Thursday, June 24, 2010

Our final travel guest and my (sad) attempts at Spanish

June 5th --> 20th, by Jason

Well our 23 hour journey to Buenos Aires with AndesMar wasn't as good as we'd hoped (it had been really hyped up by people we met and online) and while it wasn't bad I really don't get the hype over Argentinian buses...but at least that phase of the journey is complete. We arrived at the main Buenos Aires (BsAs) bus terminal around 4.30pm on Saturday. We hopped on the subway down to the Av. de Mayo area where our hostel was located and checked into the Estoril Terrazas Hostel. After a long journey we had a small bite to eat at a local cafe and then it was time for a good night's rest before Sonia arrived the next morning from San Francisco!

A quick note: At this point we're almost 4 weeks since the "break" and my leg is doing well. Swiss has been great as my mule and very helpful, carrying all our bags everywhere. I'm able to put weight on my left leg without any pain so I'm down to one crutch, really a cain if you will, and pretty well mobile, so we're back moving pretty good!

Our final US visitor...Sonia's here!!

Sunday morning we were pleasantly surprised (OK, not surprised...I guess it was expected) with Sonia's arrival around 10am. We let her get settled and sneak in a quick nap, then we headed out into the city for a stroll down Avenida de Mayo, crossing over Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest street in the Americas I believe (while mobile, I'm not my normal speed and it still took us 4 cycles of the long lights to get across this one street, haha!) and to a little cafe for a long lunch.

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We then continued our stroll down to Plaza de Mayo, sight of many famous events in Argentine history, including Casa Rosada where Eva Peron gave many of her famous speeches and the square where the coup of March 1976 started which marked the beginning of the Dirty War and years of military-led brutality around the nation.

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A small dinner with Sonia and it was time for an early night so that Sonia could get caught up on her sleep after the long journey south.

Shopping Streets and a delicious Japanese dinner

Monday was a leisurely start (we easily convinced Sonia to adopt our slower style that's taking hold as our trip nears the end.) We headed up to Avenida de Florida to check out the shops and so Sonia could do some souvenir shopping!

We took the subway there to cut down on the walking and let me tell you, the rumors are true, the BsAs subway is ANCIENT! The line that ran closest our hostel was literally like a rolling museum, an ancient wooden train with manual doors. That’s right, when you arrive at a station you manually open the train doors yourself (on most trains on the A line)…see the pictures below.

Always ready to try something new we checked out a small burger shop full of locals and with very unique toppings all for a dollar! Swiss enjoyed one and Sonia and I split one and it was delicious! Sonia picked up a few gifts and we stopped into Galerias Pacifico for a proper lunch and to grab some pictures of their beautiful murals inside.

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Of course Argentine food courts are just amazing, I've never seen a place with no less than two spots with full grills serving steaks for lunch...a very unique Argentine lunch option (and very filling too.) Next up was a walk down the road to check out the Obelisco, a famous symbol of BsAs.

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That night we had made plans with Azra for a nice dinner to celebrate the end of her journey through Central and South America (remember Azra from our stay in Rio?) About seven of us headed out for a delicious dinner at Osaka, a Japanese/Peruvian fusion restaurant in the Palermo neighborhood of town. It was delicious!

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Tuesday we set out in search of something on our maps called "Plaza Eva Peron" but whatever it was, it didn't have anything that we considered a monument or homage to Miss Evita herself. We did run into a statue paying homage to some engineer which at least Swiss could get his picture with it!

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We headed down to the San Telmo neighborhood, a great little area with cobble stoned streets and neat little shops. I looked at a bag which I didn't end up buying and Sonia picked up a a few things for herself. We had lunch at a little place known for having sandwiches made from unique game meats. The food was pretty good, although I must say the venison burger was a bit gamey for my tastes, although Swiss's slow roasted beef with potatoes was quite well done.

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A little stroll around the area and a stop for some coffee late in the afternoon where I had some time to write out a postcard for mom, my third to last of the trip! We headed back to our hostel and enjoyed a nice BBQ dinner there with Azra on our last night before flying home to London. It was a nice social affair and an introduction to late Argentine dinners for Sonia.

