< The Blue Marble

The Blue Marble

The Impossible: McDonald’s in Argentina

I am not a fan of McDonald’s. Often when I meet people they are amazed to hear that an American doesn’t care for this symbol of American fast-food cuisine. Jamie Oliver and I should be friends; we both despise McDonald’s.

I am certainly not a regular to this chain, though when in dire need of food (often when on-the-go) and no Chipotle or Pret is nearby, I drag myself in and order some food. I always feel disgusted when I leave. 

I have vowed to never set foot in a McDonald’s in London for as long as I shall live. The employees have never got my order right and seem to think that when I ask for a “chocolate milkshake” I have actually asked for “banana”. I am then given a vanilla milkshake. Where’s the logic in that one? Even ordering a large fry poses its challenges. 

In Salta, Argentina my group and I found ourselves in need of some food one evening. We had splurged the night before on the most heavenly steaks and if we wanted some food, a trip to Maccas was our only hope. 

The golden arches welcomed us into what was a typical-looking McDonald’s. I knew that it wouldn’t be pleasant. If ordering my food in English back in England was a challenge, then certainly ordering it in Spanish would have interesting results. I won’t even get into my experiences with Ohio. In my best Spanish I ordered my burger (with just lettuce, cheese and tomato), my chips and my drink. Presented with my food I sat down with my group.

I took one bite of that burger and I had flashbacks to the first time I ate at my beloved In-N-Out Burger. It was heavenly and juicy. It didn’t even taste like the burgers served in the US and UK. Was there some “special recipe”? When I told Hugh about my delicious experience at McDonald’s he was in disbelief. 

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Memories of my best burgers resurfaced. Images of Regis Philbin sharing a burger with the cast of How I Met Your Mother flashed in my head, the afternoon where Brittany and I had lunch at In-N-Out Burger was remembered, and of course my first GBK burger reappeared in my memory. I couldn’t believe I was actually comparing a McDonald’s burger to In-N-Out Burger. I saw Jamie Oliver glaring at me. This just wasn’t real. 

I have eaten at McDonald’s around the world and they all have been terrible. The worst was probably (aside from one somewhere in southern Ohio) in Austria. The “Alpine Burger” still haunts me. It was awful. To the McDonald’s of the world, take note of how your colleagues in Salta, Argentina prepare their burgers.

The most magical steak, ever

Bife de Chorizo. Amazing. In English it’s basically sirloin steak, but to my tastebuds, it was magical. 

Earlier in the day my group had gone on a walking tour of Salta, Argentina and did a spot of hiking. We ate phenomenal homemade empanadas for lunch and were hungry from our busy day. Unfortunately, Argentinians eat late and the restaurants aren’t open until after 19-20:00. What joy.

My group and I had gone to “Doña Salta” for our eagerly anticipated dinner. This would be the first proper meal I would have in Argentina since landing. My stomach was begging for food, so I ate the bread given to us. That wasn’t enough, my stomach wanted more. It also wanted my drink.

It took ages for our waiter to bring us our drinks. The restaurant wasn’t particularly busy. In fact, eating at 8PM in Argentina appeared to be a bit early to the locals. I wondered how hard could it be to bring our drinks when we were practically the only ones in there. I joked that they had been squeezing the lemons because it was taking horrendously long. The restaurant was, in fact, making my lemonade. It was the most beautiful lemonade I had ever tasted. I was thankful to have ordered a litre of it. Nothing will compare to that lemonade, ever. Not too sweet, nor too cold or sour- just right (and amazingly fresh). My phenomenal lemonade was just the start of good things to come.

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Sole had warned us that these portions are huge, so splitting sides would be a good idea if we wanted them. I couldn’t believe the size of the steak that was put in front of me. It was thick and juicy. Slicing into it and seeing the juices come oozing out was like a dream come true for any steak lover. It had been perfectly cooked and once I put that first bit of meat in my mouth I experience heaven. I can’t even express how beautiful this steak tasted. Dear sweet baby Jesus it was amazing. 

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There was no seasoning on the steak; it was absolutely simple and to-the-point. Amazingly done. There weren’t really any fatty bits to either, nor was it too chewy. I wanted to give the chef a hug. World peace could be solved  with this steak. Anyone having a bad day could instantly feel better with the warmth and juiciness of this steak. That evening was a beautiful evening all because of that steak.

