Argentina: Iguazu

We’d gone west.  We’d gone south.  It was time.  We went north.  To the rainforest.  To the land where, one wrong step across the border and you’re at risk of yellow fever. Within a literal stone’s of Brazil and Paraguay.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’d arrived in the sub-tropics.

I’d put us in a hotel that was almost directly across the street from the bus station.  We arrived in the late afternoon after luxuriating in the classiest of the classy Argentine buses.  Never have I been so comfortable and pampered while traveling.  We got off the bus, collected our bags, and looked across the street.

“John, it’s really hot here,” I said.

“Yes.  Yes it is.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I don’t think I can make it to the hotel.  It’s too far.”

“It’s right across the street.  A narrow street.”

“Can we get on the bus and go back to Buenos Aires?  I don’t care about the waterfall anymore.”

You don’t have to take my word for it about how miserably, disgustingly hot it was.  Take, instead, the fact that John actually considered my proposal before rejecting it.

We wound up taking a walk through Puerto Iguazu because John needed a voltage converter and I didn’t have the heart to send him looking for one with nothing but a map and charades skills.  Then again, I don’t have a heart at all, so I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t just cower next to the air conditioner in our hotel room.  I was probably too hot to think through that part clearly.

I bring this up not because the way my brain turns to jelly when the weather becomes uncivilized is fascinating, but to assure you that I know what I’m talking about when I say that Puerto Iguazu is utterly skipable.  If you go to Iguazu, which is probably a good idea in July, there’s no reason to stay in town. Go for one night. Stay at the Sheraton in the park.  I didn’t go inside the Sheraton, but unless it’s infested with mold and roaches, or is otherwise unexpectedly gross, getting to be in the park is way more interesting than anything town is going to offer.  And I do not lightly recommend opting for the wilderness over population density.

Now, if you’re wondering why on earth I, pale, sun-phobic, summer-loathing creature that I am, decided to go that near the equator that close to the start of summer, it’s this: Iguazu has really big waterfalls.

Really big.

Like, legendarily large.

Its, uhm, rather impressive.

“John?” I said when we got to the end of the boardwalk path that takes you from the park’s train station up to the top of the waterfall.

“Yes?”

“Is it wrong that I look at that and keep thinking about how fun it would be to take a kayak over the edge?”

“Don’t talk about it.  It’ll fall down!”

“Oh god, I miss the glacier.  It was nice and cold there.”

My original vision of the trip had us going to Iguazu early on, when it would be earlier in the spring and hopefully cooler.  But then I read about the moonlight tours they offer, and I checked the calendar, and, well, end of the trip it was.

I am most proud of the photos I got during the moonlight tour.  There wasn’t just the challenge of getting a good photo of something moving fast under low light conditions – there was the added bonus challenge of doing it through the splitting headache I wound up with because everybody else kept using their $#!@ing flash.  Dear Everybody: Your built-in flash is not going to illuminate THAT WATERFALL.  It will give the people in the group with extremely good night vision a rather horrific headache.  I’d have killed you all, but I couldn’t really see anymore by that point.

It was worth the trip up to Iguazu, even with the inhumane weather and the obnoxious everybody else.  We did the boat tour that gave us an intimate look at the falls.  By intimate I mean it went under the falls.  Several times.  In two different places.  It was kinda the most awesome thing ever.

When we got back to our hotel after the moonlight tour it was rather late and we were both exhausted.  Check out was at 10am, but our bus wasn’t until much later in the day.  So I decided to try getting us late check out.  “Tengo una pregunta,” I said to the desk clerk on our way in.  Then I explained what we were hoping for, and got told that we had to be out of our room on time, but if we wanted to rent another room and change over to that one, we could get late check out from there.  We were too tired for changing rooms to sound appealing, so we rejected this offer.  Then the clerk asked me a question. “Er, come again?” I asked, except in Spanish honed by three weeks among native speakers.

The clerk asked the same question.  It made exactly the same amount of sense.

“Lo siento, tengo mucho sueño.  ¿Ingles, por favor?”

“What time is your flight?” the clerk asked.  John handled the rest of the communication from there.

“You were doing really well, then all of a sudden fell apart,” John said when we got into the elevator.

Vuela and abuela are hard when you’re exhausted,” I moaned in reply.

“Huh?”

“I kept hearing him ask me, ‘What time is your grandmother?’ Which didn’t make sense because they’re both all the way in Virginia.”

“…” said John.  “That’s not why it didn’t make sense.”

“Shut up. I’m taking a cold shower and going to bed.”

And this, my pretties, concludes my ramblings about the Argentina trip.  It was a really good trip. I recommend Argentina as a place to go, especially if you’re up for travelling around once you get there.

Album with more of Iguazu here.

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Argentina: All the Buenos Aires

This is going to be a catch-all post for time in Buenos Aires.  I could break it up in the various legs with the bits where we left in their chronological spots, but that requires many more blog posts, it’s already the year after we went, and it’s not like pictures from my phone are mega gorgeous anyway.  So.

