where i've been...

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

rio de janeiro

Rio. Wow. I am currently running on about 3 hours of sleep which, to anyone who knows me, means I should be a walking zombie right now. Surprisingly though, I have been on sensory overload these past few days and I don't feel sleepy at all yet. I will now attempt to summarize the past few days.

So, aside from letting me cook Thanksgiving dinner and being an amazing host, he also has guitar hero. For those of you who don't know, it is a video game where you simulate playing a guitar to different rock songs. It is really fun and we all bonded over are varying abilities to rock out. :)

We also have recently discovered a fruit juice smoothie made from an amazon fruit called acai (pronounced a-sigh-ee). It is a deep purple in color and is delicious. It is full of energy and packed with all kinds of vitamins etc. All was well and good until we took a moment to look up the nutricional information online one night. In 100g of the stuff there is MORE than 500 calories and 35g of fat. Woah! But that's can't be worse than a cinnabon back home, right?

So, with all of this newfound energy we decided to try our luck at go-karting with some other members of the rio couchsurfing community. It was fantastic. The track is IN a big parking structure for a grocery store similar to a super walmart. So, in already humid Rio we suited up in go-kart armour, got some quick instructions on the 8 different colored flags they might wave at you during the race and their meanings, put us in the cars and off we went! About twenty minutes later we emerged from our cars, dripping in sweat. Humid Rio + go-karts in a poorly ventilated parking structure + plastic seats + pseudo ninja masks, helmets, gloves, neck support and a vest + 9 go-karts =some VERY sweaty kids! We all had fun though, minus Rahima who described the experience as "terrifying". Somehow I never realized go-karting was so strenuous. My arms are actually sore today!

Then the late night tradition continued the next night when we went to a samba school. Rahima was a little tuckered out so Daniel, Fau and I headed out to what I can only describe as the most energy-filled room I have ever been in. It was crazy and a total overload of the senses. We left about 2:30 or 3:00 and then I headed out to Ipanema to meet up with a friend from childhood (Jason. Yes, Galeria.) who now lives there and who I hadn't seen in over 10 years. (Am I really old enough to say I haven't seen someone for that long? Weird!). He is a pastry chef in Rio and totally understood my love for my solid wood rolling pin that I got in Peru the first week of my trip and haven't managed to mail home yet. I guess I don't pick the most sensible off all souveniers! But I digress. He showed me pictures of his two adorable little girls and we drank and talked and watched the sun come up until about 7am. Funny thing is, Ipanema is on the beach and up until that morning I hadn't even seen the beach because of the fog and rain. So on that particular morning from standing in one spot, I got to see the beach, the Christ up on the hill, sugarloaf, and Jason. Who knew about all of these good things that happen in the morning!?! Oh...probably those of you who don't usually sleep right through it like me! :) Needless to say, by the time I fell asleep at about 8:30am, I felt totally and completely content.

And it didn't stop there. I woke up a few hours later, feeling like a kid the first day of school. So, loving soccer I have always wanted to go see a game somewhere where soccer is REALLY appreciated. We tried to get tix in Argentina, but they were about $100. But in Brazil, we got them for about $15. Let me repeat that...I WENT TO A SOCCER GAME IN BRAZIL!!!! Daniel's team, Flamengo, was playing and it was awesome, even though the other team came back to tie it up on the end. I got a jersey straight off anmd by the end could even sing/chant along with some of the cheers. Fans are really fans there. They stand the whole game and cheer and cheer amd cheer. And they all do it together with coordinating hand movements and voices in synch...something we americans would never be capable of!

After the game, a bunch of us headed to a little local bar and enjoyed good company and a beer rocket on our last evening in Rio. I promise to put pics up soon, but at the moment this blog is all via blackberry. :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Microwave Thanksgving and Couch Surfing

Guess what? We ate a proper Thankgiving dinner last night!!! I couldn´t belive it, and yet was soooo happy.