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Giant plastic dolls and coral buildings

So Wednesday we decided we'd head over to Boca, a famous neighborhood in BsAs. Truth be told it was actually quite touristy, but something that had to be seen. It was full of people putting on "Tango Shows" at overpriced cafes and a very unique style of painting and decoration.

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We had a nice lunch at a local place we found and then headed over to the stadium to see where Boca Juniors plays, one of the more famous BsAs teams. We had a nice dinner of some takeout pizza and empanadas from a place just down below our place. Buenos Aires is known for it's grilled meats, ice cream, pizzas and empanadas...this knocked two off our list in one meal! The pizza was delicious too!

A little online shopping...then off to the graveyard!

So with less than a month until our return I decided it was time to order my replacement computer, of course a new Mac. The whole process took a little longer than planned as eBay decided to block my account (which it's done in every country both Swiss and I have used it in during this trip, good that they have a system but it sucks that it happens in each new country we visit...as unlocking it involves making a Skype call.) Needless to say everything got ordered but we got quite a late start to the day. Our first stop of the day was Cementerio de la Recoleta, the final resting place of Eva Peron and many of Buenos Aires deceased elite. I've never seen a cemetery like it.

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We headed over to Palermo for a nice stroll around, but not before stopping by a little local place for a hot dog lunch, another common street food lunch in Argentina.

Oh, and on the walk over to Palermo Swiss happened to get pooped on by a bird…some bad luck. That now makes #4 in his lifetime…

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Palermo was a nice little neighborhood and reminded me of a cross between Pac. Heights and the Mission in San Francisco.

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Thursday night we hit up a very nice parilla, or grilled meat restaurant, for Sonia's last dinner in BsAs and our last dinner in Argentina. It was delicious...who doesn't love grilled beef?!? (OK, I know, vegetarians and vegans...they're the ones that lose out!)

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One Final Tradition

Friday before our flight we had one last tradition to take care of, something Swiss and I have kept up the entire trip and something Sonia and I do in each country we visit...a visit to McDonald's. The food tasted the same as at home...speaking to the quality of the their supply chain...and Sonia even tried the McMexican sandwich, this odd little offering of a hamburger with salsa and cracked tortilla chips on top...it was interesting I'll say.

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With three of us it was cheaper to catch a taxi to the airport instead of taking the shuttle so we hopped into what turned out to be a death mobile. I of course had the front passenger seat which gives me extra legroom for my lovely boot, but which also puts me next to the Spanish speaking kamikaze pilot that was our driver. Of course he spoke no English but insisted on continuing to yell at me in Spanish as we drove in his taxi without a single working seatbelt, stopping in the middle of intersections to holler at random women and yelling at random trucks while driving 70 down the expressway. Luckily we made it to the airport safely and with, barely, enough time. We checked into our flight to La Paz while Sonia went to work out her flight back home on American (she tried to grab the earlier flight back to the states, a no go without paying a fee.) Of course the TACA Airlines folks were not so great for us. Swiss, with his Swiss passport, was not an issue, but my American passport was a bit of an issue. The check-in agent would not give me my boarding pass without showing him a copy of a passport photo, $135 cash and a copy of my visa application. Now what is the point of a visa on arrival and then having to have the application before you get there? Luckily I talked him out of that. I had to go withdraw some more pesos and change them to US dollars in order to get him to let me have my boarding pass, a quick goodbye with Sonia and it was a rush through security and immigration (note: you get to use the diplomatic line when you're on crutches) and we boarded our flight to Lima, where we then caught our connecting flight to La Paz. Flights were uneventful and service was pretty good on TACA, I'd recommend them for any South American flying.

The La Paz airport is quite warm and comfy

We arrived in La Paz just before 1am local time and not knowing if our hotel was open or not we decided to hang out there for a while until a more reasonable hour. Before we could do that, though, we had to make it through immigration. Not an issue for Swiss with his passport, a stamp and a Bienvenidos and he was in...I on the other hand had a few hoops to jump through. I had to get a visa application from one desk, fill out those forms, purchase a $135 visa (valid for 5 years at least) and then get my passport stamped then rechecked and scanned to enter the country. It was at least relatively straightforward. While there we met Suzanne, the only other American (that we could see) on our flight who was also buying her visa but was $2 short. We decided to contribute some karma points and give her the money so she could get in. She didn't know where she was staying that night so she joined us to hang out at the airport.

