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From A to Z

Buenos Aires is a city like no other. Even if you spend just a few days roaming its streets, you’re bound to come across some peculiar sights. Here is an A-Z collection of my favorite Buenos Aires oddities.

Armadillo ancestors

The glyptodonts

The glyptodonts

Two great reasons to travel to the city of La Plata, about an hour from Buenos Aires, are the massive Neogothic cathedral and the museum, the awe-inspiring Museo de Ciencias Naturales. I was fascinated with the dusty taxidermy cases, peculiar fossils and relics of immense and minuscule creatures, but was most intrigued by the glyptodonts, relatives of the modern armadillo. Glyptodonts possess turtle-like body armor, tails with huge rings of bones for protection, and were the size of Volkswagen Beetles. Glyptodonts became extinct during the last ice age along with other megafaunal species, including the infamous giant ground sloths. Their smaller, more lightly-armored and flexible relatives, the armadillos, have survived.

Serious Tail

Serious Tail

Barra Brava

Futbol stadium

Watching fútbol at El Monumental, River's home stadium in the Núñez neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

Barra brava is a term that originated in Argentina for the organized supporter groups of soccer teams in Latin America. After attending a fútbol match sitting with the away team’s barra brava, I now know exactly what this group is all about. They stand through the match, shout, sing, cheer, and basically go crazy when their team scores or when the other team scores. I am no stranger to zealous football fans having grown up in Wisconsin, but these devotees take fandom to another level. The entire time I was afraid their innocuous enthusiasm could suddenly turn into erratic hooliganism. Since I am not well versed in fútbol culture (unlike most people I came in contact with), I could not sufficiently enjoy the game in such a gigantic, daunting setting so perhaps watching it on TV at an Argentine café is more my style.

I was intimidated, needless to say.

I was intimidated, needless to say.

Thundering Futbol Chants

Thundering Futbol Chants

Hooligans? Maybe. Time to leave.

Hooligans? Maybe. Time to leave.

Carnicerías

For all your chicken needs

For all your chicken needs

The carnicerías, or local butcher shops, are important in Buenos Aires especially since meat is a central component to most meals. Whether it’s pollo, carne asada, bife de chorizo, steak for the parrilla (grill), the ompnipoetent breaded veal filet called milanesa, or the – lookout if you’re picky: lengua (tongue) and tripas (TRIPE), you can find it all at the carnicería. The top-hatted chickens in the picture seem pretty content to be selling their own kind which reminds me of the Suicide Food blog

Delivery

Bottle of water? We deliver!

Bottle of water? We deliver!

Want something in Buenos Aires? Anything? Call and it can be delivered. Ice cream, your clean laundry, your movie rental, or your coffee can be delivered to your house… they will effortlessly carry a tray of tiny coffees (through traffic, without spilling) all the way from the café to your doorstep and then pick up their coffee cups later in the day.

We’ve even seen a bottle of water and glass of ice being delivered and happened to have the camera with us. As you can seen, the woman in front of us became extremely troubled as to why we would be taking the girl’s picture. Because we’re intrigued with deliveries! But this occurrence was commonplace to her, no doubt.

Water delivery, no one has every taken a picture of this before

Water delivery and perturbed woman

Esqueletos de dinosaurios

Hall of Bones, La Plata Natural History Museum

Hall of Bones, La Plata Natural History Museum

I can’t say enough about South American dinos. The La Plata museum has a room similar to what you’d see in Paris at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Futhermore, right in the city of Buenos Aires you’ll find the Museo Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum, notable for its patagosaurs, herrerasaurus, carnotaurus, and eoraptor fossils as well as paleontology displays from the Cenozoic Era featuring ground sloth megatherium, glyptodon, macrauchenia, and smilodon fossils.

There's just something about South American dinosaurs that makes them that much scarier.

There's just something about South American dinosaurs that makes them that much scarier.

