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. 


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.