Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rio - abridged

We awoke at 5:45am to find we had arrived at the bus station and in my sleepy hast I left my beloved hoodie behind in my seat. Dodging persistent cab drivers we made our way to the taxi booth to obtain the loathed taxi voucher which states how much you should pay for your journey and we're escorted to an unmarked car with no meter. After some trouble finding our street he dropped us at the guard station where we walked to the end where underneath the trees sits the cozy, colorful yet poorly organized business wise, hostel where we originally planned to stay for the rest of our stay. Our arrival at 6 en la manana would be our only solo encounter with the common area as it was always packed with people. The attendant was especially nice that morning, and a little bothered the next. They had a cat that I bothered and little monkeys that hung out in the trees outside. With our room not ready we left our bags and went out to wander to who knows where. Upon returning we were escorted to a small room with a large window and slanted roof. The rest of the day we sat around adjusting to our new surroundings reading, watching TV, using the not-free internet and eavesdropping into others conversations as the common area is quite cozy and frequently packed. For dinner we ate at the only decent option we cared to venture to, a dive frequented by old men and prostitutes - not tourists and certainly not other young women except maybe to stop in for cigarettes.


The next day we moved into a dorm, as for some reason this place is constantly packed, popular, and on the internet even though where they advertise and make online reservations is not linked to their in house system. The people who worked there were vaguely nice to you when something was going wrong and annoyed and irritated with you any other time you needed to interact with them - like their job is so hard and stressful. That day we went out to the centro sights which took up a decent amount of time. We wandered upon the best parque which was more like a zoo. Upon entering a man had spread plastic sheets of cat food and water bottles for the dozens of cat to eat along with some ugly rodent creatures that would sneak in only to be chased away. Along with all the cats and rodent like things were more little tree monkeys, peacocks, chickens, ducks, geese, and more.

After a night in an all male dorm, our roommates changed to some weird kid who spoke to no one and this nice English couple who were on a year, round the world ticket. We started opening up to the other travelers as they were the best part about the place. Still, with the money and the gross bathrooms y previously stated problems we went out to the Flamengo/Gloria 'hood and end up checking out a few hostels where we put money down for a reservation at a cheaper place with decent rooms and private semi-clean (but def cleaner) bathrooms. From there we walked through a long park by the ocean and I almost got hit by a car crossing the highway to get over to it. From there we switched to walking on the Flamengo beach which was wave less and full of runners, not sun-bathers. We went back to the hostel to relax and found Curtis, the kid from the Rio bus station layover sitting on the couch. At some point there was us and the guys from the room leaving and they caught (on video) the cat catching a baby monkey. They saved it but the monkey's were pissed and spent the next half hour all screaming from the trees. Occasionally one would climb down the branch to bar it's teeth and scream specifically at the cat. The tiny baby climbed onto it's tiny mothers back and fled to safety. Although we planned to drink and play 45's at the hostel with fellow Bostonians they were no shows so we befriended two brothers, one who was cool and one who was lame and muy emotional y moody. We took them y Curtis to our hole in the wall - I splashed beer at Curtis and he left, Nate spilled his beer all over me, emo bro cried over his cheating "girlfriend" and the other brother got drunk with a quickness like I've never seen. I then befriended locals who led us all over creation looking for a party and we went home.

Nate kept the English up all night with an apparent episode of epic drunk snoring which I slept through being passed out myself. Having the last thing I remember being Nate saying he couldn't sleep in the room because it was too hot, I woke up at 5am and not seeing him in the room went looking all over the hostel for him, hoping to identify him by his sleeping bag. Unsuccessful and worried I went back to our room and saw he was in the bunk above me. We made plans with the Bostonians y Curtis to go to the soccer game and waited around forever for our new room. Pissed and worried we wouldn't get tickets or meet up with them, I woke Curtis up who took his good 'ole time getting ready. We got there in no time, got cheap general admission tickets and met up with the Bostonians like clockwork and set out to find a bar to drink at. Men were selling beer out of their backpacks around the stadium but the whole thing was shady so we didn't. We went to the first place we saw with a nice older barista and pulled up a table and chairs to hang out. There was some law that you couldn't have more than 2 beers, or drink 2 hours before the game but as long as we kept the beer under the table she kept serving us. The 1,000 of police that walked by and in didn't seem to care but this scared Nervous Curtis who stopped drinking. At one point when we were drunk that it was extra exciting, 2 guys came running into the bar followed by 2 cops with guns drawn  who caught them but did nothing except smack them a few times on their heads with their bats and they ran off. Off to the game where you can't drink at was very fun and as the passionate crowd screamed it make me realize just maybe why they enforce the no drinking rule. I was happy we went and it was a hurried, scattered mess leaving but we all made it back and finally played 45's.

The next morning I was nervous to leave and face the hostel employee so I hung back and said goodbye to our new friends while Nate handled the situation. In true fashion of this hostel she didn't even care or ask why we were leaving early and we made a clean break. The new hostel had a nice roof patio and 2 cats. The room wasn't as big as the one she showed up and was mildewy but had a hot shower, DVD player and I got used to it. I think our time would have been different if we stayed at the other place but what can you do?

The next day was raining but I heard the waves were better in storms so we went to walk up and down Copacabana. The waves were dramatic but not ginormous and we sat and watched them for some time and walked the entire length of the beach. On the way back to the metro a man with poop all down his leg and down into his shoe was walking in front of me and I almost ran right into him. I talked about it for days. We saw the famous Copacabana Palace and checked out the old pictures from when it was the first hotel and largest structure on the block of old mansions that use to line the ocean front - it's not terrible and packed with skyscraper hotels.

Our activity the next day was exploring Santa Theresa and the only way to get there is by rickety street car. It juts and jolts, is old and nerve wracking as the locals hang off the side of this thing barely clearing walls, cars y overgrown foliage and hop off while it's still moving. We could have got off on one of the many cobblestone side streets to walk around but didn't and I don't know why. Most of our afternoons were spent watching DVDs and I'm sure it's what we probably did that afternoon as well. 

We went back to Copacabana on a hot, sunny day to drink on the beach - which we couldn't do but could sit at a bar on the boardwalk and felt like we were part of the action. We sat and drank and talked awhile, turning down wandering beach vendors left and right until we had a decent buss and decided to take a dip. I don't know why we didn't leave our stuff at the bar but we left our stuff on the beach and Nate's pants were stolen along with 50 reals of this, the expensive sun tan lotion y our subway passed. I was more upset than he was but the waves were rough and he stayed out and got slammed while I waited in the shallow end after getting pummeled by one wave and one wave only before I opted out. With our plan ruined due to lack of immediate funds, Nate put his combat boots back on and walked home in this swim trunks. We got more beer and got wasted at the hostel where we danced to MJ and I went nervously and drunkenly out to Lapa with the pretty front desk girls who brought me home safely. 

next day, hungover, watched tv

The next day we walked across the city to go see the Jesus the Redeemer, "symbol of the city" that I could have cared about but went with Nate for $18USD into a mass of tourists. It was alright at the top be it crowded and the one good picture I thought I took turned out crappy and was off center - it was hilarious when we got back down to the bottom. We had lunch at a good local place with the plate of noodles, rice and beans to go along with your carne.

The next day we went to the Ipanema Hippie Fair where we walked thoroughly around twice and I bought hammocks which I had to lug around until Nate helped me. We sat on the Ipanema beach and people watched for a while and went back to watch more movies. 

