Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Hey everyone!

The travelling group to Sevilla!

I have three posts to put up in the next few days – I have taken trips to Sevilla (to see a bullfight), to Italy (Pisa and Florence!) and to Portugal. I’ll try to put up posts/pictures from those three trips over the next day or so….get ready!

So…Sevilla. The location of the big bull fight. We got up EARLY this morning (and had about 2 hours of sleep the night before…) and took a train over to the city to explore a bit before the 6pm bullfight. It was beautiful and sunny in Cádiz when we left…and absolutely pouring in Sevilla when we arrived. And it wasn’t stopping – it was one of those rains that you see in Seattle which is heavy but you can just tell that it is a long-term type of rain. So what’s a group of tired Seattleites to do on a rainy cold day in an urban city? Go to Starbucks of course! As you can see from the photo, we successfully found a Starbucks and sat there for a while hoping the rain would abate…

Unfortunately it didn’t. We walked over to the cathedral in Sevilla and took a tour of that building – it was pretty beautiful as well (and happened to be “World Tourism Day” which means we got in everywhere for free!!). Here’s a photo from inside the cathedral – I will never get tired of looking inside cathedrals here, every single one is unique and beautiful in its own way. It was at this point, about noon or one pm, that we ate lunch and started to consider the possibility that the bullfight MIGHT be rained out. We weren’t sure. But the thought was creeping into our heads.

We found a beautiful garden area in the city to spend some more time in, and I think that around 4pm we hit one of our low points of the trip. We were all completely soaked, it had been raining non-stop since we arrived at 10am, and the bullfight was in 2 hours. We had already gone to the bullfight ring, an dthey said the decision is made essentially at the beginning time. Anyway, we were in this cave inside the park, which was dry, listening to the relentless pounding of the rain, when we pretty much gave up going to the bullfight – we were thinking it’d be cancelled. We were planning out perhaps even getting a warm hotel room for the night and then heading back to Cádiz in the morning.

However- it stopped raining around 5 and the sun (kinda) came out, and it seemed like we would be able to see it after all! Everyone was going to the ring, the TV reporters were showing video of men working on the ground inside the ring, and the seats were filling up. We all took our seats and got ready for the bullfight…

Only to see a person walk around the ring with a sign saying that… the bullfight was cancelled. Yeah, that’s right – we all got into the stadium, but the matadors came out and decided it was too dangerous to fight on some slick ground (understandable. But still). Anyway that was a HUGE letdown to a day that was full of ups and downs. We arrive full of hope, then had the rains dash it, only to have the rains stop and us have lots of hope entering the stadium, only to have a dude with a sign ruin it all. No one else was very happy – you can see in a photo below all the seat coushins that people threw into the ring in disgust when they cancelled it. I put a few other photos of the ring down below … overall, it was a fun day but it was super disappointing to not see the bullfight after all.

I’ll update about Italy next!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A trip to the Pueblos Blancos

Hey everyone! I finally have a moment to breathe and tell you about my adventures a week ago travelling around Spain in a rented van with six friends! Get ready for some good stories :)
As a bit of context, myself and six others were planning a roadtrip through the south of Spain from a Friday to a Monday to see what are called Pueblos Blancos, or little villages of all white buildings built into the Spanish countryside. All have either a castle or a church around which they were built, and which serve as the cornerstone of the pueblo.

My travelling buddies!

It took us about an hour to drive the van out of the parking lot (getting it into reverse was not intuitive…we eventually had to ask the desk how to do it). After picking everyone up, we were off to a small pueblo named Cartajima, just outside a famous (and very big) pueblo named Ronda. Our plan was to stay the night in Cartajima and then go to Ronda in the day. Well, long story short, it took 4 hours to drive what should have been 2 hours. We missed a turnoff and drove north to almost SEVILLA (that’s a good hour north of Cadiz) before figuring out we needed to go west from Cádiz. Eventually we arrived in Ronda to an English hostal owner who cooked us dinner (for a cost, of course). This guy was quite the character – long hair, very sociable, alcoholic, and pot-growing. About that last trait? He invited all of us up onto his roof what what he called "talking, drinking and smoking a doobie". No, I did not smoke, but he wasn’t lying when he said he grew his own stuff up there.

The next day we visited Ronda, which was beautiful but rather unimpressive after everything we had heard from host families. The picture I’ve attached is probably the best place we went in the city – this bridge is absolutely beautiful. We hiked down here to take a picture from below. After visiting Ronda, we went on a cave tour of this amazing place a little ways out of Ronda. It had been used by people for over 40,000 years, with drawings dating back to that time. No, I couldn’t take any pictures while in there. Yes, I did take pictures anyway. Below is the photo of the "castle" as they call it, and this is the picture where the tour guide saw my flash, stopped the group and told me either he or the police would delete my photo for me. He didn’t follow through with this threat – I think in large part because I was joking and talking with him in Spanish the entire tour - but did pull me aside after and tell me that taking photos of national monuments in Spain is a big deal and that I should never do it again or I really would get in trouble with the police.

Anyway, we spent that next night "camping", which in Spain means have a grassy field, plant some trees, put up some posts with numbers and have a dirt circle for cars. This wasn’t "camping" by any American standard. We slept on a tarp on the ground, with nothing covering us…and wouldn’t you know, it rains at 6am. So we dashed into the van and slept (7 of us!) in a van for 4 more hours. Sleep wasn’t too good for those hours, needless to say.