He ate me

He ate me

Fashion

One of the most popular fashions of 2008

One of the most popular fashions of 2008

In Buenos Aires, folks are very fashion conscious  which means that even the most beautiful women will wear the latest “genie” pants and other strange sweatpants that are baggy at the top and tapered at the bottom. Also, am I out of it or did I miss this running shoe fad in North America? Anyone who is anyone has “toe” shoes like these.

Extremely popular style of Nikes

Extremely popular style of Nikes

Garment District

Gaston Textiles

Gaston Textiles

The idea of “districts” in Buenos Aires has always intrigued me. There is one street with about 15 guitar shops. Then there’s the neighborhood with textile or garments shops in Balvanera. In fact, Wikipedia states that there are 25,000 shops currently registered in that neighborhood and I believe it. This garment district stores sell bolts of fabric in any texture and design imaginable. Many shops are run by Jewish immigrants and not far from the textile shops are several mannequin stores that are extremely bizarre. I never got a picture of those mannequins but if I ever get back to Buenos Aires that’s the first place I’m going. For now, here are samples from the fabric stores, party stores, and Kermit district.

Each shop looks like this

One of the numerous fabric shops in the mind- blowing garment district

Party store after party store

Multitudes of party stores

How many party stores does it take?

Fiesta time at this store and seven stores beyond

Common display in shop windows: Everything!

Common display in shop windows: Everything!

A window of kermits

I’m kidding about Kermit, I don’t see many Muppets out and about at all usually. This was a posh shop on Av. Arenales.

Homer

A random Homer Simpson is a common sight

This woman buying bread is not at all charmed by a random Homer

I once read that the Simpsons are more popular in Argentina than anywhere in the world. That is obviously debatable, but they are on TV just as often, plus on the pedestrian street Avenida Florida you’ll see Argentine maps, postcards, pictures of tango singer Carlos Gardel and revolutionary Che Guevara, and then Homer posters displayed proudly alongside as if he hailed from Argentina also. You’ll often run across a random Homer Simpson statue in front of a bar or bakery. In fact, Argentina produces a Duff beer that tastes pretty much like its name.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls from the Argentine side

IguazuFalls from the Argentine side

One of the most magnificent natural wonders in South America, Iguazu Falls, has the greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world. Iguazu means “Big Water” in the language of the Guaranis. You can reach the falls in approximately 12 hours by bus or much quicker by plane.

Garganta del Diablo (The Devil's Throat)

Garganta del Diablo (The Devil's Throat)

Jesuits

Mission ruins at San Ignacio

Mission ruins at San Ignacio

One of the best-known ruins of a Jesuit Mission in South America are at San Ignacio Mini, a Jesuit mission founded in the early seventeenth century to evangelize the native Guarani Indians. Definitely a great place to visit on your way to or from Iguazu Falls since the ruins are in the present town of San Ignacio, in Argentina’s Misiones province near the Brazilian border: Thinks of the 1986 movie The Mission with Jesuits Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro who at one point scale Iguazu Falls.

Kiosks

A typical kiosko

A typical kiosko

Scattered throughout Buenos Aires, you will find hundreds of “kioscos.” These are small shops that sell useful products like you might find in a convenience store. Often Buenos Aires kioscos are miniature-sized with only a glass front and an open window for pedestrians to buy gum or alfajores (type of cookie), ask the operator (known as the kiosquero) for batteries, razors, soap, shampoo, deodorant, aspirin pills, cold remedies, indigestion aids, (what is the international sign for Mylanta?) pens, notebooks, stuffed animals, etc. If space permits they will also sell gaseosas (soda), fruit juice, and Quilmes beer. They usually have names like the “Melena” here. My favorite was named “Lenny.”

Maxikiosco

Maxikiosco

Limbs

Prosthetics in Flores

Prosthetics in Flores

In the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires you will find several Korean restaurants and grocery stores. Also on your journey you might pass a prosthetic store window featuring arms and legs.

