Saturday, May 19, 2012

San Pedro de Atacama

(May 11-14)

San Pedro is another mostly tourist place. It is in the middle of the Atacama desert, close to the border with Bolivia and offers a few spectacular sceneries that are worth the money you spend to get and to stay there.  

Once again, I had to work a bit. And I was so happy to see that in the middle of the desert my hostel had an internet connection that was actually better than the one we got in Valparaiso. That was awesome to start a few jobs on my machine in Zurich.

El Taito, wake up at 4 AM to get there with the right light...

The thing I liked the most was to rent a bike and visit the valleys around San Pedro. We always got there a bit too late, but that was enough to enjoy gorgeous sunsets. You can actually do much more than that, but most of the things are similar to what we would have seen while crossing the Bolivian border.

This is also the last time I saw my sunglasses. I am trying to contact people to see whether they found them, but this time I am quite pessimist. 

Numbers: The bus from Santiago to San Pedro took 23 hours. Buses in Argentina and Chile are nowhere close to anything I have seen before in other countries. As distances are big and there are no almost no trains, buses here are well equipped and comfortable. We got a first class ticket for about 100 euros per person. The first class seat goes down 180 degrees to let you sleep. Unfortunately this was not enough to save me from an horrible headache.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A glimpse of Santiago

(May 8-10)

Could not really see Santiago, had to work most of the time. My girlfriend wrote something more about it ( I just had a quick walk around, mostly towards shops and restaurants. So, after two days of staying there, for me Santiago is just the city with the best shop dummy asses in South America.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


(May 6-8)

My hope was to eat gorgeous fish/seafood in Valparaiso. I was not that lucky, though. Unexpectedly, however, I found a decent pizza (Allegretto is the name of the pizzeria), nothing too exciting but it still ranks #1 so far in this trip.

How to ruin a beautiful bay with monster buildings.

Most of the street art that I have seen in my life is just the 'artist' signature, written in a more or less colorful way. I am not sure if I can understand it. Had I to say what I really think, I would probably end up being rude. I would certainly say that I find a poor manifestation of one's (in)abilities, that of constantly writing a name on a train, a building or whatever stands up in a populated area. And if somebody replied to me using the it's-a-form-of-protest argument, I would think that both the artist and the 'somebody' are naive and sloppy. You see, I would get rude. Interestingly, during this trip I found something better. I cannot really say if I like it, yet. I guess I would need more time for that. But certainly, at least, I can see an intention that at least deserves a critic, being it positive or negative.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


(May 3-6)

From Buenos Aires we went straight to Mendoza with a night bus. On the way to the bus station, a couple tried to rob us, with the usual trick of the pigeon shit. It works like this: they throw something white-ish at you from behind, like shaving soap, to make you believe a flock of  birds (pigeons?) shitted on you. They do not go easy on it, you get a lot of shit/soap. Then a woman comes and tells you that you are dirty and she offers to clean you with a towel and some water. She will barely clean some of the white stuff, but likely it will clean your pockets. This is an old trick and the antidote is easy enough: just do not stop, keep on walking. We luckily realized what was happening and we just moved on to the station, where we finally cleaned the dirt. Unfortunately I did not manage to clean the stain from my jacket. God knows what was that white stuff. 

Mendoza was a wine break, for us. Smaller and much more relaxed than Buenos Aires, it offers a few outdoor excursions and wine tasting tours. We got a bike and did a couple of vineyards with it, Norton and Bonfanti. I liked the second tour much better. But the real highlight was the lunch in this wine region. Finally, after one month in Argentina, I managed to have a meal with character. It is called Mario, I mean I actually do not know how the place is called. For that matters I do not even know if it has a name. What I can tell you is that the place is just in front of the Norton vineyards entrance. You will likely not notice it, if you do not know that it exists (we were recommended by our hostel staff). The place does not even have a tiled floor, it is very simple. No menu, just one or two entries heating up on the fireplace. We went for a meet stew and it was great. I mean, the taste was simple enough, but it seemed so genuine after one month of anonymous meat dishes with potatoes. Great, it made me feel better. Ok, the bottle of wine helped, as well. I would have been happy with the bill even without eating, just for the atmosphere. 

I was so envious of Mario's hat.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buenos Aires as a tourist

(April 28 - May 2)

I was warned that as a European, Buenos Aires would have unlikely surprised me for urbanistic and architectural features. Well, I have to admit,  the eyes rarely find a little beauty where to rest most of the time. With a few exceptions, though.

