Argentina Suspends Reciprocity Fee for US Citizens

As of this month, you no longer need to pay $160 to Argentina just to visit if you’re a US Citizen. Previously, you had to pay a reciprocidad in order to get into the country–but no longer! Thanks to President Obama’s recent visit to Argentina, the US-Argentina relationship has thawed–resulting in $160 less for Americans to enjoy some quality asado, tango, y mate.

 

From the State Department Press Release:

Effective 24 March 2016, the Argentine government has suspended the $160 reciprocity fee for U.S. passport holders traveling to Argentina for periods of less than 90 days for tourist or business purposes.

For questions regarding the suspension of the reciprocity fee, please contact the Embassy of Argentina in the United States or Dirección Nacional de Migraciones in Argentina.

http://www.embassyofargentina.us/en/embassy-of-argentina-in-united-states-of-america.html

http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesible/indexP.php

Boutique Hotel Castillo Rojo (Santiago, Chile)

While we were planning our trip to Santiago, we knew we wanted to stay in a hip neighborhood full of trendy restaurants and bars, with an easy walk to all the sites we wanted to see. We quickly settled on the very hip, very nice Bellavista neighborhood.

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As we searched for our hotel, we kept on coming back to a single, striking red building. We ended up staying at this great hotel: Boutique Hotel Castillo Rojo. A gorgeous, bright red mansion built in 1923 and the home to artists and bohemians for decades, it’s now a chic boutique hotel filled with charm. We ended up booking two separate stays there–once at the beginning of our vacation, and once at the end (with our Easter Island trip in the middle). Each time, we were greeted like old friends and given a beautiful, cozy room. We were actually eyeing the bathrooms for ideas for our house back in the States.

They had a cute breakfast area that served a nice breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee each morning. The staff spoke perfect English, and had excellent recommendations for everything to do, see, and eat in the area. We can’t recommend them enough–and have decided that if we make it back to Santiago, this hotel definitely deserves a repeat stay.

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We were located right at the foot of the Cerro San Cristobal (one of the two major hills in the city), and only a short walk from the main parks and some of the museums. We were about a block and a half away from La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes.

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We had a great time exploring the neighborhood’s charming bars and restaurants. Patio Bellavista had a great variety, and we spent some time eating there and enjoying the many open patios.  However, we were glad we ate early, since it fills up considerably later at night. If that’s your goal, then it’s an excellent choice–but crowds packed that tightly make me feel nervous and trapped in.

We particularly enjoyed the drinks we had at Sangucheria Cuidad Vieja, with its impressive bar storage that reminded me of the library ladders in Beauty and the Beast (or, for those of you with a Lafayette College connection, like the library in Kirby Law Library).

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We also had a great dinner at La Boheme, where our server spoke perfect English and had (in a typically bohemian fashion) moved to Santiago on a lark for a boy and stayed after that had fizzled. We loved the pierna de cordero magallanico–a beautifully barbecued leg of lamb. So beautiful, in fact, that the couple in the table across from us stopped their conversation when it came out and had to ask what it was. I kind of wish we had brought our cameras so T and I would have had a picture of that delicious meat.

Overall, we can’t recommend Bellavista and Castillo Rojo enough. w

We’d be remiss, however, if we didn’t note one thing: Don’t use the ATMs in Patio Bellavista. We ended up getting both of our cards stolen, and we’re fairly certain it was from those public ATMs. As always when you travel, don’t try to outsmart yourself, and just use the ATMs inside banks. (Or, if you really can’t, be sure to get a receipt for every transaction–otherwise, you’ll have a really fun time trying to retrace your steps over your entire vacation, like we did in the airport on the way home.)

 

Ituzaingo Wildlife

Some days, it’s rough to be in rural Argentina. In general, it can be tough to be in a town of 2,000-3,000 people, but it’s even rougher when the nearest city (and, to be honest, next bit of civilization) is an hour away and when you’re still very much considered the “outsiders.”