The next day we visited a couple more beautiful pueblos – Zahara and Grazalema – which had absolutely amazing views. The photo below is from the top of a castle in Zahara – the vista was breathtaking. Sleeping yet again involved sleeping on a tarp in essentially a "camping field", but this time we put a tarp over our heads so when it rained we didn’t have many issues with rain.
As a side note, I did finally get to drive a car in Europe – the stick shift was different in this van, but I got used to it. I also almost got pulled over (gulp), but thankfully the guy driving in front of me got pulled over, not myself. We weren’t going too much over the speed limit, but the cop tailgated me for a while which was quite unnerving before finally going to pull over the guy in front of me. I was a little more careful driving after that little incident.

The view from the castle in Zahara

The pueblo of Grazalema

I’ll be posting in the next couple days about an (attempt) at seeing a bullfight in Sevilla, along with a couple pics from that trip…and then I am off to ITALY on Thursday! Yes! I’ll be gone until Tuesday on that trip to Pisa and Florence. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos, don’t worry :)

Hasta más tarde!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Off for the weekend - update and pictures to come after!

So, I am off on a roadtrip adventure this weekend within Andalucia (the area of Spain where Cadiz is located), and will be gone until Monday afternoon. I am travelling with 6 friends in a minivan to various towns called Pueblos Blancos (White Villages). They are all within the forests and hillsides of Spain and are very beautiful. We have no school on Monday and are taking advantage of this for a 4 day trip! I shall put up pictures and an update about the trip when I get back, along with a little bit about what my daily life in Cadiz entails...including the whole "study" part of study abroad (boooooo). But really the classes aren't that bad.

Adios until Monday!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A (long) overdue post about Spain!

Hey everyone! I REALLY apologize for the long amount of time between my posts, I had shaky internet service until my arrival here in Cadiz, and plus I did so much that I didn’t take time to write a blog about everything! So, prepare yourselves, this is going to be a blitz of the most interesting things to happen to me while in Spain so far.

After sightseeing in Barcelona, which was amazing, my friends and I travelled down to Valencia (via one night in a small town called Terragona), where we were in an AMAZING hotel, which was also very cheap. Cheaper than our hostal in Barcelona, and yet so very fancy, with its own kitchen and 3 balconies, everything. Our main goal of being in Valencia: The Tomatina in Buñol! This is the famous tomato fight, which is the largest in the world – 40,000 people, 113 TONS of tomatoes and 2 hours of fighting mayhem. I can tell you all more about it later on if you wish – the photo you see here is of the aftermath of our adventure at the Tomatina. And, yes, I wore my basketball mask because I didn’t want to get my nose smashed by a tomato and yes, it paid off for I was hit several times right in the nose part. I think people liked aiming at me since I was taller than everyone AND wore a mask. But hey, that’s part of the fun! I had an absolute blast. I think I was taking tomatoes out of my ears and hair for several days following, as were all my friends.

An interesting story out of Valencia – I almost had essentially all my important possessions on this trip stolen in one swoop. I was sitting in the train station with Molly, waiting for our train to our next city, while the other 4 members of the group went off into the city for an hour. It was around midnight at this time. A man approached me and asked me to help him out with the coke machine to my left (strange), although I didn’t think much of it at the time because Molly was there and I felt like, since the place was empty, there wasn’t much risk of anything happening. As I’m helping this guy out, about 30 seconds later, I hear Molly ask behind me, "Nate, is that guy walking off with your laptop bag?" And, sure enough, after turning around and staring at where my bag used to be, someone had it in their hand. Contained in the laptop bag:

Wallet (Credit cards, cash, drivers license)
Camera with all my photos from the trip so far
Essentially, if I lose this bag I lose a heck of a lot. So, therefore, I absolutely book it towards the entryway where the man went, which is to the left about 10 meters or so. This man must have heard me running at him (my flip flops were kind of loud…), and dropped my laptop bag, because it was sitting right in the entry way. Nothing was broken or stolen (thankfully!), although the guy did try to get the computer – the zipper was about half open. Anyway, I’m a little more wary of people after that experience and more careful with my stuff.
So, I finally arrived in Cádiz, a city on the southwestern corner of Spain (the Atlantic side), and it is an absolutely beautiful, beautiful city. The beaches are gigantic (kilometers of beach), it is sunny and 85-90 every day, little to no humidity, and warm water. It is absolutely wonderful.
I live with a family of 4, mother father and 2 sons who are 21 and 17. They are all very nice people and take good care of me. I’ll let you all know in a later post a bit more (really, I’ll post in the next couple days!) about the life in general here. For now, below are a couple pictures from the city, one of the sunset on my first night here, and the other from the top of a tower from which you can see all the city. In that photo you can see the big cathedral here, along with the beaches stretching out of the photo to the left. From those beaches we watched an airshow yesterday, and in the final photo you can see the planes making a Spanish flag in the sky with smoke, the finale of the show. 230,000 (!) people attended the airshow on the beach.
I’ll finish off with this picture of some delicious octopus (pulpo) which I ate in Barcelona one day. Take my word for it: It was good. Try it sometime :)
That’s all for now, sorry again for a long post and such a delay between posts, and I'll post again soon!

Friday, August 22, 2008

I have arrived in Spain..Barcelona is amazing!

