Sunday, April 29, 2007

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a small port city 1.5 hours west of Santiago. The entire city is a UNESCO historical site and it´s famous for its mad array of colorful houses arranged atop various ¨cerros¨or hills. To reach these homes and the narrow streets/alleys that surround them, the city provides ¨ascensors,¨romantic lifts from a bygone era. The city down below is nothing special--it´s the hills that bring the tourists and the romance.

I stayed here three days, but don´t have much to show or report because of the ¨incident¨discussed in my last entry--which caused me to be hungover and camera-less (or shopping for replacement items) for much of my time here.

I did manage to explore a bit though and take one of the ascensors up to view the city. Here are some pics. The first one is from inside the ascensor.

I happened to be riding up with a lovely gentleman leading a group of schoolchildren on a historical tour of the city and he invited me and two Canadian students to join the tour. We spent most of the time in a museum where our kindly guide tried valiantly to make Chilean naval history interesting...and succeeded very occasionally.

New camera and MP3 player in hand, I now hop on a bus for twenty hours to get to the northern Chilean desert. I´m excited to put ¨the incident¨behind me and excited to get north where it will be warmer.

Material Disaster Strikes

I´ve had overwhelming good fortune in my life and on Thursday, April 26 I experienced a bit of a correction. I had just arrived in Valparaiso, Chile on a bus from Santiago. I went to the information booth looking for a hostel. The woman there tried to sell me on a particular place, insisting it was the cheapest in town. In Buenos Aires I had grabbed a copy of a hostel directory and saw an ad for a hostel that promised cheaper rates, so I walked to the pay phone bank directly in front of the info booth to call.

I approached the bank of payphones and placed my large backpack and my small handbag on the floor directly in front of me. Intending to use the payphone slightly to my right, I placed the small bag to the right of the backpack. But, at that moment, a woman approached from my right and it seemed that she wanted to use a phone. I shifted to the phone on my left, but didn´t move my bags.

I dialed the hostel, confirmed it was cheaper and got directions--probably a total of 2-3 minutes on the phone. When I looked down to pick up my bags, my small bag was gone. Inside that one, small blue beloved Guatemalan bag was:

a) Cannon Digital Elph SD600 camera with about 400 pictures of my vacation
b) 20G iPod with 3000 songs (and a new pair of $30 headphones)
c) Blackberry Pearl cell phone which served as my alarm clock and sometimes MP3 player (with $40 headphones)
d) Passport, with record of immunizations
e) Mastercard
f) Congressional Federal Credit Union check card
g) about $75 U.S. and Guatemalan currency
h) Spanish-English dictionary
i) flash cards for studying Spanish
j) Autobiography of Mark Twain (I was about halfway through)
k) original Army issue aviator sunglasses
l) my Swiss Army pocket knife keychain
m) my list of local contacts (I should have this on a portable storage drive)
n) my book of ¨Nuevos Amigos¨and a second journal I had bought for recording expenses, thoughts, etc.
o) children´s version of David Copperfield in Spanish (for use with item h above)

There are few worse feelings than that exact moment when it sinks in that your bag is really gone and you´re not getting it back. At first, you want to believe it´s an illusion and that you must have simply misplaced it--perhaps I left it at the info counter when I went to call. But, in the span of only one or two seconds, you realize this is wishful thinking.

At that point I yelled ¨Mi bulsa, mi bulsa¨and the woman at the info desk realized what had happened. A nice young woman named Sandra who was waiting at the bus station for a friend came over and the two of them asked me what happened and then called the police.

I waited about half an hour for a cop to show up. During that time the guy who runs the small newspaper stand next to the phone booths said that he saw the whole thing happen, saw two women walk away with my bag, but didn´t know that it was my bag. I later wondered why he couldn´t have spoken up when I first yelled ¨mi bulsa¨ which might have given me a fighting chance of chasing them down.

Once the cop came, we had to wait another half hour for a van to come and take me to the police station. As we entered the police station, I had my first shot of persective--if I had to see the inside of a Chilean police station, there were a lot worse ways.