One of the higher points of living in this area, though, is the wildlife. From huge tegu lizards walking across the beach, geckos walking across the sliding door, and a herd of parrots squawking  in the palm tree–there’s a lot of stuff here that’s different from the US. No one here has ever seen a squirrel, but they don’t blink when a huge tarantula runs across the road. Every morning I get to watch the wild guinea pigs scurry on the side of the road. And then, I get to see the Rodents of Unusual Size…

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Every day we see carpinchos (capybara) on our way to work. Carpincho is the Argentinian word for these hundred pound guinea pigs, whereas Capybara is actually the Brazilian Portuguese term. Traveling in herds of up to dozens of individuals, these semi-aquatic animals are some of the coolest things we get to see here.

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They’re surprisingly fast for a short, squat animal. We’ve stopped multiple times to try and just take a closer look at them, only to have them take off like a shot in the opposite direction.

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I was surprised to learn that carpinchos make a much different noise than guinea pigs. Like guinea pigs, they can make “clucking” and “purring noises” to indicate happiness, but carpinchos can also make almost birdlike “chirps” as well as some crying noises (almost like a bird crying) when they are in distress.

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They are incredibly social, and we’ll often see what we refer to as “daycares” in a certain hollow, where it’s all mothers and dozens of babies. It’s very cute.

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The other animal we get to see every once in a while are marsh deer. Notoriously shy, these animals (very similar to the North American mule deer) are categorized as vulnerable. Where we live, it’s illegal to hunt these deer at all–but it does happen. The area we live and work is has been the site of some particularly interesting environmental impacts, so Ituzaingo and the surrounding marshlands are considered a prime area for marsh deer breeding and reintroduction. We often see a solitary deer peeking out of the bushes sometimes in the mornings. We’re not sure if it’s the same deer every time, but it’s always a treat to spy him.

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Mad Men at Museo de la Moda (Santiago, Chile)

When T and I travel, we try to plan a few fun things for each trip but leave much of our experience to serendipity. Since I’m a planner, I generally try to find a few interesting neighborhoods and focus our wanderings there.

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Courtesy of La Tercera

 

While we were doing our touring in Chile, I found out that not only was there a museum of fashion (Museo de la Moda) in Santiago, but that they were featuring an exhibition I had been dying to see. I am a huge fan of the show and had been lamenting that I had missed the chance to see the huge Mad Men exhibition in NYC at the Museum of the Moving Image–so this was the perfect option to see some of the fashions I had loved on the show. Janie Bryant, the show’s costumer, is one of the most talented people I can think of. If you’d like to go down a really long, but really interesting rabbit hole, check out Tom & Lorenzo’s episode-by-episode costuming recaps of the series. Almost every article of clothing is chosen for a reason–not just because it’s vintage and looks pretty, but because it tells part of the story of the person wearing it.

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Needless to say, we made sure we hopped a cab to the Vitacura neighborhood in Santiago. Set back from the road, behind an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fence, is a beautiful house inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs housing a gorgeous collection of textiles.

El Museo de la Moda is the former home of Chilean textile impresario Jorge Yarur Banna. His entire family seemed to be textile collectors, and thus the museum has a wide-ranging and interesting collection. They have a very extensive soccer textile collection, as well as some other famous garments–including garments worn by Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Amy Winehouse, and others.

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Elizabeth Taylor (black), Marilyn Monroe (zebra), with a reflection of one of my favorite pieces of political propaganda/swag–a Nixon dress. The Smithsonian has an “I Like Ike!” one I find equally charming.

In addition, the ladies of the Banna family of the 1960s seemed to have a penchant for buying American fashion magazines (namely, Vogue) and ordering the entire outfit seen on the cover. It was fascinating seeing an entire fashion cover outfit up close and personal.

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I was quite impressed with the vintage makeup and personal care items the museum displays. It’s not often that a museum has vintage lipsticks, shavers, and other “daily use” items, since it’s so common for them to be used and tossed afterwards–but Museo de la Moda had a full case of both men’s and women’s products–down to lip blotting papers.  The cases allowed for up close investigation of each item, which was really nice.

 

The obvious spotlight of the experience, though, was the Mad Men exhibition that extended throughout most of the museum. Since the show used so many different costumes during production, this was clearly not the one and only set of Mad Men costumes on display in the world–but there were still some fairly great examples from the show.

