Saturday, April 3, 2010

School, My first music video, Mendoza adventures, and more toilets

This was my first week at school with a set schedule.  It is a nice feeling to know where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing, and I also feel like a big weight has been taken off my chest without having to teach classes on my own.

I am starting to get to know some of the students´ names (from 7th to 12th grade I am working with about 400 of them), and I had them make up nameplates and fill out an interest inventory so I can get to know them better.  They really liked the nameplate idea and got pretty creative with their artwork on it, and on the other side of the nameplate they wrote their nicknames.

The classes I am working with vary greatly.  One thing I´ve noticed is that there is no such thing as advanced classes, so you get students of all different levels of English in the same class.  Some classes are really well behaved with kids with high levels of English, and in one class I had a few kids asking me about US politics and why people don´t like Obama as well as conspiracy theories in relation to 9 11 (In English).  Other classes were really talkative and disruptive that it was hard to even begin to know what their level of English was.

It seems like little things at the school are really interesting to the students.  I spiked my hair for a change, and I got so many comments from them about how I looked bakan and fleite.  They also seem fascinated by my clip on sunglasses.  I personally think they make me look pretty dorky, but maybe the concept of dorkiness is cultural.

On a completely different note but before I forget, I got to star in a music video.  Jason Milstein, a friend from high school, is in a really awesome up and coming band called The Medium.  I was the college professor handing out the diplomas to the students in the video.  Here is a link to it if you want to see:

So this is my second trip to Mendoza so far.  I was asleep on the bus when I woke up hearing the tires squealing and the driving giving it full gas.  After looking out the window I was surprised to see that there was snow all over the place.  I didn´t think to snap any pictures at the time, but there was about a distance of about a foot between the bus and the edge of the precipice.
The trip almost didn´t happen, as I didn´t realize how difficult it would be to find a place to stay for Easter weekend.  I got an email from the hostel I was at last time that they didn´t have any spaces, and I went to a bunch of websites and called a bunch of places with no luck.  I got to the second to last place in my travel guide, and they had a room.  It is actually a hotel, but they have single rooms.  I was breaking the bank with the cost of 90 pesos (which is about 23 dollars) becuase I am used to hostel prices.

For the price it is actually pretty nice.  I have my own private room with private bathroom, and breakfast is included.  The downside is that is not a hostel, which means no public computers, no meeting random people to hang out with, and no kitchen to prepare my own meals.  But all in all not bad with a few days notice before Easter weekend:

So far in Mendoza I have gotten to do a good amount.  I took a mountain biking tour, and the views along the way were amazing.  I got used to go down big hills in the dirt and rocks and mastered the position of keeping your balance between both pedals while breaking slowly, and it was a great feeling climbing the hills and working up a sweat.  It reminded me of the mountain biking I did in Oaxaca about 6 years ago.  Here are some pictures:

I also explored the Plaza Independencia with lots of street vendors as well as the pedestrian area of Sarmiento.  I walked into a wine shop to look around and was pleasantly surprised when they offered me a free sample of a wine.  I tried a red wine (a Cabarnet I think) and it was really good.  After that, I stopped into a mini market to get a bottled water when I noticed that they sold bottles of wine as well as mini bottles of wine.  The smallest bottle was 6 pesos (about $1.50) and was probably about 1.5 to 2 glasses of wine.  The next biggest was about 11 pesos ($3.75) and it was probably about 3 or 4 glasses of wine.  I doubt that you could find any place like that in the States.

The next day I woke up early and went to the Parque General de San Martin, which is large and beautiful.  There are tree lined streets, areas to bike and walk, sidewalk cafes, a zoo, and some amazing viewpoints.  I walked all the way to the top of Cerro de la Gloria (a large hill dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in wars involving Argentina).

 On the way back I stopped at a cafe and got a hamburger with French fries and some juice.  I have gotten used to not getting a bun with my hamburgers in Chile, so I was pleasantly surprised to get one with this meal, especially seeing that the entire meal only cost 4 bucks:

I updated part of this at an internet cafe that is connected to a Subway.  I haven´t eaten at Subway yet in South America, so I decided to give it a try.  Let me just say that they don´t know how to make their meatball sandwiches here.  First off, there wasn´t any mozzerella OR parmesan cheese.  They used American cheese, and there was barely any sauce.  It looked so pitiful that I added some lettuce and tomato to it. 

