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04 March 2010 @ 06:08 pm

Well, I was hoping to belatedly update about how much fun Salvador was, and all about relaxing on the beach and falling in love with Capoiera (a Brazilian martial art) in Arraial d'Ajuda, but I suppose an earthquake update is the more pressing one at hand.


After a week of carnival madness in Rio de Janeiro I was more than a little homesick, and decided I wanted to try to see Sebas again, if only for a few days.  So I bought a plane ticket to Santiago and Sebas a bus ticket there as well, so we could go to the coast and hang out on the beach.


For as tiring as the oppressive heat of Rio had been, I wasn't especially thrilled that the Chilean beach at Algarrobo was so cold and cloudy.  We had a really nice time anyway, long walks along the windy and rocky shores of the Pacific, picnicking with pisco and naps on the sand (ok, I was the only one who took naps, but who's counting?), and our last day there was sunny and beautiful.

We got back into Santiago on Friday night, just in time to find a decent cheap hotel and for me to eat an entire Dominos pizza.  Perhaps it was the Dominos coma but I didn't feel anything except Sebas shaking me awake at 3:30am.  I was confused as to why he had jumped up and was yelling at me to "grab some clothes!” all I really wanted to do was go back to sleep. 

I realized the room was shaking at this point, but I figured, we'll just stand in the doorway (the locked door had already flung itself open), right?  That’s what they did in the Saved by the Bell episode when there was an earthquake.  So I told him we didn't need clothes, and proceeded to the door frame.  Sebas was having none of this and began to push/guide me down the hallway.  By the time we got to the stairway the entire building was rocking back and forth and us with it, slamming from one wall to the next.  We kept running down the first floor hallway and in slow motion I saw the lady in charge of the hotel motion for us to slow down and stay calm, but Sebas didn't stop running, while I kept hearing glass breaking.  We made it outside and joined the frantic mass of people on the boulevard in the street, with the ground still shaking.  Mostly I remember the terrible sound everywhere, like the rattling of poorly installed windows and shelves when a massive train passes by.


So there I was in the middle of the dark street -no lights as the electricity was the first to go- in a tank top and underwear.  In his rush to grab something for me to wear Sebas had run out with a long sleeved shirt of his, and had handed me the baby blue sun hat I had bought the day before at the beach.....not the most modest of outerwear for the city streets. 


We spent the rest of the dawn and morning hours sitting in the boulevard.  We cautiously went back up to the room to grab our stuff a few hours later, after the electricity had come on and stayed on for more than 20 minutes.  The room was a disaster, floor to ceiling cracks up two of the walls, and paint chips, plaster and adobe chunks covering everything.  From the outside the balcony off of our room had a huge crack too.  We were later told that the most damage to the hotel had been in the room where we had been sleeping.


There were a number of small aftershocks, but we stayed put until it was light enough to move on.  We walked to the main street to catch the bus to the airport (I had a flight out of Santiago at noon that day) and saw the damage done to the nearby buildings.  Mostly just pieces of facade had fallen from the tops of buildings, but a few had entire walls missing, so passersby could see directly into the bedroom/kitchen/bathroom/stairway of the affected apartment building.


Two kilometers before entering the airport there was a police blockade.  We were told the airport was closed indefinitely.  While we waited for the next bus to take us back downtown we talked to a few older ladies who had been in the process of boarding their plane when the airport had been hit by the quake.  They said the elevator had crashed down a floor and that the international boarding area had fallen from one floor to the next.  We saw a few people slowing walking out of the airport parking lot with huge bandages covered their heads, but apparently everyone had gotten out safely.  


I couldn't believe it when we heard the earthquake had been an 8.5 (or 8.8 according to later reports) and stronger than the recent one in Haiti. It had been scary but I had been so out of it while it was going on that it hadn't really sunk in yet.  I didn't even think my parents would have heard about it yet, but when I called my mom to tell her that plans to come back to the states would be a little bit changed she started crying so hard I thought someone had died.  Took me more than a minute to figure out that it was because she was worried about me and had heard about the quake a few hours before.


We spent the rest of the day in a park, as far from buildings and lampposts as possible.  The ground seemed to be constantly swaying, as if we were on a boat.  Radio later said there had been over 60 aftershocks that day in Santiago. 


Sebas and I got out on the last night bus to Mendoza, we heard there was another big aftershock right after we had gotten on the bus, but neither of us felt it.  The bus trip was pretty terrifying, I was afraid the ground would start shaking just as we were climbing up the incredibly unnerving caracoles (quick switchbacks up the steep western side of the Andes on the route from Chile to Argentina).  I just kept my eyes shut and prayed we'd be past them soon.


Less than 5 minutes after arriving there, Mendoza had a strong rumble, I didn't even turn to ask Sebas if it was really a tremor and just chalked it up to my continued vertigo.  When we got to Sebas’ house everyone was abuzz about it.  We slept through the next big one just a few hours later.


I am finally back in the states, happy and healthy in (a cloudy) Florida, just two days earlier than the original itinerary I was following.  I’m so grateful to be here, that all my friends in Chile are safe and accounted for and for all the people in my life who were (unnecessarily) worried about me!  Now I have the return to homework to look forward to.



Living the dream in Brasil! On Sunday Clare and I began our Amazon Adventure (which will forever and for always be referred to in capital letters, fyi) from the province of Manaus, with our amazing guide, Jungle James.


