2015 – A Year of Travel In 65 Color Photographs

2015 was a big year.  I started a brand new full time job in February which meant that my travel schedule changed quite a bit. I still had the opportunity to take some amazing trips and spent quite a bit of time exploring Copenhagen in greater depth. I also made it home to the US for the first time in two years for a road trip through Southwestern Colorado. In addition to these trips I also took a 19 day trip through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand – however, that trip ended on December 29th, which means that while the photos were taken in 2015, they’ll be included in my 2016 roundup as I’ve got about 150 GB of photos to sort through! In 2015 I also upgraded from my Canon 600D to a Canon 6D which brought with it exciting new opportunities but also some growing pains.

Each is linked to the related album on flickr and uploaded in full-resolution. If you’d like to license one of these photos please reach out to me directly. Want to use one for your computer desktop or background? Be my guest as all photos are uploaded under a CC non-commercial license.  Want to help support me or send a thank you? Shop camera gear (and everything else) over on Amazon through my affiliate link or contribute to my new camera gear fund via PayPal.

Your support and feedback is inspiring!  Thank you for allowing me to share a taste of how I see the world with you!

Gefion Fountain and the English Church

Gefion Fountain – Copenhagen – Denmark

Malaga At Sunset - Spain

Malaga – Spain

Rapids and Flowers

West Fork of the Dolores – Colorado – USA

Hamburg's Speicherstadt - The UNESCO World Heritage Site
Speicherstadt – Hamburg – Germany

My Argentina Trip in Review – Analyzing One of the World’s Greatest Destination Countries

Over the last decade Argentina has gone from quiet tourist destination to one of the world’s most sought after.  With world famous steaks, an absolutely delightful wine industry, and incredibly captivating Argentine Tango the country has stolen the hearts and minds of 20-40 something adventurers throughout the world. I have to admit, I wasn’t any different.  Hailed as the Paris of South America Buenos Aires offers a rich cultural experience and serves as the main draw for aspiring visitors.  In reality, most of the visitors I met in Buenos Aires intended to spend almost all of their time in the city chasing great dances, food, and drink.  I was initially drawn to Argentina by those three factors and in the early stages of my trip planning, envisioned myself spending nearly all of my 21 days in Buenos Aires learning Argentina tango, feasting on cheap meals, and finding grand adventures late into the morning. If I had I would have never truly experienced Argentina and would have made an egregious mistake.

Dinner Cooking - Ushuaia, Argentina

Luckily, as I researched the country in greater depth I had several close friends suggest that I leave the city to explore some of Argentina’s natural beauty.  Driven in no small part by the simple desire to get as far south as possible, I researched the southern Andes and was captivated by Tierra del Fuego, and the world’s southernmost city  – Ushuaia.  As my research unfolded I quickly realized that Argentina is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders and offers natural landscapes and terrain that can easily give New Zealand a run for its money.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

The incredible thing about Argentina is that it allowed me to go from hiking out to the middle of a glacier and sitting with thousands of penguins on a pebble beach to lazily swimming at the base of one of the world’s most incredible waterfalls situated in the midst of a massive, sprawling jungle filled with vibrantly colored toucans and other exotic wildlife.  I feasted on delicious gas fed steak, mouth watering seafood, and split lamb cooked over an open fire, all washed down with fantastic wines while relaxing after watching a heart stirring Tango. In short. I fell in love with a country I merely expected to enjoy. Sounds good right?  Ready to go?  Before you do here are a few of the surprises I ran into.

Penguin with Woman - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Surprises

The Cost – One of the first things you hear when listening to people talk about Argentina is how cheap it is. I say bullshit.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that its an incredibly expensive country, but its also not an incredibly cheap one.  With massive inflation over the last decade and an incredible surge in the tourism industry prices in all of the places you’ll probably be visiting as a tourist, even an off-the-beaten-path backpacker will still be fairly expensive.  Believe it or not Argentina was my most expensive trip to date, yes, even more so than my recent 18 day trip through Europe and Scandinavia.  In no small part, that was due to airfare, the size of the country and the pace at which I was traveling but it also had a lot to do with the general cost of, well, everything.

Street Food – I love street food. Yeah, that stuff that comes out of a cart, people are afraid will kill them, and which usually tastes absolutely delicious all for dirt cheap.  I had mental images of incredible street side vendors selling mouth watering food lining Buenos Aires’ grand avenues. Unfortunately, they don’t exist. Apparently they’re banned from operating in the city (possibly the entire country).  I was incredibly disappointed.  On the upside, the classic Argentine grills/holes in the wall do exist, typically boasting a large open faced grill covered in the meat(s) and cut(s) of the day.

Steaks – Argentinian steak especially “Bife de Chorizo” really is as good as everyone makes it out to be.  However, to really find a good steak you’re going to need to hunt for it and take care in how you order it.  I ate a LOT of steak during my trip but unfortunately I didn’t figure out how to order it until about half way in. In your standard cafe or low-mid range restaurant in Buenos Aires they will consistently do two things. Under salt, and over cook.  When you order make sure that you specify that you want it medium-rare or pink, they probably wont ask and the default is a great way to waste an even better steak.  It also never hurts to make sure the steak is properly salted to really bring out the flavor. Also, don’t assume that price means anything.  Some of the best steaks I had were also some of the cheapest. Similarly some of the worst were the most expensive.  Also, the stories of $3 steaks? They’re a lie.  Expect to pay at least $7 and usually closer to $12/meal for a decent steak in any of the main cities. 

