Articles Tagged with cultures

[D75] Carnival in Uruguay

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I went out to watch carnaval in La Barra – a small town next to overly developed Punta del Este. Oh!! What a surprise! Less than 10 min walk from home, there was a small stage set up on the village green. Carnaval here apparently was different performance groups competed with each other in the form of show, costumes, drumming skills etc, and it lasted the whole month of Feb. Today and tomorrow are public holidays called Carnaval, it’s the end of the carnival season. The group I saw put on such a colorful, vibrant and energetic show with their amazing costume and singing and dancing and drumming. There were perhaps 30 of them, including three kids, one at the age of 6 or 7 I would guess. In the audience there were lots of families, many with young kids, some even younger than Nina. Latino way of childhood!

I was mesmerized by the joy from the show and the atmosphere created by the audience. There was the real wood BBQ made hamburge. Mostly locals were in the audience, so the show was far from the touristy show.   I couldn’t be more appreciative than the opportunity I have to witness and be part of such festivities around the four corners of the globe.

Topping the ice was the many glowing worms on the way walking back home along side the street. I haven’t seen them since my childhood. Together with the stars above the head, they made me a very lucky being.

[D80 – 82] Magical Cabo Polonio / Uruguay

[After almost three weeks of lack of reliable internet connection, if at all, I’m back to work on the backlog – now that we’re settled in an apartment in Salta (north Argentina) for at least a week. ]

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D80, March 7, La Barra-> Cabo Polonio

As our airbnb host L. & J. were going away to their family’s summer house in Cabo Polonio for weekend, they asked if we wanted to spend the last two days over there instead of in La Barra. Cabo Polonio is beautiful, they said! And I also heard some other fellow travelers how they felt in love with the place. Yet we still hesitated a little as we won’t sure if it’s too much of driving for Nina (and us) to handle for a weekend, but decided to follow the instinct and off we went. We became the ‘portable’ guest of L. & J.

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Such a magical place that was! After almost 2 hours of drive we came to the entrance of the national park of cabo polonio, where everyone should park their car and took the special giant truck catered to transport passengers and belongings through the park and got to Cabo. It was the kind of transport that my instinct told me would be a great ride, some people even climbed on the roof level (a bench there for 4 people). The truck ride itself was fun and totally adventure-loaded, negotiating through a rough terrain of sand dune of narrow dirt road in the protected park. It was 7:30pm, the wind picked up, sun going down, becoming chilly but the view was awesome. Almost 30 min later, suddenly the truck was riding on a long beach with sun starting to set to the ocean!

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We stopped in the heart of Cabo, a upper hippie village surrounded by 2 large bays, Atlantic ocean and the national park. Some random houses, some tin roof some architecturally designed, dotted the rolling hills which gently joined the ocean. Oh, what a magical place! By the time it was about 8pm, just in time for the most magnificent sun set. With horses standing on top on the hill, it was picture perfect.

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L’s family house was one of those architecturally designed. Perched on top of the hill, it has large window bay overlooking the ocean as well as the whole village. With solar power and generator, it has the essentials (even a fridge powered by gas!), but used candle light most of time and the rain water.

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Her brother and sister N. and S. were there, who were still in uni and uni started only next Monday. They have been there since Xmas! I totally understand why it’s such a difficult place to leave.

The village would go wild in the summer with all houses occupied, with residents and tourists coming for the summer holiday, and then after the summer the place would go deadly silent. I asked if someone lived here all year round, they said, oh no except the local fishermen, you would be insane to live here, all year round, it’s so isolated and lonely place to be. But it’s THE place to be in the summer.

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We went to the grocery shop just down the hill and bought what’s needed for 4 pizza tonight. The shop worked on credit system with the residents like L’s family. They would pay the lum sum every two weeks or so. Despite its popularity, it certainly still had its village feel.


D81, March 8, Cabo Polonio.

Magic place to wake up to. Even simplest breakfast tasted great here, with such a view and such a lovely weather.

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Went for a walk around. To the east. There were amazing rock formation in pink and red, with sea lions lazily sleeping their days away. There was a lighthouse, which unfortunately didn’t allow anyone under 8 to climb, but the walk around it was sensational enough. Nina loved climb over the rocks and through the rampas, looking at the horses – oh horses that Nina couldn’t get enough of. Then we came to the north beach. This was where most hostels, restaurants and shops were. A backpackers dream place, with hammocks hanging on the a framed cottage overlooking the ocean, with gentle waves and warm water, ah!