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Accompanying most of the displays were plaques with basic information, as well as a retro-style television screen showing the scenes in which the clothes featured to illustrate how the clothes actually moved.

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The Museo de la Moda couldn’t have been a better place for the exhibition–with the FLW mid-century aesthetic already in play, the clothes felt right at home, whether in the museum’s library or in the old, enclosed carport next to a shiny Cadillac.

 

The Museo de la Moda often rotates their collection. They have a room with a video on repeat showing how they preserve the delicate textiles and why they do what they do. As a museum studies nerd, it was incredibly interesting to see how committed they are to ensuring that not only can people view their collection, but also that it’s taken care of to the best of their abilities.

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After taking lots of photos, talking lots about Mad Men and fashion history, and enjoying the beautiful outdoor patio, we ended our visit at the cozy museum cafe. I ended up purchasing the two museum catalogs for sale–a great way to see a lot of the collection without it even being on display.

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All in all, I highly recommend a visit to Museo de la Moda. The Vitacura neighborhood was beautiful, and we took a long walk from there to a HUGE mall (we are pretty sure it was Alto Los Condes) in the Los Condes neighborhood. This was the swankiest mall we’d ever seen in South America–or possibly in North America, for that matter! Filled with three floors of the same stores you’d see at Pentagon City or King of Prussia, it almost felt like we were back in the US for a while!

We ended our day with a movie at the mall’s Hoyts Cine. I was convinced that T would love “The Martian,” and it did not disappoint. We saw it in IMAX 4D, which was an interesting experience. Not only was the film in IMAX, but the seats moved and there were blasts of hot and cold air and spritzes of water. Although it was an interesting experience, we found the air blowers in particular to take away from the overall experience due to their noise at start up and cool down.

Museo de la Moda is in the Vitacura neighborhood of Santiago. It seems to close in between exhibitions, so make sure to check if it’s open before you venture. 

If you find yourself long-term in South America and find yourself missing high-end, American-style shopping, we couldn’t help but recommend the malls in Los Condes.  Great for wandering on a blistering hot or rainy day and the movie theater was spectacular.

Rano Raraku (Easter Island, Chile)

When you think of Easter Island, what do you see?

I’m betting it’s the famous Easter Island heads (Moai –and then you probably think of the bubblegum-chewing head from “Night at the Museum.”

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A trip to Easter Island is an exercise in appreciating everything around you. While you’re on the Island, you are literally on a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’re seeing something that so few have had the chance to see, and it’s breathtaking.DSC_0135

First things first–let’s get some basic vocabulary down. Moai are the famous stone statues. They’re not just heads–they are whole bodies (though often without legs). They were made in the image of important men in the various clans of the islands, and sit on burial platforms called ahu.  The moai always faced inwards towards the island, and were said to inhabit the special spirits of the departed men they were fashioned after. They imbued the clan’s village with special luck and kept them safe from the rough seas, the blistering wind, and warring neighbor clans.

So, they’re pretty amazing artifacts. But, after three days of seeing nothing but stone heads, it’s easy to get Moai overload. We had started to have this happen… and then we visited Rano Raraku. Essentially a Moai Factory, Rano Raraku is where all of the Moai on the island were made. Hewn from the volcanic rocks, the moai here were carefully made into the likenesses of important men in each of the island’s clans, and painstakingly transported miles across the island to their final resting spots.

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Where else in the world will you see hundreds of moai in various stages of construction littering the side of a volcano? This is why Rano Raraku is often the site of some of Easter Island’s most iconic images.

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Even after seeing dozens of other moai, it’s mindboggling to play “find the moai” in the rocks. The largest was 71 meters tall, and was still in the midst of construction when it was finished. DSC_0111

Being able to look down from the top of the path and see the moai “moving” in their paths toward the ahus is a chance to reflect on how much work it really took to move these several-ton objects around a rocky, often difficult island landscape.

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There’s one moai that is definitely not like the others. Tukuturi is the only maoi that has legs. Made from an entirely different stone than the other moai on the site, it stands out to show how different moai could be. Allegedly, this was one of the last moai to ever be made, and reflects the position taken by those who served in ceremonial choirs on the island.