Back to Copacabana I layed in the sun and was keeper of the clothing as I watched Nate play in the ocean. We walked the beach and went back to relax in front of the TV.

The next day it rained and we tried to go to the parque but it was too wet. Later that night we came across a street fair full of food vendors but it was too late as we were already munching on our KFC snackers. I can't resist when I see fast food in South America apparently.

The following day it did not rain and we walked through the park which was much nicer in the sun and through a neighborhood to a purpose built stadium for a food and craft market. Nothing was really open so we walked around and around watching them clean up from the obvious madness that happened the night before. It is said that it stays open from Friday morning through Sunday late night and we would believe it's a lot of fun. From there we went to the zoo where we spent a few hours - even though it was a bit dumpy. The turtles and the monkeys held our attention the most.

The next day we took the ferry over to an island and right back for the sake of taking a boat ride. The rest of the day we drank up on the roof terrace.

packing

As we were about to walk out the door the guy wanted to officially check us out and after checking the records said we still owed for a night and I started arguing. For 1: we didn't have any money left and 2: they said we needed to pay everything up front on the first day and that it was $700 reals  - if they figured it out wrong on the first day it wasn't our fault and on & on until he finally just said ok - and let us go. Victorious, we left and caught the bus to the airport. Our flight was quiet and as I looked out the window down on the last bit of South America I felt sad but knew I would one day return.

Caves

En la manana we awoke at relatively the same time and went to the bus station to buy a bus ticket to Rio that night and a bus ticket to the caves that day. Happily, the bus attendant understood me when I requested us to be let off at the caves on the way to Sete Lagos and they dropped us off on the highway across from the entrance. We sat around in the heat trying to befriend a scrappy dog while we waited for the next tour. Beforehand our lady tour guide was concerning herself that we didn't speak the same languages until I figured out and told her we didn't care and just wanted to see them. Inside, we climbed down deeper and deeper into the caves where a decent amount of visual activity was to be seen all around us. It was brief but pretty cool and took up our morning and in a few hours we were back hitching it roadside waiting for a bus to stop and pick us up - which they are always happy to do. Back at the bus station we let a locker and crammed everything into one and returned to the market where everyone had the same awesome plate of the day in front of them and we ordered the same. The rest of the day we spent passing time and goofing around at the bus station waiting for our final overnight bus to Rio.

Belo Horizonte, Brasil

Not sure what to do next, we hopped a bus to Belo Horizonte the next morning. Off the bus we walked the hot, crowded streets to find more outrageously priced hotels. A few tries in we came upon a hostel with separate men and women dorms - however it was only $10US so we took it. We left our belongings in the dorm and went out in the heat to take our time exploring the city. After checking out numerous exteriors of buildings we spent a good amount of time in the huge central park outfitted with a kiddy amusement park and all. For the middle of mining nowhere there lies a decent, busy city that manages to maintain a laid back feel. For lunch we ate at an amazing little lunch pit stop in the mercado and had the daily special of ox tail soup con asado of lo mein, rice, beans y lechuga. After our long, slow day out we sat in the common area of the hostel (of which they almost didn't let us back in because of the language barrier) where dinner was being served to regulars and what appeared to be men off the street - but the hostel was so big they all could have lived there. After, we parted ways to bed where thankfully I slept with nice girls my age who also read and fell asleep pretty early.

Ouro Preto, Brasil

Two days later I woke up before dawn to the comforting sound of a heavy rain through our wide open window. The fan whirled fast above our heads pulling cool air into the room. I snuggled deeper into bed happy I didn't have to wake up just yet. After dawn we had a nice, hot shower, bought provisions at the grocery store and hopped aboard a bus to Rio. The scenery from the high, mountain roads was unbelievable and we hoped and prayed the weather would get better when we returned to the uninhabited coast to camp. We arrived at the Rio bus terminal and walked into a mad house. People rushing by in every direction, stopping in front of you, cutting in line - we finally got our tickets and claimed a few seats preparing to wait for the next 12hours until our bus boarded at midnight. Our afternoon was broken up at one point when a nice boy from Oregon chatted with us for a few hours. Our talks about travel turned into him giving us a briefing of all the news we had missed over the last 2 months.

After another uncomfortable and short nights sleep on a bus we awoke in a daze in Ouro Preto at 6 en la manana. The early morning air was still cool and fresh as the mist rose up out of the hills. We walked quietly down the cobblestone streets taking in the numerous Baroque churchs that punctuated each hill top. We soon discovered that the historic center is built on a network of very old, very steep paths turned modern day cobble routes as we worked up a sweat traversing from one expensive pousada to the next, all the while trying to dodge an early rising bum who was hard at work bothering us. We finally settled on a nice, colonial pousada who knocked her price down $20 reais after we rejected the first room. I went straight to the bothersome task of washing most of my clothes in the shared bathroom sink. When I finished, a woman who worked there was trying to tell me something which I of course didn't understand, smiled and left her to lay my clothes out in the room.

Being awake enough we headed out. The lovely town straight out of the past aside from the cars the whizzed by only to get stuck in their automatics on the steep, skinny roads, was just waking up. We hiked from church to church and then over to a mine that's run straight out of this family's home right in town. The guided tour was a hard hat and a 7 year old kid who spoke no Ingles but led the way. Claustrophobic and barely lit, we ducked our way to the end of one tunnel, turned back and headed down the last one. The boy, who walked perfectly upright the whole way, skipped ahead and climbed through a tiny hole which Nate declined but I went for. With just me and the kid and two raggedy paths that headed up, I pointed if you could go up there and he nodded. Feeling a little hot and panicked I disappointingly turned back but gave the kid a reais for a tip which he seemed surprised and happy about. He ran out of the cave, jumped into his father's lap and showed him the reais. Blushing, he was congratulated and praised.

After a long previous day and a brief and bad nights sleep on the bus, we went back to the room to 'read and watch TV' but passed out hard on top of our belongings with the door wide open for the rest of the afternoon. When I finally awoke and went downstairs I was confronted again by the laundry lady who seemed irritated. Luckily, a man who spoke broken English translated that it was "impossible!" for me to lay the clothes in the room and that they had a clothes line. We were kinda irked that they went into our room when we were gone and couldn't make the effort to walk me back to the clothesline when it is so obvious that I have no idea what anyone is saying. So with no problem, I walked through rows of bright white sheets to hang my dirty, black clothing at the end. In the evening we headed out and sat in the central plaza people watching and eating corn on the cob from a street cart. Tough like corn on the cob you feed farm animals and wrapped in a sheet of husk to keep your hands clean - he has a big sal shaker and butter brush for you to apply as he adds vanilla to the water, enhancing the smell of corn. For dinner we had big, cheap, delicious sandwiches that are all over Brasil and went to bed after Woody Woodpeckers episodes with the cool air blowing in our wide open window.

Party in Paraty, Brazil

The rolling hillsides of green give way to mountainsides of jungle which plummet down to the ocean's edge. The white beaches, clear blue water and dramatic mountains along Brazilian Route 101 just may be the most amazing road I've been down, tied with the Chile/Argentina Route 215/231 for sentimental reasons. We arrive to warm, humid, Florida-like weather and are soon escorted to a hostel by a prowling representative. Settled in, we set out to walk up and down the historic, cobblestone streets. Only years later, after it's historic heyday as a port for the gold rush followed by the coffee boom did tourism become it's main source of income. While it sat all those years the blocks and blocks of continuous, white colonial buildings were perfectly preserved and maintained, for us now to enjoy and meander through. Once passed the streets that flood during high tide, a long, wooden pier harbors hundreds of brightly painted wooden boats waiting for you to hop aboard and put through the blue, blue bay.