Had choripan (sausage in bread) and hambuger and pepper with cheese melted on asado grill, it was a great and simple lunch on the beach side. The asado chef danced and hummed while cooking up our lunch, while Nina and I waited on the bar stool. Definitely the stereotype kind of holiday.

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Another most amazing sun set. Tonight there was not a single cloud and we went down to south beach to see the sunset, watched the sky turned golden, red, purple, the pink, blueish.

Then the moon. The starts. The milk way!! It reminded me the night at kanbura in QingHai. They had a roof top balcony, from where you had an uninterrupted view to the most incredible sky – whole village relied on only candle light mostly so there was only the sky and stars that glimmered. Sensational to say the least!

D82, March 9, Cabo Polonio -> La Tuna

I wish we could stay longer but it’s time to leave today and go to our next home booked.

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We maximized the time in Cabi, morning on the south beach. I went for a long walk along the beach, kilometers long, seemed endless. A sailing boat capsized on the beach since Jan and still wasn’t been able to be got out of water. Cows sleeping or having a stroll on the beavh, nobody was bothered. Cows seemed to enjoy.

Cleaned the house. They brought everything including linen, quilt, towel back to Montevideo as they brought everything in, and now they were closing down the house for this summer. Today most people would leave as it’s the last day before school started again and holiday week was over.

We took the truck at 1pm. Loved the ride yet again. Nina Fell asleep on such a bumping truck. Kids are funny creatures. Drove back to J. & L’ s house to pick up our luggage. She called the bus company cot to reserve seats for us and found out we could just wait in la Barra. They also called the new host to arrange pick up!! Really amazing host, excellent airbnb experience. And a certainly unforgettable weekend.

It’s fair to say that Cabo Polonial was easily one of the highlights in this trip so far.


P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group

[D76] Mate, finally!

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[D76] March 6, La Barra / Uruguay.

Ever since we arrived in Argentina, we have wanted to try their national drink: mate (to pronoce, put the emphasis on ‘e’, not to be confused with the word in Engish).

We saw people walking around, driving around, beaching around, discussing around, sun bathing around, studying around, traveling around with a special round cup (only later on I learnt this cup is called mate) with some greeen herb like mix inside, and a small bottle with hot water everywhere. It’s such a remarkable thing, they seemed to be more addicted to mate than Chinese to tea. There was even a whole museum in Montevideo with a big section dedicated to mate culture, with some extremely elaborated mate and accessories in display. But in all cafe, bar, and restaurant we asked, they shook their heads and said ‘none’.

A month later, we arrived in La Barra, Uruguay, a beachside small town next to a popular tourist destination  of Punta del Este, in a rented homestay through airbnb at Lucia and Jose’s home. They were simply amazing hosts, who went way out of their way for us. Among all things, they invited us to share mate with them!!!!

They explained to us that Mate actually the name of the round hollow gourd, which is made from calabash (or long melon, or 葫芦) that is cut, carved, treated and became the base of the gourd. Then it’s completed by a leather cover, sealed by silver(?? Or some metal?) on the mouth.

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Lucia then started the ritual. She put the kettle on. She poured some yerba (the chopped herb, which is from the family of holy) into the mate,  and put in a bit of cold water for yerba to sink a bit as I was told yerba absorbs water like sponge. Then she pour some hot water in for the first person (normally the one who makes the mate) to start drinking. To drink, she used the bombilla (a metal straw, with lots of small holes in one end to dip into yerba so to avoid the yerba to be sipped). She sipped a few time till there was no more water (when she felt air coming through the bombilla). Then she poured some hot water in again ( always pour water from the same spot I was told otherwise it changes the taste!!) and passed onto the next person clock-wise.

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I was told it was always the owner of that particular mater who pours water, hence it explains why you cannot have mate in a cafe for example because there has to be an owner, and the whole ritual is very personal (well everyone uses the same bambilla). So we were extremely grateful for having been invited to share mate with them.

When it was my turn, I made sure to take time to taste it. It tasted extremely bitter, with a bit of green tea taste. I could understand why people could get addicted to it because it had a very strong taste of its own.

The next day, before Jose went to work, he prepared him a mate, and left with the mate, bombilla in it, and the thermal water bottle. That would make his day, he told me – mate was like a loyal friend of his, always accompanying him at work, when reading, or painting. It’s certainly a big part of people’s life here.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group

[D60] El Ateneo – A Bookstore Of Grand Splendeur

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D60, Feb 14

We had a very late and very difficult start with Nina today. She woke up only at 11:15am, and winged for 2 hours before we could dress her and got ready to go out. We decided on visiting something nearby, easy and quick, just a few bus stops away.