It took the police two hours to take a list of what was in my bag and write up a report. It some ways it seemed like this wasn´t a common occurance for them, which I can´t imagine is the case. The primary officer I was dealing with couldn´t have been nicer. He then passed me off to another guy who actually let me sit directly in front of him while he typed up the report for about 20 minutes without even acknowledging my existence. Eventually I spoke up, mostly because I was anxious to call my credit card company to cancel the cards before they could be used. I was not able to do this from the station (apparently they can´t call out if Chile) even though I had a number that was specifically for calling collect outside the U.S. or Canada. My interaction with him was a bit weird, but perhaps he was simply anxious about not really being able to communicate with me very well. Unfortunately, in a pinch, I was not impressed with my Spanish.

By the time I got out of the police station, found an internet cafe with Skype, cancelled my credit card and check card, found a taxi, and got to the hostel, it was about 6pm. The American Embassy in Santiago had been closed, so the ordeal of getting a new passport would have to wait until the next day.

I got to the hostel, put down my bags and proceeded straight to a bar. I decided to deal with the situation like any reasonable and responsible person--deaden the pain by getting unreasonably drunk. I ordered a Johnny Walker on the rocks (which here is at least a double) and a liter of beer and an hour and a half later, I had made friends with the bartender and was well on my way.

The Small Miracle
Around 8 or 9 I went back to the hostel to meet up with two American women I had met when I first stopped in. There, in my absense, a small miracle had transpired--the police had come and brought back my passport, record of immunizations, credit card, and check card. I was thrilled that I was spared the time-consuming ordeal of obtaining a new passport, and immediately locked the recovered goods in my locker.

It seems likely that the folks who took my bag were small time theives and while an American passport probably has considerable value on the black market, they didn´t want the risk or trouble of selling it (I imagine the penalty for getting caught is higher than for electronics as well). Of course, I couldn´t help thinking--I understand they would keep the electronics, but if they were going to toss aside the passport couldn´t they have tossed the other stuff with it that was worthless to them but worthwhile to me--the dictionary, flash cards, even the bag itself which I really like. Oh, well...the passport is more than I had a right to expect.

I am about two months into my travels and I let my guard down slightly. I wouldn´t be surpised if this is a common time for folks to get ripped off. My actions didn´t quite venture into the zone of outright stupidity, but certainly veered sufficiently far from the vigilent caution required--especially in a bus terminal where anyone with a backpack has a large target sign painted on our backs. This was a very expensive lesson in caution.

In the end, what was really lost? (I´ll resist the urge to make a comment about my innocence...)

Well, first there was money--all told this little lapse in judgment had cost me about $1,000. Stupidly, I hadn´t bought any travel insurance and stupidly, I had all my most valuable possessions in one place. This was a costly lesson indeed.

But, fortunately, money is not the limiting factor on my trip--time is. So, in many ways it´s the nonpecuniary losses that sting more. First, the 400+ pictures of the first two months of my trip. This could have been much worse. My pics from Guatemala are on a disc I sent home. I´ve been blogging regularly, so most of my favorite pics are up on the web. In fact, I spent a significant amount of time in Santiago blogging (of course, I also meant to put all my pics on CDs while I was there and didn´t...). Still, those pictures are irreplacable and my record of this journey will be incomplete.

Second, the journals. I have most of my new contacts in my gmail file. Probably the worst thing about losing the journals is that I had been meticulously recording every cent I´d taken out of the ATM or spent on credit cards since the beginning of my trip. At the end, I would have known exactly how much this journey cost me. Now, I won´t. Sorry, Dad, you would´ve been proud.

The loss of the iPod is mostly an inconvenience. The songs are on my laptop at home. And, I think I´ve found a way to turn this into lemonade. Because I was using the iPod, I wasn´t really exploring new music. Now I´ve bought a small MP3 player and will buy new CDs in every country. I´ll miss the good ol´ Grateful Dead, but I´ll use this as an opportunity to push myself to explore new sounds.

