Argentina's Passion for Fútbol

The Argentines are a passionate people, and their devotion to fútbol or soccer is legendary. Their fanaticism for the game andSoccer Ball by jbelluch on Flickr its heroes reaches a level virtually unrivaled among American sports fans. Argentina's golden boy, Diego Maradona, is unfailingly worshipped by Argentine soccer fans in spite of numerous scandals over the years. In fact, he was just selected as the coach of the Argentine national soccer team. Read about it here.

While there are many aspects of Argentine culture which I readily accept, the great passion for soccer does not count among them. I just don't feel that jolt of excitement when watching a soccer game; frankly, fútbol just leaves me feeling bored and indifferent. Apparently I am not alone in that mindset, as soccer is one of the least popular spectator sports in the United States. Soccer is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a sport, and I suppose it just doesn't translate well. This article explores various theories as to why soccer fails to draw admiration from American fans.

Pat Burrell on Deck by Scott Ableman on Flickr

While I find it difficult to get behind soccer, I joyfully celebrated a tremendous victory last night in the quintessential American sport: baseball. My hometown team – the Philadelphia Phillies – garnered the team's first World Series title since 1980 and the city's first professional sports championship since 1983. Click here to watch the strikeout that ended it all and clinched the 2008 World Series for the Phils! The curse has been lifted.

Argentine soccer fans continue to endure a similar title drought, with their last World Cup win coming in 1986 from a team led by none other than Maradona. I guess we HAD something in common after all. ;)

I'll wrap up this post with a parting confession. There is one thing I love about soccer: I can't help but break into a grin when the announcers scream "¡Gooooooooool!" Have a look at Maradona's "Goal of the Century" from the 1986 World Cup:

[Photo credits: jbelluch & Scott Ableman]

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Exploring Necochea & Quequén

Playa de los Patos, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Each summer, Necochea and Quequén's miles of coastline beckon to vacationing Argentines in search of a bit of surf and sand. The area's ample beaches are its main attraction, making Necochea hard to beat if your primary objective is to spend a few days of rest and relaxation under the sun.

Sea Lion Colony | Lobería, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on FlickrAlthough it wasn't exactly beach weather, there was still plenty to keep my parents occupied during our stay in Necochea. If you take joy in the simple pleasures of nature, you will find plenty of interest in this corner of the province of Buenos Aires. We began our visit at the port, and we were entertained for quite some time by the antics of the sea lion colony that makes its home next to the jetty.

We then descended to the adjacent beach known as Playa de los Patos to take in a bit of sunshine and views of Necochea's high-rise buildings in the distance [see first photo]. After examining, with childlike wonder, the barnacles attached to massive boulders at the base of the jetty and breathing in a bit of salt air, we hopped in the car and made our way north along the dusty, unpaved road that leads to Costa Bonita. Mediterranean-style homes with uninterrupted views of the ocean accompanied us along the coast to Bahía de los Vientos, site of the barco encallado.

El Barco Encallado | Ship Run Aground, Bahía de los Vientos, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

The hulking, rusty wreckage of the Pesuarsa II came to rest in the waters of Bahía de los Vientos after it broke free from its moorings in the port during a tremendous flood in 1980. Encircled by an almost continuous cloud of seagulls and appreciated by both tourists and locals alike, the mysterious-looking ship lies stranded on the coast as the saltwater slowly eats away at its hull.

El Faro Quequén | The Quequén Lighthouse, Quequén, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

The rest of the day was consumed by our visit with Daniel's family, but we awoke the following morning, fresh and ready to tackle the spiral staircase of the Faro Quequén. This lighthouse clad in black and white stands tall in Quequén, sister city to Necochea, and still serves as an active aid to navigation.

The climb to the top cost us nothing more than 163 footsteps, as we were not charged an entrance fee by the guard. We were rewarded with far-reaching views of the sea, the port, the city of Necochea and the surrounding countryside. A pair of binoculars comes in handy to gain a more detailed view of visible landmarks like the barco encallado (just don't leave them in the trunk like we did!). Unfortunately, we chose a very windy day for our visit, and we were almost carried away by the gusts of wind at the top of the lighthouse!

Caracol II [Faro Quequén, Quequén, Argentina] by katiemetz, on Flickr

Interspersed between hours of talking and relaxing with Daniel's family and consuming mass quantities of food and beverage (this is not a complaint), we managed to take in a few other sights while visiting Necochea and Quequén.

Falkland Islands War Memorial | Monumento a la Gesta de Malvinas, Quequén, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr Monumento a la Gesta de Malvinas: Erected as a tribute to the soldiers that perished in the conflict with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) in 1982, this concrete monument stands over 111.5 ft. (34 m) tall in the city of Quequén. Backed by a gracefully-draped Argentine flag, the monument is oriented in the direction of the Falkland Islands. While my parents snapped photos of the memorial, I marveled at the spooky, abandoned hotel across the way and dreamed of how it must have looked in its heyday.

Parque Miguel Lillo and Lago de los Cisnes: A lovely retreat situated directly on the coast, Parque Miguel Lillo (Miguel Lillo Park) contains an extensive pine forest that offers a number of recreational opportunities. Outside of the tourist season things are a bit quiet, but hordes of visitors Lago de los Cisnes, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickrwill invade the park come summertime, plunking down their lawn chairs under every available patch of shade and drinking mate to their heart's content. Lago de los Cisnes (Swan Lake) is a small, man-made lake located within the park. Ideal for picnics, paddleboat rides or a brief stroll, visitors can take a gander at the numerous ducks, geese and other animals that call the lake home.

