Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Argentina - La Tierra de Bife
Hola, friends and family. As some of you know, I recently traveled to Argentina for a business meeting. I am used to going to Alabama and Mississippi, so this was a pleasant deviation from my normal trips. The company I work for, United Launch Alliance, will be launching an Argentinian satellite on one of our rockets so I got to go down there to support a meeting with the spacecraft manufacturer.
The meeting was held in Bariloche, which is in the northern part of Patagonia. Bariloche is roughly opposite from Denver in latitude across the equator. We had to fly from Denver to Atlanta, Atlanta to Buenos Aires, and Buenos Aires to Bariloche. The flight to Buenos Aires is 10 hours, but my company's travel policy allows for flying business class on international flights so I was able to sleep in my seat that folded almost flat. My travel plans gave me two days in Buenos Aires - one on either end of the trip.
I knew very little about Argentina before I left for this trip so I did some cramming with one of those travel guide books (I think it was Frommer's). While those books have a ton of great information, you really don't get a feel for a foreign place until you are actually there. Here are a few examples of guide book tourism versus the real thing (I am paraphrasing the guide book versions, but you will get the point):
Per the book: Traveling by car in Argentina is much more dangerous than in the United States. Think about calling a taxi or taking the bus before considering driving in Argentina.
What it should say: Traveling by car in Argentina is absolutely insane. If you are the least bit faint of heart, do not even get in a car. No one pays any attention to lane lines, stop signs, or pedestrians. The only hint of obedience to the law is at stoplights. If you want to walk across the street, your head must be on a swivel or you might as well be dressed as a speed bump.
Per the book: The cornerstone of Argentinian cuisine is beef. You will find many traditional meals consisting of tender, grass-fed beef.
What it should say: Bife, lomo, and carne are all words you will find on a menu that mean 'beef". Kind of like Hawaiians having all those words for "waves", it seems fitting to have all these words for beef since Argentinians love to eat steak. We had a huge steak lunch two days in a row in Bariloche at a local BBQ place. The meat was absolutely fantastic - so tender you could cut it with a butter knife. No sauce needed for this steak. And to get the party started, we had beef turnovers (no joke). As an aside from the beef, they have soda in glass bottles in Argentina. The country is dominated by Coke products so I ordered"Coca" at most meals and drank it from a wine glass since they also have tons of that. For dessert, you will find many types of chocolate treats. I partook in several of these goodies, the best of which contained dulce de leche, a caramel-like liquid made mostly of sugar.
Per the book: Argentinians as a whole are a very fashionable people. You will find many botiques, as well as larger stores to get your fill of shopping.
What it should say: While you can buy clothes to dress like the Argentinians, it is much harder to be as good looking as most of the people there. There are hardly any fatties in Argentina and it seemed like every woman, young and old, had a beautiful complexion. If you still want to shop after seeing all the beauty, be prepared to buy something leather. Whether you are prepared or not, the store owners will be in your grill trying to get you into their store to buy a jacket that used to be the wrapper on the steak you ate for lunch.
Per the book: Soccer (fútbol to the locals) is by far the most popular sport in Argentina.
What it should say: Soccer is basically the religion of the Argentinian people. "Sporting goods" stores are actually soccer stores with a couple aisles of random equipment for tennis, basketball, and maybe golf. The only "sports bar" we saw - and ate at - was a soccer bar which could have doubled as a disco joint. Argentina was hosting Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier on the day we left so every other person on the street was wearing at least a jersey - usually accompanied by a hat, scarf, or face paint - sporting the colors of the Argentinian national team.
A few other random notes:
- Be thankful for the budget that is dedicated to public works in the US. The sidewalks and streets (as you will see in a few of the pictures) are not taken care of nearly as well as they are in the US.
- There was a disturbingly large number of stray dogs. Not sure what to say about that one...
- Speaking Spanish is very helpful, even if you are not fluent. I had four years of Spanish in high school and I was able to get myself and my three co-workers around just fine (especially considering one of my co-workers had to ask me how to say "please" in Spanish).
- I ate wild boar stew. Awesome.
-We had time on the last day of meetings to do a hike to the top of El Mirador (in the Andes Mountains). Bariloche is in the foothills of the Andes and we drove through one of the parks and took a bunch of pictures.
As a whole, this trip was very enlightening and interesting all at once. I was able to see the large city of Buenos Aires as well as the small ski village of Bariloche. I had fun trying to speak in Spanish with waiters, bellhops, and others who spoke absolutely no English. I took a bunch of pictures while I was there - here's the link:
I am very thankful for the chance I had to go on this trip and I hope you enjoyed this synopsis. If the opportunity to travel to Argentina ever presents itself, take it and enjoy the country of great complexions and tender steak!