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We Give Thanks for Ramen, Wreck Dives, and No More Kava

Dark or white meat? Green bean casserole or yams? Garlic mashed potatoes with gravy or stuffing? Pumpkin pie or vanilla ice cream? One helping of each please; to start. We wish. Such a plethora of options were not sitting on our table. Rather, it was ramen noodles or… ramen noodles. “Ash, would you like some baked beans?” I inquired. “It is either that or tasteless BBQ chips,” I told her gently. Ah, Thanksgiving in the South Pacific. We were really missing home.

BVIs - RandomWe started our day by awaking to the numerous animals at the Motel Blue Pango on Vanuatu’s Efate Island. I put the kettle on the stove, prepared coffee, and we read novels as the surf crashed in the background. Finally, 1:00pm rolled around and we headed for Nautilus Dive Shop. After the required four pages of release forms, we were headed out to sea. While diving the Konanda wreck, we were afforded the rare opportunity to witness Plymouth colonists and Wanpanoag Indians share a feast together. Maybe it was the depth of 80 feet that blurred our vision. We did have an underwater tea party complete with barnacles and seaweed.

The divemaster, Paul, was nice enough to invite us along for an excursion into a small Vanuatu village to taste kava. Kava is a popular drink throughout the Pacific including Hawaii and comes from the root of the namesake plant. The beverage is always consumed in the evening prior to dinner then followed by rest as the main effect is a relaxed feeling. We were to meet at the Port Vila Casino at 6:00pm, but of course we arrived at 6:15pm and they were long gone. I was quite bummed, but decided that the Cincinnati Bengals never give up so I shouldn’t either. Thus, we flagged down a minibus ($1.00 each way) and headed for Pango Village, a town of 2,400 souls including squatters living in the forest. The friendly driver directed us to a shack with a faint red light on top, indicating they had kava prepared.

Kava Down the Hatch Kava Bar

We meandered into the sand floor “bar” and surveyed the situation. Four men were shooting pool as we made our way to the corner where a young gentleman sat with a red bucket and several small bowls. “Two 50 vatu bowls,” I said. And with that, he handed us two cups of the dark green substance. We sipped the peculiar drink like hot cocoa until a friendly local named Samuel befriended the two clueless gringos. SamuelAfter both complaining of numb tongues, he instructed us on the proper way of drinking the local beverage: you chug it down then spit the remnants in the sand. The pungent drink could not be described as delicious. Maybe awful is a better adjective.  Not wanting to offend our hosts, we marched along. Samuel went on to tell us about Vanuatu’s rich culture then guided us to another kava bar, this one serving a more potent elixir. Outside the establishment, sixty men (local women are not allowed to drink kava) sat in the shadows, smoked cigarettes, and spit. We patronized two additional kava bars before saying goodnight to Samuel. I wanted to send him our photo together, but he didn’t have an email address. So he came by the Motel Blue Pango the next morning and dropped off his mailing address. If just one half of the globe’s population were one half as beautiful as the average Vanuatu citizen, the world would be in great shape.

By now the kava had Ashley and I relaxed and wanting to rest. But it was Thanksgiving! So I whipped up the traditional meal. Traditional meal of backpackers that is: ramen noodles and baked beans. Did I mention we were missing home? We did our best to stay busy and not imagine the smells of freshly baked turkey. But this won’t be a Thanksgiving we will soon forget. Both of us are thankful for everything in our lives. Principally our friends and family. And thankful kava won’t be on the menu next year.

If the above story has bored you to death, let’s hope this major motion picture will raise your heartbeat. After reviewing the short film below, Ashley exclaimed, “this is so Greg.” You be the judge.

Gobble Gobble Gobble.

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. View taxis on Vanuatu’s Efate Island like the plague. Opt for the minibuses with a red “B” on the license plates instead. They cost about 10% of a taxi and will get you to the same destination in a similar amount of time. Plus, they are everywhere and easy to flag down.

  2. Prepare to pay island prices for everything (see expensive). The only cheap item in Vanuatu is beef, its main export.

Mendoza & Malbecs

“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of the constellation. The universe is too full of stars.”  – Benjamin Franklin

Malbec Anyone?As the snow fell in Patagonia, Ash was pining for the warmth of Argentina’s wine country. After all, she put Mendoza in the corner of her brain long ago. We flew back to Buenos Aires, boarded the subway bound for the Retiro depot, and bought an overnight bus ticket. Thirteen hours and one game of Spanish Bingo later, we were in the land of malbecs. A French grape by origin, imitated in California, perfected in Argentina.