Spices –  Sure, its a bit dense of me but I honestly assumed all of Latin/South America was powered by strong spices with a passion for spicy food.  Not Argentina. In practice they avoid anything spicy like the plague.Even the various spiced sauces they serve with meats and meals is a bland, but flavorful mixture of spices and ground peppers without any bite or zing.

Buses – I’m a train guy.  To say that I didn’t like traveling by bus before Argentina is an understatement.  That said, you don’t take the trains in Argentina.  It took me a long time and a lot of conversations to finally be dissuaded, but it’s the simple truth of the matter.  You fly, take a bus, a ferry or a taxi.  That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you spend a little extra for an upgrade and skip the chicken buses, the buses are actually fantastic.  They are clean, modern, surprisingly fast, and if you invested in a cheap upgrade you’ll find great food service and an experience that rivals a commuter 1st class on an airline. Those 17 and 26 hour bus rides you hear about?  They’re not a bundle of fun, but they’re not nearly as dreadful as you might imagine.

Distance – While this can’t quite be considered a real surprise, it bears repeating.  Argentina is large. Very large. Massive in fact and getting around isn’t the worlds easiest (or hardest) task.  The nation is also dominated by two major airlines and lacks any major budget airline presence.  So, you’re either left with long-leg, sometimes multi-day bus rides or somewhat expensive flights. It sucks.  It’s also totally worth it.

Tours & Trips – There’s a lot in Argentina you can do on your own as a traveler.  There’s also a lot that you can’t or really just shouldn’t.  For some of you jumping on a guided tour of something may be par for the course, for others it may be the last thing you want to do.  Especially if that tour is relatively expensive ($50-$200 USD).   Do your research, but when it comes down to it, if you’re doing Argentina you need to bite the bullet and do it.  Two of my favorite experiences on the trip were my Penguin adventure and guided hike to the center of the Perito Moreno Glacier.  Neither was something I could have done on my own, and both were well worth their near budget-busting price points.  I spent the extra $50 to do the on-glacier hike, which was a full $130 more than just visiting the national park’s boardwalk across the bay.  It was worth it. It was incredible.  Similarly, the extra money I spent for a guided tour out to an island with 4,000 penguins on it. It was slightly more expensive. It was guided. It was the only one that landed on the island and gave us an hour 2 feet away from the Penguins. They only allow 40 people on the island a day.  Of the places that I visited where I didn’t need a guide and can be done freestyle I strongly suggest doing Tierra del Fuego National Park, the hikes around El Chalten, and Iguazu Falls.

Language – One thing that took me by slight surprise was how difficult it was to speak English in Argentina.  Which is not to say that it was difficult to get around, only that it is fairly common that most Argentinians only speak limited English or none at all.  While this can be a slight challenge in taxi-cabs and elsewhere, I never found it to be anything more slightly surprising.  For those more familiar with traveling in parts of Mexico or Europe, be aware that you may have to do a little more work to ask questions, seek directions, or engage in conversations.  Luckily the Argentinians are delight, friendly and welcoming people.

The Falls - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Must See Destinations

While I feel a bit guilty in constructing this list I have to admit that there wasn’t a single stop along my trip which I would have skipped or shortened.  For the specifics of each stop along the way I encourage you (if you haven’t already) to read my blog posts on that leg of the trip. You’ll note that Buenos Aires is NOT at the top of my list despite being a required starting point for any trip through Argentina.  More on this later.

  1. Iguazu Falls – This is hands down one of the most, if not the most, spectacular place I’ve ever been.  I’m a huge waterfall guy and these falls did absolutely nothing to disappoint. Even if your skeptical about major tourist destinations, this will impress, awe and amaze. It’s a bit hard to get to but well worth the effort.
  2. Perito Moreno Glacier – The Andes are incredible, Glaciers are spectacular and the Perito Moreno Glacier combines the best of both. Accessed through El Calafate this was an amazing experience. Don’t just settle for seeing the glacier though, make sure you book a tour and hike it as well.
  3. Tierra del Fuego – There’s something magical and exciting about being as far south as you can go without heading to Antarctica. The landscape is beautiful, the weather was energizing, and the chance to see and spend time with wild penguins was fantastic. While not as majestic as other National Parks in the area it’s a great starting point (do it first) and I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Also, as the base for most Antarctica trips, be prepared to want to stow away.
  4. Buenos Aires – A great city, especially for those who love a European influenced feel and spirit.  While the city has some historical draws the main things to see are cultural and revolve around tango performances, social dancing, food, and night life.  The city never sleeps and its impossible to experience both the day and night life simultaneously.  Set aside a few days to focus exclusively on one, then on the other.
  5. El Chalten – Located just north of El Calafate the hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy is stunning. If you want nature, awe inspiring grandeur and mountains that look like they’ve been photoshopped this is a must. Make sure to hike, and to set aside some extra time in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires

I’m sure a lot of other travelers who have been to BA will disagree, but I’ve got to beat up on the city a bit.  Buenos Aires was one of my most heavily anticipated destinations. It was also the one disappointment on my trip, though I hesitate to say that as it was still delightful and I’d go back in a heartbeat.  The people I met in BA were incredible, the dancing I did and saw was absolutely some of the best in the world, and the food I found was great. The night life in BA is also some of the best you’ll find anywhere.  The real disappointment for me was the city itself.  La Boca was dirty and seemed more like a cheesy ride  at Disneyland.  People often compare BA to the Paris of the Americas. I disagree. I wasn’t overly impressed and found it to be more like a dirty, run down version of Madrid than anything.  The old districts and the San Telmo market are great, but they’re nothing special. In truth, that’s how I felt about the majority of the city. The main architectural and historical tourist draws are interesting, if nothing to write home about.  So, my final verdict?  It’s a great city with a lot to offer, the safety and security concerns are over stated, but so-too is the city’s character and personality.  Go instead for the food, the people, the dance, and the people’s culture.

