Last weekend, I went on a quick trip up north with my program to Iguazu falls, at the corner of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. We flew for an hour and a half on Friday, and stayed at a really nice hotel in the little town (Puerto iguazu) that’s there to hold the tourists who come to see the falls. Some of you may have seen the movie The Mission, which was filmed at the falls, about the Jesuit Missions that were there during the colonization of South America.
The area reminded me SO MUCH of being in El Salvador. It’s a sub-tropical rain forest, it was pretty humid and buggy, and there are toucans, monkeys and jaguars there. The falls are on a river (I think it’s just called the iguazu river) that separates Brazil from Argentina. At one point, the land just drops down, and there’s a long series of waterfalls all the way across, and about a fourth of them are on the Brazilian side.
On Friday we chillaxed at the pool at our hotel, I took a nap in a hammock and was totally in heaven. That night, I didn’t really feel like doing much—I’ve been sick and I didn’t really have an appetite and just felt blah—but I decided that since I didn’t feel like doing anything, that I might as well do something, so I went out dancing with the group. We went to a bar called Cuba Libre, and it was SO FUN. As you can imagine, I’m a terrible dancer, but once we got going it was just really fun.
Saturday morning, we got up early and had breakfast at the hotel and went off to the National Park with our tour guide, Paz. She was a really cute girl that smiled a lot and cracked little jokes all the time. Her name is Maria de la Paz, but she goes by Paz for short, which means peace. We walked (SO FAR) to La Garganta del Diablo (devil’s throat) canyon. After walking down a road forever, you turn off into the trees and walk on a raised walkway over the river for I would guess 2 km or more. The river sort of floods through a treesy area, so the walkway is a series of bridges between the various clumps of trees. The Garganta is a short canyon that you look down into from above (eeeeek!) and you can’t see very far into it because it is completely filled with mist. And Brazil is on the other side!
(PS, no, I didn’t go to Brazil, because you need a visa, etc. and its really difficult for North Americans. But apparently because the land is higher up over there, you can get a really good view of all the falls together. But when we were in a boat at one point, we got LITERALLY within 15 feet of brazil, we were so close!!).
We went back a ways toward where we started our trek, and went on the Circuito Superior (upper circuit) which goes along the San Martin falls. O, I should explain that looking at the falls from Argentina, there’s a loooong stretch of them, one after another the curves around to the left. And then there’s San Martin Island, where I hear there are ruins of the missions, and then past that is the Devil’s Throat. So on this new trail, we went on walkways along the top of a bunch of the san martin falls.
Then we went on the lower trail, which just gives you a different (and spectacular) view of the falls. Then we went on the Gran Aventura, a boat ride UNDER the waterfalls. I know. I was so scared! They took us in this dinky little boat under the san martin falls, over to the devil’s side, and back. And then we went down the river a ways, and got out and got into a safari-like truck for the last part, which took us back to the entrance to the park. The only problem was that right as we got into the truck, a thunderstorm hit, and we were completely uncovered, and already soaking wet from the boat ride because we’d been dunked so many times. But you know, it just added to the rainforest awesomeness, so it was good.
Sunday morning was also really good. We got up SUPER early again, and went on an excursion to go canopying (ziplining through the trees!) and rappelling. As usual, I was scared, and I’ve gotten really good at arguing with guides about how I am afraid of heights and they need to be nicer to me or I won’t do it. They usually get a kick out of that. So we walked up the rickety-est set of stairs I have EVER seen in my life. And then went on 3 ziplines, totalling a HALF MILE. I know, intense. So then we rappelled down a waterfall, and that was sweet, although surprisingly less hardcore than what we did in bariloche, because the guide was in control the whole time, which was really for the best because I wouldn’t have trusted myself with the ropes in all the water.
It was a fantastic weekend, and if you want to see pictures of intense waterfalls in a lush green jungle, I suggest following this link (even though you already have it bookmarked): flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros
Amor y besos a todos.
O, and I’m going to Tierra del Fuego tomorrow, so you’ll be hearing from me sooooon about that!
Time for another update on my travels around South America :) I think I mentioned to most of you last week that I have plans to see a lot of different places while I’m here, and that means trips about every other week or so until the end of October (eek!). Last Wednesday, I got home from Chile, where I went with 4 friends: Alicia, Allison, Jessi and Meghan.
The issue with going to either Chile or Brazil is that they have reciprocal visa policies, and because it is difficult for their citizens to get into the US, they make it difficult for us to get into their countries. So for a North American to get into Chile, you have to fly there and pay US$100. OR, to get by that fee, you can sit on an uncomfortable bus for 21 hours and they’ll just let you in no problem when you get there. So we went by bus, of course, but there is limited service to Santiago from Buenos Aires, so the bus is what they call “semi cama” or half-bed. This means that the seats are really narrow and only lean back about 8 inches, and I didn’t realize this until we got on the bus, but they also don’t give you a blanket.
