So, as most of you know, my friends Katie and Hillary have been here for the past week, and so I’ve not written a word. It was so lovely having people living in my apartment with me who speak English and find it as funny as I do that restaurants put ham in vegetarian dishes. I was also pleased to prove to someone that, here, it’s not uncommon to hear the song “The Final Countdown” by Europe twice in one day if you’re out and about. (Am I the only one who can only picture Job from Arrested Development freeing a dove when I hear this song?)
You Go Uruguay
(Yes, I did steal that from my cousin’s Facebook comment)
So, because I’m recapping a week here, I’ll keep it brief. Obviously, having friends here rocked. I took my ladies around to see all of the big sights, and then there was just a lot of wine and, in all honestly, an absurd amount of leather boot shopping. (When you see us all in the fall wearing the same boots in three different colors, don’t judge: They were $30 and gorgeous and real leather.) We also went to Uruguay for the day, which ended up, sadly, being a bit of a bust. Colonia, Uruguay is only an hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires, and although several people had told us that you could do the whole town in a day, we decided to stay the night for something different. We got up early Thursday morning and caught the ferry to Colonia, a little port town on the west coast of the country. The ride was lovely, and then we got off the boat to find that it was approximately 30 below. We made beeline for the hotels, and easily found one for $35 a night. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we headed down to the historic district, which is right on the water as well and, thus, absolutely freezing.
The town is undeniably adorable, but wandering around the ruins and through the little alleyways in that kind of cold was, to put it bluntly, miserable. We got a lunch of what essentially came out as big plates of macaroni and cheese and then we stopped at a shop and bought hats for $2. Mine was white with glitter all over it. (Not exactly my style, but for $2, what are you going to do?) We walked around for a few hours, during which time my friend collected about 40 stray dogs that followed us around, while she almost cried because they were likely cold. Eventually, we decided (at about 1:00 pm) that wine was the only thing that could possible keep us warm, so we stopped and had a bottle of that.
The bar was right on the water and was about four degrees warmer than we would have been if we were actually swimming at that point, so we got a little cranky. Then we looked at the map and realized we’d seen the entire town already. So, we came up with an elaborate scheme involving Hillary “taking ill” in order to back out of the hotel room. She did a stellar job playing “inferma” and we paid for a half-day ($17) before getting back on the boat and heading back to Buenos Aires.
Moral: If someone tells you a place is only a day trip, believe them.
The Language of the Jews and Anal Probes
Unfortunately, it rained more this week than it has the whole time I’ve been in Buenos Aires. As such, one day we went to a movie theater downtown, after eating (surprisingly good) burritos. Argentina doesn’t have much of a film scene, so mostly they show, unfortunately, big Hollywood action movies with subtitles. One movie didn’t have Denzel Washington in it and we saw it had won several awards, so I asked the clerk what language it was in (wanting to avoid another French-film-with-Spanish-subtitles incident). She said a word I didn’t know, and then said it over and over again. Eventually, she stopped to think about another way to explain it and told me it was in “the language . . . of the Jews.” We figured Hebrew with Spanish subtitles would be a bit more than we could hope to understand. In the end we saw Penelope, with Christina Ricci. I think I can honestly say it was the worst movie I’ve ever seen (you may have seen the ads—she has the face of a pig). Still, it was better than wandering around in the rain.
The next day, we decided cheap pampering was in order, so we went to a spa in my neighborhood. I should say, I’d been to the spa once before and had a good, if slightly confusing experience. One of my friends from school, Monika, had booked our appointments, and set us up for a package that included the steam room, a massage, a body scrub, and a facial. She and I went, and her boyfriend came as well. After they called Monika in for her facial, the spa clerk led her boyfriend, Coy, and I into a room with two massage tables. “Oh, this is probably for the couple,” I thought, and said so to Coy. “Right, yeah. Do you know how to say that in Spanish?” I told him I did not and then started saying things like, “I’m not his girlfriend” and “Perhaps the other girl in this bed—not me, okay?” After a while, Coy said, “I don’t care if you don’t. I just want my massage.” So, I had a couple’s massage with someone’s boyfriend. In Spanish.
This time, things at the spa started out much more smoothly. Hillary had never had a facial before, so I spent about 20 minutes in the waiting room telling her how fun and soothing it was. They called us into two separate rooms and my lady turned on the blinding fluorescent light over me to see what she was working with. While I didn’t catch all of her reaction, the gist was, “Hmm, this is not good.” She told me what I really needed was extractions (fine) and a peel. Why, I thought, a peel! That sounds different. I’ll probably have amazing skin after such a new and unique procedure.
What followed was like something out of a horror movie. I’ll skip the gruesome details, but I will say that there were about five steps, each one more excruciating than the one prior. Once the extreme burning began, around step three, I assumed something had gone very wrong and told the technician in Spanish, “It’s so hot, very hot and it . . . makes me sad, because it’s so hot in the places by my nose and eyes.” She assured me that it was supposed to. Eventually, she smeared my face with a very thick, very disgusting tube of gel, which actually felt good. With my eyes closed, I thought things might be looking up. That was when I heard the sharp jolt of electrical current. I opened my eyes and saw what I believe to be the exact instrument one might find coming at them once abducted onto a UFO and told to drop one’s pants. She tapped the long, neon-filled (I’m not kidding) instrument against her wrist, and the bulb at the end of it crackled each time it hit her skin. “Ready!” she told me in Spanish. “I’m sorry, but what is that?” I asked. She then said a series of words I have never heard before, ending with “oxygen.” I said okay.
In the end, Hillary loved her facial and I emerged looking like I had second-degree burns on my face, which faded to a lovely second-day-sunburn-red by the late afternoon. By the next morning, my skin looked exactly as shitty as it has every other day of my life.