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Don’t Use the Blue Dollar

If you’re looking into travelling to Argentina, you’ll probably see something about the Blue Dollar and how helpful it can be to travellers looking to optimize their money.

Well… most of that advice is now bunk. With the end of the Kirchner government and the beginning of the Macri government, currency restrictions on dollars were eliminated. Now, for the first time in over a decade, you can get US dollars from an ATM in Buenos Aires. You can freely trade in US dollars.

What does this mean to tourists? You don’t need to bring a horde of dollars with you to optimize your savings on your trip. More so, if you weren’t already ignoring them, there is no reason on God’s green earth for you to interact with the sketchy guys yelling “Cambio, Cambio” on Florida. You’re fine just getting cash out of a bank’s local ATM. As of right now, ATM transaction fees hover around 85 pesos.

T and I  use both the blue dollar (via an exchange at the local casino) as well as using the traditional ATM. At the casino, we’ve been getting 13 pesos to each $1USD. The current official rate (what you’ll get at that ATM, or if you use your credit card to pay) is 15.70 pesos to $1USD.

Just wanted to post a little PSA for those of you thinking about traveling to Argentina–I noticed a that a lot of the Blue Dollar information hasn’t been updated to reflect current reality under the new administration.

Easter Island–The Basics

12240428_901488986847_7579324453488939110_oT and I had a list of “bucket list” trips to take while we are in South America.

The three I had on my list were Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands, and Macchu Picchu. I quickly found out for the latter two that it is far more economical and quicker to go from the US (even Newark!) to those two places in South America than from our corner of rural Argentina. (Go figure!) Because I had no urge to spend thirty hours straight travelling and still be on the same continent… we decided to go to Easter Island in October 2015.

Ultimately we ended up staying six days calendar-wise, but closer to four if you exclude the travel days. In summary: we felt we stayed about a day too long. Three days is great to get the best out of the island.

Getting There

From Argentina, it’s a pretty straight shot to Santiago. We took the 1.5 hour flight from Posadas to Buenos Aires, switched airports, and then had another 1.5 hour flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago. To break up the travel a little, we spent a few days in Santiago, and then continued on to Easter Island.

Since Easter Island is a highly protected space, there are only a few flights in and out each day. We chose the LAN flight from Santiago, which was around 5.5 hours each way. It may still be Chilean territory, but it is definitely far out in the Pacific! The flight wasn’t cheap, but we didn’t think it was overtly expensive. The plane we flew in was brand new, with the best in-flight entertainment I’ve seen in my travels and excellent food choices. We even got real forks and knives!

Once you land on Easter Island, you’ll see the very, very small airport. You’ll exit off of a stair car (hello, Arrested Development jokes about hop-ons) directly onto the tarmac, and then walk into the rather small airport. Before you head into the airport, however, you have the option to buy your admission to the actual archaeological sites on the island. You can’t access some of the “biggies” without it. (We’ll talk later about some ways we found around this if you didn’t get this handled at the airport.)

Did I mention it’s a small airport? Seriously, the baggage carousel was tiny (and pretty much a dude with a cart), and it was probably only about 200 steps from the entrance to the exit.

Most times, your hotel will have arranged some variety of transport for you. Unless you’re going for a full VIP experience, it will be in a bigger (10 passenger) van with some other travelers. We got some complimentary lei from our van driver to welcome us to the island–starting the island vibe from the start.

Staying There

Hotels are expensive on the island. There’s no way around it. With only one town on the whole 12-mile-long island (Hanga Roa), there’s not a lot in the way of choices or trying to stay “outside the city” to ease up on costs. We decided to bite the bullet and stay in a cabana at the Taha Tai Hotel.

I’ve reviewed the hotel on TripAdvisor, but here’s the bullet points on this particular hotel:

  • The WiFi is only available in the main lobby and in the business center (when it’s open). But–you’re on vacation in a UNESCO heritage site–so who needs Netflix!
  • The cabanas don’t actually have ocean views, unlike what the website photos seem to suggest. In fact, the ocean views are at the hotel’s restaurant.
  • The hot water comes from solar heaters. We learned the hard way that if you go in the cooler seasons, and it’s cloudy for a few days, you’ll find you don’t have any hot water anymore. Again, eco-conscious island and world heritage site.