None of that really matters though, of course, because we were going to chile! I can handle just about anything for 20 hours if it means I get to see a new country. AND the sweet thing was that we got the front row of seats, so there was nothing but window in front of us. There was a fantastic lightning storm that night, with the added thrill of the driver driving down the middle of the highway, full speed ahead in the pouring rain and oncoming traffic. It was super cold at night, and I didn’t sleep very well, but right after sunrise we headed into the Andes. It was so beautiful, and then we realized why the trip takes so long when it is only 13 hours across Argentina. The other 7 or 8 hours is for driving 5km an hour up the mountains and down the other side. We made it across the border without having to pay anything, although we were a bit miffed that our Chilean stamps didn’t show up very well on our passports. Then we went down the curviest rode ever, where we thought we would tip over the side of it on the way down the mountain, but again, we had front row seats for the excitement.
But then we got to Chile and the real fun started. 5 people were a lot to travel with, but we were really flexible and didn’t mind splitting up to venture out on our own. I had told my friend Kristi that I would look into finding a co-op to buy hand made crafts for World Markets (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a non profit in Seattle that sells things made by artists around the world) so I found the co-op and picked out a bunch of stuff to buy online later (thank goodness I didn’t have to shlep it all back to Buenos Aires!). The best part was just being in a brand new city all by myself, finding my way around.
Our hostel was in a really artsy neighborhood called Bellavista, and we heard (after booking it) that it wasn’t a great area as far as safety, but really, it was fine. All the buildings are painted different bright colors, with lots of cute restaurants around. Our hostel was really homey, with big beds and down comforters (way nicer than my bed in Buenos aires!) and some nice people who worked there, and some awkward ones, but they just added to the ambience.
The next day we went to Valparaiso, where we frolicked around for a day and a half. The highlight there was definitely seeing Pablo Neruda’s house, a famous poet who was exiled for writing things against the corrupt government. His house is designed to look like a ship, and there are beautiful views of the city and the water below from every floor. The house is still full of his furniture (he died in 1972ish) and we wondered how much money we would have to pay to buy it from the Pablo Neruda Foundation. We figured about a trillion dollars. Although, he had 2 other houses in the area, so really, what’s one less? I claimed the master bedroom.
The funniest moment in Chile: the 5 of us were walking down the street on the way to Pablo’s house, and a man walked by us, and stopped the conversation he was having on the phone to say, “O my God! Welcome to Chile beautiful ladies!” and then went back to his conversation, probably telling his friend ALL about us :)
Valparaiso is built on the side of a hill, and all the buildings and houses go up, away from the beach. Pablo’s house is up toward the top, so we started walking down the hill to where we started, and it was cold and windy, so we stopped in at a little restaurant for a cup of coffee. We ended up staying there for a long time, admiring the view, and then decided to stay for a leisurely dinner and dessert. So all of that added up to about 5 ½ hours, but it was soooo fun, and all 5 of us were there, and we had great conversations and laughed a lot. It was really the perfect way to spend an evening.
The best part of being in Chile was just looking around and seeing the sights. Valparaiso is all the way across the country from Santiago, which is about an hour and a half. All the way there were rolling green hills and little towns and houses, a few cows, some forest, cacti, and then BAM! The ocean. All in a matter of minutes. It felt very South America, and very calm. That was the great thing about Santiago, it’s so much calmer than Buenos Aires, and feels a lot smaller (the buildings are generally a lot smaller, whereas in BA it feels like they’re all skyscrapers). But it also feels so much safer than Montevideo. It’s the best :)
The charming thing about transportation there is that they have colectivos, which in Argentina means city bus, but in Chile means an inexpensive taxi that has certain streets it goes to. They wait in a certain area, and when they have enough people to fill one (or more than fill one with the 5 of us) then off they go! It reminded me of how I’ve heard that in Mexico they have micros, which are like VW buses that they cram with people and drive like crazy all over the city. This isn’t that intense, but it’s definitely a thrill.
We walked all over the beach on Sunday, and then Monday we were back in Santiago for more sightseeing. Jessi and Allison had to leave for BA on Monday afternoon to get back for a midterm, but Alicia and Meghan and I didn’t leave until Tuesday morning. We met a ton of international friends at our Santiago hostel the second time we were there, and Meghan and I had dinner with 2 british guys, a brazilian and a dutch guy on Monday night. It was really fun, and I even learned all about the british flag (apparently its made up of the English, Scottish, welsh and northern irish flags put together, but I haven’t checked that yet…).
Also on Monday I went to the 2 highest points in Santiago, Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. The city was a bit smoggy, but it’s still pretty, because it looks like the mountains end RIGHT where the city starts, which, they very well could. I wanted to walk to the mountains from our neighborhood, but Meghan thought that would be ridiculous. I thought of you, Ashley Pottenger, when I wanted to walk across the city of Santiago, because I know you’d do it with me! You are my inspiration :)
I am sending you photos too, of the coast, my friends, the curvy road and the Andes. And, as always, to see more pictures you can find them at: www.flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros
And, I am going to Iguazu falls this weekend with my program, and I’m expecting it to be GORGEOUS (there are over 250 waterfalls where 2 rivers come together at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Romantic? O, I think it will be. Check for more pics next week!
