Category Archives: South America

Friends Get Married

I’ve hit that age when everyone you know starts getting married. Some even start having (gasp!) babies! In the last year alone I’ve been to weddings in Serbia, the U.S., Germany, and Paraguay (oh, and there was that time I met my BFF’s baby in the Bahamas.) It’s expensive to keep up with so many friends and their love lives, but it’s also so much fun!

Every country has their traditions – some of them seem weird (actually, no, they ARE weird, but let’s not debate semantics here) but they are all equally as crucial for the couple getting married and for the guests in attendance. Here is a list of some of the things I found to be the strangest, or most unique, in the “foreign weddings” I attended this year:

SERBIA

Vladi and Ive

Vladi and Iva

  • The first wedding is in a church (pretty standard) and not all wedding guests are invited to attend – this is usually a small, intimate ceremony that lasts about half an hour – the couple must accept congratulations and smile and pose with every guest who came to the church for the photographer
  • When you walk outside the church, there are local gypsy brass bands that come up to the wedding party and play music – their music becomes more insistent the longer they play, often putting the horn of the instrument directly in your ear and playing at full volume until you give them some cash (at this particular wedding the best man also brought the gypsy band to the party, much to the delight of all the guests) – keep in mind, these guys can pull in thousands of dollars a night for a big wedding
  • When you arrive to the reception, the couple once again stands outside and poses with every. single. guest. (in this case about 350 people) Only after every guest had their photo op does the party begin.
  • Lots and lots of different cakes.
  • Oh, and the photographers have printers on hand and walk around the party distributing photos that guests can buy on the spot (this is not so much weird as awesome!)
Brass Band

Gypsy Brass Band

GERMANY

(This was a mixed wedding: half East German half Northern England, i.e. Geordie)

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Ali and Neil

  • Straight from leaving the church the friends of the bride and groom hold up an old bedsheet which has a giant heart drawn in the middle, and the name of the bride and groom inside of that. The bride and groom are each given a pair of tiny scissors and they must work together to cut the heart shape out. Once complete, the groom then carries the bride through the opening they’ve created in the sheet.374396_10152077898159278_1848781778_n
  • German tradition is that as the first true test of marriage, the newly wedded couple must work together as a team to saw apart a foot in diameter log using an old school, massive saw. The first marital row, if you will, ensues.995734_10152077899664278_1485770867_n
  • This might just be East German, not totally sure, but the bride and groom are each given two giant loaves of bread – they must create a pair of shoes from this bread. The first one to walk across the stage (or room) in their new shoes wins!
  • Each guest is given a balloon filled with helium and a postcard pre-addressed to the bride and groom. Each guest writes a message to the couple and ties the postcard to the balloon. Everyone releases the balloons at the same time (great photo op!) Once the balloon finally lands (wherever that may be) it’s up to any random stranger passing by who finds it to mail it back to the couple. (Strangely, our postcard made it back to Ali and Neil from the Czech Republic!)

PARAGUAY

(This was a mixed wedding half Paraguayan half Colombian – so the traditions may be a bit mixed up – at least in my mind)

Nati and Luis

Nati and Luis

  • There is a traditional Paraguayan dance at the beginning of the reception and every guest must dance for a few minutes with the bride and groom (men with the bride, women with the groom) and smile for a photo op!
  • Ligas – this took me a while to understand! The bride has about 20 garters under her dress (one garter for each single woman at the wedding). One garter is special (i.e. a different color) and the rest are traditional white. The bride sits opposite the single women (one at a time) and they each lift their right leg and touch the souls of the shoes. The groom then takes one garter from the bride’s leg and must slide it across their legs and feet and up the thigh of the single lady. His “last chance to touch another woman” if you will! The woman who gets the colorful garter is the next to marry. Ligas in Paraguay
  • Masks/hats/whistles/glow sticks/silly string, etc – Boxes of costume-like hats and whistles, (see list above) are distributed to guests to liven things up. I have to admit, this makes the party a hell of a lot more fun!
  • Whiskey – easy as that, the drink of choice for the night is whiskey, the nicer the better
  • For the Colombian tradition that stood out most, aside from sharing a bottle of whatever they were passing around, is some dance where a woman lies on the floor (or I suppose it could also be a man?) and all the party guests dance feverishly over her. (See example of Mapale here.)

