Three weeks of photos from Argentina & Chile

As promised (finally!), here are the photographic highlights from my last 3 weeks on the road in Argentina and Chile.

They start with a few photos from SaltaCordoba, and Mendoza, before I jumped down to Bariloche in Argentina’s Patagonia. From there, I crossed the border to spend a rainy week in Puerto Varas and Valdivia (because of the crummy weather, there are very few photos), then made a long haul up to Vina del Mar to spend my last days of vacation on the beach soaking up some final South American sunshine.


Video proof I jumped out of an airplane!

Slowly but surely I’m sorting through all of my pictures from the last month of my travels so I can get them posted on here, but in the mean time, I was finally able to rewatch and upload my skydiving video!

Embedded from YouTube for your viewing pleasure — proof that I really was crazy enough to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet!

Bariloche, Patagonia: Biking 27 km and driving 370!

Well, I didn’t exactly bike the entire 27 km because, as a pathetically, out of shape weakling, I walked my bike up the steeper hills. But for all intents and purposes, I biked the 27 km Circuito Chico this afternoon and I feel two things: accomplished, and absolutely exhausted. 

Map of the Circuito Chico, which I biked today!

The circuit itself is a gorgeous, paved road that circles the eastern area of Bariloche, along the lakes and rivers of the area. The road slopes uphill, then downhill, then uphill again, revealing tree-lined views of the lakes and snow-capped peaks. I opted to do the bike journey solo, and took my sweet time stopping whenever I wanted to take photos, needed a breather or opted to walk my bike up the steeper, hillier sections. Luckily it only rained for a half hour or so in the beginning of my journey, and when the rain got so heavy I could barely see, I stopped under a clump of trees to wait it out, and was able to hop back on my bike (granted with a very wet butt and an awkward wet stripe down my back) a few minutes later as the rain lightened, then stopped for good.


Stella, very clearly in ducky heaven (probably because she didn´t have to pedal the bike!)


Bariloche is a polar opposite change from the 95 degree, sweat-inducing, desert heat of Mendoza and northern Argentina. I´ve traded my light cotton dress for a hood instead of sunglasses, leggings underneath my jeans, four layers beneath my windbreaker, plus my alpaca-knit gloves. Regardless of the frigid, and very indecisive weather (it´s sort of like being in Boston where you can wait 5 minutes and the weather will change) this lake region, at the very northern tip of Patagonia, is stunning.

View of one of the lake´s many beaches from right near my hostel

Yesterday I had a lazy, mostly indoors day, since it was colder, windier, and rainier outside than I wanted to brave, but during a break in the rain I took the ski lift up to Cerro Campanario and enjoyed an absolutely incredible 360 degree view of the lakes, rivers and mountains surrounding Bariloche. Worth every penny of the 60 pesos I paid to let the ski lift haul my lazy self up and down the mountain!


Nothing better than hot chocolate and raspberry tart to keep me company at the top of the ski lift, waiting for the rain to pass.

View from the ski lift!

And on my first full day in town, I met three boys in my hostel, and the four of us rented a car to drive 370 kilometers up north and around the seven lakes to San Martin. Michiel and Frank, Dutch brothers, Mario, a German guy, and I had some serious bonding time during our 13 hours in our Volkswagon Gol together, but we had an absolute blast. The weather didn´t exactly cooperate, and we had on and off rain and some serious cloud coverage for many hours, but we also got to see a gorgeous rainbow over one of the lakes, and a tiny bit of sunshine here and there.


Map of the northern roads we drove along


Boys being, well… boys, and climbing a giant rock that jutted out over the road

I also had my first attempt at driving stick shift — on an empty, and wide, dirt road in the middle of our journey. The photo of my skid marks from the first time I attempted to release the clutch and press the gas simultaneously is absolutely priceless, but Michiel was very patient and, eventually, I was able to drive for more than a minute or two without stalling out the car. Luckily for the boys, I only drove on that tiny stretch of road.


Poor, terrified Michiel



Tomorrow morning, I´m leaving Argentina and headed to Puerto Varas in Chile, my fifth and final country for my last 8 days of vacation. Fingers crossed the weather improves and I can snag some awesome views of the volcanos!

I would love nothing more than to post all of my millions of photos from the last 3 days, but my computer is truly dead, and aside from the photos I took on my cell phone and posted to Instagram, I have no way of uploading my DSLR´s photos to this shared computer, so these ones will have to do. I promise when I get back to the States and face funemployment once again, I´ll upload the pictures I wasn´t able to post!

That time I jumped out of an airplane

Once you´ve flown,

you know why

the birds are always singing.

I´ve been biting my tounge (holding back my fingers?) trying to keep this secret — partially because I didn´t want to jinx it (which I almost did!) and partially because I knew certain people (mainly my incredibly loving, but risk-take-hating parents) would have a heart attack if I told them I was planning to pay good money to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. In fact, when I get home in two weeks (yikes!) I´m more than sure I´ll never hear the end of it.

As soon as I met Vincent back in Potosi and we started talking about the 50+ skydiving jumps he´d been on back in France, I was insanely jealous. I dídn´t come to South America expecting to, or even thinking about, going skydiving, but it´s something I´ve always wanted to do, and going with someone who knows the ropes sounded like the perfect chance.

Two weeks ago, at the end of our Salar trip, Vincent and I had read in my guidebook that Cordoba is one of the better known places in Argentina to go skydiving. So we made a plan to meet there in December, after he´d been to Buenos Aires and Iguazu (where I´ve already been) and I had explored Salta with Sergio. Two weeks later, we were hugging hello again on Cordoba´s Alevar street.

