Sunday, October 31, 2010

Igua- damn that is a big waterfall- Zu!

The Great Wall of Waterfalls

Today we are spending our time waiting… and waiting… and waiting, to get on a bus to Montevideo, Uruguay. Well, technically to Concordia, Argentina, then another bus to Saldo, THEN a bus to Montevideo. But I digress. While we have nothing but time, I’d thought I’d share our impression of Puerto Iguazu and Cataractas de Iguazu (or the waterfalls of Iguazu).

Basically, they are fucking immense and impressive. We spent two days in the park (85 pesos the 1st day, 45 pesos the 2nd day). The first day we toured the upper and lower circuits, which have fantastic viewing areas for the Adam and Eve waterfalls and Bossetti waterfall. We also did a 6km “jungle hike.” We saw hundreds of butterflies, large and small lizards, huge ants and even a capybara (the largest rodent in the world). Over all, it was a great experience. The park was very well maintained with tons of shops, restaurants and space.

The second day we woke up late and slightly hungover. We missed breakfast but didn’t think it was a big deal, we’d just get something on the way to the park, right? WRONG. It turns out the ENTIRE country or Argentina was off work. Why? The national census. Yes, that is correct. NOTHING was open. We had two cereal bars and some crackers. We thought there must be something open at the park, I mean the park was still open and all those tourist need to be fed right? WRONG. The park was open, nothing else was. We were sooooo hungry. But we soldiered on.

The only thing we had left to see in the park was Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat). It was a 1km walk over a catwalk to get to the lookout. OMG, it was one of the coolest/ frightening things I have ever seen in my life. Dan and I say it probably takes our #2 spot on “best places in the world” (#1 is the Great Wall of China). There is just an insane amount of water falling, you can’t even see the bottom.

After that we chatted with an American couple on their honeymoon (on their way to Patagonia, jealous!!) and made it back to the hostel with time to shower up and get to the store. It opened at 4:30pm and the line was out the door with tourists, starving just like us! Dan made ravioli, and it was possibly the best thing I have ever eaten.

If anyone is curious our budget so far looks like this:

Hostel: $15 dollars each per night, TOTAL $30

Spending for food ect. Daily: $30

Bus trips overnight: $75 per person

It’s not incredibly expensive, but we are definitely traveling on a shoestring. We are lucky to have found a bus company that will give us a student rate even though I don’t have a student ID card. :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Watch your back!

Buenos Aires: urban dichotomy

The play by play by Dan: On the flight from Miami Amanda and I were not seated together. Why? No se. The plane was the most comfortable I had ever been on and although we were unable to convince the people next to us to change seats with us, the plane was apparently not sold out and the flight attendants moved us miraculously to the center bulkhead of the plane Next to Amanda sat a late 30s Porteno named Cristian who was in Miami on vacation and spoke very good English. We talked until we it was time to sleep and he offered to give us a ride from the airport downtown with his wife and three year old son,because all the public transportation in the city was on a one day strike that Thursday. We got into town after a good long time stuck in the traffic that resulted from a city of 10 million people sans public transportation. They were the most adorable family, and so generous and welcoming we were sure that BA was going to be a great time and a great place.

At first it was quite nice. We took a walk from our hostel to the river through the barrio San Telmo which is not dangerous but isn’t all that nice looking. I expected more squares, cobblestones, café’s with 50 tables and a hundred chairs out front. No matter. We were so exhausted we had a coffee and a couple empanadas at a café in a pedestrianized area near the river, walked back and took a nap in the middle of the day. We went out later that night, searching for a restaurant in San Telmo that no longer existed (thanks outdated lonely planet), but ended up grabbing some overpriced but delicious pizza and getting semi-hammered in celebration of our new found independence and adventure, we went absurdly over budget and now we know that alcohol isn’t in the cards for us every day if we want to make it to Colombia. We stumbled back to the hostel and acted slightly obnoxiously by playing pool in the common room at 1:30 in the morning, but we reined ourselves in after 15 minutes and passed the night watching torrented tv on our netbook and drinking beer.

Our hostel was nice, the people that worked there were very friendly and kind. Noise carried in it like a concert hall, though. We woke late on Friday but dehydration gave us a tired edge all day, despite that we walked for miles and miles. We took a walking tour around Argentina’s Upper East Side, the Ricoleta neighborhood, which is home to a famous cemetery composed of mausoleums the size of small homes, including one for everyone’s favorite Argentinita, Eva Peron. We saw some great impressionist and modern art in the free art museum and found out where all those cafes with a hundred seats out on the square are. That night we went to a restaurant on a square in San Telmo where there would be a tango show. We saw a very good pair of tangonistas and decided to call it a night around 11 needing to both conserve money and get some restful sleep. That was futile.

Desperately seeking sleep our hostel was a noise machine early, so we watched tv until 2 while the noise got worse and worse and closer and closer. When I had gone out to the lobby for water around 12am, there was music and about 12 people drinking. Now, when we went out there, there were 50 people drinking, the music was at club volume, everyone was smoking and smashed and screaming and waiting for the bathroom not three feet from the foot of our beds. This went on until 6 in the morning. No one asked us, no one told us there would be a party, when it would end or why we would have never booked a room inside of a discotheque. I’ve never been treated so inconsiderately, when people would scream on the top of their lungs outside of our bedroom we went outside and glared, some of the men seemed to feel really bad when Amanda came out with fire in her eyes but the girls didn’t respond at all and when she said something once to one of them we could hear, “Punta!” after she closed the door.