 

Legs and canes

Legs and canes

Prosthetic shop

How handy

Maids

Store for all your maid's needs

Store for all your maid's needs

The woman who cleaned our house was our best friend. We will never forget her and her lovely family. This store sells a variety of housecleaner attire.

Maid store

Maid store

Ñ

Ñ

Ñ

A very important letter of the modern Roman alphabet formed by an N with a diacritical tilde and used in the Spanish, Basque, and Filipino alphabets.

Nuns

Nuns eating hot dogs

Nuns eating hot dogs

This was taken at a book fair (not a hot dog fair festival) so chancing upon this scene was entirely unexpected!

Owl

Owl and Argentine Flag

Owl and Argentine Flag

A real hoot

A real hoot

The owl (or more aptly named búhoin Spanish) as the symbol of wisdom sits atop the Museo Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum near Buenos Aires’ Parque Centenario. The building is lined with carvings of museum exhibits.

Sea Lion carvings

Sea Lion carvings

Glyptodont carving

Glyptodont carving

Panaderias

Breads

Lovely Bakery

The bakeries of Buenos Aires are one of the best things about the city. The cakes, pies, and breads most of them filled with dulce de leche are very sweet and always “muy rico.” (Dulce de leche should really have its own letter, but Delivery won out).

Panaderia Quebec

Panaderia Quebec

Also pictured here at the Quebec Bakery is matambre which is cold cuts that are rolled up with parsley, carrot sticks, and eggs.

Matambre

Matambre

The most delicious snack we found was the sandwich de miga. They are usually double-layered sandwiches made from a very thin crustless white bread called “miga.” They contain thinly sliced ham, cheese, tomatoes, eggs, lettuce, and sometimes palm hearts and salsa golf. Since they are a comfort food as soft as can be, we have nicknamed them “Pillow Bread.”

Sandwich de miga

Sandwich de miga

Large bag of Sandwich de miga

Large bag of Sandwich de miga on the subway

Quilmes beer

Quilmes Beer

Quilmes Beer

Argentina’s omnipresent beer, Quilmes, is pictured here in the typical fashion with snacks such palitos, papas fritas inglesas, and manis.

Ratoncitos

Ratoncitos

Ratoncitos

I don’t know much about these “ratoncitos” (little mice) filled with dulce de leche except that the same “monitos” pictured here were labeled “negritos” at a different bakery.

Rat and ?

Rat and ?

Shoes

Shoe pile display

Shoe pile display

Shoe displays were the very first thing I marveled over when walking down Av. Santa Fe. Shoe stores seem to put their whole inventory right in the window. Every. Single. Shoe. We. Have. Is. In. Our. Window. Some shoe store windows were worse than others. There was a store in Posadas, AR that looked like the window hadn’t been changed since 1989 and there were cobwebs in a baby shoe. I was fascinated by that shoe museum of sorts. I should also note the popularity of Converse All-Stars… Converse Chuck Taylor’s are pronounced CONE-BEAR-SAY and everyone from teenagers to older people to babies call them their favorite!

Shoes galore

Shoes galore

Converse shoes that lace up your infant's leg were very popular.

Converse shoes that lace up your infant's leg are very popular.

Tigre

Tigre, canal town

Tigre, canal town

Exploring the town of Tigre and its Paraná Delta is a quick, easy escape if one needs a break from the big city. Just take a train from Retiro to Tigre and hop on a water taxi. We chose Las Tres Bocas as our stop to admire the cabanas nestled amongst the canals and take in the sunshine along the river’s edge.

Or explore the "jungle" lawns of Tigre.

Or explore the "jungle" lawns of Tigre.

Uruguay

Christmas waves

Christmas waves

The country of Uruguay is also a very close getaway. Traveling Uruguay’s coast is extremely easy by bus: Christmas time on the beaches of Uruguay (the historic section of Punta del Este, quiet La Paloma, or even the traquilo shacks and sea lions of Cabo Polonio) proved to be a delightful adventure. The historic town of Colonia delSacramento is just an hour-long ferry ride. Most tourists stick to the historic district but a jaunt around the town will lead you to amazing birds, cows, friendly folks, and the quaint Menendez Bar.

