The long and winding road to the end of the earth in Argentina...
Be careful what you wish for...Human behaviour patterns are magnified when travelling. It's always pretty humourous how competitive people get to be at the front of the line, or get their room assigned first, or on my most recent trip, get a spot by the window near the front of the bus. You could feel the nervous energy start to trickle about when the bus pulled into the station. On one such bus trip, wonder of wonders, I ended up in the front seat of a double decker bus. I was totally stoked. Front row view of the beautiful vistas as we went from 2000 meters to close to 5,000 and back again. This turned out to be the wrong trip leg on which to have a front row seat. It took us 12 hours to travel 600k due to the fact that we were hugging the side of a mountain in motion-sickness-producing back and forths, with intense drop offs that I swear we just missed a number of times (mainly when some slick car decided that he would try to speed up the hill and catch us off guard in the middle of two lanes...jerks). They even ask that you bring an emergency fund of around $500 US in case there's a snowstorm, as the road would be too slick with ice to travel. Again, travelling overland is not for the faint of heart. Such is the road from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and Salta, Argentina.
Siesta in SaltaWe arrived in Salta at close to midnight and immediately trekked out to a...you guessed it (if you read my Bolivia post) pizza joint! Pizza and beer for everyone. All day, everyday.
Salta, Argentina feels a lot like home. Or maybe more like Europe. Our two day stop was spent mainly climbing a hill, eating empanadas and drinking a lot of red wine. It's a beautiful city, so many churches as usual in these parts (the former pope even paid this city a visit), and a good place to rest after that harrowing bus ride.
Beautiful Buenos AiresFrom Salta, we flew to Buenos Aires, and again arrived close to midnight and high-tailed it to a local Steakhouse to eat another pre-bedtime feast. This was not my best meal. The steak (even though we got to look at a picture of a cow and select the exact cut of beef we wanted), was tough and flavourless. And the waitresses could not hide their displeasure at us arriving so late on the eve of a national strike. They were all worried that they wouldn't get home, as public transit was set to stop running at 12am. We woke up the next day to a veritable ghost town. Which is incredibly eery when it's such a massive place. Just empty streets, boarded-up shops, and a few demonstrations that we witnessed across town. This made it very hard to get a true feel for the city on the first day. We did a bike tour on this day, which was actually easier without all of the traffic. And who doesn't get cheered up with being escorted around town by cute bike-tour guys (they are pretty consistently interesting no matter what city you're in. Knowledge and fitness, win win!).
Buenos Aires is massive and cosmopolitan. The birthplace of the Tango and home to like 12 football teams. It was the second major port that Europeans landed in after Ellis Island and actually had more immigrants as a percentage of the population. So it's varied and interesting and you can really get to know it only after you've visited some of the neighbourhoods It's pretty easy to fall in love with.
The vibe grew day to day. From tango shows to graffiti tours. Cool restaurants to antique neighbourhoods with fresh empanada stalls. From uber rich to super poor. From ostentatious cemeteries to quiaint neighborhoods. From the history of the tango and Eva Peron to insane political and monetary situations. You at once feel like you're in Paris, New York and within the movie Evita. And yes, we were the annoying tourists who sponaneously burst into renditions of "Don't cry for me Argentina." Sorry Canada - I'm sure they guessed I was American. Except that I kept speaking French. Not many people can dole out the Anglais in BA, and my brain just wasn't retaining the Spanish, so all of these French words kept bubbling out. I think my brain was a bit confused and was like "oh hey, they aren't speaking English. Let's pull out that other language we know and see how it goes, yeah?" It didn't go very far.
Buenos Aires is fascinating on so many levels. There's so much beneath the surface to discover and I really could have stayed for weeks. One of the negative flip sides to all of the good stuff above that stuck with me was the poverty. According to our guide, 30% of the population lives under the poverty line. We saw some of the evidence of this as fries were literally stolen off our trays when we had a little craving for some late night McDonalds (gotta indulge in one of these on any trip ;)), and in and around the garbage bins where people actually jump inside rooting for goods, leaving garbage strewn everywhere. Buenos Aires also has an extremely tumultuous political history, and another thing that really stood out for me were the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. At 4pm every Thursday these women meet (and have been meeting since the late 70s) and walk around the Plaza in pairs wearing white scarves over their heads. During the 1970s and 1980s thousands of people went missing and are presumed dead. Apparently many of those killed had children, which were adopted by members or associates of the ruling party. There is actually a program now where children who think they might have been adopted this way can go and get their DNA tested to confirm. Of the 256 missing children that have been documented, apparently 130 have been identified through this testing. There's more complexity to all of this, but it really highlighted the tragedy and the tumult of pretty recent history.
