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.

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!

Fiesta Nacional de la Yerra y Doma Correntina 2015

Each year, our sleepy little river town comes alive for a weekend full of gaucho culture. The local fairgrounds fill up with horses and cattle for the yearly Fiesta Nacional de la Yerra y Doma. Ostensibly a festival where the guachos bring cattle for branding (which does still happen), it has more a a country-fair-meets-rodeo. A decent number of people live in houses on sprawling ranches outside of town limits, and this is one of their excuses to spend a weekend in town celebrating their way of life with other gaucho families. (An aside: “going into town” in this context sounds very “Little House on the Prairie,” doesn’t it? In this case, it’s really true–a lot of these gauchos see going into town as a rare treat.)

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You may remember we went to the festival last year as well. Whereas last year we saw the Argentinian gaucho equivalent of barrel racing, this year we saw the bucking bronco competition. What seems to happen is that they take a half-broke horse in from the pasture, and then challenge all of the gauchos to see who can ride the bucking horse longest. There’s a lot of horses in the fields that don’t seem to be broken at all, so it doesn’t appear to be hard to find a “wild” horse for this event. T got some incredible pictures.

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One of the advantages of living in rural, rural Argentina is that we see gauchos every day. We pass them riding their horses to the fields every day, and see them in their traditional clothes in the grocery store. Cultural heritage in our area isn’t just something that they engage in on special occasions–this is indeed their lifestyle. It’s been amazing seeing this side of Argentina.

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The gaucho is considered the Argentinian national folk hero and symbol–so much so, that one of the greatest Argentinian literature pieces is the epic gaucho poem Martin Fierro. They’re seen as industrious, feisty, rebellious outsiders–in stark contrast to the corruption and riches of the city. In reality, gauchos don’t just belong to Argentina–the word is used anywhere on the pampas or Gran Chaco, and includes Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and southern Brazil.

Also, if you’re liking the photos, be sure to check out T’s Flickr Page. He’s a great photographer.

Animal Adventures: Green Anaconda and Burrowing Owl

Sometimes, at work, life gets interesting. Our work area borders a nature preserve, so we see lots of carpinchos (capybaras), yacare (crocodiles), and other assorted animals on a regular basis. A few weeks ago, we met two more of the area’s inhabitants.

This is a green anaconda. And this is the baby.

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It was about seven feet long, and they can allegedly grow up to 29 feet and weigh up to 550 lbs (thanks, wikipedia).In reality, they’re the biggest snakes on the planet by weight.

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They’re constrictors, so they choke their food to death and swallow them whole.. A group of anacondas, which is what we have somewhere on our island, is referred to as a “bed” or “knot”.  We saw this guy crossing the road, and T stopped to grab a few pictures. They’re pretty slow on land, but incredibly fast in water.

We also have a  family of burrowing owls on site. They’re adorable little owls that often steal ground squirrel nests to make their homes.

IMG_0932Since rattlesnakes also tend to steal ground squirrel nests (ground squirrels must spend a lot of time making holes…), the owls have learned to make rattling and hissing sounds to scare away predators like our friend the anaconda.

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You’ve probably seen burrowing owls in the movies before–they were the Mariachi owls in “Rango,” Digger in the insufferable-but-beautiful “Owls of Ga’Hoole,” and one appears in Pixar’s short “Boundin’.” We’re hoping that since we’re  moving into spring, we’ll be able to see some owelets at some point! They aren’t terribly scared of humans, and tend to congregate near roads, so whenever we drive by, we see little owl heads peeking out burrows.

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