Thursday, October 27, 2011

La Redota

Here it goes- the two week power through again... Just kidding! I mean I know I haven't updated in 2 weeks, but that really doesn't matter all that much. I am however going to share the important things that have happened starting with the coolest. Or maybe the less cool so I can end with a bang.. I guess you'll never know which order they are in!
(I am sorry in advance for the size of this post hehe but its going to be a lengthy one)
Two weekends ago I fled the country of Uruguay and headed across the river to the booming city of Buenos Aires. Two things motivated this trip- 1: I had to leave Uruguay within 90 days of arriving because I didn't get a visa to come here, 2: why not!? I mean its Buenos Aires and its only a 2 hour bus ride and a 3 hour ferry ride away, not many people can make that claim. I went with a group of 5 (1 Nica-or Nicaraguan, 1 French madam, and 3 US citizens). I am not sure exactly what we were thinking, but we booked our departure for about 2am!? So on Thursday night we were off to Buenos Aires and we arrived at a bright and early 8am.
I'll have to admit I wasn't really sure what to expect since my only comparison to a South American city was Montevideo. They aren't really anything alike, but I am glad I went there without any expectations at all. Sometimes no expectations makes things easier to enjoy in my opinion.
Our first experience in Buenos Aires: getting robbed by the taxi drivers. We didn't really know it at the time, but they charged us a 3-4 times more than what our ride should have cost and they definitely  the long way around. What should have cost us about 15 pesos cost us 50 pesos. Lesson 1- we are no longer in Montevideo, and tourism is much more popular therefore, tourist sharks are much more popular. This was a lesson and an annoyance for much of the weekend. Buenos Aires was a gorgeous city (as far as the beauty of cities go, most of you know I prefer things that don't include cement, steal, or car horns haha). I think that is what I loved about the area so much- yes Buenos Aires is a HUGE city, much bigger than Montevideo, but many times I felt as if it were smaller because there is space to breathe there. The entire city isn't compacted into an area of 30 city blocks, it is spread out, and they have many wonderful parks/ gardens where people can go enjoy the little pieces of nature the city has preserved.

Even though we didn't sleep really at all Thursday night we took full advantage of our early arrival on Friday morning! Of course we visited the touristy areas of town because that is generally where there are interesting things to see. We started off the day at La Boca was one of the first areas of Buenos Aires colonized and (if I am not mistaken in my information). The houses are all very brightly colored and Tango is on every street corner. This was also the first experience we had in a very touristy area- there were many outdoor restaurants and the people stand in the streets practically grabbing your arm and seating you as you walk by.

Personally I was fairly annoyed by this, also I heard more  English spoken in 2 days there by street vendors and people trying to get me to buy things than I have heard in my 3 months in Montevideo. The funniest part was we had two people with us who don't really even speak English and by the end of the weekend we were all claiming we were French and didn't speak English- that really confused them! It really made me appreciate the not-so-touristy aspect of Montevideo. I may stick out as a foreigner here, but at least I don't have people trying to cater to me and speak English to me 24/7- that would have made for a long 5 months for me personally. I love the fact that I am forced to use my Spanish in public it has really pushed me to get better.

Anyway- enough about that rant. The other places we visited included- Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Obelisco, Cemeterio Recoleta, and various plazas/ parks. The previously named are all fairly famous "must see" destinations for people who make their way to Buenos Aires. I really enjoyed getting to know a different city in South America. I was semi-astounded by the differences- especially considering they are right across the river from each other. There were certain aspects I loved about Buenos Aires (parks, open space, and clean streets!!) but there were other aspects that really made me appreciate my choice in Uruguay!

The look of PURE happiness!!

Just a quick insert before I get on to big even #2- I finally went to a Tango lesson! I don't have too much to report on, unfortunately it wasn't quite what I expected. I really enjoyed the experience and it was cool to take part in something so important here. I got to dance with a couple people (just the basics, nothing too crazy) and the instructors were very adamant and focused on form and posture with all of the participants! It was pretty hard work, but I really enjoyed it. My feet, however, took a beating- I didn't walk around my house enough to break in my new dance shoes and after 1 1/2 hours of dancing that became extremely apparent (an painful).

