Buenos Aires, Mendoza, and Colonia

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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            Between travelling from Buenos Aires to Mendoza to Colonia, one really notices the major differences between the cities, and each city has its own style and flavor, just like New York City and Boston do.  Even though there are similarities among the cities, they are not as evident as the differences, which are history as well as purpose based.  Essentially, what differentiates the cities are the people who most likely settled them, as well as today, what purpose they serve.

            First, there is the first city of Argentina, Buenos Aires.  Buenos Aires is Argentina´s major port, and is the capital of the country.  Walking down the streets of this city, you do not feel like you are in South America, but rather, that you are in Europe.  A lot of the architecture is very European and elaborate, and there are cafés on almost every block, as well as someone lighting up a cigarette.  Public displays of affection are the norm, and the Fiats and Peugeots dominate the streets.  Combined with many light-skinned residents, Buenos Aires feels like your typical European city.  Why is this?  Well, Argentina was settled and established by a large number of European immigrants, and in the early 1900´s, Buenos Aires supposedly consisted of more of these foreigners than Argentine born people.  In fact, the majority were Italian, explaining the pizzerias everywhere.  Thus, for most of its history, and even still today, Buenos Aires has had a great importation of European ideas and fashions.  Being the main port city and capital, this European influence will most likely continue.

            Mendoza, on the other hand, is located in the western part of the country, and is not a port city.  Unlike Buenos Aires, café’s are scarce, as well as pizzerias, and the architecture is very simple and almost borderline suburbia-esque.  Furthermore, Mendoza is not as dense as Buenos Aires, as there isn’t a supermarket or panaderia or confiteria on every block.  Why is this?  Well, there is the fact that the population of Mendoza is much smaller in terms of population, which means its population density is also less.  Furthermore, Mendoza, not being a port city and in the western part of the country, was most likely settled by Argentine born persons, and perhaps by a large part of the natives of the country too.  As a result, the European influence isn’t as large, the influx of tourists isn’t as large, and therefore, there isn’t as many light-skinned people, and there isn’t a need for more sophisticated architecture.  Rather, the tourism of the city is more geared towards the wineries, and the Andes mountains, not the city itself.  The city is sufficient for those who live there, nothing more, and nothing less.

            Finally, Colonia is a very small and quiet city.  The architecture is very Spanish and Portuguese.  And taking after the name of the city, the architecture is very much from the colonial period of the country.  At least in the old section of town, the buildings are small, made of stone, but yet quite colourful.  Furthermore, there is little to no traffic in the streets of the town, and everywhere there are little shops selling souvenirs.  Why is Colonia this way?  My guess is that is simply a tourist city, where people from all over come to see the old architecture and cobble stone streets.  Being so small, cars are very unnecessary, since everything is within walking distance.  Furthermore, it is not a big port city like Montevideo, therefore allowing it to remain quiet and quaint.  There is little night life, unlike Buenos Aires and Mendoza.  Like I said, its simply a rural city that people can go to to get away and relax. 

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            If there is one thing that Argentine’s love over just about everything else, it is futbol.  In this country, its hard to go into a restaurant, a store, or a bar with a TV and not see two teams competing.  Old, young, male, female; it doesn’t matter since they all share a passion for the game.  While Americans cheer for a wide variety of sports and are somewhat tame in cheering for their favorites, Argentines live, breathe, and eat soccer and as fans, they are completely loco.

            I first witnessed their insanity when I attended a Boca Juniors match.  First of all, the crowd would not remain quiet.  One crowd was constantly singing and dancing, and numerous times, this enthusiasm would spread all over the stadium, and all that could be heard was the deafening chanting and cheering of the home fans.  Everybody knew the words, and everybody sang loudly and proudly.  It will be a shame to go back to a Georgia Tech football game, where fans don’t even know the fight songs, and can’t even be bothered to wear gold.  While U.S. fans sit in their seats and get fat off of their snacks, Argentine fans climb the fences surround the field, maneuver around barbed wire, all in an effort to support their team.

            Whereas one U.S. city may have one or two stadiums to support all the city’s sports, I have already seen 3 stadiums in Buenos Aires, solely for soccer.  Citizens in the states would have a fit, and cry a misuse of people’s tax money.  Yet, Argentine’s are glad that their teams have their own stadium.  In fact, Argentine’s support for their teams are so strong, and the rivalries so fierce that it even ends in violence.  This violence doesn’t just happen in the stadium too, but on the street away from the matches.  I myself even had to cover up when wearing a River Plate shirt because otherwise, I would have not been allowed into the Huracan Athletic Club.  You would never see anything like that in the states, but I love it.  It makes one want to get involved, pick a team and get in on the competitiveness and the loyalty.

