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Saturday, July 29, 2006

4 days in Cafayate

About three hours outside of Salta is a little town called Cafayate. I ended up really liking it there and stayed for four days. Me and Nancy, an English girl I met in Salta got in Monday morning and checked into a very cute hostel. It was too late to do the main excursion through the canyon and so we went and did a walk along the river. It was beautiful, the river wrapped through the mountains which were all covered in cactus.

There was not a very clearly marked path, you just had to follow the river, crossing it when you couldn´t walk on one side anymore. At the end we got to a small waterfall with a crevice behind it, so i took off my shoes and walked in to the little cave behind the waterfall.

Here are some goats we saw at the end of the walk and then some other people that were around chaced them, caught them and let us hold them.

The next day we wanted to see the main attraction, the canyon and varous rock formations that are along the main road. We decided to take the most challenging way and rent bikes. So the way it works to do it with bikes is you get on a bus at 9am with your bikes. The bus takes you 50km up the road, drops you off and then you bike the 50km (about 30 miles) back. We were told it was pretty flat with more downhills than uphills. Well for one thing it was the longest bike ride I have ever done, and there were a lot of uphills and even when it was flat the sun was beating down and you were biking against the wind, and just so tired the flat didn´t seem flat. The wind was so strong that at some points you had to actually pedal going downhill because there was so much resistance from the wind. So it was really realy hard but very worth it because it was the most beautiful place and the views made up for how challenging it is. Basically we were just biking down this road with giant rock mountains on all sides of us. Because of the minerals and the process of formation, the rocks were all different colors and had all different wierd forms.

There were also some specific formations to stop along the way. This one is this big cave/crevice thing, i don´t know how to really explain it. If you notice at the very bottom of the photo there is a very very small person, that gives you an idea of how big these formations were.

Stopping every two seconds to take pictures made for good biking breaks which were much needed. After about 6 or 7 hours of biking we made it the 50km back and basically showered and crashed for the night.

Nancy left the next morning but I had decided to stay for two more days. Still exhausted from the day before I decided to have a relaxing day. I walked around the town, went to a goat cheese making place and saw how the cheese was made, and went to a winery (there are tons in the area). That night the hostel had a barbeque and afterwards everyone sat around playing guitar and singing traditional Argentine folk music which was really nice (I was one of the few non Argentinians staying there).

The next day I decided to go back to the river and take a different path. I thought there was another path along a river that split off from the main one but it turns out that river was dry so I just walked up the middle of the dry river. The path started to go up and so I just followed it and at some point I realized I was clibing up big rocks and bolders and getting to the top of this hill. I wanted to get to the top but it started to get more and more difficult to climb the rocks and I realized that I was by myself in the middle of nowhere climbing huge rocks and that probebly wasn´t the best idea so I turned around. It was a good thing I didn´t go farther because making my way down the rocks was a lot more difficult than coming up. I safely made my way down and went and sat by the real river to eat my sandwhich and then walked back into the town with two French guys from my hostel.

Even though I have a lot more time, I decided just to come back to Buenos Aires instead of going somewhere else because I was tired of moving around so much and being on buses all the time. So I took two long bus rides last night and got back to Buenos Aires this morning and am at the same hostel I was before. I have about four days here to see more of the city, then back to Santiago on Wednesday for a night, leave Santiago Thursday and get home Friday morning...less than a week to go!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Reserva Provincial Esteros de Ibera

After a night on the bus I got to Mercedes, a tiny little town where I met two English girls my age and we arranged the bus to a even smaller town, Colonia Carlos Pelegrini and tours of the nature reserve that is there. We took a van/shuttle there which took about three or four hours. We were in the middle of nowhere, the whole time we maybe passed 10 farmhouses, otherwise just open land, horses and cows. At about 3:30 in the afternoon we arrived in the town. We were staying at a place that was stables that had been converted into pretty nice rooms. We dropped off our stuff and then immediatly went on our first tour, a walk through the woods/rainforrest. On the walk, the guide pointed out lots of plants and animals. All over the town, just wandering around were these animals (I don´t remember their name)that are basically giant rodents, and they let you come close, but are not dangerous. Here is me trying to get as close as I can to one of them, it gives you an idea of their size.