Tucan in Animal Refuge - Iguazu, Argentina

Final Thoughts

Argentina is spectacular. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re a person drawn to natural beauty, rich culture, or food you need to put Argentina at the top of your list.  The language barrier can be more pronounced than in some other areas, but its never insurmountable and always worth it.   I’d go back in a heartbeat and know that for as much as I fit into my brief trip, there’s much, much more which I missed.  I highly encourage you to peruse my videos, photos and previous posts documenting my time in Argentina and invite you to ask any question you may have.  Have an amazing trip and enjoy the adventure!

Debating going? Head on over to Amazon and pick up the Lonely Planet Guide to Argentina.

An Authentic Tango Experience While Tackling the Language Barrier

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

When I announced my plans to travel to Argentina I knew immediately that there were several friends I absolutely had to get in touch with.  One was Kellen, a friend who had spent 3 months the previous summer in Buenos Aires as part of a fantastic study abroad program. He had honed his Spanish, danced up a storm, and met a bunch of amazing people.

When I told him about my plans I was immediately greeted by a giant smile which quickly transitioned into a list of places to see, foods to eat and friends that I needed to meet.  One of those friends was Kellen’s Argentine tango instructor and good friend, Rodrigo.

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

New Friends

Kellen quickly connected Rodrigo and me on Facebook and we began to chat.  The one catch?  English wasn’t one of the languages he spoke and…well…my Spanish could be called a lot of things but fluent is definitely not one of them. Not to despair though, where there’s a will there is always a way.  Before long we’d friended each other on Facebook and using my very basic Spanish and Google translate we were able to get acquainted and chat away.

By the time I arrived in Buenos Aires I had a list of tips, places to see, and suggestions from Rodrigo which were a huge help.  The real fun started during my third and final time in Buenos Aires when our schedules finally aligned.  We set a time and place to meet. As it worked out it was about a 10 minute walk from my hostel, located in the heart of the Palermo district.

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. Here I was standing on a street corner in a fairly quiet part of Buenos Airies at 11pm waiting to meet someone I’d only seen photos of on Facebook. I didn’t have a phone, didn’t know for a fact if I was in the right spot or not, and wasn’t sure how well we’d be able to communicate given the absence of Google Translate.  Over the previous two weeks I’d spent in Argentina a lot of my Spanish had come back to me, but would it be enough?

As an odd assortment of people walked by I’m sure I left a few feeling uneasy as I tried to make inquisitive eye contact while making that haphazard “is it you?” face. Eventually Rodrigo arrived and with a warm smile introduced himself. We said hello and chatted with each other breaking through the initial awkwardness that makes communicating hard.  As we (or perhaps more I) started to relax we began walking and he told me that it was too early to Tango yet (yep, 11pm is the Argentine equivalent of 6pm elsewhere!) but he had a few friends he wanted me to meet.

A five minute walk brought us to an apartment where I was introduced to several of his friends: A group of several Argentinians and an Israeli exchange student. We quickly got acquainted and made our way to the rooftop terrace where they had a table and set of chairs. The evening air was warm and delightful.  It was also still fairly light out as it was the heart of Argentina’s summer.

They had ordered pizza and picked up several liters of soda and beer. As it turned out the evening was a bit of a post New Years Celebration among friends. A celebration I felt very blessed to be included in.

As the meal and conversation transitioned from eating, we prepared for a bit of dancing. The table was moved to the side, the ipod switched to Tango music, and the performances and lessons were on!

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

The Dances

Despite my background in Ballroom and focus in Latin dance, Argentine Tango has always eluded me.  Which is to say that even the basic was something that I had previously only seen, but never danced. The beat, the rhythm, the flow, it was all new and I quickly found myself more than a little confused.   Luckily under the guidance of Rodrigo, and several of his patient friends, I learned the basic box and at least started to get a feel for the dance while only periodically mangling the poor girl’s toes.

Once sufficiently satisfied that I’d gotten the basics down to Argentine Tango and sensing my background in slightly more fast paced/constantly paced dances they introduced me to the Milonga.  This dance, which shares the same name as many of the city’s tango venues, is a faster, constant version of the tango. Wikipedia explains the Milgona as, “Milonga,(in 2/4 time) has a strongly accented beat, and sometimes an underlying “habanera” rhythm. Dancers avoid pausing, and often introduce double time steps (incorrectly called syncopation and more appropriately called traspies) into their walks and turns. Milonga dancing uses the same basic elements as tango, with a strong emphasis on the rhythm, and figures that tend to be less complex than some danced in other varieties of tango. Some tango instructors say that tango steps should not be used in milonga and that milonga has its own special rhythm and steps, which are quite different from tango.”