After the spa, the rest of the week was pretty low-key, with the exception of another failed side-trip to a place called Tierra Santa. It’s a Jewish theme park with a 40-foot animatronic Jesus on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, we got there right as they were closing (my guidebook is a bit old and had the wrong hours listed). I could see the people hanging on the crosses, but the guard wouldn’t let us through, sadly, so all I got were a few pictures of myself standing with camels. So it goes.
This Should Probably Be a “Don’t Cry for Me” Reference, But I Can’t Make Myself Do It
On Saturday, I checked out of my apartment in Buenos Aires and my ladies headed home. Knowing I wouldn’t be returning to the apartment (or Buenos Aires, at least during this trip to South America) was actually kind of sad, but luckily the excitement of seeing Salta overtook it. Salta is a little mountain town in the northwest of Argentina. Three different people in Buenos Aires had recommended the trip to me, and so I changed my plans from a quick trip to Mendoza to one in Salta (although my bus will go through Mendoza when I leave here for Chile).
The flight was easy as pie. I sat next to a woman from Salta with a little boy named Augustine (she claimed he was one, but he looked older than that to me—perhaps to get him on without a ticket?). Augustine was probably the cutest boy I’ve ever seen, and because I don’t know the word for cute, I told his mom that he was very handsome, which she seemed to like. While we waited for the plane to take off, Augustine and I essentially competed to see who knew the most Spanish words. We both knew shoe and nose, but after that he pretty much left me in the dust. Augustine and I both fell asleep the second the plane took off, and I woke up just before he did before we landed. When he lifted up his head, he looked up at me and said, “Hola” and leaned up to kiss me on the cheek. I briefly considered sticking him under my coat and running away with him when they opened the plane door. I figured he could teach me Spanish, too, which would have been cool.
Pass the Salta
In booking my hotel here, I emailed a “bed and brunch” place from the internet. They responded that there was, in fact, a room, but that they needed a credit card number in order to hold it. When I said I was uncomfortable emailing the information, they trusted me to show up. “Is okay,” the email read, “We see you July 25 with no credit card.” It’s all about trust. There are no taxis at the Salta airport, and so I trusted that the guy driving this van was actually going to take me to my hotel, rather than some dark alley. He did, and I arrived to find the cutest inn anywhere in the world. It’s basically a huge, old Argentinean house where the rooms all surround a small, lovely patio. My huge room leads out into a garden, and everything in it is lavender—lavender pillows, chairs, towels, blankets. It’s charming as all get-out.
After I checked in, I took the owner’s advice to eat empanadas in Salta, so I walked two blocks to a place whose name translated to something along the lines of “The King of Empanadas” and I have to admit, after eating one with red meat, one with chicken and one with cheese, the title was apt. I also had humitas, a regional specialty that’s essentially cornmeal and other vegetables grilled inside a corn husk—amazing. In addition, I drank two and a half glasses of the best red wine I’ve tasted in Argentina. My bill was $5.
This morning I woke up to another mind-blowing meal, this time at the hotel. Around 9 a.m., I walked through my little patio to the main dining room and was served a big bowl of fruit, granola, and yogurt (the healthiest breakfast I’ve eaten in seven weeks), along with a pot of amazing coffee. Just as I was finishing up, totally satisfied, the waitress brought out a big basket of hot rolls and croissants (medialunas here) with five different spreads and dulce de leche. I had a croissant, and just as I was finishing that round, she brought out crepes filled with warm fruit. After eating, although I felt like I could have easily gone right back to sleep, I sucked it up and headed out to explore the town.
Salta is hands-down adorable. I first walked to the town square, which was pretty empty. In the corner, I saw an enormous pink church, and I love old churches, so I walked toward it. I went through the gate, and into the little garden, and then I heard singing and saw the open door. I won’t get into my religious beliefs/confusion here, but here’s the thing: This morning I went to mass for the first time in about ten years. Although I had to stand on the side (with a hundred other people), and kneel on the hard marble, and although I didn’t understand much of the sermon, in Spanish, it was lovely.
When I came out of the church, there were—and I’m not kidding here—30 waiters running around the square, aprons flapping, each of them holding a tray with a beer on it. They were racing! Apparently it’s every waiter in town, and all of their friends come out and cheer for them. So awesome.
I did a loop around the square, where most of the historic buildings sit (sit closed, that is, on a Sunday), then took a long walk to the Artists’ Market I’d read about. The place was pretty far away, and a really interesting walk. I’ve been in South America for almost two months now, but along this road to the outskirts of the city, it really, really felt like a different continent. There are stray dogs in Buenos Aires (and Uruguay, and Iguazu), but here, they come out in droves, sitting around like vultures just outside of the cloud of smoke from the massive parilla grills people set up on the sidewalks. Families sit around the grill and the dogs sit around the families, all just in front of little two-room houses. I passed by a dozen or so old men on bicycles, and saw a four year old on the back of a motorcycle (her father wore a helmet; she did not). In parts, along the strip where I walked, the sidewalk disappeared completely and turned into a dirt path, and then picked up again a few blocks later. I think that a few months ago I would have been really uneasy, but I didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable, though maybe that has more to do with it being a Sunday, and bright and warm outside. The market was totally worth the walk. Afterwards, I had lunch and a fruit drink and read outside in the square, then came back and took a nap. I’m just now preparing to have dinner with two other women staying at the “bed and brunch.” Apparently Salta is on the same crazy meal schedule as Buenos Aires. It’s 9:00 and we’re waiting for the place to open for dinner.
I leave for Chile tomorrow (a 27-hour “luxury” bus ride, so we’ll see how that goes) and will post again if I have internet service. Ciao!