In our five days and four nights we saw so many new and incredible things! Prepare for a day by day rundown of the Adventure:


Day one we took a bus and then a boat out into the middle of the jungle along the Rio Negro, and after shaking off the rain, it was time for "lanch" (James' pronunciation of lunch) and then a tour of the Icapo, or the floating forest. Depending on rainy or wet season, entire parts of the jungle are submerged under the flooding river. We saw a toucan, and then fished for Piranhas. Fishing for creepy fish with raw chicken didn’t appeal to me, nor did the noises they made while their heads were being snapped. But the fact that the two young female veterinary students from the Netherlands (Arlinde and Trudy) were the only ones other than James to catch any was pretty funny, and quite frustrating for the Frenchman of the group, who fancied himself quite the mountain man, we almost tipped over multiple times due to his frantic fishing "style". In my vain attempt to practice some Portuguese, and using the limited vocabulary I had, I began asking James questions about himself. I asked if he had brothers or sisters, if he had any children. And at finding the answer negative, I asked how many he wanted. His eventual and uncomfortable reply was that I was very curious.
So James didn’t like talking about himself, Clare and I also came to find that he was very military in his timer oriented organization of our group. He would always inform us that "you will have 20 minutes to prepare.  You will begin to prepare at 2:40 and we will leave at 3 or 3:10" after which we would do things like "hike for 38 minutes before the forest will become a steeper climb".  After two years in Argentina, where nothing happens even remotely on time, I was constantly amused by his dictatorial timing of our activities.
After watching the sunset over the river, and dinner, we went back out into the boats to search for Caiman! The river became this totally otherworldly place at night. The Rio Negro, as you can imagine, is so named because of its dark black color. It is also very still and at night the mirror its surface became created perfect reflections of the half submerged trees, making it hard to decipher where the plants started and stopped.  Somehow James, armed only with his flashlight, guided us into a thicket of trees and after splashing around for a minute or two, came back offering an 8 month old Caiman! He let those of us who wanted to touch it do so, and I got to actually HOLD an Amazonian Caiman.


Day two was the first of our "jungle walks"--read: long, hot, wet, incredibly sweaty treks into the forest in search of elusive animals. We were shown disgustingly big army ants, two tarantulas, again seemingly pulled out of nowhere from their underground lairs, and a baby turtle, in addition to any number of medicinal plants---Clare’s favorite part, as she puts quite a bit of stock into that "bullshit".
Blessedly after this we took naps back at the lodge in our hammocks, only to be told to pack up later for our first night sleeping in the jungle. I was horrified to find this meant we needed to carry our own bedding, so 95% of my messenger bag (not my first recommendation for jungle gear) was taken up by a musty smelling green and black hammock.
We walked for what seemed and eternity; I believe I sweat a cool 15lbs of water every hour. About 3 hours later we came upon our camp, a small open structure with a blue tarp tied on as a roof, where the 6 of us hung our hammock beds. We cooled off in a nearby stream, while James and assistant guide Jesus prepared our white rice and jungle sausage dinner, which we ate out of huge flat palm like leaves with little wooden spoons. We all managed to sleep through the jungle noises, in spite of Trudy’s oh-so terrifying stories of the T-Tarantula, named so for its hatred and menace for the jungle tourists.