PS, as I am writing this, I am watching the Sound of Music with my roommate Kim, and here is a direct quote: “I would give my life to be in this movie singing” Beautiful.
Hello friends! It’s time for another update on Argentina. First, just in case you don’t get past this first part here are the most important things you need:
NEW photo website: http://flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros/
Address: Cespedes 2539 Piso 7 Depto D
(1426) Capital Federal
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Send me letters and postcards! But no packages, it’s a long process to pick them up at the post office :(
OK, now for the update! As you probably know by now, I am here with AIFS, a group of 15 students from the US. This past weekend, we all went to Uruguay together. We had been to Uruguay before, to a small town called Colonia, which is just about the cutest thing ever, and this time we were in Punta del Este and Montevideo.
I was talking to my dad the night before we left, and he said he thought Uruguay should be hotter than Buenos Aires, and that got me thinking about how it is a bit closer to the equator, but not so much that it would make a huge difference in temperature, you know? And then, it hit me: it’s JUST like going to Oregon from Seattle. It is indeed closer to the equator (just like Oregon in relation to Washington…) and we flew there in about 40 minutes which is just like flying from Portland to Seattle. And then I started seeing all these similarities that are really there between the northwest and the Argentina/Uruguay situation. The people here and in Uruguay speak with the same accent, and have a lot of the same traditions and customs, the weather is similar…Montevideo is a smaller, less popular version of Buenos Aires…You do see the connection, don’t you? The similarity is striking. Something for all of us to consider.
But getting to what we did there…we flew over there last Friday, and it was cool because this is a group of people I wouldn’t normally travel with, but they were really fun nonetheless. (We’re going to Iguazu falls in 3 weeks together and that should be really fun too!) When we arrived in Montevideo we took a bus an hour and a half to Punta del Este, which is the town on the very corner of Uruguay where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic ocean. We walked around town for a bit and then chillaxed until going to dinner. Dinner that night totally rocked. We went to this little restaurant down by the water and I sat with a group of girls on a couch in the corner and we sat around chitchatting and eating for a few hours. We were with Valentina, a coordinator for our program who is our age, and it was the first chance I’d had to have a really good talk with her, and it totally rocked. Especially because it was in Spanish.
I feel like I’ve sort of hit a wall with Spanish. I’ve been here over 2 months now, and I have about 2 ½ left, but I feel like I’m not getting enough practice. My roommate Kim and I decided last week that we’re only going to speak Spanish together, which lasted about 3 days. I will make her start again tonight for sure. It’s been hard to meet argentines, and the first people I knew here were students from the states, so generally that’s who I hang out with, you know? I’m working on it though, I promise! I just feel like its so much easier to meet people when I’m traveling. More updates to come on that :)
Moving right along, I have been accomplishing a lot of firsts here while studying abroad (rappelling, feeding pigeons, snowshoeing, whalewatching…) and now…gambling! We went to a casino after dinner on Friday night, and I lost $10 on electronic blackjack. I totally didn’t even see it coming; I had been doing so well. Next time, I’ll win it all back I’m sure.
One of the best parts of the trip was the people we met by the harbor in Punta del Este. Meghan and I were just walking along on sat. afternoon and met Mariana, an artist. She paints scenes of Punta del Este and puts really good quotes on them by Spanish/latin American authors. They’re hard to describe, but really well done, so I bought a bunch of them for World Markets. (World Markets is a non-profit run by my friend through UPC, my church at home, and they support artists by selling their art in the states).
After chatting with Mariana for awhile, we moved on down the water a ways to where the fishermen were cleaning their fish, and there were sea lions hanging out there waiting for the fish scraps. There was a guy that just seemed really at home there, and he started telling us all about the sea lions, and we thought he was a fisherman, but it turns out that he was just there visiting with his wife from Montevideo. We ended up talking to them for about an hour without even noticing! The sea lions were really fun, and so was the couple we met. The woman was carrying around a half-empty bottle of wine, which should give you an idea of just how fun she was :)
I had some of the best meat of my LIFE in Montevideo on Saturday night. It’s called matambrito de cerdo, and it’s the upper-side area of the pig. The seasonings, saltiness and tenderness of that dinner was so heavenly. When I got in bed that night I told Meghan I was still thinking about my food and how it had changed my life. I’ve never enjoyed a piece of pork so much.
Sunday we went to a huge flea market that had everything from gold fish to puppies to underwear, to jewelry and produce. We wandered around there for awhile and then held the most unhealthy puppies I’ve ever seen in my life (wow, sounds like a lot of extremes—best pork, worst puppies—but I guess Uruguay is just an extreme place, who knew?!). I was holding a little baby yellow lab, and I told the vendor that she was thirsty, and his response was “O, ok, I’ll give her a coke, hahahahaha.” Pretty much not ok. Whenever I set one down in their box, they didn’t move around at all, they just laid there exactly how I left them. That would not go over very well in the US, but I could not write an email long enough about all the differences I’ve experienced.
