Thursday, April 15, 2010

Small bites

It seems the plan we make at the start of something, or rather the
plan we make before we start something, ends up a relic before we’re
half way through.

Just as a teacher can tell you of her childhood dream to become a
veterinarian without regretting her adult life, I can talk about this
funny little idea I had to wait tables in South America without
regretting the way my trip has evolved into a series of two-week adventures.

As you all know, since I’m sure you’ve deeply sensed it’s absence,
I’ve been very bad at updating this blog lately. There are plenty of
excuses for that. None of them include my long waitressing shifts.

I am taking this viaje in many manageable two-week bites. It’s almost
like a series of vacations or as if I’m taking vacations from my
vacation. It’s strange. It’s not what I expected I would be doing. And
I would no doubt be doing things differently if I had the whole four
months straight to myself. But there’s something so awesome about not
being 100 percent free and whimsical. I feel like less of a doush-bag
travel bum this way and I’m experiencing things I wouldn’t normally.

My first two weeks started the way a solo travel mission would. I was
on my own. I spent a few days at a crummy party hostel stuffed with
22-year-old Australians on their way back to University after
celebrating Carnival in Brazil. The experience has grown more bleak in
my memory than I allowed my self to believe it was at the time. The
whole thing reaffirmed my distaste for cities.

Then I spent a week by myself on the beach, getting used to being on
my own. I made a friend. I saw and did some cool things. It was
overall a very relaxing time, but not quite hard-core traveling.

Then I went to Bariloche, my old home away from home in South America,
the place that made me fall for Argentina four years ago. I had my
language classes
four hours a day and dinners with my Argentine family. But the days
were long when the sun didn’t set until almost 10 p.m. and it seems I
had more time then.

Then Joe came for two weeks. And that’s when I stopped writing the
blog. This trip has been like a symphony with constantly changing
rhythms and beats. Joe’s arrival started off slow and relaxed. We
spent three days in Buenos Aires, sleeping in and casually exploring
the city. We focused most of our energy on eating REALY well. If you
didn’t know, Argentina is renowned for it’s beef. The cows don’t eat
corn here. They eat grass, which makes sense, right? They also live in
fields instead of feed lots.

Argentina is also known for it’s wine, especially my favorite – Malbec.
Everything is much more expensive than it was four years ago when I was here.
Prices have doubled. I’m not exaggerating. There’s a lot of discussion
and worry in Argentina about the rapid inflation. The worries are only
half-heartedly assuaged by those who say the inflation is just a
recovery from the 2001 economic collapse. Before the collapse,
Argentina was the most expensive country in South America and the peso
had the same value as the dollar (artificially). I imagine it might
have been even more expensive here than in most parts of the U.S.

Four years ago, Lonely Planet correctly guessed you could travel here
on $15 to $25 a day , the same budget it projected for Bolivia. A
beautiful steak dinner with wine, appetizers and desert would cost me
about $12 then. Now it’s about $30, which is still a pretty good deal,
but not a luxury I can afford myself often as a backpacker.

Anyway, after our luxurious three days in Buenos Aires, Joe and I
picked up the tempo. It was a fever pitch. We were up before the sun
and out late every night. We were exhausted, but couldn’t stop moving.
We went to Ushuaaia, the southern-most city in the world. We saw Tierra
Del Fuego National Park in the morning and went on a cruise through
the Beagle Channel in the afternoon. We road a train in the park and
saw Cormorants, birds that looked suspiciously like penguins but flew,
sea lions and PENGUINS. They were so cute. The boat stopped for about
20 minutes on the shore, so we could get pictures and videos of them
waddling around and yapping with each other. There were two species
there. I’ll have to add their names later. The smaller black and white
one was more predominate. But there were a few of the bigger species,
the third-largest type of penguin in the world, with orange beak and
feet. It was
definitely cool.

I wrote a blog for my cousin who owns a tourism agency and she helped
us plan this whirl-wind tour of the south. Thank god for her help.
There’s no way we would have been able to do all we did if we’d been
left to our own devises.

The morning after our trip to the park and our trip to see penguins,
we were on a bus across the Magellan Straight to Punta Arenas. We
spent the night there, got up, road a bus to Puerto Natales, rented a
car and drove into Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Did I mention we
were in Chile at this point?