Las Grutas and Punta Negra: Exploration of the coastal road Avenida 2 a few miles to the south of Necochea will yield both Las Grutas and Punta Negra. Visitors will find this portion of the beach quite rocky with many small caves along the shoreline, hence the name Las Grutas (The Grottoes). Punta Negra, meaning "Black Point," derives its moniker from the iron-rich sand peppered with black speckles. We whiled away the time searching for sea glass, shells and pebbles and snapping photos along this vast stretch of beach. It must have been our lucky day because Daniel happened upon a smooth shard of kelly green sea glass with a four-leaf clover emblazoned upon it.

Las Grutas | The Grottoes, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Due to time constraints, we didn't have an opportunity to show my family all of the wonderful natural areas in the vicinity of Necochea such as the Río Quequén and Playa Verde; however, as my stepdad is fond of saying, there's always next time.

Please visit my Necochea & Quequén set on Flickr for more images. Read More......

Don't Leave Fido or Fluffy at Home: Traveling with Pets to Argentina

Cocoa by katiealley on Flickr

Moving to Argentina does not mean that you have to leave behind your pets! Fortunately, traveling with pets to Argentina isn't as difficult as you might imagine. Of course, there are some hoops to jump through.

First, you must make arrangements for your pet to accompany you onboard the aircraft. Some airlines will allow you to travel with your pet in the cabin but others do not, e.g. American Airlines. My two cats rode in steerage with the luggage, and they made it just fine. American Airlines charges a fee of $150 per animal [one way] – check with your particular carrier for rules and fees. Click here for a partial list of carriers and links to their policies about shipping pets (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Be advised that the airlines do not allow pets to travel in the belly of the plane if the temperature is forecast to exceed 85ºF at any point on the itinerary; if so, the animals will be denied boarding. Even traveling in October as I did, temperatures topping out at 85º+ F were a concern in Houston, Atlanta and Miami (layover options when leaving from Philadelphia), so I decided the best option to ensure that my furry friends would be accompanying me was to book a non-stop flight from New York City to Buenos Aires. I couldn't chance it that the cats would be denied boarding since the cost to send them as "cargo" on a separate flight would have been about $675 for the two of them (gulp!).

Next, let's take a look at the requirements and paperwork necessary to bring your pet along for the ride. The complete, official pet admission guidelines for Argentina can be found here at the SENASA website; the following is a summary of the requirements.

Fortunately, there is no quarantine for cats and dogs entering Argentina (under normal circumstances – in other words – for animals in good health and with proper documentation). Documentation about the health of your pet is provided by means of the International Health Certificate. This document should be obtained from your veterinarian (check with your vet to make sure that he/she is certified by the USDA - APHIS [United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] to issue this certificate).

In addition to the International Health Certificate, you must provide evidence that your pet has been vaccinated against rabies. If your pet is over 90 days old, he/she must have had the rabies vaccine less than one year prior to the date of entry in Argentina but no less than 30 days before the date of entry into Argentina.

Once your veterinarian has completed the International Health Certificate, the form must be sent along with the rabies vaccination record to the USDA - APHIS office in your state capital for endorsement. The catch is that the vet exam/issuance of the International Health Certificate and USDA endorsement must all be completed no more than 10 days prior to entry into Argentina, so careful planning is required to ensure that all documentation is finalized before your departure. Most likely you will have to express mail the documents or personally present them in the USDA - APHIS office in order to complete all of the documentation in a timely manner; time is of the essence!

In addition, it is recommended that the documents be apostilled and translated into Spanish. In my personal experience, I found that the apostille alone was sufficient. I obtained the apostille from the Department of State office in my state capital. Once you have cut through all of this bureaucratic red tape, you are ready to travel with your pet!

Upon arrival at the airport in Buenos Aires, you will pick up your pets in the baggage area if they didn't travel in the cabin, and you will be directed to meet with a SENASA (the Argentine version of the USDA) official who will review your documentation. After paying a small fee, you're free to begin your adventure in Argentina with your pets!

If all of this just sounds too complicated, there is the alternative proposed by the satirical news source The Onion: "Before leaving home, take your pets to local humane society and have them put to sleep; get new pets when you come back." :p

Additional helpful links about travel with pets: website - Admission of Pets into Argentina
IATA (International Air Transport Association) - Recommendations for shipping a cat or dog

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Back to the States (and Reality!)

After a whirlwind couple of weeks in Argentina with its green pastures, mild temperatures, and flowering plants all announcing that springtime has arrived, I am back in Philadelphia to await the cold, bleak winter that is just around the corner.

I am happy to report that the visit was an unqualified success! My dad and stepdad greatly enjoyed the hospitality shown to them by Daniel and his family, and I would venture to say that meeting my Argentine family was the highlight of the trip for them. We mostly confined our adventures to the province of Buenos Aires, but we did get a bonus stamp in our passports when we crossed over the Río de la Plata to Uruguay for the day. The dads are already planning future trips to more far-flung locales such as Bariloche!

I am also pleased to write that my two cats, Cocoa and Ziggy, braved the journey unbelievably well, and they have settled into their new home and routine nicely. Daniel and his family just love the cats - they are being treated like celebrities there! They will await my return to Argentina some time in the next year, but somehow I think I will miss them more than they will miss me!

There is so much to write about with regards to my trip - stay tuned for separate blog entries detailing the highlights!

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My Bags Are Packed

Finally the long-awaited day has arrived! In about six hours, I will be heading to New York's JFK Airport with my stepdad and two cats in tow to begin my latest adventure. My dad is flying Philly to Houston to Buenos Aires, so we'll meet him and Daniel, my boyfriend, at Ezeiza. My suitcases are packed, the cats have all of their documentation, and I am filled to the brim with excitement and just a tinge of anxiety. So, I bid you all a fond farewell (for now, at least!). Read More......
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