The flash cards are a big pain. They were my two most important sets--grammar rules and irregular verbs. And, they´ll be a pain to reproduce. But, I´ll have to renew my resolve to read more Spanish and get more practice.

As I was telling folks at the hostel the story, it seemed almost everyone had their own story as well--and all admited various degrees of culpability, of bad judgment. One one hand, the stories made me feel better--I wasn´t the only one; (as one of the American women told me) this happens to the best of us. On the other hand, they made me feel worse. Some of the folks hadn´t seemed to have acted stupidly at all--there´s a limit to what we can do to protect ourselves. These stories made me feel like I can buy everything back only to lose it all again tomorrow.

But, in the end, I wasn´t hurt and nothing bad had happened to anyone I love. I remain one of the luckiest people in the world--with the time and resources to wander throught Latin America for nearly six months, and loving family and friends to embrace when I return.

I managed to find the same exact camera in a department store here in Valpo--after all, the blogging must go on. Ironically, this is the third time I´m buying this camera. A friend left my first one at Rudy´s bar in New Haven on my 30th birthda, after I correctly predicted I would get too drunk to handle it responsibly and placed it in his care.

As for the rest, we shall see. My next country will be Bolivia, which is apparently worlds cheaper than Chile. Maybe they even have some nice bags...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Santiago, Chile

This is my fourth day in Santiago and up until now I´d done very little. The weather had been shitty and I hadn´t been feeling great, so after going out Saturday night with my new friends Javier, Rodrigo, Vincent, and Catalina I did just about nothing Sunday and Monday. Monday I engaged in the guilty pleasure of watching three movies in a row at the hostel--something absolutely verboten in a foreign country with limited time (don´t worry, I won´t review them for you here...).

But, today was glorious and sunny; and I´m feeling nearly 100%. So, I covered lots of ground--which is easy in Santiago because although the city is large and dispersed, the central area with points of interest is relatively compact.

Plaza de Armas
I started my day at the Plaza de Armas, conventiently located just a few blocks from my hostel. The plaza is dedicated to those who fought and died for Chilean independence. In addition to statues, it features nice benches for chilling, artists painting and selling, regular gatherings of street performers, and, today, a book fair. I bought a few children´s books in Spanish to practice.

The Plaza is bordered on one side by a large and ornate cathedral. I must admit that large and ornate cathedrals do not make me happy--especially in poor countries. I can´t help but think that if god does exist (s)he wouldn´t want people to spend money on gold statues of Jesus and intricate carvings of apostles while people go without food and clean water.

In front of the cathedral, I met my new friend Tomas, a boyhood friend of Jorge from YLS. I thought we were meeting for lunch, but what I got was much better--a short guided tour of downtown Santiago.

Coffee with Legs
Our first stop was a bit mind blowing. Tomas took me to Cafe Selva for what he called ¨cafe con piernas,¨or ¨coffee with legs.¨ This is a coffee shop that looks quite like a strip club inside. There are no tables, just loud music and women in thongs and bikini tops serving beverages and dancing with customers.

Apparently this is extremely common in Chile--these places are all over the place. Here are the two strangest parts: First, these places aren´t even open at night--strictly a daytime affair. This particular cafe was open from 9am to 8pm. Second, this place was right in the middle of a regular looking mall, next to sneaker stores, etc. And, there were at least 2-3 other similar places in the same mall. I didn´t see anything like this in Argentina. Not that I was looking, mom.

Important Buildings
Fortified by coffee and Coke (most of you know I´ve never had a cup of coffee), we went to see some important buildings. First, the stock exchange, appropriately labeled Bolsa de Comercio, which translated directly means ¨Bag of Commerce.¨

Next, their White House...

...and Supreme Court.

Lunch at the Mercado
After Tomas and I parted ways, I walked to the Mercado Central for a seafood lunch. You can check out my food in the ¨Comida Tipica¨series, but here´s what the inside of the market looked like.