Eager to get on with it, we canvassed the downtown area of Mendoza for a tasting room as the bodegas (Argentina’s term for vineyards) lie in the foothills of the Andes away from the city. Sadly, the few we found were prohibitively expensive for our budget. Perhaps the greeter at The Vines mistook for us as well-to-do travelers with silk cocktail dresses and dinner coats because she revealed a deal at the Park Hyatt of all places. Not wanting to miss a chance to show off my zip-off pants at a ritzy hotel, we cleaned up for a rare date. To say Ashley was pumped would be an understatement.

Park Hyatt Wine NightAs we stepped through the entrance of the 19th Century Spanish colonial facade, it was clear Ashley looked liked a million bucks and I should be toting her luggage. Regardless, we made ourselves at home on the comfy outdoor couch as the hor’dourves arrived along with our first glass of delicious Argentine wine. Monica, a friendly woman born and raised in Mendoza, chatted with us about the business climate in Argentina, the pitfalls of smoking, and her favorite bodegas. On such a beautiful night, the Park Hyatt was filling up with the beautiful people of Mendoza and Ash wasn’t ready to bolt. Instead, she feigned having any knowledge of the three glass bargain and delivered a fourth glass. That ‘a girl!

The Park Hyatt was fantastic, but it was time to stretch our legs… on bicycles. The next day we walked West to catch an autobus headed for Maipu, yep, pronounced just as it looks (it makes for great jokes, no matter your age). Along the way to the bus stop, we did our best to imitate stalkers as we spied two recognizable figures. Once convinced it was Ray and Annie from the Inca Trail in Peru, I took the bearded man by surprise. With that, we hit Mr. Hugo’s and were outfitted with four road bikes and a map indicating the “approximate” location of the surrounding vineyards.

Rich in Talent! Mr.Hugo Biker Gang

We reckoned going to the furthest bodega first and working our way back was a suitable plan. However, the distance proved too much in comparison to our desire to whet our whistles on the ruby malbec goodness. We sat above the vines of Tempus Alba ($4) sipping numerous varieties among us then continued on our way to Carinae ($4). Here we received a quick tour of this small producer who exports its wines to only three countries. It was then onto Familia Di Tomaso ($4) for lunch and another tour of this fascinating bodega dating back to 1869. Far and away, this was everyone’s favorite vineyard: friendly staff, interesting grounds, and the malbecs of varying ages and processes were incalculably delightful. Next on the list was Trapiche ($7), but the security guard informed us we were 30 minutes late and they were closed for the day. Having rode bikes all day while cars whipped by without incident, we recognized our good fortune and headed back to the bike shop. It was rumored that Mr. Hugo himself would pour endless cups of his amigo’s red wine. Rumor, hah. Tis the truth! As closing time of this bike rental shop turned tasting room approached, Mr. Hugo provided us with four bus fares to Mendoza and even ensured we were situated before bidding adieu. Ash and I had a ball sharing this experience with Ray (Irish) and Annie (German). This chance encounter has evolved into other possible global adventures… bungee jumping in New Zealand or riding marsupials in Australia?

Argentine Oil RigThe bikes were an adventure, but we wanted to get into the Andean foothills and see fields of grapes as they gave way to snow capped peaks. The Uco Valley was further away than Maipu and required a longer distance bus. So the following day we leisurely took an hour bus to Tunuyan passing oil rigs and arid plains before being directed to a particular street corner where we would find cars for hire. After ten minutes of negotiation in broken Spanish, Mario agreed to be our chauffeur for four hours. In hindsight, we should have asked to see his car before agreeing: no seat belts, we had to push it forward to turn over the engine, and the interior had suffered some sort of fire.

Malbec Out of the BarrelBut happy to have a reasonably priced ride ($35), we embarked on our trip to Salentein ($6) and La Azul. The former could have been a movie set from James Bond. Right down to the contemporary statues in the parking lot, everything was done without regard to cost. Forget the wine, we reenacted “Thunderball” as I played Sean Connery (007) complete with a terrible accent and Ash reprised Claudine Auger’s role (Domino). La Azul ($11) couldn’t have been more different: a concrete box complete with bomb shelter door. The highlight here was tasting the malbec straight from the French oak barrel. Not too shabby. With that, Mario whisked us back to Tunuyan but not before picking up a couple hitchhikers that were quite fierce… a woman and her 8 month old boy. We were scared to death.