While the beat was easier to relate to for me, I have to admit that the speed and execution left me more than a little baffled and confused.  Still, it was a fantastic introduction to a dance which was both passionate, engaging, and exciting as well as being an entirely new dance for me.

To my surprise we finished the lessons out with a third and far more traditional dance, the chacarera (I believe).  The dance was a zero contact partner dance which resembled a traditional waltz or Victorian era dance.  A fun line dance of sorts, it consisted of a number of turns, pauses, a bit of tap dancing, and then a final salute which left both partners near embrace without touching.  While I initially thought it was just a fun cultural dance they were sharing with me, later I’d learned that it was actively used and danced in the Milongas.

Rodrigo Dancing Tango

The Milonga

As 3:30AM quickly approached Rodrigo and I said our goodbyes and our thank yous before setting off into the night.  I assumed that we were probably done with the evening, but quickly realized that it had just started. As we made our way back out to the street he explained that the good tango clubs in the area were just getting going. Before long we arrived at one such venue, located in the spacious basement/bar area of a large building.  The area was packed with a ring of small tables lining a large rectangular dance floor.  My guide quickly chatted with one of the local waiters, who he obviously knew, and found us a seat.

Before long we were joined by two German girls we had bumped into on the walk over and had been introduced to by one of Rodrigo’s friends who had decided to call it a night.  The girls were in Argentina learning Tango and quickly took the dance floor where Rodrigo launched them into a series of fantastic routines. His tango was skillful and an absolute delight to watch.

As the night went on the venue would play a series of 5 songs back to back before some sort of old rock jam would blast on as a sign to rotate or take a break.  Then every 10th song or so they would play an Chacarera or two, which were equally fun to watch!  Though possessed of a flimsy understanding of the bare basics for both, I have to admit that I opted to sit, relax and watch the dancers without ever joining them.  Perhaps after a chance to practice a bit more, and to force the basics of Argentine tango into my memory, I’ll be up for the challenge.

By 5:30AM I could barely keep my eyes open and the wear and tear on my body from the previous week’s travels and New Years festivities came crashing down upon me.  I bid the girls goodnight, thanked Rodrigo for one of the most delightful evenings I’d had in Argentina, and began my walk home.

He was a truly wonderful host and one who patiently put up with my dreadful Spanish and bad jokes while sharing his culture, music and dance with me.  My first night at an Argentine Milonga will always stand out as one of my favorite dance experiences and easily one of my fondest memories from Buenos Aires.

**The photos in this post are of  Rodrigo and his dance partners used with permission from his facebook. Impressive ehh?

Inspired to learn a bit of Tango or at least listen to some?  Browse Amazon’s digital Tango Music library.

Sex On the Dance Floor or Just a Flirtatious Tango? Argentine Tango at Cafe de los Angelitos in Buenos Aires!

Pausing for a Dance in Tierra del Fuego

With that keen sense of despair gnawing at the edge of my mind, I gradually began to internalize that my trip to Argentina was nearing its conclusion. Anything but ready to leave Argentina behind I relished every remaining moment I had, and to be fair, those remaining moments promised grand adventures including a visit to La Boca, a stunning tango show, live tango dancing with locals, a bizarre amusement park and of course New Years celebrations!  After a 17 hour plus bus ride back to Buenos Aires from Puerto Iguazu I settled into my new hostel in the Palermo district. After getting settled I had the Hostel’s front desk call and book a reservation for me at Cafe de los Angelitos – one of Buenos Aires famous cafes offering live, choreographed Tango performances. While more expensive (the show was 300 ARS or about $75 USD and offered an option for 450 ARS which included dinner) my local friend and tango instructor Rodrigo had suggested it, which left little doubt in my mind.  Eager to find a hole in the wall for dinner and already smarting from the sticker price of the show alone I opted for the show, sans the meal.

As a latin and ballroom dancer the opportunity to see a live Argentina Tango performance stood out as one of the key draws which had driven me to book my Argentina trip.  Though my relationship with Tango has always been with International/American Tango I love watching Argentina Tango and have the utmost respect for it.  In 2007 as a semi-accidental discovery I caught Tango Fire, a touring Argentina Tango troupe, while they were performing in London.  The show was mesmerizing, simple, sensual, and a magical melding of love music, dance and physical artistry. It set a high bar and is a fond memory – one which I was eager to match or surpass.

Unsure what to expect and regretting the lack of more formal clothing I put on my black dress shirt, cleaned up, and hopped in a cab. I’d battled with the decision to take my camera’s with me, and given the semi-formal setting eventually opted (much to my later lament – the photos in this post are from their website) to leave them at home.  As we sped through the streets and across town I chatted with my Cab driver, a gentleman who was as much tour guide as cabbie and every bit the proud Argentine. He extolled the virtues, history and reputation of Cafe de los Angelitos and then told me I absolutely had to return to the Cafe another evening for one of the live musical performances (next trip my friend!). As we pulled up in front of the cafe I hopped out, bid him goodbye and checked my watch. I was 40 minutes early – whoops!  Never one to mind being a bit early, I paused to take in the Cafe before making my way inside.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

Cafe de los Angelitos was founded in 1890 and is far more than just a simple cafe.  With a formal, though more traditional, cafe in front the venue manages to secret away a large balconied dining room decorated in an ornate 19th century style.  The dining room and the connected balconies resemble the general feel of your traditional opera or play house and are carefully laid out to offer a fantastic view of the raised stage. The stage is a beautiful two story thing, with a recessed space for the band and multiple layers allowing fantastic acoustics and the dancers wonderful opportunities to use the set as part of their performances.  All of the wait staff are in traditional outfits which offer a turn of the century meets old Victorian Gaucho look.