So, as I said before, we just joined a non-profit online community called couchsurfing. It is basically a social network of like-minded individuals, many of them travelers themselves. In any case, you sign up with the intent of being some type of a host to others visiting your area. This could mean being able to meet them for coffee, sightseeing, or offering a place to stay...hence the name, couch surfing. You go through various levels of verification and vouching so that it stays really safe. So through my friend Chris (Young) we were put in contact with someone he knew here in Rio. She couldn´t host us, but knew of a friend on couchsurfing who was willing to host us for a few nights. Now, this is NOT a service for people who are looking for just a free place to stay. It is really a community of getting to know people. There is the benefit of getting a free place to stay. :)

So yesterday we came to Rio, and with very detailed directions from our host, Daniel, we were easily able to find his apartment. He has an extra room and is super friendly. So we told him all about Thanksgiving and asked if we could cook him a proper Thanksgiving meal. (You can cook or clean for your host to help them out a bit for having you stay with them). He walked us to the store and bought the ingredients we could find for candied sweet potatoes, stuffing (from scratch...no stouffers here!), chicken (quick substitute for turkey), green beans, and the fixings for deviled eggs. We walked back and he asked if there was anything I needed. I asked where the stove was. He told me he didn´t have one. At first I thought he was joking, but then he pointed to the microwave. Gotta love bachelors! :) Luckily, from my days in college, I do know how to cook a pretty damn good rotisserie chicken in a microwave, believe it or not. Never have I attempted stuffing or sweet potatoes though!

All in all, everything came out really yummy and Daniel invited another couchsurfing friend, Ana, to come join us too. We all gorged ourselves silly, in good old fashioned American tradition, and had a really nice time. And the great thing about this couchsurfing community is that our social calendar got filled up immediately. Tonight there is a CS birthday party for one of the local gals at a samba club in town. Tomorrow we might go to the beach, but I doubt it because the weather is so bad, but then a samba school possibly tomorrow night, and then Sunday Daniel is going to take us to a soccer game. Everyone is so willing to just show us around and they are so friendly.

So today Daniel went to work in the morning and Rahima and I went off to do some sightseeing. We went up to the Christ the Redeemer statue and the further up we got, the foggier and ranier it got. By the time we were literally standing underneath the Christ, we could barely see it at all! The fog would clear barely enough for us to make out the gargantuan statue, but we definitely did not enjoy the beautiful views looking back on the city itself, as seen in postcards! Oh well,

Me cooking dinner. Couldn´t be happier. Think that´s the Italian in me???

Me, Ana, Daniel, Rahima

Yummy. All this in a microwave?!?! :)

The Christ that people see on a sunny day. (This is a picture of a postcard. I cheated!)

The Christ that we saw. :(

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, I must admit that today I am a little jealous of everyone back home. One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving and I not only love the food, but I love to cook it too. So traveling is a bit different. Today it started raining again at the beach and we hopped on a bus to Rio. We joined an online network/community called couchsurfing, at the prompting of other travelers and good friends, and so instead of a hostel, we will be staying for the next few nights with a friend of a friend in Rio. I am hoping desperately that there is a good supermarket nearby and that after a quick trip there I can conjure up a few of our holiday favorites to enjoy and share. :)

Paraty...how cute!

Brazilians may not have Thanksgiving, but they do have the sweetest sweets in the world I think. I have been buying the brigadeiro from street vendors, which are chocolate balls of some mixture with sweetened condensed milk and some other sugary substances, covered in chocolate sprinkles. Aside from that, they have about a million cakes (which they also eat for breakfast) and coconut treats galore (many also consisting of combinations with condensed milk and dulce de leche). YUMMY! It is a wonder that Brazilians are not fat. Everything is so delicious if you have a sweet tooth like mine. :)

So we did finally get sun for two days in Paraty, and one of those days we took advantage of it right off and went on a boat tour of some of the nearby islands. We had a huge boat to ourselves and three other tourists, and we definitely got our share of sun. Good news is that I had bought some more sunscreen in Argentina. Bad news is I found out later that it is neither waterproof nor sweatproof. Luckily I caught it before I went from pink to lobster red, and the pink has now faded into a bit of a brown. Just right for before we head off to a winter in Europe!