Hey! I just wanted to let you all know that I have safely arrived in Barcelona and am having a BLAST. I absolutely love this city. It has a vibe to it that makes me already want to plan a return trip and I still have 2-3 days left here. I´ve successfully met up with 3 of my friends, and we are awaiting the arrival of the 5th to our hostal this evening (it´s currently 6pm).

I´m learning all about the hostal life which exists here in Europe. You have 7 other random roommates crammed into a tiny place, and could find all sorts of negatives about it if you wanted, but all of us are looking at all the positives. You meet people from all around the world who are also college age and are also travelling. In my room right now, the other 4 people (not including us) are fage in the world except Spanish. The people here don´t even speak spanish - the language Catalan is spoken very commonly (it´s a mix of french and spanish), and all the signs and postings here are in that language. I am loving my time here but it feels like I´m in a very international setting - not necessarily in a spanish speaking country. It has a very different vibe from Argentina where I was immersed from minute one.rom Norway, Belgium and Canada. We went out on the town last night with people from Canada, LA, Scotland, England and Germany. It´s just really fun to meet people from all over the world.

The only negative is that I´ve heard minimal spanish around here. We are in a VERY good location (when it comes to things to do), we are right in the center of the city, but really it´s quite the tourist area and you hear every language BUT spanish. Even locally, a language called Catalan is spoken, which is a mix between french and spanish. All the signs and menus are in this language, which is readable but certainly not pure spanish. This makes it have a very different vibe from Argentina, where I was immersed in the culture and language the moment I arrived. There will be more time for Spanish when we go to places less touristy, but for now I´m enjoying seeing the sights.

I´ll let you all know more about my adventures a little later. I don´t have much internet access in this hostal (and no wireless), and have to wait in a line to get on to one of the TWO functioning computers here, so I will be spotty on my posts. But I´ll do my best!

Once again, I hope all of your summers are going amazingly!


Monday, July 28, 2008

Chillin´ out in Chile

Hey everyone - I was hoping to be writing this to you from Seattle a few hours from now but...unfortunately...my first flight in my 3 step journey was delayed, which meant that I missed my other two connections back to the states. Therefore, I am currently typing this from a hotel in Chile. To tell a long story short, I had 3 flights to get back to the US - one on Aerolineas Argentinas to Santiago, Chile, and then two more on Delta to Atlanta and then to Seattle.

Unfortunately, Aerolineas was just bought by the state (Argentina), and is going through a WHOLE bunch of turmoil. This means flights really aren´t that on time. The organization isn´t there. As well, this weekend happened to be the start of the winter vacation for all of Argentina, so everyone, their kids and their pet cocker spaniels were travelling (no seriously, cocker spaniels too).

So, needless to say, after waiting for 2 hours to go to the check in, and a 2 hour wait to even GO to security, and then an hour wait at the gate, I missed my connecting flight to Atlanta. This whole time, Aerolineas was saying that Delta should be the ones to help us, and Delta obviously said that it´s Aerolineas´fault for everything (and delta was right), so there was alot of back and forth. When we finally took off to Santiago, I was preparing to really fight for accommodations from Aerolineas for the night, since we were missing our next flight.

However, in the end, we got off the plane and someone was waiting for us with a slip of paper which is a voucher for a hotel here (literally across the street from the airport), for dinner last night and breakfast and lunch today, and our tickets already bought for Delta´s next flight tonight.

This is all a long winded way of saying that I have a new stamp on my passport (Chile!), and I get to stick the area until my flight tonight at 9pm. So, 10 hours to go until I´m in the air, on my way to Atlanta and then Seattle.

I´ll post some final thoughts and pictures once I get there! Thanks for reading my blog while I was in Argentina!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One week and a day left

Hey everyone! I apologize for the long period of time between this post and my last one...the main reason that I haven't written anything is that I've unfortunately been sick this week. This means that any time I might have otherwise used to put a post here went to extra sleep in an effort to get better. I was hit earlier this week with a fever, body aches and a chest cold, which wasn't too nice of a surprise. I'm just getting over it now, thankfully.

This past week, therefore, hasn't been stellarly exciting. There is one story to tell from some other people in the group which, unfortunately, isn't necessarily good news. We all had a Tango Show night on Wednesday night in a neighborhood here in Buenos Aires which is called La Boca. And, if you talk to anyone here at all, that is NOT a place you want to be during really any time during the day by yourself as a tourist. There is one part of this neighborhood that has a bunch of brightly colored buildings that is somewhat touristy, but the rest of the area is very dangerous. And, unfortunately, none of us really knew it was that dangerous of an area ahead of time (it certainly was new news to me when I heard people mention this on Wednesday night). Well, 4 members of our group were walking through Boca at about 5 pm (I was not with them - I was sleeping), and one of the girls in the group was robbed at knifepoint by 4 guys about 19-21 years old, who took her purse and everything in it. One of the 4 guys then chased my other 3 friends with a knife, in an apparent effort to separate them from the girl being robbed. In the end, only her purse was stolen (camera, student ID, some money), and everyone was ok. But, really, in the end it shows that all of us just have to be a little more conscious of where exactly we are in such a large foreign city. The combination of unfamiliarity and being a tourist can sometimes be a bad combination.

I went to the tango show later that night (the people involved in the robbery did not come, they just went home), and that was interesting to watch, but there definitely was a little damper on the night from knowing about a robbery occuring involving our friends in that same neighborhood a few hours earlier. The photo you see here is from a little skit-thing that the people did before we went to the tango show itself. This whole thing was kind of touristy, which bothered some of us (yet again), but it at least was an interesting night out.