We also saw lots of monkeys which I was really excited about because there is supposed to be monkeys at Iguazú falls but I didn´t see any and I had really wanted to. It was hard to get a picture of the monkeys but here are some attempts, if you can tell, the second one is of a baby clinging onto its mother.

Then we went on a boat tour in the lake, through the marshes. Here we saw more plants, lots and lots of really cool birds, deer, more giant rodent things, and most exciting of all, caimen, which are like mini crocodile alligator things. There were tons and tons of them all over the patches of land in the marshes. Most of them are about 3-4 feet long. They sit there all day in the sun and then at night go underwater and are completly harmless.

(Ahhh, it stopped uploading my pictures again...check back for a picture soon)

We started out the boat ride before sunset and were out on the water all through sunset and a little after sunset which was so beautiful.

Unfortunatly the shuttles only leave there at 4am so our choice was to just be there for the afternoon and leave the next morning or have to stay a whole day more, and there is not that much more to do so we were just there for the afternoon and then left at 4am the next morning.

I changed my plans and decided to go to Salta which is a city in the north of Argentina, a few hours south of the Bolivia border. I had originally not wanted to come here because I thought it was too far, but realized I have a lot of time and I had heard good things about it. On the bus I met two English guys who were traveling together and an English girl traveling by herself. We all had the same guide book and so were all going to the same hostel and got a room together. The three of them figured out that they were all studying medicine. A little while later two more English guys arrived and were staying in our room too. I jokingly asked the two new guys if they studied medicine, and it turns out they both do. So I am in a room filled with English med students, and me which is very strange. I have been walking around here all day and realize there is not much to do for more than a day or two but there are supposed to be these beautiful canyons about three hours from here so I think that me and the other girl in my room are going to go there tomorrow for a few days.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Iguazú Falls

Before the falls, just a little more on Buenos Aires. First of all, here are the pictures of the bookstore in a theater that I mentioned before.

Day 4 in Buenos Aires I spent most of the day wandering around the neighborhood where my hostel was which on Sunday has a huge outdoor antique market and tons of antique stores with really cool stuff that was just fun to look around at. That night I went to a concert with some people from my hostel of some argentinebands whihc was fun.

Day 5 I took a train to Tigre which is a small town right outside of the city and just spent the day walking around by the river which was really pretty. At 8pm I went back to Buenos Aires and got on a 18 or so hour bus to Puerto Iguazú the town right outside the Argintine side of the falls

Iguazu Falls

The falls were amazing. There are two sides, the Argintina side and the Brazil side but I couldn´t go to the Brazil side because of complicated things with passports and visas. It turns out that the falls are the dryest they have been in 17 years, but still had tons of water and were incredible. Here are some of the "smaller" falls.
Normally the wall behind me with the waterfall would be completly covered in tons and tons of giant waterfalls, but I was happy with this. The biggest attraction is the Garganta del Diablo, which I am not sure how it can possibly be dry now. The picture doesn´t really show it but I would describe it as a giant black hole of water, it was really incredible.
It is all pretty touristy with tons and tons of people and walkways to walk by the waterfalls, though I did go early and manage to avoid some of the crowds in the first hour or two I was there. In the afternoon I got away from the super crowded touristy part and took a longer hike to a less visited waterfall. Because it has been dry, it was pretty small but what was nice was it was small enough that you could walk across the rocks and go right over to it and stick your head under. Also there were a million beautiful butterflys there that were everywhere. When I sat still long enough a bunch of them landed on my feet, hands, sholders. This one stayed on my finger for a really long time and so I decided to pose it for a picture.

I had planned to stay another night to rest and leave in the morning but the bus to the place I wanted to go only left in the evenings so I jumped on another overnight bus, transfered at 6am to another bus and finally arrived in small town to arrange a trip to a nature reserve, which I will put up more about in a post coming soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I finished up all my work and arrived in Buenos Aires Wednesday night and met up with my friend Jenn from my program and her friend to spend the next day with them.

Day 1 - Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo
First we went to the Casa Rosada which is the presidential office and is actually pink (the pink house). You can´t go in except for a small museum in the back but being in the museum you don´t get any sense of the actual palace. In front of the palace is the plaza de mayo. Here is me and Jenn in the plaza in front of the Casa Rosada. The balcony on the left of the picture is where Evita Perón used to give her famous speeched and Madonna used the same balcony in the movie Evita.

