Monday, October 30, 2006


First of all: Yes I am still a vegetarian!
In the end it is not that hard, even though the food is starting to be pretty repetitive.
A lot of Argentineans are of Italian descent, which has made the Italian kitchen very popular, and I can therefore eat pasta and pizza. Not as good as the real thing, but good enough. And the ice cream is good!
I can also eat humitas, a kind of pure of corn and empanadas de queso (dough filled with cheese). And many many eggs..
The interesting thing is, is that I became a vegetarian as a protest against the so-called bio-industry, in which animals are treated in the worst way and fed hormones and such. I am not against eating meat and do cook it for my family, as I don¨t believe they should suffer under my idealism. Here animals live freely and in a natural environment, so my argument doesn¨t stand that strongly. I am however so used to not eating meet, that I find it hard to change my habit. It has been 18 years without now..feel free to comment on this one!

Even though in Bolivia now, still want to finish writing about a few impressions I had from/on Argentina

As I mentioned before, we have had the chance to speak to a lot of locals (or should I say people from Buenos Aires). Between 1880-1920 Argentina was the richest country of the world and in 2001 people would wake up and whatever they had was only worth 1/3. Luckily for me, impossible to imagine. The economy seems to be perking up, but it is not easy. Most persons we spoke to work over ten hours a day to be able to afford daily life.
Everybody still is convinced (it is an accepted fact) that the government steals and that the police is corrupt. Besides those, people seem hardworking and honest.

Everybody seems to have a specific president to complain about. This country has known presidents that vary from bad to worse.
Now that they annulled the amnesty for those in power during the military dictatorship, the junta in the seventies, there are process going on. It still is not over. Jorge Lopez a victim of that regime has testified and disappeared after. It is assumed he is been killed for obvious reasons..

Peron is of course another name that sounds familiar, even if it is just for his second wife, Evita, who knew how to be poor with the poor, but enjoyed being rich with the rich. Peron took away possessions of the rich and made it of the state. He did not hesitate to use violence. Peronismo is still advertised, even though a clear modern definition is not given.

Menem is who we hear most about. He sold most national companies to private (foreign) investors. This has meant that certain good working services seized to exist or were not controlled. He even sold a piece of land in the south to Mr. Benetton, while people were living on it!

On a bit of a lighter note: a singer we hear often here is Shakira, but if you ask about her, most will frown and tell you they don¨t like her, because she is dating the son of ex-president La Rua (another corrupt one).

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I left you at our (exhausted) arrival in Tafi del Valle.
Since then we have been travelling through places like Amaicha, Cafayate, Salta, Pumamarca, Tilcara and today we made a daytrip to Iruya from Humahuaca, where we are currently staying. As (most of) the names already suggest they aren´t originally Spanish towns, but inhabited by indigenous people.
Except for Salta they are all small villages in the mountains in the north of Argentina. All of them hours apart from each other, the mountains vary. We have taken hikes over very dry steep mountains (Tafi) (yesterday we felt the first rain in 7 months....rivers and vegetation are all dried up. Since a few days the suns shines really brightly), the mountains with seven colours (Cafayate and Pumamarca) and climbed to the top of a white mountain (Humahuaca). We also visited old ruins from the Quilmes (Amaicha) and Indios (Tilcara) and a saltfield (Pumamarca).

Somehow we knew we wanted to discover Argentina, but we know very little and our preparation consisted of getting ready for the journey. I was planning to read some literature, but never had time to do so. (Anyone who wants to send me a copy in Dutch or English of a well respected Brazilian/Chilean/Argentinean author, with a preferance for Borges, contact me!). Every step here is a discovery. I already had my first encounter with lamas in the wild!

Most travellers we meet are Argentineans from Buenos Aires. This gives us the chance to see how they are and to ask many questions (I know, how unlike me!)
It is one of the characteristics of travelling: you meet, form little groups and dissolve again and then perhaps meet again a couple of days later or never...Today we bumped into Silvina and Sebastian again, who we met in the hostel in Tafi, which was pretty cool. They talk clearly and are generally a good laugh!
The impression the Argentineans have given us is that they are social, talkative and inclusive, which is great!

Most people don´t speak anything but Spanish, not even in the hostels or touristinfos. We don't even bother asking if they understand English and we are able to stutter (less and less) our way through it, as long as people speak slowly or repeat what they say (less and less necessary. Learning new words every day. I even helped translating on few occasions! Knowing Italian and listening to Gloria Estefan and Salsamusic is paying off!! Sylvia claims I was even speaking Spanish in my sleep...
I am just happy I can get my information, ask questions and make a few jokes. Sylvia is trying harder to grasp the language. We might buy a grammarbook soon, as it is getting quite frustrating using the wrong conjugations of the past tense..