Uruguay for a dayAnother fun thing to do in Buenos Aires is to get out of it, on a boat, to Uruguay. A short ferry ride across the world's widest river lands you in Colonia, which is pretty and quaint. Another Unesco heritage site, it's old school European, with a mix of Spanish and Portuguese influences seen in the thatched rooftops and brick streets. I had a lovely day strolling, accompanied by a very overpriced but delicious Paella and toured a local winery. Uruguay is a small and unique country. A tour included with your boat tickets talks about their low unemployment, low crime, and the high cholesterol many people have due to all the red meat they eat (the cheapest things for them). Throngs of day tourists arrive from BA drinking Yerba Mate (traditional herbal tea) from pretty cups with metal straws, thermoses of hot water under their arms (this is common in Argentina as well). Kind of nice these traditions that all generations take part in.
Keeping cool at the end of the worldAfter Buenos Aires I flew down, in off-season, to pretty close to the end of the world, Patagonia. I didn't go to the most southerly town, Ushuaia, but stopped at El Calafate to check out a berg and a mountain. We were meant to arrive at around 6pm, but were informed that, due to weather (very unpredictable in these parts), we had to circle around in the dark, in the middle of nowhere it felt, for what felt like forever. If we weren't able to land, they said they'd take us to another town, which we discovered was about 4 hours from El Calafete. This was a concern as most people are "wham bam" tourists like me and are in and out in a few days, so tours were booked for 7 am the next morning. In any case, we did have to land in the alternate airport, with limited instruction on what was happening. Until they suddenly announced that buses were coming to trek us back to the other town overnight. They seem to have done this before!
The Perito Moreno Glacier is amazing. Truly. I took about a million pictures and none of them do the monster slab of ice justice. Witnessing the many shades of blue as the sun filters through variations of ice. Hearing the ice pop and crack and thunder to the lake below, causing ripples that literally rock your boat. Gliding over chunks of ice as you get up close and personal with the berg. Watching in amazement as the colouring changes minute by minute as the day turns from grey and rainy to bright sunshine. Beautiful.
The second day I took a tour to El Chalten to hike to see Mount Fitz Roy. It rained all day so the Mount was cheekily hidden behind clouds. Still a beautiful hike and adventurous picnic in the rain!
Going to Miami...finallyAnd then it was off for a very bumpy ride home, with a little stopover in Miami on the way, with two days to enjoy and one hour sleep (always extend your layover). But I rallied. I was still in South America mode so was speaking Spanish to everyone, and then I realized that pretty much everyone speaks Spanish in Miami. It feels like a different country as a result and it makes Miami really quite cool.
I packed a lot in. Swims in the beautiful ocean, walks on the beach, hotel pool hangs, a crazily dangerous double decker tour where we were nearly ejected from our seats on the highway. A boat tour where we saw the houses of all the biggies like JLO and Will Smith. He came to Miami and never left. Stayed in a very dated but cute nautical hotel (art deco style hotel originally built in 1939 with most of the same decor) and enjoyed the really cool art deco architecture of all of the hotels in South Beach. Browsed the incredible Wynwood walls covered in gorgeous street art. Window-shopped the fancy stores of Lincoln road. Had some cuban coffee in little Havana. Ate (or ate off of my friend's plate) at one of the oldest Cuban restaurants in South Beach. Even caught a raptors game.
What I loved the most besides the bilingualism was that really, truly anyting goes here. From the ritziest hotels with men in tuxedos to the most outlandish club gear I've ever seen. It was a cool, eclectic mix of everything.
Back to businessWhenever I go on a trip, I make this big list of things I want to do and accomplish when I get back, which leaves me free to just enjoy being in the moment on the trip. Problem is when I come home I'm all of a sudden launched into the middle of that list and it's really overwhelming. It's fun to pause time but it catches up with you, that's for sure.
As I've said before, I need to change some things and I'm not sure of the steps.I was looking for ways to shake things up when I got home and asked for some advice. Everyone's advice felt so big. Sad with my apartment situation: MOVE. Want love: Join a new dating site! Everyone meets someone on there! Want a kid: Just have one! No big deal! Such "simple" things to suggest but I know my life and how much time and effort these things would take up, and away from focussing on the daily, often boring, mini-steps that will (hopefully) eventually get me to those bigger goals. So I've had to step back and say:
- Here's what I want (similar to always);
- Here's how I'm going to get there;
- Here are the small, slow, day-to-day steps and activities I can take to get there; and
- Just be patient!!!!
Te veo pronto (see you soon)!