After some debate we decided we would stay 2 nights instead of 1 to see if the weather would improve as we were to camp at our next planned destination. This left our schedule open to go to the bar and at 5 o'clock, got right to it. Sometime between 5pm and 2am we befriended some locals who spoke English well enough and I went from drinking beer to drinking a powerful, sour cocktail consisting of cachuaca, a distilled fermented sugarcane juice that got me too drunk for my own good. After the first place closed the locals took us bar hopping to numerous places that are inconspicuous within the historic center. The rest of the night, we can't agree or remember what exactly happened. All I know for sure is I turned around just in time to see Nate get hit by a car only to get right back up again drunkenly unphased.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sao Paulo, Brazil

We arrived in Sao Paulo nice and early and right in the middle of rush hour. The cars arriving at the metro stop beneath the bus station were packed and we had to wait 3 or 4 trains until we could squeeze our bulky selves onto one. Off the metro y caminando around, it took the usual three tries to find a hotel that wasn´t abandoned or wicked expensive. Our hotel for $25.00 each for 2 nights was on the corner of pedestrianized streets and had 3 corner windows for us to lean out and people watch on the streets below. Our first day of sightseeing consisted of walking through a beautiful plaza, checking out the few remaining historic buildings the city holds, checking out a 360* view of the lego land looking city from the top of a skyscraper and walking passed many smelly homeless encampments to one of the biggest markets I have ever seen. Just as Tony (Anthony Bourdain - No Reservations!) had ventured before, we too ventured to the busiest vendor for the ginormous y local favorite Mortadella Sandwich (yes, I capitalized it.) Previous visual encounters of mortadella made me anticipate passing on this experience until I saw sandwich after greasy sandwich pass by as we fought our way to the front to place our order. Stuffed between a baguette with cheddar, shredded lettuce y bacon is 2.5inches of thinly sliced, delicious Mortadella. We stood shoulder to shoulder at the bar to eat and sadly could only finish half. We waddled out of the market passed stalls of fruit, dried cod, cheese wheels, suckling pigs hanging by their feet, ears y testicles and spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost. We walked around the crowded streets in the hot, hot sun looking for the immigrant museum we never found. Exhausted and hot we ate dinner at a sidewalk meat stand, places we would eat at for 4 meals during our 2 day stay due in part to how delicious and inexpensive they were (2 for $1.50US!) Pork y peppers are thickly layered and stabbed to cook slowly all day on a vertical spit as the chef spins it round and shaves off a little from each side with each customer. Shoved into a crispy roll and topped with a fresh salsa of tomato y onion, he hands it over for you to add the condiments. Mayo, salt y salsa picante are your first choice but after one bite you learn all that´s required is the homemade hot sauce. Unbelievably hot, worth the burn. To bed we went after some spying and muted Woody Woodpecker cartoons. Just as we begin to snooze a band strikes up below our window. Tired, we fall asleep anyway listening to the singer belt out his off key tunes.



I awake bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6:00AM after 11 hours of needed rest. Grumpy here soon follows suit and I let him ease into his day while I opt for a cold shower. Ready for the day at 7:30 we forget about previous days rush hour and obliviously head straight back in. This go around is much worse as we get on where 2 lines cross. It´s ridiculous and we hold the line up ever more snapping photos of the sea of people. Being crammed turns into being shoved up against the people in front of us as the train approaches and a wave of pressure swells up from the back. This happens over and over until you´re finally near the doors where people press firmly against the train to avoid being shoved to where there is no room or onto the track. Alive after that experience we walk down Ave Paulista which isn´t all it´s cracked up to be but does house a thick, tropical jungle park to hide out in, wander around some more, eat more sandwiches and by noon find ourselves done way to early. We opt to journey in search of the immigrant museum once more and success awaits us this go around. After, we wander some more, hide out at a tenador libre while the sky turns black yellow and pours down rain, and go to bed - but not before listening to the neighborhood band jam out another night.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Asuncion, Paraguay

In a few days we neared the end of our time in Paraguay. After a 5hr bus through green hillsides dotted with white oxen of some breed we arrived in Asuncion on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Taking the guide books advice we opted for a taxi instead of walking to our hostel where upon exiting we were bombarded with a man who wanted a tip for opening my door, and a dirty woman and her baby begging me for the change the cab driver handed over. Our fortress of a hostel had grand, high ceilings, tile floors, huge rooms and a large common area that was half outside, half inside. I wondered why anyone would stay in hotels when you have the opportunity to stay in countless, neat, old mansions. Wanting to eat before dark we set out for the diner a few streets down and walked by a plaza turned homeless shantytown with skinny walkways between numerous plastic bag tents and dirty clothes drying on knotted together string lines. We ate at the diner where the food was amazing, as we´re finding all Paraguay food to be, and went back to watch La Lea y Orden and go to bed, grateful I had bed, room and blanket instead of a plastic bag tent.

We awoke extra early the next morning due to the time change we weren´t aware of and slowly got ready to head out. With nothing in particular we wanted to do we wandered from plaza to plaza and in and out of hammock and lace stores (of which I wanted to buy every last piece however heavy they would be to carry, but resisted and kept my fingers crossed that Rio would be full of similar treasures.) We frequently the diner again for lunch which was busy once again and had delicious regional soups of meat and fish with heavy, fresh bread. The whole afternoon was sat people watching in the plaza until dinner at the diner where we enjoyed our last Paraguayan meal, sad to be leaving the cuisine behind.

Market of the South - Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

We packed up and left the crappy city of Foz de Iguacu, Brazil for a visit to the Itaipu Dam. Once there, we watch an informative video and got on the tour bus where they told us that the weather was so bad you couldn´t see anything and if we wanted we could leave now and get our money back. Nate still wanted to go and I didn´t care so we went. It was alright and over pretty quickly as there really wasn´t that much to ooh and ahh over through the fog. After, we hopped a public bus to the aduana and hit immigration to Paraguay just before the mass of people behind us did and got it with no problem after walking across the bridge the guide book recommended not to. And I can see why as you could easily be thrown over in a robbery, especially at night. As it was daylight, fairly guarded by police and full of people we thought it okay. Greeting us on the other side was a hill jam packed with street vendors that we tried to avoid until after we ditched our backpacks. We had lunch at a delicious buffet and walked all through streets and streets of markets. After another successful dinner from a street cart we went to bed.