El Ateneo,  located on Ave Santa Fe,  was claimed to be the 2nd most beautiful bookshop in the world. Although I personally was rather sceptical of such rating – isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? – it did trigger some sort of  curiosity in me.

D60 06Well, it certainly deserved its reputation. Through a rather humble entry, suddenly I saw a theatre, filled with books. Yes the building was originally designed and opened as a theatre, named Teatro Gran Splendid in May 1919. Only in about a decade ago it was converted into a bookstore. It’s 4 floors high, with thick crimson theatre-style certain , ceiling frescos, roman columns, all in red and gold colour throughout. It reminded me of the Garnier opera house in Paris.

Now it’s a book store, filled with books in every corner of three of the floors. The private theatre boxes in the corners were now reading area, making it a very comfortable and quiet corner to browse through what you may want to buy. The stage area was converted into a cafe, making it a cafe of old time atmosphere. We of course spent most of our time in the junior section, browsing through the kids’ books, in Spanish.

Argentina is said to be one of the highest book-per-capita countries. It’s a lovely and comforting notion that people still read books.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group

[D59] A Feast of Argentinian Grill

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D59, Feb 13, BA

One week into Argentina, we  were finally psychologically and physically ready to tackle the late dine out. Nina has auto-adjusted somehow into a quite Latino schedule now for the last few days: wake up at 10am, breakfast at 10:30, lunch at 2pm, nap at 4pm, snack at 6pm and dinner at nearly 9pm.

Buenos Aires is certainly a night life city. At 8pm when I sometimes walked back with Nina from the nearby playground, I saw people just having their afternoon tea or coffee in the bars. It’s only logical – you need something to get the stomach to wait for the dinner that won’t start till 9pm the earliest.

After playground and bath, at 9pm tonight, we walked into the lovely ambianced but deserted restaurant La Peña del Colorado just around the corner. The only other table had three ladies obviously just having their pre-diner drinks. Our landlord and Lonely Planet both recommended the restaurant so it seems to be a safe option. And the walking distance to home also gave us peace of mind that we could quickly retreat if it turned out to be too much for Nina at the late hour. It’s restaurant plus show stage (a quite common set up apparently in this city) with live show option. We decided, with much hesitation, on diner only instead of diner+show as the show would start only at 10pm we were told, and we did not know how Nina would react any time from now.

Among a long list of parrilladas with all parts/meats to be ordered separately on the menu, we choose the set menu for two to avoid embarrassment of ordering funny parts, plus an empanadas and salad for Nina to eat as soon as possible. A bottle of Argentinian wine? Yes please. They didn’t have any option to have a glass only anyway. The order, of course, was all done with lots of trying Spanish, hand gesture, and guess from both sides. I took photos of the menu to enrich my Spanish vocabulary, which has been increasing since our arrival in a painfully slow pace.

Parrilladas turned out not to be like the Brazilian grill (which was, innocently, as south American as I got to know in terms of grill), but more like Korean BBQ, at least in terms of the presentation. The waiter brought a tray with all kinds of meat part sizzling in it still, and put on a high stool next to our table. A huge tray that was! Some ribs, some steak, some sausage, some liver, and some tripe as we discovered. It’s a volume way more that we three could handle. Nina loved the ribs the most – a bone sucking child she was. It certainly was a feast of meat.

After the three ladies of the next table left, we were the only customers in the restaurant for a long while. While we waited for our order to arrive, Nina drew (the drawing equipment has been our life saver in the long wait in restaurants), we made sure the bottle descend. The tango lesson (offered from 8:30pm, which again seemed to be a common set up in some restaurants) finished but the much expected show was nowhere to be seen. At 10pm, a few other diners just started to walk in. Now I finally started to appreciate where my Mexican apartment-mates in France got her later-dinner habit from. But I wonder, for the families with young children, how did it work? Did they simply keep the kids up late, or did they actually have to cut themselves from social life once a child was born (well parents all over the world seemed to do this anyway)?

At 10:30pm, Nina was still showing amazing capability to handle late night meat dinner. With the bottle now empty, we decided it’s only reasonable to call it a night and not to test Nina’s limit (she might explode any time). The show would be for next time. Alas, we were after all not yet Latinos.

We were presented with a bill (surprisingly reasonable at $310 – about US$30, esp after the ridiculous expensive and horrible tasting fast food lunch at zoo earlier today), as usual marked ‘10% tip is not included’. Should I feel insulted that they thought we might escape tipping or should I feel grateful that they just wanted to help us avoiding being ridiculous?  This was not the first time, nor would be the last time.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group