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By about 6am we figured we were good to head into town and Swiss and I checked into the Hotel La Valle near Plaza Perez Velasco in central La Paz. A really good place especially for the price and really nice staff! I needed a nap and was up around noon and we then headed off for lunch (a 1/4 of a fried chicken with fries, salad, soup, rice and a coke was $2...prices have suddenly dropped back to Asian levels) and to watch the US vs England World Cup game. That afternoon was uneventful and I ended up sleeping until the next morning.

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Sunday we set off to do some sightseeing in downtown. First we stopped off near the stadium to find my Spanish course, easy enough to get to via the local minivan services for the next week.

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We ran into Rosie and her mother and made plans for dinner (we met them back in Salta, Argentina) We hit up a nice place and had some great pasta dishes that were actually really well done, although I had to leave dinner a little early.

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The quick change from sea level in Buenos Aires up to 3660 meters in La Paz had finally done me in and I needed some rest. Before leaving, though, I noticed Mike from our hostel in Buenos Aires and Swiss was sure to say hi before he left.

What do you mean you leave out the pronouns!??!

So we had a week's stay in La Paz as I'd signed up for a week long class. Every morning I was there by 8.30am and was finished at 1pm with a half hour break in the middle. William, my teacher was a great guy and I was joined my Robert, a native Aussie who now lives permanently in Seattle with his wife. He and his wife are enjoying retirement and have been driving a motor home from Seattle to far northern Canada and throughout Central and South America for the past 14 months. Doing a group course also brings up lots of great interaction too, it was great. I did have a hard time with the fact that Spanish doesn't always (OK, it can be somewhat rare) include pronouns and so the subject is assumed from the conjugated form of the verb...speaking French and English made that little piece hard to wrap my head around...why don't I always say yo or ella?!

Monday night was a little stressful as the right side of my boot decided to give out! Swiss did his best to find a replacement but apparently my feet are a few sizes larger than the average Bolivians...he got the name of a place near my school where I could go on Tuesday though. We grabbed a nice meal and caught up with our old friends Maggie and Chris (our Canadian friends from back in Sao Paulo!!)

Tuesday Swiss joined Mike (from Buenos Aires) for a mountain bike ride down the World's Most Dangerous Road and got some great pictures of the local area.

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I went to the place literally just around the corner from my school and a very nice man who spoke very little English (OK, a few words) repaired my boot for dirt cheap. Unfortunately it only held up for a day and died again Wednesday night :( He was already gone for the night on Wednesday, so Swiss came with me to class on Thursday and took it for repairs while I was in class. He picked it up Thursday night for me and the guy had done the repairs and very sturdily reinforced that side, for no charge no less.

Friday afternoon upon completing my course we headed to a local pub to watch the 2nd England World Cup match and I got caught up online. Swiss smartly discovered in our guide book that June 24th is a sun festival in Cusco, Peru...one of their largest and most important festivals of the year and right around when we were planning to be there, so we booked a place ahead also. We finalized our plans for the remainder of the trip, with just 2.5 weeks to go (which you can see on the map above!) and we head dinner at a little British run Indian restaurant. Now they did a good job on the main dishes, replicating flavors as best as possible and it was tasty (the llama tikka masala was actually pretty good) but the naan was nothing like naan at all...it was a large, dense flat bread. Oh well, you can't have it all!

Saturday we got caught up online, Swiss got our last blog post up and we booked a room at the Doubletree Lima for our last two nights of the trip, between us we had enough Hilton points and figured it would be a nice way to enjoy ourselves before heading home to real life again! We booked our tickets to Copacabana our next destination, on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then did some gift shopping...there are some goods coming home for our respective families!

Sunday morning we were up early and the driver of our bus was waiting for us downstairs, even 5 minutes early! You hear that Cambodia...when you book a bus ticket with a travel agency, in some places they actually show up! Off to Lake Titicaca!

2 comments:

Selah said...

I love the picture of Sonia attacking her food with the chop sticks! Loos like you guys had a great time!

Alvin said...

I'm jealous that you had a chance to eat all that great Argentinian grilled meat!

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