I think I left off in Puerta Varas, so I'll pick up again from there. As you may have guessed, I am in Bariloche, Argentina; "gringa" is, of course, an English-speaking foreign woman. It's generally a disparaging term, apparently, but I kind of like the sound of it so don't mind referring to myself this way.
Bariloche is warmer than anywhere else I've been so far, about 20C right now. I've finally been able to leave off the fleece and start wearing the Tevas instead of hiking boots and socks. (Good thing about the fleece -- since I'm staying in one place for a while, people would start to recognize it very quickly.) It's been brilliantly sunny since I arrived on Saturday, which is a pleasant change from Chile. (Don't get me wrong, some scenery is more beautiful in the mist and the rain, but I just get tired of walking around in it.) Right is a picture of the Centro Civico, designed by an Argentine architect in a "Swiss" style; presumably this is why there are people hawking photographs with gorgeous St. Bernard dogs all around the square.
I spent late Saturday and most of Sunday wandering around the town and enjoying the sun. This was a long weekend in Argentina -- they get holidays from Thursday to Easter Sunday -- so the centre of town was full of Argentine tourists as well as foreigners. Occasionally I would get stopped by some of these tourists and asked for directions, which made me chuckle to myself (do I really look like I'm local enough to know my way around?); in one case, though, I could actually help and directed a very friendly old lady on her way to the cathedral for Easter mass. I even went to mass myself; since I went to church every Sunday of my childhood, I understood the gist of what was going on, but didn't catch most of the actual words. Spanish is a lovely, melodious language, though, so I enjoyed the sound of it.
I've changed hostels since I arrived, as I wasn't too fond of the first one. The location was great -- right in the centre of town -- but the dorms were very small and cramped, and I got stuck in an upper bunk, which I hate. Their book exchange was also under lock and key, and you could only trade in books 2 for 1 (i.e. leave 2, take away 1); this displeases me immensely as I go through books very rapidly, and if I had to donate two every time I wanted a new one, I'd already have run out of books and have to start buying again.
So I'm now at a hostel almost as close to the centre, just a little bit further walk up the hill. Bariloche is very close to the mountains -- you can see them across the lake -- and streets rise very steeply away from the lakeshore. Walking south generally means hiking up a 45-degree slope or a daunting near-vertical set of steps; this would be a great place to run, as your quads would end up in phenomenal shape! I'm hoping I can get the same benefit from walking, as I don't have any running gear with me.
There's a lovely spacious backyard at this hostel, so I am now sitting out in the sun as I type this. Ah, the benefits of a netbook and free wi-fi; I didn't anticipate this before coming to South America! I just finished my third day at Spanish school at 1 pm today, and my brain is, I think, starting to melt down from overwork. It's been a long time since it had to cope with school of any sort!
It's fun, though, and I think I will definitely end up with much more confidence in speaking and understanding Spanish. Learning in Argentina is challenging, though, since los Argentinos speak muy rapido (kind of like the speed I speak English, or les Quebecois speak French); I have trouble listening fast enough to keep up and understand them. They've also got some unusual pronounciations which are unique to this part of the Spanish-speaking world: "ll", for example, is usually pronounced as a "y" or a "ly" in the rest, but in Argentina it's more like a "zh" (as in the "s" in "measure"). So I occasionally end up thinking they've said something very different.
They also like to throw in their own unique pronoun for "you" (I think los Chilenos might do it, too, but not sure): "vos" as well as "tu" and "usted". And "vos" gets its own unique conjugations for verbs, i.e. "vos sos" instead of "tu es" to mean "you are". Couple that with the speed of speech, and I don't always understand when someone is directing a question at me; I know they mean me if they say "tu" (or "usted", if they're being polite), but "vos sos" becomes one long slur of sound that I don't get.
Apparently the speed with which people speak will slow down as I go further north in South America, so I'm hoping that I might be able to listen fast enough by Peru to understand more of what people say! The slang might still confuse me, though; Latin American Spanish is very different from the European variety (kind of like Quebec joual and Parisian French).
Yesterday afternoon after class, we watched a movie together, "El Secreto de sus Ojos", which won the Oscar for best foreign film. Muy bien, but muy complicado to follow at times; to help us practice our Spanish, the teacher showed it in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. He occasionally took pity on the confused gringos, though, and would stop the film at intervals to make sure we understood what was going on. Very good movie, by the way, should you ever wish to expand your horizons to Argentino film!
So, I'm halfway through my first week of lessons. I'm staying here next week, too, for another week of Spanish, and I might extend it to a third (depending on how the first two weeks go). I will probably have new classmates next week, though, as my current two (both Canadian girls, one from Victoria and one from Calgary) are leaving on Saturday, one to Chile and one to Iguazu Falls.
Anyway, we'll see about the third week; I love the idea of becoming much more fluent in Spanish, but there are so many places in South America that I want to see that I'm also itching to get on the road! I have a bit of time to decide, so I'll keep you posted. Hasta luego (see you later), mis amigos!