The last few weeks have been extremely busy, but I have caught my second cold since I have been here so I feel like this is the best time to write about what I have been doing for the past two weeks. Now that I have gotten my second cold here, I have learned why Argentinians (Porteños) always carry around and use hand sanitizer. You are constantly touching germy things like a hand rail on the subway or bus. Plus, most of the foods here are eaten with your hands such as the media luna or empanada.
On Saturday and Sunday during week 6, I got to visit a city called Tigre which is a famous and heavily populated area of Buenos Aires. It takes about two hours to get there from where I live by using public transportation, and the crowds on the bus and on the train are ridiculous on the weekends.
I have never taken the train in Buenos Aires and that in itself was an experience. The train is frustratingly slow and makes several stops on the way to Tigre. Hundreds of people take the train on the weekends and it is nearly impossible to get comfortable and find a good seat. At the beginning, the train drives by the slums of Buenos Aires which look like an area where a severe earthquake hit, only there are actually people living in these destroyed buildings. You know people live there because there are clothes hanging on wires in the abandoned, destroyed housing.
When we finally got to Tigre, we had a tour guide and we got to take a boat around the city. Tigre is the name of a river the flows around the city, and we were able to take a tourist boat that pointed out the attractions of the city. There are a lot of people that do recreational activities like rowing and canoeing on the lake, which is weird because of how cold it is right now in Buenos Aires.
Tigre is also home to several mercados selling all kinds of random trinkets, clothing, toys and other souvenirs. It is definitely a cool place to go on the weekend because it has water sports, local food, souvenirs and it’s bursting with people. We were also able to attend a maté museum before leaving.
Maté is a huge part of the culture here. You can’t talk about BA without mentioning how obsessive they are with their Maté tradition. I’m pretty sure most people have seen Yerba Maté in stores in the US and I had heard of it before I came here, but they maté here is more fresh and there are various rules and traditions that go along with drinking maté. It’s meant to be shared with a group of people and it’s a very communal activity.
Basically there is a cup or container that they call “maté” and the leaves they put in the cup are called Yerba. The cup is filled with 3/4 maté and the rest is filled with hot water. The resulting yerba/water mix is meant to be drank with a metal straw with little holes on the end to filter the yerba particles.
One person is in charge of filling up the maté cup with hot water, and it generally only takes a minute or so per person to drink the maté. When the person in charge gives you the maté, you have to drink ALL of it. You don’t pass it to the person next to you when you’re done. You give it back to the person with the thermos of hot water in charge of refilling the maté. I like the taste of maté but it has an extremely strong flavor the first time you drink it so it takes awhile to get used to.