The rest of the time there we hung out at the beach, which in Montevideo is actually at the river, not the ocean, but still good. The beach was super crowded and a ton of people were playing soccer and drinking mate (maté). There’s a wall along the road separating it from the beach, and it was completely covered with people sitting along it, and other people brought chairs to just chillax on the sidewalk by the wall. It was 30 degress C, or 80 F which was nice, but pretty humid as well. Also, there was a big dead fish problem. In both Punta del Este and Montevideo, the Atlantic and the Rio, there were dead fish EVERYWHERE. So we didn’t so much go in the water, except to say we’d been in the Atlantic in Uruguay.
I hope you’re all doing well, and enjoying the last little bit of official summer time up there. I realize that I mostly tell you all about my travels, so I’m going to come up with some fun stuff from my everyday life in Buenos Aires, since that’s where I spend most of my time. I’m going to Chile with 4 friends next week, leaving on Thursday, so you’ll be getting more updates about that when I get back! I also just have to tell you that right now it is raining harder than I ever remember seeing it rain. I’m in the library at school, and if there wasn’t an underground tunnel to my class, I really don’t know if I would go.
Anywho, as always, I love hearing from you, and I’m thinking about you all! I could use some prayer for continuing to build solid friendships and more people to have one on one conversations with in Spanish—its SO important!
On Sunday of this week, my program, AIFS, took us to an Estancia (ranch) about an hour outside the city. Unfortunately it was raining, and I knew that even before I got out of bed, because Meghan called asking if she still had to go because she wanted to stay inside where it was warm and dry (she did end up going, but because her host mom told her to, not because of me). Kim (my roomie) and I walked over to where we were meeting the bus and my feet got wet in the rain and puddles, and stayed wet all day :(
BUT, when we got there we had really delicious empanadas (which I know how to make now, and I’m going to make them for all of you at Christmas!). We went to the barn, and watched a guy milk a cow, and then a few people tried it too. Then we all got on some really angry horses and I was one of the first, so there was time to sit around being worried that I was going to get thrown off if and when my horse got in a fight with another one. Luckily that didn’t happen! Then we went for a short ride around a couple fields, and my horse kept putting his ears back and trying to run around the other horses, and my saddle was slipping sideways, which was a bit unpleasant. Then as we were getting back to the barn, my horse (and Kristina and Nick’s horses) kept stopping to eat grass and I couldn’t make it start walking again for more than 5 seconds at a time. So one of the guys who works there kept hitting my horse to make it go, and then it would start running! Soooo not ok! And then he just stopped and ate again.
Then we had a carriage ride around the ranch, and sat by a fire for a minute before going into the dining area to eat lots and LOTS of meat. Asado (barbecue) is really traditional in Argentina, so that’s what we had, and they brought us several courses of it: sausage (and blood sausage, which is…interesting…), chicken, and at least 2 kinds of beef. While we were eating there were dancers and singers performing typical songs and dances from various parts of Argentina. Then one guy played songs on his guitar from the countries of people who were visiting—Russia, Colombia, Peru and the US. And Ben, from my group got up and sang When the Saints go Marching On for the US portion of it. An AMAZING lunch! Also, the ice cream was delish.
The next part of our day was to go out and see the gauchos in action. Gauchos are traditional Argentine cowboys, so we sat and watched them race their horses and herd horses and there was even a horse whose best friend is a dog. What could be cuter? Also, there’s this tradition where women hang their rings on a bar above the rider’s head so he has to ride by and stand up on his horse and grab it and then offer it to her. Then they get married *sigh*…¡que romántico! And then we had mate (gaucho tea) and ate cookies and talked to our program coordinators. Liza and Valentina came with us, and they sat and patiently explained the difference between llevar and traer, which is to take and to bring, respectively, and depends on the geographical location of the speaker.
It was a fun day, even though my horse made me a bit nervous! It was really nice to come home after a day in the rain to take a hot shower and watch the last 3 episodes of season 3 of Desperate Housewives :)
On Friday night I went to the ballet for the first time! Six girls went together because people 25 and younger can get tickets for 90% off an hour before the show. We saw Cinderella for 4 pesos, and we were on the lowest balcony, so that’s a pretty good deal. It’s only 1 peso for the 3rd balcony ($.30) or 6 pesos ($2) for the ground level seats, someday I may splurge and go for that, but I was very satisfied with my experience. It wasn’t exactly the Disney version of the story, but I liked it better because Prince Charming goes all around the world looking for her, and in the movie, he just sends his chauffer to find the girl. A very good experience, and now I feel uber cultured.
Saturday during the day a few of us went to see the Bodies exhibit. You may be familiar with it already, it’s traveling around the US and all over the world, and I’ve just never been in the same city at the same time until now. I don’t know who put the exhibit together, but the premise of it is that since the first humans studied anatomy, it has been true that “To see is to know” (or here, “Ver es saber”). People have chosen to donate their bodies to science after they die and some are displayed as full bodies emphasizing one element. For example, when you first walk in, there’s a plain skeleton and then a whole section on bones with a bunch of examples on display, and they’ll take apart skulls to better show the structure and parts. All of the descriptions were in Spanish, but I could understand it all and learned a lot of interesting tidbits and saw the 3 smallest bones in the body. Everyone always hears about them, but you never get to see them, you know?