 Uco Valley Tasting Room

There are countless stars to be seen and wines to be drank in Mendoza. But as the great Ben Franklin suggested, the discovery of a delightful wine can be more fulfilling than locating a previously uncharted white dwarf. I’m not so sure about this, but will report upon identifying a new formation of stars. And in the words of a soon to be famous stateswoman/inventor, Ashley Miller, “Argentine malbec is the most heavenly taste.”

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. The Park Hyatt wasn’t even remotely on our list of possibilities. As most deals discovered in life, you just have to keep flipping over stones. Three glasses of wine and bottomless appetizers for $10. Jackpot.

  2. Take the bus to Maipu for less than $1 each way. The bus drivers know the usual bike rental shops. Thus, skip the packaged tours offered by hostels that include transportation. Opt for Mr. Hugo’s ($8 includes newer bike, bottle of water and free wine upon return) instead of Bikes and Wines (more expensive and old bicycles).

  3. Most wine districts in the world are characterized by numerous vineyards spread across vast distances. Mendoza is no different. Except for the single stretch of wineries in Maipu accessible by bicycle, the area requires a car or driver. Prepare to spend some money to do it right.

  4. Cruise the streets and look for “Lunch Promotions” in Mendoza. We had a healthy portion of steak, potatoes, salad, pop, coffee, and three scoops of ice cream for $6 each. I was elated all afternoon and spread the word to fellow travelers.

  5. We thought we learned this lesson two months earlier: ask the price before you agree on anything. The last tasting was $11… over $5 more than every other vineyard.

A Real Page Turner

Fitz RoyIf Patagonia were a book, it would be on par with Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  It just goes and goes seemingly without an end. El Chaltén has so much to offer that just three or four days isn’t enough. But that is what we had, thus we made sure to milk it as much as possible. So back to the utter after our first snowy hike. 

The weather was decidedly better and offered stunning views of Fitz Roy later in the week. And thank goodness because Ash and I woke up at 6am to embark on a 30 kilometer hike towards and eventually onto the Torre Glacier. Along for the grueling adventure was Karen from Hong Kong who shared pictures of her five day ascent of Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. Clearly, we had to bust our butts to keep up with such an adventurer and our tough-as-nails guide, Carlos. After four hours, we took refuge in a domed tent and were outfitted with a harness (for the river crossing and ice climbing) and crampons (for walking on the glacier). A bit further and we reached the milky blue lake at the foot of Torre Glacier. Ash volunteered to cross the river first on the south side of the frigid body of water. Her poor little arms failed halfway across, needing a break before continuing. What a valiant effort! She was not alone in the problem department. As I readied myself for the crossing, I put my full weight on the harness, which didn’t feel so well in the “special no-no place.” The group of twelve behind us enjoyed a good chuckle at my anatomy’s expense. Nonetheless, we battled on towards the glacier and finally reached it after a careful descent down the rocky southern exposure.

Crossing the Raging Glacial River Torre Galcier Honest to Goodness Ice Cold Water

Walking on crampons is a bit strange at first, but once you have confidence in these metal spike accessories for your boots, any ice is your playground. Like chicks following the mother hen, we followed three deep behind Carlos. He was careful to point out dangerous crevasses, icy caves, and glacial rivers running atop the slick surface. Perhaps it was in our minds, but the water from the glacier was the best tasting water ever. Then my brain performed a mental exercise. Should water even have a taste? OK, back to Earth.

Glacier Tunnel Tunnel to China Not a Step Closer 

We were fascinated to spy how the wind molds the ice horizontally and water creates deep passages vertically. One such spot on the Torre Glacier offered protection from the wind for lunch, an impressive crevasse, and a sheer wall of ice to attempt ice climbing. Carlos performed a quick demonstration after anchoring the safety rope high above. It was a bit tricky at first considering you are moving straight up an ice rink. After a slow start, we both got the hang of swinging the ice axes while supporting our bodies with our crampons. Later, we both admitted that had it not been for the rope attached to us, the icy wall was insurmountable.

Carlos Secures the Climbing Rope Reaching to the Sky Going Pro in Ice Climbing...