That’s a picture of the planetarium.  I recommend walking around the planetarium because the grounds are quite lovely.  Don’t plan to actually go in and get anything out of it unless you speak Spanish, though.  It’s mostly just an Omnimax, and the movies are re-dubbed into Spanish.  Fortunately, I thought to ask about that before we bought tickets, so John wasn’t stuck in a giant cosmic movie he couldn’t understand.  That did, however, cramp our plans for the day a bit, so we wandered over toward the botanical gardens.

I wasn’t expecting much from these after the planetarium was a bust and the Japanese gardens had an entry fee.  This was wrong of me.  The grounds are deceptively large, as in, I expected it to be tiny but it just kept going on.  It’s also full of cats who are hanging out, lounging around, and generally reassure you that yes, somebody is keeping the gob-tobs of pretty birdies in the trees from becoming decadent.

The botanical gardens are also right next to the zoo, which we didn’t bother to go to because John wasn’t thrilled about looking at animals we can look at when home in Madison.  Point.  However, since there are food cart vendors hanging out outside the zoo, we did partake of some food cart lunch.  This was when I tried out the superplancha, a loaded hotdog.  Living in Chicago rehabilitated the hot dog for me a while ago, and the Icelandic hotdogs were quite nice while being idiosyncratic enough to keep me from feeling lame for going to a foreign country and ordering a hotdog.

Don’t order Argentine hotdogs.  They feature everything bad about American hotdogs, with a distressingly pasty quality to boot.  Absolutely anything else from a cart vendor is going to be better – absolutely everything else we ordered from a cart was really good.

After a week away in Bariloche, Peuma Hue, and El Calafate, we made it back to Buenos Aires just in time for the weekend fairs and markets.  This prompted an excursion out to Palermo, where they’ve got two rather large markets that happen on the weekend.  I enjoyed them greatly; there were lots and lots of things I’d have happily bought if I felt like schlepping half the crafts from the country home with me.  I picked up a pair of earrings and stopped there.

You may recall from the first Argentina post that I hadn’t been terribly thrilled with the restaurant selections I found recommended in the guidebook or online.  Talking to other people while we were away confirmed my suspicions that we were getting the, “Safe for nervous gringos” reviews as opposed to the “actually has really good food” reviews.  So I implement a new policy.  It came in two parts.  The first was that we were going to stop having dinner the very second restaurants opened (around 8pm).  The second was that our restaurant selections were going to be made by walking down the street and picking ones full of locals. John was skeptical about the efficacy of this policy.  I decided to test it by re-tackling Argentine sushi.

I think John is still of the opinion that my policies were insanity, and thinks we just started getting incredibly lucky all of a sudden.  Because, wow.  The food was really, really good.

Argentine cream cheese tends milder and airier than whats common in the States.  And they put it in all of their sushi rolls, rather indiscriminately.  This was a problem for John until he realized the texture of the local cream cheese (“Philadelphia” on the menus) might be different enough that it wouldn’t trigger his intense hatred of cream cheese in sushi.  And with one exception across two dinners, Argentine cream cheese worked great for him.  I think the trend to use Peruvian and Carribbean flavor profiles in designing the rolls – making them much fruitier and sweeter than standard US rolls – helped a lot, too.

This was probably the best presentation of shrimp I’ve ever had.  It was a Peruvian sweet and sour passion fruit glaze with cashew crumbled on it, and it was mind-blowingly good.  We wound up ordering it when, because they were out of green onion, the first three appetizers we tried to order weren’t available.  The waitress recommended it and she was right to do so.

If ever you are in Buenos Aires for dinner, EAT HERE.

Other excursions involved a chunk of a day spent in La Boca.  Even with strolling over there from San Telmo it wasn’t a full day, but the market had the best quality crafts we found anywhere.  It’s extremely tourist-y, though.  Aggressively, tackily touristy.  Worth going, but I wound up really put off by the kitsch.  Part of it was having to think in order to read the really offensive tourist T-shirts.  I compulsively read text when it’s in front of me all the time, but when I have to think about it, and then it’s something I didn’t actually want to read, it’s extra annoying.  Go for the street stalls and because the neighborhood is cute.  Stay out of the shops.

The Recoleta Cemetery, known for being both very old, and very big, was totally worth the walk.  Be prepared for shadeless sun exposure, though.  And it’s near enough to a clutch of neat museums and whatnot that you can make a pleasant day out of hanging out in the area.

Uhm.  Yeah. We wandered into a building that looked very MUSEUM because we were headed to the Fine Arts museum and it was kinda near the right place and I was hot and hadn’t looked at the map recently.  It was an art museum.  Contemporary art.  This whole wall was kinda special.  But hey, I learned a lot about wrestling and local culture surrounding it.  I suspect, since he couldn’t read the placards, John just got disturbed.

The Fine Arts Museum, by the way, is fantastic.  It’s free, the collection is impressive, and with the exception of one room which feels like a hodge-podge grab-all, very well curated.  We had to wait in line to get in since they were controlling the number of occupants at any given time, but the line moved pretty quickly.  I didn’t take any photos – too busy gawking.

This is the courtyard of the women’s prison museum in San Telmo.  It was right near all the nice antique shops and whatnot, and totally worth the cost of entry (Free).  Neat building, cool artifacts (the shiv collection was particularly impressive), and there’s a very pretty church right next door that’s also worth checking out.