On our first day back together, we ventured out to Alta Gracia, a suburb 30 kilometers south of Cordoba where an aerodome is located. We found someone working at the office we´d researched, but they told us because of the weather, jumping that day was impossible. But they would gladly have us back tomorrow instead.

vincentwaitingThe company picked us up at our hostel at 9:45 AM the next morning and drove us back out to Alta Gracia, where we sat in the hanger and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In fact, we waited all day, until 6 PM, to be given our final no, you cannot jump today. We´d been told throughout the day that the wind was too strong, and it was unsafe to jump, but they kept saying it might die down, or the conditions might change. I was relieved to know the company wouldn´t put us in danger just to take our cash, but mostly just bummed that we sat in an airport hanger all day for absolutely nothing.

Fed up of waiting and less than impressed with Cordoba, we decided to just head to Mendoza, where there were other companies that offered skydiving and where we could at least drown our sorrows in a good Malbec if we couldn´t actually jump out of an airplane.

After an exhausting overnight bus, we got to Mendoza and called the three Mendoza skydiving companies we could find. Two said we couldn´t jump with them until Tuesday, and the other said he´d pick us up the next morning at 9 AM. We were stoaked, but hesitant to get too excited.

On Monday morning, our guide arrived even earlier than anticipated, and after an hour of waiting and another hour of running around the city trying to get a cash advance on my credit card (the joys of what happens when you leave your debit card in the ATM and it gets stolen before you realize what happened) then eventually being able to pay by credit card, we were finally on our way.

Two hours later we arrived in the nothern city of San Juan. We were out of the jeeping and suiting up, Vincent and our guide chatting away about canopy sizes and equipment, before it began to hit me that I was actually getting ready to jump out of an airplane, not just sit around talking about it.

Up until a few moments before my feet dangled over the edge of the airplane floor I barely felt any nerves. Just a bit of anxiousness, since I´d been planning and talking about and anticipating this moment for nearly two weeks. The four of us (Vincent, myself, our guide who was my tandem partner, and another gentleman who is a student of our guide) were all sitting backwards, crammed into the seatless back section of our very tiny airplane, chatting about nothing in particular as we circled the air, slowly climbing to 10,000 feet. Those easily felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life, but not because of nerves, just from the simple anticipation. The moment I saw Vincent´s body plunge toward the earth as he exited the plane, I felt my stomach drop. But I still didn´t quite know what to expect, I was just as excited as I was nervous, and there was no way I was backing out then.

Attached by all our harnesses and gear, I sat on my guide´s lap and we pulled our feet out of the cabin and dangled them out into the windy sky.

“You ready?” he asked me? I don´t think I said yes, I think I just squealed.

One, two, three, jump!

And just like that, we were falling. Gracelessly, effortlessly, and so quickly that I didn´t even feel a pit form in my stomach. I expected that rollercoaster nerves feeling, but it never came. Just amazement, as we tumbled toward earth. At some point I physically I lost my breath, reminding myself to pull my head up and back so I could take in oxygen through my nose. After 30 seconds of face-flapping, mind-blowing free fall, my guide pulled out the chute, and we were suddenly vertical again, still floating easily and effortlessly through the sky, but this time guiding our own way.

It´s hard to describe the high, but Vincent taught me my opening quote about skydiving, and why he´s so addicted, and it made complete sense once I´d landed from our jump. There´s something exhilarating, freeing, and even relaxing about falling 10,000 feet. About trusting your body to guide you down, and trusting your mind to allow your body to do such an incredibly crazy thing. And in my case, trusting your tandem partner and your chute to function properly.

Luckily, my guide had just come back from competing in the world championships of skydiving in Dubai, and was on his 981st jump, so I didn´t have to worry that he didn´t know what he was doing. He spoke great English, explained everything to me calmly and logically, and I felt so safe knowing he was in total control.

I would jump again in a heartbeat, and despite its high price tag, I completely understand why skydiving can become an addiction. I loved every moment of my jump, and I´m so glad I had the guts, and opportunity, to try something so crazy, but so incredible.

I have a wonderful DVD of my jump, but I can´t rip it from the DVD without tech support and/or a working laptop, but I promise to post it when I get home!


rplane1This morning I´m also getting in an airplane, but this time, it´s a comercial Aerolinas Argentina flight down to Argentine Patagonia´s Bariloche. I´m trading the vineyards and 95 degree heat for hiking amongst mountain lakes and glaciers, but I´ve heard nothing but fantastic things about Bariloche, so I think it will be worth the trade!

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

I’ve only been in Argentina for three days — four if you count our 14 hour travel day on Saturday — but I can feel the difference from Bolivia immediately.  Granted Tupiza is a tiny town with no license for wifi and no more than 3 stoplights, so the difference between town and city is apparent as well, but the cultural and physical differences are more than obvious the second  you cross the border.

