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Destinations, South America

My Vacation from My Vacation

May 27, 2009 • By

It’s worth mentioning that finally –after 3 months—I downloaded my photos.  If you haven’t received some of my Kodak emails and you are desperate to see way too many photos shoot me your email and I’m happy to oblige.

Let me catch you up on my last 25 days of South American fun.  It probably goes without saying that I’ve experienced a few hiccups in the road but for the most part I’ve survived fairly unscathed.  Although I’m holding my breath tonight because I’m either about to have an appendicitis or the Pilates class I took today was a killer.

Now that I have your attention…


My first vacation from my vacation came on May 1 when my classmates Landra, William and I (all from the US) decided it would be a good idea to head to Montevideo.  Several people were going away for the long weekend and we were excited to test out a new city.  Little did we know that May 1 is Labor Day in every country BUT Canada, the US and South Africa (of course why didn’t I think of SA).  To our surprise and to our disappointment, none of the stores were open.  I mean Montevideo = ghost town on May 1.  What to do?  Well after talking to the hotel managers, we learned there were a few restaurants open by the port and off we went.  After some amazing seafood (not easy to find in Buenos Aires) and hmmm two bottles of Don Pascual vino blanco, we didn’t mind so much that the city was deserted.  We did manage to check out some fabulous freedom statues and capture beautiful photos of the blue sea and empty alleyways.  The highlight of the overnighter might have been the shower.  We were all pretty excited about the water pressure at the Sheraton Four Points.  I definitely gave it 2 thumbs and maybe an entire hand up.

In Montevideo, the shit brown river meets the Atlantic Ocean, which explains the desirable seafood and the loads of fisherman along the coastline.  People compare Montevideo to Buenos Aires but I would say Montevideo is a calmer more ethnically diverse version of Buenos Aires.  Uruguay is considered to be the most economically stable of all South American countries but the jobs are hard to come by and taxes are very high.  Again, most single people live with their families until late 20s or 30s.  There seems to be a little less European influence in Uruguay than in Argentina at least in the major cities.  From Montevideo, we traveled to Colonia and since this was my second visit I played tour guide.  It was a gorgeous Fall day and we enjoyed a magnificent sunset before heading back to Argentina.

Chao William

My crazy friend from school William decided he hated Argentina and wanted to move on to Santiago early.  William is a dear but I am pretty sure he is insane. He somehow convinced my entire Spanish class that the world will end in 2012; that the US would divide up into 50 States; that the US single handedly crashed the economy in order to secure one North American currency (Georgie Porgie wasn’t that smart), I adored him.  I found him mildly entertaining.  To celebrate his birthday and his last night in Argentina, Landra and I decided to take him to La Cabrera, a famous steak place in Palermo Viejo.  We had an hour wait ahead of us and meandered down the street to find a bar.  It seemed like only a few minutes before we met the owner of the bar who informed us he hated the United States and that he was a Communist. Of course, he added he didn’t mind us because we traveled outside of the US and didn’t’ seem like idiots.  Thanks! I wonder what he thought after William unloaded on him.  When the nice owner said something about the US robbing the Argentineans, William went on the attack.  Landra and I just sat back and wondered what the hell they were even talking about. It started with the banking crisis and went right into Marxism.  Please…I left the US to avoid this nonsense.  I just wanted my juicy cow.  Back at La Cabrera, we each ordered our own version of mouth watering steak and split it three ways.  Let’s say it must have been a good night since I got acid reflux, Landra puked and William ate all our leftovers and that was before they brought out 3 glasses of Champagne and a free bottle of wine. (Update on William: he is now in Santiago and hates it. Next up?  Lima but I did convince him to get a haircut)

Futbol is VIOLENT

Is it a good or a bad thing when 300 police surround a futbol stadium and the fans are holding signs that say, “Stop the Violence.”  It’s an interesting question right?  Most of the significant futbol games are held on Sunday’s here and attending a game is pricey for locals but considered a must do.  Landra and I attended the San Lorenzo v. La Boca game with our friend Ollie from school.  Along with Anna from Germany, Ollie is a very mature, adorable 19-year-old who hails from London.  We all purchased tickets through school and went on a bus with other tourists to get to the game.  This is not like American or Canadian sports.  Before we exited the bus, the guide gave us some warnings:

“You are in San Lorenzo territory.  When San Lorenzo scores, you cheer.  When La Boca scores even though you love them, you keep quiet and cheer at home.  When San Lorenzo does something bad, you feel bad.  You don’t wear La Boca colors.  You only wear San Lorenzo.”  So I guess I’m definitely not purchasing my La Boca shirt at this stadium.

The fans are either neurotic or passionate.  I’m still trying to figure out what word is more appropriate.  There are fireworks, flags (small and entire section size), signs cursing the other team, waves, singing, shouting, confetti, and lots of something like cash register paper floating on the field.  San Lorenzo won and we all enjoyed a fabulous night of futbol in Argentina.  That is after the police finally let us leave an hour after I am fairly certain every single La Boca’s fan returned safely to his or her home.

Salsa Anybody

I haven’t given up on the tango.  I am simply taking a short reprieve.  My Spanish class ended for two weeks and it was time to say good-bye to darling Anna and youngling Ollie.  We also met a new student Daniel who is from Holland.  Landra, Ollie, Daniel and I headed to dinner in our favorite neighborhood Palermo Viejo.  We tasted home cooking at a local favorite, which consisted of none other than an Argentinean specialty EMPANADAS.  Ollie was meeting a friend of his at a Salsa bar.  We were all trying to figure out if that sounded fun when Daniel blurted, “oh but I don’t have my shoes.”  We giggled a bit thinking it was a joke.  We became extremely suspect when no less than 3 minutes after arriving at the Salsa bar, Daniel grabbed a local chick and had her twisting about like he was a professional.  Later, we learned Daniel’s expertise derived from 5 years of Salsa lessons in Holland and not only does he own Salsa shoes but he also has matching shirts too.  Who knew the Dutch were so into Latino Culture?

