Category Archives: Active

New York, I Love You

New York City. How could it get any better than this? Two videos hit YouTube this week, and both serve to remind the 19.4 million people who live here why they don’t leave.

How spectacular is a city that can have such schizophrenic tastes? Discussing highbrow publications in one moment, and in the next, riding the subway without pants?

See the magic yourself in these two quickies:

They say you have to live here for 10 years before you can call yourself a New Yorker, but the truth is, this place will become your instant home the moment you realize you’re a weirdo just like the rest of us.

-Tara

How Not to Get Robbed In Buenos Aires

If Buenos Aires has taught me one lesson repeatedly, it is resilience.

Last week, someone used my debit card information to purchase $1,000 USD worth of wine from an Argentine website. It was upsetting, it was frustrating and it was wrong, but my bank luckily caught the fraudulent charges and I’m on my way to getting my money back and rectifying the situation. The incident inspired me to finally get this post up, because after nine months in the city I have experienced and witnessed a sufficient array of robberies to have figured out a thing or two about how to better prevent them.

Before I begin, I want to say first that it’s not about good luck or bad luck. I have lived in Barcelona, New York City, a Chicago suburb where things went down, as well as traveled through many parts of Europe and Central and South America without issue, while some I know lost valuables. It’s just that unfortunately, a number of people are hard-pressed for money in this city, wanting or needing things they don’t have, and will resort to taking what is not theirs.

In hopes of helping you hold onto your BlackBerry, purse, camera, watch or favorite skirt, (see: laundry section) I pass along the following information. Robberies and pickpocketing can and do happen all over, and while events in Buenos Aires inspired the following advice, I imagine it can apply to most anywhere.

Trust your intuition always

I’m sure you know that gut feeling to which I am referring, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to pay attention to it. Don’t freak yourself out, but trust that little voice. As you’ve heard a million times, you’re better safe than sorry. This entry is riddled with clichés, but is so necessary to include.

Charge it as little as possible

Since I still have the physical card someone used to stock their wine cellar, whoever obtained my debit card information did it one of two ways. A store employee either jotted down the information when I used it for a purchase, or someone had a scanner set up on an ATM machine I used that recorded my information. The latter option might sound a little crazy, but according to this recent NPR article my mom found and sent me after the incident, it is fairly common. Minimize your risk by whipping out your plastic as little as possible, and when you withdraw from an ATM opt for one in a bank where you need to swipe your card to enter. (It’s supposed to be less likely a thief would be brave enough to install a scanner so close to a bank, though you never know.) Use cash for purchases, which you’ll want to anyway as you’ll probably save money.

Only carry what you really need, and don’t show it

What do you need to go out? What do you need to go to work? What do you need for the gym? Pare it down to the necessities and bring just that. I don’t bring my phone to my gym in Buenos Aires, and I only bring my iPod if I’m going to have it in playing in my ears the entire time. I don’t bring my entire wallet to go out at night. When you have a lot is when pickpockets have opportunity.

On a related note, you want to avoid taking out your whole wallet in public, or typing away furiously on your phone while waiting for a bus or in outside around others. Some people will be audacious enough to snap something right out of your hands and take off. This happened to one friend, whose reaction was the chase the thief down like a crazy woman, and she scared him into giving her back her BlackBerry. Still, you don’t want to be in that position.

Get a different purse and keep it in your lap

It’s happened to me and three other girls I know: Something disappeared from our over-the-shoulder purses. You might think you’re safe because it zips or clasps, but when you’re dancing or in a crowd, it’s not right in your hand (clutches are advisable) or jammed under your arm, and it’s at hand-level for passers-by. If you’re going to wear one, keep your hand on it at all times, and avoid crowds, especially at clubs or nights out when you might have had a couple drinks.

Wherever you are sitting, keep your purse in your lap, square in sight and to be extra safe, hand on top. When you and your friends are sipping coffees and wrapped up in conversation at a restaurant, you probably won’t notice someone making off with your purse sitting on the chair next to you, as was the case with a friend.

Watch the language

Speaking out loud in a language other than Spanish makes others think you are a foreigner or tourist and therefore easier to rob. It might not be fair, but that is how it is.

