Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Plans, Plans, Plans

So, I’ve finally gotten around to writing the last chapter of my Argentina trip.

After Iguazu Falls, we took it easy and tried to recuperate from the long (20 hours) bus ride. But Robert and I both had ideas on how to keep busy…

Robert mentioned that he really wanted to go to a soccer game, and I said I would go with him as long as he did all the work. So, one morning he went with the other American guy, who was staying at the guesthouse, to buy some tickets for the weekly Boca Juniors game (a local BA club team). Robert and John came back a little confused and worried that they were sold “the dangerous seats.” I was even more reluctant to go, but a deal is a deal. So, we headed out early to figure things out at the stadium. Talk to a scalper for better tickets? Sell the tickets and just go home (yay!)? Well, we ended up talking our way into the safer section of the popular section (in other words cheapest), and as fortune would have it, these turned out to be the best seats in the stadium, in my opinion. We were safely under the overhang of the upper level of seats, so we didn’t get soaking wet from the rain. Also, we were at the upper tier of the cement bleachers, so there was more access to the exit and maybe slightly less shoving. Plus, we had an excellent view of the field and were still amidst the passionate crowd. There was singing, dancing, jumping, shouting, flag waving, unfair refereeing, bored riot police, and a ton of rain. All in all, an authentic and different experience for me. I can’t say I’d go to another soccer game, I don’t understand and have a hard time appreciating all the passion and energy that goes into something I find so pointless. That said I cheered along for Boca’s smashing victory!

The next day we had an early appointment to visit a nearby estancia (ranch). This is a fairly popular tourist endeavor – go to a ranch, watch the gauchos, eat barbecue, ride horses, and other such things. Robert was very instrumental in making this happen, and I was glad he thought of it. It was hard waking up early in the morning after getting home from a soccer game after 1AM, and it was expensive to spend the day at the estancia, but it was definitely worth it. The air was fresh out in the country, and it was wonderful to have some space and quiet. As a side note, there were these funny little owls that lived in holes they dug in the ground -- very silly little things! We rode horses for about an hour and a half, ate some wonderful barbecued beef, swam in a swimming pool, rode horses for a few more hours, and went home full and utterly exhausted.

The next day my whole body had rebelled against the abuse of the past few days (sitting on cement bleachers, standing for long hours, riding horses, etc) and I felt like warmed over death. My back ached, my legs ached, my head ached, and my fever struck mercilessly. I was a horrible wreck. Robert was in slightly better shape, but only slightly.

After some rest and relaxation, and eating a bunch from the take out Italian restaurant down the street, we managed to do a few more touristy things. We visited the modern art museum in Palermo and got completely drenched by rain on the way there; we visited Caminito on a very lucky and rare (during Robert’s time in BA) sunny day; we saw a tango show. A pretty good lineup, but I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed that due to our weakened health and especially due to the poor weather, we didn’t do all that I had planned. These last few days in BA seemed a little blurry, fast and difficult.

Getting back to Seattle didn’t immediately boost my energy, and I wasn’t able to accomplish all that I had in mind. I still had a bit of jetlag, fever, and general disorientation to work through. If this late final blog entry wasn’t indication enough, I was beset with lethargy and sluggishness during the first week. Despite my elegant to do lists, I accomplished very little. This week I’ve been less disappointed with myself and am working on cleaning the apartment, unpacking, catching up with friends and family, and beginning to look for a new job. It’s been fun and relaxing.

Argentina was an interesting trip for me and I ended up learning quite a bit, despite the relative brevity of my stay in Buenos Aires. I’m glad to be home and do not regret leaving so shortly. This is cliché, but it feels like a new chapter is starting for me now.My original plans maybe didn't go exactly according to plan, but I'm feeling open minded about other plans. Horray!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Photos from Iguazu

I have organized an online photo album via I've forwarded it to several people, but let me know if I left anyone out who wants to see a huge collection of waterfall pictures.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Romance, Adventure, and the 4 Essential Food Groups

Being on vacation with Robert in Buenos Aires has been a lot of fun. As I suspected, it’s been great showing him some of my favorite places and discovering new favorites together. We’ve spent some good time walking around the city, hanging out at the house, and of course eating a well balanced diet. Robert is very keen on eating well during our vacation here. Most meals are presented with the 4 essential food groups: chicken, pig, cow, and mayonnaise. This may well be the reason that despite all the walking and sweating in the summer sun, my pants still fit very snuggly.