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Lesson learnt: Argentinians have the best steaks in the world. 

Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing [in South America]

There are moments when I travel where I think to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I’m on a gap year and I booked a spur-of-the-moment trip to South America. What the hell? Such a realisation came to mind as I queued to have my bag examined at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza Airport (EZE). I had arranged a transfer to my hotel, but the words “If your arrival transfer does not arrive within 30 minutes after you have exited the arrivals area please take a taxi to your start point hotel” were haunting me. “What if nobody is waiting for me?” Well, if that were the case, I’d be in for an adventure.

I stepped out into the arrivals hall. People with signs waiting to collect arriving passengers waved their signs in my face. I weaved in and out of the crowds looking for someone holding a sign with my name for what felt like ages. It was hitting me that I was in Argentina. Just as I was about to try and arrange a cab with the airport, I saw the shortest man out of this sea of people holding a sign with my name. He didn’t have it waving above his head; he had it practically in his lap. Like I’m going to see that?

I acknowledged the man and he guided me to the car. I was already feeling a million times better knowing that I had a ride to the hotel. He knew no English and I knew hardly any Spanish. I did manage to tell him that I wasn’t cold, which surprised him as for him, as the 12*C weather was like a death sentence for Buenos Aires. I later learnt that there was a cold front coming in from Patagonia. 

The driver was a good, cautious driver. He was nothing like the driver I had in Panama. Watching the people weave in and out of traffic was daunting. People were driving right on the line and swerving. Welcome to Argentina. 

At the hotel I met my lovely roommate, Katy. She was smart; she had opted to take the day to rest, but as for me, I had booked a ferry to Uruguay. I thought I was clever for doing so. I still don’t know how I feel about it. I certainly got a lesson in parenting, that’s for sure. 

The Buequebus terminal was a short walk from the hotel. I arrived just as check-in had started and proceeded to immigration. This was where it got tricky. There were queues for Argentinians and queues for Mercosur nationalities- no queue for foreigners. I had to pick one, so I chose the “Mercosur” queue. Immediately, I was sent away. “You are not from Mercosur,” the man said to me. “I know, but I’m not Argentinian, so where do I go?” I asked the man. He sat there with a confused look on his face. I had guessed this doesn’t happen very often. “I cannot stamp your passport” he told me. So, I decided to be Argentinian. The Argentinian officer didn’t mind, nor did the Uruguayan official sitting next to her. 

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The departure hall was pretty modern with a coffee shop, a news agent and comfy settees (if you could get one). Despite me being a fool for not bringing my Kindle to entertain me and the lack of wifi, I sat there reading what I had: my departure card and Spanish dictionary. Fun times. 

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It was time to board, so I joined the queue. I noticed that not everyone was in a rush to get on the ferry. I had read that if you want a window seat, get ahead of the queue. Interestingly enough, those in the queue were all speaking either Italian or French- no Spanish speakers. Then, we all proceeded to the ferry. Still, nobody else had joined us. It was quite a large group of us, and so I thought maybe since I was at “Puerta 1” that it was like a boarding group. Nope. There we all were being told by a nice lady in English that the ferry for Montevideo was boarding, not Colonia. Awkwardly, we all headed back into the departure hall. I really wanted my friend Brittany to be there with me. I knew she’d find humour in it. It was embarrassing. 

Then an announcement was made (in Spanish): “The ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay has been delayed for one hour,” and the some other stuff I didn’t quite catch. Nobody was happy. Why the ferry was delayed remains a mystery to me. But finally, the hour had lapsed and I was on board. I had scored a window seat and watched us edge further from Argentina and closer to Uruguay. 

Finally in Uruguay, I bolted off the ferry and was ready to explore a new country! Yeah, that didn’t happen. I did get to step foot on Uruguayan soil and breathe the fresh, sea breeze, but that was it. The sights I had planned to see would have to wait until next time (Rio to BA, anyone?) Soon, I was needed to return to the departure hall. I checked-in, got berated by the Argentina officer regarding my reciprocity fee (I had it, but apparently it hadn’t been “recorded” when I arrived that morning. In fact, at EZE the officer didn’t even look at it). Off I went to the departure lounge and waited to board the ferry. Once seated I looked at the fresh new stamps in my passport. This is when I realised that 1) The Argentinian officer stamped the wrong date (by a month) and 2) According to the stamps, I had spent over a year in South Africa. Hmm, oh well. Better than having someone else’s face for my Brazil visa.