We walked around the area a little and saw some churches and the really beautiful architecture around the city, waiting for 3:30. Every single Thursday at 3:30 the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo have a march around the plaza. During la Guerra Sucia (The Dirty War) when there were ¨disappearences¨ and many people were kidnapped, tourtured and killed, a group of mothers and grandmothers of the disapppeared formed to protest what was going on starting in 1977. All the mothers all wore white scarves on their heads and wore photos of their missing children and grandchildren around their necks. The people who commited these crimes have still not been brought to justice and so as a symbolic act the madres continue to protest once a week. These women were mothers and grandmothers 30 years ago and so are all really old, most of them I would guess are 80 or older but still come out every thursday. It is a small group but people still come to support them. My immpression was that they also address more current issues based on their sign they carried. After half and hour of marching one of the mothers and a palistinian woman spoke about the tourture adn disappearences happening currently in Palistine and expressing their support for and solidarity with the palistian people, particularly Palistinian mothers that have also lost their children. It was a really really amazing thing to see. These women have so much commitment to their cause and continue to protest what happened to their family and their country which takes a lot of dedication.
(Distribution of Weath Now!)

Day 2 - Around the City, cemetary, Recoleta, Museo de Bellas Artes
The day before, Jenn and her friend left and I moved hostels to be in a more central area. I decided just to spend the day exploring the city and decided to walk and ended up walking really far and was exhausted by the end of the day. I went to see if I could see a show at the famous theater opera house but nothing was playing, so hopefully I can get another chance to see something. It is a beautiful city and was really nice to walk around. I walked down to the river, throught the shopping district, and around some of the more historic areas that have beautiful European style buildings. Someone recomended that I go to a particular bookstore. It was a old theater house that has been converted into a bookstore and was so cool. It looked just like a theater but was filled with books and bookshelves instead of seats, including the balconies and on the stage is a cafe. I also went to the cemetary which is all just little mini chuch like buildings that are very fancy. I saw Evita´s grave which is where everyone flocks to and leaves flowers and things because people adore her so much. Then I went to a museum and saw an exibit by a Colombian painter, Botero which was amazing. He does all political art work about the violence in Colombia and I really liked it.

My hostel is a lot of fun and there are lots of people from all over so I have been hanging out in the hostel with all of them at night which is fun.

Day 3 - La Boca, Recoleta Feria
Saturday morning I went to La Boca which is a working class neighborhood on the river. There is one section that is really touristy selling lots of souveiners and things, and then the rest of the neighborhood is really dangerous and the police stop tourists for going in. All the houses are painted bright colors which is fun but it wasn´t so exciting, I went took a few pictures and was done. I then went to a outdoor fair/market that happens every weekend. It is a really nice market kind of hippy with lots of nice crafts, jewlery, etc. it reminded me a lot of telegraph. While I was there I ran into this girl Tess who also goes to Bard but I don´t really know but we have mutual friends. We ended up spending the afternoon together walking around the city. Argentina is supposed to have amazing steak so I went out to dinner with some people from the hostel to a good meat place but I don´t eat meat so unfortunatly I can´t tell you how Argeninian beef is but I have heard it is amazing.

it finally started working again to post pictures normally and then stopped so I couldn´t put up the pictures of around the city and of the bookstore which I really want to put up so check back i will try and get it to work again

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mendoza, Argentina

(There are now some pictures up from skiing on the last post)

Last Thursday me adn my friend Kate went to Mendoza whichi s the closest city in Argentina to Santiago. I t is only a six or seven hour bus ride through the Andes mountains. I had heard before going that the bus ride is beautiful and worth going just for that. It is true, it is a gorgeous ride through the mountains. On the chilean side, huge mountains that normally would be completly covered in snow but because there hasn´t been so much now this year they were mostly just dotted with large passes of snow.
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Then at some point we went into a tunnel that went straight through a mountain and emerged on the Argentina side which looked completly different. There was no snow at all but huge mountains that were all different colors, mostly shades of brown but some of them even had a green, purple or yellow shade to them. Anyway, really really beautiful ride there.
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We arrived in Mendoza and met Kate´s friend David who was studying in Mendoza, found a hostel that Kate had stayed in before and got some dinner. The next day me and Kate rented bikes and went to the big park in the city. People in Mendoza are crazy drivers and don´t stop at red lights or for pedestrians and so biking through the streets was quite scary in addition to the fact that Kate´s bike seat had unnaturally bouncy shocks and so she just bounced up and down the whole ride. The park is huge and beautiful, all the paths are lined with big trees that arch over the path. After getting a little ways into the park we realized we were completly out of shape and exhausted so we stopped to have a lunch of bread, cheese and palta (avocado) and take a nap in the grass in the sun. Kate´s friend David was leaving the next day and so we went to his goodbye party which was all Argentinians, mostly his neighbors. There were little kids, teenagers, people our age, and adults there. It was so nice because they all seemed to have a relationship with him and really liked him. I was a completly different atmosphere and type of relationship than I am usedto and have in Santiago.