So there was the bones room, tendons/joints, nervous system and brain, muscles, reproductive, cancers, and more. None of it was all that terribly gross, but the way the bodies are preserved makes them look a lot like plastic, and they put glass eyes in the faces. Oh, and in the muscle room (there’s always a full body before the individual parts that go with it) the body had all the muscles pulled out away from the bones and fanned out. That was freaky.
It’s REALLY interesting, and if you want to hear some gross descriptions, I can tell you more. But seriously though, if you get the chance, you should most def. go.
Last week I started my volunteering project, which is called Vecinitos, or Little Neighbors, a little hole in the wall place out in Soldati that serves free lunch to 100+ kids and a few adults 5 days a week. My roommate Kim, and our friend Bridgitte (from Chapman!) went together. It was their second time, but my first.
Soldati is the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where this place is located. It is a much poorer area than tourists ever go to, and is a big change from my middle class neighborhood where I live with my host family, but it isn’t the poorest area of BA. It isn’t really safe to take pictures there, because I don’t want to get mugged, but maybe some day I will take pictures inside the dining room. Maybe the org. that sent me there has some on file I can show you…Anyway, if you are familiar at all with Tijuana, Mexico, it’s like that, but the houses are more solid. There are places in BA where you can find houses made of cardboard, but that’s not where this is. In Soldati, they have dirt roads and a LOT of garbage out on the streets, and behind houses, etc.
It is safe for us to go there during the day, but that’s especially because there are three of us together. Kim and Bridgitte found a woman there the first week while they were looking for Vecinitos, and we stopped by her place again, and she walked us to where we were going. We thought she just wanted to so we could visit, but then when Matilda, one of the women who volunteers there every day, walked us to our metro stop afterward, we realized they think we need protection in that neighborhood, which we definitely appreciate. While we were waiting for the metro, Matilda was telling us a bit about herself and asking us a few questions, but she really wasn’t talking a LOT, and then she told us that we shouldn’t really talk too much in that area because people would know that we aren’t from there. It’s VERY interesting.
Vecinitos itself is a government funded free lunch program. It is in a fairly small building that may or may not have some living space above it. The ground floor is a big dining room with prob. 5 tables in it that seat from 8-15 people each. There is a kitchen past that, and 6 or 7 women that are there every day to cook food and wash dishes, but only 2 or 3 of them are paid, the rest are volunteers, and all of them live in that neighborhood. The government only provides a small amount of money, but they do provide all the food. This location has been operating for 16 years, and Matilda has been there the whole time. She told us it was better before, but since the economic crisis in 2001, there’s still enough food, but as much variety, etc. It’s incredible that they have these lunch places set up the way they do, and evidently they are pretty common in those parts of town, but they are lacking, you know, it could always be better, but it is a good system. I think the main thing is that the women there should be employed, but there isn’t always money for that.
So they pretty much have their routine down, but what they need us for is to serve the food to the kids. They dish it up on plates from small to large and then serve the littlest kids first. We just run food out from the kitchen and make sure everyone is fed and that they have enough water and bread out at the tables. The kids are SO cute, but there isn’t really any opportunity to talk to them, so that’s a bummer. The volunteers there are really cool though, and have really interesting backgrounds, so I will be interested to get to know them better in the next few weeks. We have time to chat with them when we clean up afterward, so I’ll have to take advantage of that.
Marcelo is Matilda’s son, and he was really helpful in telling us what we need to do, and I don’t think he speaks any English, but he’s really patient and explains things really well and speaks clearly. He even taught Kim a bunch of new words that she’s going to have to teach me. It’s a great opportunity to get out into the city and do something for someone else, even though it’s just a small contribution. We’ll see what happens with that! God does amazing things with seemingly small opportunities, so I’m just going to keep my eyes open and serve the best that I can.
This blog is a little overdue, and a little out of order, but on the day before I left for Bariloche, I went to Uruguay! I new it would be a cool trip even before I went because it’s a whole new country I’d never been to before, and I was looking forward to coloring it blue on my Facebook “where I’ve been” map.
Honestly, I’d never really wanted to go to Uruguay before. It is a small, funny looking country with a really bizarre name, and no one has ever heard anything about it other than it’s there on the map. Still, I was stoked when I saw that my study abroad program includes 2 trips to Uruguay (we’re going back in September for 4 days to Montevideo and Punto del Este).
I am so in LOVE with Uruguay! BA is a cool city, but it’s huge and noisy and reeeaaallly dirty. Like, shockingly dirty. So it was really refreshing to get away from the city for awhile and just sit around in a quiet town for a bit. We went over there via the Buquebus, a huge ferry that takes 3 hours to cross the widest river in the world, Rio de la Plata. The Rio is quite brown, but impressively wide, and as we looked back over the city, there was a brown smear of smog in the sky. Delish.