The various Argentineans we hang out with are as much tourists as we are. In Buenos Aires almost everybody is of European descent, which you can see. As soon as we started to head north, the looks changed. People here have a brown coloured skin and a different build. I am sure you are familiar with the look, mainly from touristguides of Peru or Bolivia. They are the ´indigenos´, or the ´nativos´ as they call it. It seems like the government has never invested that much in them and their language Quechua has disappeared a great deal. We have stayed in various villages and not even half of the roads are asphalted. You see them neither on tv nor on the many football teams. We often sit hours in the bus, passing mountains, not any house in sight for miles and still people get on and off...
We visited one nativo that lived in such an isolated environment. It was his choice to do so, as he wanted to live according to the traditions of Pachamama, mother earth. He had built the different buildings (kind of sheds) and the oven on the premises by himself from whatever the earth had offered him. He lived off making traditional pots and masks, which are sold on the many artesanal markets and off his sheep and chickens. Even though the original tradition is very much aimed at nature, I am not sure about their religion. I know the Jesuits have worked hard and there are churches and crosses all over. When we visited the big beautiful cathedral in Salta on sundayevening it was fully packed.

I have many more things to tell, but unfortunately this internet cafe is closing in a few minutes...

Tomorrow we are heading to Bolivia. The saltmine we visited here was pretty cool, but now we will visit the biggest in the world in Uyuni for a few days before heading to Chile. It is quite exciting, even though we feel a bit insecure about Bolivia, after feeling safe here and having clean bathrooms!

A last remark for the Dutchies:
Ik kan er niks aan doen, maar elke keer als ik het bord naar de stad ´Neuquen´ zie, moet ik toch lachen...en oja, Maxima is hier wereldberoemd.

In any case, we have no lack of ´local authentic´ experiences....dusty villages, porteƱos (inhabitants of Buenos Aires), nativos, mate (a drink Argentineans are addicted to. Put very strong tea in a cup. Add water. Put a metal straw in it. Pass it around. Add water when necessary. It is very bitter) and I even tried Coca leaves (still waiting for its effect).

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Buenos Aires. Huge.
The impression I got from the bus from the airport stayed with me the rest of the time we were there. The city looks run down, is dirty and there is an enourmous amount of traffic, many roads had not less than four lanes (and don´t think they ever stop when you cross the street)! When you look better and up you realize that the buildings are actually beautiful and that it is called ´Paris of South America´ for a reason. Unfortunately the buildings have not been maintained and they have lost their splendour. We also noticed a lot of police around, not sure what they do. Only place where we did not see police was at the trainstation, where we felt unsafe and indeed saw some (indigenous) kids group together and steal a handbag of someone. This really gave me the creeps, esp. since there are a lot of stories out there as well...

We took it easy and slow, before we got into the pace of things.

One of the first things we visited was the synagogue, a reform one, which they call ´liberal´, just like in Holland. We had a private tour through this beautiful building and learned about the history of the Jews. Almost all Jews are descendants of immigrants from Ukraine, Russia and Poland. The inquisition was abolished after Argentina gained independance from Spain (1810).
Baron de Hirsch used his funds to pay for the transport of many Jews so they could escape the progroms. He set up the Jewish Colonization Association; they worked the land, became gauchos (Argentinean cowboys) untill they had paid it off. Most of them sent their children to university, so the next generation did not continue on that path. You can see most people in BA are of European descent anyway, we definitely do not stand out.

We also went to a service in another synagogue, which was quite an experience. At first they did not want to let us in, since they did not know us and we had to prove we did know someone and then we were let in, without even looking at our bags. We were worried, as we were not wearing a skirt, but everybody was dressed casually: jeans, t'shirts, carrying their bags. The whole service was sung (accompanied by a keyboard, viola, percussion and flute) and lead by a longhaired rabbi. It was very busy and there was a truely good atmosphere.

What added colour to our visit was the locals we met and who treated us so nicely. They were basically friends of friends and two I had met the previous summer. They took us around the city and took us for drinks and food to local bars. David, Ariel and David, Lili and Federico if you read this: thank you so much for sharing your personal stories and answering my incessive stream of questions on history and politics!