Onto big event #2- La Redota. This is something I have been waiting for since one of my first weeks in Uruguay when my host family mentioned it to me. It is kind of hard to explain, but is basically a representation of the journey that occurred when Artigas fled Montevideo and the citizens left all of their belongings and followed him. It is a way of holding on to their history and maintaining it as a huge part of their culture today. I think that had a lot to do with why I loved the experience so much.Oh and if I haven't already previously mentioned this journey is made on horseback through the countryside.

My host family had talked a lot about how difficult and trying these couple days would be. At times I almost felt like they were trying to talk me out of it, but the more they said the more interested I became: something challenging, I've never done before, camping, gauchos, mate- not something I could ever pass up! I love to challenge myself in different ways and so long before they were convinced I wanted to go I had already made up my mind- I was going on La Redota in Uruguay!

 There is such an amazing sense of pride in so many people I have met and this weekend was the icing on that cake. The slogan of the weekend was "Arriba la Patria" I wish I had a good translation of what that signifies- I think the best thing I can think of is "long live the country" but that just doesn't give the feeling of it justice.
We started off the weekend in San Jose with a "parade" of sorts to signify the start of the journey. Not only were there about 250 on horseback starting, but there were hundreds of people lined up along the streets to see us off.
This journey was a lot for me, but first off it was a crash course in "how to ride a horse for 2 days without killing yourself" something I wish I could have taken lessons in before we left! I have ridden horses a couple times, but it was always such short distances/ amounts of times that form never really mattered. Well 3 hours into this trip and I already new- it was either learn how to ride the animal properly or don't make it out alive. So I watched, I listened, and I took every piece of advice I could to get it down. I think finally toward the middle of the second day I had it down more or less and thank goodness because my body was feeling the effects if the previous day!

Our crew of horses 

The first night at camp was memorable just due to the nature of it- nothing crazy happened, but sometimes I forgot that here I was in 2011, if I hadn't known better I would have sworn I went back in time. The military had set up large military tents for people to sleep in, others were in their own personal tents, cooking fresh meat over the fires, drinking mate, playing guitar and "singing" around the fire. I say "singing" because the type of music I heard was more a spoken story accompanied by the guitar. That is actually what I fell asleep to that night and it just felt right to have the night end that way.

My horsey for the weekend

What I saw as I stepped out that morning
We awoke bright and early the next day and I heard the sounds of the horses much closer than I remembered them being and for good reason- when I stepped out of the tent we were surrounded on all sides by horses. People had already brought them in from the fields and were getting them ready for the days ride. We took off from camp, after our breakfast of Chorizos, around 7:30am and rode until sometime after 12. I don't know exact times it is all kind of relative. Day 2 I was feeling much more comfortable with riding and I was even able to get up to a gallop a few times (for very very short periods of time) instead of just trotting- a lot harder on the body. I had to put a lot of energy into focusing on the beautiful landscape we were riding through; it was much easier to think about how sore my body was becoming and how tired I was getting. Once I finally took my mind off that, the view of the country side never ceased to amazing me. Uruguay is an absolutely beautiful country! After a couple hour break for lunch (and a nap face down in the grass) and a couple more hours of riding, we finally arrived at our destination for the day: Ismael de Cortinas. I have to say I was very thankful to be able get off the horse, but it took a few minutes before I was able to actually walk (and a little bit of stretching out the hips).