When we arrived in Uruguay, we walked a short distance into historic Colonia, a small part of a bigger city. We looked around for a few minutes on our way to a restaurant, where all 18 of us sat in an inner courtyard and ate lomo (steak) sandwiches and chillaxed for a few hours. Then our program director, Augustín, who turned out to be quite the history buff, took us on a walking tour for about an hour. It was really interesting, because Colonia’s spot on the Rio was strategic for both Spain and Portugal back in the day, so it changed hands 7 times before finally being occupied and ruled by Spain until it’s independence. Augustín taught us things like how you can tell which buildings are Spanish (white with windows that are curved on top) and which are Portugese (stone with square windows).
That was also the first time most of us had really gotten to see Augustín’s personality and gotten to know him, and he is one funny guy. Meghan and I were trying to ask him about the mail system in Argentina, wondering if what we’d sent out and what our parents had sent us would ever get to where it’s going (he said yes, but its more likely no) and he kept saying “bien, bien, bien. Bien, bien…bien bien…” over and over again! (It means good/well/affirmative) But after awhile, we were like, “is he even listening to us??” It was actually pretty funny. As we walked past the cathedral in town, Augustín stopped us and said (very dramatically) “this is a very old church, but in 2000, something very important happened here…” and we were like “oooooo! What could it be?!?” And he said, “my wife and I were married here.” Awwww…so cute!!
Which actually reminds me, I haven’t told you yet about my newest list. I have a lot of lists, like places to go, things to do in my 20s, e-mails to send today, etc. The newest one is my TOP 10 PLACES TO GET MARRIED. I thought of it, because, as Augustín and his wife realized, Colonia would be a superb place to get married. So far, we have:
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
2. Bariloche, Argentina
3. Colonia, Uruguay
4. Mt. Rainier, WA
5. Victoria, Canada?
Now, I’ve been thinking about making an ‘international edition’ of the list and a US edition because really, who’s going to go to Uruguay for my wedding? (PS, if you actually would, feel free to send me an e-mail or comment on this blog, so I can get a feel for how reasonable it would be for me to have my wedding on another continent.)
After our tour we had about an hour and a half of free time before we had to meet up to get back on the Buquebus to go home. We tried to rent mopeds and the place didn’t have any to give us, so Meghan and I went and rented bikes and rode all over town, taking pictures and basically just enjoying life in Uruguay. It was a fabulous day while it lasted, and then I was incredibly tired and cranky when I got home and had to pack for Bariloche, but a great day nonetheless. Totally loved it, it’s a very cute town and if you ever find yourself in BA, it’s a must-see.
Hey, maybe when I get home I’ll take my blog and publish it as a travel guide :D
This is the story of my 8-day adventure in Patagonia. It was AMAZING—last Sunday I left with my 2 friends Meghan (from Buffalo NY) and Rebecca (Washington DC) on a bus that, in a mere 18 hours, took us to Bariloche, a small place I like to call paradise on the Chilean border. Bariloche is the biggest city in the Lake District, and it is on the southern side of Lake Nahual Huapi, the biggest of the lakes. I can’t put into words how beautiful it is there, and the 350 pictures I took over 4 days just don’t do it justice. There are 7 branches to the lake it is surrounded on all sides by the Andes Mountains. And there’s really no better place for an adventure than the Andes, right?
DAY 1. We arrived at 8 in the morning and took a nap at our hostel before going out to explore. In the main square there are photographers willing to charge people an arm and a leg to take their picture with a St Bernard puppy. Random. We went to the place where our travel agent had booked us an excursion and talked to Ulysses. He was like, “right, so we have you down for hiking and rappelling” and I thought to myself, “well, my travel agent is FIRED because we’re supposed to do something tame that doesn’t scare the living daylights out of me, like snowshoeing.” But for some reason I didn’t say that out loud…instead I just gave him more money to go snowshoeing a different day. Then we had a photoshoot at the lake :)
DAY 2. One of the many sweet things about our hostel (and I suppose a lot of hostels) is that we could cook our own food. So we did that on Monday and Tuesday nights, and took lunch with us to go sledding on Tuesday (day 2) and all of that at the grocery store cost 15 pesos, or 5 dollars each. So the trip was pretty affordable already, but even more so because we could do that. Also, Bariloche is famous for it’s chocolate, so on Monday and Tuesday we tried the guide book’s first and second choices (Mamushka and Benroth) and each chose a few kinds of chocolate to try, such as white chocolate with dulce de leche, mint and wiskey (my personal favorites) and had a chocolate tasting after dinner. I also made it a habit to drink delicious hot chocolate at a café after a long day in the snow. Sledding was fun, beautiful views from the top of Cerro Otto (Cerro pretty much means ‘Mount’ but not really. Monte means mount, but Cerro is just a really common term in the Argentine Andes).