You may discover a cow relaxing in your path in Colonia, UR

You may discover a cow relaxing in your path in Colonia, UR

Try a whiskey and coke with the locals in Colonia, UR

Try a whiskey and coke with the locals in Colonia, UR

Very delicious ice cream
Buenos Aires has at least two ice cream chains that are spectacular, making a sort of gelato style ice cream. Our favorites were the dulce de leche ice cream at Freddo and Volta. When the ice cream is delivered they pack it in dry ice which adds to the fun. No picture of course, because we ate the ice cream too fast to even think about getting out the camera.

Korean corn ice cream

Korean corn ice cream

This is the wrapper for Corn Ice Cream from the Korean neighborhood. A Flickr user here has a great picture of the inside and the taste is exactly like corn on the cob with ice cream. Of course.

Xeres

Sometimes in parrillas (restaurants that serve grilled food) we were given a complimentary drink before or after the meal. There was a thick syrupy lemon drink and then there was one a bit better that Patrice had tried in France called Xeres. I just found out now that Xeres, actually Jerezin Spanish, is what we call sherry in English. Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez, Spain. All wine that is labeled “sherry” must come from what is known as the Sherry Triangle in the Spanish province of Cadiz. Also, perhaps the type we drank was a sweetened oloroso, a sherry that is dark and nutty.

Yanqui

No to imperialism, Yankee. Get our of Iraq!

No to imperialism, Yankee. Get our of Iraq!

The general attitude toward American “Yankees” was pretty positive. This sign of disapproval was seen in the charming “gaucho town” of San Antonio de Areco.

Drink a fernet branca an old General Store turned tavern

Drink a Fernet Branca at an old General Store turned tavern

 Zea Lions

My favorite thing about Uruguay: this sea lion!

My favorite thing about Uruguay: this sea lion!

Okay, I cheated. I just needed an excuse to post a picture of the sea lion from Cabo Polonio, UR that almost came home to live in my bathtub. He was too attached to his colony life though.

I’ve always been a stuffed animal enthusiast, especially for those like my manatee which anyone would marvel at after catching a glimpse of this blubbery, bearded sea cow. He truly appears to be a real manatee, except that he is softer, eats less algae, and is so well constructed that even if smushed into a suitcase for two days he would just bounce back to manatee shape like nothing had happened (See “Moving the Manatee” post). As the months went by I began to realize that most people did not have stuffed manatees in Buenos Aires, although there were ample stuffed toys to choose from since most kiosks do have a shelf devoted to stuffed animals.

When I first arrived in September I thought perhaps these toys in the kioscos were just leftover from Valentine’s Day merchandise and sure enough once Halloween came some were indeed replaced with plastic pumpkins. Whatever the animal, though, they didn’t seem at all unique or plushy. I began to think that they just weren’t taken as seriously – the bears were quite often pink and the dogs might be pale blue – perhaps the concept of realistic stuffed creatures isn’t very crucial here, so I speculated.

Year round stuffed toys

Year round stuffed toys seem to resemble Valentine's gifts

Stuffed Animal District

There is a neighborhood in Buenos Aires called Once with an amazing garment district. You’ll encounter shop after shop selling any kind of fabric you can imagine. This bizarre almost bazaar-like neighborhood also contains many bead shops, party favor stores, and we even stumbled upon a sort of Sticker Headquarters where sheets of stickers can be bought in bulk. In fact, there are several stores plastered from top to bottom with stuffed animals. However, this impressive looking array did not contain any enthralling stuffed critters so I had to continue my investigation in another spot.

One version of each and every stuffed animal sold around the city can be purchased here at Mundo Plush

One version of each and every stuffed animal sold around the city can be purchased here in Barrio Once.