It was wierd being in Argentina, it was my first time leaving Chile since I got there about five months ago. It is still spanish but they have a very different accent and different words they use. I don´t use that many Chileans words but Kate does and we encountered a lot of times when they didn´t know what we meant because were using Chilean words that half the time we didn´t even know were Chile specific. It is also so much cheaper there. Although Chile is cheaper than the US, it is the most expensive country in South America and so things were much cheaper in Argentina.

The next day we planned on taking a bus in the morning so slept in and went to the bus terminal. We got there and were told that it had started snowing and they had closed the pass to Chile and it would probebly open the next day. That afternoon everyone who had come to the party was going to say goodbye to David at the bus station so we decided to go. It was pretty incredible to watch. About 18 people showed up to send him off and the genuinly really loved him and were going to miss him and there were quite a few tears. There were lots of goodbyes adn tehn everyone stood there and waved until the bus left. It was so nice and made me jelous that I don´t have a community and friends that I am that close with in Chile.

The next day we again had tickets and found out that the pass was going to be closed for at least another two or three days and we both needed to get back to Santiago, I had a paper to work on and a flight to Buenos Aires on Wednesday. So we eventually gave in and bought one-way plane tickets that were super super expensive adn way more money that I want to admit to spending on a 50 minute flight but I was just realived to be back in Santiago to finish up everything I needed to get done.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Skiing in the Andes

I added pictures to this post

Ok, the last post now has most of the pictures up, so look at those. I am still working on getting photos up on this one.

Last Saturday I went skiing. Skiing in Chile is skiing in the Andes mountains. Me and a couple friends planned to go and there is a place in Santiago where they will take you up there in a bus. It turned out tons of people from my program all had the same idea because it was the first weekend the slopes were open and so there ended up being 13 of us and so we got our own minibus to ourselves. It is only about and hour and a half from Santiago to the slopes because we are so close to the mountains.

I think that the last time I went skiing was in 8th grade, so 6 or 7 years ago. There were so many of us that went that it worked out that there were people at all levels so we all had someone to ski with. I picked it up again right away...meaning I could ski and stay up but had no form, but that doesn´t really matter does it?

Because it is winter here and summer in the northern hemisphere, there are lots of Americans that come to ski. So the place was filled with Americans speaking English and all the staff speaks English, and some of them are even American. That was very wierd because you never knew whether to speak to someone in English or Spanish.

This was definitly the most beautiful place I have ever skied. When you are on the lift or at the top of a mountain you can see all the snow covered mountains.
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I mostly stayed on the easier slopes because although I tried a few harder ones and could do it, it was fun to do the easy ones because I could just go really fast and have fun without being scared or worrying so much about falling. I did take a couple good spills, although surprisingly not really any on the mountain as I was going down, most were from hitting a bump at the bottom of the mountain as I was coming to a stop. But what is skiing without some good falls?
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Me and Catherine who is also from Bard

There was one lift that instead of sitting on the bench and riding over the mountain, you have a pole with a disk at the end and you sit on the disk and essentially ski up the mountain while it pulls you. I did that lift twice and it was so scary, I didn´t like it. Getting on is hard and so the first time I tried I fell off right as I got on and had to try it again. Once I got on I was terrified that I would fall off when I was actually going up the hill. I was also worried about dropping my poles so I put the straps back around my wrists...bad idea. When it was time to get off I let go of the lift, but my ski poles were wrapped around it, so i let go of my poles, but they were on my wrist so i wasn´t sitting anymore but my arms were still attached. I managed to get the pole off just in time to not hit some sign and get dragged back around hanging from my arm. I did brave that lift one more time and did fine though.