  • I’m back in the proximity of the first world. Signs are informative, posted hours are accurate, credit cards are widely accepted, and common courtesy exchanges are expected everywhere. Salta is very clearly a South American city, but it seems more similar to an American city than a Bolivian one.
  • With that proximity comes shockingly high prices. In Tupiza, it was 80 cents for two of the best mangos I’ve ever eaten, but yesterday I paid $3 for an average Dole-stickered mango and two unripe kiwis. The teleferico (cable car ride) we took cost $7 a person, whereas I paid 50 cents each way in Cochabamba. A 1.5 liter bottle of water is 11 pesos here, more than $2, and more than twice what I paid for a 2 liter bottle in La Paz. I nearly let my jaw drop at the bus station when the man told me tickets to Cordoba are 450 pesos — $90 for a 12 hour bus ride, which would have cost me $35 in Peru. Hostels and taxis seem exorbitant, even though the prices are normal, or even cheap, compared to the US. I definitely need to adjust my budget!
  • The sidewalks are horrible. I remember this one from Buenos Aires, but I didn’t realize it would be a problem in other cities as well. My foot is 90% better, but I’ve almost reinjured it a dozen times because of ridiculous holes, cracks, and up-rooted tiles in the sidewalks.
  • Italiano Espanol. Sentences here are sing-songy and higher pitched. Worse, the vocabulary is different, and my brain is struggling to process familiar words.
  • Small change is non-existant. In Peru and Bolivia, people hated breaking big bills, but in Argentina, whether you’re at a street cart or a museum store with a cash register, everyone refuses to give you one peso. When I bought water today, the old lady in front of me had to buy two candies for 50 cents because her coca cola was $3.50 and the shop owner refused to give her a 50 cent piece.
  • The conditioner comes out of my hair all on it’s own. Hot water? Normal water pressure? Wait, the bathroom has a shower curtain?! I’m in heaven!
  • No more hoarding toilet paper. No more squished rolls of TP and antibacterial lotion in my purse everywhere I go. Much fewer one-star, hold-your-nose-and-close-your-eyes bathrooms, and, believe it or not, some establishments even have paper towels.
  • Quilmes tastes worse than Bud Light. Another fact I’d remembered to forget from my time in Buenos Aires several months ago, but the national beer is, actually, terrible. Thankfully, I can stick to delicious local Malbecs instead.
  • The whole world doesn’t shut down for almuerzo. Walk outside in Bolivia between the hours of 12 and 2 and you’d easily be convinced nobody lives in the city. In Salts, the streets bustle at all times of the day, and though businesses close and kids go home for lunch, the city is far from a ghost town.
  • I blend in incredibly well. Argentines look Caucasian. They don’t think I look strange nor do they automatically attempt to speak to me in English. The European immigration is obvious simply in the color of people’s skin.
  • But I get cat-called every five seconds. Sergio left for Chile early this morning, so today was the first day I walked around Salta on my own. In six hours of wandering, I got stared at, whistled at, called out to, honked at, and even begged to stop walking by at least 3 dozen men. Considering I was wearing a high neck t-shirt and knee-length leggings, I certainly don’t think I was asking for it. By hour six, I was ready to pull out some of the nasty Spanish words I’ve learned on the road. Smartly, I refrained and retreated back to my hostel for a siesta instead.


“I think you’re at the wrong airport..”

Hearing someone say those words to you, in slightly broken English, at 5:45 in the morning is not a good way to start your day. Just, you know, in case you were wondering.

To clarify, Buenos Aires has two airports. As I understood (until this morning), the Jose Newbury Aeroparque is the local airport, and the other, a 30 minute drive out of the city, is the international airport. Alison and I flew into the Buenos Aires International Airport from Santiago at the end of May when we first came to Argentina, and since I had booked a round trip ticket back to Santiago from BA, I simply assumed my flight would leave from that international airport. Of course, I knew there was a local airport, since I had flown in and out of Iguazu through the Aeroparque, and I even joked with Alison when I was coordinating a taxi pickup through the BA hostel I stayed at last night that it was a good thing I knew to differentiate between the two airports, otherwise they would have sent a driver to pick me up at the wrong one.

So when I forked over $180 pesos (just about $40 US) and hopped out of my taxi this morning after a 30 minute drive outside the city, you can imagine my disbelief when the LAN agent I spoke with told me my flight wasn’t, in fact, leaving from that airport. Luckily, I’m my parent’s daughter and left a ridiculous amount of time between getting to the airport and my actual flight departure time (7:50 AM) since I didn’t know how long customs would take, so the extra 45 minutes back to downtown BA wasn’t too detrimental and I was able to make my flight. Thank goodness it was a Sunday morning and the roads were empty! Of course I had to pay another $220 pesos ($50 US) to get all the way back where I had just come from… nothing like wasting close to $100 on a stupid mistake! Oh well, lesson learned and it all worked out fine — I made my flight without a problem, and I’m back safely at Alison & Ignacio’s apartment.

I’m in disbelief that 3 weeks of my trip have already gone by — I can’t believe I’m back in Santiago, getting ready to travel on my own, and hike to Machu Picchu at that! I have such a mix of emotions: part of me is terrified to be out in Peru and Bolivia by myself, another part of me can’t wait to be on my own, truly enjoying my independence and some very serious “me” time.

Last night was a bit of a strange experience in and of itself — I got back from Iguazu and got in the cab my hostel had arranged for me, checked in at the hostel to find that even though I’d paid $8.60 US for one bed in a 4 bed suite, I was actually going to be staying in a room on my own. I didn’t have any complaints, of course, but was confused when they showed me to a rather large room with only one bed and a small wooden wardrobe with a place to lock my bags. Of course the tiny heater they had started in the far corner of the room (opposite the bed) was doing nothing to heat the huge space, so I knew it was going to be a cold night.