Stuffed animals are falling from the heavens

Stuffed animals are falling from the heavens

Zoo store evaluation

The Buenos Aires zoo houses teeny monkeys, loads of llamas, and many curious looking Patagonian rabbits and beavers that hop every which way around the zoo. I was definitely anxious to see what educational toys they had to represent their animals. Instead of cuddly authenticity I was bombarded with a slew of awkward animals: two-headed dinosaurs, stuffed flowers with faces, brainless looking tigers, armless bears, and pastel purple cows!

Not at all!

Not at all!

The brainless tiger

The brainless tiger in the zoo gift shop

Eureka!

The turning point in my quest for a stuffed animal explanation came after visiting La Plata’s Natural History Museum. It was there that I witnessed South American beasts in all their glory. I beheld prehistoric fauna I had never dreamed of in all my life.

It suddenly became clear: The stuffed animals I was witnessing in the shop windows near my apartment were not poorly constructed, they were from the placental group of mammals known as Xenarthra, the order of mammals that includes extinct ground sloths, pampas beasts, tree sloths, anteaters and giant armadillos of South America! For example:

Panochthus is an extinct genus of glyptodont, who lived in Argentina during the Pleistocene epoch.

Panochthus is an extinct genus of glyptodont, who lived in Argentina during the Pleistocene epoch.

Obvious ancestor to Panochthus

And this is an obvious ancestor to Panochthus

 Cuvieronius with its spiral shaped tusks resemble the stuffed animal at the right.

Cuvieronius with its spiral shaped tusks resemble the stuffed animal below.

An actual Cuvieronius replica. This is not being sold in a museum gift shop, this is just at the shop where you buy bottles of water and gum.

A stuffed Cuvieronius replica. (This is not being sold in a museum gift shop, this is just at a shop where you buy gum and bottled water).

Wasn't exactly able to identify this guy at Kodak store but I believe him to be related to the creatures below.

Wasn't exactly able to identify this guy at the Kodak store but I believe him to be related to the creatures below.

That explains it!

Pampas beasts

I was astonished by these until I saw the dinosaurs at the Museo Ciencias Naturales in Buenos Aires.

I was embarrassed by these "educational" dragons until I saw the mythological looking dinosaurs at the Museo Ciencias Naturales in Buenos Aires...

Just as many teeth as the two headed dragon.

Teeth galore on local dinosaur. This guy actually existed!

I immediately began to appreciate each stuffed animal for what they were: discolored throwbacks to ancient camels, stegomastodons, and my personal favorite, the ground sloth Megatherium (Giant Beast), one of the largest mammals to ever walk the earth, weighing 5 tons. I wonder if he is smushable?

Even the pelvis of the Ground Sloth Megatherium casts a gruesome shadow on the walls

Eureka: Great Ground Sloths!

Our landlord informed us recently that actor John Malkovich wanted to buy our apartment! She had to turn him down though, as she would rather continue to rent the cupola apartment to tourists. Wow. I walked around the apartment picturing John Malkovich decorating the fridge here with postcards of his trip to Iguazu Falls as I do, playing the piano, bidding on Elance projects as a proofreader… poor John, he’s really missing out. I’m sure he would love this place for the round rooms, impressive spire on top of the dome, and the porthole windows.

Living in this building is also like taking a portal into the mind of a magician, since Mr. David Bamberg better known as Fú-Manchú also lived in this apartment. Originally from Britain, he brought his magic show to Argentina in 1926. As a magician that travelled around the world, he was known for his colorful presence, stage scenery, comedy, kimonos, and shadow plays. After starring in several magic movies in Mexico, he retired in 1966 and opened up a magician school and also a magic shop on Av. Riobamba 163. See Fú-Manchú in this video. His shadow plays look great on the walls of my green office.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a plaque near the door of the building commemorating the fact that Alfonsina Storni lived in the building. Upon further research I’ve come to realize that she is one of the most well-known Latin-American women poets of the twentieth century. Inspired by her own personal experiences, Alfonsina courageously wrote about the struggles of women in modern urban society, advocating equality for women and lamenting the inadequacies of idealistic relationships in a male-dominated society.

