The Most Ravishing of All Ravines!

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Escape from Salta

I hung out in Salta City for several days before leaving for Cafayate, and then foolishly planned another full day in Salta before leaving for Tilcara, Jujuy (pronounced roughly “hoo-HUEY!”).

Kids, Salta is indeed linda. Salta is also a 2-day town.

 

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But it’s pretty at night.

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In the next hostel, the Antigua Tilcara, I arrived later than I’d thought I would and they do not enjoy a 24-hour reception. After a few hundred knocks and rings of the doorbell, a hostel GUEST eventually let me in. I believe we woke the owner together, and I was tucked into a room in which my TWO GERMAN FRIENDS FROM THE PRIOR HOSTEL WERE ALSO THERE. Hashtag, tourist circuit. Hashtag, welcome to Salta. Hashtag, Germanic hivemind.

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The view from the hostel, and indeed, from everywhere in Tilcara, was stunning.

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Tilcara is not a huge town. Jujuy is the most heavily indigenous province of Argentina, and far enough north that the culture starts feeling fairly Andean (a la Peru). It is close to 100% Catholic (except the many, many tourists).

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Yes, the below photo features road signs pointing to specific hostels. No, this is not far from the “downtown.” I am told that there are fewer than six thousand residents in the entire area.

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Behold, the downtown.

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Filled with foreigner bars, friendly locals and a whole lot of nothing, it would be the perfect Andean town if you could get a cup of coffee for love or money. 

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The end of town that contains the bus station. It’s around half a mile from the other end of town.

I tried to track down a fancy restaurant featured by Lonely Planet. I went to a restaurant that was open (it was not peak season).

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The weather was sublime.

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Tilcara was probably one of the highlights of my time in Argentina. Far from being just a quiet tourist town, it gets lively and excessively Catholic sometimes–but we’ll get to that…

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Come back next time for the famous Quebrada de Humahuaca!

 

The Quebrada de Cafayate!

On April 1, 2015, after what felt like a very long job search, I did a Skype interview from my hostel room in Cafayate. I was using a tablet, perched carefully in front of the only window in the room, to be sure of adequate lighting. The interview was for the Masiyiwa-Bernstein fellowship with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At around 1:03 PM on April 2, I got the offer.

At 1:04 PM, I was told very sharply in Spanish to stop jumping around and get into the car, where a group of Argentines and other foreigners were waiting for me to go on a group tour of the Quebrada de Cafayate (the Cafayate Ravine). So without having a chance to tell my partner or my family, I ran off into the sunset with my bags packed.

It would be a long time until I had internet again.

After seeing more of the glorious, multicolored ravine than I thought possible, I waited by the side of the road for the one (1) bus back to Salta City, the provincial capital. As it got darker and darker, I got to chatting with the gaggle of Argentines also waiting at the un-marked bus stop in the middle of nowhere. They shared mate and wine with me, and tolerated my so-so Spanish most heartily.

An hour after the bus finally picked us up, there was a horrifying crash.

The front of the bus simply fell off. There was screaming. The driver was crushed into the front seat (alive), and everyone evacuated.

In the end, we were stuck on the side of the two-lane highway, in the dark, for a little over three hours. No internet, no cell, nothing. I quickly realized I was the only foreigner there, so information was a bit thin. I did understand one comment, though. A woman about my age, staring at the gory scene, turned to me and muttered, “Salta la linda.”

“Salta, the beautiful,”the nickname of Salta. It was a bitter, sublime, very Argentine moment.

Paramedics and police came. Professionals of some kind exhaustively photographed the scene. The highway connection between Salta and Cafayate (and points south) was shut down for hours.

Finally, another bus entirely was sent from Salta to pick us up and drive us into town.

From what we could tell, it was a piece of farm equipment left un-illuminated in the middle of the street. No one was hurt but the poor driver, who seemed to have sustained some serious sort of foot or leg injury. (A prize for the reader who finds out what happened to him, using the information in this post.)