Cerro Santa Lucia
After lunch, I headed to Cerro Santa Lucia, a beautiful park on a large hill which provides some great views of the city (cerro means hill in Spanish).

Egos and Phalic Edifices
Finally, those of you following the blog will note that Argentina has a smaller version of the Washington Monument on Avenida de 9 de Julio. I commented that it seems every country needs its own phalic symbol. Well, it seems I was right. And, it seems further that the size of that symbol is directly related to the size of the egos of the citizens. The U.S., of course, takes the cake for self-absorbtion; Argentines are known to be the most hauty of the Latin Americans; and then there´s the smaller, less arrogant neighbor to the west with their monumento pequeño:




La Comida Tipica Chileno

As promised, the next installment of everyone´s favorite (and only) regular El Gringo y El Gallo feature, ¨La Comida Tipica¨comes to you live from Chile. I´m starting this in Santiago and who knows where I´ll finish it. Anyway, here goes.


Pablo, the very cool receptionist at my hostel, insists that empanadas are in fact Chilean, not Argentinian and that they are of course better here. So far I´ve had a few and they´ve been so so.

My first emanada was a pino, which includes ground beef, onion, raison, olive, and a piece of hard boiled egg. It was huge, but not super tasty. This picture is actually of my second, a spinich and cheese (lots of spinich, not lots of queso).

Today I had an empanada mariscono (with seafood) at the Mercado Central which has a bunch of seafood vendors and restaurants. It was nicely fried, but much smaller than the other one and there wasn´t all that much mariscon in it.

Traditional Dishes That Come in a Hot Brown Bowl

The first truly traditional dish I tried, on the recommendation of my new friend Javier, is called pastel de choclo. It´s basically a mushy corn pie filled with beef, chicken, raisons, olive, and hard boiled egg. I found the flavor strange and hard to place. It wasn´t that tasty, but it was a bit sweet--which made putting salt on it (which I would normally do to boost flavor) seem like a bad idea. It was also very mushy. The corn crust on top is not firm, but gloopy. Interesting experience, but I wouldn´t order it again.

Next, I took advice from another new friend Tomas (both new friends courtesy of Jorge Contesse from YLS, by the way--thanks Jorge) and went to Mercado Central for some chupe de locos. As you can see, this dish came out looking remarkably similar to the first one. It too is a gloopy mix served in a hot brown bowl. This time the stuffing was white fish cubes and there was what appeared to be parmesan cheese on top. The result was similar: an interesting experience I´m not dying to repeat.

Both gloopy bowl dishes were way too much food for one person, and both were somewhat amenable to bread scooping.
Sampled in Northern Chile
Here's Christian from Arica with a bowl of cazuela, a soup with potatos, vegetables, and meat or chicken.

Here's Mirtha from Santiago displaying mate con huesillos, a cold juice drink. Huesillos are fruits and mate is a type of corn at the bottom of the drink.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Argentine Futbol: Boca Juniors v. River Plate

On my last full day in Buenos Aires, I was able to go to the Argentine version of Duke v. UNC, Michigan v. Ohio State, and the Red Sox v. the Yankees all rolled up into one. Boca Juniors and River Plate are the two most popular futbol teams in Buenos Aires (and probably the country). Diego Maradona (who in spite of endless drug problems and irresponsible behavior is still a god here) played for Boca for many years and has a private box in the stadium.

As I was recently told, the three things you don´t talk about in polite conversation in Argentina are politics, religion, and futbol. The only games that incite more passion than this one are national World Cup games (and possibly America´s Cup, which is the Latin American championship).

This game was in Boca´s stadium which seats about 55,000 (compared to River´s 70+). The tickets cost 260 pesos (about $87), marked up from a face value of 14 pesos in the ¨popular¨section (the rowdy area with no seats)...and the whole day was an adventure.