Commemorative Plaque outside my door for Alfonsina

Commemorative Plaque outside my door for Alfonsina

Alfonsina Storni was born in Capriasca, Switzerland to Italian-Swiss parents and eventually came to live in Buenos Aires around 1912 and her first book of poetry was published in 1916. She became a part of a group of writers, poets, artists, and musicians of the time who together formed a “group of people in arts and letters” called “La Peña,” and they would meet at Café Tortoni, the oldest café in the city.

I read in her biography that she would often recite poetry at Café Tortoni where it was common to see artists sketching, journalist writing, and “Ricardo Viñes playing for the first time the compositions of his friend Erik Satie.” Oddly, this is significant to me because I’ve been playing Satie on the piano here in the apartment. Maybe those songs had been favorites of Alfonsina!

A Room of Her Own at Cafe Tortoni

A Room of Her Own at Cafe Tortoni

Café Tortoni today is full of photographs, artwork, and old newspaper articles, commemorating the time spent at Tortoni by such notable people as Jorge Luis Borges, García Lorca, Julio Cortázar, and Carlos Gardel among others. Often, entire rooms are named after famous people; the Alfonsina Storni room is pictured above.

It was in 1929 that Alfonsina moved to the tenth floor of my building. I often wonder what life was like during her stay in this apartment. Just what was happening in Argentina during that time period? Turns out that in 1929, Argentina had actually had the world’s fourth highest per capita GDP. These years of prosperity ended with the Crash of 1929 and the ensuing worldwide Great Depression. In 1930, a military coup, forced the president out; support for the coup was bolstered by the sagging Argentine economy as well as a string of bomb attacks and shootings involving radical anarchists, which alienated moderate elements of Argentine society and angered the conservative right, who had long been agitating for decisive action by the military forces. Thanks to Wikipedia, now I have an idea.

Alfonsina at Home

Alfonsina at Home

During the 1930s she traveled to Europe several times until she became sick and suffered a nervous breakdown. She began calling out to the sea in her poems which alluded to the embrace of the ocean and the crystal house waiting for her there at the bottom. In 1938, she took a train to Mar del Plata and stayed in a small hotel where she wrote “Voy a Dormir” (I Am Going to Sleep) on October 20. Two days later, she sent the poem to the editorial office of La Nacion. While the public read her poem, she walked into the ocean and drowned. Argentina had lost an original feminist and painter of modern life. You are able to read her poems in English and Spanish here.

I came across a children's park in Colonia, Uruguay named after Alfonsina

I came across a children's park in Colonia, Uruguay named after Alfonsina

Often, when travelers arrive in a new place, they want to understand the essence of the culture: the smells, sounds, tastes, colors, and heart of the place and its people. The one spot to easily gain a glimpse in just a few short minutes of what Chilean culture is all about is at the mother of all markets, La Vega.

This place truly resonated with me.

This place truly resonated with me.

For a cheap, authentic, and tasty meal, it was no wonder that we stopped there each day of the trip. While the smaller Mercado Central is probably the first market you’ll come to in Santiago, it is definitely orientated towards tourists, where they will bombard you with shouts and spiels about their food to cajole you into taking a seat at their table. However, La Vega market is for the regulars, the dark alleyways filled with people pushing carts of food leading to piles of tomatoes over six feet high, squash sliced open to display the color, and crates of exotic fruits you’ve never seen before.

Frutas exoticas

Frutas exoticas

La Vega's colors

La Vega's colors

Onions piled high to the sky!

Onions piled high to the sky!