            Why is the loyalty so high and the rivalries so fierce?  It is most likely because these teams started from neighborhood athletic clubs, sort of like YMCA’s.  Even more, like Boca and River, some of the teams became associated with different economic classes.  While the U.S. just sees teams, Argentines see the social and political aspects behind the teams.  Baseball may be the pastime of the U.S., but futbol is the life of Argentina.

 

                        Despite the beauty of its cities and countryside, Argentina has a major problem with pollution.  From dog feces to smog to just straight up trash, there are many factors that detract from Argentina, and its impossible to not notice.  At least for me, everywhere I have been, I have encountered pollution.

            In Buenos Aires, dogs are very common, and its hard to go a whole day without seeing at least five of these human companions running around.  The only problem is, there is nothing to keep these animals from urinating or going to the bathroom on the sidewalk.  This is not really the problem, as it isn’t the animals’ fault that they have to go.  Rather, there is nothing (fines, etc.) to make the owners clean up after their pets, and the result is feces covered sidewalks.  In addition, some of the drainage systems here are very poor, leaving puddles of water sitting around.  These puddles also smell as if they also contain urine.  These feces and puddles are perfect places for disease and insects to breed, and also pollute the air, making some strolls unpleasant.  Furthermore, being a city with a high amount of traffic, one would think there would be emissions laws for the vast amount of vehicles.  However, this does not seem to be the case as the smog in the city is very noticeable, not necessarily by eye, but by the nose and lungs.  Going to the countryside and returning, the thicker city air is noticeable, and one knows that probably pollution is the cause.

            In regards to El Tigre, I was told it was nice place to visit and take a boat ride, and that it bared a resemblance to Venice.  Indeed the small city was nice, but the pollution of the water of the canal was disturbing and disappointing.  The water had a color of not blue or green, but of a very dirty brown, which did not make it too appealing.  Furthermore, used tires and trash could be seen floating in the waters.  It was no surprise to see messages calling for action and the end of pollution.

            Finally, going to Mendoza, I figured we were going to get further away from big city life, and that things would be cleaner.  Yet, it was the same old thing on the western half of the country.  Mendoza has open sewers on the sidewalk, which some emit an unappealing smell.  Many people also see them as trash cans, throwing their garbage in them to rot and sit.  While traveling in the city, I even saw a pickup truck parked in a field, and the driver in the bed of the truck, throwing garbage into the field.  Even more shocking, I noticed a dead dog just sitting on the side of the road, and from the looks of it, it was not a fresh kill.  

            Clearly, in some cases in Argentina, the waste disposal is borderline barbaric, and the country suffers from the pollution.  While these factors may give Argentina a reason to oppose the Uruguayan paper mills, the Argentines still come off as somewhat hypocritical in the fact that they themselves are doing nothing to regulate pollution from within.

Never having seen Flamenco or Tango, I was excited to get a chance to enjoy both of these cultural dances.  However, I naively thought that they wouldn’t be too different, having a Spanish influence in both.  Yet, the dances are as different as day and night, from the music to the movements themselves.

            In regards to music, the two dances have different instruments that are vital to and associated with these traditional dances.  The tango relies heavily on the accordion or an accordion-like instrument, and can also be accompanied by string instruments and a piano.  If there is a singer, he sings in a very classic manner, sort of like the Frank Sinatra period of singing.  This music makes for a very elegant and romantic atmosphere, despite the dance’s origins in brothels.  On the other hand, the Flamenco relies heavily on the drum, most likely to provide the beat for the dancer(s) to dance to.  The beat is usually one of a high tempo, and is played with the hands.  As for accompanying instruments, a guitar is a must too, as there needs to be melody with the dance.  If there is singing, it comes off as almost Middle Eastern as the singer’s pitch is constantly and abruptly changing.  The atmosphere of this music is very upbeat and intense.

            As for dancing, Tango is solely a dance of two people, usually of a female and a male, but same gender Tangos are not rare.  When it is a mixed gender dance, the dancers are very focused on each other, and embrace each other closely for almost the entire time.  Their upper bodies seldom move much, mostly the dance consists of abrupt kicks of the leg and exaggerated steps.  Having the romantic atmosphere, the dance comes off as very sexual and intimate.  On the other hand, Flamenco can be a dance of either two or one person.  The dance is almost like tap-dancing, due to the dancers hitting their heels and toes on the floor.  However, there are a decent amount of upper body movements, especially with the arms and hands.  You get a sense of bullfighting due to their arm positioning, heightened by the yells of “Ole!”  With a fast beat, the dance is very intense, with the dancer’s legs and feet moving at lightning fast speed.

            In the end, while the dances are both intense, Tango is more of a romantic dance with a partner, while Flamenco comes off as more of a solo dance of skill and speed.  If I had to choose which one I prefer more, I would definitely choose Flamenco, where I feel more skill is required, and the fact that its more exciting to watch, while Tango is impressive, but soon loses its zeal.

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