The story I will dubb "The Mostly Funny" story of the week involved me on Wednesday. In the morning, instead of going to class, my teacher took us all on a walking tour of the life of Eva Peron in downtown Buenos Aires. I went to her grave and mentioned her in my last post. Anyway, after that tour, I was walking back to the train stop and a bird decided it'd be funny to poop on me. And, by the way, I'm not talking about a little poop. I'm talking about a supersoakering of bright-green and runny poop. All over my back and laptop case. I counted at least 15 distinct splotches of lime green bird poop. I remember walking and felt wet all of a sudden on my back, and after reaching back there my hand was all green. Disgusting. Everyone in this park saw it, and they were all laughing, and this one lady offered me a napkin in vain, because there was no way I was cleaning this mess up. Apparently, though, a bird pooping on your is good luck? Everyone in the park kept telling me that. "Que suerte!!" I'm pretty sure the only reason that's said is because, one day, someone was walking down the street, got pooped on, got angry, and then turned to his friends, who are currently laughing at him, and went "Hey! I know! Getting pooped on is good luck! Take that you suckers this means I have good luck!"

It was just a bitter outburst that became something people say now. I'm pretty sure that's how it went down.

Anyway, this is my final full weekend here, I head out next Sunday, but at least for now, I am going to enjoy the weekend, at least as much as I can with the amount of homework I have. Tomorrow is "Friend's Day" here in Argentina. It's kinda like Father's Day and Mother's Day, except for friends. So everyone makes a point to go out and see their friends. It always happens on July 20th, every year. Very interesting. So anyway, I'll be going out with Tomas and his friends tonight to someone's house to hang out and enjoy Friend's Day. It should be fun.

I'll update a couple more times most likely, and then it'll be time to head home! My trip here is nearing its end.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Over halfway done...

A few days ago, I marked the halfway point in my study abroad trip down here to Argentina. I leave the country two weeks from now - and it actually makes me a bit sad to think about that. I was talking with Marta last night at dinner, and she was describing to me how, once you travel enough, you no longer have a single place you feel you belong and call "home". Essentially, once you travel, when you're in one place, you want to be somewhere else, but once you're at that new place, you want to be where you were before. I can see that happening to me too - I am going to miss Argentina when I get back to the states.

Anyway, since my last blog I had my first birthday in a foreign country. I turned 21 on July 9, which also happens to be a national holiday in Argentina (Independence Day). There are many streets with July 9 as the name, as you can see in this picture. I think that's pretty cool. So, I went out with some Argentine friends for dinner to a place in Palermo, which is the "cool" part of town for college students to go, apparently. We were all joined up by the other people from the UW program, another of whom had the same birthday. After dinner, we all tried to go to a local nightclub that one of the Argentines had a connection at. However, that didn't quite pan out - the girls got in really easily (and for free?!), but us guys didn't have such luck. So we gave up on that and ended up going home. Moral of the story that all of us guys learned: You can't get into a club easily in Argentina unless you have boobs.

Birthday-day there was no school so we all hung out at my house here first, and then later at Mark's, for some good food and cake and all the wonderfulness that comes with birthdays. It was a relaxing day. One of the host brothers here had an American football, which we played with, but he ended up impaling it on top of a pointy fence at a neighboring house due to a bad throw, thus ending the life of the only American football in this entire country. We all mourn the loss of this football.

The pictures you see below are from a recent trip to the Recoleta - which is essentially a gigantic collection of family/individual tombs in downtown Buenos Aires. They are absolutely gigantic, and I could have spent much longer looking at everything than the hour I had there. The picture of the black tomb with flowers on it is of Eva Peron, an Argentine political hero who was the first lady to President Juan Peron from the mid-40s to the early 50s. Essentially, she is somewhat analogous to Princess Diana in terms of popularity here, and also had an early(ish) and sudden death. Anyway, lots of people go to her tomb every day to pay respects, and this was easily the most busy place in the entire Recoleta while I was there.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Uruguayan 4th of July

Hello everyone!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Fourth of July with friends or family this past weekend. This was the first 4th which I have missed attending, but in the end I had a great weekend, as well. I went to Uruguay with 10 other people from the study program here to get away from the city and just relax. We took a 3 hour long ferry over to a little city called Colonia and just took a couple days off - Friday and Saturday. The weekend consisted of walking around town, taking pictures, eating long meals and other restful, tranquil activities. We slept in a house which a woman rents out as a hostal, and the whole thing ended up being (ferry and all) about $70-80 USD. Not too bad in my book.

Saturday was an absolute gift of a day down here. It's the dead of winter, but it just happened to be an 82 degree day, which they apparently have every once in a while here. So, we ended up spending nearly all the day at the beach (who wouldn't do that?). We are all missing the summer up in Seattle, so to have at least one summer-like day was absolutely wonderful. We took full advantage of a Uruguayan beach we found here and relaxed. There was even some karate going on, as you can see from the picture below...do note the fact that I still have some mad hops:

The end of the day consisted in a pretty amazing sunset, a picture of which you can also see here, with a lighthouse in the foreground. Pretty neat.

My birthday is coming up tomorrow (the big 2-1...except that really doesn't matter down here?), along with Mark's (another guy in the program), so we are all trying to plan some things to do tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow is also the Independence Day for Argentina, so there is no school and the country basically shuts down. There aren't fireworks or big family get togethers - as one person put it, everyone "just sleeps". It's kinda boring, but we are having pizza at my house for lunch, and then empanadas at Mark's house in the evening. I'm quite looking forward to that.