The other really fantastic food we had in Buenos Aires comes with no photos – the lighting in the restaurant was bad and I was too busy having spasms of tasty.  There’s a Middle Eastern restaurant in San Telmo we’d passed a couple times, and since John and I both like Middle Eastern food and Madison lacks a really good source of it, we decided to check it out.

 I ordered the shawarma.  It was the. best. shawarma. EVER.  The flatbread was a little too prone to fall apart, but the meat was perfectly cooked, fantastically seasoned, and the tzatziki sauce was phenomenal.  I couldn’t finish it all, and was heart-broken about it.  John tells me that when the waiter came to clear our plates, I glared him down.  I think that’s an exaggeration.  I did clutch my plate a little hyper-possessively and make it very clear that I wanted my leftovers to go, please.  The other food was really good, too, but I’m going to have dreams about that shawarma for years.

It was so good, we went back for our last meal before catching our plane home.

Getting around we mostly took the subway.  This worked out great for our last leg because the subway workers were forming a new union (apparently the existing union had many more bus workers and they’d negotiated a contract that screwed the subway people) and striking.  This led to a bit of confusion, but mostly free subway rides since there was nobody there to sell tickets.  Neat!

We did a bit more riding the bus, though.  Our first leg we’d borrowed a transit card from one of the B&B staff.  Riding without the card turned into a bit more of an adventure than was really warranted.  A “I just dropped two coins on the floor and the bus is dark and I can’t find them and now we don’t have enough for fare, also what’s going on?” sort of adventure.  The bus driver excoriated me at length for being incompetent and wasting his time and being a highly ignorant, self-absorbed tourist who just traipsed onto the bus without bother to figure out how it was supposed to work.  I think he assumed I couldn’t speak Spanish, because I cannot fathom yelling at me the way he did if he thought I’d actually understand.

In the end, John did not really like Buenos Aires at all.  I didn’t expect him to.  I liked it pretty well, but I’m not in a rush to go back and (thankfully) don’t feel any particular tugs toward moving there.  I had a really great time, and it’s absolutely worth visiting, but if you don’t speak Spanish, do your research very, very carefully.  Buenos Aires is a challenge, and adding a language barrier can only make it harder.  It’s worth the challenge, especially if you like big cities, but it is not for a novice traveler going it alone.

Albums for you.

Argentina: The Glacier

We were in Calafate and we had a mission: See a glacier.  Our hotel sucked, John didn’t have a coat, and research on the internet indicated that I couldn’t blame Chile for my troubles understanding the locals. This was going to be a big day.

Let me just get one thing out there right here at the beginning: That glacier is gorgeous.  We did a tour that took us near it by boat, then dropped us off at the park full of boardwalk-style walking paths overlooking the water leading up to it.  This was awesome.  There were English-speaking guides on the boat, but the tour guide for the rest of it mostly only spoke Spanish.  She was a sweetheart, though, and kept coming to check on us and make sure I’d gotten all the important information, like “Be back at the bus by 3:30.”

Argentina really seems to take care of their national parks.  This one was surprisingly handicap accessible for an area that is functionally built onto a cliff face.  They had an elevator to get you from the top overlook level down to the main loop.  Ever since Disney World blew my mind by having a water park that was completely handicap accessible, I pay attention to these things.  Mad props to people cool enough to build an outdoor elevator.  For any reason, really.

That said, John and I were super clever and took the path full of stairs. We went down.  And down.  And more down.  It’s not our fault.  We kept saying we’d turn back at the next landing, but then there was this phenomenal angle we just had to catch, and it’s only one more landing after all…

I found the caves and overhangs at the edge of the glacier really neat.  One of them had this fantastic coloring, and I was spinning ideas in my brain as we walked, thinking about how one might build a floating shelter under and overhang like that, what would prompt somebody to do such a thing, how awesome it would be.  I started to tell John about some of these ideas was we were going around a bend with some trees.  And then we hear a big crack.  There’d been several of those – ice was breaking off the glacier and splashing down below all the time – but this one was bigger, and went on longer.

We didn’t make it around the bend for me to catch the whole thing on camera, but I still got a pretty impressive ice falling sequence.  See that tilting pillar at the middle of the frame?

See the splash where that tilty pillar used to be?  Yeah, this was my super cool overhang, where I was mentally building floating shelters, shearing off the face of the glacier and falling into the water.  No more overhang.  “Don’t talk about it, it will break off and sink!” became one of the tag lines for the vacation.

You know what, though?  It would still be really cool to build a shelter under one of those overhangs.  Not a good idea, but really cool.

More glacier photos here.

Argentina: Petrified

From Bariloche we hopped a plane down to El Calafate.  May I take a moment to recommend the airline security practices in use in Argentina?  For a country with a history of Dictators and secret police, it was, shall we say, rather more civil and respectful than what we get in the land of the free.