The whole drive home we watched the sunset over the snowy mountains which was beautiful and nice to enjoy before entering smoggy Santiago again.
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Monday, June 12, 2006

Strikes, Mines, Snow, Horses, Futbol...

I figured out a different way to get photos up but they are all funny sizes, sorry. There is also one picture missing.

I haven’t been good lately about updating mainly because I haven’t really been traveling, but there are still things going on, so here is another post with lots of random things from the last few weeks.

First of all, and update on the student strikes. After three weeks of the high schools being on strike, and two weeks of most universities being on strike, the strike is finally over. The past week I barely had any classes because everyone was on strike. Last weekend, Michelle Bachelet made the students an offer that was pretty extensive. Because the offer didn’t include everything they were asking for, they rejected the offer and decided to keep striking. Bachelet said that either way she would make those changes she had offered (which included free PSU tests for low income students, along with various other things) and that she wasn’t going to offer any more. As the week went on the protests lost steam. Finally, on Friday they called off the strike because of the diminishing lack of public support. In the end the students won a fair amount of things they were asking for. Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet, the school system was decentralized so that funding was allocated by individual municipalities rather than the state. This has caused some municipalities to have much more funding for schools while others get hardly anything. One of the demands that the students made was to centralize the system again. As far as I understand, this is what happened with that. Bachelet’s original proposal didn’t address that issue, but in the end, Bachelet has promised to form a committee to reform many of the changes that were made under Pinochet’s government. This committee will have 75 representatives and 15 of them will be student representatives. That is what I understand of it, though I’m sure there is a lot more that I don’t know. I wish I had pictures of the downtown area where there are giant banners hanging off of buildings and where the protests were but I don’t so here is just some pictures of some of the high schools and universities.
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When they took over the high schools, they literally took them over and kids camped out there for two weeks and they took desks and chairs and stuck them in the fences, here is a picture of that.

As I mentioned before, the smog here has been awful. Because we are surrounded by mountains the smog is worse, and it means you can’t see the mountains even though they are really really close. It has been a dry season and the lack of rain has made the smog worse. But, it started raining this past week and the rain breaks the layer of smog and it clears up a little. The most amazing thing is when there is a clear day without rain the day after a lot or rain. For one, the rain clears the smog so you can see the mountains, and if it was raining here it means it was snowing in the mountains so all of a sudden we are surrounded by beautiful snow covered mountains that you can actually see. Here is a picture I attempted to get, though my goal is to try and get a picture sometime at sunset on a nice day because they are so beautiful then.

Some other quick things about what I have been up to.

A couple of weeks ago I went with some friends to the horse races in Santiago. When you are at the track you feel like you are in the 1920’s or something because it looks like the horse races you see in movies, unfortunately the people there were not dressed like 1920’s horse race goers. It is very anti-climatic. There is a race about every half hour, it lasts for about a minute and then it is over. We wanted to try betting a little bit just for fun but the process of betting seemed too complicated, especially in Spanish.

My program arranged a trip for us to El Teniente, which is the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, and Sewell which is the now abandoned mining town. We had to get completely dressed up in mining gear (jacket, head light helmet, boots, belt, glasses, gas mask…) I think most of it was for show, not so much for safety, it was kind of ridiculous but fun. Here is me looking ridiculous in all my gear.
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We got a tour of the mine though we didn’t get to see much, only the parts that are meant for tour groups, we even walked into what was kind of a museum underground inside the mine. We drove in the mine on a bus, walked around, saw some mixer thing, drove out. I wasn’t that impressed, I think it was just the fact that it was so geared towards tourists and we weren’t actually seeing what really goes on, also, our tour guide wasn’t very interesting. We then went to the mining town which now just has some cafeterias for the miners and a museum. It used to be a town where the miners and their families lived. The housing was divided by class and also by status (single men, married couples, children, etc.) There was a bowling alley in the town which was the first bowling alley in Chile. It is now basically a ghost town where miners come to eat and tour groups walk around. All in all, not my favorite trip but still interesting. Some pictures.
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I have been watching the World Cup. I previously knew nothing about it but I am in Latin America (although Chile did not qualify) and some of my friends are soccer fanatics so I have been watching a bunch of the games and learning about how the World Cup functions and who might beat who, etc. Monday we went to an Irish pub to watch the US game and it was filled with Americans speaking English which was very weird.