As I was on the way to the airport to find Robbie, I was on pins and needles. The inexpensive public bus takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the airport. It’s not as though the airport is tremendously far from the city center, but the bus takes a comically meandering route. At one point, I saw a sign that said we were 3 km from the airport and then the bus started heading the opposite direction for more stops. Ah, Argentine efficiency at its finest. Finally, finally, finally, there he was, walking out of customs and we were hugging. By the way, this was quite a modest display of public affection as most people are eager to gratuitously make out and suck face. Anytime. Anywhere.

Robert didn’t forget to bring presents from Seattle. Not only did I receive a belated Valentine’s Day box of See’s chocolates, but I also received (as did the rest of Buenos Aires) a hearty dose of Seattle style rain on the day Robert arrived. It rained heartily his first three days and was relatively cool outside.

We spent our first night together at a small bar near my apartment. There was an open mic for tango singers, and we ate a light meal as we listened to the singers. Some were immensely talented. The walls of the bar were decorated with paintings of tango dancers, cityscapes, and photos of famous singers and dancers. Our waitress had strict attention to detail, and although our meal consisted of a small salad and a few empanadas, it was delivered with perfection. All in all, with the music, food, atmosphere, and easy-going crowd of locals, it was a very romantic evening.

Following those first rainy days, we headed north to Iguazu. The bus ride was just under 20 hours, but the buses here strive for luxury. The seats were wide and reclined deeply. There were also movies and food service -- about on par with airplane quality. We arrived in Puerto Iguazu and got settled in our hostel.

The next day, we prepared for waterfall mania! The entrance fee to the national park was pretty steep for non-Argentineans, but for such a carefully planned and maintained park, it was worth the expense. The trails were gorgeous, and short “train” rides connected the more remote parts of the park. The waterfalls themselves were abundant, strong, and varied! The largest waterfall goes by the moniker: Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) and is a huge cascade of water surrounded by smaller waterfalls, lush plant life, and rocky cliffs. Throughout the rest of the park, we explored the trails circling around the smaller waterfalls. Again, they were well-planned trails that led to impressive viewpoints and were maintained well enough so that nearly the whole park could be wheelchair accessible. On our second day in the park, we splurged and got on a motorboat that drove right into some of the falls. We were soaked, through and through for the rest of the day. The water was strong and blindingly white. Quite the experience!

There was also the wildlife that kept us entertained for a large portion of our time in the park. (well, maybe I was more entertained than Robert) The coati reminded me of friendly raccoons who were eager for a bite of your sandwich, though sometimes a little too eager. Robert saw one jump on a table and steal someone’s sandwich. I always knew when we were coming close to a restaurant area by the sharp increase in coatis meandering around. Also, we both went a little crazy for all the brilliantly colored butterflies and tried our best for close-up photos. On the last day as we were heading out of the park, we stumbled upon a whole mess of monkeys in the trees. They were incredibly difficult to photograph, and most of my attempts look like this:

But they were a lot of fun to watch and a great memory for this animal lover!

We spent two days admiring the waterfalls, flora and fauna, and even that didn’t seem like enough.

In the evenings, we headed into Puerto Iguazu for food and souvenir browsing. We ordered a steak every night. One night we stumbled upon a sort of buffet. They offered 8 salad samples and all the barbequed meat you could eat. The meat comes hot off the large grill, served on your own personal grill to keep it piping hot and fresh. The salads were OK, but three of them were meat based (pork rolls, beef tongue, and fried rice) and most of the rest were covered in mayonnaise (remember the 4 essential food groups?) The beef tongue had an interesting texture and taste, I actually tried it before knowing what it was and had to ask the waitress when I couldn’t figure it out. My favorite that evening were the pork ribs grilled to perfection.

I think due to the heavy, meat-based diet with large portions, I got a little sick during this leg of the trip. Also, we always woke up early to get the most out of our days at the park. I’m still feeling a little worn out and lethargic from all the excitement of the past week.

So, this morning Robert got up early to buy tickets to a soccer game tonight and I went to a café for coffee-fortification so I could publish this blog. Right outside the café was a large political gathering. Buses unloaded crowds of people banging drums and holding up signs. I asked a few people what the occasion was, but struggled to understand exactly what was happening. Something about the president, the workers’ party, and congress. I was impressed by the turn out on a usually quiet Sunday morning. This city is always ready with energy and surprises!