We were picked up at a hostel and loaded onto a bus which then went and picked up several other groups (including some who got on and then off again--typical Argentine chaos). On the bus we were given our tickets and told to stick close to the group (of about 40). Before the game, we had all been regaled with tales about how dangerous the game and the Boca neighborhood can be. ¨Don´t take anything with you.¨ ¨Don´t lose the group.¨ ¨There will be fights, stabbings, witches, etc...¨

We got into the stadium without incident (not insignificant given that another group from my hostel never got in--it seems their ¨tickets¨didn´t exist) a little after 1pm. The game started at 4:30. We had more than three hours to sit in cramped quarters and defend our seats (well, there aren´t any seats in the popular section, it´s just a place to stand) as the stadium filled up.

There was no drinking allowed, which was surely a smart policy but made for a boring wait. There was, however, plenty of singing during the hours-long build up.

Then, the teams were introduced...and this was the best part. When River came out, you can´t imagine the depth of invective hurled at the players. Every Argentine curse word was brought out in a barrage of pure hatred.

When Boca came out, the stadium was transformed. Blue and yellow smoke went off in the stands and everyone in the stadium hurled paper and toilet paper at the field creating an amazing spectacle of graffiti. Interestingly, they never bothered to clean much of the graffiti off the field, even at halftime. The entire game was played with white paper covering the corners of the field.

The River fans were separated into a small section at the top of the stadium. Throughout the game, streams of clear liquid would pour down from this section down onto the Boca fans below. I was confused. Were people actually buying bottles of water and throwing them down, or making return trips to the bathroom? Actually, I later found out, that clear liquid was piss.

The River fans weren´t just pissing off the side. In a manner that seems somehow worse because premeditated, they were filling up water bottles with piss and dumping them off the side. Apparently this is expected and the same thing happens to River fans at their stadium. We´re not in Kansas anymore...

The game was a 1-1 tie. Boca scored within 30 seconds and clearly outplayed River in the first half. River´s goalie made several spectacular saves to keep the score at 1. But River came on strong in the second half and evened it up.

The result was a big disappointment for the home crowd because Boca was much higher in the standings and heavily favored on their home turf. But, despite the result and the intensity of invective at the beginning, at the end of the match the crowd applauded in a gesture that I interpreted as being intended for both teams.

The other interesting part of the game was the end. After the final whistle blew no one moved. I was confused. I was pretty sure there was no overtime, and there definitely wasn´t another game. So, why wasn´t everyone heading for the door? In the U.S. there would be a mad stampede. I turned to the Argentine father and son I´d been talking to and asked ¨Porque nadie salen?¨

They explained that the police block the exits while the River fans leave first so there are no fights. After all the River fans are gone, the rest of the stadium can leave. I´ve heard that some opposition fans are known to lock themselves to the seats so that all of the home fans have to wait while they´re extricated.

The fascinating part was that, even after a disappointing loss, everyone just sat there perfectly patiently and waited--for about half an hour. I can´t imagine this happening at home. It was a telling example of the patience of the Argentine people. Nothing happens quickly here, so no one expects it to.

By the way, the game/atmosphere never felt dangerous for one second. Because of the no alcohol rule, even if people where shitcanned when they showed up at 1pm to claim their seats, no one could possibly have been very drunk by 7pm when the game ended. So, the scene outside the stadium wasn´t rowdy at all. But, since I listed to the warnings, and didn´t bring my camera, these are the only pics I have--taken with a friend´s cell phone.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Mendoza is a nice small city about twelve hours nearly due west of Buenos Aires. Mendoza is famous for wine--most Argentinian wines come from the region, but the Malbecs are particularly well-regarded.

El Vino de Mendoza

Obviously, I tasted some wine. A bit of personal history: when I was in college I took a wine-tasting course at a local restaurant (Parizade´s for those with Duke/Durham knowledge). With one instructor and 60 of my nearest and dearest friends, it was basically an excuse for getting trashed on Tuesday night--I assure you there wasn´t much wine spit out at this affair. But, I did learn two things: a) a nice red wine should have strong ¨legs¨that should linger on the glass when swirled; and b) I didn´t really like wine.