Day three we were out early, to continue our jungle walk back to the lodge. Before sweating so much I wanted to die, I amused myself by taking way too many Amazon Adventure with Poppy the Cock pictures, holding up the rear of the trekking group. I swear about every 15 minutes James would stop to "listen to the jungle", I think Poppy and I had more fun lagging behind and taking stupid pictures. But then, out of nowhere we heard a screech and saw a black furry mess run down a tree and off into the woods. A Jungle Dog! Haha. Later James found a better translation would be a Jungle Fox, but the Jungle Dog is what we were now stalking. We could hear a rough sort of bark from him, and an impressively big sounding stomping all around. I am slightly embarrassed to say there was a moment when I was actually a little scared the damn thing would come out of the maze of trees and sic itself straight to my white, sweaty throat.  But alas, the Jungle Dog never did reappear.
The Jungle Walk ended not long after James spied some "monkey fruit", and in his flip flops (though we were all instructed to wear hiking boots) he shimmied up what was easily a 20 foot tall, branchless, tree trunk. When he was unsatisfied with the number of grape sized yellow berries he had shaken down, he sent assistant guide Jesus to find a 15 foot long branch, which was only lifted up to him with the help of Frenchman, with his girlfriend standing on his shoulders, while Jesus fed up the long branch until it finally reached James, so he could muscle down some more berries.
That evening, we packed up again from the lodge and after some more Piranha fishing - Clare caught two this time-- we motored up onto a quiet, white sand beach to start a fire, and hang our hammocks among the low branched trees. Dinner was the poor toothy Piranha we caught (I ate white rice again), and afterwards some Caipirinas, made from sugar, limes, and the famous Brazilian liquor of distilled sugar cane, cachaça. After about two, the fact that 3 spoonfuls of white rice had been my last meal meant I was a little buzzed, and basically demanded James do what he likes best, tell us more about himself, one of his crazy jungle stories while we lounged on the still warm sandy beach. Then it was time for bed.
Day four we woke up early to do some wonderfully serene bird watching, breakfast, and then into the boat and back to the lodge. The French couple left, while the four of us remaining whittled holes into black and red jungle seeds while James fashioned bracelets out of them for us our of wet strips of tree bark.
After lunch Clare and I were James´ only remaining charges, and while he was fired up for yet another Jungle Walk, we told him we’d rather hear more about the local peoples. So, after "fifteen minutes to prepare" we took the boat out again, this time to meet Dona Clidge, the grandmother who lived not far away, in a stilted one room wooden home. She was sitting amid a few of her 8 children, and at least one of her grandchildren. In addition to eating what has been caught on the river, she also had a decently sized Manioc farm. James described Manioc as potato-like, but with a poisonous liquid that must be extracted before roasting the Manioc to make hard, grainy flour out of, which can be added to almost any meal, or just mixes with water to make a sort of sludgy drink that offers no actual nutritional vale, but makes the stomach expand enough to feel it is full. Dona Cligde was doing ok for herself, relatively, but the scene at her brother’s house, a short ride away was a bit starker. A wizened and rail thin old man sat with his two granddaughters, all three staring off into nothing, sitting under the leafy roof of their one room house. No farming for this family, only the food for survival from the river, and the pet turtle, who had been spared being made into soup, only to be leashed to a spot under the house. The girls were beautiful, and while the younger of the two (aged 3 or 4) nodded off to sleep; her sister, only a year older never shifted her skeptical gaze from Clare or me. We both tried to smile at her, but with no luck. Though she did scramble down the embankment to watch us go.
Day five we had a later wakeup call (at 7:30am), presumably because James had a few too many Caipirinas with everyone the night before. We had 20 minutes to organize, but this time it was James who wasn't ready!  So we of course badgered him about this all morning. The three of us took the boat out to see some of the smaller channels, a nice and quiet morning. Then around noon it was time to go. James told Clare he was going to miss us. Which I think is why, after the boat and bus ride back to Manaus, he agreed to go with us to the 'meeting of the waters'.
We were taken out to the port, where a funny little dinghy took us out to the meeting of the waters, where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimõis (the AMAZON RIVER) meet up, but for several kilometers, do not mix. So we could see the curvy water lines where the darker, and warmer Rio Negro touched but didn't mix with the milkier colored Rio Solimõis. James aptly described it as a mixture of coffee meeting milk.  Poppy was there to enjoy all of this too :)
The following day, due entirely to my own personal insistence, we decided to head out to see the encanto do botos, roughly translated to 'the enchanted dolphins', a place where several pink river dolphins had been more or less domesticated to interact with people! Pink dolphins! What couldn't be amazing about that?

Well....for starters that we spent almost 10 hours on a bus in total to get to and from the tiny town of Novo Arião to see them, and secondly--because they were really ugly and kind of scary beasts! Each was probably about 5 feet long, mottled in color, with misshapen heads and teeny tiny grey eyes.....this was no cute lovable flipper. Clare wanted no part in touching them, and I eventually got in the water with them, but kept getting nose-poked in the crotch, or brushed past with their big, gray/pink dead fish feeling bodies. I can only hope we have at least one decent picture of me and the dolphins to (maybe?) justify the trip on our last day in Amazonia.  We should have known, as James parted ways with us the night before, declining our offer to pay his way to see the enchanted dolphins...never again will we neglect to listen to the advice of Jungle James.

But an adventure it was, a fantastic and unforgettable one at that!
Next up is Salvador, Bahia for some afro-brazilian food, dancing, and samba!

22 January 2010 @ 12:46 am

Gaucho Roberto

True to form, I am again behind on my journal writing. Joe and I had a great time seeing all sorts of fun stuff in Buenos Aires, and relaxing, along with an amazing wine tour with Sebas and Ceci (my coworker) in Lujan de Cuyo in Mendoza.  I attempted to organize another little going away party for myself, but there were 7 of us in total, so my goodbye to Mendoza was a quiet one, and I keep thinking that’s where I’ll return to after all these travels. Bittersweet because I have been more than ready to leave Mendoza for a while now, just not the people I met and loved there.

On to the travels! A little summary before we get to our gaucho amigo…

Clare and I met up on Thursday in Salta, one of the northernmost provinces in Argentina to explore the provinces of Salta and Jujuy (with a brief stopover in Tucuman as well).
In the first two days here we wandered around the city center, filled with beautiful pink, purple, and bright red cathedrals, famous empanadas (goat cheese and quinoa so far being the winners) and an arqeuological museum with disturbing child mummies buried while ‘sleeping’ over 500 years ago. The north in general is populated by people who in many ways look much more like their Bolivian neighbors than the Argentines I’ve been used to these past two years.

Two days seemed enough in Salta city so Clare and I rented a car to travel north and south of the city. Our first day we went to the Salinas Grandes, large salt flats (literally) and after about 40 minutes in the blinding sun were forced to concede that the cool optical illusion photos everyone takes at salt flats require more than just two people. We saw amazing multi-colored mountainous landscapes and otherworldly rock formations before reaching Tilcara, where we were couldn’t find a place to stay as the town had been taken over by dirty hippies for a folklore festival. So it was on to our most northern destination, the ghost town of Humahuaca. Suffice to say we were happy to leave our room filled with dripping paint, 3000 flies and a scary mold stain above Clare’s bed the next morning. 

Sunday it was off to Cachi. Oh Cachi….how I love thee. Less than an hour after arriving we managed to lock our keys in the car…Sunday night in a town of less than 2000 people, not gonna get fixed today! After ascertaining and accepting this fact we were off to dinner. We found a restaurant with a large gaucho, Argentina's version of a cowboy, smoking outside. His gaucho ‘uniform’ if you will consisted of a large, flat brimmed hat, a button up shirt, high waisted bloomer-esq pants with a thick leather belt and belt buckle the size of my fist, finished off with leather riding boots that end just below the knee. He invited us in, and there the real adventure began.