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As I continue to grow my international network of friends, I will continue to observe the oddities of culture, which are never more openly displayed than in time-honored traditions such as weddings!

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Lunch and Graveyards

A day or two into my trip (which was only 3.5 days, after all,) when scouring for another delicious meal option before hitting the recoletta cemetary and the Sunday Feria, I came across Tea Connection, which I had never heard of before, (but seriously wish they would import to Berlin!) I was staying in Recoleta and planning to hit the Sunday Feria later in the afternoon, so I decided to stop in to one of the few locations near my apartment and enjoy some more healthy grub.

First order of the day – fresh juice! I simply cannot get enough tropical flavors, (and yes, I know BsAs is not tropical, but they seem to have much better access to the good stuff than those of us stuck in the northern tundra!) So I placed my order for juice and yet another inventive and delicious salad. The trend was catching on! Lo and behold, my food arrived and I had my very own bottle of juice!

It’s like they knew everthing I wanted before I even had to ask! Even down to the healthy bowl of breadsticks – ha.

My own bottleajuice!

My own bottleajuice!

So I chowed down, regretfully too full to have a tea, (but knowing I needed to save my resources for the lattes and ice creams to come later in the day when my legs were too tired to carry me,) and wandered my way over to the cemetary for what I always remember to be my favorite Feria in all of South America! Every Sunday the park in front of Eva Peron’s eternal home is cluttered with street vendors offering all variety of goods from leather bags to hand knitted scarves, paintings, pottery, jewelry, stones, and knick knacks a plenty. And on the sunny and warm days the grass is filled with people sipping mate and catching up with friends, often with some kind of live music to accompany their afternoon.

It’s just a happy and peaceful place to be. And lucky for me I found just what I was looking for!

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

I spent a lot of time looking for a Tree of Life that I loved over the years, and never quite found one. So as I passed by this man’s stand who had created this piece of work personally, I told him how beautiful it was and continued on my way. Only to realize a few minutes walk away that, wait – what was I thinking, it was perfect! So I quickly walked back and tried it on, along with 4 or 5 other beautiful pieces of jewelry he had on display, and made my selection carefully.

After a successful morning I decided to treat myself to a mid-afternoon capuccino and a snack. I wandered away from the park in the direction of my apartment and stumbled upon a quiet cafe with white trimmings – L’Avant Garde. A nicely designed place to catch a break. I saw someone munching on some type of yogurt parfait and decided it was a healthy enough alternative to all the ice cream I’d been eating, so I opted in.

Capuccino and a Parfait

Capuccino and a Parfait

Another afternoon complete, and it was off to the pool to catch some of those rays my poor pale skin had been so severely deprived of!

Buenos Aires Lunch Style

After a 14 hour flight from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires (not including the previous travel time from Berlin to Frankfurt,) arriving in Buenos Aires only to discover they do actually now charge American citizens a “reciprocity tax” of $160 dollars (i.e. a “visa” to enter the country,) and an hour drive to my apartment from the airport, I was exhausted. I debated never leaving the apartment, ever, and just staying put to sleep away the day. But then I remembered, I was in Buenos Aires!

So I ingested some caffeine (Excedrin people, nothing strange here!) to knock out my headache, put on a new, cute summer dress I acquired in Berlin, and hit the streets. The minute I stepped outside into the sunshine and busy streets of BsAs (Buenos Aires), I couldn’t hold back my smile. I felt like skipping along the roads and shouting that I had made it!

For a girl who loves to shop and doesn’t often get to do it (it’s a non-profit world I’m in these days,) Buenos Aires is heaven. Fashion and style abound, and for the less noble (like myself) the leather is simply gorgeous. You cannot hold back from drooling over purses, shoes, and jackets galore.

So to me, a perfect day in Buenos Aires consists of wandering the streets of Palermo, popping into shops to my heart’s content, stopping for a mid-morning espresso or fresh squeezed juice, wandering some more, and finding a delicious place to hole away for mealtime. That is one thing there is absolutely no shortage of in BsAs – food! And it is the best you could possibly imagine. Fresh ingredients, crisp salads, delicious pastries, mouth watering steaks – and not to mention the more exotic choices which have found their way into BsAs kitchens such as Japanese or Moroccan.