Overall, though, it was a good choice. Our room had plenty of space, a really nice little deck with chairs, and the staff were all pleasant. The hotel is right near town, so every day we could easily walk from our room to right to the middle of the “action” without any great amount of exertion.

Getting Around

If you’re staying near town and have booked your tours through a touring company, it’s entirely plausible that all other transit needs can be taken care of with your own two feet. It’s a small island. However, we’re a little more wanderlust-y and wanted a way to explore on our own in addition to the guided tours. We rented a four wheeler (street legal on the island) for the duration of our trip, and found it to be a great method of exploring sites further we had only seen for a short while on the guided tours. For instance, we spent a solid half a day at the beautiful Anakena Beach on the opposite side of the island. We would have never been able to do that without the four wheeler.

Budgets

Let’s be clear–Easter Island is a “bucket list” place through and through–plus, tourism is pretty much the only thing spurring the economy of this tiny island. Thus, things are expensive–much more so than mainland Chile. I’m sure there are ways to be super-frugal about food and experiences, but T and I decided that since the chances of us going back to Easter Island were slim, we’d enjoy it while we were there and not try to cheap out. Was it more expensive than the rest of our vacation (and probably the priciest vacation we’ll go on down here)? Sure–but it was totally worth it.

Weather

It’s cooler than you think–especially with the sea breezes .Bring a jacket–even if you’re bringing your swimsuit too.  There were days where we started the day swimming and ended the day bundled up and cold.

Also, bring incredibly comfortable shoes (sneakers are recommended). There’s a lot of walking.

Food

I’ll go into specific restaurants in another post–but get ready for a lot of fish. It seems like it should go without saying for an island in the middle of the Pacific–but fish is a huge part of the Polynesian diet. If you don’t like fish, your menu choices may be more limited–but they do have beef, pork, etc. available everywhere. My fish-averse husband didn’t seem to have any problems.

Booking Tours

We booked all of our tours through Viator, which has been our consistent go-to for finding fun activities in places near and far. They partnered with a local tour group that ran three different tours in a single package (two half-day tours and one full-day tour). We found the half-day tours to be just right in length to avoid “Moai Overload.” The full-day was a little much. Regardless, we had a good experience, and the guides had excellent English speaking skills and were well-organized.

If you do have a tour guide, you might be able to get a discount on the park admission. It’s kind of a fuzzy gray moral area, but there are discounts for Chileans, and an even bigger discount for Rapa Nui (indigenous to the island), so if your (often Rapa Nui) guide allows it, they might drive to the park service ticket counter and buy your ticket for you at a discount. Again, it’s kind of a gray moral area, but it’s a way to get it done. Most guides will help you out with getting park tickets if you managed to miss it on the way in.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be writing up posts about different parts of the island we explored and our thoughts. Get ready for some stunning photos.

 

 

 

Carnaval

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We finally made it to Carnaval! Somehow, we had missed going to this South American rite of passage our first year here, and budget cuts in town meant last year’s Carnaval was cancelled. However, they were back in action this year–so we figured we’d brave the incredibly hot and muggy weather and see what makes this so special.

We just went to Ituzaingo’s small-town Carnaval–but it was still pretty impressive. I think some day we’d like to see a big-city Carnaval, but we just didn’t have the energy or time to devote to getting to any of the cities nearby. But being able to walk four blocks from the house and see a whole Carnaval parade is pretty special unto itself!

Carnaval in Argentina was officially two days (February 8th and 9th), but in addition to these federal holidays, Ituzaingo added three more weekends in January to the mix to maximize their tourists. The town could very obviously use the tourism–major flooding over the Christmas holiday wiped out almost all of the town’s beaches, so the tourists aren’t coming in droves from Brazil as in years past.

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From a logistics standpoint, Carnaval shuts down about a mile stretch of the main road into town. The elaborate floats end up being parked in an open-air garage that’s only about two blocks from our house–so we had the interesting opportunity to check out the floats in daylight before we saw them in action at Carnaval.