I finally made my way to a protestant in-Spanish church service Sunday evening, and I really enjoyed it. It was sparsely attended (as it seems most protestant churches are here), but it had a guest speaker from Colombia who did the sermon and I loved what he had to say. It was on the passage of the rich man who asks Jesus how to get to Heaven, and the speaker had a great grasp on exactly what that passage was saying. He was very knowledgable. I was also able to understand about 90% of what he said, so I was very pleased with being able to follow the sermon. My Spanish had kind of hit a plateau in terms of improvement the past week, but I feel like I'm starting to learn again. It was kind of odd how I hit that wall - but with more Spanish saturation I feel like the more nuanced complexities of the language are finally starting to seep into my speaking ability. It's so much more fun to speak a language when you can actually articulate what you want to say.

I'll end off with this photo of the lighthouse in Uruguay - a bunch of pigeons were flying around it, so I thought it was a pretty cool picture. Once again, I hope all of your summers are going fantastically!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I have to wake up in 4 hours....

But even though that's true, I'll still write up a quick update of this past week. :)

I haven't had any stellarly exciting events that have happened, but I just realized that I've failed to mention that my trip here to Argentina has involved weekly lessons for Tango dancing. Yes, I know you probably think that's hilarious, but myself and a few other people from the UW program have classes every Wednesday night, and we've had two so far (with 3 more to go!). It's just a fun side thing to do, and is something Argentina is famous for. I won't be anything near a proficient dancer by the time I get back but I do enjoy the lessons. It's also kind of nice that they are 15 pesos ($5).

most everything is cheap here. I went to the theater today to see Get Smart (in Spanish it's Super Agente 86) and it only cost me 10 pesos (which is roughly, and keep in mind this is a complete guesstimation, $3.33333333333333). That's not too bad of a cost if you ask me. the exchange rate is fantastic down here. You have have a huge meal for under $5-6 easy. It's gonna be tough getting used to US prices when I get back, for certain, and even more back breaking when I head to Spain in the fall. The Euro and the dollar don't have the best exchange rate for US citizens at the moment.

This weekend (i.e. in 4 hours as I mentioned in the title), I am heading to Uruguay with some friends from the program. We'll be there from tomorrow until Saturday night, so that'll be a fun excursion. I'll take pictures and let you know how it went when I return!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Stay up until 6am? Sure!

I realized that I haven't put up too many things about the unique pieces of Argentinean culture that I've discovered over the past week and a half. This post will attempt to make amends of this.

We'll start with food (what, did you expect anything different? Of course not). The first edible commodity which I haven't talked about is my favorite. It's called Dulce de Leche (Literally translated, Sweet of Milk). Essentially, it's very similar to caramel...except better. It's creamier than caramel, and they use it on a whole bunch of stuff here. Toast, fruit, desserts, ice cream, whatever you might choose. It is multi-purposed and has become a large part of daily eating here. Mom and dad...this will be one of things I bring home with me to the US. Complete with written instructions on how to make it :)

Don't worry, mom; I'll be helping in the creation process.

Argentineans really enjoy their meat here. Therefore, I've had many foods such as milonaysa (I am pretty sure I wrote that down correctly but I'm not entirely sure...), which is made out of cow meat and is essentially filleted and then deep fried. They love their deep frying here. It's good; but then again, most deep-fried foods are. As well, a food I've gotten to know are called empanadas. These are essentially bread covering different types of vegetables, meat, and whatever else you might put into the middle. They aren't too big, about the size of a medium croissants, but are quite delectable.

Another cultural difference is something I suggested in the title of this blog: the night starts LATE here. When you go out, you leave at midnight, and if you want to go to a bar, many OPEN around 1 or 2 am. If you want to go anywhere before midnight, you're gonna be waiting to enter for a long time. And, if you just get going around 2am, that means you're not going to bed until LATE. I have had a couple very late nights, and all you do is sleep in the next day until 2 or 3pm and you're set. I don't think I could do that for a long period of time, but its not too bad once a week. Especially when all I have is a bit of homework, and not a whole lot of responsibilities. Of course, I can be responsible even when I don't have responsibilities, as those have two entirely different meanings here, but I think that'd be a bit boring to go over :)

Another difference is the atmosphere of collegiate sports. Many people here really don't have a concept of college sports. Heck, their concept of sports is lightyears away from our concept in the US. We have a bevy of sports from which to choose teams, but here their choices are more limited. It's soccer or rugby, really. There is some basketball, polo or golf, but those are pretty scattered. And no one really seems to root for a college team. I have shown pictures of Husky Stadium to Tomas and other people around here and they are blown away by the size of American collegiate stadiums. They have stadiums that big, but that's only for big-time professional teams. To have a 75,000 person stadium solely used by a university is unheard of.

That's all for the cultural differences that I can think of right now; I'll write up more later on when they come to mind. This past Friday my UW group went to an estancia (essentially, a ranch), but really it ended up being kinda touristy. The ride there was supposed to be 1 1/2 hours, but it ended up being 3+ due to a nasty fog that caused many road closures here (apparently fog is so rare here that they feel the need to close down highways...?). There were a whole bunch of English-speaking tourists there along with us, and it kinda felt like an act to me. At the least, it was interesting watching an old gaucho game where they take this little mini stick and try to ride a horse and put the stick through a ring dangling over the track. You can see a picture of that below. Along with it is just a picture of the landscape. We also got to ride horses that day, so that was fun. But, again, I came away from it feeling like it was a little touristy and that it was more act than anything.

