We are sitting in the Houston Airport, soaking up an 11 hour layover and I am finally recovered enough to the story of our last 10 days in South America.
Having grown up in a small town devoid of any cultural phenomena that was not connected to irish catholism, I have always liked visiting cities. I had not anticipated how entirely exhausting the energy of “the Paris of South America” would be. Buenos Aires is 12 to 15 million, depending on how much of the outskirts you include. 3 times the size of Santiago, which by comparison I felt at home in right away. In BA, I was finally just getting the lay of the land and finding my favorite haunts and feeling like I was getting beyond the tourist attractions the last couple of days. But going back to day one, here is my list of top ten street sightings:
1) Movie/Commercial film crews. We saw the first one in our cab from the bus station (Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the bus ride…13 hours, over-night. Giant, fully reclining leather seats, 2 movies, blankets, pillows, 2 course dinner, including wine and champaign, plus breakfast) Back to the film crews, according to our friend who works in advertising, it’s quite cheap to hire film crews in BA, and the city has so may different types of architecture and neighborhoods, that one can pretty much find any kind of cityscape. Anyway, we saw a few different crews and one set of models being filmed.
2) Dog poo. EVERYWHERE. J and I each landed in separate piles within our first 10 steps in the city. There are dogwalkers that take 9 (no kidding, 9) dogs at a time. It’s considered lucky in BA to step in it, but I think they just made that up so they don’t have to stop and scoop every time one of 9 gets the urge.
3) Sculptural hair. I’m really bummed I wasn’t able to get photos of these because they were something to behold. Guys with gel sweeping their hair into sculptures resembling the famous Japanese painting the “Great Wave” were a common siting in retail venues and well-to-do areas of the city. We happened to be in a store at closing time and were lucky enough to witness one of these guys in his post-work ritual: 7 (S-E-V-E-N) squirts of cologne. Apparently the gel and the cologne combine to create some sort of flammable aphrodisiac. Fortunately, I have a special Norwegian stiffness to counteract just such weaponry.
4) Subte. (Subway) Wow. Really. I’ve been to NY, and I’ve been to Hong Kong. And truly, I can’t believe that guy just squeezed in here. What time is rush hour? EVERY TIME, except for Sunday, when the subway is so empty we thought it was closed. I judged how long we had left to go by how many sweat droplets had slid off Jason’s cheek. Usually around the 4th he really got agitated, but it was too crowded to move his hand up to his face to wipe off, and we never got out before the 7th drip.
5) Unmarked intersections. Except for the biggest streets (such as Avinida 9 de Julio, the 16-laner) all the streets in BA are one way, with no stop signs. So think of NE 15th in Portland for example. Imagine it is one way, but none of the side streets have stop signs. So, they just slow to about 20 and push through. The traffic on 15th would then slow until they felt brave enough to edge past the intersection and the flow continues trading off like this until crazy honking from one direction demands a longer turn.
6) Helmets are recommended––to be worn on your arm apparently. And if you have a bicycle but your friend has a motorcycle, you just hold on to his shoulder and keep your feet off the pedals.
7) Sidewalks. A 20 gallon manual cement mixer, a 5 gallon bucket, and one man makes a sidewalk. A man with a hammer breaks up the sidewalk where repairs are needed.
8) Explosives. One day we saw (well, we heard and then saw, and then heard again for many blocks) an un-supervised 5-year-old lighting fireworks and throwing them into the busy street.
9) Spontaneous street concerts. That take place at 1 in the morning and draw a quick 1,000 people from age 6 to 76, clapping and dancing.
10) Quiet cafes and bars each with their own beautiful and unique appreciation for atmosphere and personality, but seemingly little understanding of basic business principles. There were always 3 times as many staff as necessary standing around, but maybe we were just there at the wrong time. We really never went to bed before 2am (which seemed much earlier because of A, the long summer days, and B, the number of people out in the streets) but still I think we were too early for the real crowds. Once we were walking home from dinner around 2:30 and there was still a line out the door of a couple restaurants.
Day after Thanksgiving, in Mendoza. I think this is my favorite day of the whole trip.
It started out bad: raining. Hard.