Though I didn´t really see the point in coming to Paraguay and paying $60USD for a visa to visit for a few days, I am glad we came. Like all corrupt, poor places there is something different, real and more alive about the place and the people who live there. They are friendly, everyone is out, it´s busy and crowded and they look after each other and it just feels.. different. That morning we walked out of the crowds through green, green parques to catch our bus to Asuncion, Paraguay.

water, water every where

Iguaca Falls - Brazil

It stormed the poured all night and we awoke the next morning during the worst of it. Not wanting to waste a day and checking the forecast only to find more rain we decided to brave the weather. When there was a slight break we made for the urban bus terminal purchasing cheap umbrellas from a tienda who had dusted them off and brought them out from somewhere in the back. 2 buses and 1 visitor center later we were dropped off in the pouring rain. With no other choice we started down the path. We walked through lush, green, fresh jungle, turned a corner and there they were. Through the mist and fog, loud and everywhere we looked were waterfalls. Our umbrellas did the job and pretty soon it didn´t matter that it was raining. The walkway on the Brazil side is brief and soon we were standing at the entrance to the Devil´s Throat, the portion that goes right out over the middle of the falls. Afraid of the spray and rain from the fall above rather than the roar of the rushing water below, sans a poncho we only made it half way out before we got soaked and our umbrellas flew inside out.

Iguazu Falls - Argentina



The 2nd day out to the falls was rain free and cloudy. We hopped 2 buses over to Argentina for one last time to find a mass of people waiting to enter the park. Once in we opted for the lower trail as everyone else headed for the upper one. The trail involved some hiking and it was great to be out in the middle of the jungle. The views from this side were much better and we agreed we would have been disappointed if we went to Argentina first and Brazil second. We spent most of the day there as opposed to 1hr over on the Brazilian side. Most of the walkways in Argentina took you right up to the falls from every angle and it was really amazing. To get to the island in the middle of the parque you climb down the hillside, mountainside really, over rocks to where men sit waiting in their boats. If you pay extra they take you whipping down the river right under the waterfalls where everyone was coming off soaked. We chose to just putt across to the island to hike some more. After the lower circuit we got sandwiches and sat in the lunch pavilion where while Nate was running from bees a cuati (fearless little creatures) jumped onto our table and stole his sandwich. With Nate pissed and me hysterical we did the upper trail and went home after a good, tiring day. For dinner we got delicious, wicked cheap sandwiches from a cena truck outside our hotel of frango, jamon, queso, lechuga, peas, corn, mayo... that we both got to enjoy.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Covering Ground

In the morning we stepped out onto her porch as light was just starting to break, sad to be leaving. We caught the sunrise over the ocean and then the bus along with a few students in uniform. We soon found out as the bus kept stopping and more and more students overflowed the seats filling the entire length of the aisle that the 7:50AM bus to Chuy was also the school bus for every kid in town. They were off before too long and the rest of the ride went quickly. Thankfully the bus stopped for us at the Uruguay immigration office outside of town (which the guide book threatened they didn´t) and we got off the bus in Chuy with Brazil literally across the street and Uruguay behind us.
Trusting the guide book (for some reason) we bypassed looking for a Brazilian bus station and started walking the 1km to the Brazilian border (because the guide book also said that buses didn´t stop there either.) 4km later we got our passports stamped. They asked us how we got there and laughed when we said we walked. With no other choice we started walking the 4km back to town when a taxi whizzed by, picked us up and took us right to the correct bus station. We had a decent meal before boarding and at 8:30 that night, arrived in Puerto Allegra. With everything in Portuguese it took us longer than usual to figure things out. Thankfully we found a ticket counter just in time and hopped on the last overnight bus to Cascavel, Brazil just as it was pulling away. At 9 the next morning we made our last connection to Foz de Iguaca, Brazil where upon entering our cheap, sleazy room, we promptly crashed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Punta del Diablo, Uruguay



As we approached Punta del Diablo I was excited to see it was as ¨scarcely developed¨as the guide book promised. Although the hillsides are filling up with houses there is no bank in town, y not a store in sight except family businesses run out of beach shacks. We were dropped off and left alone as the bus left us in a cloud of dust. There was a woman at the ¨bus station¨and a woman in a mercado but they pretty much ignored us. Believing nothing to be open we got snacks at the mercado, checked out the bus schedule (with surprisingly frequent service) y set out down a dirt path in search of anywhere to stay or pitch a tent. At this point I was really hoping to find somewhere as I was quite taken by the remoteness of this beautiful place we were lucky enough to happen upon. Right up against the ocean amidst long stretches of pristine beach we walked among what we found out later to be the original fisherman settlement. Silly, windblown, picturesque, Dr. Seuss houses jumbled together along a sandy foot path. We eventually came out at the main dirt road where a tourist office was open! Apparently, everywhere else in town forgets to take down their "Abierto!" "50 meters mas!" and arrow signs in the winter. The lady there gave us the names of two hostels that should be open and as we set out once more we ran into the lady that owned one of them. The nice, friendly, English speaking woman led the way to her new, little hostel with enormous deck that overlooked the ocean. We dropped our bags and she showed us her secret path right down to the beach where 2 restaurants were open, their menus heavily influenced by the sea. The central beach is filled with small, wooden fishing boats still in use and hauled in and out of the ocean by old fashioned cranks. We re-walked through the original fisherman settlement and out along the shell covered beach. Crossing back through town we stopped for lunch y walked it off down the other end of the beach. We walked to a point as far as we could see from town only to turn the corner to have it unveil another endless, perfect, undeveloped stretch that we could have walked along into the night but decided to turn back. We went early to bed after a beautiful day, sharing a bottom bunk with the wind howling and the moon shining brightly in our window.

La Paloma, Uruguay

We arrived in La Paloma, Uruguay after dark, sans una mapa y sans anyone to ask for help as the bus station was deserted. We followed a dog down a path to the street where we picked a road, any road, and walked into the silent, deserted town. Along the way I saw a human! and asked her where the park was where we were planning on camping near the beach. She said it was closed in the winter and gave us directions to some hotels. Following her directions we walked down the main avenue to a beach y back finding only wicked expensive places to stay. Don´t they know this is the off season? We thought we´d try our luck at the park and see if we could sneak in which was impossible. Luckily, there was signs for a hostel which we followed to a cozy, lit place with a man y a woman inside who were surprised to see us, or anyone for that matter. They were very nice and very welcoming providing us a heater for a our nice room with TV y bano privado, the use of their personal computer y internet connection y a fresh assortment of pastries from the panaderia in la manana. Kindness is much appreciated when traveling through foreign lands. With the campground closed y the whole place simply out of our budget we walked through the wonderfully smelling pine forest back to the bus station and headed east along the coast to Punta del Diablo.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Our next destination was back-tracking to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay where we would take it easy for a few days. We spent our time strolling down cobblestone streets, walking along sailboat dominated waterfronts y wandering around historic remains with the rest of the local tourists. From any street intersection there was a view of the ocean. Both days were sunny, brisk, and fall-like. It was a pleasant two days of relaxation in a low-key, historic town. I think my Mom would like it here.