We also met a lovely Irish gal, Amanda, who is on holiday in Brazil for another week or so, but who will be going home to Ireland for Christmas and offered to have us spend the holidays with her and her family in Cork, Ireland. How fun! I think we will definitely take her up on it, seeing as how holidays are always more fun if you are around a bunch of people, and Irish folks sure know how to enjoy themselves!

So on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things. I hope you all take a moment to realize how good we have it. :) Sending you lots of love and hoping you all eat a second helping of EVERYTHING in my honor...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

sunny days at the beach...

Well, maybe tomorrow will be better!
I'm certainly not getting a tan like this!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fog...at the beach???

So last night we went out with our new Brazilian friends. We started out at a bar and met up with the gal from the internet cafe and her friend, which was pretty funny considering the language barrier. Following in the footsteps of my dad, I am rapidly picking up the most important phrases necesary in Portuguese. I now can master things like, "do you speak English/Spanish", "Where is the ____________"(although the last part of that sentences is always the trickiest), "Waiter! One more beer please", and "No bill, please". Rahima and I spent Thursday morning memorizing the numbers in Portuguese, which has come in handy in a variety of situations. For example, I can order multiple beers, not just one now. :)

We ended up going to a club until way too early in the morning (Paulistas, or people from Sao Paolo tend to resemble Porteños, or people from Buenos Aires, in this regard, although I think that no one will ever really surpass the Porteños. I am not sure how any of these people function the next day.) We then got up and took a six hour bus ride to Paraty today, in anticipation of beautiful beaches here and some holding still and relaxing for a few days.

But alas, as we pulled into Paraty, we were surrounded by what can be best described as bay area fog, kind of drizzling all over. Hopefully the sun will shine on us in the next few days. Until then, we will find other ways to pass the time. There are a few local breweries in town, as well as many historical buildings. The town itself is lined with cobblestone streets and is very, very cute. Someone told us today that this used to be where the royal family would spend their summers. Can't wait to explore tomorrow, after a good night's sleep. For now, it's off to bed I go...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

voce fala ingles?

Well, it´s official. We are in a country where neither of us can communicate in an effective manner with the masses. It sure makes traveling different! We took a bus from Iguazu yesterday and got in to Sao Paolo this morning at 6am, totally exhausted. We opted for a cab to the hostel instead of the subway and a short walk, which was interesting to say the least. Spanish and Portuguese are totally different and reading Portuguese names with Spanish pronunciation can be more confusing than anything. So, our taxi driver, who was very, very nice, got totally lost and didn´t know where the street we were looking for was. 45 minutes and $25 US later, (there goes today´s budget!) we arrived, only to find out that there was no room at the hostel for us. We almost decided then and there to skip Sao Paolo altogether and head to a beach town for the next week. But alas, we called around, found a room, headed back out (this time to the subway), and to the other hostel. By the time we got there, it was about 8:30am, and we climbed into bed and feel asleep until about 2pm.

So now we are up and we took a walk around our hostel. We found this internet cafe and made a new friend in the gal who works here...her speaking no English or Spanish and us speaking no Portuguese. It started off kind of like this:

girl: (something in Portuguese)
us: blank stares
girl: (something else in Portuguese)
us: more blank stares
girl: (something in Portugues, this time slower and more enunciated)
us: blank stares accompanied by smiles, followed by pointing at the computer
girl: laughs at us
us: we laugh back, for lack of anything else to do or say
girl: gestures that she just had an idea and we should follow her. She then points to a sign, posted in English on the wall.

Apparently, there is a state law here that you need to have your passport (or at least the number) in order to register to use the internet. They take a digital photo of you and everything. So,we finally figured it out...got registered, and I think we might even have made a new drinking buddy in the process. :)

So all in all, we will be in Sao Paolo for a few days, then off to the beaches in Paraty, then on our way to Rio. Thanks again to everyone who posts comments on this thing...it´s nice to know people are reading it. You guys are the best! Love you all.

La Boca, Argentina

So on our last day Buenos Aires we went to the barrio of La Boca, which is a poorer area of the city, but is famous for el caminito, where there are many brightly painted buildings and lots of tango and music. It was pretty fun to walk around, and reminded me vaguely of my brightly painted kitchen, or the other colors I chose to use when painting my condo. :) Scary, right? There was a soccer game going on that day (the tix were really pricy so we are hoping to catch a game in Brazil instead) but it was really neat because you could hear the chants from the stadium as we were walking around. Soccer is no joke around here.

One of the great grafitti/art/murals in La Boca.

Me, happy to be surrounded by bright colors.

The amazingly painted corrugated aluminum buildings.

Sunset in the middle of Buenos Aires, looking at the obelisk, which I loved, Rahima hated.

And then we headed out to the bus station, for our 19 hour ride to the waterfalls of Iguazu. As we were walking down the street, I thought to myself...do I REALLY stand out as a tourist? You decide.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Iguazu Falls - Argentina

Just a glimpse of what fits into my camera frame of Iguazu falls.

Today we went to Iguazu Falls on the Argentina side. It was absolutely incredible. There is NO way a picture can even begin to capture what we saw today. (But of course, I am including a few of my feeble attempts!) Rahima got some video on her camera, which I hope to add later, but right now I have been at this internet cafe for almost an hour and have already had the comptuer crash on me twice and have yet to upload a picture. So I think I will have to wait for another day, and a faster connection.

The falls were (are) amazing. They are so loud and the sky actually looks like it was painted with little white clouds. There are thousands of butterflies everywhere and iguanas and coati mundis (kind of like small anteaters with cute racoon tails) running around too. It is hot and humid here, my favorite. (sarcasm intended) But when you get close to a lot of the falls you are covered, or should I say drenched, in the mist.

We are heading over to Brazil tomorrow. Originally we had planned on seeing the falls from the Brazilian side as well, but honestly we can´t imagine anything more breathtaking than what we saw today. So we might just head straight to Sao Paolo instead. We fly out of Rio on the 1st of December and we aren´t really sure what to expect from Brazil, besides everyone being incredibly good-looking. :)

MASSIVE amounts of water...

The little butterfly that landed on my hand.

Proof I am actually going to these places that I say I am going to! (Yes, the lady behind me is in a poncho due to the ridiculous amounts of spray coming up from the falls.)

Okay...look hard and you´ll see me. All the way to the right, arms spread open and reaching for the sky. So happy to be completely soaked by one of the waterfalls. Yipee!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Best dinner on the trip so far...

The best dinner we have eaten so far on this trip. La Cabrera Restaurant in Palermo. It was utterly incredible. We had read about it online and showed up at 8pm to eat. The host kindly told us that the restaurant didn't even open until 8:30. So we walked around some more and went back about 9:30pm. There was a hostess at the door who told us they were all full. We think this had something to do with the fact that we were clearly tourists, not dressed up and with backpacks. But she said we could wait and see if the next reservation didn't show, in which case we would be seated. She went to check on something and the original host from earlier saw us and asked if we wanted to be seated. Apparently he knew were the empty tables were! So we were seated and somehow during our ordering of wine and meals we received a lovely sampler platter "compliments of the kitchen". I think it was our fairy god-father host who felt badly about the snotty hostess. That or someone just royally screwed up in our favor. In either case...it was delicious! Excellent food...way too much of it. We couldn't finish the steak (that we SHARED) and brought it home. It was a lovely breakfast the next morning as we sat on the floor of the hostel. :)

Rahima attacking the best steak ever.

Beautiful Buenos Aires. This is the flower sculpture which is amazing. It opens each morning with the sunrise and closes each night. We haven't seen it at night yet and I hope we do before we leave.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buenos Aires

Well, we made it back to the big city and are somewhat decompressing here. Our hostel is very basic and located in the city center. It is hot here, and so our hostel room, with no windows, is even hotter. To top it off, there is no airconditioning and the light in our room broke, so that we couldn't turn it off last night. Luckily, a) we were very tired and b) I had saved the little eye mask thing that we got from our very first flight over a month ago. I have never used one of those things before, but it proved very useful in the current situation. :)

We will stay in BA for the next few days and try to explore this very big, bustling city. Maybe we can even store up enough energy to try to hang with the BA nightlife scene. :)

It is really great that Obama won because now we feel proud to be American again. We have seen some interesting graffiti around BA and also in Santiago depicting how much the world hates Bush. It is pretty incredible. We have also experienced how happy, excited, hopeful people around the world are now that Obama will be president. It is pretty overwhelming actually.

Monday, November 10, 2008

tiene monedas?

okay...quick commentary on Argentina and the status of their crumbling economy. First of all, it is NOT as cheap down here as everyone has told us. Yes, it is cheaper than the US, but 10 dollars US does not take you through a few days of gourmet meals, sightseeing, and hotel stays. But you can get a pretty yummy pancho (hot dog) or even a super pancho for about 75 cents. Yummy.

But the funniest thing is that NO ONE in this country seems to have monedas, or coins. No one. Everywhere we go we hear, tiene monedas? They even have posted signs in all grocery stores, restaurants, etc, saying that by law, if the vendor does not have enough coins to give you back exact change then the amount charged must be rounded down in favor of the client.

So here is my question...if no one has coins...why isn't everything just rounded to the nearest peso to start off with? Oh wait...that is because certain things run ONLY on the use of coins. Like city buses. So if you don't have coins (or the ever popular city metro card that locals have) it is such a headache to ride a bus. Literally when we were in Mendoza we took a bus out to do the bikes and wine tour between the vineyards and trying to break a 2 peso bill into 2 peso coins was almost worth not returning to Mendoza centro at all. We went to about 5 different stores, and everyone looked at us sadly and said that they didn't have change.

I have asked a few Argentinos about this state of affairs, and my favorite of all the theories is that Argentines are secretly keeping 2liter coke bottles of coins at their houses, waiting for multiple coke bottles to be filled in order to cash them in at once and have a bunch of money. According to the government, there are approximately 250 monedas per Argentine, but that is definitely NOT the case.

Maybe this is the real reason their economy is collapsing...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Penguins and Whales

WOW, WOW, WOW. I have had a great last few days. We took a 24 hour bus ride from El Calafate up to Puerto Madryn, on the coast last Wednesday and got here on Thursday afternoon. This is a great place in Argentina for seeing wildlife, and there is a nature reserve called Peninsula Valdez. Rahima and I went running along the beach when we got here and we saw whales from the shore! They seemed to be so close. Apparently this is mating season for the right whales, so they are all over. It was pretty neat. Since we were still traveling with our newfound Canadian friend Ryan, we all decided that it was actually cheaper for us to rent a car for a few days and get around ourselves rather than paying for the all inclusive tours. Road trips are fun too.

So on Friday we went to Punta Tombo, which is the largest Magellanic Penguin rookery in the world. It was really, really, REALLY funny. They burrow in to the ground, so it literally looked like a landscape of whack-a-mole...well, whack-a-penguin I guess! Their little heads were just peeking out of these holes in the ground. You can walk around the rookery just peering in on sleeping penguins guarding their eggs (which will start to hatch next week or so...darn). Every five or six steps there are more penguins. It was really wild. They were just soooooo cute too. I loved it. I didn´t even mind the gale force winds that were around us.

Then, yesterday, we took the car to the nature reserve and went whale watching. Now, I have been whale watching before, and I know that you always see those really cool pictures in the whale watching shops where the whales are right next to the boats...but that once you pay to go whale watching you never, EVER see them that close up. Right? WRONG! We saw about 6 right whales, and they were literally just hanging around the boat, floating within feet of us. It was so incredible. The sound they make when they breathe is really something. I pretty much just wanted to push everyone else off the boat to get more pictures...but Rahima held me back. :)

Then we drove up to the north side of the peninsula where (supposedly) it is one of the only two places in the world where orcas will beach themselves trying to attack elephant seals and sealions. If you know me, you know I have always, ALWAYS wanted to see an orca, and have tried on several occaions to no avail. Well, this time, it was the same thing. Seals, but no orcas. :( I was a little bummed, but it was still pretty cool to drive out there and try. When I finally see an orca, it will definitely be worth it.

So all in all, it has been a great couple of days. Today we are going to get on another 18 hour journey via bus to go to Buenos Aires and be there for a few days...an hopefully escape for a quick mintue to go relax on a beach somewhere. Ryan left to go to Mendoza today, and he was seriously one of the funniest people we have ever met(he is totally the Canadian version of Joe). I think we will finally get a little break from laughing so much.

Argentina is great, but it has really been costing us a lot more than we thought to get around such a big country. I feel like you could easily spend 10 months in Argentina alone and barely get to know it. We have covered a lot of ground though and are having a great time, but we definitely miss the cheap bus rides in Peru. I can´t believe that in just a few short weeks we will have to leave South America. Time really does fly when you are having fun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Glacier Perito Moreno

So today we had beautiful weather and we hiked ON Glacier Perito Moreno. It was absolutely amazing. Despite the 7am departure time. Isn´t it funny that only a few months ago that was commonplace, and now it seems so utterly exhausting to be up so early! What will I ever do when I go back into the working world??? Sorry to all of you who are reading this and are utterly despising me at the moment!

Originally we had tried to arrange the tour for Monday, but they only had one spot on the trip, (and us obviously not wanting to get separated again...) signed up for today´s tour instead. The good news is that yesterday it rained and showed all day long. Today was sunny and beautiful. It was actually even warm walking around on the glacier. As a bonus, we met two really funny Canadians who we ended up renting a car with yesterday and exploring the area a bit. We drove out to a lake about 60km from the town we are now in and had a picnic in the car. Yummy. Doesn´t get much better than hiding from the wind and cold, sharing a gourmet meal of bread, cheese, cold meats and wine. We then did a hike which felt like it was straight uphill forever in the rain and snow and COLD wind (I am making it sound a bit worse...but then again, I have been known to embellish a bit)...but it was cold. We had a blast though, and I can´t imagine laughing harder at some points. There were definitely tears of laughter, accompanied by spitting of food and beverages as well as some snorting.

Today we got up early, were picked up by the tour company and headed out to Glacier National Park. The glacier was absolutely amazing. First we drove to a vista and took some pictures. Amazing. Then we took a ferry across the lake and got closer to the glacier. More amazing. Then we got our crampons and hiked to and then ON the glacier, for about an hour, where we at lunch, and then headed back. It was really really really incredible. And I have the BEST travel buddy in the whole world. I think she described it kind of like having a panic attack at one point, considering she doesn´t like the idea of walking on ice, or trekking in the cold. Oops. But it was really really worth it, and when we at lunch, we even shared some ¨Baileys con Glacier¨, a drink Ryan invented to outdo the normal ¨Baileys on ice¨. Yummy. And warm.

So now, I am utterly exhausted, and trying to download a few pictures for you all, while following the latest election updates. I hope this all comes together! Tomorrow we will be on a long busride up to puerto madryn, on the west coast, where we will eventually do some whale watching and penguin watching. I can´t wait. For that, and a finding a big pot of money to pay for all of these excursions. Can someone say budget? love you all. :)

Glacier Perito Moreno (I am learning to play with my camera settings...how fun!)

Ants marching... These are the members of another trekking group on the glacier. Look how small they look!

The liquid and frozen water form these little frozen pools that look like you should just fall right through. Standing on water as blue as could be. Amazing.

A little artsy, just for fun.

The four stooges...

Beautiful Tuesday.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

a quick update

Well, today we got up early and took a cheap, last minute flight up to El Calafate, still in Patagonia, instead of attempting a 21 hour bus ride. Ahhh...the comforts of airplanes. :) So we are exploring our options to go trekking on the Glacier Perito Moreno tomorrow. If you have time, do a web search about the glacier. It looks spectacular...and it is going to be quite the adventure. Just wanted to let you all know...roughly...where I am in this mundo pequeno! Besos!