Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Community of South America - Chapter One

¨¡Hola! Mi llamo Juan. Yo soy Canadiense. El nombre es Michelle y el es vegetariano. Nosotros hablamos un poquito de espanól. ¡No como la carne roja!¨And so concludes the Spanish portion of this update; not because we don´t like Spanish (far from it) - it´s just that we don´t really speak much more. Given Michelle´s vegetarian status, we figured this would be an important sentence to weave into our lexicon as soon as possible.

First, let´s introduce each other. You see, dear readers, this is the first time that we (Michelle and John) have traveled together; so, while we know each other well, there are always a few new things that arise during adventures. So, here we go:

John introducing Michelle: ¨Michelle, or Michellé, as she is called in South America, slept for the first four days in Buenos Aires/Montevideo. Fair enough, as the 27 hour flight and lack of non-steak-protein would be enough to hamper even the toughest vegetarian traveler. Michellé is exciting, curious, fearless, and provides energy and laughter to those lucky enough to travel with her. She also falls down out of nowhere, which is hilarious.¨

Michelle introducing John: ¨John, or Juan, as he is referred to down in South America, is a clever and thoughtful traveller. When I would, say, forget my glasses on a 27 hour flight or bring shoes that were falling apart to Uruguay, Juan would be there to help me, you know, see or walk. Besides piggybacking a blind companion through Uruguay, Juan is very good at picking out wine - and drinking it. And he´s always up for joining me in some tomfoolery, such as salsa dancing in a tango bar.¨

Let´s start at the beginning, with our journey from YVR to EZE. It took two transfers, two airlines, three flights, and 27 hours. We were both a little crazy by the end of it, but that might´ve been due to the nerves we were feeling because of the peanut butter smuggling operation we were also running. Speaking of nerves, Mexicana Airlines almost left our bags in Mexico City, a quaint, quiet and clean town in the middle of Mexico. So, unscathed and with contraband peanut butter in-bag, we arrived in Buenos Aires.

Soon we were met by our hosts/tour guides, Martin Martin and Ximena Ferrer (pictured), or, as they were called two nights ago after some delicious Malbec, ¨Martana and Ximin¨- amazing. Martin is a PhD student and Freedom Fighter at the University of Buenos Aires. He comes from a long line of Coureurs de Bois and sports charming wool socks year round. Ximena is an Actress and peddler of Argentine leather. She also makes outstanding chop suey and brings a dramatic flare to all the backstories and context-providing she does.

Our first little tourist-jaunt saw us meander through the streets of Buenos Aires. It was like 19th century Europe meeting 21st century USA, with a lot of dirt, smog, traffic, congestion, businesspeople, and the seven bicyclists who are brave enough to ride through the streets of the city. We also came across a few South American emo-hipsters; however, unlike many of the hipsters who frequent our neighbourhood of Commercial Drive, Canada, these folks were not douchebags. Also, Buenos Aires has, so far, yielded no fewer than 37 different hairstyle-types. Recent findings show that this is well above the international average. One particular point of interest in Buenos Aires are the cirujas, who make up a union-organized social class of collectors of raw materials that people throw away. They´re a lot like the recyling leaders in Vancouver - homeless people - but there are just, like, way, way, way more and they´re organized.

And then we moved on to Montevideo, Uruguay! Like Canadians, who are generally well liked and respected around the world, Uruguayans are similarly percieved. Kinda like how American travellers often say they´re Canadian to avoid a doubled taxi fare, Argentinians tend to say they´re Uruguayan when visiting neighboring Brazil (this is all, of course, according to some lovely Uruguayans we met on our journey, which may or may not make this a biased account of Latin American relations). Needless to say, we noticed a difference between Buenos Aireans and Montevideans, and felt a bond with the kind, well-liked Uruguayans. In Montevideo we stayed at Ximena´s mother´s house - she will hereby be referred to as our ´Uruguayan mom´. Despite the language barrier that existed between us (not getting very far passed ´Ola!´ or ´Ciao!´) we formed a bond laughing at a ridiculous Canadian travel book with 80s-era photos. Oh, those poor Uruguayans thinking us Canadians still sport one-piece neon ski suits and handlebar mustaches. Even though it´s winter here, one can still appreciate the spectacular beauty of Montevideo, which is a city that wraps itself around a flawless sandy beach. La Rambla, a sidewalk that spans the entire beach/city, provides everything from a space for young people to drink/make-out to safety-seeking bicyclists to maté drinking joggers to tired Canadian tourists wishing they had worn better shoes for a long, long walk around a city. It´s a beautiful thing, La Rambla!

John´s observations on the journey thus far: ¨Argentina´s flag has a giant, angry Sun in the middle of it, and I don´t like it one bit. For a porphyria-riddled traveler, this omen does not bode well. This being said, the wine is the best I´ve tasted (many kinds are never exported to Canada, so it´s quite a treat to experience them here) and the meat is plentiful and delicious. People are friendly and tolerate us butchering their language while we point to things. I also really missed Martin´s beard and his Quebecois shenanigans; it´s good to see them again! Finally, I´ve yet to meet an Argentine and/or Uruguayan person who is taller than me; therefore, I am officially declaring myself the tallest person in South America. Please keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming parade on 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires in the coming days. Thanks.¨

Michelle´s observations on the journey thus far: Okay, so I don´t really `get´ the food culture down here, seeing as I don´t eat meat. However, I have been lucky enough to experience another facet of the culture that is as ingrained as meat and futbol (which, sadly, I don´t really `get´ either): Maté. A tea drunk out of a small container (the maté), the traditions surrounding maté drinking are deeply ingrained within the culture, and involve strict rules: when drinking maté in a group, it must be returned to the initiating person between drinks. All tea must be finished before being returned. And the water must be boiled to just the right temperature before being poured over the tea. Sharing food and drink is a defining aspect of any culture, and I feel lucky to have experienced it.

Coming soon ...

Juan y Michellé venture out on their own (sin guia) ... with limited Spanish but big hearts and adventurous souls, what shenanigans will they find themselves involved in? Whatever happens, these two correspondents from the Weekly Gumboot will be back with reviews, critiques, questions and stories that will give Fodor´s and Lonely Planet a run for their money ...


Anonymous said...

That's an old and ugly picture!! Ha google... Even though "cirujeo" is correct, they are usually refered to as "cartoneros".
I hope you're having a good time in Mendoza and that some things are open...
Martin Martin, alias el luchador por la libertad

Kurt Heinrich said...

This was a very interesting post and made a lot of sense, up until the point where Michelle doesn't "get" the food culture emphasizing meat in Argentina.

Michelle is the least picky eater I've ever known so I really don't understand how her limitless understanding and appreciation of all foods (especially cheeses and meats) wouldn't help her. Maybe it has something to do with the equator?

Please write more about the foods and tasty treats of your travels friends. Your food loving pal awaits these tales!