you any idea. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most pleasant thing I drank that day, but it was an experience.IMG_7031
In total, we probably spent about 6 hours that day in Maipú, and needless to say, we were pretty pooped that evening. But it was so IMG_7028worth it. If you’ve ever traveled for an extended period of time, you know how difficult it can be to get good, meaningful exercise. Loved it. Can’t imagine a better way to see the Argentine wine country than on bike.IMG_7013

 

 

 

Oh, and we were also in Mendoza during the World Cup finals. Here’s a snapshot of what that was like:

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Bariloche, Patagonia


IMG_7428Just spent the past 6 days in what is now one of my favorite places on earth – Bariloche, Patagonia.

Situated on the gorgeous Lake NH, this mountain town has it all. Mountains surround the city on all sides, 30 minutes from the

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Chocolate Rama

nearest ski resort, and chocolate shops everywhere (which Bariloche is famous for)!

It was nice to return to the mountains after 5 weeks of not having them. The Coloradan in me was getting anxious.

We arrived last Saturday just in time for the Argentina – Belgium match, which of course we IMG_6900had to watch. And after Argentina beat Belgium’s sorry bum, the most insane thing happened. Now, I already thought that Argentines were crazy, but I was introduced to a whole new level of it while in Bariloche. Following the victory, the usually car honking and cheering began, however as we were walking back to our hostel, we saw a huge group of people celebrating in the main plaza. So naturally, we rushed to join. IMG_6901Masses and masses of people were gathered, climbing on the statue, waving flags of every size, blowing horns, jumping up and down, chanting and cheering, playing drums – I think you get the picture! Shortly after we arrived, the riot began to make it’s way to the main street and became a crazy, spontaneous parade! We marched up and down the street singing the Argentine victory chants, which consequently are about 3 main topics: how much Brazil sucks, the 1986 championship, or how great they are in general. Often times it’s about all three at once, and always sprinkled with a colorful smattering of your favorite curse words ;). When we were in Rosario, celebrations would last 1-2 hours, but here it went on for like 6! Granted they did just make quarter finals, but still.

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Teenagers on a statue with a flare

This wasn’t the only time this happened, though. Wednesday, July 9th, Argentina beat the Netherlands in a shoutout, securing them a spot against Germany in the finals on Sunday. The Argentina goalie, Romero, became a national hero and a local newspaper even ran a headline that read “The hands of God.” After this victory, the same pattern of
celebration ensued…. But on a even bigger scale. Being in the heart of it all, we found ourselves shoulder to shoulder with people jumping and screaming and moshing. And this time, the parade was 3 times as big and probably 4 times as long! Needless to say, riot police are everywhere to help maintain order. But good for Argentina, they know how to celebrate! I had a blast!10482014_10201428524034580_5651006854816752371_o

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In addition to the games, we took advantage of being in Patagonia during the winter months to ski. Cerro Catedral is the cloIMG_6924sest resort to Bariloche, and though it is relatively small, the view is unbelievable. There aren’t many trees on the mountain and the ones that there are are further down the mountain. So when you reach the top, you are met with a stunning panoramic view of the lake and the uniquely shaped Andes! It was still early season (the best time to go is in August according to a local) so the snow was alright, but we still absolutely loved it!

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IMG_6985On one occasion, however, we got quite stuck. We were making our way down this lovely trail that was bordered by lots of trees so it IMG_6972was like we were going through a wooden tunnel. However, there came a patch of trail that no longer had much snow, just mud. But the patch wasn’t that big, so we just unstrapped and walked over and naively continued our descent. This was a mistake; however, our our defense there was no closed trail sign!

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Had to pass our equipment over the creek
Had to pass our equipment over the creek

Half way down, we learned that there was no snow on the bottom half of the mountain. None! Just a lot of mud, grass, and small puddles of mushy snow. After tumbling and falling and slipping and sliding, we felt that we had had enough of getting to know the mountain in such an intimate manner. So, bumped, bruised, and mud covered we hiked the rest of the way down. However, this even proved to be a task as there was no trail down. We had to hike around a river and scoot down whichever way we could. It was still a fun adventure.