Roberto was our gaucho’s name, an ex veterinarian turned restaurant owner and asador (person in charge of the barbequing of meats). He brought Clare’s steak over, to make sure it was cooked to her liking, offering the animal bone handled knife out of his very own belt for her to eat with. After dinner the kitchen and wait staff all but sprinted out of the restaurant while Roberto sauntered over and offered us each a glass of mistela, some kind of late harvest grape wine (that was truthfully fairly disgusting). He proceeded to tell us about Cachi, my favorite fun fact being that some ‘crazy swiss man’ came there some years back to create Argentina’s only ovni-puerto, or UFO ‘air’port. Sadly I haven’t been able to find any pictures of this. We told him our tale of car key woe, and he promptly promised to help us, as todo tiene solución.

What follows made Clare and I wonder if perhaps we had just befriended the town dictator, or at the very least its patriarch…

After finishing our drinks, Roberto took us next door to a peña, where everyone sings and dances along to another gaucho singing traditional music.  Roberto sat down and proceeded to pack his mouth with Coca leaves, followed by a bit of baking soda. When I asked what the baking soda was for he said it has something to do with the Ph, but that he wasn’t really sure why he does it. He ordered (or should I say demanded) a bottle of wine, and snapped a waitress over to clear the table, simply slowly brushing his arm above the table, like some bad mannered nobleman, far too import to deign to speak to the help. The wine was too warm for his liking, but after insisting on a new bottle only to be told there were no more, ice cubes would have to make due. Even with the coca chewing, Roberto lit up a cigarette, leading to some nasty looks from the ladies at the table next to ours, who five minutes later simply got up and left.
After the peña ended, and it was clear these staff people also wanted to leave, we took the wine to an outside table, where Roberto called to a young man on the street. Said young man came rushing over, hands outstretched with cigarettes and lighter ready for the jefe. (I might have made that up, I can’t actually remember if they called him ‘boss’ or not, but Roberto has already become a legend in my mind, so I’m just going to go with it). Roberto seemed slightly embarrassed, saying he already had smokes, that he was just saying hello, af which point the young man quickly retreated. After some nonverbal nudging by the waitstaff Clare and I got Roberto to agree to finish the wine and let the waitresses break down our table to bring it inside. At no point was the wine paid for.  A few minutes later Roberto sent us on our way, saying he’d either take a taxi home, or just spend the night at a local hotel (would that just be put on his ‘tab’ as well?) with a renewed promise to help us retrieve our keys the next day.

Long story short, Roberto must have slept in later than usual (ha) because we couldn’t find him in the morning, so after consulting the internet, Clare was confident all we had to do was buy a coat hanger.  We did this, and she tried to find the magic lever that would unlock the door, but it was not to be.  We then called the car rental company and had a taxi service bring us a copy of the car key from Salta. Roberto did find us later that day, while waiting and waiting and waiting for the key to arrive. He sat down at the internet café with us, lit perhaps his 30th cigarette of the day after turning the large (and only) fan from its position on the cafe owners, to blow directly on himself. All the power that comes with being Cachi’s alpha dog-gaucho!  He tried his hand at getting the car door unlocked with the coat hanger too, but to no avail.
We said our goodbyes to Cachi, and of course to Roberto when the keys finally did arrive- In another life Clare would have stayed to eat large quantities of beef with bone-knives and tame wild horses with Roberto, but alas we had to keep moving south to Cafayate to visit some high altittude wineries and enjoy some more breathtaking (and bumpy) scenery.

I’ll leave you with a few haiku’s we penned while waiting in for the keys in Cachi, un lugar sin tiempo, for real.

The key never came
There's no one around to see
We stayed in Cachi

How many times now
Have we sat in this plaza?

We may never leaveCachi's dictator
Roberto, knife wielding man
We will miss your pants

04 December 2009 @ 09:13 pm
Oh my,

I can't believe it's been almost 7 months since I've posted, and yet that doesn't surprise me at all. The past 7 months have been a lot to deal with school-wise. This year turned out much less organized and most classes were not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped.


I'M OFICIALLY DONE WITH GRAD SCHOOL CLASSES! And what a relief that is! 28 months later and I just have to write a few more papers! (and then there is the business of my thesis, but that will come later).

I’m going to miss Mendoza, the friends I’ve made here, and especially Sebas, of course. People keep asking me what we’re going to do, and “when I leave, I leave, I miss my people at home, and he doesn’t want to come to the US” sounds just as unsatisfactory coming out of my mouth as I’m sure it does to everyone here who asks me, but we knew this was coming. The reality of it just bites. So up ‘til now I’ve mostly been trying to put it out of my mind, not always successfully. We’ll see how I do with this one…

So, trying to wrap things up (school, work, my house) in Mendoza, to begin quite the adventure starting in January:

Jan 3-13, Joe to visit! Adventures around Buenos Aires and Mendoza

Jan 14-21, Salta! Northern Argentina with my friend Clare, hopefully the rubias won’t melt in the hot hot desert.