Worn out the next day, Ash took it easy and rested her sore muscles. I vowed to get close to Fitz Roy and with that packed a ham and cheese sandwich and set off on a 25 kilometer hike to Laguna de Los Tres. This spot affords you the closest view of Fitz Roy without actually climbing it. Setting a punishing pace due to our bus departure that afternoon, I reached the plateau overlooking three lakes and stared into a massive body of clouds. Myself and two Brits hunkered behind a bolder that yielded protection from the driving snow and wind. After thirty minutes it was obvious Mother Nature was not on our side on this day. I gave my dogs a rest and re-wrapped my blistered toes then headed back for the fireplace and a refreshing 1.5 Liter Quillmes.

Laguna de los Tres Trail Gloves Were Invented for a Reason Snow Capped Toes

Our amazing time in Argetina’s Patagonia region was over.  But this novel has many chapters.  There is just too much to enjoy about Patagonia for a guy rapidly catching the trekking bug again to stay away for long.  Ash on the other hand was ready to hang up her boots in exchange for a bottle of malbec in Argentina’s wine country.

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. There are numerous adventure operators in El Chaltén, thus pricing is more reasonable compared to El Calafate. For example, Big Ice and Minitrekking runs $170 and $120 in El Calafate respectively. Our hike, river crossing, glacier trekking, and ice climbing ran $75 in El Chaltén.

  2. Consider what you want out of an Argentina Patagonia experience before selecting your destination(s). We can only speak to the glaciers, hiking, and towns we visited. For our preferences and budget, El Chaltén was perfect. We met loads of travelers who visited Ushuaia (commonly referred to as the “end of the world”) and the opinions were varied.

Ice Queens

Perhaps the worst movie created, “Ice Queen” is the story of a cryogenically frozen woman who awakes and kills the mercenary pilot.  The airplane crashes and traps a group of survivors.  Johnny, Tori, and Elaine have to find a means of escape to save their lives.  If that can be the plot of a Hollywood movie, the intriguing story of Laura Walker, Chaltén the Pinguno, Ashley Miller, and Snow Woman ought to have a chance.

El Chalten PingunoHaving had enough of the touristy Patagonia town of El Calafate; Matt, Laura, Ash, and I headed 220 kilometers north to the town of El Chaltén. Just twenty years old or so, this town of 3,000 is a trekker’s dream as it is surrounded by majestic Andean peaks, scenic valleys, and fresh mountain air. It was Matt and Laura’s first experience in a hostel, but they handled the bunk beds like grizzled backpackers by immediately recognizing that alcohol is the key to a good night sleep. So we hit up a local pizza joint where we were greeted by Chaltén the Pinguno. Inanimate perhaps, but she was full of delicious red wine goodness. Laura was particularly enamored with her… so much so she opted for Chaltén to become their pet decanter. Wrapped in swaddling paper place mats, Chaltén the Pinguno was packed for the long journey to Chicago.

El Chalten Town El Chalten Valley Condor de los Andes Hostel 

Like third graders at camp for the first time, the four of us awoke quite chatty. And a quick glance out the foggy window foretold of poor weather for hiking. It was dumping snow and accumulating fast. Matt suggested we let the good times roll and cozy up in a quaint establishment and drink as many Quillmes 1.5 Liter beers as possible before their scheduled departure at 6:00pm. I rallied the troops by pointing out that the weather really wasn’t all that bad, we bundled up and hit the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares headed for Laguna Capri. The snow quickly became a beautiful accompaniment rather than a hindrance. We headed up the trailhead towards our destination stopping now and then to shed a layer as the sweat began to pour. At one such stop, Snow Woman (very creative name) was born. Similar to the human birthing process, Snow Woman was not the product of an egg. Rather, she came from the sky like a stork delivering your family’s newest addition. With the highest fashion sense, Laura and Ash dressed the naked toddler in a hat and scarf.

AmarilloWe reached Laguna Capri only to be teased by the veil of wispy clouds disguising Cerro Fitz Roy. This slight disappointment was relieved when Matt spotted the glowing blue ice of a distant glacier. As we arrived back in civilization, Matt and Laura boarded the bus bound for a plane trip to the land of Argentine malbec. Mendoza. Ash and I were left in the vacuum of just our company once more. All we could do was stare at each other blankly for hours.  Bleak.

EntranceLaguna Capri Hike El Chalten - Laguna Capri Hike - v34

Laura, Ash, Chaltén the Pinguno, and Snow Woman (she melted) were maidens of the ice.  For obvious reasons, I particuarly liked the ceramic wine providing bird.  If only I could swap out Ashley for this penguin.

- Greg

  1. El Chaltén is young and remote enough that it doesn’t have a working ATM (the one ATM in town is always out of cash). So bring along plenty of cash as most places do not accept credit.