The Montevideo Mercado

After a long bus ride through beautiful, green countryside we arrived in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. For a Wednesday night the bus station was extremely busy and we waiting in line til it was our turn for a taxi. We usually walk or figure out the public bus system but it being so late at night and relatively cheap we figured it best to hail a cab. The first hostel was part of Hosteling International, outrageously expensive (as they all are,) and surely full of douche bags so we braved a few block walk to a perfectly good hostel with our own balcony,
spelling-corrected" id="SPELLING_ERROR_1">TV y bano for half the price. We left to go to dinner and on our walk back I witnessed my first robbery (besides the time when that black kid took my cell phone right out of my hand when I was talking to Katie walking through Fishtown in Philly.) An older, homeless looking man was shoved to the ground right in front of us by 2 young boys as they ripped out his pockets. It was upsetting and shocking and I feel asleep not looking forward to the next day of sights.
In the morning enough people were out but I still guarded my precious messenger bag all the more. We set out across town towards the mercado passing shady looking characters all the way. The main terminal of the market is all restaurants and though none of them were open we still walked through and watched the prepping of the grills. The immediate surrounding streets were produce markets, "artisan" shops, panaderias y mas restaurants that surely weren´t as good as any place you´d find in the market. We walked half the city in the morning checking out crumbling architecture until it was time to eat. Back at the market everything was just opening up. As we walked around inspecting each grill we were hounded by waiters all trying to win us over. "We are the best!" " Where are you from?" Get out of our face! We decided on a small grill in the corner, one who didn´t harass us to eat there and sat at the bar in front of the grill for heat and entertainment. There were a few old men already seated and the one I sat next to was finishing a plate of meat with a full decanter of red wine to go. We ordered from the cook after we went over to the side and he told us what everything was. Passing on the intestines y kidneys we ordered Pampalones (stuffed chicken wrapped in pork y stuffed pork wrapped in pork) and settled back to watch it cook. The cooked presented a huge piece of Asado del Tire to the man next to me who nodded and it was thrown on the grill. By now from where we sat we could see all the restaurants with a few customers each. All men who probably have their favorite parrilla and favorite seat at them. We watched as he threw logs on the fire, racked y situated the coals, tend the meats y fry huge, fresh eggs. When ours were ready they gave us each half. Crispy skin, moist y tender meat with cheese, pepper y jamon oozing out the center. We were in heaven. At some point I took a break from stuffing my face and looked over at the old, silent man once more. The cook asked him if he wanted another piece of something and he turned down the corners of his mouth, cocked his head to one side, shrugged and another piece was thrown on the flame. There was still wine to be drank after all. We sat, ate y observed for over an hour and reluctantly left. Out of the smokey market y back into the sunlight we walked the rest of the city, stopping only once so I could have my deteriorating boots shined in the plaza.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thermas de Dayman

We arrived early in Salto, Uruguay and asked information how to go about getting ourselves on the public bus out to the Thermas de Dayman. Giving us fine directions but me in my sleepy state not paying attention and Nate interpreting them incorrectly we sat on the sidewalk on a residential street for 45 minutes waiting for a bus that never came. Assuming we got it wrong we went back to the bus station, figured out where we went wrong, waited another 45 minutes on a different sidewalk and finally caught the bus. We were dropped off in the mini resort to get lost for a bit until we found the one hostel listed in the guidebook which ended up costing $140 USD. Not wanting to pay $70 each to sit in hot water and not wanting to leave the town altogether we inquired into a campsite we passed by. For $5USD each we got hot showers, a pass to camp and 24hr access to the 2 therma piscina´s. Excited we had a place to stay we finally went to eat at an outdoor parrilla across the street where I had the best papas fritas and the most moist piece of chicken that ever crossed my lips. After, we set up our tent, changed into our swimsuits and hopped in a pool all to ourselves. We sat in there for a good bit until we felt tired and heavy and decided it might be a good idea to take a break. It was so warm out that I broke out my skirt for our afternoon stroll through town (which is really just a small circular dirt street jam packed with hotels, stands y restaurants. Like all the South American tourism we´ve been encountering, everywhere seems to still be trying to catch up to their new found hype. Though the bus terminal is on the map we got from the tourist office it is actually still being built. When completed though the guy who runs the camp ground is going to be thrilled as he is right behind it and nothing else is built up around it, yet. As we walked around I couldn´t believe that while everyone else paid big money for a room and packed thermas, we paid nothing for a beautiful, quiet field y empty piscinas. We went back to take another dip before dinner where we watched an electric sunset over the quiet pampas field while soaking in the tub. We ate at the same, yummy place we had lunch and went back for our 2nd night of camping y fell asleep listening to a field of crickets.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Gran Hotel Colon

That morning we woke up late, traveled across the city to the bus station and left Buenos
ing-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_1">Aires behind. The 6hr bus ride had us arriving in Concordia (our last stop in Argentina) after dark. Sans una mapa we managed to find our way to the hotel in the central plaza. The huge, glass French doors with wrought iron decorative reinforcement creaked open as we stepped inside the barely lit foyer. A grand staircase with original runner was before us with closed doors to rooms all around. Nate found a bell and eventually a woman peered over from the 2nd balcony and down the staircase to where we stood looking straight up at her. We asked for a room and with an "un momento" she disappeared leaving us alone once more. When finally summoned, we ascended the grand staircase to the 2nd floor which appeared a tad more inviting until I looked behind me and open darkness was the only thing I saw. She escorted us down a skinny, unlit hallway to our room which was inviting enough, cheap and had a balcony overlooking the plaza below. We left for a late dinner at an empty, non-trendy, smaller restaurants we like to frequent and immediately returned to the crumbling hotel. Before retreating to our room for the night we cautiously snooped around. As I got too close to another skinny, unlit hallway I heard a noise and a dog came running out of nowhere ferociously barking right at our feet. Nate gave the mutt a kick in the face and we returned to our room without harm. We could still hear the loud barking echoing through the empty halls. Both definitely convinced we would be visited by ghosts we slept with the curtains open letting the foggy, yellow lights from the plaza flood our room with light. Surviving the night, we awoke before dawn to catch the only bus to Salto. We went downstairs disturbing the dog once more who was thankfully locked away somewhere to find a big lock and chain around the doors. Ringing and ringing the bell she finally descended to free us and we bolted, never having seen the hotel in daylight.

Buenos Aires - no spell check, whatever

* * * coming soon * * *

Day 1: Center City Bs.As.

From the bus station we walked through the multi-block plaza San Martin down Calle Maipu, over the pedestrian Calle Lavalle, down Ave 9 de Julio y took a right on Rivadavia to our hostel 'Downtown Mate.' It was cheap for it's central location w/internet, TV, hot h2o y desayuno included. Haven't had a shower in a week it was my first order of business. After a little downtime we set our down Rivadavia towards Plaza de Mayo stopping at a cafe/diner for an average lunch but some nice atmosphere. The sights around the plaza include Casa Rosada (the equivalent to the white house) a catedral y various buildings many of which retain their historic architecture that is found on every street in this ciudad. Still suffering from bus lag we went back to our hostel where Nate slept and I watched movies. We venture out once more that day, compromised and ate at McDonald's for dinner.

Day 2: Center City Bs.As.

En la manana we set out around 10 and spent 7 more hours exploring the bustling city center. First over to a beautiful church across from this residential walkway which was gated up and impassable. Then over to Plaza del Congreso to tour the congress which was also cerrado due to excessive security for the elections. The plaza was still beautiful despite the growing homeless camp. With time to spare we walked north to the Consolate de Paraguay to get our Visa - which was much easier then getting them for Brasil in the U.S. They handed us the forms, told us to get our pictures taken next door y exchange some pesos for $65US at a nearby cambio. Searching for the cambio was the trickiest part but an hour or so later we handed over our passports to return for them the following morning. Starving we ate at a fancy looking yet cheap y crappy restaurant. From there we went to Plaza Lavalle to tour the Teatro Colon which was closed for renovations - strike 3. Afterwards, we hopped the subte (short for subterranean) across town and stopped at a 'must see' subte stop which wasn't much to look at. Above ground back in la Plaza de Mayo we headed north to 'La City.' After another iglesia we toured Bart. Mitre's old residence then over to the Police Museum which was interesting y gruesome with the last exhibit being nothing but graphic old crime scene stories with equally graphic pictures to go along with the stories. It was fascinating, gross y way better than an episode of Law y Order. We returned to the hostel to siesta until dinner at the tenador libre next door. Bs.As. is the cheapest place we've been thus far.