We had planned to do a bicycle tour of the vineyards near town. Bicycle tour cancelled.
We slowly and grudgingly finished the worst coffee of the continent at our continental breakfast and tried to formulate plan B.
We hit the streets with rain jackets and no real plan. We wandered into a couple shops and headed toward the bike rental place to move our reservation to the following day and on the way we saw the happy red square reading “Illy”. Translation: good coffee, even by Steve’s standards. Turns out this Illy sign lived at a fancy wine bar with a beautiful courtyard, fountain, olive trees, bocce court, restaurant and bright white gift shop rooms each filled with different wine paraphernalia in minimalist packaging and separated by french doors.
“Ristretto por favor”
For those less snobby about their coffee, a ristretto is like a smaller, even more concentrated sip of coffee than an espresso. Very tasty. And, down here, always when you order a coffee, it comes with a little cookie or a chocolate, and a small glass of carbonated water. Bueno.
By the time we finished our coffee and toured around the beautiful rooms, the rain had completely stopped and even dried up most of the streets–which meant it was getting hot again. But, much more bearable than yesterday. With this change, we hustled over to the bike rental place and asked to have our tour re-instated. They picked us up at our hotel 15 minutes later (which is even more amazing for this laid back, I’ll get around to it eventually culture).
The pictures can tell the story of the wine tasting adventure. It was really one of the best days of my life, for sure. We had lunch at this vineyard and when we arrived this woman welcomed us, saying we must be hungry and we should sit in the shade next to these bird cages and look at the menu, then we could do the wine tour and tasting while they prepared our lunch from the fresh garden.
We made it to 4 wineries I think.
Then everyone knows what comes after the wine tour:
Wait, what beer is that? (tribute to the newlyweds: Steve and Sarilyn ANDES)
Alright, so we had worked up an appetite again and decided to head back to our favorite Illy sign, this time for more traditional Argentine fair. To keep from the ill effects of wine (falling asleep too early) we enjoyed a little friendly Bocce competition.
Team Andes edged us out, dispite a brilliant performance I choked in the clutch moment. But, then there were fireworks up in the sky for some reason and I forgot all about the defeat.
I should have photographed my meal as well. It was top 5 of my life–a beef rib that was very tender and had this salad on top of it with lots of cilantro. Perfecto.
And then the tango dancers came out.
Muchos Kudos to my friend Emily Hartford who told us about the bike/wine tour. It was the ultimate and I really appreciate you sharing all your tips on South America.
Thanksgiving day, we left the lovely Santiago and headed into the wild blue yonder.
We traveled by bus 6 hours over the Andes into Mendoza, Argentina. But, we (Steve) had asked a cabbie which bus co. was the nicest, and we had taken a few extra cab rids to find the separate, smaller, unknown to most foreign tourists bus station and our bus. We’d heard a lot about how nice the international buses were, so we were looking forward to a relaxing ride.
As it turns out the best bus co. also has a partnership with the icky bus, and some of their trips use the icky bus. Ours was one of those. So, it was a bit smellier, and hotter than expected on the bus, and their was a large gum collection in my window, but we have a lovely friend who told us of his 6 hour bus ride in Guatemala with 30 people in a 15 passenger van and a small Guatemalan man on his lap the whole time, so we weren’t feeling too bad.
When we arrived in Mendoza it was HOT. Now, I don’t really sweat very much, and I like heat–I’ve been accused of being the only one with a blanket in Hell in fact. But, even I was hurting. We wandered around all over the town, very hungrily searching for air conditioning. It was not to be found, but I discovered the “frozen baileys” worked almost as well. Yes, it is a baileys milkshake–highly recommended. I may make it my new Thanksgiving tradition.
It is also worth noting that in 8 weeks of daily contact with Steve and Sarilyn Andes, this afternoon of hotness is the one and only time when there was a slight hint of crankiness emanating from Sarilyn. It was only slight, but still, a sign that underneath that angelic smiling persona, she may actually be human.
Alright. It’s finally time for the big game (see previous post).
We arrive early to see what we can see.
Pre-game concessions. Check.
Crowd Control. Check.
More armed guards. Check.
Pre-game show. Check.