Know how much things should cost

This pertains to avoiding getting ripped off, which I consider a sub-genre of this topic. Before you reach for a product without the price prominently listed, ask what it costs. When you are in a cab, try to have a general idea of how much the trip will run, and keep an eye on where you are. Don’t be afraid to say something if you think a price is off, because if you’re not watching out for your money chances are no one else is. You don’t have to be rude, just politely assertive.

Look like you know what’s up

If you give off the impression you’re not an easy target, you’re not an easy target. Look attentive and determined, like someone who shouldn’t be messed with, and walk with purpose. More importantly, be attentive! Keep your senses alert for anything suspicious. Avoid spinning in circles trying to orient yourself, or taking out a map. Even if you don’t carry mace or a stun gun, as some of my friends do, you can still make suspicious people concerned about what might be in your bag. Dramatic? Maybe, but sometimes it’s what it takes.

(Perhaps) Avoid traveling in groups

There is no strength in numbers if you all are talking and walking focused on each other and your conversation. People from the U.S., and even many Europeans, tend to be louder than Argentines on the street, and moving in groups heard blocks away calls even more attention to you. Make sure you’re listening to and noticing what is around.

Take extra precautions where you know it’s more risky

Way too many people have stories about losing their wallet or iPod on public transportation in Buenos Aires. During rush hours the colectivos (buses) and Subte (metro) are stuffed, people squeezed against each other such that a brush by your bag isn’t a cause for alarm, which is dangerous. Even during off hours, public transportation in the city is a place where pickpockets prey. Keep your phone out of sight, your hand on your bag and look alert.

Lock your phone

This piece of advice is especially pertinent if you have a smartphone. This way, you can at least keep the thieves from getting into your personal information, such as email and Facebook, and minimize their gains as much as possible.

Don’t trust anyone with just anything (laundromats included)

A friend’s roommates were working at a Starbucks. One had to go to the bathroom, so she asked the other to keep an eye on her laptop. Some people came up to the watchdog friend and began chatting. She tried to ignore them, but they were a distraction, and the next thing she knew the other laptop had disappeared. Avoid entrusting people to “watch” things. For the sake of friendships, you shouldn’t give others that responsibility; most thieves are just too experienced. It is best that if something happens the blame can only fall on you or no one.

Slightly related: If you have an item of clothing you spent a lot on or are attached to, consider washing it yourself. On one occasion I had a couple items of clothing not return from the laundromat, and there really is no recourse.

Research

If you’re traveling, look for hotel and hostel reviews that might mention robberies. If you’re staying more long term, try to investigate your landlord and cleaning service, anyone you don’t know who will have access to your residence or be coming by regularly. Also, keep an eye on who is in and out. One friend’s laptop was stolen when people came to check out an open room in the apartment. You don’t have to judge and make assumptions, just be cautious.

Wait for your credit/debit card

In the U.S., ATMs come to life and give you money with a simple swipe of your card. In Argentina, most machines hold onto your card for the duration of the transaction, such that you get your money and receipt before you get your card back. As a result, it’s almost a rite of passage for foreigners to accidentally walk away from the machine still holding their card. Sometimes you get your card back, (thank you, whoever you were who chased me two blocks to hand it to me that time) sometimes you are the one to find a card, (paid the aforementioned good deed forward and gave it to a trusted employee) and sometimes the wrong person will get their hands on it. My best advice is to stay thoroughly focused on that ATM machine and exactly what you’re doing when using it—type pin, click withdraw, type amount, take money, take receipt, take card! Reminding yourself throughout it, “Get your card back, get your card back, get your card back.” Really, it’s what’s required… at least for me.

Know that it happens to everyone

I told my Argentine amiga the story of how my friend’s purse was stolen when we were having coffee, and after expressing her frustration and sympathy, told me the same situation happened to her last year. I don’t say this to encourage pessimism, but to remind you that sometimes it is just going to happen, whether you are a tourist, long-term resident or Argentine.