Jan 22-March 3, BRASIL! My dream of many years is finally to come true! Clare and I haven’t finalized plans, so all I can say for sure is that we’ll begin in Sao Paolo with Chad(wick), visit Richard in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, and hopefully make it to the Amazon, as we both have our Yellow Fever shots up to date. I’m going to look for that Chinchona (Amazon Trail reference for those of you who played that game).
I’ve been taking Portuguese classes….I can say VERY little, and I don’t foresee that changing much, as I only have a handful of classes left, but its amazing how easy its been to understand. Hope I’m not jinxing myself with that one. 

So here is to hoping I'm better at updating while I've got some adventures going on.


20 April 2009 @ 08:15 pm

I decided (read: didn’t have any plans, which pretty much made my decision for me) to stay in this Saturday night.  Roommates were at a BBQ and Sebas had a boys-only birthday party, so I got into my pjs and started to watch The Breakfast Club when I heard the doorbell’s shrill whine, again and again.  I wasn’t going to answer it, 11pm, home alone….nope, staying in bed.  But it kept ringing.  I was on the phone with Sebas, who said he’d stay on the line while I checked it out.  I unlocked and went through our first door, and before reaching the peephole on the second door, I could see bright lights and heard many voices.  I looked through the peephole to see police cars, and cops in uniform!

I opened the door, and a commissioner asked

--Was I alright?

--Yes, I said, surprised.  Why do you ask?

As I take in a bit of the situation, I can see two patrol cars and no less than 5 officers on my normally quiet street.

--A neighbor reported seeing people loitering outside of your place, trying to get in, he informed me.

---I have no idea what you’re talking about officer, I’m all alone, no burglars.

I see a small crowd has gathered, including my elderly neighbor.

--Yes, the officer replied, there was a car parked outside of your house for a while.  A Ford Falcon, are you familiar with this kind of car?

Now it all made sense.

--Yes!  That was my boyfriend.  His friend drives a Falcon, they just left.

---Recently?  He asked.

--Umm, about 2 minutes ago?  I guessed.

--Well, we are from the comisaria, a neighbor called, and see how fast we got here?

 --The comisaria just around the corner?  Yes, I know it.

--Well do you have our phone number?

--No, I don’t believe so.

--You should have it.

At which point he motioned for another officer to come over and give me the police station’s phone number

Meanwhile I hear my elderly neighbor

---I am so embarrassed!  I saw them standing out here for a while, looking up as if to try to figure out how to climb up and get in from the roof……

One of the other officers ripped out a scrap from his notebook with the station’s phone number.

--I would much rather have the police at my door than my house robbed, I assured my neighbor (still lamenting her embarrassment), so thank you.

--Thank you as well officers, I smiled politely at all five.

--Have a good night, replied the first officer.


As I locked up again and walked inside I started laughing to myself.  I DO live in a safe neighborhood!  And then I started laughing harder when I realized just what had happened when Sebas left that night:


José dropped him off at my door, which always sticks.  He probably took a bit to let himself in with his keys. 

Sebas came in to say goodnight to me, and take some dirty laundry over to his mom’s house before going out.  Instead of bags, he opened the fitted sheet from my bed, and threw all the other clothes and laundry detergent inside.  Tied a knot at threw the entire bundle over his shoulder and left.

While waiting, José notices the acrobatic rats that eat from the top branches of the tree outside my house.


So, I guess my neighbor lady shouldn’t have been embarrassed….two men sitting outside my house, one looking around while the other takes his time getting through the front door and later comes out with a big bundle……sketchy.

But it is nice to know the police really do respond to calls from concerned citizens, and that my boyfriend and his friends are taken for suspicious looking hooligans?


At any rate, it was a much more eventful Saturday night than I had anticipated…


Current Location: Casita
25 August 2008 @ 10:14 pm


I think most people have a list, whether they’ve actually got one in writing or not.  The List of Things To Do Before_______________(fill in the blank).


This past week I have been able to cross out a few.


*Living outside of the USA for at least a year:

I crossed this one out in 2006, after living in Santiago, Chile but technically, due to regulations on round-trip plane tickets, I didn’t make the entire 365 day mark.  But I have now been an Argentine resident for over a year!  My first masters class started on August 24, 2007 (as we remember, the scheduled ‘real’ first class was cancelled).  Hard to believe I’m almost half way through a graduate program in a different language!


*Skiing in the Andes Mountains

This is another one I thought I’d be able to cross out in Chile, but never found anyone interested in skiing while living the volunteer life.  Cut to this Sunday, at Las Leñas-allegedly the best skiing in the Southern Hemisphere.  Sebas was going to come with me, but his mala suerte continues and his store was robbed last week, so no trips for Sebi for at least a little while.  So instead, after a long weekend of class, I boarded the bus solo at 2:30am on Sunday morning.  Richard, Darren, Myfanwy and some other gringos were there for the weekend, and by 10am we were all out on the slopes.  It was breathtaking…..all of it.  I’m sure I spent more time taking pictures than actually skiing, I just wanted to remember everything about the amazing snow-capped mountains and the fact that I was actually living this dream!  Adam, another friend and ski-tour businessman stayed with Myfanwy and me all day, reminding us to ‘keep your poles out front’ and ‘anticipate your next turn’.  We later laughed that we would have surely died tumbling down rock faces had he not stayed with us and shown us which runs were at our (surely impressive) level.


Others I hope to check off in the next year or so:


*See all 7 wonders of the world

Ok, so this probably won’t happen while I’m in South America, BUT Iguazu Falls, the famous waterfalls on the Argentina/Brasil boarder is vying to be voted one of the new 7 wonders.  And it just so happens that Iguazu is on the itinerary for the family visit this December!