My main takeaway is: always bring a snack with you. (And, perhaps: don’t be a bus driver in Argentina.)

When I finally got to my hostel in Salta, very late, I sent my mother one message about the events of the day.

“I got a job!”

Museo de la Vid y el Vino!

Llama your momma, we’re back!

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Off to the Museum of Wine and the Vine!

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“A man from the vineyards spoke, in agony, before dying; he revealed his secret – the grape is made of wine. And I thought, if the grape is made of wine, maybe we are the words that tell what we are.”

They had beautiful immersive exhibits, with surround sound and footage of field work at various stages of the grapevine life cycle.

 

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Malbec gets exported, but the truth is, Argentina makes a lot of different types of wine. Salta province is the capital of Torrontes.

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Next I got a tour of Bodega Nanni!

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The winery had the most BEAUTIFUL courtyard, and an attached restaurant.

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For me? Si.

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Come back next time for the Quebrada de Cafayate, a beautiful set of ravines!

SudameriKat Goes to Piattelli: A Religious Experience in Argentine Wine Country

I went to a restaurant on the main square for breakfast.

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The sign outside the restaurant said “HAY PANCHOS” and nothing else.

WE HAVE HOT DOGS

never fear

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I did not have a pancho

I caught a cab to Piattelli vineyards, which was a sunny, dusty 20-minute solo journey.

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Cactuses and vineyards shouldn’t be an awkward combo but they so are.

I wandered the premises for a while before the official vineyard tour began.

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They keep jealously the valley in their arms!

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They gave us free loaner hats. That’s how mean the sun was.

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We did the obligatory tour of the steel tanks full of wine.

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And actual grapes! I resisted the urge to pop one in my mouth.

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Just peering out the back of the building revealed the below.

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The basement was hella medieval.

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A mural hearkened back to the pre-colonial era of the region.

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Looking at the photo of the wine tasting gives me such flackbacks. Those bangs! That uneven bleaching! Argentina.

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Torrontes!

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I scammed my way into a seat at the attached restaurant without a reservation. The Piattelli waiter guy was very snooty, but a kind Argentine engineer let me sit at her table.

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She said she came here every year, and expressed 1) envy that I was at Casa Arbol, but then 2) confusion that I was in the dorm. Lol. I think she was thoroughly unintimidated by me overall. But she was good-natured enough to speak to me in Spanish for around an hour. A beautiful lunch-dessert!

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I’m ready to buy my winter house, guys.

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Let’s verb winter, everybody.

Come back next time for the Museo de la Vid y el Vino!

The Hostel that Felt like a Crime and a Meal with a Furry Scoundrel

Welcome to Casa Arbol, Cafayate.

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This is a freaking hostel.

This ridiculous cheap “hostel,” while featuring dorm-style sleeping arrangements in addition to privates, felt much more like a secret bungalow. I basically felt like I was committing a crime by staying someplace so beautiful for so little.

They had a bar area, though the bartender was on hiatus at that time.

They also had a courtyard.

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NBD.

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The dormant bar

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Cafayate is in the Valles Calchaquies region of Salta province, and is around 117 miles outside of Salta City. It has about 12,000 residents, and probably many more bottles of torrontes wine.

My bus to get there climbed up around 3,000 feet. Way lower than Cuzco, but I tried to remember to caffeinate.

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Street view of Cafayate

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View of the church in the central square

One of my dorm-mates immediately befriended me, and we went to grab dinner in one of the cafes on the central square. A friendly local joined us.

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CAN I KEEP HIM

I tried her favorite cut of steak. I don’t remember what it is, but I do remember regretting this gray nonsense.

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La argentina come bien!

Come back next time for my trip to the Piattelli Vineyards, and some of my best photos from the entire semester.

 

The View from Cerro San Bernardo

San Bernardo Hill towers above the city of Salta. There is a stone staircase of 1,000 steps, and a teléferico.

I took the teléferico.