Orange is for losers.
Flares are for winners.
So, that’s the story. This was definitely one of my favorite things in Santiago. Everyone REALLY gets in to the game–I mean, REALLY and I mean EVERYONE. At the end, a guy came over the loud speaker and told the losing fans to stay in their seats until the winning fans had cleared out of the stadium, as in, for their safety. We found out after the game that even though Universidad de Chile won, they needed to win by 2 points to go on, and they only won by 1 (we were really confused because we knew the home team won, but the home fans were all mad at the same time). We left in a cab (they are very cheap in Santiago btw) and we actually did see a fight from the cab window and then we saw some really serious cops straighten things out pretty fast.
Well, of course we could not go to a Latin American country and not partake of the number one continental pastime. However, I don’t want you guys to think we just goof around all day having adventures. It is hard work to get futbol tickets.
So, we need to get the tics from a ticketmaster vendor. They cost between $7.50 and $20 dollars US, for the Chilean playoff games. Ok, first we try to buy them online. Strike. No problem. We learn need to go to this dept. store, similar to Macy’s here and find the ticketmaster booth there. It’s in the back, in the basement. OK. We find her and we know how to ask for the tickets. (Glaspeys +1).
She responds, “Fill in the sound that the adults make in the Peanuts movies here.”
“Blah, blah, blah, something something, unique partido y no compramos entradas aqui. Blah blah, CineHoyt en calle Blah blah.” (hmm, Chileans +2)
OK, we know that this is a unique game and we have to buy the tickets at a certain CineHoyts (which is the equivalent of Regal Cinemas).
We take a cab to the CineHoyt we think it is. The cabbie honks at as as we walk right past the CineHoyt that he just explained was underground right where he dropped us off. We see the sign and catch on.
We find the ticketmaster vendor at CineHoyt, we ask for the tickets.
“Blah, blah, blah something about another CineHoyt 2 blocks away.”
We walk out and begin to walk a 2 block radius around CineHoyt1, looking for CineHoyt2. We don’t see it. We ask someone, who directs us back to CineHoyt1 (we think). We ask someone else. “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” But, this guy was really good with his hand gestures.
We ask the ticketmaster vendor to recommend which seats are decent. Hmm, no entiendimos. Oh well, we pay the midrange price and we know for sure that we are in the shade at least.
Hey all. We are a bit behind in our blogging…sorry. I’m trying.
Here is a shot of a smoggy morning in Santiago. They have major smog issues because there are small hills on the west side of the city, and then of course the Andes on the east side and all the gray stuff just hangs out in the middle.
Hope you are feeling fortified. You’re going to need it for what comes next.
So, I actually did do a little work today, from the Santiago office. If I had a proper chair, I could really get used to this place. Got a great view, sunshine, birds chirpin’ a slight breeze blowin’ through, Eddie Vedder on the itunes…
Holly just posted a bunch of photos, so I thought I should post the story behind this weekend. Hope you enjoy:
This weekend we went on our most ambitious excursion yet, a 10-hour bus ride to beautiful Villarrica. Villarrica is situated on a lake right between Pucon and Coñaripe. By far the most striking thing in the area is the massive volcano Volcon Villarrica, with it’s snow-topped peak looking majestic in the background of whatever you’re doing. It’s also among the most active volcanoes in Chile, going off every 7 years.
But first, the bus ride. We took an overnight bus, leaving Santiago at 9:40pm, and arriving in Villarrica at 8am. We had the “semi-cama” seats, which are actually far nicer than an average airline seat, reclining back very far, and a soft comfortable leather keeping you cozy and snug. There were ample blankets and pillows, allowing us to actually sleep fairly decently. It was definitely the nicest bus ride I’ve ever taken, and for the 10-hour ride, it cost only $18 per person. This would be like traveling from PDX to San Francisco for $20, complete with “What Happens in Vegas” starring Ashton Cucher playing as our bus movie.