I checked in and to my delight was escorted to the end seat directly off the center of the stage.  Though located near the back of the ground floor it offered me a centered view of the stage and placed me close enough to see everything in perfect detail. I ordered still water and relaxed to people watch as time slipped by. I’d arrived right before the main course was served for those who opted to do the dinner, and I have to confess that the dinner looked superb. Multi-course with oyster appetizers, a large steak, and wonderful assortment of desert options it left my mouth watering.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

And then the lights dimmed, plates were cleared away and the stage lights lit the stage. As the lights slowly came up the performers made their way through the crowd before finding their way up onto the stage. They giggled and laughed, chatted and teased each other in character while dressed in beautiful summer clothing. One jovially lugged an early model camera with him while others had umbrellas and tophats in tow. They settled into a group, posed briefly and then with a large flash the Camera went off. From there the picnic evolved into a delightful dance with the five partnerships spinning, twisting, dipping and pausing for a periodic corte. All the while the band, which was located in a recessed enclosure in the center of the stage, played piercing tango music.  I was instantly drawn into the performance and found myself on the edge of my seat.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

As the night progressed the performances varied. Some were group performances featuring all of the couples, while others were solo or duet pieces. Yet others were pure musical performances and featured one of the two main vocalists. To my delight I’d attended in the hope of seeing a great tango show. As an unexpected bonus I also received a fantastic concert. They sang piecing songs of tragedy, love, passion and desire all set to the heart stopping ballads of live tango music so full of power and energy that you could feel them pulsating in your chest.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

With each new performance the women’s costumes changed from traditional gowns to incredible evening dresses that highlighted the dancer’s stunning physiques and left little doubt that they were every bit as sensual and attractive physically as their dancing was captivating. For the men’s part they demanded their place on the stage with puffed out chests, low sitting fedoras, and a mixture of suits that offered their own character and feel. Each time they took the stage a hush drifted over the crowd.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

One of my favorite performances began with a dark stage and enchanting vocals. As a spotlight slowly drifted down, it revealed the female singer perched in the band box. Eventually, as though responding to a her song, a lone male dancer took the floor. After a series of solo routines showcasing his talent he appeared to win her over. She slowly walked to the edge of the 2nd story box, gently took a seat, and then to our shock and delight slipped off the edge and down into his waiting arms. From there the song gave way to pure music, and a story told by entwined bodies as they drifted – sometimes fast, sometimes slow – across the dance floor.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

Another of my favorites began with a lone woman standing, posing, and then eventually dancing elegantly in front of a sheer curtain. As she danced, the light on the front of the stage would periodically switch from front to back, which in turn highlighted the silhouette of lone male figure. As the dance continued he eventually struck out from behind the curtain where he approached her and was accepted. They danced. Legs entwined in a maze of motion, I quickly realized that the curtain was as much dress as curtain. Made of the same material and color as her dress it found its way to the floor before drawing in to wrap up and around her as part of her dress. Then as he wrapped her in it, the curtain released and fell to the ground leaving the two to wrap themselves in the curtain, dance around it, and unwind themselves before that part of her dress fell away leaving them to do grand dips, lifts and catches. The interplay between light, shadow, the music and each other was fantastic!

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

Though most of the dances were in deed Argentina Tangos, they also mixed in a number of other pieces which varied from Sambas to sensual rumba-like routines danced in sheer nightgown-esq outfits on a stage obscured by billowing fog machines. The show was everything you would expect and more. Sensual, passionate, entertaining, playful, lustful, moving, and even at times slightly tragic. While it may not have been true street tango it was easily one of the most spectacular performances I’ve ever enjoyed live. I would readily put it head to head with the great musicals and other similarly spirited performances.

The one truly unfortunate aspect of the evening was the service. It was easily the worst I’ve experienced in a long time and by far the worst I experienced in Argentina. I’m not sure if it was due to confusion over whose section I was in, the fact that I was alone, young, male, didn’t purchase the dinner or a combination of all of the above. Regardless it took me more than 50 minutes to get my water, which included flagging down waitstaff 5 times and having them deliver gas water vs. the still I had ordered. During that same period (before the water arrived mid-show) I also ordered a hot tea which took two requests (combined with the water inquiries), over 20 minutes and frustrated complaints before it arrived. Keep in mind this all occurred at a venue charging almost $40 USD for dinner and with ample wait staff on hand. I eventually flagged down a waiter from another section, was forced to complain in broken Spanish, and after repeating my story several times was introduced to a manager who spoke English. She was apologetic, said she would work on it immediately and insisted I accept a free desert in addition to comping my water and hot tea. As the show started the fruit plate arrived, which was a wonderful mixture of sweet kiwi, grapes, mellons, strawberries and blueberries. Unfortunately, and perhaps somewhat comically, even as the plate arrived the one thing I truly wanted – a bottle of still water – took an additional 10 minutes to find its way to me.

While the service was disappointing, frankly rather insulting, and extremely unfortunate I will say that the manager made a decent effort to make it right once it was brought to her attention, was apologetic and despite it all did little to truly diminish the experience. In truth it became more comedy than frustration. Though I’d be far less patient with the service in the future I’d gladly attend the Cafe’s performance again as it was truly magnificent and an experience that was gently enhanced by the feel and ambiance of the venue. For more info feel free to visit Cafe de los Angelito’s website.