Needless to say, when we got back to our hostel, we were pooped. IMG_6950Our hostel was called Hostel Pudu and it was quite small and homey. Nothing fancy, but it sure had a lot of character and a gorgeous view of the lake. Every night we cooked our own meals for dirt cheap prices. To give you an idea, one night we bought $100 AR of

With our new Irish friend, Paul
With our new Irish friend, Paul

groceries (about $10 USD) and made enough food for our dinner, plus lunch the next day! That’s 6 meals for $10 USD! Plus, we ate really well. Last week we made: Tarta de espinaca (spinach quiche), empanadas de carne (meat pastries), ñoquis with tomato/spinach/choripan (Argentine sausage) sauce, homemade sweet potato fries, a divine salad with grilled chicken, and a lot of hard boiled eggs and apples.10544209_10201428494553843_4260311969277990675_o IMG_6958

Anyways, loving life. Loving travel. Can’t wait to return to Patagonia. It’s everything I imagined it would be and is one of my favorite places on earth.

From our hostel
From our hostel

Iguazú Falls

Had the privilege of seeing one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World last week – Iguazú Falls! Usually they’re not so brown, but they were still fantastic (in every sense of the word)! Incredible force of nature; it was humbling to see something as benign as water presenting a tremendous sense of power and dominance over man. Here are some photos from the experience:

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Argentina’s Slip-n-Slide Economy Strikes Again

So big stuff has been happening here in Argentina, and it is most likely not being covered in the United States despite its minor involvement. Long story short, Argentina will more than likely default for “the second time in 13 years” on a major loan at the end of this month and no one knows what’s going to happen within the country economically. It is a really interesting time to be here right now!

Here’s the deal:

Back in 2001, Argentina fell into a deep financial crisis where it defaulted on “about $100 billion of its debt,” aka… the country was broke and couldn’t pay its loans to other countries/organizations. So, this private company called NML from the U.S. bought up almost all of Argentina’s “bad debt.” Well, now in 2014, NML has unexpectedly decided that they want their money now – and by now, I mean the end of this month! Essentially, NML is trying to sue the Argentine government.

In the lawsuit, NML ended up winning. So, the Argentine government tried to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, however the Supreme Court decided earlier this week to not hear the case – most likely because it does not pertain to the U.S. Constitution. This being, some may say that this issue is the U.S against Argentina, but really it is not. It is a private company against Argentina and the entire country of the U.S. is not affiliated. Fortunately, the majority of people here in Argentina seem to understand that.

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Now, Argentina technically has the money to pay the required sum, but the kicker is that just prior to this event, Argentina had re-negociated a great majority of its other bond repayments with other countries and organizations such as the Paris Club and promised to faithfully stick to the re-negociated payment plans. What this means is, yes Argentina can technically pay NML at the end of June, but in doing so, it would use up an unhealthy portion of the national reserves, plus it is very likely that all of these other loaners will expect their money sooner, too, which is obviously unsustainable.

So, Argentina is in a bit of a pickle. Do they pay NML or do they default on the loan? Most are predicting that they will default. President Cristina Kirchner made an address to the nation Monday night explaining that Argentina will honor the re-negotionations as these parties have been very understanding. However, she did not say whether or not they will be paying NML at the end of the month. In her address she states:

“Argentina has shown more than an evident willingness to negotiate [its debts]. But one has to distinguish between a negotiation and extortion,”

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President Cristina Kirchner addressing the nation Monday night.

Politically, they don’t really have anything to lose. Having already defaulted once back in 2001, Argentina has very little credit in the global market so they won’t be losing the ability to borrow money from other countries since they can’t even do that now.