I managed to find my way into a few new restaurants that have popped up in the last few years since I was here. On my first day I was lucky enough to stumble upon B-Blue Deli & Natural Bar where I delightfully realized my mango juice would be served my favorite way – freshly squeezed and oversized! Accompanied by a side of carrots and some healthy dip I couldn’t quite identify, but was delicious all the same.

Fresh Squeezed Mango Juice!

Fresh Squeezed Mango Juice!

Knowing I was in for a few weeks of eating meat almost exclusively, (Paraguay does not have quite as prevalent a vegetable market in local restaurants as one would think given their extensive agriculture,) I eagerly ordered a salad. And once again, I was wide eyed at the largess of the bowl put in front of me. After two years living in Germany, I have yet to find a place that does salads right by me, and by right, of course, I mean like this!

Salad Deliciousness!

Salad Deliciousness!

Mixed greens, avocados, almonds, tomatoes, and some type of honey vinaigrette – muah! Perfection. Knowing I had plenty of steak ahead to fill my days and nights, I relished this fresh and healthy delight, (and took note of the ingredients with a promise to replicate the same at home!) And this was the beginning of my quest for yummy delights throughout the city.

Warmth, sunshine, and delicious food – indeed I had arrive in my beloved BsAs!

The “Mosquito” Problem

Have you ever noticed this about mosquitoes – when you search for them you can never ever ever find them, but when you don’t pay attention and think everything’s cool and you are mosquito free they come up and bite you! Or even worse, they buzz in your ear so you know they are there but you still can’t catch them!

While the mosquitoes in Argentina piss me off because I hate to be itchy, (and this sucker just bit my toe…my TOE! Come on!) the mosquitoes in Paraguay also terrify me because they carry Dengue. And while people think Dengue is no big deal, (especially if you ask a Paraguayan because they have most likely had it and survived it – TWICE,) I’m pretty sure you can actually die from it, or at least feel very much like you might die.

So with all my happy triumph for being in summer when the northern hemisphere is still suffering in a sad, lonely, gray, I am suffering due to inconsiderate insects. And I must admit, while I’m very much a “live and let live” kind of person, the exception to this rule for me is mosquitoes. They are fine living until they threaten to bite, and then they are done for. If I can catch them!

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Pool With a View

Coming from a city that is relatively sunny no matter what time of year, (the wonders of New York!) and being a person who generally craves sunlight 23 hours a day, surviving a winter in Berlin is a challenge. Long, endless days of gray spread into weeks and months without so much as a hint of sunshine.

So when I was searching for an apartment in Buenos Aires, I strategically chose to stay a little out of my ideal neighborhood to have a pool. With sunlight. And a view of Buenos Aires. Yes, my friends, my 16th floor rooftop pool is gorgeous, and refreshing, and has a view to kill for. (So does the gym, but let’s not even get into how I packed my running shoes and sports bras with no intention of actually bringing them out in the next few days/weeks!)

Now, that's a view!

Now, that’s a view!

So on Sunday, for the first day since I was last in South America about 4 months ago, (holy crap – did not realize it was only 4 months ago until I just counted!) I saw the sun. And I took advantage of it! I spend 3 glorious hours basking in it’s sunny warmth. Of course, being unused to pale skin for any extended period of time, I may or may not have overdone it on my first day of exposure, and may or may not be bright red as a result, but regardless of what may or may not have happened, it was worth every second of it’s happiness-inducing power.

Thank you sun, for I have come to life again!

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Reality Check in Alto Palermo

So one of the things I was most excited about in coming Buenos Aires, aside from the summer warmth and delicious food, was the shopping. I always remember the stores having such cool clothes, and gorgeous leather, and beautiful shoes and accessories, etc. So I’ve spent a good part of the last two days wandering from shop to shop to see if I can find any bargains.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing all this hype about this “Blue” Dollar for the US Dollar in Argentina. The real exchange rate is about 4 Dollars to the Peso, but for some reason the sale of dollars has been hyper-inflated causing a “blue market” in which the dollar’s value has been raised to about 7.5 USD to 1 ARS (Argentine Peso). That means, in Argentina, the Dollar = the Euro. Which is insane given that really the Euro is significantly stronger than the dollar. So basically having come from Europe, I am getting screwed on the currency exchange

What does this also mean? That the Argentine economy must be completely in the tank. If the dollar is superficially inflated at such a high rate (and you get more discounts in stores if you pay with the dollar since they can create whatever exchange rate they want and still make a profit,) that means that locals probably cannot afford to buy things they need, much less any items they used to import from the U.S.