Ahhh Buenos Aires. I think I may have fallen in love with your charm!

Reminder: This post is a continuation in my Argentina series. Jump to the previous post: Puerto de Iguazu, Toucans and an Animal Rehabilitation in Argentina or if you’re itching for a bit of tango music check out Tango music on Amazon.

**Please note that all of the photos from Cafe de los Angelitos in this post are theirs and are from their website. As stated in the post, I did not have my camera with me. All rights are retained by the original photographer.

The San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires

Plaza de Mayo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Upon my return to Buenos Airies I immediately backtracked from the Airport to the hostel I had stayed in previously.  Located in the heart of the San Telmo District Tango Backpackers offered familiar/friendly staff, a good location, and excellent facilities.  The girl on the front desk, a Bulgarian who had temporarily re-settled in BA, recognized me immediately and welcomed me back with a warm smile.  I settled into my room, then set out to explore areas of the City I’d missed previously.  It was Christmas day and the world famous Sunday San Telmo outdoor market was taking place near by.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

After walking a few blocks to the northwest I stumbled onto the market, which shuts down the entire street and stretches at least a mile across the heart of the city. A narrow cobblestone street it’s lined on both sides with hawkers before eventually dead ending in the main square where the more traditional and established market vendors have their stands set up. There’s also an in-door area but more on that later.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The market is home to everything from small handwoven silver goods, to tango shows and gaucho (Argentinian cowboy) equipment and artifacts. It’s the embodiment of everything I love about outdoor markets, only missing one key element – the food! While you can find just about anything at one of the stands, apparently Buenos Aires has a law against streetside food vendors. As a result the only real food available along the market was fresh pressed orange juice.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Luckily, there’s an old turn of the century style wrought iron marketplace located just off the main square which serves as home to a number of great vegetable, fruit, and meat stands. Sandwiched between old antique shops, and an odd mixture of electric, perfume, and clothing stands they provided a chance for some fresh food. As you’ll note in the picture above, it’s not exactly the most airtight building, as the Pigeons made a strong showing and casually patrolled the space, not unlike local Police officers in their dark blue-gray uniforms.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The level of vibrant color constantly bombarding my senses in the market was absolutely delightful and a fun contrast to the more muted tones I’d grown accustomed to while in the southern part of the country.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s impossible to visit Buenos Aires without breathless mention of the Tango dancing, salivating praise for their steaks, and words of caution about the pickpocket scene. While I never had an issue with pickpockets, I was more conscientious than normal. The market isn’t just world famous for its size and antiques, it also has a reputation as a pick-pocket mecca. As I wound my way through the crowd I was always aware of my belongings, and regularly transferred my backpack from my back to my chest. Backpacks in particular are always an easy target and one we usually assume to be a bit safer than our pocket-based wallets.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The collection of People along the route is also a great mixture of characters. Some gorgeous…some colorful. All vibrant and full of life. Of the hawker’s wares some of my favorites included beautiful silver work done with hand woven silver wire often worked in beautiful patterns around polished gem stones and aged fossils. Some even included peacock and parrot feathers. Others created similar works of art but with a waxed, hemp like, multicolored type of thick string gator and jaguar teeth. One gentleman was selling beautiful leather maps, while another sold handcrafted leather bracers and bracelets. Some of the more cultural pieces – vintage Tango posters and the stands with Gaucho saddles, lassos, whips and spurs left me wishing I had the funds, space, and time to make a few purchases.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Starving and a bit frustrated by the lack of any quality food stands, I eventually found a small doorway into a tiny, steaming hole in the wall sandwiched behind two large vendor’s tables.  The place boasted the standard open faced grill Argentinians are fond of with a smattering of meat thrown onto it. The place was dingy, the chef a rather hefty older man with sweat tracing its way down his face.  Near the door two old men sat and motioned me in as they relaxed and read the paper.  I dodged the young waitress as she barreled towards a nearby table balancing a load of plates, and pulled up a chair across from a group of federal police on Lunch break.  Slightly intimidating, there were at least 10 when I arrived and over the course of the meal another 6 or so piled in and quickly gobbled up the remaining chairs and tables.

Graffiti in Plaza de Mayo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The thoughts you have in a situation like that are always interesting.  On the one hand I took their presence as a positive sign that the food was good, and that I was in an extremely safe place.  On the other side a little paranoia set in as I processed that with that large a gathering of officers, if anything was going to happen, it would probably be targeting them.  If I had been in a place like Israel, or even more dangerous parts of Brazil or Argentina known for active terrorist/drug war attacks and bombings, I’d have probably been nervous enough to debate re-locating. As it was, I ordered the daily special and a coca cola, then settled in to read my book, watch the locals, and relax.

Plaza de Mayo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

I spent the remainder of the day wandering through Plaza del Mayo, where a group of mothers of vanished political protestors have maintained a longstanding protest. Then wound my way through the districts streets somewhat randomly before striking back towards my hostel.

San Telmo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Once there, I set to the task of booking/exploring and researching the next major leg of my journey. It promised to be somewhat daunting and would be my first major introduction to long distance Argentinian Bus travel.

Stay tuned for a detailed break down of the experience, how to book it, and the costs associated with a RT ticket from Buenos Aires to Iguazu.