But you may be asking, doesn’t Argentina have a really good soy/meat/wine/export industry? Why do they have so little money and so Man-Andes-Argentina_9-9-2013_117425_lmuch debt? Well, reader, I’ll tell you why. Granted there are many sides to this coin, but one reason is that the country has an enormous problem with being able to collect taxes. Paying taxes is just not a mindset the citizens have. The majority of the middle and upper classes do not declare their entire income and have become very good at evading their taxes – which some may say hurts them more in the long run, but that’s just not well understood. (But hey, who are we to say we know better – I’m sure they could find a billion things wrong with the U.S. government system and call us silly for it).

Additionally, they have an issue with keeping money in circulation. The Argentine people have very little faith in the peso, therefore everyone saves in dollars. However, it is “illegal” to conduct transactions via the dollar, so people just hold on to them as they are more stable. What’s more, is people don’t trust the government with their money – especially after the last crisis where the government froze everyone’s bank accounts and the people ended up losing up 187600to 75% of their savings. So, people save money in their mattress or safety deposit boxes so the government cannot touch it. As a result, a black market has emerged where there are different exchange rates for the dollar, but again, this keeps money out of national circulation. With this new economic catch, the dollar blue (the black market dollar price) has already increased a little over 1 peso per dollar, and it’s only been 3 days.

Unfortunately, no one is quite sure what will become of the Argentine economy come July. If anything, the value of the U.S. dollar will increase even more. So, if you’re an American in Argentina right now, at the end of the month you may have incredible buying power because the peso-dollar exchange rate will likely skyrocket. There is a lot of speculation on how prices will fluctuate or inflate, too, but I am not good enough with economics to come up with any sort of substantial opinion.

Like mentioned above, the population seems to understand that this is not the U.S.’s fault and surprisingly, no one seems overly worried. That’s good, I guess. I suppose they are just so used to the constantly shifting economy that it is just going to be what it’s going to be. In the end, it just gives people who dislike President Kirchner one more reason to hate her and her government.


Keep in mind this is only my understanding of the situation and there are other opinions out there. If you want to read more about it, here is some further reading:

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/06/16/argentina-debt-creditors-supreme-court/10572945/

Wall Street Journal (quotes from this article): http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-supreme-court-rejects-argentina-appeal-in-sovereign-debt-case-1402926119?tesla=y&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304292904579628103786170372.html

The National Law Review: http://www.natlawreview.com/article/argentina-ready-economic-rebound

International Business Times: http://www.ibtimes.com/argentina-debt-crisis-what-if-country-defaults-yet-again-1604214

 

Hodgepodge Catch Up

Hola!

Been a while since I posted, but be not alarmed! I am still alive! And I have done a number of random things since I last wrote, so here is the quick catch up of things:

1. Fútbol!

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Myself, Sarah, Lindsey, and Brett all decided to sign up for a friendly game of soccer with some of the local students last Saturday. At the time, it sounded like a super fun idea; however, when we arrived at the gym, the first person we met was this guy with a blue Olympic track suit (not sure if it was legit or just had an Olympic logo on it). He was 6′ 10″ tall and had a very Greek-like appearance – complete with the ear-length black hair that no matter what you do, it always looks a little bit sweaty. In short, he looked like a beast. We turned to Brett and all we could say was, “Good luck!” Luckily, that was just the men’s volleyball coach, we found out, but that still didn’t curb our nervousness to play with Latin Americans. Stereotypically, anyone from Latin America eat, breathes, and lives fútbol. But, it ended up being ok! Actually, better than ok! Turns out this was more of rec league anyways and we kept up very well. We even made some Argentine friends, who are oh so sweet and welcoming! The following Monday we had a practice which was very fun. The only thing keeping me from going straight to the World Cup is my lack of real tennis shoes ;).