I’d also like to suggest that you don’t stay in the Hotel Posada Los Alamos while you’re in Calfate.  It was the only hotel, the entire stay, we did not like. We were pretty hardcore in our dislike.  We showed up to check in half an hour after check in started.  “Your room isn’t ready quite yet.  It’ll just be five minutes.  Have a seat,” they say.  So we sit down.

Mind, we’re in Calafate pretty much entirely to go see the glacier.  I gave us two nights just in case something went wrong with getting there, or the tours our first day were all booked or something like that.  There are other interesting things around to do, too, but it’s all about the glacier.  And we couldn’t book ahead of time, so I want to get on reserving spots ASAP.

Forty minutes later I’m about to chew all the way through my fingernails because we could have gone and booked the tour already, but we don’t have our room yet.  We’re still waiting in the lobby.  Longest. Five minutes. Ever.

Finally, our room ready, the porter leads us to a room down the hall and around the corner.  It’s big, has a very nice sitting area, a gorgeous view of the courtyard, and one bed. “Er,” says I.  Then, in Spanish, “We need two beds.”

“Two beds?” the porter asks.

“Yes.  I made the reservation for a room with two twin beds.”

“Oh,” says the porter.  Then he leaves.

“What did he say?” John asks.

“I think we’re supposed to wait here?  He’s coming back, maybe?”

Twenty minutes later the porter comes back.  We go to another room.  This one’s on the third floor.  It’s tiny.  No sitting area, small windows that barely close, and a view of…a street guarded by a very noisy three legged dog.

You can’t make this shit up.

We dropped our stuff then went to explore the sights and wonders of Calafate, and get us some scheduled glacier time.

There are no sights and wonders to Calafate.  It’s a soulless tourist town with one main drag of competent restaurants and stores hawking kitsch surrounded by unpaved streets with depressing, tiny houses and no cats.  Lots of dogs.  No cats.  The town is unnatural.

Glacier tours for the next day were booked.  So we booked a tour to the petrified forest for the next day.  This was one of those “Glad I read the guide books” things, because the tour booking offices didn’t seem particularly enthused about pitching or talking about it, in English or Spanish.  We wound up booking both days of tours from a fairly adorable girl who looked panicked every time you asked her a question.  I started by asking if we could talk in English, for John’s benefit, and she was so, so relieved when I switched back to Spanish for her the first time she got confused.

You know how I was sure I’d stop feeling smug and proud of being competent after the first week?  Apparently I massively underestimated my capacity for self-congratulation.

Calafate was actually where I had the most trouble with the language.  In Bariloche and Buenos Aires I’d occasionally run across somebody who’d speak and it just would not register as parseable language, but it was rare.  It was happening all the time in Calafate.  And then at dinner the waitress, who I’d been guessing my way through conversation with (she could understand me, at least) asked, “Para shayvar?” about our leftovers.

“John, they’re ‘shyuh-ing’ their ‘yuhs’!  That’s why I’m not following.”

“What?”

“They’re doing their double-el’s funny.  It’s an accent thing.  That’s what’s going on with the people I can’t understand.”

“You’re not understanding?  It seems to be working fine.”

*headdesk*

Apparently since John can’t understand when I’m saying, “I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me,” he didn’t notice my intense angst over constant communication fail.  This was probably for the best.

The petrified forest was gorgeous, cold, and totally worth the trip.  Our tour guide was hilarious – “I’m a professional bullshitter.  If you ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, don’t worry, I’ll make one up for you.  Don’t say anything if you catch me lying, okay?”

“What’s the name of that plan?” I asked, still frustrated at how hard it is to find out the names of Patagonian flora.

“I have no idea.”

“There are dinosaur bones lying around all over the place around here.  We don’t like to tell people, though.  When we do, the scientists from Buenos Aires come, dig out all the good ones, then take them back to their museum in Buenos Aires.  Then there’s nothing left here.  All the Patagonian dinosaur bones are in Buenos Aires.”

The wind was bitterly cold and blew constantly.  The air temperature was low, too.  John and I were chilled pretty thoroughly by the time we got back to our fantastic hotel.  But hey, the spa has not one, not two, but three Jacuzzis!  So we grab our swim suits and head over there.

Remember how much I loved the hot tub at Peuma Hue?  Of course nobody was going to have something on that scale of awesome.  I didn’t require a babbling brook and clear starscape.

Hot water would have been nice, though.  Or, you know, something warmer than chilly.

We went back to the room.  I took a bath, just as sleet started falling.

I’ve been soaking for about twenty minutes, cruising through back issues of magazines I’m behind on, when I hear something akin to maniacal laughter from John.

“What’s so funny?” I call.

“I’ll show you when you get out,” John says.

“Ah,” I say to myself.  “Cats.  On the internet.  Poor thing’s home sick.”

I emerge after acrobatically maneuvering through a shower that shifts from frigid to scalding in rapid succession.  I settle down onto my bed, ready indulge in more reading, when I remember John’s uncharacteristic cackle.  “Show me the thing,” I say.

John points to the rafters at the ceiling.  “The roof leaks.”

Best. Hotel. Ever.

More pictures from the petrified forest.  Glacier coming later.