Day 3 - San Telmo y Montserrat: Bs.As.

This morning we packed up y out of Downtown Mate and figured the subte back to the consulate to pickup our pasaportes (which was a breeze.) Back on the subte we faced the massive crowds y packed cars, passed an influenza clinic right in the dirty, center of it all across town to the neighborhood of San Telmo. The huge, old hostel in an old mansion right off of Plaza Dorrego was half the price (50pesos) of Downtown Mate (100pesos.) After brushing up with the guidebooks we decided to walk north past everything y work our way south in time for siesta (good idea Nate.) So up Calle Defensa we went to an iglesia y the oldest farmacia en Bs.As. To another church then over to a Jesuit Antique Market where we bought old Argentinian pesos from the days of mass inflation. We wandered down the cobblestone street y in and out of antique markets all morning As soon as we stepped out of the last one a man handed Nate a cheap menu to the restaurant we were standing right outside of y we went in. We both ordered pollo smothered in crema and it was absolutely delicious. We now sit back at our hostel filled with quiet charm journaling. - After an afternoon of browsing even more anti que markets that were so jam packed they looked like the scene from Return to Oz where Dorothy is walking through the room of misc. antiques trying to figure out which green figures are here friends, and of baskets filled with surprise packages we went back to journal y use the internet. It was then when I found out that MJ had died. We had been seeing MJ playlists all the time on their music channels and thought they just loved him - but now we know why. After seeing a bargain travel package to wine country Mendoza, Argentina we took the subte back across town to the travel agency where they took our names y e-mail and told us to wait for them to write so, wanting to save the south end of San Telmo y La Boca (soccer nation) for tomorrow we searched for a restaurant nearby the hostel. We wanted to go back to where we had lunch but it wasn't open so we went to where I got my delicious media lunas for breakfast and ordered calabresa pizza, which was equally yummy. Unfortunately it soon turned into Pizzeria Uno with tourist and we left. 

Day 4 - San Telmo y La Boca

This morning we hung around the hostel y used the internet in order to give the shops time to open up. When it was time, we headed south towards La Boca, the crazed soccer neighborhood that once declared it would become it's own republic. We stopped at the Plaza de Defensa, on old residence with courtyards, balconies y tall ceilings turned half antique junk market. Then, we walking through another parque to get to La Boca territory. The sights are on the waterfront and most people get here via tour bus due to the supposed bad reputation this neighborhood has for tourists - but we weren't buying it and we walked. And what the other tourists missed as they ate at an overpriced, disgusting, tango trap was a local roadside parrilla which was just heating up so we made a note to come back for lunch. From la parrilla you could see the dark blue y amarillo stadium rise up over the city. As we walked past there was a group of boys waiting at the gate to the practice field, two older men peeking through a hole in the fence, and a group of boys hanging out with the parking attendance - all waiting for a chance to meet their favorite player. Bypassing the tour, we walked further into the heart of La Boca to Calle Caminito, the postcard perfect street of brightly painted, Dr. Seuss houses stacked atop one another - and was it ever packed with tourists which I wasn't expecting and made me like it a little bit less. As it was only a few streets of street art stands, shops, restaurants and people dressing in Boca Shirts y Tango Outfits hoping you'd take your picture with them for a peso we had seen all there was to see before lunch. We walked along the dirty, factory laden waterfront and back up the avenue to the parrilla which was now open for business. Nate got carne y papas fritas and I got a choripan! a simple delicious meal of a chorizo sausage between a baguette. I drenched the bread in chimichurri and had teh best meal for 5 pesos (1.25U$D) After lunch we we back to the hostel for a siesta and internet. After, we wandered aimlessly around the streets of San Telmo that weren't in the guidebook until dinner, where we sit now in the same place we had the best lunch at yesterday.

~ Tomorrow will be my 25th Birthday ~

Day 5 - Feliz Cumpleanos a Mi! - San Telmo, Bs.As.

My birthday started off with my birthday back rub. We slowly got ready and then ate at McDonald's for brunch. As the clock struck noon and church bells echoed throughout the plaza, we toasted to me. We sat there playing games, watching various street performers including tango dancers, a one man band y sketch artists, and drank beer after beer until dusk. As some point I was determined to find the ganja and befriended a Jamaican with some. He took us back to his apartment after stopping to pick up some produce. There were 3 guys y a chica there but I don't remember anyone's name. They wanted to go to a fiesta after midnight but we didn't stay to see if they ended up going. We danced, smoked and could have gotten to know each other.

Day 6 - Palermo, Bs.As.

The day after my birthday was a slow one. We got up and made the mistake of leaving our lovely cheap hostel for one in Palermo. After walking to 3 different places with our heavy packs, tired feet y headaches and wondering if we should just go back to San Telmo, we ended up going to an overpriced place filled with obnoxious other backpackers for 150pe$os. We ate at another tenador libre, hitting the crappy lo mein hard and walked around the parks for the rest of the afternoon. We got dinner at a place right around the corner but Nate wasn't feeling well and didn't eat. 

Day 7 - Back in San Telmo, Bs.As.

The next morning we got up early and took 2 subtes back to the awesome hostel in San Telmo. This time we got a room with a balcony over the street! Vendors were beginning to set up for the sunday antique market which we would check out later. 2 subtes back to the sights for the day we went to the Recoleta Cemetery, tried to tour some palacio's y failed, went to the Immigrant Museum y walked around. The cemetery was cool, full of masoleums that you could peak in and see the coffins and the basements full of coffins on racks - I feel creepy just writing about it. And the Immigrant Musuem was cool too - they built a hotel, hospital y cocina for the immigrants to stay at for free for 5 days right off the boat to allow them to time adjust, familiarize themselves with the city, learn some spanish, find jobs y housing among other things - they had old pictures of people jammed into the cafeteria. Tired, we went back to the hostel and sat on the balcony people watching y observing life below for a while. It rained then stopped and we sat on the balcony playing cards. Being a little drunk and pushy I fought with Nate about going back to their apartment to see if they were home to hang out. We fought long enough and compromised just in time because as soon as we stepped outside we saw Morris. We sat in the plaza for a few hours drinking beer and his roommates and other friends joined us. I went off to watch the tango for a while and Julian followed me because he was the only one who noticed I went anywhere. We sat and watched the good, the very good, and the bad with some homeless druggie who was enjoying our company. At some point we went back to their apartment and did I don't know what for many hours until I ended up walking halfway across the city looking for beer. I got back from my journey to find Nate mad and wanted to go home - understandably. 