2. River Walk and Salsa Dancing!

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Pasta Frola de Membrillo

Sunday was such a beautiful day! We all met up to do “homework” but ended up just enjoying the day and walking along the river. On the weekends, there are artisan markets and stands all along the river, as well as families and couples lounging in the grass just chilling and drinking mate. Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon? On that walk, I got this tasty tart that my host mom says is very Argentine called Pasta Frola de Membrillo. Membrillo – the fruit formally know as Quince (see what I did there). It’s really good! It tastes just like it looks (delicious, haha); but it is kind of like a raspberry-ish gelatin with a very dense texture. Later that evening, as we continued our stroll after a lengthy but engaging lunch and discussion, we came across a large group of people salsa dancing in the plaza of Parque España. So naturally, Austin and I had to join in. Unfortunately, my swing dance instincts were kicking and that resulted in me having two left feet (sorry Austin, I made you look like a total gringo).

Also, side note, next to the plaza was this SUPER steep hill, so logically, Austin had to roll down it! At least the locals (and ourselves) got some good entertainment out of it, haha! I made him do it twice so I could get it on video.

3. Piano Concert

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Wednesday night, Nani and I got front row tickets to see The Pianos Trio at the Teatro Circulo. That theater is gorgeous! The pianos were gorgeous, and tuned so perfectly. I felt so fancy! Here is a YouTube clip of one of their pieces:

4. Beef Asado on the islands!

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Got to fulfill my destiny as a sea pirate today.

Friday, was a beyond perfect day! We took a boat taxi across the Río Paraná to this DSC_0004perfect little house with on the other side of the DSC_0003islands.

In the summer, the river is packed with boats and beach-goers and this house doubles as a full blown restaurant. Our wonderful cooks, Erica and Claudio, made us a traditional asado (beef cook-out) with chorizo (sausage), DSC_0053 DSC_0048 DSC_0070 IMG_6586 DSC_0049ensalada de papas (best freaking potato salad ever), normal salad, empenadas de carne (beef empenadas), homemade lemonade from their lemon tree, and rolls. Needless to say, we feasted. (Stop drooling and put your tongue back in your mouth). At the island there were chickens and hogs and sheep and something like four very friendly and lovable dogs. We spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun and sitting on the pier, while looking at DSC_0113the most beautiful clouds that made scales in the sky.DSC_0083

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Austin decided to go for a swim

    

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The most beautiful clouds

5. Reggae Jazz Fusion Concert!

Later that night (and by later, I mean really later…. like late late), some of us went to this Reggae fusion type concert for a band called Dancing Mood. They are so fun; their instrumentation consists of your classic bass, piano, guitar, but also bongo drums, a flute, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, and harmonica! If you like Snarky Puppy, you’ll like Dancing Mood. People got so into their music. Brett, Austin, and I made it all the way to the second row where it was an all out party! People were pushing and jumping and singing. Don’t worry, Mom, we were safe. We all stuck together and looked out for each other very carefully. It was a claustrophobic’s nightmare, but if you could handle it, man was it fun! After we were thoroughly sweaty and tired, we left, but kept the party going. We met some really awesome and unique people in the plazas and the other places we explored and even made some new friends. Long story short, you can fit a lot in between the hours of 11pm and 6am! Side note! We tried and failed at getting some french fries at a McDonalds at 6am. Why did we fail, you might ask? Well, basically everybody and their mom go to McDonalds at that hour and it was PACKED! The bars and boliches close around 5 or 6am and then everyone (like us) wants a bite to eat. It was insane!

Anyways, that’s enough for now! Tomorrow is Sunday and a whole new week of adventures will begin then. Argentina’s first World Cup match is tomorrow! I can only imagine the chaos I will have the pleasure of partaking it.

Ciao!

“¡CNN Hong Kong – Es Tu Canal!”

Ok, let’s start by talking about how ridiculously cheap some things are here. Not everything is significantly less expensive, but there are some items here that Americans would flip for if they costed this much in the States.

For example, today my dear friend, Noha, and I went to a café for a quick bite to eat. We each ordered the breakfast special, which consisted of:

1 cup of café con leche (coffee with milk)

medialunas (croissants)

1 cup of jugo de naranja (orange juice)

Guess how much it cost each of us? $10 USD? $12 USD? Nope! About $2.34 USD. $19 pesos!!!