I was determined to dance the Salsa and tried to master a step or two until a local asked me to dance.  After explaining in Spanish I only knew two steps, he spent the next hour teaching me four more so now I’m not such a klutz.  I firmly believe you have to start somewhere but after Juan informed me his brother married an American, lives in NYC and now has a green card, I became a bit suspicious.  Chao Juan.  Lo Siento.

To be continued tomorrow…Mendoza and horseback riding up next.  Don’t miss it.

Destinations, South America

The Spartans, Iguazu Falls and a Parasite?

April 10, 2009 • By

Congratulations to MSU!!!!

The Spartans had an amazing season making it all the way to the championship game. I knew my team was in trouble when the announcers were frantically shouting, “falta falta” every two seconds and the game had just started. Watching the game in Spanish proved to be less painful when the final outcome produced a UNC victory. As with all the teams I support, I echo a common theme…there’s always next year. Go Cubbies!!!!

My friend Maria and I explored the historic parts of Buenos Aires and took in a tango show. There are many diverse neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Puerto Madero, a port area filled with upscale restaurants and shops, sits on the river. It’s a bustling area with tourists and locals. The buildings are a deep red brick and many wealthy locals live in the condos above the commercialized zones. My favorite a neighborhood called La Boca is home to the tango. It’s known as an immigrant area and the neighborhood is much poorer than the rest of the city. There are numerous artists lining the streets and many of the homes are colored like crayola crayons in red, yellow and green. Maria and I walked through the shops and checked out the artwork, jewelry and of course the impromptu tango dancers. Somehow I just can’t imagine being successful at the tango.

Later, we tasted our way through an authentic Argentinean meal complete with a tango performance that had us realizing quickly we could dress the part but not actually play the part. The tango dancers stepped, twisted, and turned more or less like pretzels. I’m still trying to figure out how their long, lean legs go in and out of poses without being permanently tangled. I was inspired. Don’t worry Maria has it all on film.

Since Maria is visiting, I decided being a tourist was in tall order so off we went to Uruguay. An hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires, it’s the perfect day-tripper. We arrived in Colonia, Uruguay in the morning and got right to work shopping and sightseeing. Colonia is an adorable historic town covered with cobble-stoned streets, a lighthouse, Catholic Church and cute little restaurants and shops. The town is located on a peninsula where a very brown and muddy river, the widest in the world, surrounds its shores. Over the years, Colonia has been occupied by the Spanish and Portuguese accounting for the interesting mix of architecture. Today, there are approximately 25,000 locals living and working in Colonia. As tourists do, Maria and I walked the historic streets making a very special wish on matrimony road. (Come on cut me some slack the 7 loops I made in Egypt have yet to produce Mr. Right). Before we returned to Argentina, we took in an amazing sunset sipping Uruguayan wine. It was the perfect end to our adventure.

The last few days we spent touring Iguazu Falls–land of rivers, jungle(mosquitoes) and the butterfly. Similar to Victoria Falls in Zambia, the falls are a wonder of the world. The name Iguazu comes from the natives meaning big water. Discovered first in 1541 by the Spanish, the falls are located between Argentina and Brazil but are actually created by two rivers running through three countries Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The intersection occurs about 10 miles upstream.

There are three peaks or sources if you will that make up Iguazu. To find the falls is not easy as they are buried deep in the jungle. I’m sure many an explorer regretted his voyage downstream. With our guide Wilson, Maria and I walked through the jungle, traveled on a “green” train for 10 minutes then trekked on a metal bridge with the river below us for another 30 minutes. The region hasn’t seen much rain lately so the river’s levels are low but I wouldn’t want to see it during the rainy season. The river is mighty powerful.

Eventually, our walking paid off and we began to hear the thunderous roars of the falls. It’s a magnificent show. Here we watched two forks of the river pouring down a gorge. The sun was shinning and made for a beautiful backdrop. The gushing water made me dizzy. The pounding water came down with such force and rhythm, it was hypnotizing. Maria and I fought our way through the crowds for our glamour shots and then moved on to the next part of the falls.

The two other sections of the falls we visited are no less beautiful just a bit more spread out. The Chico Falls consists of seven lines of waterfalls along the U of the mountain. Within a short walk of these falls, there is a cascading waterfall, which sort of trips on various ledges before emptying out at the bottom of a pool. Combining all the falls, Iguazu resembles a Y. The top part of the Y representing the falls and the bottom the downstream river.

To top off our Iguazu experience, we boarded the Grand Adventurer, a combination of a raft and a speed boat. It was a great time blasting us through the currents and deluging us with water. The power of the falls hitting my head briefly was enough to satisfy my thirst for going over them in a barrel. Seeing fat, unshapely men unnecessarily dressed in speedos cured my desire to marry a European(at least anytime soon). Lots of positives came out of this experience. I think Maria would add she is thankful people in the US enjoy deodorant.

We managed to dry out pool side at our hotel where one should never underestimated the power of the sun even in winter. It’s hot here! Our ambitions high, we trekked to the source of the falls for sunset. It’s fun to say two rivers, three countries. Unfortunately, we caught the tail end of sunset. I guess it had something to do with the full moon.

I’m not sure if I’m sick or have a parasite but my tummy is not being kind. I’m beginning to think people in South Africa have stomachs of steal. How can I conquer Africa without any issues and now feel like there is a devil beating to get out of my abdomen? Thank you to Jack who became the nurse of the hour calling my health insurance and finding an Argentinean hospital.