Notice the meat on the grill...
 My host family decided that enough was enough and they were ready to head back to Montevideo- I was a little relieved to hear their decision because I am not sure I could have taken another 5-6 hours riding again the next day. I could hardly lift my arms and I walked like an 80 year old for a good day and half following. But the soreness I felt was just trivial compared to everything I was able to experience and take away from those two days. First of all I got to take part in a truly Uruguayan culture experience that represent their history, a history that they still know and hold close to them. I also got to make better relationships with people in my family and see parts of Uruguay that many will never get to know. I also did something challenging and gained a new respect for people who spend their days atop a horse- its much more difficult than they make it look! I am so glad I took full advantage of this, it is an experience I will never forget. Oh- and it really made me want horses of my own someday, they are magnificent creatures!
It is actually a 13 day journey from San Jose to Paysandu which is something like 300km or 186 miles. And as hard as it might be to believe- there are people who are doing the trip in it's entirety. I think two days was just about perfect for me.

Finishing off the weekend
with the sunset and Mate!

Un Beso

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Helados, Bodegas, y Bicicletas

Hola a todos!
Wow. Time is surely flying by! I can't believe another week has already passed since my last post and I have another amazing weekend to tell you about! On Friday Uruguay played Bolivia in Montevideo. This is the team I saw win the Copa de America my first week here so of course I took full advantage of my opportunity to watch them live. Although it rained all day and we watched the game soaking wet, it was worth it! Uruguay won the game 4-2 and I learned a thing or two more about soccer. By the end of it all I have it all I think I'll have a pretty good grasp on it :)

This weekend Ali and I took a "girl's weekend" which was really an impromptu "LETS FIND SOMEWHERE TO GO" weekend. The ultimate decision: Colonia del Sacramento.

7 different kinds of oranges/mandarins
from one fruit stand!
So far this might be my favorite place in Uruguay, although each place for me has been very distinct and I have enjoyed every place I have visited. They have all been wonderful, there was just something about the atmosphere and feeling I got when I was walking the streets there. Hard to describe but it was calming; made me feel really good about all of the things I have done thus far and made me look forward to what is yet to come. I know that probably doesn't do it justice, but somethings just can't be explained very well in words- ya just had to be there.

How to sum up Colonia? It is a small town about 2 1/2 hours up the west coast of Uruguay right across the river from Buenos Aires. It is the only place in South America (outside of Brasil) that was founded by the Portuguese-so I was informed this weekend- and it still has a big historical feel to it. There is a historic district where all of the streets are still the old cobblestone, they have old ruins, and the historic buildings. It's pretty much what I like to call- a postcard city- every street corner looks like it belongs on a postcard. With Spring in the air, all of the trees and flowers were in full bloom and the sun was shining most of the weekend. It was wonderful.

Saturday we found ourselves a beautiful little restaurant and sat outside. One thing I would come to love about Colonia: the food. It was a fairly cheap meal but sooo yummy! and we were even able to enjoy another cup of Medio y Medio. We had heard a lot about the little shops around Colonia so we just spent the afternoon exploring and the best find we had all weekend (in my opinion at least) was an Artesan ice cream shop. AHHH. not good for an ice cream addict. It was excellent and I had to restrain myself from buying a second- I just decided to go back on Sunday and get 3 flavors instead of two :D

Sunday we had plans to bike around because renting bikes and exploring the outskirts of the town (there was a bodega-winery- we really wanted to see) that way is very popular, but the weather didn't want to cooperate. Well.. wait.. it didn't want to cooperate when we were sitting outside with our bikes- as soon as we gave up the idea of biking and proceeded on foot it cleared up and was beautiful the rest of the day. n the hostel we met someone from Ohio that was on his first vacation since he joined the Peace corp over a year ago. He has been living in Paraguay since last September and it was extremely interesting to hear about his work there! We ended up throwing around throwing a Frisbee for awhile and enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on the waterfront to watch the sunset with a nice bottle of wine.
 I just can't help but think about how crazy the whole situation was- there we were in a tiny town in Uruguay, met and befriended someone from Ohio who was living in Paraguay... and we are living in Montevideo. Sometimes the things I do or see here just seem so surreal, I find myself wondering "did that really just happen?" quite often. I mean there I was eating dinner with Ali, who I could swear I have known for years when in reality it has only been about 3 months, talking with someone we had basically just met as if we had already known each other. Or sometimes it just randomly hits me- I'm in Uruguay. I'm in URUGUAY! It's such a blessing to have all of these opportunities and to meet so many wonderful people.