If and when something does happen, stay calm, walk through the steps for damage control and try not to dwell. (This is me reminding myself, by the way.) Don’t blame yourself too much for the could-have-would-have-should-have, because as my mom wisely told me, you can’t accuse a person of something until it actually happens. If something happens to your stuff, it’s just that: material stuff. You will replace it, get it back or figure it out, even if it’s frustrating or annoying. This post is not intended to frighten, just help people be more aware. Living in fear is no fun, nor is it necessary.

Karina

Tango and Salsa in Buenos Aires

From the packed and thumping boliches (nightclubs) to the sultry tango, dance is an important facet of Argentine culture. While I didn’t grow up in tutus or performing in dance recitals, I do love to dance, and living in Buenos Aires has given me the opportunity to indulge that and attempt to actually add some technique to my grooving. Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, and while it is the obvious choice for shows and lessons here, it’s salsa I have gotten into dancing. Latin Americans from all parts live in Buenos Aires, and salsa, which is hugely popular, is a dance that seems to unite them all.

Below are my recommendations for where to watch, try and appreciate both tango and salsa.

To See Tango

Most visitors to Buenos Aires make it a point to attend a tango show, and rightly so, as the city is the pulsing heart of the dance, the “vertical expression of horizontal desire.” Problem is, for every quality tango show in the city, there are perhaps two to three tourist trap attractions. Therefore, when my family came to visit I was careful about selecting what show we would attend. The BAExpats forum guided me to Tango Emoción on a small stage at Centro Cultural Borges in the heart of downtown. The above video clip is from the show, though unfortunately a little too shadowy to see the fancy footwork in all its glory. There was not a bad seat in the house and the show’s patriarch, an elderly Argentine man plucking the piano with gusto, interacted with the audience and made the whole event even more intimate and entertaining. Check the Centro Cultural Borges site for information about similar shows and other events. It boasts some great art programming.

To Dance Tango

I can only provide limited guidance on this front, because while I am the first to stop and admire tango dancers, I’m not particularly drawn to learning the dance myself. (I think I’m intimidated by the technicality of it all.)

Tuesday milonga at La Catedral, by Karina

Still, I can attest that La Catedral is a popular spot for dancing tango. The space is a converted theater with a laid-back vibe and art hanging from the walls and high ceilings. I’ve been and felt just as comfortable sitting at a table, downing some of the tasty vegetarian grub from the kitchen and Argentines’ favorite Stella Artois as my beginner friends participating in the milonga, which is the name for a place/event where people dance tango. La Viruta (mentioned below) also offers tango lessons and holds milongas.

My roommate, who studied dance in college in the U.S. and has been taking tango (as well as salsa) classes regularly recommends the following:

Best place to take lessons for beginner-intermediate level: DNI-tango. They have a good beginners’ milonga the last Saturday night of every month and also have a nice weekly milonga on Saturday afternoons from 4 to 7 pm.

For a classic and traditional tango milonga visit Salón Canning on Monday or Tuesday night when they have a beginning/intermediate class at 7 pm, advanced class at 9 pm, and then milonga.

La Catedral has an excellent tango night on Tuesdays with a class at 8:30pm and then milonga. They also have good milongas on the weekends. There also is a good tango class at Zarasa Tango at 7:30pm on Wednesday nights.

For tango nuevo check out Villa Malcolm on Friday night when they have a class and then milonga 11:30-3am. Then head over to La Viruta for more tango/salsa dancing from 3am-6am.

Other places that people have mentioned to me that are good for tango but I have not seen yet are: Práctica X, Boedo Tango, Confiteria Ideal, El Beso and Asociación Armenia on Thursday and Friday nights.

To See and Dance Salsa

Every Tuesday you can find me at La Viruta, a space (bar-equipped) in the basement of an unassuming Aremenian cultural building on Armenia street in Palermo Soho. For AR $25, you gain entrance to three hours of salsa cubana lessons and practica, or free-dance sessions. The structure of the night is lesson-practica-lesson-practica, which gives dancers the chance to dance with partners in any level and practice their newly learned moves. I love La Viruta because I find it to be a relaxed, friendly environment to learn and practice salsa—the practica is key—and on Tuesdays it is filled with people shimmying and shaking across the dance floor. Go to both learn salsa and observe some impressive dancers at work.