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TELEFERICO

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At the top were various attractions, including a cafe. The day I went up, it was clear and beautiful.

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There was a Catholic shrine at the top of the hill. Serious flashbacks to China, which would have had a traditional temple or three in the same location, complete with offerings.

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Wanderer of the world, tourist or tramp,
if you arrive in this land of valleys and mountains,
of snow and greenery and believers and pastors
of warriors who were from villages that sank
and of holy images of traditions,
that will speak to you of love, fervor and pain …
Wanderer of the world, tourist if you’re rich,
or, if poor, tramp, look at the white peak
of that high mountain that the Spanish trod,
in search of adventure … admire the beauty
of this city and valley, from otypical street
with iron lace, see that cross on the hill
and on the cross the flashes of the sun rising
to kiss the flowers of the enchanting city …
city of Spanish ancestry, surrounded by hills,
the sovereign north of Argentine lands…
Wanderer of the world, breathe deep,
In the peace in this environment is calmly people
its generous feeling of a melodious speak ..
this valley of Lerma replenish your soul,
sick of haste and concerns, with the certain virtues
of its beautiful scenery of changing cloudscapes …
and when you walk away and leave these places …
know by your eyes, you offer the last goodbye,
because Salta is called: Salta la Linda.

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I had no place to be. So I sat down in the cafe, and gradually moved to better and better tables, until I had a seat with a view.

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Then a seat with a better view.

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EMILIO NEVER WROTE A POEM ABOUT PATAGONIA OKAY GUYS

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I also got a good view of something close up.

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Back down in Salta proper, I walked over to Iglesia San Francisco.

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I got around to doing that convent tour! It was calm and lovely, and included a basic museum. I love the way convents in Latin America are located in what is now the center of town, but still manage to shut out the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Always do the convent tour.

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Another view of San Bernardo Convent:

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In Salta, even dogs and cats get along! In windows!

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My last memorable meal in Salta was at a place called Tacita. Lonely Planet says it has some of the best empanadas in town, but didn’t mention it’s also across the street from Saint Francis Church’s gorgeous facade! “No frills,” according to Lonely Planet. I asked for a menu, and the gentleman said, “We have beef, chicken, and cheese.” No kidding.

I got two of each, and a Salta stout. Salta la deliciosa.

Come back next time for my first foray into beautiful Salta province. First stop: vineyard-filled Cafayate!

SALTA LA LINDA

Sooo all semester I had been pretty much a total weirdo about going to someplace called “Salta” for spring break and tried to round up travel buddies with no success. Responses ranged from “Where?” to “Are you badly mispronouncing ‘Patagonia’?” to “I just work at Kentucky pizza, no somos friends en realidad.”

So I went on my own. Salta, nicknamed Salta la Linda, has an urban population of around half a million, but it feels much more rural than similarly-sized American cities (e.g., Portland). For example, everywhere except the the very center of town (like, six blocks square) lacks any stoplights or even stop signs at intersections, making pedestrian life a little stressful.

Salta Province is close enough to the Andes that it merges a bit culturally with Bolivia and Peru in certain areas. The capital city, also named Salta, contains some beautiful colonial architecture, as well as a vibrant musica folklorica scene.

I stayed at Salta Por Siempre, which turned out to be one of those amazing, beautiful budget travel miracles you feel you just don’t deserve.

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There were only three beds in this room. Do you think mine got enough sun?

The place had huge, leafy courtyards and the building was an historic beauty. I met two nice German ladies there. And in the next town I went to.

And in the next.

It’s almost like there’s a certain tourist circuit in Salta province…

Either that or our bromance was PREORDAINED.

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This is La Iglesia San Francisco.

Saint Francis Church had a convent! Did I do the tour? I’ll give you a hint: I did.

Always do the convent tour.

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The main square

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El Catedral de Salta

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El Parque

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San Bernardo Convent

Only nuns are allowed inside the San Bernardo convent, but check out that old adobe wall.

I decided to try and make it to the anthropological museum. On the way, I walked through the bougier part of town (not the part I was staying in).