Friday night was my late night; I went to a concert with some UW friends and friends of Tomas, and then to a bar where we just sat and talked and danced and had a great hang-out night. The funniest part about that night was that we were the only ones who knew some of the English-language songs, so when we'd do something the song said (for those of you who know the applebottom jeans song, there's that low part), and everyone would kinda look at us funny. Of course, then the Spanish-language hip hop song would come on and we'd have no idea what you were supposed to do. We had to act like unknowledgeable americans when that happened and follow everyone else as best we could.

Today, I attempted to go to a church service (in spanish this time!), but it turns out that the service was at 730, not at 600 like I was told last week, and I had promised Tomas and others that I'd go to a Catholic mass with them at the cathedral near my house. That started at 830, so I had to skip the church service to go to the mass. I had never been to a mass before, and it was interesting attending one in Spanish, in a gigantic cathedral. The setting inside was gorgeous, and the cathedral is wonderful looking. I'll show you pictures of it when I get around to it. I live maybe 2 minutes walking away from it, so it's definitely close. I just followed everyone when they sat and stood, stood and sat, and then sat and stood some more.

I apologize for the length of this post - there was just alot to say! For now, I gotta wrap up some homework and head off to class at 900. I am looking at a weather report which says its 89 degrees in Seattle (at 7pm?!), and I am just slightly jealous of that. Although- it's been upper 60s here for the last few days, so I'm not getting terrible weather. Still, I'd kill for a few more hours of daylight and 10-15 more degrees of warmth. Send some my way next time you get a chance.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hey, you gotta be a tourist sometime, right?

While one of my goals here certainly was to be part of the Argentinian culture and not be a permanent tourist, I of course have had a few times of going out and being touristy. Today, that involved going to downtown Buenos Aires in order to see the march of the "Madres de la Plaza de Mayo", in, of course, La Plaza de Mayo. These are the mothers of what are called the Desaparecidos (Disappeared), people who were never heard of again during the Argentinian Dirty War in the late 70s-early 80s. Without going into too many details, there was a military-run government during this time, and in order to quell subversion, there were 30,000 people or so who "disappeared", never to be heard of again. Here is a picture of some of these moms of the desaparecidos, who march every Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo, as you can see, still holding a picture of their missing loved one. The women are symbolized by the white scarf you can see some of them wearing on their head.

Yesterday we went on a little touristy boat ride into the delta of the Rio de la Plata (the huge wide river they have here in Buenos Aires). We had an hour-long boat ride through this really cool neighborhood where, in parts, there are no roads to any of the houses; they are all little islands and everyone has to get to their houses by boat. There is no potable water, so they have to bring water in from the mainland to drink/cook. It's essentially a summer house/weekend house place, and since we were here on a wednesday evening, there was no one at the houses. Discovery while riding this boat: Nothing in argentina is free. We took for granted that the water/cokes they handed out to us were free. Newsflash: They're not. My table (4 of us) ended up with a bill of roughly 68 pesos (22-23 USD). No fun. We're learning all sorts of things about how cultures work....and sometimes our pocketbook teaches us that lesson. The picture you see here is from our boat trip down this Delta.

I've also just finished my first week of classes - we don't have classes on friday! Hah! I am in a class studying Argentinian literature, and a class studying poetry, and it is NOT easy. I have a hard enough time figuring out symbolism in English poems and stories. Our class is either from 9 or 9:30 to 12:30. So, we have 3 straight hours of studying heavy duty literature in Spanish only. It's very hard to concentrate for that long; the positive thing is that I'll improve my vocabulary by having to look up every. other. word.

Right now I'm still trying to figure out my weekend plans; for now we have a group trip to an estancia (essentially a ranch?) tomorrow morning. We get to ride horses, see what life is like outside of the city...the downside? We have to wake up early on a day when we don't have school (d'oh!). It'll be fine, but a few of us were definitely looking forward to sleeping in on friday, only to find out we have a group trip.

That's all for now - I'll write in a couple days about my second weekend here in Buenos Aires...I definitely am enjoying myself, to say the least!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The first day of school...in June?

Hey everyone!

I haven't written in a couple days but here's a little update on the (what I believe are) interesting things which have happened! I wanted to go to church on Sunday morning, so Marta called up an old friend who goes to a non-Catholic church (I wanted to attend a protestant church), and got the directions and time for it. I went and it was fine - except it was in English. I swear I happened upon the only English-speaking church in this entire city. I asked around and the good thing is that they have a service in Spanish at 6pm, so I'm gonna head off to that next sunday!

I also went downtown with a few people from the group and a couple host brothers, and took a few pictures. Here are some various pictures I took throughout the day:

This is a photo of part of the downtown skyline as
seen from a boardwalk in downtown Buenos Aires

This is called "La Casa Rosada" (The Pink House)
and is exactly like the White House in the U.S.,
except it's pink. Go figure.