Azucar Belgrano is another favorite salsa spot. I have only been on Mondays, though, on which there is no practica. After attending classes with the free-dance portion at La Viruta, I have realized that really makes all the difference in learning, because there won’t always be a teacher there calling out your next steps.

I also have heard good things about Hanoi and Cuba Mía, though both are still on my to-do list. Hanoi apparently is smaller than La Viruta, which gives students more one-on-one time with the teachers. In addition to lessons, Cuba Mía is supposed to make for a fun, happening Friday night out of salsa.

One More Place to See Dance

Teatro Colón before a show, by Karina

You might not catch tango or salsa on stage, but perhaps you can snag tickets to a ballet at the majestic Teatro Colón, what I consider the city’s most impressive and opulent building. If you plan to go I urge you to spring for the pricier tickets, because many of the seats, even if only AR $20 less than the best, are often uncomfortable have obstructed views.

Also: Don’t be surprised if you hear of Argentines taking flamenco classes or see posters advertising flamenco shows. I have a couple Argentine friends who take flamenco lessons, and its popularity makes sense in a city where almost half the local population claims Spanish heritage.

Karina

Visiting El Chaltén, Argentina

A three-hour bus ride from El Calafate is the teeny hikers’ and climbers’ town of El Chaltén. While very (very very) small, the town of El Chaltén with the jagged Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains rising up behind is an iconic image of Argentine Patagonia.

Welcome to El Chaltén!

Getting there

The most common way to arrive in town is to take three-hour bus ride from El Calafate. Some people choose to stay overnight, but if you are a more casual hiker—file me under that—it is very doable to just go for the day. Catch the first bus of the day out of El Calafate and then last one out of Chaltén back to Calafate at the end of the day, and you will have had time for some scenic hikes and relaxing meals.

My shot of the playground in El Chaltén

In fact, unless you are planning some intense climbing or trekking expeditions, I would not recommend staying overnight, as the town is even smaller and more quiet than El Calafate. Still, it is gorgeous and I do recommend scheduling a day to visit.

Residences in El Chaltén

What to do

Stop in the town’s tourism office to grab a trail map and get hike recommendations. My mom and I did about two hours of hiking total, which took us to two different, yet equally stunning, viewpoints.

Made it up to Mirador Las Águilas in Chaltén

Bus ride from Chaltén to Calafate, by Karina

Mom hiking back to town, with Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in El Chaltén

Also, grab a meal at La Cervecería, an artesanal beer/food joint in town that was one of the tastiest and most comforting meals I had had in some time. (The Argentine stew locro is the house specialty.) Be warned, though, that because this is almost exclusively a tourist town—tourists being the hikers and climbers—many establishments close for the low-season months beginning in April, the Cervecería included.

Our lunch at La Cervecería in Chaltén

Otherwise, wander town, grab some Patagonian chocolates and take lots of pictures!

See more for Argentina’s Santa Cruz province in this TKGO post about visiting El Calafate and Perito Moreno glacier.

Karina

Visiting El Calafate and Perito Moreno

One of Argentina’s Patagonian gems is El Calafate, a charming town of about 10,000 permanent residents (according to our chatty taxi driver) in Santa Cruz Province. El Calafate reminded me of a ski town, but instead of skiing, it’s is hiking: hiking on ice, in fact.

El Calafate from the Hotel Edenia, by Karina

View of Perito Moreno from the airplane, by Karina

El Calafate is beloved tourist destination because of its proximity to Los Glaciares Nacional Park, which contains Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the most visited glaciers in the park. An elaborate set of bridges allow tourists to walk near the glacier and view the vast and striking ice formation from different angles. The real adventure to be had, though, is hiking the glacier, crampons strapped on and the whole deal.

"Mini Trekking" on Perito Moreno, by Karina

Perito Moreno from the bridges, by Karina

My mom and I participated in the glacier hiking tour (“Mini Trekking”) through Hielo y Aventura, which I highly, highly recommend it. The tour takes trekkers on, up and across a good portion of the glacier, and it is phenomenal.