  2. Most of Patagonia’s great hikes are not at strenuous altitudes. Thus, there is no need for days of acclimatization.

  3. While El Calafate’s entrance to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares costs $15, it is free in El Chaltén.

RTW Itinerary Update

As Ash and I wrap up our tour of South America (how time flies), we spent a day revisiting our itinerary and made some adjustments.  Input from fellow backpackers, Dutch diplomats, and otherwise informed travelers provided incredible insight.  This will change again no doubt!

The big shift resulted in skipping Scandinavia for two reasons.  First, we met loads of people from Sweden, Finland, and Norway whom directed us away from their countries saying, “you might be a tad bored.”  Second, this part of the world is a bit too expensive for budget backpackers.  We shall leave this corner of the globe for another day.  Thus, Scandinavia was replaced with twirling pasta in Italy, more time exploring the Dalmation Coast, and history lessons in Turkey. 

We plan to purchase RTW plane tickets in New Zealand at which we will have to solidy many of our destinations.  So if you take a look at our itinerary and believe we left out a must-see destination, please direct us in the comment section!   

At the top of the FOF homepage, you will see a link to our RTW Itinerary.  Follow this link and discover a renovated Google Map and step by step itinerary.  You may zoom in/out and change the map settings to include satellite images/terrain.  If you are feeling really crazy, there is a link directly below the map that will take you to the actual FOF RTW Itinerary Map.  Here, you may see our route in more detail and our mode of intended travel.

http://followourfootsteps.com/rtw-itinerary/

Cheers,

Greg & Ash

Patagonia: El Calafate

It was a seven night hike through the majestic Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. That was all it took. Trekking had me: hook, line, and sinker. That was ten years ago with two high school buddies. Since then, Southern Patagonia has been a locale I longed to experience.  Ash is warming to hiking.  Slowly, but warming.

El Calafate - LagoonSaying farewell to Buenos Aires was tough. But as we stepped off the jet bridge in El Calafate, we were greeted with a chilly breeze, wide open spaces, and crisp air. An adventure awaited us in this fabled part of the world. Matt and Laura patiently went Trick or Treating with us, hostel style. More tricks than treats until knocking on Che Lagarta’s door. It was the equivalent to a King Size candybar on October 31st. We cruised the small town of 10,000 then caught some rest. The next morning we sipped coffee then headed out to the lagoon just outside of El Calafate. With a backdrop of snow capped peaks and Lago Argentino’s glacial blue water, the otherwise barren land was quite enjoyable despite the cold wind.

All the stray rocks lying around produced visions of the Atlas Stones from the World’s Strongest Man competition. Playing the part of Magnus Ver Magnusson (5-time champion), I challenged Ashley to a friendly match of throwing boulders. Ashley clearly won…

El Calafate - Laguna - v8 El Calafate - Laguna - v11

PatagoniaOn to the main event. Just one of a few advancing glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno was jawdropping. Being cheap backpackers, we took the necessary steps to create an independent tour of this must see. The rural road looped through the barren Patagonia landscape with a quick pit stop to warm up and handle farm animals. Then it was into Los Glaciares National Park ($16 entrance fee) and immediately onto a boat ($12) to see the glacier up close. As if the sheer size of the glacier wasn’t impressive enough (almost 100 square miles), the creaking sounds of the icy mass expanding and contracting made us wonder what would happen next. Just then, we caught a jagged piece of ice fall into the frigid water below. With that, the one hour boat tour was over. Or was it? An iceberg had cleverly lodged itself near the slip, preventing the boat from docking. Like a cowboy lassoing a calf, a sailor tossed a hefty rope around the menacing mass of ice then the tourist ship turned tugboat drug the iceberg out of the way.

Big Boat, Bigger Glacier Moreno Glacier Ice Rodeo

The next vantage point were the balconies. We walked nearly every foot of these steel constructed pedestrian ramps and were afforded an array of angles to view the Moreno Glacier. The contrast between the evergreens, blue ice, rocky mountains, and the gray sky was incredible. We sat upon a particular lookout for about thirty minutes listening to the active glacier and hoping to see another piece of ice fall to its watery death. No such luck, though the sounds reminiscent of a shotgun blast were just fine. It was then back to El Calafate to catch a three hour bus to El Chalten, a hiking mecca of Patagonia.

Moreno Glacier Through the Trees Blue Eyes, Blue Ice

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. El Calafate is one of Argentina’s tourist bastions because of its airport’s ability to handle large planes. Thus, many packaged tours run wild and the town can be quite expensive for dining. Luckily, there is a supermarket that offers fair prices if cooking is suitable.

  2. Two tours are offered to actually climb onto the Moreno Glacier: Minitrekking ($120) and Big Ice ($170). There seems to be a monopoly by one tour operator, so pricing is obscene and negotiating is fruitless. However, reviews of Big Ice are mostly positive and the experience is not sullied by droves of ice trekkers. You can piece together a similar trip (no ice trekking) for about $50 if on a tight budget.

When Carnivores Attack

Hiking, hunger strikes, and peculiar food left my soul desiring two things: carne and vino. Enter, Argentina.

I have been looking forward to Argentina since the beginning of time. Slowing down in Buenos Aires was a must. Peruvian food left me queasy and Brazil lacked in the wine department. Luckily, the beautiful country of Argentina is stocked with enough delicious food and wine to make up for lost time.

That is ONE SteakMost dinners were spent in the cozy confines of a parrilla, an Argentine steakhouse. These can be defined simply enough: prime cuts of beef, provoleta (thick slices of grilled cheese), and smooth malbecs. Yup, the caloric intake was reprehensible, but it is sooooo good! However, there exists one minor problem. Your typical feed time rolls around and your stomach performs backflips. You rub it, telling it will be OK, maybe bribe it with some red wine. “Just wait until 10:30pm,” you tell it. It is truly strange to be seated on a Sunday night at 10:00pm with no more than a couple tables occupied. Thirty minutes later and there is a wait to be seated. Oh, and most parrillas are cheap. We went out of our way to spend $40 for the two of us.

Moonlighting as foodies, we aimed to clean out Buenos Aires’ stock of beef. Here is FOF’s Top Three List:

  • La Brigada – San Telmo Barrio: Full of locals, meat melts in your mouth, A+ chorizo, charming aesthetics, and the price was reasonable. Even the pouring rain couldn’t ruin it for the six carnivorous diners.
  • El Primo – Baez Street: Chic location with matching waitresses (Greg put himself in timeout for making eyes at our server with a cute little body). The provoleta was fantastic and the scene was spectacular… more on this later.
  • La Cabrera – Palermo Soho Barrio: Probably the #1 reviewed parrilla in all of BA, so very touristy. So much in fact, there are three locations within one block of each other. But the reputation is justified. Meat was supreme, but the sides were so-so and wine list unimpressive (see expensive).

Grownup Pre-Party El Primo Praying to the Beef God

Matt & Laura were on holiday from the Windy City and Ryan (AKA Fernet) & Laura Keller were on their first leg of a one year journey around the globe. Unknowingly, the six of us decided to show Buenos Aires how Chicago transplants spend a Saturday night. Greg and I picked up appetizers and a few bottles of wine prior to hosting a one hour (two hour max) get together before a feast. Nope. Four hours and seven bottles of sweet sweet nectar later, we finally headed to El Primo on Baez Street for a 12:30am dinner. Thus, Greg had misbehaved and was punished with the dunces corner. We chowed down, then searched for a bar… any bar that would house us. We discovered a delightful haunt serving overpriced Grey Goose and multiple couples kissing passionately. We just couldn’t let the nonsense continue any longer so a plan was hatched. Matt and Fernet would consume glasses of Jameson, Greg and Laura Walker would dance without abandon, and Laura Keller and I played photographer/nanny. The locals playing kissy face took the occasional breath to shake their heads in disapproval, then finally cracked a smile. Then the jams were replaced with song birds… it was 5:30am. That is how Chicago does it!

For one night at least… recuperation was slow.

Carne and vino define Buenos Aires’ place in world. My cholesterol would support this reputation.

 - Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Baez Street in Palermo is not to be missed.   The place is swarming with superb beef joints and cool nightlife. Take the Subte there and cab it home.

  2. Empanadas in BA are also fantastic and each establishment has their own take. I loved the ham and cheese concoctions. They are cheap too.

  3. The late dinner time impacts all of your day. So sleep in, eat a big breakfast, enjoy a late lunch, take a nap, then stuff your face. Rinse and repeat.

  4. Inquire with your waiter about serving sizes. In many cases, two people can split an entree.

Paris of South America

Like it or not, many people like to compare Buenos Aires, Argentina to Paris, France. Désolé, je ne pense pas ainsi!

BsAs immediately struck us as a livable city for expatriots and a town begging for visitors to understand. At the same time, the list of “must dos” is not overwhelming. One gets the sense that BA is quite comfortable in its skin. That is, the city doesn’t require having the tallest, the biggest, the most recognizable, etc. Ash and I loved that about the city. Here we were just trying to fit in as citizens for eleven days. Well citizens for half the time maybe.

BA - Recoleta Cemetery v16Recoleta Cemetery Square BA - Recoleta Cemetery v12

 Perhaps Buenos Aires’ most famous offering is the Recoleta Cemetery. Here, many of Argentina’s historical figures, scientists, and presidents have been laid to rest. Each visitor is welcomed by the tall Greek columns as the cemetery sprawls out like a city grid. The most famous inhabitant is Eva Peron (Evita), champion of woman suffrage in Argentina. Despite her place in history, the mausoleum where she lays is quite modest. Tight alleys wind past elaborate burial chambers with statues on top and the occasional structure left for waste. In fact, some are found with broken glass, filled with trash, and even coffin lids removed. When Ash felt surrounded by zombies, one of the 70+ rotund feral cats was there for her protection.

Cafe Tortoni Garden Gnomes He Just Won't Give Up!

Time was spent at a leisurely pace for the most part. Cafe Tortoni was a popular suggestion from locals to check out. So we dutifully had a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) at BA’s oldest coffee house, dating back to 1858. The botanical gardens in Palermo was a respite from the noisy hustle and bustle of the city. A Sunday was spent haggling for trinkets and eating street beef at the San Telmo Street Fair with Matt and Laura, who were on vacation from the Windy City. And what is BA without tango? Walking can be hard enough for us, how do they dance with such eloquence?

It Takes Two to Tango Incredible Design

 

 

 

 

 

Despite its size (13 million people in the metro area), Buenos Aires continues to grow in size. The city’s newest neighborhood, Puerto Madero, is built around late 1800′s docklands with rehabbed industrial buildings serving as luxury hotels in the shadow of modern skyscrapers. Being in commercial real estate, I had a particular fascination with a new office development with a six story atrium near the top. And much like many towns in the USA, brand new condo towers stood void of inhabitants, their balconies beckoning for furniture.

How Many Do You Count?Bow Wow.  They are everywhere and everyone seems to have one. Lap dogs, stray dogs, dogs the size of horses. You’ve seen dog walkers before, but not a Lilliputian on bicycle tethered to twelve tireless pets. Matt, Laura, Ash, and I even spent thirty minutes near the bevy of embassies watching a Bulldog’s ill-fated attempt to mount a larger German Shepherd (cheap backpacking entertainment). But truly, locals have a love hate relationship with their canines: love the companionship, hate the accompanying fecal matter.

So we did hit the tourist circuit. But we also participated in the age old ritual of stepping on dog landmines. How’s that for being a pseudo citizen?

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Free English speaking tours of the Recoleta Cemetery (free admission) are offered every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:00. Feel free to start with the group, then break off and discover the place yourself.

  2. Public transit is great. The subway (Subte) is cheap, safe, and very efficient. One ride will set you back $0.35. Buses, while not as fast, cover everywhere the subway doesn’t, just be sure to have coins. When the subway or buses aren’t convenient, taxis are inexpensive.

  3. Don’t waste your time and money on a tango show at a theatre or venue made for tourists. Seek out a street performance or a small show at a drinking establishment.

  4. While the beautiful architecture will certainly catch your eye, don’t forget where you put your two feet. Drivers give little credence to stop signs and sidewalks can be uneven and littered with dog poo.

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Brazil – Highlights & Tips

After 3+ weeks in Peru, it was off to South America’s largest country, Brazil, for 14 days. It was a balanced trip encompassing the bipolar metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, the island of Morro de Sao Paulo, and then to the stunning Iguazu Falls. Oh, and a quick jaunt to San Francisco in between it all.

- See & Do

Morro de Sao Paulo v181) Morro de Sao Paulo – An unassuming beach town with a cool vibe, endless stretches of sand, and a multitude of options to occupy your time. If you find yourself in Brazil needing a break, this is your ticket. 

2) Iguazu Falls – Though Argentina boasts a more intimate experience, the broad scope of the Falls from Brazil is impressive. Moving between countries is a breeze with the proper visa.

3) Rio de Janeiro – Charming, dangerous, and inviting all at the same time. The music, beaches, and drinks (with or without alcoholic) are fantastic.

4) Salvador – The point of embarkation for a trip to Morro, we only spent an evening in this colorful town, but we would have liked a chance to see more.

5) Sao Paulo – After simply flying into the international airport then boarding a bus for Iguazu, the advice to skip this massive city seemed spot on. There didn’t appear much to see and do.

6) So little time – Unless you plan to spend some serious time, Brazil is simply too large and offers too much to see it all. We would have liked to explore the northern coast as well as a few spots in the Amazon Basin.

 - Transportation 

1) Air – Despite its size, much of Brazil can be accessed by the several airlines in the country. Among the largest are TAM and GOL (supposed low cost carrier). Many low cost airlines come and go as well. We took a one-way flight from Rio to Salvador for $85 each on WebJet (you can only purchase tickets in person) and the next cheapest flight was $215 each.

2) Bus – Coastal areas are accessible by bus, but the distances between hot spots are immense. In many long haul cases (1+ days), the cost of a bus fare is more than a flight. For distances of less than 24 hours, there are several companies offering overnight journeys in seats that nearly recline into a bed.

3) Taxis – To and from airports can be expensive. In daylight, buses operating between transportation nodes and the city center are safe and cheap. Cities are full of taxis, but beware the cost. Be on guard when hiring a taxi as stories of armed robbery and theft of baggage are not exaggerated.

- Food

1) The Misto Quente is to die for… think of a grilled cheese with ham and a fried egg. Yum.

2) Churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) – Starve yourself all day then go hog wild for hours. Yep, this was delicious too.

3) Fried Eggs – Brazilians put fried eggs on everything and it is damn good. Next time you cook up a hamburger, throw an egg on top. You can thank us later.

- Drink

Antarctica on the Beach1) Caipirinha (the national drink) – Similar to a mojito, but made with strong Brazilian liquor called Cachaca. Greg wanted to drink these with breakfast! Many bars offer free caipirinha’s at Happy Hour.

2) Beers – If you are an indecisive person, prepare for the worst. When it comes to cerveza, Brazil boasts an array of options. Brahma, Skol, Sol, Antarctica, Nova Schin, and Kaiser appear everywhere. Bohemia was my favorite though.

3) Wine – Ash would steal wine from a death row inmate’s last meal. Sadly, cheap Brazilian vino is hard to find.

4) Fruit Juices – Appearing on almost every corner, bring along extra cash to indulge your taste buds at least twice per day.

- Culture & Citizens

1) Attire – Women have an updated fashion look while men enjoy t-shirts one size too small. Greg’s zip-off travel pants didn’t fit in so much.

2) Culture – Brazil has many geographic areas with unique influences. But regardless of the area, music (mainly samba) plays a large part.

3) People – Machismo among men was evident as they walk confidently and appear to sleep in a weight room. Most people were friendly and helpful.

- Safety

Christ the Redeemer v91) Hyper paranoia is AOK – Particularly in large cities, armed robbery is a legit worry. Travel in groups, trust your gut, and stay aware. If a situation doesn’t feel right, get out of there ASAP. Better to miss that sweet Thursday overnight in Lapa than to be relieved of your wallet and travel confidence.

2) Rio de Janeiro – The tales of danger here are not overblown. A gal visiting from New York City had three instances of being in harms way in just ten days. The best advice is to stay alert.

- Costs

1) General – Make no mistakes, Brazil is not cheap. In fact, the Real (Brazil’s currency) appreciated 35% from January 2009 – October 2009. Of the 16 most traded currencies in the world, the Real has been the best performer. So well in fact, a Big Mac in Sao Paulo costs more than in New York City.

2) Visas – Every American citizen must procure a visa ($130) to enter Brazil. Most visas allow access for up to five years at 90 days per trip.

3) Lodging – Larger cities have a plethora of options. Dorms range from $12 – $25 and privates from $25 – $45 per person. If visiting around Carnival, you should book months in advance and most hostels have a minimum stay requirement.

4) Food – Breakfast is generally included with your hostel, lunch $6 – $12, and dinner (entre & beer) $12 – $25 per person. Cooking at the hostel will cost you about $8 per person.

5) Transportation – Flights between domestic cities vary greatly from $75 to $350 one-way. A 12 hour bus will set you back around $80.

Despite the current economic climate, Brazil continues to shine and for good reason. It has much to offer by way of bustling cities, lazy beaches, verdant rainforests, and natural wonders. With the 2014 World Cup and Summer Games in 2016, this fascinating country will be known more for its merits than the popular Brazilian Wax.

- Greg & Ash

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