Update

We are alive and well heading to La Paloma, Uruguay today. After Puerto Piramides we spent a week in Buenos Aires where we celebrated my birthday and there is obviously so much to write about Bs.As. that I,ve been avoiding it. From there we went to Concordia, Arg - Salto, Uruguay - Montevideo, Uruguay - Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay y now we,re at the bus station waiting for our buses to La Paloma. We have two more laid back beach stops in Uruguay before heading into Brazil, a land where they speak Portuguese. I have "bloggers block" as Nate says but will start writing again soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Southern Right Whale

What was once a town of 2,000 inhabitants over 100 years ago is now a dwindled population of roughly 400 souls. When salt was a commodity the town thrived but you would never know it. No historical evidence remains except for the foundation of the train that would transport the salt down to the foundation of the pier that can only be seen at low tide. Now, the one road town which you can walk from one side to the other in 15 minutes is half trailer park half up and coming tourist destination and at this stage in it´s development it is simply wonderful. We walked down the end of the road still being laid with bricks and it turned into beach. We walked across the beach which paralleled the road across town in search of the advertised ¨huge campground, which I assume is jam packed during the warmer months but this time of year just looked like half vacant lot half sand dune. We wandering through some tiny, tiny campers which were all in use and into a guy who said we could camp anywhere we liked and that it was free! We set up, excited to have our first opportunity to use the new tent and fell asleep under the stars.

We awoke with the sun, ate breakfast as the gas station (they love their gas stations in Argentina) and were going to walk to a sea lion colony when I expressed interest in going on a whale expedition. For 120 pesos ($30USD) I pushed us to go. Donned in our winter gear and Expedition Company poncho y life jacket we waddled our way to the beach and onto the boat. For now, the tour companies all agree that to have less impact on the environment they don´t want to build a pier so they have tractors haul the boats in and out of the water all day. The shoreline, once underwater a million years ago, is filled with fossils and living ecosystems and the water remains a clear blue green. Our expedition out to sea was worth every peso. We saw the sea lion colony we were going to walk to along with lots of birds, seals playing and leaping out of the water and then lots and lots of Southern Right Whales...

and now a break for some fun facts: (I was so enthralled by the day that I hung onto every heavily accented english word that came out of our guides mouth - I swear I could have gave the next tour.) Named so because they were the ¨right¨whales to hunt and kill, they would swim right up to the boats and stay afloat after they were killed. The population had dwindled until they were considered endangered and it became illegal to hunt them. Now, their numbers are up to 20,000 and they continue to be protected by law. Due to markings on the head and body that they are born with they are able to identify, number and track each whale. Unfortunately they are also able to identify them by big holes being eaten out of their backs by seagulls who for some reason have recently become the whales only predator with this behavior. The presence of seagulls have caused the whale to position itself differently when above water with just it´s head and tail sticking out while it arches it´s back under the water. When they are not occupying Antarctic waters the population of 20,000 divides and make the journey to 3 different breeding grounds - south of Australia, off the west coast of Sud Africa y h ere, in the Golfo Nuevo off of Puerto Piramide. The same whales return to the waters they were born in. Babies are born early in the season (June because we saw them!) and come December they leave with their mothers to return to Antarctic waters. When it´s time to return a year later this is the last journey the baby will make with it´s mother. She will let her baby go after a year of showing it how to survive and the way to and from the breeding grounds. It will travel alone for the majority of it´s lifetime.

...Everywhere we looked there was at least 3 whales in view, easily spotted by sprays of mist, splashes from jumping out of the water, an elegant cola, or just a black floating island. We stood in the front with the wind whipping at our faces the entire time and loved it. For 2hrs we cruised along the coast from whale to whale, it was an amazing experience in a beautiful place. I wanted to stay another night and go out again tomorrow. The rest of the afternoon until the shuttle back to Puerto Madryn was spent walking down the other end of the road until it too turned into beach. Even from there you could see the whales from afar and I yearned to go back out again. We waited around at the gas station until it was time to board the bus. As I sat there and observed the close group of family y friends keeping the owner company I began to think that this wouldn´t be a bad place to live.

No Sleep ´til Puerto Piramides

We awoke early and starred out the window overlooking the end of the earth for a while waiting for the shuttle to Rio Grande to come pick us up. When it finally came we walked out into the deep snow, climbed into the van and anticipated another wild ride. The daylight brought the scenery and we were able to see what we couldn´t 2 nights prior. Snow covered forests (finally, trees!) lakes, steep cliffs we could have easily sailed off of all came into view. They made one stop in Tolhuin at this excellent panaderia which sold delicious empanadas y rows of popular South American pastries. 3.5hrs later we were back in Rio Grande only to discover that the bus to Puerto Madryn didn´t leave until 8:30 the next morning. We bought our tickets and walked ten icy, icy blocks to the cheapest hostel in this drabby town. Since there was nothing to do we found the grocery store and bought dinner for later, seven 40´s of beer, preceded to get drunk for the rest of the afternoon and passed out wicked early.

After waking up at 3AM since we passed out so early the night before, we waited around until a reasonable time to walked the 10 icy, icy blocks back to the bus station. 8 hours later and one much calmer ferry ride back we arrived in Rio Gallegos. We sat around, observed all the street dogs that were running around the place, used the internet and kept ourselves somewhat busy until our bus left at 20:15. 20hrs, 3 meals and 3 movies later we arrived in Puerto Madryn. Our destination was actually Puerto Piramides, a nature reserve famous for being a breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale on a peninsula 1.5hrs Northeast of Puerto Madryn and as soon as we got off the bus we decided we would go right then. We bought tickets to Puerto Piramides, used the ATM, threw our bags onto the collectivo and hoped on the bus right before it pulled away at 16:00.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

World´s End - Ushuaia, Argentina

A half hour later we found a cute hostel at the top of a hill that overlooked the town, the mountains and the Beagle Channel. A private room with a window for a wall we pulled the mattresses off the bunks and slept on the floor. A cat would often frequent my lap as well. Our only day at the end of the earth was spent like any other. Excursions to Puerto Williams or to Parque National Tierra del Fuego were unfortunately too expensive so we entertained ourselves. We walked to a cemetary that was unlike any other in South America. Covered in snow with no walkways to visit the graves we basically walked down an unshoveled stairway which acted more of a shortcut through town than a sight to see. We walked around town, investigated bus tickets, ate food and enjoyed the fact that we made it here. That night the wind howled against the house and in the morning we headed North.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Journey to World´s End

Our final southbound bus was the most interesting yet. First, we drove through at least 500 sheep being herded down the road by gauchos. Second, the bus drove onto this huge ferry to cross the Magellan Straight to get to Tierra del Fuego which I had forgotten about freaked out about sinking for a second. Bound to get sick if we sat on the bus we went out on the viewing deck to watch as we plowed over rough water and huge waves. It was windy and beautiful and as the captain changed course the waves hit broadside and sprayed us with a sheet of salt water. Thinking it was fun, or perhaps from having bus fever we stayed up there and were soaked before we knew it. It was a damp rest of the way. At our connection in Rio Grande Nate began talking to another American couple who have been fortunate enough to have been sailing around the west coast of the America´s for the past three years - Alaska, down to Ecuador for a year, out to Easter Island and are now traveling around South America. Somehow they still haven´t learned Spanish though which surprised me. They were nice and joined us on the final leg of the journey to Ushuaia, the supposed southern most city on earth even though 4 more towns are on the map south of here. And what a wild finale it was. Armed with a little collectivo and what we hoped was an experienced driver we drove right into a huge snowstorm. Over unpaved windy dirt roads, through thick sideways blowing snow and with 1ft visibility< /span> in front of us this guy was cruising down the roads, passing people, hitting the breaks just in time, sliding around - it was wild and crazy and fun even though we should have been fearful for our lives. We arrived unharmed and were left to hike around through town in the middle of the night in a snowstorm searching for a cheap hostel.