Reflecting on Ignite Phoenix

I had the pleasure of sharing the stage this past Tuesday with 16 incredible presenters.  Together, we all overcame our fear of the stage, of the spotlight and of failure to ascend one of the valley’s largest soap boxes for 300 seconds.  During the course of our 5 minute presentations we battled our nerves, time and the intense desire to ramble in order to share our passion with some 600+ attendees.

Truly, the Ignite Phoenix experience is a rare and incredible opportunity.  It is a synergy of random ideas and passions.  An assemblage that transcends genre in a way that has become rare and difficult to find. Ignite 5 saw presentations on Bats, Education, Gundam Action figures and Dance to name but a few – short of random links posted by particularly eclectic friends on Twitter, or social link aggregators like Digg/Reddit there are only a few events like Ignite Phoenix and TED/TEDxPhoenix which truly embrace random intellectualism and curiosity.

The thing about Ignite that really makes it that much more special is the pace. 20 slides, 5 minutes, 15 seconds a slide…what a rush! It’s a format that gives even the most experienced public speaker pause.  All the while it creates a platform which is incredibly audience friendly.  With the standard format typically consisting of 18 presentations, tuning out for 5 minutes if you don’t care for a topic or find it interesting is painless. It’s the exact opposite of the 90 minute lectures droning on about something that failed to catch our interest which many of us came to dread in College, Business courses and seminars.

A Presenter’s Reflections

Presenting at Ignite Phoenix pushed my comfort level and boundaries.  I’ve presented in the past to smaller groups, traveled the world for months on my own, delivered business pitches and successfully navigated social situations – but this was different. This was terrifying. It took me back to a time before I’d developed my current social competency.  It took me back to the first day of High School every year when the fear and anxiety of the High School social experience/social shark tank left me physically sick to my stomach. Heart racing, palms sweating, imagination running wild.

Applying to present was a challenge in and of itself.  I found 15 excuses every time I went to fill out the application. Was my idea good enough?  Was I truly passionate about it?  Would people care?  Why would I want to do it – after all, no one was forcing me to apply.  Eventually, I put aside my excuses, nervously re-read the my brief topic submission and hit submit. That action came with the same sensation I typically feel when making a big purchase online. Do I really want this? Did I order the right item?

So, in light of all that – why did I do it? Because it was worth every piece of energy I invested – both positive and negative.

Overcoming those challenges, those discomforts and those excuses was an incredible learning experience.  Sure, Ignite is about sharing your passion and knowledge with others but it’s also about something more.  For the presenters it’s about learning about yourself.  About building and internalizing your self confidence and belief in your self – and that alone is invaluable.  Making the decision to present was worth it long before I even took the stage and actually presented.  That was the icing on the cake – A lucky bonus and exciting opportunity to share.

What of the presentation itself?

There’s something special about the Ignite crowd. They’re happy.  That sounds silly, but in this day and age it’s significant.  They’re not there because they have to be, they’re not there because they should be, they’re there to learn and because they want to be! That’s over 600 open, supportive, eager eyes, ears and minds that want the presenters to succeed.  They want to learn, be inspired and captivated. That positive energy is a force to be reckoned with.  It is contagious and it makes presenting much, much easier. There is no competition, no back stabbing or anything of the sort. It’s just open, sincere cooperation, collaboration and sharing. That positive approach stretches beyond the crowd and was shared by the other presenters. There were words of advice, suggestions, encouragement, jokes, smiles, fist bumps, high fives and shoulder pats throughout the course of the evening.

Tips for future Presenters

I really hope this post helps encourage each and every one of you to submit a proposal to present at Ignite Phoenix 6. If you get selected, here’s my advice:

Go simple. Go big. – Your slides are the life of your presentation and an indication of how professional it looks and feels. Listen to the organizers and past presenters. Go with big, simple images and very simple statements or text. One lone word is best, 3 or 4 is good, more than that? Try and avoid it. There’s a temptation to feel like you need to read what’s on your slides. Even if it’s only a sentence to “remind” you. Don’t do it! Anything more than one word encourages you to awkwardly change from a conversational delivery to a quickly read interjection. This breaks your flow, changes topics abruptly and can be awkward. If you put more than two words on a slide IGNORE THEM – they’re for the viewers, not you as presenter.

Rehearse – Yeah, yeah. I know it’s a pain, but look at it this way. Your presentation is only 5 minutes. Running through it two or three times a day before you present is no big deal. Your presentation should change EACH time you present it. Why? Because you need to focus on the main points you want to share and get comfortable with your time frame – NOT with a memorized statement you’re going to regurgitate. Think about what you like in each practice run, then work on incorporating it next time. That way, no matter what happens during your presentation you can adapt and respond without getting stumped!

Warm Up! – Don’t present cold! For Ignite Phoenix 5 we began at 6PM. I practiced the night before, which was great – but you also need to practice as close to your actual presentation as you can. For me, that meant going through my presentation twice at 4PM before heading to the event. A cold start makes it MUCH more difficult to remember what you want to cover and leaves you less comfortable with the timing, slides etc. – it means you have to think more…and that’s the last thing you want to be doing.

Don’t Narrate – It wastes time! Pausing your presentation to say, “woah, here we go”, “whoops, that went fast”, or “umm….where was I” will throw off your rhythm, undermine your confidence, and tells people there’s a problem. Silence is golden and less expensive! You’ve only got 15 seconds a slide and 300 seconds total – don’t waste them!