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Check out those recently-painted walls, garbage-free streets and new-ish cars, baby.

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Museo de Antropologia! Lonely Planet says it has good representation from the Tastil ruins, Argentina’s largest pre-Inca town.

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WHAT LONELY PLANET DID NOT MENTION WAS THAT IT WAS CLOSED FOR RENOVATION UNTIL FURTHER FREAKING NOTICE.

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I wandered around the foot of Cerro San Bernardo, and saw the statue of Güemes, a military leader (and later governor) who defended Salta against the Spanish during the Argentine War of Independence.

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Guemes!

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What’s that? Is that the sound of a mummy in town? WHY YES IT IS, DEAR READER. I saw yet another poor kid who got sacrificed on a mountain, with perfectly preserved hair and clothing, and the Reina del Cerro, who was taken by tomb raiders and then wandered around the country in various private collections before returning to Salta Province.

Afterwards, I had some empanadas on the patio restaurant out front!

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Archaeological Museum of the High Mountain

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El Catedral!

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I of course had to check out the indigenous art museum in town.

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This small private museum on indigenous art is run with what Lonely Planet describes as “great enthusiasm.” It’s the sort of place where you walk in and become The Guest while a private tour happens to you. My favorites were the macaw-feather creations–I had never seen art made out of feathers that used just the natural pigment of the feather before. Like making a mosaic out of parrot feathers every color of the rainbow.

There were also angels with guns.

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View from the patio outside the archaeological museum to the Cathedral. Salta is Not Big.

When I was enjoying some eggy local empanadas and the omnipresent peanuts, I had the need to excuse myself for a minute. When I came back, in typical Argentine fashion, the waiter warned me against leaving my journal behind. He cautioned that someone could steal it. I think it’s still 2001 in the minds of a lot of Argentines.

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The empanadas were tasty though! Mmm, class anxiety.

Views of the main square!

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The Salta Cabildo, which now houses the Historic Museum of the North, was the seat of authority from 1626 to 1888, when it was sold at public auction.

It was used as apartments, business offices, and even a hotel. In 1937, it was declared a National Historic Landmark, and in 1945, it was restored to its current glory. It is currently the most complete and best preserved cabildo of Argentina.

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I went through the museum del norte, and wound up in a lovely courtyard!

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That belltower must have once been tall enough to see all of Salta. Honestly, it still might be. But I wound up with another viewing point the next day, which you’ll see in the entry que viene…

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More wandering around the central square!

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More views of the cathedral!

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Come back next time to see panoramic views of Salta from the top of the hill!

 

Bumming Around Buenos

My NYU classmate Tom, a veteran Buenos expat, came to visit us during spring break. When I took him to Trapiche for steak he ordered rabbit.

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“I am trying not to eat steak seven out of seven days that I am in Argentina,” he said.

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Not Steak

The next week was Saint Patrick’s Day. Unfazed by being in Latin America, a gang of NYU students went out to an Irish pub.

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I ordered Guiness and a shot of Bailey’s.

They brought me Quilmes stout and an Argentine egg liqueur.

What happened next was motivated purely by duty.

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Argentine car bombs are Not Necessary

I woke up the next morning filled with regret. So, all in all, a successful Saint Patrick’s Day. Photos of people are redacted to protect the guilty.

Now, for something completely different: photographic proof that Westlaw reached South America.

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They have a store at UBA Derecho! The guy was appropriately chipper about my photo-taking. I am a nerd and there is no help for me. 

I took a second trip to the Museo del Bicentenario to attempt to grok the second half of 20th century Argentine history.

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AND THEN THE KIRCHNERS WERE ELECTED AND NO ONE WAS EVER SAD AGAIN

I took a trip down through Once to see some minor sights.

 

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KASHER

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Cafe de los Angelitos, a place I would have gone to see tango if I had money, has a place in the history of tango in Buenos Aires. It was a major hangout of Carlos Gardel.