DAY 3. I woke up and the idea of rappelling hadn’t really sunk in yet. (If you don’t know what rappelling is check out wikipedia: Its basically just walking backwards down a rock face and you have to be in control of whether you’ll fall or not). If you didn’t already know, I am absolutely terrified of heights. This was actually a really big day for me. I started out thinking about how I was mad at my travel agent (Andrea) for booking this excursion WITH OUT ASKING us if that was ok (we DEFINITELY told her snowshoeing). I don’t really know how to put this into perspective for you…but I was the only kid at outdoor school in 6th grade that didn’t make it to the top of the climbing wall at Camp Orkila. I only made it a 1/3 of the way up (what is that? Like 10 or 15 feet? Maybe 20?). So we hiked along in one of the most beautiful places ever, within sight of Chile, and met up with our guides, Marco and Marcelo.
We went up, up and up away from the lake, and that’s totally fine, because I’ve been working on my fear of heights lately. I climbed Mt St Helens at the end of May, and was totally fine the whole time, and then did a scramble (climbing up loose rock) at the top of Mt Si in mid-June, so I’m a LOT better than I was before. And they showed us this rock, and from the bottom, it didn’t look straight up and down, there were like…stairs? Stairs for a…giant? I don’t know, it was straight down, then out a little, then straight down some more. Even thinking about it makes my hands tingle. I went up to the top, and Becca went first, and I was definitely considering not following through, but I couldn’t pass up on this good of a story. I thought there would be some time between people but once Rebecca was out of sight on her way down, Mariano was like, ok, get over here! First of all, it did NOT help me that she got 2 ropes and I only got one, how is that fair? I was 50x more scared than she was. So anywho, I thought to myself, “I’ll just go to the edge and see how it feels” but all of a sudden I was roped up and there was this short rope I was clipped to for security, and he just unclips it! (Apparently once you’re clipped to the actual rope you don’t get to keep the other one). And Mariano and I were having this conversation in mixed Spanish and English about how I thought he was crazy and he was like, “just go. And remember: NEVER let go with your right hand! Ok bye!”). O, and he also yelled down that I should look around on the way down (I was hundreds of feet above the lake—no thank you!).
So I actually feel like I was tricked into rappelling. First of all because of Andrea, who planned it, and then because Mariano was showing me how to step back and how I should lean back, etc. and he took a couple steps with me, and at that point I was definitely still thinking about it, and he started going back up, and I stopped to think about how scared I was, and he was like, ok, keep going!
It was 40 meters, and it was AWESOME. It really was. As much as I like to be overly dramatic about things, I can’t wait to go rappelling again. There are certain things in your life that once you do them you know you can do anything. I knew I could rappel down that thing because of so many things I’ve done before. I’ve been living in Argentina for 5 weeks now, what can’t I do?
DAY 4. The feeling carried over to the next day when we went snow shoeing (with Marco and Mariano from the day before—yay!). I miss you guys (some days I miss Seattle and Orange a lot) but I really need to be here right now, and I’m so well taken care of—I have made friends here and found a church. I know God is always with me, but we all know that’s a little harder to grasp sometimes. I love that I’m out here trying all these new things on my own, because they’re my own experiences just for me. I think I’m going to do some indoor climbing before I come home…we’ll see :)
Snowshoeing was beautiful, and we stopped along the way so Marco could give us little lessons about the plants and animals of the area. Interestingly, there are a lot of Cypress trees there (which honestly means nothing to me) but the cool thing is that the underbrush is primarily bamboo cane—how exotic! And the other cool part is that 90% of our conversions were in Spanish. At one point as we hiked along, Marco turned around, and was like, “wait, how long have you been in Buenos Aires?” and I said a month, and he was like, “that’s not possible! Your Spanish is too good!”
As a side note, I’ve gotten really into Spanish lately. It’s been getting easier and easier and we met some cool people this week that we could practice with. I start my regular classes tomorrow, and I’m taking what is supposedly a really intense advanced Spanish class, and I’m excited to learn more. My other 2 classes are in Spanish too!
After snowshoeing on Thursday we got on a bus to go from Bariloche to Puerto Madryn (in Atlantic Patagonia) to see the whales (and I was hoping Penguins too, but I’ll just tell you right now, that it didn’t happen). These buses are SO comfortable, and surprisingly, although I can’t sleep on planes or generally in cars, 2 out of the 3 nights I was on buses, I slept pretty well. I might even venture to say really well. However, this night on the way to PM was the night I didn’t sleep well. That was fine, but it’s worth mentioning that there are attendants on these buses that serve meals and show movies (always random movies no one has ever heard of: Next is the weirdest one I can think of right now). The attendants on the first and last buses were very helpful and nice, and this one, on the way to PM gets the points for being beautiful, but was REAL creepy. His name was Santiago, and he slept on the seat in front of Becca after inviting her to join him there (whoa). He really was beautiful, but after talking to him for a few minutes we didn’t want anything to do with him, which is too bad because there were only 8 people on the bus for the first 4 hours so he lingered for a significant amount of time.