Signature squash

Signature squash

Covering three to four blocks, you can find everything from large sacks of spices or socks, small kitchens cooking up fresh seafood, stews and corn casseroles, dogs and cats sleeping under tables, and just an all-round great vibe. Plus everything is extremely cheap.

Goats help chop the veggies.

Goats help chop the veggies.

The little kitchens or cocineras hidden between stalls are a true delight. From the ceviche, to the pastel de choclo, cazuelas, and humitas, everything about Chilean food to me was colorful, flavorful, very fresh, and muy rico. If only Buenos Aires had a market like La Vega!

Paila Marina

Paila Marina and other goodness

Bowls of sauces and other spices for sale just around every corner.

Bowls of sauces and other spices for sale just around every corner.

Dining with the locals: pull up a chair at a tiny kitchen!

Dining with the locals: pull up a chair at a tiny kitchen at La Vega!

All good things must come to an end. However, we deliberately left some sites unexplored since I had fallen in amor with Santiago and envisioned myself someday living there. A leisurely stroll, or uphill climb rather, through a magnificent park filled out the last morning of the trip. The Cerro (hill) Santa Lucía is a vertical labyrinth interspersed with various statues, lookouts, ponds, murals and ruins of a Spanish fortification. It dates back to when the founders of the city established a settlement under the hill so they could fend off enemies. In 1872 it was transformed into an atypical green space with hanging gardens and fountains. At the very top there is a impressive view of Santiago. Too bad it wasn’t clear enough to see the Andes that day but others have been quite lucky.

Halfway up Cerro St. Lucia

Halfway up Cerro St. Lucia

On to Santiago’s General Cemetery which was founded in 1820.  Over two million people are buried there, including the majority of Chile’s presidents. Unlike what I’ve seen in Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, the Cementerio General contains luxurious tombs but also the most humble amidst the flowering trees and lush gardens. Most constructions are from the 19th century, everything from Gothic and Muslim to Egyptian styles. Also of note were the concrete slabs and the tiny toys and beloved objects that were buried with the niños.

Cementerio General de Santiago

Cementerio General de Santiago

Very different from Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Very different from Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Cemetery Toys

Cemetery Toys

It's good to honor your loved ones, but this seems a bit much.

It's good to honor your loved ones, but this seems a bit much.

Soon, it was time for a coffee break. A few years back, if you were a businessman in Santiago you would most likely get your coffee at a caffeine joint with blackened out windows and neon lights. The concept, called Café con Piernas literally translated as “coffee with legs” became popular in the 1990s in Santiago as a way of reviving the café culture; the scantily clothed women lured the businessmen in for a cortado and the concept, as seedy as it sounds, is a perfectly natural part of the working day. I tried the coffee at a tamer version of café con piernas, called Café Caribe.

According to Chilean connoisseurs (of both coffee and legs), the best coffee in Santiago can be found accompanied by legs.

According to Chilean connoisseurs (of both coffee and legs), the best coffee in Santiago can be found accompanied by legs.

Ah, Chile.  The images I’d had of what South America might be like were reaffirmed as soon as I set foot in this country. I was growing more passionate and attached to this place with each passing minute. On the third day in Santiago, approaching the town square from la Vega market with exotic fruit in hand, we were bombarded with the jovial tunes of a Chilean army band! Relaxing in the late summer sun with our honeydew melon-tasting fruits, we were transfixed on the music and bewildered by the people-watching potential of Plaza de Armas. I observed a man combining his hair in the fountain, convincing little kids that they too should fix their hair in the same fountain each morning.

Pony of the Plaza de las Armas

Pony de Plaza de Armas

Tubas in the town square

Tubas in the town square

Around 1 p.m. we ventured to La Piojera, a traditional Chilean drinking den! We had wanted to check this place out for a certain signature drink, the terremoto. Supposedly, the drink was created during an earthquake when the waiter dropped ice cream in someone’s wine by mistake!