In general, I’ve found food here to be slightly more affordable; so, I don’t feel guilty about buying one or two coffees every day.

Rosario from a distance on the Rio de Paraná

But anyways! As I mentioned above, Noha and I went to this café and had a lovely conversation about global news and the average American interest in world affairs. The conversation began with Noha telling me how her host mom puts CNN Hong Kong on the TV for her because it is the only English channel she gets (“¡Es tu canal!”) . From this, we got to talking about how in the span of an hour, she became so much more aware of events occurring in the world than she pretty much ever was before. I could relate. Last summer, while in Taiwan, CNN was also the only English channel and that was probably the most informed I had ever been of global events in my life (yes, it’s sad – good thing I got out of International Affairs when I did!).

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It’s quite interesting how in the “interconnected” world of today, how distant and ignorant my generation has become. I would argue to say that our main source of news is not the television or the radio or the newspaper, but Facebook and Twitter. (And teachers worry about Wikipedia’s credibleness…) But it’s true! I personally do not have a TV (Netflix = life), but if I did, I still probably wouldn’t watch the news, especially if Scrubs was playing two channels over. What about the newspaper? Yeah, maybe I’d read it during breakfast if I had one, but newspapers nowadays are moving more and more to online media. And again, like the Scrubs-struggle, if I was going to be online, I would probably be on Facebook or WordPress. Not CNN.com. And if I am an online news page, I am most definitely not browsing the stories. Most likely, I heard about a specific story (probably from Facebook) and am searching that article in particular without even looking at what else is going on in the world or my area. I am just not interested in actively seeking it out. Say what you will about that. I know it’s not good, but I probably won’t change, if I am being honest.

Anyways, it was very interesting to compare the habits of my generation with that of the habits of our host moms here in Argentina (both women with full grown children and grandchildren).

IMG_6436The other night, Nani (my host mom) and I were talking at dinner about the political history of Argentina and before I knew it, she had launched into a very opinionated discussion about not only Argentine politics, but a detailed commentary on all things U.S., as well. Heck, she knew more about U.S. politics than I did and had way more opinions, too (granted, if you know me, that doesn’t surprise you).

In conclusion, I do not have anything remotely profound to say about this topic (sorry to disappoint), but it was just an interesting observation and discussion I was fortunate enough to enjoy over a ridiculously cheap breakfast, with good company, next to the river, under the Argentine sun.

En La Plaza de San Martín

Interestingly enough, I think this is one of the first times while traveling where I haven’t been automatically assumed to be American (or norteamericana). Either people on the street don’t really care that I am not able to completely follow what their saying, or they are under the impression that I speak fluent Spanish and know exactly what they are talking about. Yesterday, I was talking to some guy who mans one of the parking stations and despite my apparent confusion, I still had to explain to him that I was a foreigner; and not just any foreigner, a U.S. foreigner whose Spanish is still at the adolescent level, comparatively. It is kind of a cool experience though – to be more a part of the community (or at least assumed to be).

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On that same walk, I moseyed on over to the Plaza de San Martín which sits along an outdoor pedestrian street mall, much like 16th Street mall in Denver. I was sitting, taking pictures and watching the pigeons and the children chase them while the sun was setting. The sight was just wonderful. It was as if in that very moment, nothing could ever be wrong.

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If you’ve read my short essay I Know Not (written over more than two years ago), you’ll recall that I mentioned wanting to “be able to know and love them all” in reference to all 7 billion people in the world. Though I did not really meet anyone in particular during this people-watching escapade, I feel that I came at least one step closer to my prophetic goal. It is difficult to put into words, but the vibe was so calming, yet lively. I felt like I knew. Knew what? Can’t say I know that either, but I knew something.

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Despite all the awesome touristy things I will see and important things I will learn, what I will remember most 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now will be moments like that. Where the sun, souls, and lives meet – in La Plaza de San Martín.

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