Carnaval starts LATE. The first round doesn’t start until about 11pm. We chose to do general entry, which was 30 pesos (or somewhere around $2USD) and allowed us standing room only. We figured this would give us the best option to walk from one end to the other and get the best vantage points for photos. They had the option of sitting on the bleachers (60 pesos) or in the “fancy seats”–otherwise known as lawn chairs on the dais (100 pesos).

One of the best-sellers of Carnaval was cans of spray foam–a cross between silly string and shaving cream. They were about 20 pesos each, and herds of kids spent the time in between groups dousing each other in foam. This must be a yearly tradition, since the moms we stood next to came prepared with hand towels to wipe away any that ended up in eyes and noses. If you go to Argentinian Carnaval, be sure to wear something that is okay to be covered in foam! (I hear the Paraguayan Carnaval version is about the same.)

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We knew that Carnaval would be full of barely-clothed women decked out in sequins, but I didn’t anticipate how inclusive it would be. People of every age, from toddlers to older folks, participated in the parade. It really was a community effort. As estadounidenses, we were a little uncomfortable with the preteen girls in g-strings–but it wasn’t particularly surprising, considering that’s pretty much what the bathing suits are down here as well. The costumes were incredibly ornate, and everyone was sprayed with copious amounts of glitter spray. Considering how difficult it can be to get so many basic craft goods in rural Argentina, I can’t imagine how much effort had to be put not just into making the costumes, but just in getting the raw materials!

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Each group started with a fanfare and flag bearers to clear the way. That’s followed by various groups, each with their own costuming theme. It seemed like some of the songs had a specific dance the whole troupe would do and others allowed each group to create their own choreography. The costumes would get wilder the closer to the end, and was often closed out with an elaborate float carrying that company’s “Carnaval Queen(s),” followed by the Argentinian version of a marching band.

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We ultimately only stayed until 2am (about three “crews”)–but we were told the party went on until after 7am. After further consultation with our Argentinian friends, it seems like the traditional schedule is to go out to eat at 9 or 10pm, drink a little bit at the bar, and then go to Carnaval for a bit, and finish the night (morning?) by dancing at the club.

Overall, I’m glad we got to experience Carnaval! The best way I’ve found to describe how the various groups work is that it’s very much like the Mummers in Philadelphia. The groups are familial or neighborhood based, and they spend a whole year coming up with a theme, costuming, choreography, and music. Each crew has their own distinct flavor, but they are all impressive in their own right. It was a great night to see the whole community to come together and dance, sing, and (of course) spray foam.

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Where did I go?

I just realized it’s been about six months since I’ve updated this blog. Yes, we are still in Argentina. Yes, we are still traveling around.

However, I started an online MBA program in fall 2015. Between doing work full time and school full time (plus that whole “living life” thing), I haven’t been great about keeping the blog up to date.  After the first semester’s craziness, plus a busy holiday home leave, things are starting to finally cool down–so I should be able to get into a more consistent blogging schedule.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to try and do some good catching-up on what I’ve missed. You’ll hopefully see posts on our trip to Chile/Easter Island, Buenos Aires, Carnaval, and our two puppies!

#FuriouslyHappy

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The local supermarket had this guy just hanging out in some gaucho clothes. “HELLO! WOULD YOU LIKE TO BUY SOME GROCERIES?”  He seems absolutely  furiously happy.

Which brings me to a non-Argentinian post. I’ve read the blog from The Bloggess (aka Jenny Lawson) for years now. I love her irreverent humor, honesty about her life’s challenges, commitment to philanthropy/do-good-ism (often with the assistance of a poorly taxidermied boar’s head named James Garfield), and sharing the horrifyingly hilarious taxidermy she runs into in Texas’s thrift shops. She’s a nerd with an offbeat sense of humor–one of my favorite types of people.

And today her second book, Furiously Happy comes out. If you haven’t read her first book (Let’s Pretend This Never Happened)–do it now. It’s one of the books I always keep on my phone, just in case I need a laugh. The first time I read it, I couldn’t read it in public because I kept laughing too hard. Now, it’s my own personal pick-me-up.

Furiously Happy is all about looking on the positive side of life, despite terrible things happening. Despite every reason that you’re broken, you have a reason to be furiously happy. It’s a message that remains relevant, delivered in the funniest way possible. Come for the uplifting message, stay for the crazy Texas stories.