Friday, January 21, 2011

New Years In Uruguay?

No way, you've got to be kidding me, just sounds too unreal. But no, my host family decided to spend New Years in Punta del Este, a beautiful city along the shores of Urugauy that explodes in population during the summer break. During the rest of the year Punta del Este seems a little strange, the few year long inhabitants with all this empty space and surounded by towering and vaccant hotels and the beach to themselves. It is THE PLACE TO GO. Like all of the movie stars, famous musicians and upper cream of Uruguay and its neighboring countries have beautiful houses in Punta del Este where, in the summer, they drive their Ferraris through the streets and take pictures with annoying turists.

Like this one of my host brother Carlitos with the lead singer of the very famous Argentine band, Bersuit.

So the 28th of December our family of six (normally six without two exchange students. Florencia was finishing up her exchange year in Austria and Paula was working in Buenos Aires but took a bus and ferry to Uruguay to spend New Years with us.) packed our bags and headed to Uruguay! We had an interesting start. The truck, which is a dream come true when you compare it to the normal argentine car that has no more space or seats than a slugbug, was missing some papers. Missing papers and traveling with two foreigners sounded a bit risky getting across the border so at the last minute we switched cars. A silver Buick with five seats. Six people. Five seats. Fourteen hour car trip each way. Mmmmm, cozy.

Punta del Este.

We embarked upon our epic journey. My host dad, Carlos, driving, host mom Marta riding shotgun, little sister Delfina crammed in between them, and then big brother Carlitos, me and Austrian sister Katja keeping our elbows and knees tucked in in the back seats. We left around 8pm and drove through a dry thunderstorm that lasted for hours and was really beautiful and then kept driving and kept driving some more. It was still hot and our legs and sholders would stick together. I was in the middle and hating the concept of body heat. All I could think about was jumping in the Columbia river off of the Linden Tree dock, it sounded like heaven at the time.

I couldn't sleep and so I watched a breathtaking (more like yawntaking) sunset over Rio de la Plata that separates Argentina from Urugay. We crossed the border almost without incedent, but they did throw away the 8 pounds of raw sausage that we had in the back of the car. After driving through the Uruguayan country side and passing through some really worn down pueblos we arrived in Punta del Este at ten am. We "camped" on some really nice private grounds of a friend of the Pellegrini's. There were cabins and a pool and a pond with swans and a little row boat, pool tables and a hired chief so it was not camping no matter what they said.

We stayed in Punta till the 8th of Jan. We went to the beach nearly everyday and into town. The beaches were...dream-like. I've never been to California or Florida but as far I know, Washington has nothing even close. People acted a little freaked out when I told them our ocean was more black than cystral blue,that dead seals on the beach is normal and yeah there are dangerous jellyfish but its okay because no one actually goes swimming. They didn't know that their everyday beaches are 'tropical get aways' to us.

Relax Liv, just relax. Forget about snow and high school essays and your locker combination....right now just enjoy.

For New Years my host brother Carlitos had the honor (or massive job) of cooking the asado for everyone who was staying on the grounds. That ment two whole baby sheep, meters of sausages and a kilo of every cut of meat in beween. We ate dinner and then, in true agrentine fashion, filled our glasses with champagne when there were only seconds remaining in the old year and went outside to watch the fireworks. From the top of the kitchen we had a great view of the city and the ocean. When the clock struck midnight I swear the city just...exploded. I have never seen such a mess of fireworks in my entire life. This was no 'show' organized by the city council, this was chaos! It so loud, even so far away, and fireworks filled every inch of the sky, sometimes running into eachother and exploding early. Non stop for five minutes. I will see lots more 4th of Julys but I'm not sure if I will ever see that many fireworks ever again. I can't even imagine being in the city and looking up to see that. I'd be scared.

Most of the Family on New Years, Marta, Delfina, Carlitos, Katja and I.

Then, of course, we went out to the city to go to the clubs and welcome in the New Year. We couldn't even drive, the streets were so full of people. There was music coming out of every building, people dancing in the discos, in the streets, on the beaches and just about anywhere they could find space. There was also a layer of broken glass and firework debris covering the ground.

The last highlight of Uruguay was our trip to Montevideo, the capital. The family didn't want to go but they allowed Katja and I to catch a bus by ourselves and visit for the day. So we arrived in Montevideo after the two hour bus ride with just a little fold out map, money and water. Got off the bus, lost the map. Freaked out a bit being in a new city and new country with out a map,found a station where they were handing out free maps. What luck. Then we found a place to catch a free bus into the old part of the city. We were on the bus heading to the cuidad vieja, noses pressed to the windows. I turned to Katja, "I think I like Montevideo." "We've only been here ten minutes but I know what you mean, she said "I love it too."