After four days of BA, we decided to take a daytrip to Colonia, a small city in Uruguay. It took the boat three hours to cross the river. Colonia is a lovely town, esp. after busy BA. As the name suggests it was a colony, which is still to be seen in the Spanish and Portuguese style of the houses. After that visit we took the nightbus to Cordoba, for which the same can be said; churches in Spanish style. Beautiful, but if you have been spoiled like us and have had the opportunity to visit the original countries, it is not that impressive, it only stands in its shadow.
From Cordoba we visited the village Alta Gracia, where we found ourselves in the house of Ernesto ´Che´ Guevarra. Not a spectacular museum, but I found it sort of interesting. I still haven´t made up my mind about him. Here (and in many other places) he is a big hero. I guess his idealism is admirable, he really wanted a better life for the poor and wasn´t looking for power (he resigned from the many posts he had in the Cuban government to free Bolivia), but I really doubt violence is the way and wonder if he just decided what was good for the people, without really consulting..

Another nightbus took us to the middle of nowhere.Tafi del Valle they call it here.
Mountains, green. Not sure what we will be doing exactly, probably long hikes, without a doubt, I will let you know, question of tiredness and time..internet seems to be widely available (in noisy places), even here!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


This blog was written on the 11th of october, but due to lack of decent computer time,
it is already outdated! Got lots more to tell, but too many other places to go..

Unfortunately not been able to upload any pictures...

It is one of those days that you spend 12 hours on a plane overnight in which only your right leg falls asleep..
It is one of those days in which you almost walk out of the airport with someone elses bagpack
It is one of those days in which at arrival the cash machine doesn´t work
It is one of those days your luggage moves all over the bus
It is one of those days that you spend two hours in an old bus over a dusty and busy road to get to your hotel
It is also one of those days that you arrive in BUENOS AIRES, in South America and when the rest is just a detail..

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I left you all while I was still looking back on my time in London and looking forward to my time in faraway. Right now I am in between two places again: we are leaving New York City for the city of Buenos Aires.

First things first though! During my last week in The Netherlands I started to feel at ease again. My German ex-colleague and friend Annette came for a visit and among the many things we did, we visited a town up north, Groningen, which I enjoyed very much. I guess I just needed to get out of town.. After her visit time flew and I ran out of time to see all of my friends.I am really sorry and hope to make it up once I get back!

Of course, on the night before leaving I still had to finish and clean up many things, which meant not more than barely a couple of hours of sleep. The flight to Washington was a long one and sleeping is definitely a good idea, but unfortunately stayed a theoretical option, as I found it impossible. The film ' The Devil wears Prada' kept me entertained for a bit (Meryl Streep put down a mean character and the boyfriend of the main protagonist was v. cute, but all in all it was a rather predictable production).The journey from DC to NY was also a long one, thanks to the hour delay and my migraine attack, which made me hang above a paper back in order to spit out whatever I could dig up from an empty stomach.

First thing we noticed when we arrived, was that there were no small (or old) cars to be seen. Sandy, a girl who I had met at a wedding in London picked us up and drove us to Sybil, while stopping now and then and loudly ask people for the way in her thick Brooklyn accent.
Sybil, who I know from an international seminar in Sweden a summer ago (have report of that somewhere) welcomed us warmly with a nice meal. Exhausted we went to sleep at 11:30 pm, which to us was 05:30 in the morning!

We did the usual tourist thing in New York;
walked for hours through Manhattan, passing Fifth Avenue (too expensive), Chinatown (smelly), little Italy (not much to see), Harlem (very tranquil), Central Park, Rockefeller plaza, took the boat to see the Statue of Liberty close by and to visit Ellis Island (getting on the boat was almost as strict as going through customs!) and so on...We only had time for two museums, but these ones were huge and had an impressive collection of (European) art; The Metropolitan museum of art and the Museum of Modern Art.

There was also time for socialising with Sybil and her boyfriend (brunch with Klezmer music), and what was very special to us, we met relatives. They are directly related to my mother (cousin), but no one had had the opportunity to meet in the past. In spite of this, they have always loyally sent us new years´cards. They showed us great warmth and enthusiasm, we received a true royal treatment!

I had two meals in a Sukka, which is a record in my life...the first one was with the executive vice-president of the organisation where Sybil and me met and in the evening we had an event about, you guessed it ´identity´. The most interesting part for me there was, that I bumped into Julian. A German guy I had not seen in years, but have known for years, as we used to go to the same conferences, all over Europe; Budapest, Cracow, Belgrade, Holland...He had married a very nice New York lady..

I had been to New York before, about 7 years ago. I had not been impressed with the town and felt overwhelmed in a negative way. This has all turned the other way...suddenly it seems not as big and I can appreciate the vibe of a big city and its constant offer of activities (yes that is an easy sum, London has had its effect), which years back I labelled as 'impersonal' and 'superficial'.
I however still haven´t fallen in love with its high buildings and architecture...old Europe still b
eats that!