Have an Intro Slide! – The Ignite Phoenix team will introduce you with an intro slide, but have one of your own! It helps make the presentation your own AND it gives you valuable time to get out there, look at the audience, get comfortable with them, and let your brain catch up before you’re performing at full presentation speed!

Above all, get out there and try it. Ignite Phoenix 6 applications are already open. It truly, truly is an incredible experience. One that everyone is capable and qualified to participate in. Go SUBMIT your idea now!

Want to learn more about Ignite Phoenix? Check out http://www.ignite-phoenix.org.

Lastly, thank you again to everyone involved in the Ignite Phoenix process. Those who made it possible, those who presented and the wonderful audience.

From Ballroom to Boardroom – Ignite Phoenix 5

Hello friends!

First and foremost thank you for allowing me to share my passion for Ballroom dancing! I’ve put this post together as a follow up to my Ignite Phoenix 5 Presentation in order to share more information with anyone inspired to try Ballroom dance.

The valley has a plethora of wonderful social dance venues, most of which offer a lesson as part of the evening’s cover. Average price for the lesson/evening of dancing varies, but it’s typically under $10. The venues themselves come in all types and shapes from Bars to Dance Studios. The really exciting part is that these group classes are tailored to beginners fresh off the street, offering a fun alternative to private lessons. They also don’t require that you bring a partner, though it’s never a bad idea!

My personal recommendation is that those new to Ballroom/Latin/Swing dancing start with the social salsa evenings. Salsa dancing is one of the less intimidating dances, and also one of the easiest dances to pick up and begin dancing socially.

The Presentation:

Where To Go?

I’ve included the following links to venue and calendar information for social dance venues around the valley:

AZSalsa.net – Salsa Dancing

PhoenixSalsa.com – Salsa Dancing

GPSDC.com – Swing Dancing

AZ Lindy Hop Society – Swing Dancing

Phoenix USA Dance – Mixed Venues

Tango Arizona – Tango Dancing

*If you know of another dance resource here in the valley, please post it in a comment and I’ll get it added ASAP!

Other Resources

In 2008 I wrote two posts geared towards helping people interested in getting into Ballroom. While they’re slightly dated, they’re still worth a look if you’re on the hunt for more information:

Ballroom Dancing – It’s Not Just Social, It’s Business

10 Tips For Ballroom Success

Questions?

Have questions or need clarification? Post a comment or shoot me a tweet @AlexBerger with whatever is on your mind and I’ll see what I can do to help!

A Quick Thank You

My personal relationship with Ballroom dance began 5+ years ago, through the Ballroom/Latin/Swing courses at Arizona State University.  It is truly amazing how diverse and unexpected Ballroom’s benefits are – regardless of your vocation.  Over the last five years I’ve seen it transform everyone from collegiate athletes to budding engineers.

When I started dance classes at ASU, dancing was still anything but cool and to say I lacked an aptitude for it would be…well…an understatement. Luckily I ended up getting Larry Caves as my professor. Larry’s mentorship stretched beyond his fun-first approach to Ballroom and was instrumental in helping me realize that dance was far more than just a social outing.  Not a day goes by in my professional career as a Mergers and Acquisitions Analyst or entrepreneurial pursuits that I don’t rely on the skills I learned dancing.

Ignite Phoenix 5

I’m very excited to announce that I will be speaking at Ignite Phoenix #5. I’ve been a huge fan of the Ignite series since I discovered it just under a year ago. It embodies a somewhat random, haphazard pursuit of knowledge and wisdom which I absolutely love.

Late last week I was informed that my talk “From Ballroom to Boardroom: Three Steps in the Right Direction” had been chosen as one of 18 presentations for Ignite Phoenix #5 which will be taking place November 3rd (tickets go on sale on the 16th!). It truly is an honor to have been selected, with over 100+ proposals submitted the diversity and range of ideas proposed were truly fascinating.

What is Ignite?

For those of you unfamiliar with Ignite Phoenix, Ignite is a series of events that have been organized by inspired, creative individuals in communities throughout the world. Some are location based (like Ignite Phoenix) while others are company based (like Ignite Google). I’ll have 5 minutes and 20 slides to present.  The catch?  Those 20 slides change automatically every 15 seconds!

From Ignite-Phoenix.org:
“Ignite Phoenix is an information exchange for fostering and inspiring Phoenix’s creative community. In one evening, you hear 18 passionate speakers from our creative, technical, and business communities talking about their current projects or favorite ideas for just five minutes. Presentations will educate and inspire you, and maybe make you laugh in the process.”

If you’re interested in viewing past Ignite Phoenix presentations check out their Blip.tv channel: http://ignitephoenix.blip.tv

Event Details
When: November 3rd, 2009
Time: 6PM-9PM
Where: Tempe Center For the Arts
700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
How: http://ignite-phoenix.org

Tickets go on sale Friday, October 16th at 10AM and will sell out quickly. The ticket price is $5. A limited number of tickets/access to a viewing room will be available on the day of the vent for free.

Interested in more on the topic I’ll be presenting on? Check out my blog post Ballroom Dancing – It’s not just social, it’s business. The post is over a year old, but expresses some of the foundational concepts I’ll be covering in my talk.

If you have any thoughts, questions or comments I’d love to hear them. Just post a comment below!