Once arriving, we took a short cab ride to Hosteria de la Colina. Holly had found this place, and the website looked very promising. As we drove up, I was a little unsure of where we’d end up, but a couple of gravel roads and sharp turns dropped us off at an amazing little place, half hotel, half bed and breakfast. It’s run by a retired couple who used to teach elementary school, one from Oregon, and one from Montana. They were awesome, and we had a great time just relaxing in their amazing Hosteria. I also solved both of Glen’s difficult puzzles, which I’m pretty sure has earned me a permanent place in his heart.
Our first day, upon the suggestion of Glen (from Montana), we went to Termas Geometricas, an amazing hot springs about an hour and a half from Villarrica. We had to take an hour long OTHER bus ride to Coñaripe, then a shuttle from there to the hot springs. Just the 30 minute shuttle cost us as much as our bus ride, and all in, the shuttle, and entrance to the hot springs cost us about $36 a piece, however, once we got there, we knew we had made the right decision. The place was absolutely beautiful.
We stayed there a while, soaking, taking pictures, and soaking some more. Steve and I would constantly jump into a waterfall, which was the coldest snow run-off I’ve ever encountered, and then jump right back into a 105+ degree natural hot spring. It was a lot of fun, and I think I got a pretty good workout just flexing my muscles from the cold, and raising my heart rate from the extreme pain my body suffered going from one extreme to the other. We did it about 7 times each.
That night we went home and just crashed after a very good dinner at a local pizzaria.
On Sunday, we got up late and headed to Pucon. This is by far the coolest town I’ve been to in Chile. It feels like a cross between Hood River and Moab, Utah, but is situated between two killer lakes. It was such a cool town, with outdoor activities everywhere, and the chance to go rafting, kayaking, climbing, summit the volcano, hiking, whatever. We hired a cab driver for 4 hours and had him take us to two waterfalls in the area. During our hike, we actually saw a live tarantula on the trail. I’m fascinated with big bugs, and thought it was awesome. Steve squirmed like a little girl, so I spent the rest of the hike looking for another one to try and pull something on him with, but never found a second.
On the way back we stopped at a random little farm where they sold crafts out of a shed near the gravel road; we bought some cool little gifts for literally the change in our pockets. I got a hand-knitted stocking cap that I’m pretty sure was from the wool of their very own sheep.
After that, we went back and walked around Pucon, just enjoying it’s cool small shops selling random artisan crafts and trying to choose our dinner spot. We ended up at a grill where we got an amount of meat that bordered on ungodly. I swear I’ve never seen that much dead animal on one table in my entire life, and after we left, I suffered a meat hangover for about 36 hours. But it was fantastic and wonderful and special all at the same time. But I have to be honest, I’ve been wanting vegetables the past few days, and I think my body is in meat revolt.
We got back to Hosteria de la Colina about 2 hours before our bus left back for Santiago. We hung out with Glen and Bev a bit more, then said goodbye, departing for our second 10-hour bus ride in 48 hours.
I wish I could say our trip back was as nice, but the air conditioner wasn’t working and we ran out of water, and it was very uncomfortable, and much more crowded and the bus was much older and it was 10 hours of suck. They didn’t even have a movie on this bus ride. But, we arrived in Santiago just the same, and got ready for the Monday morning it was. Steve and Sarilyn both had to work, but Holly and I had the chance to take a nap and get ready for our work later in the afternoon.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I loved Pucon, and the awesome Volcano in the background. We need to move there, and I think we’re going to try and buy the hotel from Glen and Bev sometime in the next week or so. Enjoy the photos (they’re in the previous post).
Are you guys tired of that McCain/Mullet post yet? I was. Here are some pics from our latest adventures. Now I feel I must explain the shots of the crew indulging in Cheetos and wine. We had a rough moment as we were making arrangements to go to some hot springs. We knew that we were being completely over charged for this ride, and the guy was 35 minutes late picking us up and wouldn’t allow us to stay at the hot springs as long as we were hoping (after the also over-paid entrance). So, we coped as best we could, while we waited. I know, rough. But, we are all stronger people now.
The kids…we encountered this family selling crafts on our way back from hiking around some waterfalls and while Jason was scooping up souvenirs for his fam I was snappin’ away and playing with these guys. Sadly, I realized after that I had neglected to change the camera back into auto focus mode, so, these precious shots are not my best (major bummer).