If you ever visit South America, go to Montevideo. It is the best city. For a capital of a country it has the feel of a small town, totally safe (it doesn't put you on edge like Buenos Aires or even Seattle), easy to get around, cheaper than the rest of the country, colorful, on the ocean, full of venders and very friendly and helpful people. It just has great vibes and also the world's longest celebration of Carnaval, which I would love to return for. We had a great day to ourselves, walking the whole city point to point, eating lunch in the cafe in the middle of the street and buying awesome gifts and finding a world class bakery.

Uruguay is a great country, it made a huge impression on me in such little time. How ever, it was during the vacation that one of South America's downsides was demonstrated to me. The sickly huge gap between the poor and the rich. In Punta del Este they sell little wooden coffee tables for 2,000 US dollars. And people buy them. While in the rundown parts of town, a family of seven shares their scrap metal house with the horse that they use to get to the beach every day to walk,the mother with all her kids in tow, through the tourists trying to sell a pair of stolen flip-flops.

In all, it was a great New Years, a whole new experience like always. We drove back to a sudden family change and Katja left the Pellegrini's and Maren, from Germany, came to take her place. My plans were to stay in Pellegrini for the time being.

Maren and I after making chocolate chip cookies and a German cake that were gone after 14 hours.

Now its Valentines day as I write this, oh man I'm bad at this blogging, and a lot has happened and is about to happen. Like I said, right after Uruguay Katja changed families with Maren and Maren came to live with Pellegrinis and me. Also, Florencia arrived from her exchange to Austria and I was so glad that I got to met her because we get along great! She is such a sweet person. Carlitos left about three weeks ago on his exchange to Germany and so far he has told us that it is cold but very pretty and he doesn't understand a word. But he's a great kid, smart too even if his school grades couldn't prove that, so he will have a great time. In other family news, Lucas, my host cousin who's Dad lives in the United States and for this he was born there and is an American citizen and speaks flawless english, left aboout two weeks ago for the US to join the army. Lucas is an amazing person, full life and blessed with the gift of comedy, and to me seems more like a flag waving hippie marching in the streets against corrupt politics than a soldier, so it was kind of strange when he left. I'll miss having him around.

All of us kids at Carlitos' good bye party. Carloitos and Lucas in back being dorks, they normally don't look so bad, then blond Maren, Pia (Lucas' little sister so my host cousin), Florencia and then me!

In other news I had a great time here in Suarez during summer vacations and now I'm off to the north of Argentina!!!! I've been counting down the days till this trip since Christmas, it will be mind blowing. Bought a camera to document one of the 7 new wonders of the world, the waterfalls of Iguazu, and all the other amazing things we are bound to encounter.

Thank you SO much to Rotary for allowing me into the big wide world, it is AWESOME!

Love you all,

Oli la Yanqui(as they like to call americans here, yankees. but they say it shahn-key)

And proud!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Merry Christmas!!!

Merry Christmas and happy 2011 to all! Here's just Christmas for now becuase New Years is too long to fit both together.
Christmas did not feel like Christmas to me in any shape way or form. Of course no snow and 90 degree weather gave it a strange atmosphere but there wasn't even that feeling of Christmas in the air or frantic shopping. My city was tranquil, like always, and my host sisters did some of their shopping the night of Christmas. Which they actually celebrate here the night of the 24th more than the day of the 25th. So that means that around ten thirty at night our family got together, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, about sixteen people, for Christmas dinner. The dinner was nearly all chilled foods because it was so hot outside that it's uncomfortable to eat hot foods. Lots of stuffed foods; deviled eggs, stuffed chicked, stuffed tomatoes, a type of bread that you roll like a cinnamon roll but is filled with tuna or veggies instead. And then for dessert, pan dulce, a sweet bread with fruit. It was crazy walking around in the super market and seeing an aisle totally, both sides and every single shelf, dedicated to pan dulce overnight. I think my family bought three.

We ate dinner and then at midnight fireworks started going off in the street so all the kids ran out to see. When we got back Papa Noel had "come" and placed all the gifts for everyone under the Christmas shrub. (When I told them that sometimes my family goes into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree they laughed. At least our Christmas tree wasn't made out of plastic like most families.)

Then everyone opened gifts because it was now technically Christmas day. I realized that Americans go all out on the gift giving in the sheer quantity in comparison. I gave my host family my gifts brought from Washington; Appletes and Cottlets, smoked salmon, some Starbucks instant coffee, a nice picture book, a Martha Stewert magazine, dried apples, and some little American flags. They liked everything but I'm pretty sure that no one is going to touch the salmon because seafood is really uncommon here.

After gift giving the parents sat downstairs and talked while the kids who were old enough to go to the clubs went upstairs to get ready. In comparison to the strictly family Christmas celebration I'm used to I was pretty surprised that we were allowed to go out on Christmas day and even more surprised to find that this is the highlight of Christmas. So Katja and I went to a friend's house around two am and then at four thirty everyone headed to the clubs to dance past the sunrise and walk home around seven in the morning. Not a normal Christmas to me at all but it was really fun!

Las chicas!!!!

And so I know it's late but I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, wherever you were in the world and enjoyed spending time surrounded by the people you love.

Love and post holiday wishes,