We walked in the establishment to find a dive bar packed with people drinking terremotos, Escudo beer, wine, and they were already quite lively. We were seated in a dirty back room with scrawl marks all over the walls and were poured the infamous cup of pipeño wine with pineapple ice cream, which was quite delicious and immediately rather potent.

We switched tables in order to mingle and spent the rest of the afternoon talking with a Chilean and a Colombian. Turns out that La Piojera is over 100 years old and has been owned by the same family since 1916.  Our Chilean amigo informed us that he once drank five terremotos in a row and he will never do that again, so instead he stuck to wine. He also told us about Chilean robbers and we learned of all the beautiful places to visit in Colombia. Men with guitars and accordions serenaded but at that point we were singing ourselves: the Chilean man taught me a catchy rhyme-chant  in Quechua and Patrice and the Colombian sang “La Boheme” along with French crooner Charles Aznavour on Patrice’s iPod. A true exchange of cultures!

Sharing earbuds to listen to French songs on the iPod, man in the background makes a deal with a Chilean robber.

Sharing earbuds to sing along with French songs on the iPod...man in the background makes a deal with a Chilean robber. This is what La Piojera is all about.

La Piojera was like nothing we had come across in Buenos Aires even after living there for several months — I would love to go back but for now I’ll settle on this 360 degree photo; if I move the arrows fast enough I can reenact the effects of the infamous terremoto!

This terremoto drink made me wonder if the mote con huesillos I drank earlier in the trip was also accidentally originated during an earthquake. Mote con huesillos is made with boiled wheat (mote) mixed with sun-dried peaches (huesillos) that have been rehydrated in water and sugar. Delicious!

Our first stop was the Biblioteca Nacional which was a true bibliophile’s delight. As we wandered into the geography room and other ornate meeting rooms, Patrice came to understand my desire to be a librarian. He said, “I’m in shock here. This place has everything I love: maps, Internet access, archives… so now I know why you want to be a librarian but I don’t know why you wanted to be one before you came HERE.” Good point.

Geography room at the Biblioteca Nacional in Santiago, Chile

The gorgeous national library in Santiago, Chile

Geography room at Santiago's Library

Geography room

Peeking at a book in the Pablo Neruda Reading Room

Peeking at a book in the Pablo Neruda Reading Room

After exploring the charming library from top to bottom, we decided to walk to Barrio Brasil where we stumbled upon a very immense, run down, decrepit looking church. ¡Qué lástima! They really let it go to pieces. I realized a few minutes later thanks to the guide book that the Basílica del Salvador was damaged by an earthquake. Having never seen an earthquake ravaged building in person, it was quite eerie to me. Check out a 360-degree view for yourself here.

Once we reached the plaza in Barrio Brasil we stopped at a little café serving a realm of Chilean beers (a great variety compared to the options in Buenos Aires) and then walked toward a quaint  little street called Concha y Toro. There, we came across a sunny plazoleta with a fountain surrounded by opulent residences and winding streets, reminding me of Italy.

Cafe in Barrio Brazil

Cafe in Barrio Brazil

Concha y Toro Plazoleta

Concha y Toro Plazoleta

For dinner, we ventured back to that little relaxed street, Constitución, near the hostel on Dardignac, and enjoyed the música folclórica de Chile provided by guitarists and the little boy with the huge drum on his back. The drummers are chinchineros, street performers who play a bass drum with long drumsticks strapped to their back. A rope is tied around the performer’s foot to play the cymbals and they usually work with an organ grinder drumming along to whatever the street organ is playing, usually the foxtrot, waltz, tango, or cueca. Watch these guys in action!

Waiter helps a little drummer boy (chinchinero) tie his shoe cymbals

Waiter helps a little drummer boy (chinchinero) tie his shoe cymbals

After the little drummer had his cymbals tied on and began whirling around like a dervish, I noted this oh-so-Chilean scene as the guitarist’s girl met him for a besito (little kiss) between songs. Everything about this city was colorful and quixotic!

Bohemian Chile

Bohemian Chile