Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Speaking too much or not enough Spanish can get you in trouble.

So, here's a post with the intention of being a break from the mundane tales of my travels in South America.

Let's imagine for a minute that you are a gringo who doesn't speak much Spanish, and has come to Argentina (or some other Spanish-speaking place, perhaps a mythical one called "Remolacha" - my favorite Spanish word! It means "beet") for a finite amount of time to live. You may want to interact with the locals. Sure, you "know" Spanish. As in, you can get by in the first minute of conversation without any awkward, long pauses or a lot of "can you repeat that please?".  There are some dangers, however, in speaking only Spanish with a cab driver you just met when you don't really know the language, after getting a few key phrases perfectly correct. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) People will think you actually speak Spanish, and will answer you enthusiastically, and probably really quickly and in more detail than your limited vocabulary can grasp. You'll get unnecessary news updates about what's happening in Remolacha and launch into a conversation about their cheating wife, when all you wanted was to sit in the cab peacefully on the way to meet your friends somewhere.

2) In said responses, you will pick up every other word. You may understand what they are saying, but you probably won't. Here, you have two choices on how to react and continue: 1) nod and smile like an idiot, changing your facial expression slightly every time you think they begin a new sentence, or 2) ask them to repeat themselves "más despacio, por favor" until they give up and stop talking to you.

3) You are absolutely shocked when they answer your "Cómo estás?" with anything else than "Bien, y tu?" You freeze up. Turn red. Stop talking. And pray that the cab ride is short and they don't try again with asking you something that you don't know how to answer.

4) He realizes that you're a gringo and you get a grand tour of the city instead of being brought straight home - complete with the extra fare. Jackass.

Then there's the opposite scenario: When you know too much Spanish after a few months and you use it often. In this case, you have impressed the cab driver with your extensive verbal skills. There are several problems that can come from this situation. In no particular order, they are:

1) The cab driver will ask you out on a date, or if you have a boyfriend. Then they will ask you out on a date after they find out you have a boyfriend.

2) You will be grilled about American politics and are asked if you know "Miguel in Houston" or "Facu in Dallas", because you say you are from Texas. You also get to hear about they "went to Idaho once" and so they are an expert on American things. Also, do you like the Simpsons?

3) You get an extended interview about how you like Remolacha. Do you like it here? It's very much like Texas! How long have you lived here? What are you doing here for so long? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you like asado?

Of course, there are worse things in life. You have to practice your language skills so that you get better, and you don't lose it once you've got it. Practice with cab drivers and waiters/waitresses in restaurants, and anyone you know. But be prepared for the scenarios above. It's not just me. But it's pretty funny :)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reñaca & sushi

Reñaca is your typical beach-side town with tons of highrise apartment buildings and hotels along a beach, but the difference is that they're all built on hills and on the beaches, you can rent lounge chairs, an umbrella, and anything else for the day (or by the hour). It's pretty cool. It's also handy because almost nobody sells beach towels, and the ones that do are surf shops that sell towels by Quiksilver and other brands, and cost about US $50. So, make sure you bring a towel if you go.

We weren't overly impressed with the area, but the beach is wide and sandy, yet crowded. As you can see, the weather wasn't cooperating as much as we had hoped.  We had a great lunch at a sushi place there after it got cloudy and too cold to lay out any longer.

Sushi Home Beach was awesome. We were some of the only ones in the place and the staff was really friendly. Our waiter was bilingual but put up with our terrible accents speaking Spanish and walked us through the menu, and gave us excellent recommendations for rolls and side dishes. We started the day off right with some pisco sours (as you do in Chile) and got to work on our rolls.

I recommend the spicy ones and the ones that have octopus. I can't remember the names. But the piscos are also damn delicious. So go there, if you're ever in the area.

Viña del Mar - why you need to go, Wok & Roll, bagels

Valparaiso's colorful houses and picturesque hills are amazing, but if you go to the Chilean coastline in this area, you'd be remiss if you didn't make it slightly north to Viña del Mar (about 10-15 minutes) and Reñaca (about 40 minutes).

They're easy to reach by bus from Valparaiso (and directly from Mendoza) and a major vacation destination for the Argentines, and particularly, the Mendocinos. Everyone goes to Reñaca during the summer. It's like what the Hamptons are for New Yorkers. Except this is the Hamptons for the slightly less well-off, where there are no impressive houses and everyone is eating empanadas. And a lot of people have rat-tails, but not in an ironic way.

Still, you must go. I will write about Viña del Mar here, and Reñaca in my next post. You can catch the city buses there that run up and down the coastal road and the ride is scary, but cheap.

Viña del Mar has at least 2 things (other than Entremasas) that you should go see while you're there. One is Moai from Easter Island. If you take a photo just right, you can fool some fools into believing you actually paid the billion* dollars to fly to Easter Island from Santiago.

The other is the flower clock that they are so proud of. It's not amazing, I know. But it's pretty cool. And if you're going to be there to see the Moai and get some sun, you might as well mosey on over and take a photo. I'm told that they change the flowers every now and then, so the colors probably vary.
Son las 12:37, perras.
What's more, Viña is more like a "real city" in some respects; they have a Lider (Chilean WalMart), good shopping, a (VERY nice) Casino, a boardwalk... the whole nine.  I recommend having a drink on the patio of the Enjoy Bar, which is right across from the casino, at the end of the little street that leads to the boardwalk. They had a drink called the "Quiet Relax"... which is just a ridiculous name for a drink that was strong as hell and unidentifiable. Stick with a pisco sour. They are delicious here.