I have found more notable additions to my previous post about toilets around the world.  Here is exhibit A, which is in my hotel room:

It looks like a normal toilet with one teeny tiny exception: IT HAS A HUGE METAL THING CLAMPED TO IT.  At first I thought it was some type of torture device, but I rejected that notion once my private parts were intact after using it.  I have yet to muster up the courage to turn the handle on the side or ask at reception what it does.

Then there is exhibit B, which is inside the internet cafe restroom:

This is what we call a minimalist toilet.  It is no nonsense and does not need luxuries such as handles to flush or a toilet seat.  If you look up, you will notice a tank of water overhead with a string to pull in order to flush it.  It is toilets like these that make me always bring a pack of tissues in my pocket and hand sanitizer with me wherever I travel.

After my experience with the minimalist toilet, I went back to editing this post and got a text from Allison.  It turns out she was in Mendoza also and was waiting to hear back from some friends about meeting up.  Her hostel was only a few blocks away, so we met up there and waited for Celine and Sonia.

It turns out Allison took over 12 hours to get into Mendoza due to the huge lines at the border, and she had spent the entire day by herself.  We hadn´t seen each other since we parted ways in Viña when I headed back to the hostel early while everyone else went out, so we had a lot to catch up about.

We got some soda while Celine and Sonia got settled into the hostel, and we became accustomed to the suprise we got when trying to pay with larger bills.  A dollar is about 4 Argentinean pesos, so I wouldn´t think much of having to pay with a 50 or 100 peso bill.  Apparently it is a big deal here.  Allison and I got used to the gasp and widening eyes as we tried to pay with a 50 peso bill for our 2 sodas costing 12 pesos.  After paying we sat and waited for about 10 minutes, and when we asked our waitress for the change she said we had to talk to the person at the register.  Going there, we learned that they did not have enough change to give us, and they were waiting for other people to pay with small bills so that they could give us our change.  Luckily it worked out a minute or so after that .

Then afterwards she had to break her 100 peso bill, so she got a bottled water at McDonald´s.  We thought it wouldn´t be as big of a deal there, but we got the same reaction.  Note to self: Next time ask for smaller bills when changing money in Argentina.

Once Celine and Sonia were ready, we all went out to get dinner together.  It was really cool becuase we all spoke Spanish well enough to speak in Spanish the entire time.  (Sonia is from Madrid, so we didn´t have much of a choice anyway)  When deciding where to go to dinner, I suggested Las Tinajas.  They seemed a bit hesitant at first, but I told them it would be worth it.

The food was great as always, and this time we got the additional experience of the butchers cutting meat and hacking it so hard that bones and pieces of the meat went flying in various directions.  I had always had some type of meat without bone before that, so this was a new adventure.  After getting more than our fair fill of food, we finished it off with chocolate crepes.  It was really nice to get to meet up with them, as I had been traveling solo for the entire time before then.

The next morning I woke up feeling a bit funky, and I think I ate something bad and was sore from all the walking the day before.  I tried to drink water and walk it off while doing some shopping, but it stuck with me.  I was able to talk to the company I scheduled a wine tour with and will be able to bring the voucher back on my next trip to Mendoza and use it then rather than lose the 50 pesos I paid.  I have been resting up and took some aspirin, and I am feeling better. 

Later on I got some McDonald´s to eat, and my stomach did fine with it.  I also bought some chocolate from a famous chocolate shop here called La Cabaña, and it seems like everyone was doing their last minute Easter candy shopping.  They don´t seem to be big on the Easter Bunny in Argentina, but they love their huevos (eggs).  They had all types of chocolate Easter eggs that were decorated with ornate designs and patterns, and they were of all types of varying sizes.  I had already bought some Easter candy back in Santiago, so I just got some assorted candies and some wine to bring back with me. 

In a few hours it is off to the bus station and back to Santiago.  It has been a good trip, and I know I will be back to Mendoza at one point or another.

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