Punta Arenas, Chile

The morning after Torres del Paine it was snowing! It was beautiful and quite in the streets and a dog immediately ran up and escorted us to the bus station. The 2.5hr bus ride through more wide open spaces went quickly and before long we could see the deep blue of the Magellan Straight. Unfortunately the only cheap hostel in town was a bit of a hike over icy, icy sidewalks but worth the risk once we got there. They had a dog, a cat, a family and a stove right outside our muy cute room. The man was very nice and it was the first time we left the door unlocked (mainly to let the heat in.) The town is wedged between the Magellan Straight and a hill which we walked up for the view. The next morning it was snowing again and continued to snow all day. It´s beginning to throw me off and I get excited for Christmas and think a lot about memories of the holidays at 355 Timber Rd. for some reason... it being Sunday there was nothing to do except walk around this beautiful 4 block cemetery which by looking at the tracks in the snow had already seen quite a bit of visitors that morning. Graves here are much like their houses - painted with bright colors, adorned with fake flowers, curtains, gates, pictures and various religious knick-knacks. It´s beautiful and sad all at once. The town was quite and pleasant and our last stop before the world´s end.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Torres del Paine

Up and ready before Nate´s new alarm clock had a chance to go off we were picked up before sunrise. When we were dropped off 12hrs later we had spent the entire day being driven around in the backseat of a van. The morning was spent driving through beautiful snow-dusted haciendas and mountain ranges. We made one stop at a big shallow cave that had been carved out by an extinct glacier lake. There was also some ridiculous historical claim that a giant sloth was held captive there as well but I wasn´t buying it. They did let you walk all the way back into the unlit depths though which was neat. We didn´t get to the park until early afternoon and by then the other 2 couples and our tour guide had made fast friends and shared at least 2 rounds of cafe. We sat contently in the back looking out at the countryside while they chatted and laughed. The guide was great and would point out wildlife and stop for photo opts whenever we wanted, probably a benefit of being here in the off season. Though it was a beautiful, sunny day once in the park thee mountains to see were unfortunately hidden in the clouds and didn´t show their face all day. Although this was what I was most excited to see I wasn´t terribly disappointed as the day was really pleasant and everything we were seeing was so beautiful. (You should stop reading and google image this park right now, it´s amazing.) We drove slowly and thoroughly along the only road through the park stopping at a waterfall at the foot of thee mountains and then at this incredible lookout. A Caribbean blue lake was at the foot of thee said unseen mountains with an island in the middle of it. On this island was the Hosteria Pehoe and for $285.00 US you can stay there for a night, and on a clear day & night would be worth every penny - I´m surprised it´s not more expensive. The last stop on the tour was the end of Lago Grey. At the other end of the lago is Glacier Grey and where we stood on the black sandy beach more surreal blue icebergs had floated their way down. Had we not saw the Perito Moreno Glacier a few days before we would have been more in awe. We finally all piled back in the van for the last time and drove home after the sun had set. It took listening to all 4 Rilo Kiley albums to get home where happy and exhausted we crashed and fell asleep.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Puerto Natales, Chile

En la maƱana we awoke early to buy our tickets for Puerto Natales and for the next 5.5hrs sat snuggled under my sleeping bag on what was essentially a freezing collectivo with reclining seats. We sat there bouncing down the dirt road and watched as kilometer after kilometer of wide open spaces passed us by. Once in town I led us directly to our hostel, which was closed for the winter - but the one next door was open and for 6,000 pesos each we received hot showers, breakfast, free internet, cable TV and a twin bed to share. For the middle of winter the hostel was quite full - of Chilean men, and we had no idea why. The rest of the day was productive and pleasant. Grateful to be out of the land of Jamon y Queso we had a satisfying Chilean meal, ran errands and bought our tickets for Torres Del Paine. On the way into town we saw Flamingos, yes Flamingos, on the lake and after our errands set out along the waterfront to find them once again but with no luck, but it was a beautiful walk. Though the town has a fancy path and a hotel under construction right on the waterfront it has somehow managed to avoid being touristy. There are no fancy shops, no overpriced restaurants and most houses retain their original architecture. Despite the fact that the town survives, exists even for tourism, I couldn´t tell and loved and appreciated it all the more. After another pleasant day on our southbound journey we returned to our room to fall asleep watching movies. We have watched more movies in the past 3 weeks than we´ve watched in the past 2 years.

El Calafate & the Perito Moreno Glacier

I´m going to spare you most of the boring details of the crummy city of Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. The only reason we crossed the country was because we thought the buses didn´t run down the border of Chile-Argentina any further south than El Bolson this time of year. The city was dirty, prostitute ridden and rather ugly. Good thing I was incredibly sick for our stay and that our overpriced hostel had a television. It acted as our movie watching hide out until the next bus outta there.

One 1hr bus from Comodoro Rivadavia to Caleta Olivia, one 10hr overnight bus from Caleta Olivia to Rio Gallegos, one 5hr layover at the bus station in Rio Gallegos and one 5hr bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafata later, we arrived. The town is nestled along Lago Argentina and for now remains relatively small though the fancy center with expensive shops and restaurants promises inevitable expansion. A loan road runs along the western shore of the lake awaiting future development. As we pulled into the station 3 or 4 representatives from different hostels were waiting for us. We stood back while they attacked however once everyone was paired off we were spotted. We usually blow these people off but after ignoring her for a minute she persisted and I caved. After talking we her we struck a deal to get a dorm all to ourselves (including bathroom) at 3 nights for the price of 2 por 80 pesos per persona todo. It wasn´t until our traveling feet hit their warm, heated floors did we realize just how good a deal we got. The hostel was beautiful and the common area had the best view of the sunset over the mountains and lakes as we walked in. We passed out early to prepare ourselves for our journey to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Sans an alarm clock, Nate woke up at 5 and thankfully kept busy until he woke me up at 7. We had breakfast at the hostel and went to the bus station to get our tickets. With the 9am bus full we sat around with the dogs we picked up on the walk over and waited for the 10am shuttle. We were joined by an Asian couple, an English couple and 2 French guys. The ride out to the park was beautiful. In the lakes we passed floated icebergs unearthly shades of blue. As I was expecting them to be dropping us off and picking us back up hours later at a designated bus stop in the park I was mentally preparing myself for a rugged day as snow began to fall, hard. To my part relief and part disappointment it ended up being a safe, supervised, touristy experience. They offered us a boat ride to get upclose to the glacier and not knowing you could get equally as close from the foot paths we took the bate. The great advantage to the boat ride though was you could pratically touch the icebergs and saw just how magnificent they truly are. This one is particular might have been the most amazing thing we´ve seen - it was turquoise and dark blue all in one and Nate put it best that they lo ed off the boat our bus was there waiting for us. A short drive later we were at the visitor center where the entrance to the foot paths and a cafe are your only options. We bypassed the cafe and headed down the path. From the top you see just how infinite the glacier seems to go on for as it extends beyond the visual limit of the horizon. It is quite amazing to witness and so much more than a piece of ice. As we stood there the segundo snow storm of the day came outta nowhere and filled the air and covered our clothes. Undeterred we kept walking until we ran outta boardwalk and had to return to the bus. It was a good day.