Argentina: Peuma Hue

There’s a tradition in Argentina where people go on vacation to Estancias.  You can do this for an afternoon or as an overnight stay for a few nights or longer, depending on your budget and the Estancia.  Depending on which Estancia you go to, this is basically a cross between farm tourism and renting space in a European castle.  This was the part of the trip that excited John the most, and agonizing over which of dozens of good Estancias scattered around the country we would go to was the thorniest part of the trip planning.  Ultimately I settled a Peuma Hue, which is just outside Bariloche, for a combination of reasons centered around the review of their food.

I didn’t take pictures of all of the food.  This is representative.  Of the appetizer.  At lunch.  I’d go back to this place just to keep eating.  Or possibly to propose marriage to their cook.  (Interesting trivia that is of course no way related, same sex marriage is legal in Argentina.)

The grounds are utterly, fantastically gorgeous.  They’re right on a lake, with woods covering nearby mountains that one can go traipsing on to one’s hikerly heart’s content.  Our first afternoon we took a boat out to a peninsula for what was described as a 1.5hr hike back.  John was mostly feeling better, but I was concerned about over taxing him, so we decided that sounded like the perfect way to kill the 5 hours until dinner.  We just needed to take this windy little path that went along the base of the mountain, with maybe a stop to check out a cave.

“Hey, John?  How stubborn am I?” I ask as I start scaling a big rock well off our path.

“Pretty stubborn.”

I get half way up, see an easy path the rest of the way up, and then look back at the route I’ve taken so far.  “And how stupid am I?”

“You’re far enough away that I feel safe saying you are sometimes very stupid.”

Getting all the way to the top from there is going to be easy.  In fact, I’m taking pictures and clinging to the rock with my ankles and knees because I am a badass.  But I have no idea how, once I reach the top, I’ll get down without breaking, at a minimum, my camera.

I jumped down without going the rest of the way up.  After all, I’d promised to translate for John and the trip wasn’t quite half over yet.

“Why is everything here gorgeous?” John asked.

“You told me to take you to pretty places.”

“There are too many pictures to take.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?  My view senses were tingling.”

“I think I have to update my definition of view.  I thought that overlook back there was a view, but now I realize, this is a view and that was nothing.”

“Yeah.  But, uhm, I think we’re higher up than we’re supposed to be.  And I know we’re taking our time, but the Estancia is really far away, and it’s been 1.5 hours already.”

“I’m having fun.”

“Me too.  But I don’t want to miss dinner.  Dinner is very important.  It has food.”

The trail we wanted to be on was supposed to be marked by yellow and orange ribbons.  The trail was blazed well enough we didn’t really need them, they just served as a nice reassurance that we were doing things right.

“John, why is that ribbon red?”

“It’s a herring?”

*Glower*

“A red. Herring. Get it?”

“I’m not bringing your body through customs.  Even if I’m the one who killed you.”

“Oh, you have to see this,” John says when the trail finally looks like it’s about to start going down, instead of up.  After we’ve encountered wooden walkways that end abruptly after going off a cliff.

“Please don’t murder any more Spanish by trying to read the signs out loud.  I’m hot.”

“No, really, you want to read this sign.”

We’d come up behind it, so I had to go down the path and turn around to read it.

I have no idea how we managed that.

Evelyn, the lady who runs/owns the Estancia, is a genuine sweetheart.  One afternoon John and I were finishing up lunch with some other guests when she came to check in and see how our mornings went.  The other guests shared their story of coming back from a walk to encounter some of the farm dogs chomping down on a pair of goslings, much to the distress of the parents.

“Oh, dear.  That’s so sad.  I know it’s circle of life and all, but they were so cute.  It was just two?  So the parents didn’t lose everybody, at least.”

Her sympathy for the goslings was particularly memorable given her commentary when, on the way to the airport, she had to stop while a trio of dogs took their time crossing the road.  There was a bit of canine lounging involved in the crossing, even as she honked at them.  “Those are the first stupid dogs we’ve seen in Argentina,” John and I commented.

“Yeah,” she said with a snort.  “They won’t last long.”

We had a functioning wood burning fire place in our room, and put it to use.  They had the most stable internet connection of the entire trip.  They had a colt who absolutely adored John, especially his shoes.  It followed us for one of our horse rides, affectionately stalking John.  I may have not been so supportive of John’s distress, what with the uncontrolled snickering.

It should also be noted that, at least if I’m alone in the back of a two-person kayak, I am the world’s most ineffective kayaker.  I got stuck on everything, and half the time I still don’t know what it was that jammed me up.

They’ve got a hot tub.  A wood fired hot tub.  A wood fired hot tub next to a babbling brook.  Under a tree.  Where, if you soak in it after dinner you get a fantastic view of the stars coming out while the sun sets below the mountains, and the breeze is pleasantly cool even while it shakes the blooming tree overhead.  (More unrelated trivia, Argentina does not allow marriage to objects or locations.  Prudes.)

This was easily my favorite part of the trip, despite the high nature quotient and the absence of dense city awesomeness.  This opinion is not at all colored by the crass, unsubtle bribery they used to secure our favor. Namely: kittens.

More pictures here.