This one has been on the list for a long time.  Sebas and I started saving up to go in January, but for aforementioned reasons it looks like this one will be further postponed. 

*Graduating with a masters degree
Turns out I’ll be in classes until at least the end of October of 2009 and the plan continues to be to do my thesis work in Mexico (perhaps in the big bad Mexico City?).   But we have to present our thesis within two years of finishing the course work, so this should be checked off before I reach the big 3-0.  30, damn.


Current Location: Depto above Plaza Espana
Current Mood: exhaustedsore legs!
Current Music: Stevie Wonder (an M Pagan choice)
15 May 2008 @ 12:23 pm

It’s been a little over a month now since Richard and I moved out of the crazy pension in the quinta section and into our new apartment downtown, overlooking plaza España.


A short list of the changes this has brought:


Replacement of a house with 12 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms for a 3rd floor apartment with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (meaning I no longer have to hover!).


16+ roommates, down to just one (we have had a few temporary roommates, but no one in for the long haul-yet).


All manner of noise including:

a).  Frenchies returning from god knows where at 6am to scream, bang on pots and pans, and make Molotov cocktails

b).  JJ drunkenly returning from nights out playing his music at full blast, or begging to sleep (‘just sleep, I swear’) with whomever he thinks might accept

c). parties and loud music any day of the week

d).  Jaime screaming at newborn crying and yipping puppies

e).  Alfa crying because all her puppies were given away.

Traded in for the street sounds of buses, motos and cars (I’ll take traffic noise any day).


No real ‘living’ area to sit, relax and or read a book without being attacked upon by roommates eating, singing, browsing the internet, watching TV, and talking on the phone (sometimes all at the same time) to a couch, two comfy chairs and a beautiful view of Plaza España-all to ourselves.


A house infested with cockroaches, fleas, and lice to one that’s….well, bug free (though I admit to seeing a lonely ant in the cupboard the other day).


The absence of 12 people, a television, a computer, and stereo while trying to make phone calls (technically this is in part because we’re still without a land-line).


3 dying refrigerators constantly being shut off, broken, or raided by hungry roommates for four glorious shelves all to ourselves.  And a freezer that works!


A single bed, with worn out sheets and a lumpy, lice infested mattress for a glorious, queen sized mattress and box spring-with real cotton sheets!


The house dog, Alfajor and her crazy eyes and perpetually wagging tail for a tiny gifted plant (that I think I already killed) --we definitely lost out on this one, I miss Alfa.


Close proximity to bars, restaurants, hostels, Parque San Martin, my job, and my gym, to close proximity to my job, my gym (we miraculously ended up almost equidistant from both), the post office (feel free to send Cheerios), McDonalds, a bowling ally, Parque Civico, Sabores (best pizza and empanadas this country has to offer) and-of course-Plaza España.


Current Location: Not telling
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: LastFM radio-Agustana
10 March 2008 @ 11:44 pm

La Fiesta Nacional de Vendimia is the annual festival celebrating the grape harvest in the heart of wine country, my very own Province of Mendoza.  Guide books will tell you that it is the month-long music, dance, film and other cultural activities that take place from the end of January up until the harvest, the first weekend in March.  But those of us in the know realize its all in the culmination, the election of the Reina Nacional de la Vendima; the Queen of Vendimia.

Each of the 18 departments in the province has their own competition to decide which of their 17-24 year old women are beautiful enough to represent their department, and enter the race to win Reina of the entire province.

Election of these departmental queens is newsworthy during the entire month of February, with full-page bios of the girls, including such thought-provoking interview questions such as: body measurements, pets-and the ever popular-age and occupation of their boyfriends’. 

Richard (one of my new housemates) and I went to the election of the City of Mendoza Reina last weekend.  I suppose I’d hoped for a bit more, the reality was about 15 girls wearing the same dress waving and smiling.  After the numerous votes were read, we were left with Carla Ortega, a brown haired, green eyed 17 year old, who isn’t interested in her measurements, has two dogs-Pampita and Pipi, her hamster Catalina, and an 18 year old boyfriend, Nicolas, currently studying Agricultural Sciences.


The following Sunday, due to the somewhat worrisome amount of cockroaches, ants, flies, and termites co-habitating with us at Olsacoaga 264- we were all kicked out of the house for a few hours so the house could be bombed.  Richard and I didn’t have any definite plans when we left the house.  But after seeing the abundance of billboard sized pictures of some of the departmental queens, I was so shocked and awed by the overt display of it all I decided we needed photographic evidence-who would believe this madness without proof?  Thus began the series, “Richard y las Reinas: Vendimia 2008”.  And over the next few hours (and subsequent days), we took as many pictures of Richard with the Reinas as we could find….all 18 of the lovely ladies as of Friday evening.


Friday night was the Via Blanca, a parade throughout the city streets, with each queen reining over her own float, representing their department, and throwing pictures of themselves, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, and in some cases melons (Richard caught one, I just did a lot of duck & covering) into the crowd.  The Mendocinos were prepared, many with baskets and buckets attached to the end of long poles, to better catch their cornucopias of regional fruits. 

The floats were admittedly pretty ridiculous, and I cannot imagine smiling and waving for that many hours (there is probably a reason I was never a beauty queen)….but watching Juan just about pee himself when Lorena’s float drove past (queen of General Alvear), and Richard getting up on Juan’s shoulders to scream ‘Carla! Carla!  Sos tan bella!’ (the queen of San Rafael, and our personal favorite to win the crown) made the entire spectacle unforgettable. 