Anyway Monday we made it our ultimate GOAL to get on those bikes and go to the winery regardless of the weather. Lucky it was nice out- unfortunately our hostel only have one bike left. So we went in search of others. Now the bikes that we had seen people riding and that were at our hostel were GT or Trek- very high quality. So when we asked someone where we could rent a bike they pointed in the right direction... well kind of. We showed up to this tiny whole in the wall place and when the guy was getting one of the bikes off the chain fell off twice, and Ali's bike ended up not really having breaks, and anyone could hear me coming from a mile away. But there we were on our bikes pedaling down the highway 4 miles to the winery!

It was WELL worth the bike struggles because we came up to this small little winery that was a 4th generation operation with only the 8 siblings running it. We got a free tour/ wine tasting and the wine was wonderful. It was my first wine tasting as well! Since they don't mass produce the wine and it is only sold right there to people to come for tours, etc it was very inexpensive and Ali and I both got a bottle. She got Tannat- the wine of Uruguay and I chose a Rosado (a little more sweet instead of super dry).

Then off we went to catch our bus and head back in Montevideo. What a weekend.

Un Beso

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2 semanas y Carmelo

 I don't know who's keeping track- but this weekend officially marked my 1/2 point in my stay here in Montevideo and I can hardly believe it. I feel like just a few weeks ago I was writing about how hard it was to adjust and how December seemed so far away.. now it's right around the corner! I can't believe the things I have learned since I have been here- and we are not just talking the language and books. So far I have had such a wonderful growing experience, granted I haven't enjoyed every step of the way, but I appreciate all of the lessons I have learned. I have started making a list of all of the things Montevideo/ living in Uruguay has taught me. I will save that post for later on this week possibly when I don't have quite as much to write. I feel like two medium length posts are better then one GIANT. So for now.. I know it has been forever since I have written and I am going to spare you all of the details I usually include or I would bore everyone immensely so here is a recap on what I have done in the last few weeks... Just as a heads up- this will probably be exploding with pictures :)  I have been on a picture taking spreeeee!

Well first and foremost Spring has officially started down here! Flowers are blooming, trees have leaves, and the sun bares it's face much more frequently. I have even found myself walking around in shorts and a tank-top a few days! It has been wonderful because I am much more motivated to spend time outside just walking around and exploring a bit more. Its helpful when its above 60 degrees and sunny!! I have spent some time sitting on La Rambla looking out at the ocean/sea/river whatever you want to call it and just enjoying company with friends and my family here. It is a wonderful place to take in some sun, drink mate, and really just enjoy the day. I also walked almost the entirety of Ciudad Vieja with Ali one day. Ciudad Vieja is the oldest part of the city with many street vendors and a place called El Mercado del Puerto that is essentially and giant garage filled with different food vendors. I hadn't eaten there yet so we decided to make a day trip of it. We bought hand made hats from a lady making them in the street and continued on to eat some wonderful food and we tried Medio y Medio. It was so good! Medio y Medio is 1/2 white wine and 1/2 champagne- don't knock it till you try it- quite tasty!

I have also learned how to bake homemade Alfahores, another baking skill to perfect when I return. Depending on how things go they might even make it in the running for the Christmas cookie baking, but we will have to see about that. They have a lot of trial and error to go before they are just right- and I may be lacking in the Dulce de Leche department.... That is going to be unfortunate. It truly is a staple down here, if all else fails put dulce de leche on it! That should be a slogan here. I was thinking about learning how to make that as well, but apparently it takes hours to do and no one here seems motivated to take the time when they can walk 5 minutes away to the store and have their pick. I guess that is another battle for another day.