The next day we got our money for that night back when we complained somewhat vehemently. It was a late start but there was still time to do what we wanted to do that day. We went to the bus station and found out that the extravagant price that is 3 times the quoted price in the lonely planet for our 18 hour bus ride to the falls where I’m writing this, was indeed the only price there was despite all the competition in that marketplace (the free market inevitably leads to price fixing what?). Good news: 20 percent student discount for the buses, and I’ve still got my Temple ID. After that we walked, down to the river and through the very nice riverside and as we do this I’m thinking to myself. I could really see myself here. Café’s, rollerbladers, families walking dogs, skateboarding dads and kids, people playing soccer on a beautifully manicured park with an interesting design. Me gusta.

Then we walked into La Boca. We were warned about La Boca more than anywhere else. Cristian told us we should go but to be careful, the lonely planet echoed him. Sure it wasn’t the brand new riverside but as we walked down there I didn’t feel uneasy. It looked like San Telmo. We ate a couple empanadas at a café near the art street that we walked down there to see, and everyone inside seemed normal, happy, diverse (age wise). It wasn’t frightening at all. The Caminito, the art street was nice if a little gimmicky. There’s plenty of street performers and knick knack shops and dancing gauchos and plaster of paris caricatures hanging from the windows. We were only there for a half an hour or so and we started to walk back, the walk to San Telmo would take about half an hour. It was about six and while it was by no means dark, evening had begun. We were three blocks down the large street that would take us back to San Telmo when we decided to take a bus, we had heard the neighborhood was dangerous and didn’t want to take any chances, so we crossed the street and the bus stop was just one or two blocks too far for us. At the first intersection on that side of the street there was a young man in a black adidas jacket and jeans just standing there. We crossed the street; there were four other people in very close proximity to us, Amanda was on my right and half a step behind me. All of a sudden she screamed, she had been dragged about three or four paces to my right by her purse and the struggle was pulling her further. We were in the middle of the street we were crossing when this happened and as soon as I saw it I yelled, “Hey!” and charged the guy. His eyes turned to me, he let go of the purse and Amanda booked it around the corner the way we had been walking. He took two steps back and, I swear I can see it in my head like it’s in slow motion, as he did he lifted his shirt up to reveal a black handgun. I couldn’t believe it. I thought that he would run after we got the bag and he lost the element of surprise but instead I was five feet from a pistol pointed right at me and a man suddenly yelling in Spanish. For five seconds I thought I was really going to die (in retrospect I actually doubt the pistol’s genuineness), and I cringed and put my hands up. He didn’t shoot, so I stood up straight and he yelled at me in Spanish and motioned with the pistol to my bag. I gave it to him with relief. It contained our water bottles, our lonely planet, a map of the Recoleta cemetery, some pens and my notebook.

He ran. I walked up the street until I realized that Amanda was pretty far ahead of me and was probably freaking out, so I started to run. She was crying, some people tried to help us, some ten year olds thought it was funny, an old couple who witnessed it shook their heads and debated on the futility of calling the police. We spent ten minutes flagging down a cab with everyone on that block. It took us back to the hostel where we stayed for the rest of the night drinking beer, eating take-out pizza.

The next day we walked around the National Congress and the Northern part of the Av 6 de Julio where the famous Obelisk is and were relieved to be leaving Buenos Aires. We didn’t get to see the pink house or the famous Palermo neighborhood or walk on the Avendia Jorje Luis Borges, but we certainly had an interesting time of it. I’m not sure how long we’re going to be paranoid and looking over our shoulders, we’re taking more precautions but I hope the memory of this incident and its effect on our behavior fades quickly so we may take the chances that will allow us to have the fullest and most memorable experiences on our journey.

Amanda’s two cents: Beunos Aires was cool but nothing too special. Definitely not worth getting a gun pulled out on us, and keeping us watching our backs all the time now. Now I certainly don’t want to go off the beaten path (although where we were was NOT off the beaten path) and I don’t think I’ll be able to carry a bag or purse for a while. With traveling there are always these ups and downs, so we’re hoping we’ll be on an upswing for a while.

Coming up next: Puerto Iguazu, the largest waterfall in the world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Same blog, new continent!

Welcome back! We’ve been gone on a break for a while, but we are hitting the road tomorrow so we thought we’d share our supposed itinerary and what’s been going on. We’ve been hanging out in Reading, PA (Dan’s hometown) for the past six weeks. Dan was the best man in his friend Chris’s wedding, and we had to get extra pages put in out passports (!!!!), so we stayed at his parent’s house and planned our big trip to South America.

I’ve also been kinda sorta planning the move from Portland, Oregon to Philadelphia, PA. I got a driver’s license, looked at neighborhoods, registered to vote and checked out schools. We are both planning on going to grad school when we get back from South America so we have one eye on that.

But first things first: SOUTH AMERICA!! Our itinerary looks something like this:

Buenos Aires, Argentina --> Puerto Iguazu, Argentina --> Montevideo, Uruguay --> Mendoza, Argentina --> Valparaiso, Chile --> Santiago, Chile --> La Serena, Chile --> Antofagasta, Chile --> Uyuni, Bolivia --> Potosi, Bolivia --> Sucre, Bolivia --> Cochabamba, Bolivia --> La Paz, Bolivia --> Copacabana, Bolivia --> Cuzco, Peru --> Nazca, Peru --> Lima, Peru --> Trujillo, Peru --> Cuenca, Ecuador --> Quito, Ecuador --> Pasto, Colombia --> Cali, Colombia --> Medellin, Colombia --> Cartagena, Colombia

So that’s it! We’ll probably change this a bunch as it goes, sleep over night in some small towns, get caught up in border crossings and whatnot, but that’s our tentative plan! We are planning on coming back possibly the last week in February, so that means about four months on the road. We are hoping for safe and healthy travels and we have everything from antibiotics to probiotics. We are generally feeling a little scared but super, super, SUPER excited!

Adios los estados unidos, bienvenidos argentina!!