I also recommend renting one of the 4-person Surreys (bikes with an awning above it) and riding up and down the street. We went a little crazy and drove up to the doors of the casino. It was hilarious, but I think you just had to be there. You should probably do it, too, and let's see if we can start a trend. If you do, please send me a photo. I'll post it. I swear.

A stroll along the boardwalk should also be in your cards for the day, as well as a good wander of the shopping streets. We ate at a delicious pan-Asian restaurant that night, which by its name was highly deceiving, as it brings to mind a certain bad-mall-Chinese-food vibe; Wok & Roll.

The menu was a bit all over the place, but we all decided on curries (chicken with green curry for me) as our main dishes, with some sushi rolls to start. The curries were fantastic, especially since we were in Chile. We didn't have much time to eat because we were catching our bus back to Mendoza in a few hours, so we probably would have stayed longer if we could have. The staff were great and called a cab for us while we were eating so that we could leave as soon as we were done.  If I went back to Viña, I'd go eat there again.

Another notable thing for Expats who are missing the flavors of home is that there's a bagel shop in town now, run by expats called BagelMania. They had a booth at Lollapalooza Chile, and I was really impressed. Check it out.

*Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An afternoon in Colonia, Uruguay

Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it "San Diego"...
During another trip to Buenos Aires during Easter Week, my friends and I decided that we should make the hop over to Uruguay and see what we were missing in Colonia del Sacramento.

Turns out, not a WHOLE lot. But it was still worth a visit.

We took the Buquebus over, and made a few mistakes that I hope someone else can learn from. One being that one does not simply arrive, buy a ticket, and get on the boat within a half hour. You need to buy tickets online in advance (if you can - the website was not working when we were trying to buy them online the day before), which you can do here: http://www.buquebus.com/BQBWebV2/web/ListadoDayTours. If you don't, you must go into the terminal in Puerto Madero and find the Buquebus Turismo (travel) agency. You also can't book a ticket for any departure within a half hour or so. So, either show up way earlier than you intend to leave, or buy them in advance online or at the terminal.
Look at me, I'm a bullring.

You'll need to go through immigration and pre-clear it and customs in Argentina, so be aware.

The second mistake we made was that we booked the city tour sightseeing bus that takes you on a tour of Colonia. It's a) too long, b) not in English as promised, c) boring and d) time poorly spent. The only things we saw that were of note were the bullring and the old town.  You can actually get to the bullring by taxi or by renting a golf cart in town, and I recommend doing it that way if you really must see it. It was cool, but I'm not sure it was worth the hour or so it took to get there and back on the tour bus, when we could have spent that hour or so walking around and shopping or eating.

Pretty streets in the old town.
And the old town is where you get dropped off from the bus that you get from the ferry terminal. So, don't waste your money and time on the "tour bus" and just walk the old town for the day. We wished we had more time to spend there, and unfortunately, the bus tour was so long that we didn't have much time to explore the best part of the city.

Just a tort waiting to happen.
 The city's cobblestone streets are lined with trees and cafes, of laid-back Uruguayans drinking mate and wine and watching passersby stroll along the boulevards in search of often-overpriced "authentic" tchotchkes to gather dust in their curio cabinets for years to come.

Gates of the old town. If there's anything I like,  it's a good smattering of plaques.
We, however, were on another mission. We were starving. And when you're not in Mendoza, you eat seafood. As much seafood as humanly possible.

Lighthouse = on the water = seafood.
As we entered the gates of the old city walls, we were immediately transported. I have no other words for the place but "cute" and "awwww".  You just feel the history, but it's still quaint and a happy place. There are a ton of little restaurants serving mainly the same things, but the people are happy and there's a vibrance to the place that I just can't describe. It almost felt like home, in a weird way.

Through all of my foodie research (including scouring TripAdvisor frantically on my iPhone while walking through said picturesque streets), we decided to try to eat at a pizza place called La Bodeguita. It looked adorable. And delicious. And we arrived 5 minutes past lunch time!!!

Total bummer.

We ended up eating at a plaza cafe called La Pulperia de Los Faroles. We had fried calamari, several pitchers of sangria and the "seafood pots", which was like a paella. My friend got adventurous and tried these vegetarian spinach fritters, which were actually REALLY tasty. It wasn't our first choice of a place to go, and the staff was less than attentive, but the setting was wonderful. A few groups of Candombe drummers performed nearby and we relaxed under the Uruguayan sun, spending some much-needed downtime enjoying the sights and sounds.

We had to head back to the bus terminal, after our short day of exploration and relaxation. The line was enormous (as you have to go through customs & immigration again, if I remember correctly - before you board the boat). We were all exhausted.

If I ever go back to Colonia, I will make sure that I have more than a few hours to see the old town and really get to enjoy it. There's not much there; there are a few museums, and from what I understand, great gastronomy and nightlife. However, I'd like to go back again and see for myself. This time, I'll do it right.

Adorable little streets full of restaurants.