Argentina: Dear John

Dear John,

Sorry you got sick on your giant trip of awesome wherein I was terrified you wouldn’t have fun.  But hey, the worst happened.  You definitely weren’t having fun.  Here’s what we did while you were running a fever, hemorrhaging snot, and struggling with wanting to be asleep but being too miserable to manage it.

We had our last day in Buenos Aires for a bit.  You didn’t really like Buenos Aires, so that was okay.  We went to check out the planetarium but it’s really just an omnimax theater and the movie was only in Spanish, so that was no good.  Instead we went to the botanical gardens, which was quite pretty.  I took a bunch of pictures.  Then we got on the overnight bus to Bariloche, and I continued my enthusiasm for street graffitti.  You see dirty sings of bad maintenance, I see fantastically surreal, quality art.

The bus was fantastically comfortable.  Better than first class on a plane level of fantastic.  You were pretty far gone at that point.

Me: John, there’s a dinosaur out our window.

John: Huh?

Me: A dinosaur.  On the side of the road.  Out the window.

John: I have no idea what you’re saying.

Me: It looks hungry.  They have hungry dinosaurs stalking the highways out here.

John: I’m going back to sleep now.

We made it to our hotel in Bariloche, which was fairly nice, and put you to bed while I scouted around town.  I was right, you would like Bariloche.  Maybe you’ll get to see it some day.

 

You still weren’t feeling well the next day, so I did what all supportive friends/travel buddies do: I went and had adventures without you.  This involved sleeping in as late as I could and still get hotel breakfast, then wandering around Bariloche until I found an afternoon tour I wanted to take.

 

Bariloche is cute.  It’s definitely a tourist town – you don’t get that many shops selling kitsch and chocolate otherwise, but there’s a real town under it.  The town is quaint, the setting gorgeous, and the chocolate is quite good.

 

I wound up booking a boat tour that would go out to Los Arrayanes park, and to Isla Victoria.  They offered guides in Spanish and English, but since you were sick in bed, I decided to conduct the day in Spanish.  This confused the hell out of a couple from New York who seemed to assume that since I was alone and American, too, we’d be best friends.  They wound up finding a pair of sisters from New York who went on at length about travelling around the Turkish isles on the family boat of a friend from business school.  And about how New York is the best place ever, ever.  I’m sure I regret playing native rather than having that conversation.

 

The boat ride was quite nice.  I was on a boat called the Cui Cui which, if I understood the tour guide correctly, is the native word for goose.  It’s a really good thing I could mostly understand the Spanish since the tour guide on the boat generally went on for ten minutes in Spanish, then in English did the, “Be back at the boat by x time,” part of the spiel.

 

I’m finding the internet to generally suck at providing information about Patagonian flora which is frustrating since it’s visually fascinating and I’d like to know more about it including, in some cases, what it’s even called.  You can get a bit of information about Arrayanes trees on wikipedia.  I’d describe them as South American birch trees.  Their trunks have the same smooth texture and narrow shape.

 

When we were in Iceland there were parts that were very Middle Earth, especially Mordor.  Argentina hasn’t triggered the same impression nearly so much, but this forest is definitely in the running for Lórien.

 

This part of the tour was a nice walk, fairly short, over quickly, and back onto the boat.  One man in a bright orange coat stopped, looking very confused and in Spanish asked, “You speak Spanish?” to which I answered with my standard, “Yes, a bit.”  “Where are you from?” “The United States.” “Oh?  Where?” “Wisconsin.”  “But it’s cold there!”  He then ran off to tell the lady he was with that the sunburned girl was from Wisconsin, where it’s cold, and she speaks Spanish.  This was my first clue about how very conspicuous I was.

 

As you’ll recall, I think, we were both rather sunburned from walking in Buenos Aires, despite staying in the shade.  I glowed a bit.  You blamed your early fever phase on sun exposure.  I have not yet seen other sun burned people here.  I think everybody else in this country may be smarter than us.

 

Isla Victoria was gorgeous.  There was more tour guide guidance for this leg, and so I got to feel smug as the guide talked about different fungi growing on the trees, the history of the settlement of the island, and the different approaches to conservation that have been used since the park was created.  Smug, because I more or less understood it all.  You can eat the little red fungi, but they aren’t sweet.

 

One thing I noticed across both legs of the tour is how much less maintained these forests seem than what I’m used to.  There are fallen trees and downed branches everywhere.  I’d thought at first that it was just a consequence of the bit of logging they do to cull the forest on Isla Victoria, but this is just a feature of the woods all over the place.  There are tons of very old trees, but there are also tons of trees that just keel over.

 

Back on the boat I was hanging out, having a good time, when I hear a nice middle aged lady comment, in Spanish, to her friend, “Look how sunburned that girl is.”

“It happened in Buenos Aires,” I said.  “We thought we were doing a good job of staying in the shade.”

“You speak Spanish?” the woman said.

“Yes, a bit.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.  We’d have been talking to you, but we didn’t think we’d understand.  Where are you from?”

 

We chatted the rest of the way back to the harbor.  They were a group of friends, all from Argentina (somewhere north something), visiting Bariloche because it’s a nice town and that’s what retired people in Argentina do.  They agreed that the sun in Buenos Aires is pernicious.  They were very sorry you weren’t feeling well, but hoped I’d had a good time without you, and that you’d feel better soon.