Saturday night was the Acto Central, the main event-with an enormous stage in the natural amphitheatre created next to Cerro de la Gloria.  A select few get tickets to the actual seats and stands (the tursitas and the ricos), but the ‘real’ Mendocinos trek up the sides of the hills and pick out a rocky perch to watch the festivities.  So a bunch of us from the house, and guests, planted ourselves amid the picnicking, wine-drinking Mendocinos and their impatient screams of ‘sit down!’ and ‘shhhhh’, all of us enjoying the two-hour long dance performance, and the much anticipated crowing of this year’s Reina Nacional.  ‘Tuuuu Puuuun Gaaa Toooooo,” 19 year old Florencia Moreno.  Not our top choice, but they say the contest is rigged anyway.


And tonight is the end of it all for 2008, I’ve been hearing fireworks go off for the last 10 minutes or so.  Hopefully Tupungato is doing us proud.

Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
Current Music: Fireworks!

We traveled to the end of the world on day 10, December 15, 2007.  Due to irreconcilable differences, the Torres and I had broken off from Irene and Lenny.   Tensions were high and bus tickets to our destinations of choice go were in short supply-so Irene and Lenny went to El Chalten, while Angel, Rafa and I booked a last minute, cheap flight to Ushuaia, the world’s most southern city-all in the hopes of finally getting first hand glimpses of La Mapuche’s (my alias) ‘pinguinos VIEJOS’, as the Torres liked to refer to my little black & white winged friends.  After an abrupt landing (yes, I was a little startled) into the heart of Tierra del Fuego, we-accompanied now by a new little Swiss friend, Timur-were off in search of a hostel.  Along the way we booked that afternoons’ adventure, and while I sat in front of the tourism office eating crackers and peanut butter, Rafa and Timur found us a place to stay for that night.

The four of us then went on yet another catamaran ride, this time to navigate the Beagle Channel, and sail past the world’s southernmost lighthouse, Bird Island, Sea Lion Island, and, you guessed it, Penguin Island!  Again, we were the only four passengers who spent the ride out of doors, on the upper deck-but it was surprisingly mild for being so close to Antarctica.  The Magellan penguins were, of course, lovely and charming.  But I was disappointed to see that there were people on the island, alongside the penguins, when we had been told that this was an impossibility.  Regardless, all of us enjoyed watching the penguins’ antics, waddling, chatting, and swimming in the channel.  All Rafa had to say was, ‘I thought they’d be bigger.’


Day 11 the four of us spent the day trekking through Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Once off the dusty main road and on to the trails that led along the coast of the Beagle Channel, the views were beautiful, and the Torres were no longer in view.  Timur’s English was much better than his Spanish, so the absence of the boys gave us a chance to chit chat in English, which was a nice change.  About 3 hours into the trek we found the Torres again, after running through the park’s trail ways, they had already eaten their lunch, and waited on us for longer than they felt necessary.  They did stick around while Timur and I ate, and miraculously, the four of us managed to stay together for the remainder of the adventure.  We trekked around an island, saw a fox, Timur tried to catch rabbits, and took an impromptu little siesta on the boardwalk at Laguna Negra. 

Looking back at the pictures, Rafa effectively destroyed many of them in his attempt to hide his microscopic ear piercing from the camera, to save being murdered by his father.


Days 12 and 13 were marked by yellow and white road stripes, four boarder crossings between Chile and Argentina, a ferry ride across the Magellan Channel with guest appearances by Commerson’s dolphins (they have coloring similar to orcas), and the bus stations of Rio Gallegos, Comodoro Rivadavia, and finally-33 hours later-Puerto Madryn.  Once there, we met up with Irene again, and headed off to the beach.  Admittedly we didn’t last too long: the water was freezing, and the sun wasn’t exactly throwing off much heat.  But sand and swimming suits were a welcome change to layers and layers of winter clothes.


Day 14 was our tour de force of Peninsula Valdez, a private marine life reserve, about an hour’s drive from Puerto Madryn.  The driving itself was rather interesting, all sandy gravel roads, and the occasional emu or guanaco running across our path.     

Once there, we went on a whale watching boat trip, there were a grand total of two whales that day, and we didn’t see much of them.  But the growling sea lions at Puerto Pyramides made the boat trip worthwhile.  From there we drove to a number of lookout points, and saw seals, sea lions, more penguins, and in the parking lot two of the cutest armadillos I’ve ever seen, never mind that I’d never see a real live one before that day. 


The original plan for day 15 was to be en route to Buenos Aires, but I changed my bus ticket to see more penguins.  The only way to see my pinguinos was to go on an entire day trip that involved other stops along the way, but I was in it for Punta Tombo, the largest accessible Magellan penguin reserve.  Once out of the van, we had to walk a bit up to their haven.  It was full of little black and white stumps.  Once we got closer it looked like masses of chubby birds participating in some sort of cult ritual.  In reality the penguins were standing guard outside their nests while soaking up rays of sunshine.  We could walk along winding gravel paths that led through the penguins’ nests, and to the edge of a cliff where they played in the water as well.  The penguins mostly stayed to themselves, but walked on, over and around the paths, sometimes stopping to swivel their heads, and blink their sideways eyelids in curiosity at those of us passing by.  I had a nice chat with a few of them (I may not actually be a ‘penguin whisperer’, but who’s counting?) and we saw penguins of all ages, from babies to adults-sleeping, eating, projectile pooping, waddling, pecking (my leg while getting too close to one of the feistier birds), and their amazing transformation from bumbling, clumsy, enchanting Charlie Chaplains, to elegant, graceful torpedo like swimmers. 