So today I had my first real reality check from my endless desire to consume when traveling (or just in general.) I’ve been on the hunt for a nice dress, a nice pair of shoes, and maybe a new purse, (because what girl doesn’t need 23 bags?) so needless to say I was thrilled when I found a beautiful dress, (and reluctantly paid the over-inflation rate, plus the extra charge for paying with a credit card – didn’t anyone teach me anything?!) Then I sat down in the food court famished and exhausted from such a long day of sun bathing and shopping, and had a mediocre pizza.

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After finishing what I wanted, as I naturally almost always do, I kept picking a bit more and more. Then decided to not even waste time on the crust since I’d rather bite into some cheese or tomatoes. Then I texted with my dad and a friend for a while until I finally got the energy to stand up, hail a taxi, and come back to my apartment.

When I went to stand, I noticed this old man, (he looked about 80,) who had sat down at a table across from me some time before, maybe 20 minutes earlier. He didn’t have any shopping bags, didn’t appear to be eating, and seemed to be alone. I had thought I heard him try to say hello to a little girl that danced past some time before, and smiled to myself because it was so sweet and also a little sad. He stood up at the same time as me and I thought he was going to approach to ask me a question, or was somehow being polite by standing when I stood, since it was too much of a coincidence otherwise. And before I could life my tray to clear it he asked me if I was done. Upon saying yes, he took my seat and sat down to finish the last of the pizza I left behind.

My. Heart. Broke.

Not only was I totally embarrassed for having eaten more than I wanted to anyway, and picking at the remains so that no one would want to touch it after me, I was also embarrassed to be taking good food to the trash, and for not realizing or understanding why the man had been sitting across the way for so long with nothing to do. I felt so awful in that moment and didn’t know if I should go and buy him some fresh food of his own or just leave him in peace as he seemed happy to have some pizza to consume, and didn’t seem bothered at all to be eating it after me. I decided to walk away, mostly out of my embarrassment for not understanding the situation sooner.

This was a good reality check to remind me how lucky I am to be able to afford the life I live and to appreciate the difficulties others face. It’s also a good lesson that all of the material stuff really doesn’t matter at all and that if my biggest problem of the day is whether or not to pay for a dress in cash or credit, I really don’t have any problems worth complaining about. And also, the next time I see that man, or someone looking at me in that same way, I will ask if they are hungry and would like to share some pizza. No harm in asking.

When’s the last time you stepped outside yourself and took a look around for a reality check?

Mi Buenos Aires Querido

Since I last posted, not only have I taken beautiful photos of Berlin, but I meandered my way down to South America, where I am currently taking photos of the beautiful people in Buenos Aires.

One of the greatest perks of my job is that we tend to work in beautiful places, and as a by-product of this, we get to visit beautiful places! My work takes place about 90% in Paraguay, and as such I travel down to South America about 2-3 times a year to check on the project’s progress, to see old friends, and always try to add in a couple of extra days at the beginning or end for some personal travel.

You may remember last October my fiancé joined me for my last trip down south, and we took a few days to explore the gorgeous Ilha Grande off the coast of Rio, de Janeiro, Brazil. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to take the time off to join me on this trip, but I decided to come back to another familiar stomping ground, Buenos Aires, where I lived about 7 years ago.

Ilha Grand - truly one of the most amazing Islands I've ever seen - covered in pristine forest and long stretches of white sand.

Ilha Grand – truly one of the most amazing Islands I’ve ever seen – covered in pristine forest and long stretches of white sand.

So, as they say, I am in Mi Buenos Aires Querido, and exploring the shops, cafes, and wide sweeping avenues I’ve come to associate with this amazing city. It’s been a few years since I’ve been back, the last time was when I was volunteering in Paraguay in 2010 and A and I took a 3 week trip around Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and, of course, Paraguay. But not much has changed in the city since then – at least not in the 1 day I’ve had to walk around so far!

Will keep you posted on my eating (and shopping) adventures!

Large sweeping avenues lined with trees make up this capital city

Large sweeping avenues lined with trees make up this capital city