So for about eight years after that I rarely drank wine, only when nothing else was available that would do the trick. Then, about two years ago, I gave wine another shot and discovered that at the right time, in the right mood, it could be quite pleasant. So, nearly 30, I ¨rediscovered¨wine. I still know next to nothing about it, but now enjoy mostly reds (and, of course, sangria, but that doesn´t count).

It´s in this context that I headed out to the ¨bodegas¨in Mendoza. And, no, those aren´t corner stores where they sell 40s in paper bags; it´s what they call vineyards here. Three great French guys from my hostel and I rented bicycles and headed out on the vineyard tour. We rode 35 minutes all the way to the last vineyard, arriving only about two hours before we had to return out bikes. As luck would have it, the couple who run this vineyard, Brigitte and Phillip, are French.

This was both good and bad. It was good because she was an enthusiastic guide and we ended up being able to leave our bikes with her and relax with a bottle of wine outside (see picture below), alongside some great bread and olive oil. It was bad because most of the conversation was in French (she did explain everything in Spanish on the tour, but I understood about 65%).

So, we only made it to one vineyard, but it seemed like a good one and we had a pleasant day.

The next day I met Pablo, an architect and friend of a friend, and his ¨novia¨at Vines of Mendoza for a wine tasting. We sampled the famous Malbecs of Mendoza and I was essentially unable to tell one from the other. Oh, well...

That night, Pablo introduced me to his friends and we went to a few bars. They were great and it was a shame that I had a bus ticket to leave the next day because the next night they were having a birthday party for a woman there (she is a chef and was going to cook for everyone).

Communication Breakdown
Which reminds me of a funny story. I was supposed to have dinner with Pablo the night before. As I mentioned, he´s a architect and he told me to meet him at his studio between 9 and 9:30. I showed up at 9:30 and I could see him through the window working on his computer, facing away from me and wearing headphones. There was a locked gate about 10 feet in front of the building, so I couldn´t knock directly. I buzzed and buzzed at the gate for about 10 minutes--but he couldn´t hear me...I even saw him rocking out to a drum solo.

There was a woman waiting on the corner for a bus and I asked her if she had a cell phone. At first she said no, but when she realized my predicament, she called him--but he didn´t pick up. After another few minutes of buzzing I figured this could go on indefinitely so I went around the corner to call him from a pay phone. He didn´t answer, and, of course, when I returned he was gone.

I then went to an internet cafe to get his cell phone number. But, when I tried to call him from a pay phone, it said the number was incorrect. Finally I got some random local guy to call on his cell phone and it worked fine--for some reason I wasn´t able to call cell phones with my calling card. By the time I got in touch with him, he was already home and tired after a long day.

I tell this story because it´s actually emblematic of the biggest problem (thankfully) I´ve been having during my travels--communication (and not because of Spanish). People here tend to make plans at the last minute and work by cell phone rather than email (as I suppose we also do at home with our friends). So, it´s hard to nail down plans days in advance over email, which is my primary form of communication (party b/c Spanish is very hard for me over the phone). And, I´ve had several instances of missing people, waiting at the wrong bar, etc. because I don´t have a local cell phone SIM card. Each country has a different network and requires a different SIM card, so it didn´t seem worth it to buy a new card for each country. And, the minutes are quite expensive.

Mas Futbol

It just so happened that my second night in Mendoza, the Argentine and Chilean national teams were playing a ¨friendly¨match to warm up for the America´s Cup in town. A group from our hostel painted our faces and headed down for the match.

I must admit I was a bit disappointed. First, it was a 0-0 tie. But, more important, I thought because of the rivalry between the two countries the scene would be quite passionate and rowdy. In fact, the whole thing was pretty tame--nothing like the River/Boca game in Buenos Aires the week before. The consensus was that this was because the match wasn´t important and most of Argentina´s top stars play in Europe and were not called back for the game.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Buenos Aires II

In and Around BA

After heading down to Patagonia for three weeks, I returned to Buenos Aires for another two weeks. I still had lots of people to catch up with and places to see. I´ll try to give you the interesting parts below.

