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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

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.

 

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