I think I confused the man working the desk — when I asked him to bring me an extra blanket and he came upstairs, he seemed completely taken aback that I had taken it upon myself to move the bed directly next to the heater. Hey, a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do. I told him I’d move it back this morning, but he didn’t seem too concerned, just mostly confused. Luckily leggings underneath my sweatpants, two pairs of socks, a tank top, long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt were enough to keep me warm under the two relatively thin blankets they’d given me. I’m becoming a pro at learning to sleep in the cold!

I also had a grocery store fail yesterday: the original plan was to meet up with Erica and cook, but she wanted to go out to dinner and watch the Celtics, and the last thing I wanted to do was to be faced with Boston sports in another hemisphere. Instead, I went across the street to the grocery store, where I spent a significant amount of time wandering the aisles, probably looking like a sad, lost and confused puppy to everyone else in the store. In all fariness, it’s rather difficult to grocery shop in another language and country where you don’t have the vocabulary to ask where things are.

At one point, I was able to mutter the question “Donde esta queso parmesano?” to a man stocking the shelves, who answered something very quickly and pointed in a vague, general direction, so off I went to wander down the same 3 aisles I’d already been down. Of course, grocery shopping for one is impossible in the states, but to shop for one person, for one night, not being able to keep any leftovers was a total fail. I spent $40 pesos ($9ish bucks) on pasta, pasta sauce, parmesan cheese, a yellow bell pepper (the only decent looking vegetable I could find in the produce section), chocolate cookies and a bottle of water.

One thing I wish Alison, Carolyn and I had done more of when we were traveling was cook — buying groceries to split and share amongst 3 people is relatively easy. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have a kitchen we could use at the BA B&B we were at, so it didn’t make much sense, but it could have saved us a lot of money, especially since Buenos Aires is a very expensive city to eat out in.

I met two super sweet girls from Liverpool while I was cooking dinner last night, and left them with my extra pasta and sauce, and they were very grateful. I talked to them a little about how they had taken the TEFL and were certified to teach English, spending their summer after graduating from university in Buenos Aires together. I wish it weren’t so expensive to take the class and get certified in the states — aside from that obvious hurdle and the fact that I’m paying to store my stuff in Connecticut right now, I think I’d very seriously consider moving abroad to teach if I had someone to go with. I do feel so thankful that I am truly “free” right now — though the goal is to be in New York City eventually, I can really do whatever I want, and that freedom is so exhilarating!

Speaking of, Briann just booked a two week trip out to the west coast! We’re going to meet in Seattle on July 11 and spend a few days in Seattle, then hop down to Portland, then see San Francisco before we head down to LA for a few days in my home city to show her around. She has never seen the pacific ocean and I’ve never been further north than Sacramento, so I’m very excited to export the Pacific northwest! I think it will be hard heading back to LA from such an amazing vacation/travel adventure, so I’m glad to have another leg of travel booked — and this time speaking the language and having a cell phone will make coordinating and traveling much easier!

The rest of today is dedicated to errands: doing laundry, unpacking and repacking, getting passport pictures taken for my Bolivian visa, printing out copies of my credit card and passport, also for my visa, and then buying a handful of things like an alarm clock, flashlight, and more shampoo/conditioner. I’m glad I have the day to get that type of stuff done — it’s much needed after 18 days of non-stop travel!

Iguazu Falls: One of the seven wonders of the world

For those of you mostly skimming and looking for pictures, check out the albums I’ve uploaded so far to Google Plus. It’s a slow process with wifi connections on my very old, slightly fussy laptop, but most of them are up, and slowly but surely I’ll get the rest up too!

I can’t believe I just spent the last two days at a place that has been named one of seven wonders of the world. I’ve been looking at pictures of and reading about Iguazu ever since Alison and I first started flirting with the idea of traveling together almost 3 months ago, and it’s almost unreal that I’m now here, and that my time traveling with Alison and her sister is officially over tomorrow afternoon.

Iguazu is incredible — the falls literally take your breath away, the cheesiest cliche ever, but totally true. Their enormity, the power of the water, and the sheer number of waterfalls in one area is truly astonishing. Words can’t really do them justice, nor can my pictures, but you just have to believe me, and add Puerto Iguazu to your list of places to visit one day.

With the whole bed bug discovery disaster during our last night in Buenos Aires, we were a bit hesitant to see how the last minute hostel that we booked 10 hours prior to our arrival would work out. Despite our taxi driver getting turned around several times and mostly lost before finding the place (exactly like every single TripAdvisor review told us would happen, yet totally unavoidable since she SWORE up and down she knew exactly where it was), we made it out to our hotel. The property is really beautiful, and worked out perfectly. Our original plan was to stay here one night and then find another place for the next two nights closer to the downtown area, but we decided we loved it and stayed the whole time, and it has worked out great!

The property is owned by Lorena and her partner Andrea, and is a few bungalows with different bed set ups, and then a main kitchen/living room area in a separate bungalow. Lorena is so, so sweet — she is genuinely concerned and interested in everything, and though she is a total chatty Cathy, she has really wonderful stories and great things to explain to us. Plus she serves a mean breakfast, with great huevos!

On our first day, we arrived here and put our stuff down, then took the bus into the downtown area for some late lunch of delicious empanadas and then wandered through the touristy gift shops. Then we met Lorena, went the grocery store so we could make ourselves lunch for our days in the park, then hitched a ride back to the hotel with her. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing, catching up on emails/Facebook, and ordered in pizza. A perfect night in after many nights of travel!

Yesterday was our first day in the park, and despite setting an early alarm, we managed to dismiss it and sleep til 9:30, so by the time we had breakfast, made sandwiches for lunch and got on the bus to the park, it was past noon. Oops!