It was cloudy and a little rainy when we entered the park, but you
could still see how absolutely amazing the views were. Amazing. We
landed at the hotel my cousin arranged for us, the Hotel Lago Gray,
which literally sits at the foot of an amazing glacier and looks out
a lake where icebergs that dropped off the face of the glacier are
melting into beautiful ever-changing sculptures.

Each day we were in the park, which was three days, the clouds broke
up a little more and the sun came out and we saw more and more of the
most amazing mountain scenery, some say, in the world. It was
incredible. It was also empty. In about 9 hours of hiking, we never
saw another soul. That was a shock because other travelers had
complained to me it was too crowded. The earthquakes scared people

From the park we returned to Puerto Natales and caught a bus the next
day to El Calafate, back in Argentina. The town was buzzing with tourists
and every storefront was either a tour agency, a restaurant or a
chocolate shop.

We did see the highlight of the Parque Nacional de Los Glacieres, the
Perito Moreno Glacier. We took a tour, again arranged by my cousin.
We road a boat to the base of this monmouth thing that stretches more
than 60 meters high. It’s part of the third-largest ice field in the
world and is one of the only ones that’s not actually shrinking.
That’s because it’s constantly snowing and compacting deep in the
Andes. We learned that glaciers, the part we see at the front is
actually just snow that’s been waiting more than 400 years to be water
again. So interesting and amazing. There are boardwalks in front of
the ice wall where you can watch chunks fall off and crash like bombs
into the water.

Joe did a minitrek on the glacier and got to see it up close. Since it
takes six months for my ACL to fully heal, I didn’t think it prudent
to tromp up and down ice hills. But he did fill my water bottle
with fresh glacier water. Yumm.

Back in Buenos Aires, we spent a day in La Boca and watched a nice
tango show during our lunch there.

I was pretty sad after Joe left. It was strange after two weeks of
almost never being alone, to be always alone again. My second two-week
bite out of this journey was spent in Buenos Aires. I’m still in this
chapter of the adventure. I would have probably headed north without
staying long in Buenos Aires if it weren’t for my friend Brooke who is
coming tomorrow. I decided it made more sense to stay here and take
language classes. And I’m glad I did. I feel like I’ve bonded with
this city.

I found an apartment with an amazing woman named Tati. She’s 68. We
eat meals together a few nights a week (in my two weeks). I went to
bed early last night and woke to find a Tortilla—potato omelet—on the
table for me that she’d made me last night for dinner. So sweet.

It’s interesting to talk with her about politics because she’s
politically conservative and my teacher is liberal so I get to hear
about issues from both sides. I just listen.

I’ve also made a fabulous new friend, Ronaldo from Brazil. He and I
have gone to movies and tango shows and dinners, also drag queen shows
and gay bars. My Spanish is coming along.
We were talking with Ronaldo´s friend Mauricio one night and Ronaldo
said, “she speaks well doesn’t she?” and Maurico said, “she speaks.”
Apparently I have a terrible
American accent.

But the other night I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do. I
joined a conversation in which we were all speaking a second language.
In a noisy bar, Ronaldo and I had a conversation with an Italian guy
in Spanish.

Anyway, this chapter comes to a close tomorrow. My last Spanish class
is today and Brooke arrives in the morning. I’m so excited! I can’t
wait to explore and drink wine with her. We counted last night and I
think these will be the 11th and 12th countries we will visit together. She
flies home from Chile. It will definitely be more fun to visit wine
country with a friend. Nobody likes to drink alone.

After Brooke leaves, I have a week to get to Iguazu Falls in Brazil to
meet Illa. I never would have gone to Brazil if she hadn´t
accidentally bought her plane ticket into there. I got my visa
yesterday. It’s the first one with a picture.
I’m psyched.

My trajectory on this trip isn’t the most geographically logical. But
I´m happy to be exploring with friends.

While I´m not waiting tables, I am still traveling on tips and will
surely be earning them again when I return to the U.S.


  1. Totally jealous that Brooke is there with you and I'm not :( Oh well, Ben and I were planning on taking our honeymoon in Chile/Argentina next year anyway. I'm sure you'll both have lots of suggestions for where we should go. Que lo pases bien y cuidate mucho!



  2. The best adventures are the ones that didn't go as planned! That's why they are called adventures and not trips. Trips are planned so congrats to you for being able to go on a 4 month adventure, trust me, the rest of the world is jealous of you!