DAY 5. We arrived at our hostel at 7am and while we waited for our room, we played with Jaime, a 2 month old puppy whose owner works at the hostel (adorable). Then after a nap that really wasn’t long enough, the 3 of us were very cranky and went out to find lunch. We felt a lot better after that, but had been spending a lot of time together, so needed a break. Also, I was sick all week, and Becca was about 2 days behind me on the sickness cycle, so it hit her the hardest in PM. Becca went back to the hostel to rest, and Meghan and I rented bikes to explore. We went to a little museum a few miles down the beach that had a lot of history about the first Welsh colonists who settled in caves along the beach in PM in the 1860s. So we left our bikes there and walked down to the beach to see the remains of the caves, and then walked along the water for a really long time.
As we walked back to our bikes on the road, there were whales out in the water!!! So cool. And we’d also been worried that we’d gone at the wrong time of year to see whales, so that gave us hope for the next day. And Meghan and I had so much fun together, we’re really compatible travel buddies.
DAY 6. On Saturday we had breakfast at the hostel with Kirk from California and Todd from Australia and then the 5 of us went whale watching with a bunch of other people. I sat next to this really fun Argentine woman named Marí who is very mom-like. She talked and talked with us for a long time and added on to what our tour guide was saying. We drove out onto the Valdes Peninsula which took like 1 ½ hours, just to get to Puerto Piramides where we put on ginormous blue ponchos (kirk got a bright orange one, that lucky dog) and extremely flattering life jackets and got in a boat that was probably smaller than a whale.
It isn’t even peak season yet, and once we got out into the water, there were whales EVERYWHERE! It was really cool, because I’d never been whale watching before. I’m pretty sure there are some kind of protection laws in the States where you can’t within a certain distance of whales, but luckily, that isn’t true here, so we got within about 15 or 20 feet. Totally awesome, although most of my pictures are of a single fin sticking out of the water. There would be 2 or 3 swimming alongside the boat, or one by itself floating on its back, bobbing up and down with its fins sticking up in the air. And they were ENORMOUS. (they’re called southern right whales, I’ve never heard of them before…)
We also learned all about the difference between Sea Elephants and Sea Lions, and saw them from a distance, but that wasn’t nearly as exciting, as it was right before lunch.
Later that night we went to dinner with Todd and Kirk and also Lisa and Diego who had arrived from BA that day. Lisa is one of those people you feel like you can connect with in about 10 seconds. For those of you who know Christy Lang, she is VERY similar to her, and for those of you who don’t know Christy Lang, then you’re missing out, and I can give you a more detailed description sometime. OK, I want to wrap this up soon, but Lisa is a middle school teacher from Calgary, Canada who does really fantastic stuff every summer, like spending 2 months in Argentina to improve her Spanish while living with distant relatives. We only spent 4 hours together, but it was really refreshing, like a little bit of home to keep me going. After dinner we all went to get ice cream and then walked out onto the pier and froze our faces off and then hit the sack.
DAY 7/8. Sunday we went back to the bus station with Todd, who was heading south to see the glaciers, and the 3 of us got on the bus with the loudest snoring man ever to walk the Earth. I was sad I couldn’t take Todd home with me, but, such is life. And that’s about it…we got to BA just in time to take the subte (subway) home during rush hour, and I’ve been sleeping and eating pizza ever since :)
It was really hard to leave Bariloche, so I’ve decided to become really outdoorsy and move back there to be a guide (if anyone wants to join me, you’re more than welcome to!)
I’m attaching some photos for you:
First, beauteous Lake Nahuel Huapi. Second, Sunset from Bariloche. Third, Becca and Meghan dressed for whale watching!
Shmergie blogged about 8 random things about himself, and then came up with 8 random things about me. They are more or less true, but none are as true as number 8. Enjoy!
- Nicknamed “Pants”
- Single handedly brought the work “uber” back
- Is a Defending World Champion Spanish Flamenco Dancer, sorta
- Once climbed 1.8 mountains in 3 days
- Has an elephant named Babar (and a cow named Brie…both stuffed)
- Been to Romania
- Major in Poli Sci with a minor in Spanish and Economics
- Currently studying in Buenos Aires…aka BA…aka Bad Ass
Just so you know, I´m heading out to Uruguay tomorrow and then Patagonia on Sunday, and I´ll be back August 6th. More stories after that!
I joined a pilates place yesterday, and it’s AMAZING! I went and took a free class, and totally loved it, so I paid for the next month’s worth. I can only afford 1 class a week right now, but I think next month I may budget for 2 classes a week. It’s a really nice place, very small, and the classes are done on exercise machines that provide resistance. There were only 2 of us in my class this week, so we got really personalized attention. The instructor was sooo nice, and I understood everything she said. And you know what’s even better? She understood me! She didn’t ask where I was from, and she gestured a lot when she was speaking, she didn’t try to speak English to me, and I never had to apologize for my Spanish.
So I decided that while I’m going to look amazing because of these classes, I need to do more. The main thing is that I should limit the number of delicious pastries I eat. I also need to figure out how to get some more veggies into my diet. Interestingly, I found that I have some extra time on my hands right now before dinner, and I found an article that has been saved on my computer for a few months. It’s all about training the core muscles (deep abs and hip abductors) to improve running form. It outlined a 9-week training plan, which would really complement my pilates work outs beautifully. I think I may get started on it tonight!