 

And this is a picture I took from our hotel window, so you’ll always remember the one part of Bariloche you did get to see!  No need to thank me; I know I’m the best 🙂

Love,

Me

Argentina Trip: Buenos Aires Part 1

Pic by John.

In the lead up to this trip, I had three major fears.  They were, these:

1) That John will hate the trip and have a miserable time

2) That I will make such a thorough ass of myself trying to speak Spanish that we’ll be constantly reduced to pantomime, stressing John out and causing him to hate the trip.

3) There will be logistical disasters that complicate things and cause John to hate the trip.

It’s possible there was a theme to my concerns.  

Another from John. I forgot to bring my phone for pictures the first day.

We landed at Ezeiza airport outside Buenos Aires ten minutes early, then sat on the runway for quite a while.  That was ok, since before changing our flights around to something not insane we weren’t going to land until that night.  Any time we got was bonus time.  We paid our reciprocity fee fairly easily, and the biggest hassle getting through customs was just that there were so many people going through.  Then we emerged into the arrivals terminal and this was the part I was really excited about.

“There are going to be people from out hotel there to pick us up.  They say they’ll have our name on a sign, like in the movies.  I’ve never been picked up from the airport by somebody with my name on a sign before!”

John took this picture out the window next to the door to our hotel room.

I still haven’t been picked up by somebody with my name on a sign.  Or John’s name on a sign.  I’m still not sure what happened, but as far as I could tell, nobody was there.  Maybe they gave up and left?  The people I swapped emails with never told the right people?  I don’t know.  But we lost a good chunk of time wandering through crowd, looking for somebody who was looking for us.  Then we hired a cab.  I used a very teeny bit of Spanish, the porter mostly humoring my possibly-too-enthusiastic desire to practice, but I was understanding and being understood.  And then I gawked at billboards the whole way into Argentina and felt continually proud because I could read them.  John kept giving me nervous glances of the, “Are your standards so low that this is exciting and what does that mean for me?” variety.

Obviously I didn’t take this picture: I’m in this picture. Planning things! Also, this is one side of our hotel room. It’s decorated in birds, cats, and skulls. I did not know this when requesting this room. That’s just how things roll, here.

There was a moment outside the hotel entrance, which isn’t marked very clearly as a hotel entrance, where I’m staring at the phone ringer thingie and going, “Oh god, I’ve booked us in a hotel requiring secret agent man communication systems.  Again.  Is this a super power I didn’t know about?”

Instead, a girl met us at the door, and promptly started hefting my gargantuan bag up steep, narrow steps.  I’ve had trepidation over the bag I brought, but my luggage comes in two sizes: Carry-on and “We’re moving to Virginia for the summer, better bring everything you’ll conceivably want for the next three months.”   Carry-on wasn’t going to cut it for three weeks, not with the variety of expected weather, so gargantuan it was.  I only half filled it.  It still felt really, really guilty watching somebody else haul my luggage around.  She wouldn’t let me carry it myself, though.

Our room wasn’t ready quite yet, but they held on to our luggage, gave us a handy dandy map, and we set off in quest of breakfast and an ATM for to obtain local currency.  We found the ATM.  It was out of money.  But, I could read the screens!  The next ATM refused to complete a transaction with John’s card.  Or my card.  “Maybe we should have gotten money at the airport.  I should have thought of that instead of obsessing over finding the guy with the sign,” I say.  But then I got completely distracted by a place across the street selling empanadas.  John had never had an empanada.  We fixed that right away.  Well, I fixed it, since he stood there while I read the menu and then ordered, making it clear both that I wanted four chicken empanadas and that nobody in charge of raising me spoke the least bit of Spanish.  Gone are the days where the only clue in my accent is that it’s not from anywhere, so clearly came from a textbook.  I’d be embarrassed, except I’m probably actually better at conversation now.  *Sigh*

We went back to the hotel, got into our room, and John took a nap while I started planning our evening and getting orientated.  The first thing I realized was that we absolutely had not gone in anything like the direction I thought we had when we went off for bank and lunch.  We’d done the opposite.  Which was weird, so I looked at the map the hotel gave us again.  And then I realized what happened: North on the hotel map is at the bottom.  I’d glanced at it, assumed North was up, then took us North when I should have taken us South.  In my defense, I am on the wrong side of the equator for my navigational instincts to be valid.

My last words to John before he dozed off were something like, “I know steak and sushi are our big food goals.  We’ll probably do steak tonight, and keep our eyes peeled for a promising sushi joint while we’re out and about.” He woke up to, “We’re having sushi for dinner, and going to the bus station, and we’re walking 4km to get there.  And we’re going to stop in places on the way to see if we can find you pants that fit.”  If you don’t know John, picture somebody tolerant and long-suffering.  Now you know John.