If you travel to El Calafate, you are going to see Perito Moreno glacier, as that’s the biggest draw. In my (strong) opinion, go all the way with your trip and spring for the ice trekking tour, because climbing on such an impressive natural wonders is really unlike anything else.

The Mini Trekking tour ended with whiskey and alfajores

Also recommended in El Calafate

Eating at La Tablita, where everyone will direct you anyway. It’s the nicest dining spot in town, with delicious, no-nonsense Argentine fare (meats and pastas) perfect for the chilly Calafate temperatures. It gets crowded, so make reservations! Also, don’t miss the lamb cooking on a glassed-in spit by the kitchen.

Staying at Hotel Edenia. The simply decorated but very comfortable hotel (heated bathroom floors!) is a little outside town on the opposite side of the bay, which makes for some spectacular views of the town and surrounding mountains.

Visiting the hiker’s dream town of  El Chalten. (You can read more about El Chalten and see photos in the next post.)

If you’re interested in seeing more photos of Arctic wonders or reading about what it’s like to go even farther south, check out Tara’s posts about her trip to Antarctica.

Karina

Parque Tres de Febrero

Buenos Aires residents are park people. The weekends are for filling green spaces with friends, spending hours relaxing with mate and music, or for strapping on a pair of rollerblades and circling the park. The city might not make for a long list of touristic must-sees to tick off, but I always recommend if people want to see Buenos Aires, want to get it, they should spent time at a park on the weekend.

My personal favorite is a leisurely 10 to 15-minute walk from my apartment, Parque Tres de Febrero. The 62-acre park, also known as the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo woods) encompasses a lake, rose gardens and fields (as well as a number of parrilla stands selling grilled meat and sausage sandwiches, or choripan). El Rosedal, which is the name for the rose gardens, is a sub-section of the park, and perhaps the most quixotic spot in the city.

On the weekends it fills with locals exercising in every way from capoeira and tight-rope walking to pick-up soccer games, couples paddling boats, parents treating their kids to sweet popcorn and loungers listening to concerts or some comedic performance. Below I’ve posted some of my photos below from numerous visits to the park. Don’t we all just want to look at pictures on a Friday, anyway?

In case you’re wondering: February 3, 1852 is the date Buenos Aires governor Juan Manuel de Rosas, one of the Spanish empire-appointed rulers (caudillos), was overthrown.

Karina

Buenos Aires Carnaval Murgas and Corsos

This year was an important one for Carnaval in Argentina. In 1976, the Argentine military dictatorship, the same one responsible for the country’s devastating Dirty War during which thousands disappeared, eliminated the nationwide Monday and Tuesday Carnaval holidays. La Presidenta Cristina Kirchner re-instituted them as public holidays at the end of 2010 to take effect this year, so March 7 and 8 were days off. Party!

Below is a clip of the Palermo corso, complete with murga, that took place on March 7, 2011.

Now, to explain the related tensions and complicated side of the all the dancing, drumming, singing and celebrating, I bring in Elena Pinsky’s expertise once more.

While murga as an art exists as a form of popular expression, and of parody and celebration (à la most celebrations of Carnaval in the world), the reality of murga, as with so many other things, is that it is a vehicle for exploring other social and political tensions in the city. Because murga in Buenos Aires is not highly institutionalized the way it is in New Orleans or in Brazil (nor is it as popular, in the English sense of the word, among porteños), there are some interesting class implications about murga, best highlighted by the fact that murgas do not form in the [upper class] Recoleta or Puerto Madero [neighborhoods], though Palermo does have a few. The navigation of murgas in the city is rife with drama — groups that think that murgas should be organized by some entity and groups that don’t, and the relationship between the murga community and the government is tenuous.

Additional information and resources Elena recommends:

One group of organized murgas

More background

Soy Murguero

City of Buenos Aires Carnaval site

Plus: The first TKGO Buenos Aires Carnaval post

-Karina, again with the contributions of Elena Pinsky. Additional thanks/credit to my friend’s novio, Maxi, and this Expanish blog post for the history.