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I went back to Abasto shopping center–this time, with a mission.

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Abasto Shopping Center has the only kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel.

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Don’t try to order a cheeseburger.

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Gracias Senor Oppenheimer!

“Kosher means “suitable” in Hebrew, and means falling within the rules of nutrition indicated by the Bible. These precepts are respected by people of different faiths in many countries. Kosher standards require, for example, that mammals and birds be slaughtered in a particular way, and that meat products and dairy be separated. The Bible also commands the Sabbath rest period which extends from sunset on Fridays until the departure of the stars on Saturdays. The McDonalds Kosher products served comply strictly with all the requirements of Kosher preparation and close during the Sabbath. McDonald’s wants in this way to invite people from all backgrounds to enjoy all of its food, without their having to renounce their principles. We appreciate your visit to our franchise and we hope it has been enjoyable. This location is supervised by Rabbi Daniel Oppenheimer.”

At this McDonald’s, the most Jewish-Argentine thing ever took place.

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MESSI

After I’d recovered from the epicness above, I tried the goods.

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It tasted somehow leaner…purer than a normal burger. It wasn’t very good.

Next: to the Carlos Gardel House museum!

 
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Carlos Gardel died at age 44 in a tragic plane crash, sending millions into mourning.

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I’ll end this post with a couple more nightlife shots. There was one (1) expat bar I favored. Located in Recoleta, Casa Bar had the only acceptable Mexican food I had while in Argentina.

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Bar food: delicious after a few beers, disgusting in photographs.

La Bomba del Tiempo was a raucous Monday night party that involved amazing beats, long lines, and a SHOCKING number of white people.

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Don’t worry, there wasn’t dancing.

NYU students confused things by actually moving our hips. But we had class Tuesday morning, so it didn’t get too wild.

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Come back next time for my solo trip to Salta Province! As Lyuba and Mikey can attest, I would not shut up about it all semester, so it had better be good.

(Seriously, I was super into this trip.)

Biking Buenos Aires

“What do you want for Valentine’s Day?”
“Flowers and chocolate.”
“What do you want for Valentine’s Day?”
“Flowers and chocolate.”
“What do you want for Valentine’s Day?”
“Uh, you could get me a biking tour of the city?”
“Done.”

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5. Your boyfriend thinks flowers are dumb

I went Biking Buenos Aires and you can too.

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Follow the gingers to victory

The tour leaves from San Telmo and proceeds to La Boca.

The stadium in La Boca is called La Bombonera, or “the chocolate box,” due to its shape. It is owned by Boca Juniors, the most successful team of Argentina and the social underdogs of the fierce Superclásico matches.

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La Bombonera

We stopped for mate in the Caminito. It’s a famous spot for tango dancers and artists.

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Storefront in the Caminito

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Mural honoring the volunteer fire department of the poor La Boca neighborhood

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Selfie!

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El Caminito from above

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A barbecue restaurant!

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The below mural features the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who stood up to the dictatorship.

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This grandma de Plaza de Mayo looks ready to take down a dictatorship.

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Under a highway in San Telmo, a memorial marks the remains of a police station where over 1500 Argentines were tortured and killed in the 1970s.

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Memory, truth, justice

We then went over to Puerto Madero, the richest part of the city, which is separated from the rest of Buenos Aires by water.

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Puerto Madero was the second port of the city, finished in 1897. Due to the rapid pace of industrial progress at that time, it was obsolete 10 years after it was finished.

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British style warehouses line the waterfront

The next port was completed in 1926, making Puerto Madero superfluous. It went unused and degraded for the better part of the 20th century, until a massive renewal push in the 1990s. Now it is home to elegant hotels, offices, and a private police force which protects the mainly-foreign residents. It is the safest area in Buenos Aires. It feels kind of like Mountain View, if Mountain View had its own lagoon.

 

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Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve

We had lunch by the side of the ecological reserve–choripan from an historic vendor.

Come back next time for more scenes from around Buenos!