We spent the day wandering the “lower circuit” trail, which gives a view of the falls from below, but from a distance.  The park itself is much more developed than the three of us realized it would be. The paths are all metal walkways built over the ground/waterfalls/rivers, and most everything in the park is handicap accessible, which is very impressive. We anticipated more intense hiking, but we walked slowly and took the views in, although our feet were definitely achy by the end of the day. Since the lower circuit took less time than anticipated, we walked to the “devils throat,” or Garganta del Diablo, and then did the upper circuit, which gives you views of the falls from directly above/on top of them.

Having just been to Niagara falls a few months ago, I had that beauty to compare these falls to, and Iguazu definitely blows Niagara out of the water (pun intended?). It’s pretty difficult to put into words the enormity of the falls, but the Garganta section is farther back and removed, and then at least another dozen or so falls line up along a gigantic cliff, shooting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water out into the basin. Every time you see them, you just can’t stop staring — they’re so enormous, and so beautiful, it’s almost ridiculous.

Today we did a separate, less popular, hike to a much smaller waterfall more removed from the main falls. Though we expected something a bit more strenuous, the walk was really beautiful and we saw tons of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and adorable monkeys. Speaking of wildlife, there are hundreds of coati that live in the park — an animal that looks like a cross between an anteater and a raccoon. They appear fuzzy and adorable but will literally walk right up to humans and chase them in an attempt to get food. We couldn’t eat lunch in certain areas of the park because there were so many of them begging for whatever food they could get. So sad to see how they’ve evolved to be completely unafraid of humans, despite the dozens of signs warning not to feed them.

After our walk, we went back to the main falls to book a boat tour that brings you right up to the base of the various falls. We knew we’d be getting soaked (as we were told to wear ponchos and place our backpacks in gigantic waterproof bags), but didn’t quite realize how close to the falls the boat would actually take us.

I was hesitant to fork over $150 pesos ($35 bucks is a lot for a 12 minute boat ride, and we already had to pay an $130 peso entrance fee to the park yesterday, plus another $65 pesos for entry today) for the boat ride, but decided it was a once in a lifetime experience and being a little wet, and very cold, for an hour or so wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The best part of the boat ride might have been when Alison turned around, absolutely terrified, and screamed “terminado” to the boat driver who, after grinning, drove the boat right back up to another waterfall, which sufficiently soaked us for the second time.

The most incredible thing about the boat ride was how powerful the falls felt from their base — the amount of water crashing 200 feet down the side of a cliff is hard to understand and capture when you’re taking photos from so far away all day, so being sprayed and soaked completely from the base of so many waterfalls was a pretty humbling experience.

After our boat ride adrenaline rush, we spent a few minutes relaxing in a view of the falls, and then left the park by bus to go  to the downtown area of Puerto Iguazu for dinner. Now we’re back relaxing at the hostel, snuggled in our PJs. Originally when we booked this leg of the trip, we’d heard it was slightly impossible and very expensive to obtain a visa to get to the Brazilian side of the falls (Iguazu is like Niagara falls — you can view them from both Brazil and Argentina, like you can view Niagara from NY and Canada) but when we got up here, our taxi driver told us that Brazil had gotten more relaxed about letting people in without stamping their passports/asking for a visa. Of course this got our hopes up, but every person we asked had a different thought/opinion/confusion about whether we could get there, and we weren’t interested in paying the $160 reciprocity fee to Brazil, plus a second park entrance fee. So instead, we just decided to skip it and not bother wasting our time (and money on a cab or bus) getting to the border only to discover they wouldn’t let us in.

It’s almost impossible to believe that my flight back to Buenos Aires is tomorrow afternoon — I have 16 hours in BA before I fly back to Santiago for 24 hours of relaxing, then from there I fly to Peru and start the next leg of my trip! I’m sad to think that my time traveling with Carolyn and Alison is over — it has been so great having friends who speak the language and who can help me adjust to a brand new hemisphere, since both of them have traveled rather extensively in South America. At the same time, I’m also excited to be traveling on my own — I’ll be on my own timetable, not relying on other people, doing exactly what I want, when I want, and really enjoying some time with myself. I’m still a tad nervous (mostly about walking around by myself and having to take taxis on my own) to travel without friends, but I know that it will all work out totally fine, and that even if something disastrous does end up happening, it won’t be the end of the world. Plus, I really just cannot wait to see Machu Picchu!

Our last two days in Buenos Aires!

I can’t believe we spent a full eight days in Buenos Aires and are already on to our second leg of the trip in Uruguay — and that our time in Montevideo is already over! Since I have so much to say (or I guess, type?) about the end of our BA portion of the trip, I’ll save Montevideo for a separate post.

City skyline from the Japanese gardens

On Wednesday, we started the day with a visit to the Jardin Japones — the Japanese Gardens of Buenos Aires, built by the Japanese Argentine Cultural Foundation in the 1960’s. The gardens had a similar feel to the Chinese gardens and temples I visited in Beijing on my Northeastern Dialogue of Civilizations trip, and it was a bit strange to have sudden flashbacks to my 5 weeks spent in China while in the middle of Argentina. Regardless, the gardens are a beautiful green space, plus it’s always fun to see a Koi pond!