On my last weekday in BA, I decided to take a bike tour of the city (many of you probably took Mike´s Bike Tour in Munich or another European city--I still have my t-shirt). It was a great way to see a lot of the city in 4 hours, and many (but not all) of these photos are from the tour. First, here is a picture of me with our small group. We´re at the ecological reserve.

Plaza de Mayo

Here are some images from the Plaza de Mayo, named because the revolution against Spain was declared May 25, 1810. The pink building is their version of the white house. It was painted pink as a compromise between the two major parties whose colors were red and white.

Plaza de San Martin

General San Martin finally liberated Argentina from the Spanish on July 9, 1816. Here is therefore known as ¨el liberador¨and has tons of streets, plazas, etc. named after him. Here is his statue in Plaza de San Martin:

Avenida de 9 de Julio

The widest street in BA (and I´m told the widest urban street in the world) is named for Argentine independence day.

On this street they have their own (smaller) version of
the Washington Monument, erected for the World Fair. I guess every country needs its own phalic symbol.

San Telmo

San Telmo is a funky neighborhood with lots of antique stores and a cool outdoor fair every Sunday. I stayed in a great hostel in San Telmo called the Garden House at the end of my time in BA.

On my second-to-last Sunday, two American women who were living in San Telmo (Anne and Lindsay) took me on a little tour.

We saw some tango (see the part on tango below) and the fair. There was some truly weird shit at the fair. To the right and below are some examples.

It reminded me of my friend´s hilarious blog (which everyone should check out immediately if you haven´t seen it--it´s one of the funniest things I´ve seen on the web).

La Boca

La Boca is the neighborhood of ¨la gente¨in BA. It´s poor, somewhat dangerous but with lots of character and quite beautiful. It´s crown jewels are its colorful housing stock and the stadium of the Boca Juniors futbol team.

MALBA--El Museo de Arte de Latinoamerica de Buenos Aires

I saw some Latin American art and an interesting exhibit of David LaChapelle with an awesome Brazilian woman named Rita. We hung out all day and were able to communicate quite well in spite of the fact that she speaks primarily Portuguese (and a bit of Spanish) and very little English. We even developed a system for using coins to help us explain particularly difficult parts of a story. Here we are outside of MALBA:

El Tango

Argentina, of course, is famous for the tango. Nowadays, this is a tradition mostly carried on by older Argentines and street performers targeted at tourists. But, there are still some places where younger people tango (often in combination with other dancing). There are myriad opportunities to see tango. I didn´t go to an actual show (which often come with dinner and can be quite expensive), but did check out two milongas (dancing events where one can participate) and saw some street theatre.

Here is a couple dancing on the street in the San Telmo neighborhood:

Here is the inside of a milonga:

Finally, here´s a video of a couple dancing Tango in the Boca neighborhood:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Exploring Some Argentinian Non-Profits

One of the most enjoyable parts of my time in Argentina has been the opportunity to meet with several people doing great advocacy work and see their offices. I´ve learned a lot about Argentinian politics and met some amazing people in the process.


My first time through BA, I met Nati Torres who works on access to information for an organization called Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (

We talked about her efforts to bring a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)-like law to Argentina. Truly critical and heroic work given the history of government secrecy and corruption here (many of you know about the military coups and the ¨disappeared¨youth during the Dirty War). Nati also became a friend, gave me some great advice on seeing Patagonia, and introduced me to her other friends at a fun apartment-gathering. Here we are at her office:

Action Without Borders,

My longtime roommate from college, Dan, worked for many years with the U.S. office of Action Without Borders--which many of you know as, the leading nonprofit job search site. Well, since Dan started, the organization has grown in leaps and bounds and they now have offices in several other countries.

Dan set me up with the directors of the Buenos Aires office, Juan Cruz and Matias, and they are both great guys. In a visit to their office, Juan Cruz and I discussed politics and social change strategy. We focused on the power of networks (which is much of what AWB does; I told him about the Social Change Network), and the importance of using capitalist strategies to form sustainable nonprofits and reform the system. Juan Cruz said our discussion reminded him of kung-fu and the concept of using your opponent´s power against him. We decided we should write an article together called ¨The Kung Fu of Social Change,¨so hold your breath for that.