A heap of different styles.
La Boca, the area where a lot of immigrants from Genoa, Italy, came a long ago and that hosts the older harbor in the city (a pretty small one, as the waters are not deep enough for big cargo boats). The colorful houses make this barrio (quarter) quite unique. The houses were colored with what was left of the colors used to paint the boats, or at least this is what I was told. 

La Boca is also a tourist trap.
The second (chronologically speaking) harbor is Puerto Madero. The harbor was actually used only for 30 years. In the 90's the city decided to make a new barrio in this area. Since then, this has become the richest area in the city, with skyscrapers and some space for strolling around.

The fast development of Puerto Madero is to be linked to the fact that the Soy price  has been increasing in the last years. 
But I guess Buenos Aires has much more to give you if you really live it, rather than if you stay there for a few days as a tourist. We visited the barrios of Palermo, Recoleta and Bodeo as well, for bars and restaurants or theater. But we could only grasp very little of what is the everyday life of this huge city. 

La Presidenta is looking for popular support for the decision of nationalizing YPF.
The politics of the last years in Argentina is extremely interesting, especially
if  compared with the Greek crisis of these months.
For more about this, see an interesting article on Le Monde Diplomatique.

Numbers. Bus is extremely cheap, only 1.25 AR$ while the subway is 2.5 AR$. Public transport definitely works well. You might want to use a cab, also not expensive, at night, if you are coming late and you do not know which bus to take.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Buenos Aires as a student: Academia Buenos Aires

(April 23-27)

I am no fan of big cities and I would have not probably agreed on staying in Buenos Aires for the time that instead we ended up spending there, if it had not been for two reasons: a language class and some tango life. The original plan was therefore to stay only one week, but we extended our stay a few more days.

We arrived in Buenos Aires with an extremely uncomfortable, bought last minute, night travel, made of a 3 hours bus ride (Rio Grande at 18:30), a 50 minutes propellers airplane that felt more like a kite freely swinging in the wind (Rio Gallegos, with 5 hours delay, at 3:11)  and a final flight to the capital with a check-out check-in done in the record time of 14 minutes (Buenos Aires at 6:30). Needless to say I could not sleep an instant on those flying things, but all we wanted was to start the Spanish class at Academia Buenos Aires, as back then I thought you could start only on Monday. I am going now to drop a few lines about my experience as a student at the school.

The Academia has an excellent location, just in front of Plaza de Mayo, central and easy to reach from everywhere in the city. We were only 4 people in the class (+1, that arrived on Wednesday) and the teacher could follow us closely. Most of the people there take classes for several weeks, while we were mostly interested in a one week intensive class. At the end the class ended up being less intensive then what I thought. The quality of teaching and material seems appropriate and I feel like recommending this school, but if you are looking for an intensive class, you are probably better off attending a bunch of private classes rather than a single week course. I have to add that the staff  here is extremely friendly, flexible and useful. We got a lot of important recommendations about the city life and the visits to the city organized by the school were great.

As for the accommodation, we arrived in the school with our bags and, as usual, without a place where to sleep. We asked for some last minute accommodation and we were given the possibility of a room in a shared flat. Well, true, we did not pay much (170 AR$ per night per room), but the place was not that great either. 

This towel that was full of long hair...
The place desperately requires some renovation and I would not rate it as clean. So, you can definitely save some money here, you can benefit of extreme flexibility of the staff, e.g. for extending your stay (as we did), and at the end you get used to rust, mold and others. If I could go back though, I would probably spend a few bucks more and search for another accommodation. 

...and rust.
A cozy living room.
We were not here only to learn Spanish, however. The idea was also to take a one week class in tango, hoping again for an intensive course. It took us some time to decide for a pair of tango shoes for me and  laziness helped as well when it came to choosing a tango school. So we actually did only one lesson at the Borges cultural center. The experience was everything but positive. As newcomers, we were mostly ignored, the teacher did not really correct our mistakes (or anybody's, for that matters) and we decided not to go again. We instead decided to go to a Milonga (tango ballroom) on Monday. This was much a more interesting, albeit embarrassing, experience. As I did not feel that confidence in dancing much, most of the times we were watching the others. No one will come and ask you to dance, if you are  a man, but that is not true at all if you are a woman. Therefore I got my girlfriend stolen a couple of times while I was left with my glass of wine to keep the chair warm. Anyhow an interesting place, very relaxed atmosphere (especially if you can dance). It is called Bendita Milonga. Go there on Mondays.

Numbers. At the Academia Buenos Aires, we paid 195 USD per week of course (20 hours, i.e. 4 hours per day, for 5 days). This includes unlimited coffee and, on monday, a big tray of medialunas (croissant). Private lessons are 25 USD per hour.