From there we walked up through Palermo to the MALBA museum, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. The museum is half price on Wednesdays, and students (I may still take advantage of my Husky ID) are free, which was a nice break from the rather pricey entrance and tour fees we’ve been paying throughout BA. Coincidentally, the museum had a beautiful exhibit entitled Bye Bye American Pie, featuring seven American artists of the late 1900’s: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cady Noland y Paul McCarthy. I’d never seen work from any of the artists, and I was lucky enough that there were English translations of almost all the descriptions so I could understand everything. I particularly loved the work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an expressionist painter who died in 1988, at the age of 27, of a drug overdose. His work — combinations of everything from elephant drawings, repeated words written in pencil and crossed out in bright paint colors, and messages of African American history — was thought provoking, bizarre and absolutely captivating, and I truly enjoyed it.

Larry Clark‘s photographs were a bit harder to stomach — many of them were raw images that involved heavy drug use in rural America. It was interesting to think about the way America was being depicted to South Americans, but also interesting to think about the prevalent drug use in our country, especially during the 70’s and 80’s.

Erica met up with us and we left the museum to grab lunch a few blocks away, walking through the beautiful tree-shaded streets of northern Palermo, lined with huge, beautiful houses. A stark contrast to yesterday’s La Boca visit, but great to see nonetheless. I had my first tortilla — not a tortilla at all, but a Latin American version of a frittata, made with eggs, potatoes and onions. Heavy, but delicious!

After another hour and a half or so checking out the other MALBA exhibits, we wandered back toward our hostel, stopping for a delicious helado on the way. Buenos Aires has particularly good ice cream — their mascarpone flavor is to die for. I hadn’t realized what a heavy influence Italy had on South American countries, particularly in cuisine. I didn’t expect to see so much pizza and pasta!

Erica went to an architecture expo and we took a bit of a break at the B&B, then met up again to head to La Catedral — a tango milonga in an 1880’s warehouse that originally served as a silo and dairy factory.

I’m almost a loss for words to describe the La Catedral decor — one part raw and rustic, another vintage and eclectic. Mismatched tables and chairs filled the back third of the room behind the dance floor, and sofas and chairs with ripped cushions, stuffing popping out of several corners, line the walls. Artwork hangs in every available space on the 20′ walls. Bare, colored lightbulbs are wrapped precariously on a wire circle and hung directly above the dance floor, and aside from a few kitchen bulbs, a controlled spotlight, and the glow from the candles on the tables, provide the only light. My photos don’t do the space justice, since the dim light made it hard to capture, but here are a few:

A dozen couples, including the two tango teachers who we saw teaching the end of a lesson when we first arrived, took turns heating up the dance floor. Our variety of empanadas — chicken and cheese, pumpkin, caprese, and vegetable — were so good they practically melted in our mouths. Between the incredible tango dancing, live music and delicious Malbec we were drinking, I felt like I was truly experiencing Argentine culture.

Thursday we began the day in San Telmo on Defensa Street, the same avenue where the market was set up last Sunday, and where I happened to fall in love with a gorgeous leather jacket being sold by Diego, an older gentleman who owns “En la Escalera” — a leather pop-up shop that consists of a small display of beautiful jackets on a random set of stairs, tucked behind a huge metal door. Of course, he didn’t have in the right size/color combination I wanted, but luckily was very sweet and told me to be in touch later in the week. When I emailed him on Wednesday to see if he had gotten one in stock, I was in luck! He told us to come by between 12 and 2, and when we got there we discovered he had even written a special sign with my name telling me to ring the bell. He let us in and let me try on the jacket, stare at myself in the mirror, debate with Alison and Carolyn for entirely too long, and even held a lighter to the jacket to prove it wasn’t synthetic or plastic (I had never heard of this test before, but it made sense to us and seems to be legitimate) before I finally forked over my 600 pesos. Long story short: I’m obsessed with my gorgeous, fitted, black leather jacket and so glad I splurged!

With my wallet feeling very empty but my nose filled with the scent of leather (I obviously put the jacket on that moment and refused to take it off the rest of the day), we meandered San Telmo, perused a few shops and stumbled upon a galleria — a large, open building with dozens of small store fronts selling antiques and all sorts of chachkies. When Carolyn spotted a pair of beautiful gold earrings and a large collection of hand painted toy soliders in a display, we began talking to the seller, an older, heavy-set gentleman with Italian heritage.

Our new best friend showing Carolyn the various soldier figurines

We ended up at his storefront for almost 45 minutes — he pulled out an old map and gave Alison a history lesson on Chilean-Argentine relations and colonial borders of South America. He showed us an old fashioned stamp holder (which we mistook for an earring display), let us marvel at his collection of pocket watches, for which he had a half dozen beautiful stands and holders, and even took out a dozen of the lead, hand painted toy soliders to explain to us their different uniforms and what part of Argentine history they came from.

Carolyn purchased three of the soliders as souvenirs and then we went for lunch at one of the historic cafes in San Telmo. The special of the day — a chicken, onion and bell pepper mixture that they were calling a stew but wasn’t really, served over rice — was the perfect hearty meal to warm us up, as a serious chill had set in when a cloud cover hid the sun.

We took the metro back to our area of town and did a bit more perusing of stores on Corrdoba Ave, where Alison bought a beautiful coral-colored floor length skirt.  Then we went back to our B&B to quickly change before heading to the Teatro Colôn to see the Buenos Aires Philharmonic perform. The theatre is stunningly beautiful inside and is six levels, with balconies lined along the edge of each of the levels. Our seats had a partial view so we had to lean a bit over the railing to see the orchestra, but it was a wonderful performance, and so nice to be able to enjoy beautiful classical music, even in a country where I don’t speak the language.

From there we went to dinner at La Peña del Colorado, a venue that puts on live folk music shows. We arrived at the end of the show so we only caught a few songs, but after devouring our quinoa salads we grabbed our bottle of wine and went to the back room, where a few musicians had invited us to listen to them play. They passed around guitars, a Chilean woman sang her heart out, and our new friend Diego played bluegrass on his fiddle. They alternated between conversation, soulful ballads and upbeat songs — a handful of other people joined the festivities, some playing instruments, others just listening and clapping. It was incredible to see the emotion the men and women played their instruments with, and despite getting back to our hostel at nearly 3 AM for just three hours of sleep before getting up to catch our 8 AM ferry to Uruguay, it was well worth the exhaustion!

zapatos rojo

I can’t believe today is our sixth full day in Buenos Aires. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to spend over a week in the city — I really have a sense of the city and all of its neighborhoods now, and feel like we’ve really gotten to do all of the things we initially listed out during our trip planning phase.

Today we had a much later start since we didn’t head to bed until after 2 AM. After our breakfast of coffee and media lunas — the Argentine equivalent of miniature, sweeter croissants — we took the good ol’ 152 almost its entire route to the El Caminito section of La Boca, a very touristy area of the same neighborhood where Erica lives. El Caminito is known as the birthplace of tango, and the two, small streets of the area are easily recognized by their brightly painted buildings.

Alison and I have been doing slightly touristy things, but for the most part, we’ve been wandering on our own, not taking group tours and avoiding being stared at too dramatically since Alison speaks fluently. In El Caminito men were talking to the three of us left and right, pushing fliers for their restaurants in our faces, asking if we wanted to stand in tango poses for photos, asking where we were from and telling us we were muy linda, very beautiful. After ignoring their cat calls we took lots of photos and wandered through the various art studios and souvenir stores.

Today was the first day we had sunshine and blue skies, and aside from the photos I posted of San Telmo, might have been my favorite photo day. We opted for lunch at Proa, a beautiful modern art space with an adorable cafe, delicious sandwiches, and very enticing large couches and low tables.

Gorgeous restaurant (and incredible view) from our lunch cafe

After a leisurely two hour lunch, and a delicious brownie, we got in a cab down to the Congressional Plaza. The Congressional building looks similar to the U.S. White House, with a beautiful dome atop the center of the building. After asking two different security guards about the tours for the day and getting two, very different answers, we returned to ask yet more questions. The guard, instead of being annoyed by the silly gringa chicas, decided to personally walk us into the building, through the temporary special art exhibit and show us the beautiful chamber room where all 257 deputies sit and vote. He let us look more at the art and then we made our way out and back downstairs — a perfect little peek inside!

From there we walked north on Callero Ave and did some shopping, and I purchased a beautiful pair of deep rojo (red) lace up oxfords with a wood kitten heel. I’m already obsessed, and can’t wait to wear them! Alison wanted the same pair in camel, but they were out of her size, so we’re on a mission to check out one of their other locations to find them for her.

From there we hoped on the metro a few stops back to our hostel, grabbed some olives, cheese and bread and are currently relaxing in the lobby of our B&B before picking our dinner destination!

I’m working on photos now, and will get up a second post soon with links to those!

Mas patatas

I am sad to admit that though I made lofty promises of a crazy Saturday night spent out on the town, Alison and I had a delicious Italian dinner a few blocks from our hostel and promptly walked back to our B&B, climbed into our beds, and passed out. In my defense, I equate my exhaustion to not napping. Oh well! I’m thoroughly enjoying the carefree attitude and relaxation that come with being on vacation — I’m here to see South America and the cities we’re staying in, but I’m also here to relax, and if that means heading to bed by 12:30 on Saturday night, so be it!

Sunday — Day 4

Sunday was the same overcast, mid-60’s weather we’ve been having all week, but despite the gloom we made our way down to Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada for a formal tour. Thankfully we had a bilingual tour guide, who did our entire tour in English and Spanish (poor woman — as a tour guide I truly appreciate her dedication!) so I was able to understand most of the explanations. The Casa is a much larger building inside than I had even anticipated. One thing Alison & I have noticed throughout the trip is how deceptive Argentinian architectural facades are — we go to restaurants and discover they’re actually quite deep and expansive (or even two or three levels) and realize that buildings we knew were big are actually vast, with countless rooms we had no idea existed.

After our tour, and a million photos later, we met up with Erica to wander the San Telmo market. When asking everyone for advice on the best things to do in BA, hands down the number one recommendation was to check out this market — the equivalent of a massive flea market meets farmers market down a single, quite narrow, cobblestone street, where you can buy anything your heart desires. Three packs of Nike socks for 10 pesos (approx $2.50), beautiful handmade silver jewelry, floral scarves, leather jackets and purses, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the homemade, incredible, pollo empanadas, fresh squeezed orange juice and plethora of kettle corn and cotton candy.

We munched on street food, perused the endless stalls and attempted not to stumble on the cobblestones and loose one another in the crowds. Despite the rain clouds that threatened most of the afternoon, aside from a few minutes of drizzle we lucked out. I bought a beautiful, hand-carved, wooden key holder for my new NYC apartment (!!), Alison got a gorgeous pair of leather, kitten heeled, lace up booties and a cute apron for her boyfriend’s mom, and Erica bought socks as to avoid doing laundry for another day.

After wandering the market we walked down into La Boca, the downtown neighborhood where Erica is staying. It has a bit of a bad rap for being unsafe and not a great place to be at night, but her apartment is off the main street and we felt completely fine walking to/from her neighborhood. Our goal was to head to the Boca Junior futbol stadium to buy tickets for the 7 PM game, but after multiple, fruitless inquisitions with police officers standing guard on every corner and walking through crowds of staring Boca Junior fans and we decided to head back to Erica’s apartment (just a few blocks from the stadium) to rest our feet and make a game plan.

A few google searches later helped us determine that tickets almost always sell out on the day of the game, and are upwards of $200 pesos to sit in the safer sections, so we decided at $40 US it wasn’t worth it, and instead stayed in and made delicious homemade chicken parm, pasta and broccoli.

The true Argentine adventure came after dinner, when we decided to grab the 152 bus down Santa Fe back to our B&B. Little did we know that despite the massive crowds at the half a dozen bus stops along the street near Erica’s apartment, the buses don’t make their regular stops on game days. Unbenownest to us, we stood for at least 30 minutes, probably longer, waiting for the bus that simply never showed up. After Alison spoke to a woman who had been waiting an hour and a half, and overhearing two American students talking about how long they had been waiting, we gave up and hailed a cab.

We were hesitant the driver would rip us off, or worse, but luckily he was an extremely friendly guy and he and Alison spoke in Spanish the entire cross-city drive. A cab ride like that would have cost an easy $80 or $100 in Boston, but we paid $62 pesos, or $17 dollars. Granted the bus would have cost us $2.50 pesos (50 cents) each, but we decided all things considered, it was a well spent $8 bucks each.

Monday, Day 5

To start our week off, Alison and I set an earlier alarm than we’ve been used to and got up for breakfast and to shower around 9:30. We made our way down to San Telmo, the neighborhood with the street market we were at yesterday, and found the El Zanjon site. After discovering their website has false information (tours in English and Spanish are, in fact, not offered every hour on the hour) we had an hour to kill before the next English tour, so we made our way down to Puerto Madero, the waterfront section of the city.

The waterfront reminds me a bit of Boston’s — very up and coming, with more modern apartments, upscale restaurants and classy bars. The water, however, is a putrid brown color, and not exactly picturesque. We had another very gloomy day (sans the 10 minutes of sunshine where we finally glimpsed some blue sky) so taking pictures was a bit of a challenge, but we wandered for about 40 minutes before making our way back to the site.

El Zanjon is an absolutely beautiful brick structure which has been reconstructed after a 20 year excavation project discovered the building, hiding beneath a crumbling and ruined facade. The structure, constructed in the 1830’s, belonged to a single wealthy family who held multiple African slaves, and who lived in the home until the 1870s, when they fled and abandoned the building to avoid a Yellow Fever epidemic which struck in San Telmo. The structure was then partially rebuilt as a tenant house, where 23 families lived. In 1985, when someone bought the land to develop a restaurant, they discovered sloping floors and began to dig. What they discovered was beautiful arched brick tunnels, built decades ago to protect a forked river that ran through, what were then, the outskirts of town.

Over the last 20 years, a private estate has worked tirelessly to restore the property, rebuild the brick walls and tunnels, and discover as much about the buildings and properties as they can. It was a steep $15 dollar tour, but well worth it to see the beautiful reconstruction efforts.

After our tour we came back to Palermo, and grabbed lunch down the street where we had our first language misunderstanding — despite Alison’s fluent Spanish. We each ordered sandwiches but on the menu, Alison’s was listed as coming with french fries, and mine was not. Alison asked what the portion size on the fries was and our waiter, in a very fast, rushed Spanish, responded “un pocito” — small. After confirming, at least we thought, that mine did not come with patatas, Alison ordered me a side of what we were told were sweet potato fries.

Ten minutes later, two plates, loaded with large sandwiches and huge helpings of thick cut  french fries, arrived at our table. And then, a few seconds later, a second dish, heaped with more french fries, was brought to the table. All we could do was laugh at the massive amounts of potatoes we had to consume. They were good, but definitely not sweet potatoes, at least not as far as we could tell. Luckily, Carolyn (Alison’s sister) was arriving from New York in just a few hours, so we brought her back a snack.

After catching up with Carolyn, we headed out into Palermo to wander and show Carolyn our neighborhood, which both Alison and I are completely obsessed with. Picture Soho boutiques lining every street, with gorgeous trees and cobblestone streets. Aside from the taxi drivers racing down the roads and a few piles of dog poop you have to carefully avoid, Palermo Soho is picturesque and beautiful, and I’m so glad we’re staying out in this section of town.

We did some shopping — Alison bought a beautiful tan wrap dress — and tried on some ridiculous items (floor length horse print skirts, for instance), then came back to do some research and decision-making about the Uruguay portion of our trip. We booked Buquebus ferries from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and then from Colonia to Buenos Aires. We’ll be taking a bus between Montevideo and Colonia, and are flying out of BA to head north to Iguazu after that portion of our trip. Around 10:30, we left the B&B to grab dinner at our first parillio — the famous Argentine steakhouses.

We picked Don Julio’s: highly acclaimed, well rated and only 3 blocks from our B&B. Our food was incredible — we shared a bottle of Malbec, a delicious salad, and three entrees: a half chicken, a rib eye steak and an order of pumpkin and spinach ravioli. We were up to our eyeballs in food, but everything was absolutely delicious, and our total (with tip) was only $380 pesos — $82, less than $30 each!

It’s 2:30 AM and I’m exhausted, but pictures will come tomorrow, I promise!