Another thing I got the opportunity to do was go to Lagomar where Ali lives and see what is like to live in the "suburbs" of Montevideo. It is a decent bus ride to her house I will say that for sure, its nothing like me hopping on the 15 minute city line to my house. Really nothing about where she lives is similar to where I am- the are really polar opposites. Lets compare: her neighborhood is quiet with very little traffic, I live in the middle of the commercial center of the city; she's in a 2-story house with a backyard and 3 dogs, I live on the 8th floor of an apartment building; The Rambla is about 1/2 a block away from her house with a wonderful beach. the Rambla is about 10 blocks from me with an awesome view but no beach. I think you get the picture- both places have a ton of pros and cons for sure. As much as I would like to say "I wish I would have ended up some where like that" I can't say it with confidence because the amount of time she has to put into planning her day around going home/ coming into the city would have made it very easy for me to isolate myself from the happenings on Montevideo. I now understand the effort she puts in to participating in things and I must say I am impressed. Oh also, she lives in a GREAT spot to see the sunrise which we took advantage of when I stayed. It was beautiful!

The big trip I took since my last post was this last weekend to Carmelo with Kelsey to visit her family (a different part) and what an experience! Carmelo is a little over 3 hours up the coast from Montevideo where the Rio de Plata and Rio Uruguay meet. It is a pretty small town, but Buenos Aires is easily accessible from their little port so it attracts a decent amount on tourism in the summer. We arrived in the later evening on Friday, ate dinner, and got our butts kick in Chinese Checkers by Kelsey's grandma. On Saturday we spent the day at el campo (literally means the country). Her family has land and a farm that has been in the family for many generations. They have horses, sheep, cows, and huge wheat fields. I am so glad I got to go after Spring made it's appearance because everything was flowering and green. The area is truly magnificent. Kelsey overcame her lifetime fear of horses and we spent a good couple hours just trotting around the area taking in the sights and smells. The fresh country air was so crisp and had the aroma of all the plants blooming, a person can't really ask for anything more.

The original staircase
Then there was lunch. Oh lunch in the country. I know I have talked about asado a lot and raved about how good it is, but really I was just naive. I had really country made asado this weekend and it blew my mind- anything I previously said was the best has now been overruled. I don't think I will get any better than the food I had for lunch that day. The asado was grilled to perfection, we had salad with the lettuce we had just cut out of the garden, fresh cheese, Coca-cola.. followed by homemade dulce de membrillo with more cheese... a lunch to be remembered that is for sure! Sorry to anyone who hasn't eaten before reading this post- my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
After that we took a walk back into the wooded area, over two streams, to the location where Kelsey's great-great grandfathers house once stood. The only thing remaining now is the original stone staircase. We ventured around, did some exploring, and just kind of took it all in. It's hard to fathom how truly "in the middle of nowhere" he lived because the area now isn't close to anything at all... I can't imagine what it was like then. Kelsey then had her first time at driving stick-shift. But wait. This was no ordinary first time- she was in the middle of a pasture surrounded by cows, lucky for her the only things she could hit moved before any accidents took place!
A little after sunset we headed back into Carmelo, I learned a new card game called Escoba, and had a very tranquil evening. Sunday Kelsey and I spent the day walking around Carmelo getting to know the area a little better. I ended up buying a t-shirt that a guy hand paints scenes onto- mine has the Uruguay flag and a candombe drum that says Carmelo Uruguay on it. I was pretty excited about that. OH. and we went to a park that had an awesome slide, it looked like so much fun. Unfortunately there were tons of kids on it so I didn't get to try it out. Maybe next time.
That basically sums up the last weekend and my last two weeks here (besides the boring school things)

WAIT I forgot one thing- I gave my first (and hopefully only) presentation in my Psychology of Religion class this past week.

 I was nervous to speak in front of an entire class of native speakers, but they were supportive of my efforts and overall it was a good experience.
I shouldn't have anymore problems with presentations in English from here on out right?

Un Beso