Matias joined us for lunch and later met me out for drinks with his new ¨novia¨(girlfriend) and one of her friends. Here I am with Juan Cruz at the office (unfortunately I forgot to snap a pic with Matias):

Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)

Yale Law professor Owen Fiss set me up with Roberto Saba, the Executive Director of ADC who is also a law professor at University of Buenos Aires and University of Palermo. Roberto was at Yale in the early 1990s for an LLM and is on the verge of completing his JSD (any day now, in between running a large, successful NGO and teaching law...).

ADC ( works to defend civil rights and promote democratic values through lawsuits, lobbying, and institutional reform. They are currently focusing on access to information, subtle censorship (the way the government manipulates the press through allocating advertising dollars based upon reporting content), and improving the structure and transparency of the Supreme Court.

Here I am with Roberto at the ADC office:

Lawyers and law students read on; others risk imminent dire boredom...

Roberto was extremely generous with his limited time and I learned a ton from our fascinating discussion. We talked a lot about the structure of legal education and how different it is here from the U.S.

Since there is no generic undergrad studies here, law students enter a six-year program directly from high school. The University of Buenos Aires has the most prestigious law program, but there are no full-time faculty. Rather there are hundreds (or even thousands) of part time (adjunct) professors teaching 30,000 law students (that´s not a typo, the entire university has close to 300,000 students--and I thought U of Michigan was big). Roberto estimates that 4,000 new lawyers emerge in Buenos Aires alone each year.

The system stems from the fact that higher education is free in Argentina with open admissions. This means that anyone can study law.

It sounds great, and in many ways it is. It has provided the lower-middle and working classes with access to a middle class life. And, it provides lots of teaching opportunities to qualified lawyers, opportunities that are scarce in the U.S. This also ensures that those in the classroom have real-world experience.

But, Roberto was quick to point out the downsides. First, the quality of teaching is extremely varied and even at its best, not up to par with the U.S. With a full time job, he hardly has the time to prepare lessons with the same care as dedicated teachers do at Yale and other schools. And, it´s very difficult for Argentinian professors to keep up with all the literature in their fields and actually participate in pushing forward legal thought with creative thinking. They simply don´t have the greatest luxury that U.S. profs are swimming in--time.

Next, with professors in and out (they don´t even have offices) and with so many students, it´s hard for professors to be available for advice, personal relationships, etc. In addition, legal education is very much geared towards producing competent practitioners, not creative thinkers. There is no bar exam, so much of law school is like bar review. This is probably similar to some U.S. schools, but those of us lucky enough to go to Yale had much more opportunity to think creatively and challenge the status quo.

Finally, Roberto points out that the equality of the system is in many ways a veneer. Truly, there are two tiers of students. Tier 1 are those who can afford to only study. They can choose their courses and professors carefully, get good grades, and join a journal. Tier 2 are those who must work--often full time--while in school, taking only night classes or those that fit their job requirements.

In some ways it seems like the ideal system would be a merger of the U.S. and Argentinian extremes. I´m not sure that we need a class of people that sit around and think all day, filling the endless proliferation of law reviews with only occasionally relevant musings. At the same time, I think it´s clear that students are shortchanged when their profs don´t have adequate time to prepare for class or discuss the materials afterwards.

Perhaps an ideal system would offer excellent professionals 2-3 year fellowships which would allow them time off from the daily grind to teach and think. Students might actually benefit from instruction by more current practitioners. And the various fields of practice would likely benefit from the return of some star players who´ve had some time to reflect.

Oh, well...I promised uninformed opinions and self-indulgent musings. Anyway, here´s another benefit for those lawyers or law students who may have actually read this far. In case any of you doubted that Lexis and Westlaw are in an inter-galactic battle to control the universe, here´s some proof: