Thursday, October 1, 2009

Borderline...feels like I'm going to lose my mind

Left Mendoza at around 10:30am on Tuesday via bus. The scenery during the drive was amazing, leaving the valley of Mendoza and inching up through the Andes Mountains. Breathtaking. After falling asleep briefly, I awoke at the border crossing of Los Libertadores, one of the border entrances between Argentina and Chile. Upon opening my eyes I noticed white outside my window, whiteness and the jagged skyline created by the massive mountaintops we seemed to be resting on.

Everyone on the bus had to get off and go through customs and a security checkpoint. It wasn't until Lauren almost fainted on the walk back from the bathroom that I realized how high in altitude we were. After customs, we all had to wait in another room (which must have been the same temperature as a subzero freezer) and watch as they scanned our luggage. Everyone was shivering, most of us basically in pajamas, while we observed the border patrol guards in full parkas, even half of their faces were protected. We were then sniffed by dogs and went through metal detectors as the dogs then went onto the bus to sniff some more. The guards came back with three plastic bags that were onboard and asked whomever owned them to please step forward. Two of the bags had fruit in them and one had flowers or something. Turns out that bringing fruits and plant matter across borderlines is against the law especially without declaring them....I'm pretty sure it's like this up North too. The three passengers, an old Argentine woman, an Australian and an Israeli guy had to go up and be questioned while the rest of us boarded the bus. A few minutes later the bus started moving again, but only to pull forward and park.

I watched skiers at the nearby resort pass us by on the mountain for a bit before starting to read my book to pass the time. After a couple of chapters, I noticed the words on the page blur and start moving. Getting dizzy, I shut the book and leaned back in my seat. I stared out the window....still not moving. I started to get hot and claustrophobic and hurriedly got off the bus. I sat outside on a rock in the snow, put my head between my legs and felt better with the cold fresh air. A couple of other people started getting off the bus, some for cigarettes and others who were starting to feel sick from the altitude. I also noticed the water bottle I'd been drinking out of, looked like it got the life sucked out of it...the bottle almost flattened like a pancake.

Everyone started getting chatty, trying to figure out what was taking so long and then this guy said that his friend (the Australian) was still in the building being questioned along with the other passengers and the bus couldn't leave them behind. Apparently, they were going to have to pay a fine of somewhere along $1,000 U.S.! I started to think back to early on in ride when the guy was coming down the aisles to give us our customs forms and noticed an apple sticking out of Laurens purse and telling me that she couldn't bring it across the border. I told Lauren to eat it right away, and remembered to eat the banana I had in my purse as well. What would have happened if we forgot? I couldn't even imagine how furious our parents would've been had they gotten a call from us at the border haha!

All in all we were at the border for about two hours...I eventually felt better and our supposed quick 6 hour ride into Santiago, turned into almost 9 hours. We basically lost the whole day. Still, though driving into Chile was pretty amazing. This country is soooo naturally beautiful and they're patriotism was instantly noticeable. From the first shack in the mountains, to every house after that until the apartment buildings in the city, we saw the Chilean flag flying above doors and on balconies : )

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So tomorrow turned into two days : )

I know I said I'd write everyday, but I've been really exhausted at the end of each day lately. All this traveling wears you down. I feel like we've been gone for six months already and we only left Buenos Aires a little over a week ago! We're in our fourth city/fourth hostel with 7+hours on a bus in between each, so it takes a toll after a while.


So we arrived in Mendoza Saturday morning after an 11 hour overnight bus ride from Cordoba. It wasn't so bad, I got as much sleep as was possible. We got to our hostel around 9:30 am and all we wanted was to shower and rest for a bit before walking around town. Well, it turned out that check-in was at 2pm and our room wasn't ready yet! They let us put our bags away and eat breakfast but then we still had about four hours to kill so we decided to start our tour of the city early. Mendoza was gorgeous, mountain views, fresh air, tree lined streets, cars stopping for pedestrians, store owners greeting you...a big difference from the big cities. It seemed to be full of tourists so I felt less embarrassed taking my camera out and taking pictures of everything. We walked to the center of town, Plaza Indepencia, which had a huge fountain, trees, live music, and stands selling hand crafted jewelry and art. Surrounding this square are four other Plazas each about two blocks away from the main Plaza. We visited them all, and then walked to a park near all the government buildings where we decided to sit on the grass and take a break. Our break turned into an hour nap in the park, and we woke up just in time to catch lunch before all the restaurants and shops close for the afternoon siesta. Finally after lunch it was time to check in so we headed back to the hostel to get situated. Later we went out for an early dinner, and by early I mean 7pm, we were the only people in the restaurant. We had our first bottle of wine in Mendoza at the restaurant. It's actually cheaper to by a bottle than two glasses. A bottle of Malbec (my favorite kind of wine, made only here in Argentina) costs about $10 US. After dinner, we went to have dessert at another restaurant that was on the top floor of the tallest building in Mendoza (10 stories) with a spectacular view of the city with the Andes mountains in the distance. We walked back to the hostel to find it full of people, foreign and local. Our hostel also had a restaurant/bar attached to it that was apparently a really popular place. We decided to go and hang out there for a bit and play Uno : ) hahaha real party girls!

We hit the sack soon after that, and even with all the partying going on our room was far away and quiet. It was actually the nicest hostel we'd stayed in. We had our own bathroom and our own balcony. There was even a pool in the backyard, not that anyone was gonna use it in this temperature....Lauren shook me awake the next morning to say that it was snowing! I didn't believe her so I groaned and then turned to go back to sleep. She then opened the balcony doors and a gust of wind hit my face, I turned over to see snow falling heavily outside! Our plans for biking to the wineries were immediately canceled. Really anything involving the outdoors was canceled because we brought nothing with us that was snow proof. We went to the restaurant next door for breakfast and sat by the fire along with all the other gringos in flip flops haha. The snow stopped later that day and we decided to call it an early night as we were set on touring the wineries weather it was snowing or not.

Thankfully, Monday morning the sun was gleaming through the windows : ) Our idea was that we would check-out that morning, leave our stuff at the hostel, take the 45 min. bus ride to the wineries, be back in town by 4 or 5 pm and get on the bus to Chile. Obviously, our plan didn't really work. We checked-out, got on the bus and arrived to the town of Maipu by noon. We rented bikes from the company Bikes&Wines, we're given a map and took off. A little shaky at first haha, I don't think I'd been on a bike in years and now here I was on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and about to start drinking before lunch....

Our guide told us to head to the wine museum first, have a tasting first and then go to the last winery on the map and work our way back, as it was easier. Lauren and me are also bad at conversions so we had no idea what 11km would mean. Soooo 7 miles later, we got to our first winery already complaining about it being a literal pain in the ass. After a mini tour, where we actually learned a lot about how they make the wine, what creates the different aromas/flavors, difference in time, etc... we had more tasting. At this point, we had an equivalent of two glasses and still had about five wineries to go haha and don't forget the 7 mile bike ride back. We stopped for lunch around 4pm at a huge winery and had the best meal we'd had in a looong time. We accompanied it with more wine, obviously, and realized it was getting late and decided we had time for one last winery. By this time we were back on the main road and it was full of traffic. We had semi's and bus's honking at us to get out of the road, until we had an actual police escort follow us all the way to the next winery. It was a little weird at first and Lauren was convinced we were going to get arrested for drinking and biking (being illegal in the US) and I was convinced they were just protecting us. I think it was pretty obvious we were tourists. The next winery was too expensive, so we chose to leave it and head to the next site on the map, a chocolate factory! Instead of heading all the way back to the main road, I decided to take a marked shortcut on the map. This shortcut, it turns out, wasn't paved and wasn't dirt either. It was literally huge rocks on the road, which slowed us down and required more exertion. When we finally got to a dirt side road, we had to stop a couple of times and walk the bikes haha then when we got back on them, Lauren was chased by guard dogs from a nearby property.

We reached the main road only to see the Bikes&Wines sign and figured they lied to us about this supposed chocolate factory we'd been looking forward to and called it a day. The guy at the tour place didn't understand how we missed it, neither did I...even though we took a side route, it was on the map! Oh the time we got back on the bus for Mendoza it was almost 7. There was no way we were getting to Chile that night, which was kind of a relief as we were almost dead from exhaustion. Thankfully, we were able to get our room back, and got into bed at around 9pm. The next morning, we'd head to Chile!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

MEN doh Zaaaa

will write more tomorrow.....just wanted to announce how much we love it here, even with the snow : )

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Córdoba aka the Heartland of Argentina

We arrived in the second biggest city of Argentina (after Buenos Aires) on Wednesday evening after a 7 hour bus ride from Rosario. We were staying at the Palenque Hostel, which is on the main street of downtown. I instantly took a liking to Córdoba, as it was alive and bustling with noise and crowds of people on the sidewalk. Our hostel was big and probably had about twenty+ guests all sharing two bathrooms : (
Exhausted, we spent our first night out at dinner and then back to the hostel to watch a movie and head right to bed. The next day, we slept in unfortunately and missed our free breakfast at the hostel. Now that we are out of the capital, we realized that we had to conform to the daily eating customs of the country. Meaning, if we wanted lunch it had to be between the hours of 1-4pm, after 4 there is basically no food/meals available until about 8pm or later. Also, during the hours of 1-4 most businesses are closed, as everyone heads home for their "siesta." Lauren was especially bothered by this haha.
We decided to sightsee the city with a two hour bus tour. It started off at the Plaza San Martin, which was once used for bull fighting and executions. The square was also the sight for the oldest standing Church in the whole country, Iglesia Catedral, which took 200 years to complete after building began in 1574. This area was full of other historical churches, such as the first Jesuit Church in the country, museums and other sights and walkways with cafes and shops. The bus tour continued to other areas that we probably would have never accessed by foot, so we were really glad to have caught the tour. The city is also known for having a large young population, as there are numerous colleges and universities all in close proximities and most of people from the northern provinces all come here to study.
It got pretty hot here on Thursday and Lauren kept asking to get ice cream the whole day, so finally on our walk home from the bus tour we stopped at this one place and she got her two scoop cone. That was until she tripped on the curb crossing the street and fell flat on her face in the middle of the intersection, ice cream smeared all over the crosswalk. Later that evening, still needing to satisfy her need for ice cream, we decided to take another stroll and grab some cones. After finding most of the shops closed, we continued our walk (which I found very safe, as it was the middle of the night yet hoards of people were still out and about, in comparison to Rosario where the streets were dead and kinda scary) to find anything open with ice cream. When we finally found a place, we ordered and then Lauren reached in her pocket only to discover that her money must have fallen out during the walk. Sadly, again, we walked back to the hostel empty handed.
The next day consisted of more walking around on foot and finally sitting down for some ice cream : ) We packed up and left that night for our next stop, Mendoza.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

......hmm Rosarioooo opinion, hmmm. Let's just say, I might need to give this town a second chance, like at a different time of the year. First off, not only was it small, but on our first day it was pouring. Not only was it pouring, it was freezing. We woke up early because our guidebook said the best thing to do was to go on this kayak/bike tour that takes you from the city to the near Alta Delta islands across the river. It's a seven hour tour, and ya I know I don't seem like the kayaking, biking, or any physical activity for 7 hours type BUT I'm here to experience new things so I was ready to do it. Well....with freezing cold rain not even my adventurous friend Lauren was interested in it anymore so we decided to just walk around the city and visit the "sights." We walked a block away from the hostel to the Plaza de Mayo, the main city square where all the government buildings were, and a little past it to Monumento Nacional a la Bandera, a monument to the Argentine flag (since this was the first city in the country where it was erected). This was a pretty cool sight except for the fact that it was also the exact moment that it started pouring intensely and so we gave up on sightseeing for the day, hopped in a cab to the nearest mall and saw a movie, hoping to wait out the rain indoors.

We were right, when we got out the rain let out and we decided to keep on with the guidebook suggestions, which left only about three more sights and took all of an hour to get through. One sight that deserves a mention was visiting the house Che Guevara was born in. Well, it's now an office building and we couldn't go inside but we did take some pictures from the outside. It was frustrating though because by this time we were in a dead zone as the whole city basically shuts down between 1-4pm because everyone goes home to nap. We headed back to the hostel, hung out with other travelers, and relaxed till later that night when Lauren and I went to meet a friend of hers that is studying abroad in Rosario.

When we got back Lauren was tired and went straight to bed. I, on the other hand, have been having trouble falling asleep throughout this whole trip and decided to read for a while. By the time I was tired, I got into bed and lay awake listening to the drunks in the bar yelling all night. Now I guess now is the time to mention that, I've discovered....I'm not much of a "backpacker." To begin with, I don't even own a backpack. I don't really like guidebooks telling me the name of every church in town, things "i must do," blah blah blah....I am, though, very into different cultures, languages, customs, etc. I like doing my own exploring, really experiencing what locals do and see on a daily basis, I hate being the "tourist." I'd rather blend in.

Anyways, when looking for hostels I tend to look at the best rated by customers and also by the pictures posted. The one in Rosario had really great pictures and good reviews and was smack in the middle of town, so it was an obvious choice for me. The pictures did it justice, it was really cool, ambient, and decorative. Different colored walls, pop art paintings, a tv room with bean bag chairs and a pull down projector screen, a bar with a hangout room...and a lot of guests, well at least I thought they were staying there. Since our hostel was "so cool," and the town I guess is pretty boring, our hostel hosts liked to invite their friends over to hang out, both nights. Our room, unfortunately, was right next to the bar and the first night I tried to fall asleep to loud conversations, laughter, the smell of cigarette smoke and an ongoing soundtrack of R.E.M. and Pearl Jam....I dealt with it. The second night, though, when I knew I had to get up at 8 am to get on a 7 hour bus ride, I couldn't hang. I tried to be cool and not say anything, even though their was one drunk British girl who slurred all of her spanish and seemed to talk for hours. It literally sounded like they were right there in my room, I could hear EVERYTHING, and to make matters worse Lauren and our roommate were fast asleep. By about 4:30 am, they were even louder and I had to get up and go in there and assertively complain in spanish, basically saying "As much as I've enjoyed your entertaining conversation, I really don't see a reason to be yelling it at 5 in the morning, especially when there are other places in this hostel that are far away from all the bedrooms." I was amazed that it was only three people making all the noise, the graveyard hostel host, his friend and one drunk guest. The host was very embarrassed, apologizing repeatedly, which I ignored as I walked back to my SUPER comfortable bunk bed (not). We left this morning, thankfully, but not before I got charged for the lock and key to my locker that went missing the day before along with Laurens lock to her suitcase. I was frustrated but didn't even care at that point, I just wanted to get out of there. We got on the next bus to Cordoba and I reclined my seat all the way back and fell asleep for the next five hours. The next hostel I chose read, "Quiet and cozy, trying to make you feel at home.." they even have a live in dog! Oh ya, and when we left Rosario, the rain had been long gone and the sun was blazing....just perfect, the first hot day of the week and we get to spend it on the bus.

p.s. i got that picture from the didn't look as nice with our weather

Monday, September 21, 2009


First night in Rosario, Argentina. Lauren and me took a really nice, comfortable bus this afternoon from Buenos Aires to the city of Rosario ( 4 hours North). It was nice to get out of the city and see the vast green landscape, where cows and horses grazed freely for once. We got in around 6:30pm to the Che Pampas Hostel, located downtown. It has a really cool laid back atmosphere, paintings of Bob Marley, Che Guevara and the Rolling Stones line the hallways. One of our new roommates, Andy, a film production assistant from London, joined us on our trek to dinner. We walked about twenty minutes on the boardwalk along the river Prana, which was full of people and live music as today is the official first day of Spring and it is widely celebrated throughout the city. Dinner was eaten at the a restaurant called Flora and we each had the famous Argentine steak and Malbec wine for dinner. After dinner, we walked through the city back to our hostel with a quick stop at the supermarket for more wine and some ice cream : )
At first arrival, I thought of Rosario as another Montevideo, a small town lacking the liveliness of the city. I am very much a city person, so this makes me nervous. But walking at night, I realized it wasn't so boring and probably has more than I thought to offer. Lauren on the other hand was more than excited, as we are opposites and she likes smaller towns with more opportunities to explore nature. I'm not going to write off this city yet, we still have tomorrow haha....anyways, we were all tired from the long drive so we ended the night by staying in and lounging in the really cool tv room to watching Meet the Parents on a massive screen projector, while our hostel host is partying in the Bar area with her local friends. It's a nice change of pace from the fast life in BA though I have to admit.
Tomorrow, we'll explore and I'll get back to you on my thoughts of this city once I have a full day to enjoy it.

Buenas Noches!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


So here we are seven months later and I have returned to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This time I brought two friends with me : ) One only came for a week, seeing as she has an actual job and all, the real work doesn't allow for unplanned adventures. Her (Ashley) and I arrived the same day, an hour apart, and spent an hour looking for each other in the airport. It didn't occur to me to designate a meeting place, not that I could remember what the airport looked like, if you refer back to my post in January about when I arrived you'll know what I'm talking about. Anyways, once we found each other, which was a huge reunion of sorts since we hadn't seen each other in about 3 years, we were well on our way into the city. We arrived thirty minutes later to the hostel I had called home for a month earlier this year. Slept for most of the day then went to my favorite French cafe around the corner for the best eggs benedict I've ever had in my life. Our first couple of days were spent relaxing, eating, and shopping.

It wasn't until my other friend Lauren arrived three days later that we really began to do anything touristy. Also, that weekend we moved into a cute studio apartment we would call home for the rest of the week. Having been here for two months before, I felt like the tour guide and showed to the best of my ability all the "must-see's" of Buenos Aires. Still, our days were short and tiring. We were all trying to adjust to the time and woke up well into the afternoon EVERY day so by the time we were ready to leave the apartment, we would only have a few hours of daylight left since it's still winter over here. Regardless, we still saw all the obvious attractions each day, The Obelisco on Avenue 9 de julio (supposedly the widest avenue in the world, spanning ten lanes), Puerto Madero-the seaport neighborhood with a lot of nice restaurants and new buildings, Calle Florida- similar to Canal street in NYC, the cemetary in Recoleta- a city all on its own with huge masoleums including where Evita is buried, streets of Palermo- chic boho neighborhood, San Telmo's Sunday street fair, Abastos live drum circle-which is every monday night year-round and some of the most amazing percussion music i've ever heard, an intimate Tango show at Bar Sur-where I was serenaded for my birthday...what else was a really busy week. We were also ending our nights pretty late, seeing as the typical time for dinner here is at 10:30pm and the bars don't open until after midnight.

Last Sunday I celebrated my 24th birthday here. Lauren and Ashley cooked a delicious meal for me and four of my friends that live here in Buenos Aires (all ex-pats though). Lots of wine, pasta, and cake...I had a great time : )

Ashley left last Tuesday and since then Lauren and I moved back into the hostel (a better choice economically not comfort-wise though), and spent the rest of the week recovering and relaxing. We had a couple rainy days so we went to the cinema more than once. Tonight is our last night in Buenos Aires until October. Tomorrow, our actual journey begins as we are leaving for our next stop, Rosario. It's apparently a smaller version of Buenos Aires, four hours north and sits right on the river so it should be greener and cleaner : )

From now on, I'll be writing regularly as the sites I'll be seeing will be for the first time and can share it with you guys as I see them. Until tomorrow, CHAU!!! (Argentines borrowed the term from the Italian Ciao)