We went to Irifune.  They were recommended by the guidebook, had good reviews online, and were near enough to where we were going to be anyway that it seemed like a good idea.  I liked their take on a Spicy Tuna roll, though it wasn’t spicy.  Their honey mustard roll was really good, and the Acedeviche roll was quite nice.  (John thought the Acediviche roll was better than the honey mustard roll.)  The cheddar roll was an abomination, and not at all good, even to people from the land of deep fried cheese.  Overall, it was okay sushi, but not as exciting or good as I’d hoped, and rather more expensive than it was worth.  I’d pay their prices for sushi, but their menu would need to be a lot more interesting and tasty, or their portions would have to be larger.  We walked out hungry, and stopped for slices of Argentinian-style pizza on our way back to the hotel.  That was good.

Our second day was all about dealing with a logistical hiccup that crept up.  Our original plan had us leaving BA on Wednesday on an overnight bus to Bahia Blanca, spending a night in Bahia Blanca (to stretch our legs, not because it’s a particularly interesting place) and then another overnight bus on to Bariloche.  When did the research on bus schedules, there were several options that would work well for that.  Apparently the bus schedules changed for November, though, because it wasn’t possible to do both legs of the trip overnight.  Half the point of doing overnight was so that John’s sabbatical would pay for our transit.  So now we’re doing it in one stretch, which means I need to get us somewhere to stay for two extra nights, and since Argentinian websites never seem to work when I want to spend money on them, I need to by the bus ticket, too.  Snagging an extra night in our BA hotel was super easy.  (I did it in Spanish!  Eventually I’ll have the part where I can make this talking in Spanish thing work integrated into my self-image enough that I’m not smug every time.  Eventually.)

It’s our second day in Buenos Aires.  We have things we need to do.  We have things we want to do.  We’re going to…play with the public transit system!

I am in love with the BA public transit system.  For one, it’s dirt cheap.  AR$1.20 dirt cheap, which is roughly US$.25.  The bus drivers are aggressive speeders.  And the entire system is apparently a hodgepodge of several private companies where they have dozens of routes, an no schedule.  The buses just come.  And come.  And come.  The learning curve for new people is steep, and I am definitely new people, but I am in awe.  The adorable guy manning the hotel desk that day loaned us his transit card to use while we’re in town and it works on all the buses, and the subway.  This city has parrots, cheap steak, and an aggressively active public transit system.  If it were cold and rainy too, you’d never pry me out of here.

There were adventures involved in my learning curve with the bus system, but not particularly interesting ones.  (Failure to get on buses.  Failure to find bus stops.  Failure to be going in the right direction upon getting onto bus)  We acquired our tickets for Bariloche, significantly cheaper ($80 or so) than they would have been on the website, and made our way to our tourist activity for the day, the Jardín Japones, i.e. Japanese garden.  It’s possibel I may have said something to John like, “You originally wanted to go to Japan on your Sabbatical.  So far, it’s like you did, right?”

My favorite part of the garden?  The very un-zen parrots flitting around in the tree tops.  I can’t think of natural element less suited to quiet, orderly peace and relaxation than a flock of parrots, but they were there in force.  It was awesome.  The food in the cafe was pretty good, too.

Then we walked.  A lot.  John didn’t quite believe me about how late dinner starts here until the restaurant I had picked out didn’t even open unitl 8pm.  We ate beef.  And then we took the Subway back to the hotel.

John woke up on day 3 with a sore throat, so I decided that dragging him across large chunks of the city on foot was probably a bad idea.  He wanted to see the ocean, so we went to check out the nature reserve relatively near our hotel.  The handy dandy map they gave us when we arrived din’t show it – it was hiding under a text box showing tourist hotspots – but google maps and the lonely planet guidebook made it look like it was about eight blocks away.  

That wasn’t quite true.  Also, some of those blocks were not quite block sized.  And then once we got there, the nature reserve was rather larger than I expected, meaning we were still over a kilometer away from the ocean.

I rather adore that there’s a marsh close enough to the main stretch of the city to get shots like that one.  Also, that the list of common phrases I was using to brush up had not one, but two ways of talking about sore throats.  It made impromptu trips to the pharmacy thoroughly unadventurous.  (I swore I’d brought drugs for everything.  Left out sore throats, though.)

We did find the ocean.  And then we hung out to spend a quiet afternoon reading, and getting acclimated to the local eating schedule.  Then something bit John and he started to break out in hives.  Apparently I brought drugs for everything except sore throats and allergic reactions.  We cured him with meat, taken internally, with cheese, lettuce, tomato, egg and a bun.

One thing John and I have both noticed and appreciated, the dogs and the children here are extremely well behaved.  There are tons of both everywhere, but we never hear them.  Even a gaggle of school kids on a field trip at the nature reserve basically disappeared because they got so quiet when their teacher started lecturing.  It’s kinda awesome.

If you ever happen to be in BA, eat at this place.  Their on Defensa, several blocks north of San Juan, and they are super tasty.  We ate the dinner for two, and they went ahead and gave us a dessert platter with one of everything when we were sad we couldn’t pick two of the dessert items.  

Today we get on the bus to go to Bariloche.  I’ll switch to using my nice camera instead of my phone camera, which means I might actually manage a picture of wildlife other than cats.

Google+ photo albums of pics from my phone.  Several already in this entry.