A photo of that same clock tower that I took a
picture of a few days ago, except this is at night
and I just think it looks cooler :)

Fast-forward to this morning...and school started. That's right. In June, I have to face that word that children everywhere dread: school (Or, if you're bilingual..you might dread escuela...?). Anyway, I take the train to class, and the ride is only one stop, about 5 min once the train actually gets to my stop. I waited for I believe 30 min for the train before it finally came this morning, but hey that's ok. I'll start timing things better the longer I study here. We didn't really do much, we just had a little introduction to the university, a safety talk, campus tour and placement test in order to see which Spanish-level class we'd be placed in. Classes formally start tomorrow, so I'll see how that ends up going. Should be fun, I am really looking forward to having some other spanish stuff to fill the parts of the day when I'm not actually speaking it.

Interesting piece of information for the day: Tomas is a bartender on the weekends, for a company that goes to big weddings or fancy parties and does the bar. This coming weekend is a big wedding (only really rich people apparently can afford to hire the company Tomas works for), and I'm going to go help out! That is, yours truly, Nate Sooter, is going to be a bartender at an Argentinian wedding. And I am pretty excited to do so - it's more Spanish practice (in a super crowded environment...mixing drinks which I have never tried in my entire life seeing how I've only ever been to two bars), and I get to see what a wedding in Argentina is like. The main difference is that my job starts at 10....pm. And ends around 7am. Soooooo, we're gonna see how that goes. that's how they do weddings here - when i mention that weddings in the US start in the afternoon and end usually by 10-11-12, they were appalled, since that's when things are just getting going in Argentina.

I have tea and dinner left tonight, followed by getting coffee with some friends here in San Isidro....there are always things to eat here! Hope all of you are having a wonderful summer, wherever you might be at this moment!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's like Thanksgiving...every single Saturday

As I mentioned in my previous post, every single Saturday there is a gathering in Marta's house with all her children and grandchildren, and I got to be part of it today. I believe that about 30 people came, everyone ranging from probably their mid-50s to newly born. The closest thing I can compare it to is Thanksgiving, and yet they have this every single Saturday. It really was fun to be part of. I definitely had to work hard to hold my own among all the conversations, but after so much practice day after day I feel like I'm able to understand more than when I arrived, for certain. They explained to me that Argentinian family get togethers consist of "two hours at the table eating, two hours away from the table talking, two more hours at the table eating, etc, etc...". In my opinion, there's no better way to run a family function. Everyone's always happy when there's food on the table and conversations all around. I felt very welcomed by everyone and I was comfortable sitting in on conversations and joining in where I could. In the end, I probably spoke or listened to Spanish for 5 hours, and learned way more than one would get in a week of spanish class at UW. Like I tell all of them: Speaking Spanish around the dinnertable with everyone is my classroom, and who doesn't want to eat homemade breads and meats and salad and desserts while in class?! This is the MUCH better way to go about learning the language.

I am definitely running into trouble when trying to talk about politics or about religion or about economics..there are so many terms that are complicated that conversation soon gets lost in translation, so to speak. Those sorts of conversations will come easier in the future.

I had a very unique experience with languages today that I'd never had before. There are a couple women staying at the house tonight who are from Italy and just needed a place to stay tonight. The thing is, they don't speak English, and I don't speak Italian, and yet both of us speak Spanish, so we can communicate with each other through a secondary language. I think that is just so...for a lack of a better word....awesome. To be able to talk with someone from Italy about their country and customs through the medium of a shared language like Spanish was surreal. I definitely enjoyed that conversation.

One interesting thing that I haven't mentioned is that, in Argentina, you don't greet people with a handshake - you greet them with a kiss on the cheek. Now, like most Americans, I was taken aback by that at first. For instance, if you enter a room with 30 people, you don't just say "hi" and sit down. You go around to each person and say hello and kiss them on the cheek. It might be odd at first, but I think it's a very welcoming gesture. The people here are very friendly.

As a final point, as some people have asked me about it (in a joking fashion), no I do not drink very much down here (what a surprise!). I am on a completely "taste-only" regimen. That is to say, when I went to the bar and someone would offer me a drink, I'd taste it but I certainly do not drink a whole bunch, and I never drink enough to ever feel it. Tomas' friends have told me multiple times that "we will break you by the end of this, yankee" (they seem to enjoy calling me yankee...except they pronounce it yang-kee. it's kinda humorous), but do not fear. I don't really have a problem with peer pressure and I'm going to stick to my guns on this one. Drinking until one is drunk isn't attractive to me whatsoever.

The interesting thing about drinking in Argentina, as many people have told me, is that you're allowed to drink at a younger age (18), and so people have the whole "let's go get drunk with all our friends because now it's legal" experience at an earlier age. Therefore, when people get together to drink that are 20-21-22, it's not too big of a deal. There isn't really excessive alcohol consumption at this age, because they all did that when they were younger and it's lost its luster.

Take that for what it is, I thought that was an interesting point of conversation to come out of talking with some people I've met here who are my age.

And the weekend begins

The only event which is actually worth talking about yesterday is that I went to a birthday party for one of Tomas' friends at his house in a (very) nice neighborhood in Buenos Aires that's called Tigre. The houses there were definitely very, very fancy. I was able to spend a second night speaking and listening to Spanish from different people, which was great. I now have set some certain goals out for myself for what I want to specifically do, and rolling my r's is one of them. Everyone here can roll their r's with ease, and I have trouble remembering to do it. I know I can do it, it's just difficult to think about it before the word is out of my mouth. As well there are some common words that I learned in high school that are not used here.

For instance, you say acá, instead of aquí, when you wish to say "here", and I'm terrible at that one. I have it so engrained to say aquí that it's really hard to switch over.