Buenos Aires was our final and longest stop.  The first night there we all went to see Julio Boca, Argentina’s beloved and retiring male ballet star’s final concert, in front of the famous Buenos Aires Obelisk, in an event that closed off what the Argentineans proudly claim as the widest street in the world.  On the 23rd I went to the cemetery where Evita Peron and many many other historically important Argentines are buried.  Other than that, there isn’t much positive to relate regarding the end of our travels, suffice to say I was ready for the adventure to end.  And more than ready for a trip back home!


Current Location: My windowsill
Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: Jason Myles Goss
29 December 2007 @ 05:50 pm

How exactly do I sum up at 3 week, 8000+ km trip to the end of the world (literally) with Irene, the Torres, Poppy the Cock, loads of penguins, and other assorted people we picked up along the way?  I can’t think of a word that encompasses all of the good, the bad and the beautiful that was this crazy adventure.  Crazy?   Maybe that’s it.


Day one, December 6th 2007, Rafa, Angel, (otherwise known as the Torres) Irene, and I boarded the first of many buses that would characterize this journey, headed south, to San Carlos de Bariloche.  18 hours later we were greeted by clear blue skies, Lake Nahuel Huapi, snow-capped mountains and lots of wind.  Our first outing was on day 3, to the top of a big ski mountain, Cerro Catedral, where the four of us had a snowball fight and almost got trapped in the gondola on the way back down the mountain.


Day 4 was a rainy and cold adventure through National Park Nahuel Haupi via catamaran.  About hour 1.5 into the boat trip the Torres found another group of Mexican boys on vacation, (Saulo, Huicho, and Carlos) and made friends.  This left Irene and I solo to navigate the slippery terrain of the boat, and hike up to the waterfalls that ended the excursion.  We too were quickly won over by the new Mexican community, however, when they offered us beer and liquor (respectively) on the significantly drier catamaran ride back to shore.


Day 5 everyone got up late (as usual), because I was unable to wake anyone up out of their tequila and coca cola stupor from the night before, gracias a our new friends.  The 7 of us ended up renting two cars, and driving through the 7 lakes region.  We took frequent picture stops throughout the journey, and about half way through it was decided-while Irene and I were in the bathroom- that she and I should be split up, because we allegedly get less angry with the Torres when apart.  While I wasn’t thrilled at this conclusion, I was admittedly much less pissed off at Angel and Rafa from the passenger seat of the car Saulo and Carlos were driving.  The scenery was beautiful; lakes, mountains, lakes, mountains, lakes….


Day 6 the group had dwindled to just the four of us, and we drove to El Bolson, a town about 260km south of Bariloche.  Angel took us much too quickly, on a shitty gravel road about 2/3 of the way up to Mt. Piltrikitron-which, after we finally figured out how to say it, became a new favorite word of Rafa’s, if not the rest of us as well.  The boys essentially ran up the mountain (this will become a reoccurring theme of traveling with the Torres).  Irene and I went slowly, but I still managed to almost fall down the entire mountain.  Luckily a large, well-placed root and my calf broke the fall.  From there we drove on to see the Cabeza del Indio (Indian’s Head), where we ran into a house-friend from Mendoza, Stephan, and later had lunch while enjoying a ‘hidden’ waterfall. 


On a whim we bought (expensive) plane tickets to journey further south to El Calafate on Day 7, at this point we had been joined by Irene’s friend Lenny, who is also studying in Mendoza.


Day 8 was another catamaran adventure, this time through National Park Los Glacieres.  From the boat deck we sailed past Glaciers Perito Moreno, Seco, Spegazzini and Upsala.  Huge blue and white icebergs sprinkled the journey, and the glaciers themselves were amazing majestic towers of bright white ice and snow.  Round trip, I think the 5 us spent all of 10 minutes inside the boat, preferring to brave the freezing temperatures and wind to get closer views of such foreign and breathtaking surroundings.


Day 9 might take the cake for the entire trip, although as soon as I say that, I remember 10 other amazing days and sights from this voyage.  But how many times in life do you get the chance to hike a glacier?  We started out the day with a long bus ride to Glacier Perito Moreno.  We walked around and down the pathways for spectacular views of the glacier, the five of us not so silently hoping we’d see a big chunk fall off.  We did see a few pieces fall, or more accurately heard the thunderous sound of ice breaking off a 60 meter wall of glacier.  From there we were back on the bus, and then onto a small boat, to get closer to the glacier, and eventually to prepare ourselves for ice trekking.  We were fitted with grampones-metal spike attachments laced to the bottom of our shoes, and after a brief instructional on how to stomp up and down the glacier, we were off!  The trek was probably less than two hours long, but we took advantage of every minute.  The day was beautiful; clear skies and surprisingly not particularly cold, when you consider we were tramping through an ice forest.  Much to the Torres’s delight, the adventure was finished off with complimentary glasses of whisky.  Whisky chilled with, of course, glacier ice cubes.

Current Location: Olsacoaga 264, alone
Current Mood: lonelylonely
Current Music: Los Fabulosos Cadillacs