(The date is a bit off in this photo)

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The terminal had wifi, so I made use of that to tell people I wasn’t dead. I had people stare at me; it was a bizarre stare I received from them. I thought at first I was sitting in a section reserved for the elderly (like what you have on the Underground) and I wasn’t, then I thought I had something on me and finally I gave up. Was it maybe my greasy hair? Or the fact I hadn’t showered and smelled like a plane? If I smelled bad, then surely they wouldn’t have hung around for so long? I even moved to see if these people wanted my seats (they didn’t). They just stood there still staring. Anyway, moving on.

This ferry had demon children on it. It was truly an afternoon of how not to be a parent. There was a school group of children whose hormones were raging, children who were amazed that their legs were long enough to kick the seat in front of them (i.e.:mine and the guy’s next mine), and children who didn’t want to sit and preferred to play “climb on the other passengers.” All of these children had parents who were too busy talking to other parents to notice what terrorists their children were. The man next to me told a woman off for her son constantly kicking his seat after he had asked her to tell him to stop. “He’s just a little boy” she told him. Uh huh. 

Finally, we were back in Buenos Aires. As I waited by the gangway they announced this, and the girl next to me squealed with joy that we were back in Argentina. She seemed relieved. Maybe children were climbing on her, too?

Realising the time, I needed to be back at my hotel for my group’s welcome meeting. An autumn breeze blew dust any other bits of matter into my eyes just as I had turned down the street towards my hotel, making it hard to really see anything. This autumn breeze would have been welcomed had it not been rush hour and I was in the midst of crossing the street.

I finally made it back in time. Katy had spent a relaxing day in our room while I had traversed the seas, experienced horrible children and nearly boarded a ferry for Montevideo. I spent the evening trying to get the bits of Buenos Aires out of my eyes. I really envied her decision to stay behind. 

At the group meeting we all introduced ourselves. Like on most of my travels, I’m the only American (I have some theories for this, but I shall discuss those another time). This group was young, fun and just open to anything. Our guide, Sole, was from Bolivia and she is a walking encyclopaedia. She was amazing. There were a few Britons and the rest were Aussies. All I have to say is this: If you get the chance to travel with Aussies, take it. They are the most easy-going travellers and are certainly the friendliest (British people are great, too! My other-half is British, so I think I’d know!). 

After what started off as a day that could have been awful and scary, it ended with the confidence of knowing that I was going to be travelling with a great group of people. While many of them knew each other prior to the trip, they were open to welcoming others into their group, and we all quickly became one group of friends. Everyone looked after for one another, and nobody was left behind except for the watermelon. It was a great adventure and I’m excited to share my stories from this trip!

viktyo

7 Reasons To Set Sail With Semester At Sea

viktyo:

Many people choose to study abroad, but few people choose to spend a semester at sea. A lot of people have questions about the cost of the program or its effectiveness in providing a cultural experience. They have yet to fully explore what this program has to offer. Here is a list of why students…

Zambia: Victoria Falls

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I could see the edge of Victoria Falls and hear the water roaring. If the motor failed on our little boat  we’d be doomed. 

We were taken to Livingstone Island where we would get to see the falls up close and then enjoy a breakfast. I was guided to the edge by my guide who showed me where not step and where to do so. The rocks were slippery and I wasn’t wearing any shoes (as instructed). I really worried I’d slice my foot on a rock and have to be taken to hospital. Once I made it to the edge I felt a rush of adrenaline. 

I didn’t look down. I was much too scared to do that. In all my life I have never felt my hands feel so clammy, but maybe it was the mist and not the fear I had in me. There I was, on the edge of Victoria Falls. Only my balance was keeping me from going over. 

This experience concluded my time in Zambia and I was on my way home via Jo’burg that afternoon. I can’t wait to be back in Zambia.