As well, in Argentina they speak with a different word for "you" than in any other country. Instead of addressing you with "tú", they say "vos". It's a 1-for-1 switch, and it includes a couple different spellings of words that I'm not used to. For instance, when you want to say "How are you?" everyone learns in Spanish class to say "Cómo estás tú?" (that is, if you even want to say the tú), but here you would hear, instead, "Cómo estás vos?". Or instead of "tú quieres" (which means you want), you say "vos querés". It's definitely distracting to near this word in a sentence where I am used to hearing another.

For those of you who speak Spanish, you might know why this is more confusing, because in Spain the word for "you all" or "all of you", which we do not have in English, is Vosotros. And, since vos is so close to vosotros, I continually think that the people here are referring to a plural "you", when in fact it means just me.

I apologize if that was confusing, but perhaps if it was confusing that's an even better way of showing that there are little complicated idiosyncrasies in any language based on where you speak it.

That's all for now - there's a big lunch starting soon with 30 people from Marta's family that come here every Saturday for lunch, so it's time to try and hold my own with a dozen conversations in Spanish from family members who speak very loudly and quickly to each other. I'll let you know if I survive....

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A little walking, a pinch of speaking Spanish, and a torrential downpour

It's the end of my second day here and I am definitely starting to get the hang of life here in Argentina. Life is definitely on a different schedule, espeically with regards to food. They think it's the weirdest thing ever that dinner in America is around 5-6 pm. Here is a typical food schedule for Argentinians:

Breakfast around 10
Lunch around 2
Tea around 4-5 (yes you eat food during tea)
Dinner around 11

They all wonder what I do between 5pm and bedtime with regards to food, and I actually question that very thing...this schedule seems to make more sense to me, in terms of breaking up the major meals. I definitely still snack, though, of course. There's a store for food about a block from this house which is great.

I won't bore you with the specifics, but most of this day involved walking. and walking. and walking. I went with Christy al Centro (downtown) in order to walk around, but basically it was raining way, way too hard. It rained all day. We just walked around for a bit and gave up. This is one of the only pictures that I took from that little adventure, of a gigantic clock near the main train station - I'll take more when there is sun.

After getting lost going home (i walked around for probably a good 45 minutes before finding the house), I was invited to go to a bar for dinner with Tomás (the 20 year old grandson that lives here) and his friends. So, we went to a bar in downtown Buenos Aires in order to eat, and I had so, so much fun. It was a little intimidating going to a noisy place with several people who speak Spanish quickly and try and hold a conversation, but eventually I got into the flow of it and really, really enjoyed myself. We stayed there for several hours talking about this and that, with me helping a couple of Tomás' friends with English and talking about sports and music and movies and the like. I really am feeling better about my Spanish-speaking abilities. Most people I have talked to say I speak very well for only being here two days, which is good for my confidence. It's tough to speak another language when you don't have confidence, and it's definitely nice to have native Spanish speakers affirming me when I speak.

I'll finish this off with a couple pictures from inside my house here, of my bedroom and the kitchen we have here:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I have arrived!

Hello everyone!

I'm writing this from my house here in Buenos Aires, and I have been here for maybe 12 hours and yet am having an absolute blast. I won't bore you with the plane ride stories, but let's just say that no news is good news (as you can see in the photo..it was actually ON TIME. Miraculous).

Once I arrived in Buenos Aires, the most interesting thing which happened was that the car which picked me up broke down in the middle of their highway, and wouldn't start again. So I had to help push it through the toll booth (which you can see in the photo), and then another car came and picked me up, the one carrying Christy, who I travelled with the past day with down here to Argentina. Nothing like an introduction to Argentina like a broken car! The driver was very apologetic but I mostly just found it humorous and tried to help him where I could. I mostly felt bad that his car wasn't working anymore.

The rest of my day has been spending time at my new home with my host mother, who is absolutely fantastic. It's hit or miss when you're doing a homestay in another country, and I definitely think that I'll fit in here. She's very gracious and speaks slowly (thankfully!) and is very attentive to whatever needs I might have. We'll get along famously. This house is in a very fancier neighborhood here in Argentina, about 10-15 blocks from the Universidad, and there is a train station very close. I'll have some pictures of the area after I wake up and go for a walk tomorrow morning.

For now, I just really, really have to concentrate on every single conversation. I can't skate by in a conversation by half-listening in Spanish, so this trip will be a lesson in concentration, for certain. I'll have more to say tomorrow!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

T-minus 3 days and counting

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog for the next 6 months or so, as I'll be posting pictures/stories while I study in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Cádiz, Spain. Thank you so much for taking the time to come and read this, I appreciate it so very much! It may not be too exciting sometimes but I'll do my best to make it interesting for you, a clearly committed friend, family member, acquaintaince or stalker of mine (I know you're out there....). I'd love to hear from any of you over the next six months, so feel free to comment here or send me an email or message on Facebook any time.

I'll be flying down to Argentina on this upcoming Tuesday (June 17), and will start attending classes at la Universidad de San Andrés (emblem shown above) and living with an Argentinian family on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I don't know a whole bunch about the family, save some information from a couple emails we've sent...what I do know is that I am living with an older couple and their grandson, Tomás, who is also my age (20).

That's really all for now until I actually arrive in Buenos Aires, but be prepared for little anecdotes and stories about life in Argentina for the next 5 1/2 weeks. I come back to Seattle on July 28, and then sub sequentially leave to Spain on August 20th.

Adios for now!