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Monday, February 08, 2010

Maté and Me

Sept 14/09

San Telmo markets......HERE I COME!!!!! The event that I had been waiting for all week had finally arrived. All week long I had been hearing about the massive street markets they have where one can barter for goods and souvenirs. Everyone I had been talking to had told me that this is quite the experience. So I had been counting down until Sunday.

Ave Defensa is where the markets take place. This street is filled with cars every day of the week except Sunday when the street is shut down so the merchants can set up their stalls to sell their goods. I quickly found where the market started and began my long stroll down the winding pathways. I remembered everyone's words about the how fun the market was and their words did not disappoint one bit.

If you are ever in BA, forget the tacky tourist shops on Lavalle and Florida Ave. The San Telmo markets is where you'll be able to bring an authentic Argentinean souvenir home to your loved ones. And there is so much to choose from! Anything from t-shirts, coasters, artwork, it is all here. The one truly Argentinean item that you could practice your bartering skills for is a gourd used for herbal maté

Herbal maté is just as part of the Argentinean culture as tango dancing is. I had my first tasted of herbal maté at Glady's house. Here is how it works, the herbal maté tea leaves are poured into a gourd until it is almost 3/4 full. Then some hot water is poured in. A metal straw is then inserted into the gourd filled with maté.

The drink is used socially when guest are visiting. Often while I am teaching Glady's I will take a sip of maté from the straw throughout the evening. And in turn, she takes sips as well. So the gourd gets passed back and forth between the two of us. What a way to create a sense of community! Even out on the street you can see people holding a gourd of herbal maté. Or you may even come across a group of friends sharing a gourd full of tea. It is a form of sharing and connecting socially.

Anyway, back to the markets. After a nice long stroll in which several times I was tempted to buy a souvenir for someone back home, I soon reached where the market ended. And boy were my feet tired! It was then when I looked up and sight that was like finding an oasis in the middle of the dessert. Freddo.

What is Freddo you may ask? Freddo is one of the county's premier franchises for ice-cream. I didn't hesitate to walk right through those doors to take in the Freddo experience that awaited me. Inside, the store surroundings were clean and bright with a modern twist. When my turn came, I explained to the guy behind the counter that it was my first time ever trying ice cream from Fredda and I wanted something popular that was made of chocolate.

13 pesos later, I found myself sitting out of the store on the window still indulging myself. There is nothing in the world like ice-cream that taste natural and creamy without being too sweet. In this country. From meat to ice-cream, this is a country that knows how to put just the right amount of flavor into their food without going overboard and leaving you with too strong of an after taste or a heavy feeling in your stomach.

The stop to get some ice-cream was just what I needed to rest my legs and get them ready for more walking. I decided to walk back through the market and take a send look at some items that would potentially make good souvenirs. I went back to a certain stall and after a little bit of thought, purchased my very first souvenir from San Telmo markets. One of you is going to be very lucky when I get home........

I soon found myself back at the Plaza de Mayo with lots of time still on my hands, I decided to take a visit to another interesting district here in BA named La Boca. And for the first time ever, I would have the experience of using the collectivo, the bus! A local quickly directed me to a bus stop nearby. It is there that I learned two things, one is that if the bus that you're wanting to talk doesn't look like it is coming soon, find another stand with another bus that is coming around more frequently.

The second thing I learned is that when you see the bus you are waiting for, flag it down. They do not automatically stop at a stand like they do in Canada. Once I learned these two things, I was on my way! Sitting on the bus, it was interesting to observe the changes in the neighborhood as we entered a different district. And it got really obvious when the bus had pulled into the neighborhood of La Boca.

I stepped off the bus and onto the main street El Caminito. Once a poverty stricken shanty town in the 1800s, it is now a thriving tourist haven. Having spent all my money on food, drink, and souvenirs, I had little money and it appears I'm not the only one. This barrio is the poorest of all the neighborhoods in Argentina and it is the one neighborhood you never want to be caught walking alone in at nite and you want to use caution during the day. Having to share their space with tourist is something that has taken some getting used to on the part of the locals. The presence of police surveillance does give one a little bit more peace of mind to ensure that the locals behave.

Looking around, it was hard to believe that this was once the quarters for the early italian immigrants that came to BA as meat packers. Feeling embarrassed by their plain surrounds, they proceeded to splash on brightly colored paint all over various buildings as well as create murals to tell their stories. Their decor soon became a hit and as a result, hundreds of years later, their little shanty town is filled with people from all over the world all day long.

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas