Get the Flash Player to see the slideshow.

Home Away from Home

Millions of people raved about Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ok, I don’t even know thousands of people. Armed with such genuine reviews, we reckoned ten nights in “the Paris of South America” was justified. Spending over a week in a hostel gets cumbersome, so an apartment search was launched.

Outside ViewHopping from city to city, dormitory to dormitory, and bus to bus can leave any traveler wary. Anyone can relate. You have been there no doubt. Craving your own bed. Desiring the familiarities of your neighborhood. Needing your own comfy couch and television remote that has molded to your hand. Count us among those masses. Though we have been on the road for only seven weeks, we wanted a familiar place to rest our eyes and stretch our legs.

View from Bedroom Loft  Breakfast NookHallway Entrance 

Our friends Ryan and Laura Keller (www.roundwego.com) domiciled in BsAs for six months a few years back and had some great suggestions in terms of desired location. So we honed in on the Recoleta and Palermo Viejo barrios. After four weeks of canvassing various apartment websites, we pulled the trigger on a loft in Soho (4227 Soler), a distinct area within Palermo Viejo. What a charming place to call home.

Family RoomOur quaint loft has all the essentials: hot tub, wine cellar, and a baday. Well maybe not all that. But our temporary pad of 540 square feet does have all the comforts of home. Ash and I are enjoying WiFi, a fully functional kitchen, cable television (10+ channels in English), our own bathroom, etc. Located on the top floor of a beautiful structure dating from the 1800′s, the apartment has fifteen foot ceilings, wood floors, and exposed brick walls. Additionally, a bright glass roofed patio with a breakfast nook acts as additional hallway. As if the place didn’t have enough charm already, the furniture and art pieces raise the bar a further notch. Buenos Aires’ slick subway is only five blocks away and we are surrounded by sidewalk coffee houses, beef serving restaurants, and eclectic bars. Oh, and Ash can’t get enough of the unique shops offering one of a kind clothing.

Dining Room (Loft Bedroom Above) Loft Bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

When the veteran BsAs inhabitants, Ryan and Laura, came over on Saturday night to imbibe on some of Argentina’s finest malbec before a midnight meal, they were blown away by the place. We were too! Our impression of Buenos Aires has been greatly defined by our home away from home.

- Greg

If you are interested in renting this apartment, the owner is quite responsive and speaks/writes well in English.

mariuseligra@hotmail.com - Maria Eugenia Seligra

Tips

  1. If your itinerary calls for 7+ days in a city, compare prices between a decent hostel and a livable apartment. For example, a private room at a respectable hostel in a good location would have cost us about $40 in Buenos Aires. After email negotiations, we agreed to pay $36 per night for our Palermo Soho apartment. Note: the longer your stay, the lower the per night cost.

  2. When looking for budget apartments in Buenos Aires, check out ByT Argentina: http://www.bytargentina.com/ and Craigslist: http://buenosaires.en.craigslist.org/. The downside of the numerous apartment websites is that the rate is hard to negotiate and the broker takes a commission. Craigslist will take you more time to find a suitable place, but you can negotiate the rate directly with the owner.

  3. Prepare your finances to withdraw lots of cash. Landlords will only accept hard currency and prefer US Dollars. Don’t be surprised if you must handover a substantial damage deposit upfront.

El Diablo & Iguazu Falls

Out of the way? 34 hours. Travel wary? You betcha. Expectations high? Certainly.

Fresh off a state-side wedding filled with drinking, friends, and more drinking, Ash and I arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil after two days of flying the friendly skies. A short cab ride to the bus depot and we sat idle waiting for our 6:00pm departure for Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. The “sleeper” bus wasn’t so bad, but we arrived exhausted after the 16 hour ride to the Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil border. Still recovering from a cold, Ash rested in the room while I hung out with eight Brazilian Special Forces troops poolside. Despite my worst pleading in broken Portuguese, they refused to storm our room and rouse Miss Ashley.

Iguazu Falls - Brazil - v26Guilt did the trick. “You came all this way to watch the ceiling fan do 120 rotations per minute?” I inquired. With that, we got on yet another bus, this one only 30 minutes, headed for Iguazu Falls. Raincoats in hand, we walked excitedly through the damp rainforest towards a furious sound. And there it was… the first six waterfalls among the 275 in total along a 1.7 mile stretch of the Iguazu River. We were blown away by the fury of water and immense height. Ash basically dragged me along the path as I tried my best to fill an eight gigabyte memory card full of misty photos. Meandering along the wooden walkway offering panoramic views, we arrived at Iguazu Fall’s crown jewel, the Devil’s Throat. Over foaming whitewater, a bridge was somehow built right into the lower base of the mayhem. While gazing at this astonishing vista, we received a proper drenching. Chilled by our wetness and the approaching evening, a retreat to a warm shower was ordered by General Miller.

Iguazu Falls - BrazilStill short on rest, we awoke late the next day, packed our quaint belongings, and then took a short bus ride to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. We purchased one-way autobus tickets (18 hour ride) to Buenos Aires for the following afternoon then located a suitable place to stow our backpacks. Another 30 minute bus adventure and we arrived at Iguazu Falls. While Brazil provides broad views of the falls, Argentina renders the tourist speechless with intimate experiences of several falls, including a view from atop Garganta del Diablo – the Devil’s Throat. Once again, I was drawn in by the scenery as Ash scurried ahead to the viewing platform. Her excitement was palpable as she waved me her way. WHAT A SIGHT. On three sides were tall cliffs engulfed with rushing water. The sheer amount of water, its rehearsed 270 foot drop, and the subsequent auditory sensation left us in awe. No adjectives can describe nature’s awesomeness. But perhaps this video will provide some justice:

Devil's Throat PlatformAnxious to get personal with Iguazu Falls, we splurged ($40 each) for a rollercoaster boat ride into the mist. The inner-tube ringed vessel departed 8 kilometers downstream and we navigated rapids approaching the San Martin falls. The skilled captain positioned the orange boat twice below the cascade of water. Our raincoats were no match. Despite what felt like shards of glass slicing your face, it was a gas! We disembarked near the base of the falls and spent another hour only feet from watery torrents. Suitably enthralled, the bus departed back towards Puerto Iguazu. The following days were filled with random exclamations about our unforgettable experiences. 

Ashley Considers Throwing Greg Over... It is ALIVE!

 

 

 

 

 

$4Because the autobus bound for Buenos Aires didn’t depart until 3:10pm, a quick jaunt to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay was possible. Those who say the Wild West has vanished have not been here. Notably, the border crossing looks more like a traffic jam for a Kenny Chesney concert than a boundary line between two sovereign nations. Rumored to be a bastion for cheap electronics and other goods, we strolled haphazardly though the tented markets. We were offered Nike socks then fishing lures from the same person. Our one purchase was a beard trimmer (for Ashley) from a relentless gentleman carrying a knapsack for $4. He most likely used the battery powered instrument to trim his German Shepherd’s hair a day earlier. What a strange place… no method to the madness.

Depositing our bags underneath the Via Bariloche sleeper bus, our veins were pumping with adrenaline from three days in/around Iguazu Falls. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Poor Niagra!” upon viewing the falls. She was 100% correct. The word “amazing” is abused these days, but there is no better word to describe Iguazu Falls.

Worth it? Hell yes.

- Greg

Tips

  1. The falls experience a wet and dry season, like other parts of the world, that affect water flow. April – July is considered the dry season when the volume of water is diminished and December – February is the wet season. The former offers blue skies while the latter exemplifies nature’s power, though increased chances of rainy weather.

  2. Careful with cameras: you will get wet. It is not necessary to invest in a waterproof camera, but use common sense. When not using your precious digital camera, securely tuck it under your raincoat or shirt.

  3. Plan for one day on each side of the falls. The Brazil side should take about two hours while the Argentine experience can last from three to seven hours. If possible, check out the Brazilian views first as it provides you with a wide scope of the falls. Then get closer on Argentina soil.

  4. No matter what, do not take a barrel over the Devil’s Throat. Death would be certain.

Nada Nada Limonada

That old Beatles song… “Back in the U.S.A.” I never understood why The Fab Four didn’t call it “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Or did Chuck Berry already write a song with that title? Nada Nada Limonada.

Amy & Adam Wedding v24We jetted back to the Motherland for the joining of two souls in Sonoma County… California wine country. It was worth the 34 hours of travel, six airports, and one overnight stay on steel chairs at Dallas’ frigid airport. The occasion was splendid, Amy Sullivan making a beautiful Mrs. Adam Balentine. Our time in and around San Francisco was minted with memories of wedding festivities, wine tasting, and catching up with dear friends/family.

Cramming into the GMC sport utility vehicle, seven of us left the San Francisco airport to explore the City by the Bay. Needing to feel girlish once more, Ash dropped her bags then headed for the hairstylist. Meanwhile, Batman (Cate), Melissa, Heather, Ben, Grant, and Greg saw the sights: Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street (crooked street), and the famous trolley cars. Caught up in the excitement, we were handsomely scammed at lunch. We were lured to the outdoor seating by a menu boasting cheap hamburgers and 68 beers on tap. The establishment conveniently left out the price for such a selection. We walked away with lighter wallets and shaking heads… $8.00 pints. Properly sauced, dinner was spent with Ashley’s Kappa Delta sorority sisters at a pizza joint then braved a lunatic taxi driver back to the hotel.

Morning came and across the Golden Gate we went. Ben became the resident expert on the bridge’s history, often reciting, “built ahead of schedule and under budget.” Knowing we were headed to Argentina, Benjamin (AKA “Bren”) was kind enough to teach us a useful Spanish phrase. When asked something in Spanish that is confusing, simply reply with “nada nada limonada”. So useful.

Ledson Kenwood

 

 

 

 

 

We pulled into the Flamingo Hotel and deposited our bags then headed east on Sonoma Highway in search of a couple vineyards looking to unload some vino. Seasoned tasters Ken (Ledson) and Lucy (Blackstone) were kind enough to instruct us novices on volatilization, grapes, and the fermentation process. Lucy took the love of wine a bit far calling pinot noir the “diva” grape after confidently informing us this would be the best tasting of our lives. Feeling a bit giddy, the girls drank champagne while getting manicures/pedicures. So the boys were left scratching their heads… what to do? Buy a case of beer of course. It had been only 6 weeks, but Greg enjoyed hanging with the guys again while playing cards pool side as women in alluring one-pieces performed water aerobics.

Hospital Gown?One day until the wedding. Ashley woke up well rested, but had peculiar bumps scattered across her body. So instead of vineyard tours, we visited Sonoma’s finest medical clinics. No doctor knew precisely what the bumps were, but prescribed an antibiotic for the welts, makeup for the redness, and plenty of alcohol for the selfconsciousness. But hey, it was our first chance to try out our traveler’s insurance! Grant rushed Ash to the wedding rehearsal just in time and the guys took a self guided tour of B.R. Cohn Winery. Next came the rehearsal dinner where the girls gave Amy a heartfelt speech, spearheaded by toastmaster Heather. Then, a white sedan pulled up with two smiling faces. Brad and Cathy Miller (Ash’s folks) had arrived!  It was such a pleasure seeing them. 

Being the excellent boyfriend that Greg is, the shaving cream and razor reared their ugly heads. After repeated requests from Ash, off came Greg’s patchy beard prior to bed. He wept as the hairs circled the drain.

Wedding Day was here. Ash met up with Amy and the Wedding Party while Brad, Cathy, Ben, Grant, and Greg headed for the Kenwood Winery. Over 90 minutes were spent exploring the grounds of the vineyard. The staff could not have been friendlier, even offering us a taste of syrah in the middle of the fermentation process. We tasted some choice selections with Dale, whom took a particular liking to Ben. Sadly, the feeling was not mutual.  Ben did not care for Dale’s meddling in how he manages his life nor his decision making process.  The rest of us got a real kick out of it.  Cheers, Dale. 

Pre-Reception Reception Kappa Deltas

 

 

 

 

We hit the showers then boarded the bus with a sack of Bud Lights headed for B.R. Cohn. Surrounded by rolling hills covered with grapes ripe for the picking, the ceremony was beautiful. Amy made a gorgeous and beaming bride, Adam brimming with joy and confidence. Batman, Melissa, Heather, Ash and the other three gals looked stunning in their pale yellow bridesmaid dresses. With warm lighting, an energetic band, and tasty food/drinks, the reception was off the charts. What a celebration.

Gun Show Bride and 3 Amigos

 

 

 

 

 

A tearful goodbye, and our good friends from Chicago headed to the airport the next morning. But we had the entire day to spend with Ash’s folks. The redwood trees of Muir Woods was our first stop. Then we headed into San Francisco as the Blue Angels flew overhead during an exhibition for Fleet Week. We feasted on fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf overlooking sailboats and fishing vessels. Morning came and we said goodbye to Brad and Cathy. We slept awhile longer, then arrived at the airport for a 20 hour jaunt back to Brazil.

Ash had been anticipating this wedding since an early morning phone call last November from Amy informing her of the exciting news. Seeing one of Ashley’s best friends get married was an emotional experience for her, but she couldn’t be happier for the two of them. Friends, vineyards, and an unforgettable wedding was the prefect combination for a short stay on home soil.

Muir Woods San Fran v3

 

 

 

 

 

Does Russia have a wine country? Is there a grape that grows in Siberia? What? I am confused. Nada nada limonada.

- Greg & Ash

Tips

  1. If the price isn’t listed on a menu, always inquire before ordering. This ensures you will not have to wash dishes to pay your tab.

  2. When you feel you have been wronged by an airline, file a complaint. Our missed connection with American Airlines added an overnight stay in the airport and 12 hours to our trip. They deposited 12,000 miles to each of our frequent flier accounts.

 

Modern Medicine’s High Blood Pressure Cure – Morro de Sao Paulo

Physician orders. Ash: 134 over 87. Greg: 137 over 82. Our blood pressure had reached dangerous levels in Rio de Janeiro. Doc’s prescription was rather simple: relaxation, rest, tasty eats, and surfing.

Morro's FortSomehow our backpacks beat us to the baggage claim in Salvador and we were off to Mercado Modelo for a two hour catamaran ride to Morro de Sao Paulo. Several reliable (hey, we will take any advice) sources suggested a trip to Brazil’s northeast coast would only be complete with a stop on this lively island. What a gem “Morro” turned out to be… beautiful, deserted beaches, parties, etc.

It also happened to be my 23rd birthday – we can all fib now and then! Ashley’s fantastic parents and Grandma June treated us to an incredible bungalow getaway on Morro’s 4th beach. Anima Hotel’s location ensures your tranquility as access is limited to an adventurous 25 minute van ride or two hour beach stroll. After a soundtrack of insects accompanied our dreams, mornings were met with singing parakeets. It is hard to beat a piping hot mug of Brazilian coffee, a tapioca omelet, and crashing waves to kick off the day.

Incredible Bungalow Beach Road 

 

 

 

 

 

 Being in the tropics, the weather forecast was met with suspicion. On rainy days we caught up on sleep, shopped along the sand road in Vila, or watched drenched visitors dodge muddy puddles over caipirinhas. The bungalows were even outfitted with hammocks from which I could examine the daily life of brilliant red crabs.

Beach #2Sunny days were glorious. Morro’s 2nd beach turns into a festival of art, dancing, sports, food, and surfing. Cold Skol cervezas in hand ($0.90 each), we watched the locals practicing Capoeira as the tide lapped at their tan feet. Confident that my balance and coordination were sufficient, I rented a surfboard for two hours and floated by helplessly as the pre-teens kept snaking my waves. No worries though… my back got one hell of a burn. Another day was spent island hopping aboard a small boat and we even slurped down raw oysters right from a nearby river. Ash was hilarious as she probed her one and only oyster after insisting the tiniest one would suffice. She did enjoy the Jamaican BBQ dinner on the beach over candlelight after Morro’s electric grid crashed for 3 hours. Not even my clumsy glass shattering maneuver with the red wine bottle could ruin it!

Beach parties until sunrise, various activities, and endless stretches of sand truly make Morro de Sao Paulo an island paradise. It attracts hipsters, Israeli soldiers, and honeymooners alike. Perhaps some future event will require a similar prescription.

- Greg

Tips

  1. The Birthday Timeout ferry from Salvador to Morro isn’t cheap ($42 each way), but you can save a total of $10 if you book a roundtrip ticket at Salvador’s port of Mercado Modelo.

  2. The all day surfboard rental may seem like a good deal, but paddling wears on the novice’s shoulders. Opt for the per hour rate of $6 from any surf shop.

  3. Beach #2 may be where all the action is, but if you prefer a quiet night sleep at a cheaper price, check out Beach #3. Then spend all the money you saved on fresh fruit drinks at 2:00am.

  4. The Jamaican BBQ on Beach #2 is a great deal. $15 for all the sausage, steak, pork, pasta, and salad that you can handle. Skip lunch and enjoy an early dinner.

City of God… City of Potential

Charming yet uneasy, picturesque yet unsightly, calming yet unnerving. Rio de Janeiro cannot be described in simple nor agreeable terms. Basso Nova over a caipirinha one minute, evading two would be muggers the next.

ChristoPerhaps the world’s most recognized city, even country, landmark, Christ the Redeemer sees all. If the sheer size of the soapstone art deco statue isn’t enough, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Panoramic views of favelas (slums), forests, skyscrapers, and beaches are within eyeshot. As the sun set over the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the disjointed city below lit up in a blur of vibrant colors.

But Rio de Janeiro isn’t all about the sense of sight. Music is as much a part of the dynamic vibe as the beach and nightclubs.  Besides samba, the people are obsessed with the melodic jazz tones of bossa nova. Ash and I spent an evening in the company of a talented percussionist, bass violinist, and guitarist performing the rythmic music. I’m not sure what it is about live music, but you can’t help but walk away tapping your foot with a smile on your face.

Sugar Loaf & Rio Bossa Nova Jam

 

 

 

 

 

Our last day in the City of God was spent in the sprawling Rocinha favela on Rio’s southern side. This is just 1 of 1,022 shanty towns surrounding Rio. Words are hard to describe the layout, way of life, and ordered chaos that governs the Brazilian slums. Our sarcastic guide, Vitoria, related unflattering facts about Rocinha and slums like it. Drug sales are the life blood and kids are the heart that pumps it. And the allure of mattresses brimming with cash has resulted in the smuggling of weapons including rocket propelled grenades. Even the draw of money is sometimes too much for corrupt police to turn down. The early twenties “owner” of the slum is lucky to celebrate his 25th birthday as rival gangs from competing favelas are constantly in a power vacuum and infrequent raids by BOPE, Brazil’s elite favela police squad, all threaten their livelihood. In addition, the average family size is over nine because more kids mean additional income. In fact, we met a 24 year-old favela Mother of 5 whom happens to also be a Grandmother. The list of anecdotes could crash Google.

Rocinha FavelaOf course, the sensational stories above make the headlines. Despite all the bad, we were able to safely ride motorcycles to the top of Rocinha  then navigate the favela’s twisting alleys. We purchased baked goods, toured a daycare, and spent time in an artisan shop. Most people were everyday people that aimed to simply provide for their family, even if their means are unbecoming. Though the drug lords perpetuate the slum life, they do provide the consistent framework by which the people live.

Ironically, our safety in the Rocinha favela was guaranteed by the same thugs who facilitate the meddling crime in Rio de Janeiro. Without exaggeration, 1 in 4 people regardless of sex at the hostel ran into serious trouble in the Copacabana, Lapa, Centro, or Ipanema neighborhoods. High noon or last call at the club, these visitors were robbed at gun point, bribed for $200 by police, or mugged with the threat of violence. Needless to say, we played our cards tight to the vest. Unfortunately, when it was Stacked Favela Homestime to hit the International Airport, we could only stand on Atlantica Avenue for 15 minutes waiting for the bus at 7:00pm in the rain before opting for a $30 cab ride and safe passage.

Though well aware of it’s reputation as a dangerous place, we chose not to pass judgement until experiencing it for ourselves.  Rio has so much going for it and innumerable treasures to discover.  However, the fear of being mugged or worse was constantly on our minds.

City of God. City of 2016 Summer Olympics. City of Potential.

- Greg

Tips

1) Safety – Don’t underestimate the potential danger in Rio. We had two very close calls (Centro in broad daylight and Copacabana at night) that were avoided by being aware, maybe hyper paranoid. Evaluate cabs before entering, stay in groups, don’t drink too much, and trust your gut.

2) You can hike Christ the Redeemer (3 hours roundtrip) and save the $20 train ride. We opted to skip the summit of Sugar Loaf as we were told the view from Corcovado (where the Christo is located) is better.

A special day!

I want to wish Greg a very happy 28th birthday today.  Our plan for his birthday is to relax, surf a little, eat a nice meal, and hopefully enjoy some sun.  What a lucky boy he is to be spending his birthday in Morro de Sao Paulo, Brazil.

hiking Machu Picchu v95

Greg, there is no one else with whom I would rather be doing this adventure.  So far our trip has surpassed my expectations and I look forward to what the next 13 to 14 months has in store for us.  Happy, happy birthday!  I love you very much.

-Ash

Powered by Wordpress | Designed by Elegant Themes