Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brother, Mendoza, AND MORE!

Many updates. I almost abandoned this blog but decided to at least give some highlights, since I think at least two people might occasionally check my blog. As a side note, I`m actually getting back to the states the 19th of August. I decided to come back early because my grandma broke her ankle and moved in with us while I was gone. This was too much excitement for me to miss so I decided to come back while she was still recooperating at our house. So if you`re anywhere nearby Orange County, let me know!

Alex (my little brother) ended up coming to visit! There was a significant period where I thought it wouldn´t happen--Shai and Jonathan both left the country thinking I`d be roughing it on my lonesome out here--but last Friday my parents told me Alex was going to come to Buenos Aires the following Monday, so I left Cordoba and took a 10-ish hour night bus (semi-cama, or half bed, which is like economy class on an airplane) to meet him in the big city. Stayed at a great hostel there called Pax.

After spending three days in BA, we took a 13-hour bus to Mendoza, a region that produces a significant amount of Argentina´s Malbec (a type of red) wines. We rode in style, on their first class cama (full bed) bus. Meals came with free wine and champagne, and they sponsored a game of bingo that had a bottle of champagne as the grand prize. (We didn´t win.) I hadn´t had a bus company offer bingo since taking Cruz del Sur in Peru, and I loved Cruz del Sur, so it was a nice moment.

We`ve enjoyed Mendoza. It´s a cute town with a happening downtown area, although the majority of people come here to spend time outside the city at the surrounding wineries. In Maipú (pronounced my-poo. i still find this a little funny.), around 10 wineries exist along a 12 km stretch of road so most people tour the region by bike. Two days ago we rented bikes and stopped by about 5 wineries, which was actually kind of fun despite the fact that neither Alex nor I like wine. By about 5pm though, a hot dry wind picked up. We were taking a tour of the oldest winery open for tourism when our guide found out the tourist police were coming to pick us up and take us back to our bike rental office since it was too dangerous to bicycle back.

These winds apparently only happen once or twice a year, but they cause so many problems that they caused the bus pass between Chile and Argentina to close. Alex and I are now stuck in Mendoza as a result. We were going to take a 10 hour bus ride on Saturday that went through the Andes to reach Santiago, our departure city for the States, but the road shut down and nobody knows when it will reopen. Luckily, we changed our flight so we now fly out of Mendoza instead of Santiago; it´s just too bad neither of us appreciate wine or else we could spend the next three days visiting more wineries.

That´s what´s going on right now. Before my brother and I met up, I traveled to Bariloche, a skiing town that doubles as a mountain mecca for ice cream and chocolate makers. After just two days, I had to get the heck out of there. I headed to Cordoba and spent about three days there. It was a nice enough city, although I had the best time when I left with another Californian on a daytrip to a desert ravine. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately, I lost my camera so there aren´t any pictures for it, though.

I come home in a few days, ending my 3 month Latin America adventure. I`m excited to see what will happen next. Thanks for reading my blog!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Iguazú, Buenos Aires

The Iguazú Fallswere absolutely amazing. They´re a series of waterfalls located on the border of Brazil and Argentina that are larger than Niagara Falls. The park itself is also set up like Disneyland, which I actually really appreciated considering the poorly developed parks that we´ve been used to seeing. (By comparing it to Disneyland, I mean that the reserve put a lot of thought into the development and structure of the pathways and the organization of the site. All the paths were paved, with signs and park employees everywhere.) We got pretty wet trying to look at some falls called Devil´s Mouth. There was so much spray from the falls that the view couldn´t be captured in a photo, or at least a photo taken by me.

On a different note, today I heard Sigur Ros played in my hostel and it made me very nostalgic about being at Grinnell and holing myself up either in my room or the library on a Saturday, studying for midterms and finals. I remembered this just now because at the internet cafe I´m at, the song ´Call on Me´ came on, made famous by Titular Head.

We´re in Buenos Aires right now and have been here for a week. BA is such a great city! The ice cream really is amazing. It´s a derivative of gelato, brought over here by the thousands of Italian immigrants that made the city their home. We´ve met up with Shai and Jonathan´s family a few times (they have a whole slew of relatives that live here), and each time we´ve seen them, they´ve taken us out for ice cream. I´ve had it once a day the past three days.
They serve it differently here than in the states - you pick two ice cream flavors, one for inside the cone and another for the top, and then they shape the ice cream tip to a point so, if done correctly, it looks like the hair of a Troll Doll. These places also have about 30 flavors each, which apparently are all delicious. We went to one place in a hip section of town, Palermo, with Shai´s cousin and her husband, after they had us over for dinner. It was 12am and the place was going strong--we had a hard time even finding a table. A few families with their toddlers and young children were ordering ice cream and coffee as we sat. The shop didn´t close until 3am, and Joana, Shai´s cousin, said that the line for ice cream trailed out the door at closing time during the summer. (For the record, it´s winter here right now.)

Shai leaves on Wednesday, and Jonathan on Sunday. As of right now, I leave September 29th. I have no idea what I´m going to do once they leave! There is a pretty fierce rumor that Alex, my younger brother, will come traveling with me for a few weeks, which would be really fun. I´m thinking about working on a dairy farm either in Chile or Mendoza for a month or two. I really want to learn how to make yogurt and cheese. I´m also beginning to miss home (it´s true, Mom & Dad!), which is out of character since normally I get really involved in the places that I visit or live in. I´m looking forward to having down time in Irvine once I get back.

If any of you are heading to South America, let me know! My plans are really flexible at this point.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Now Argentina

I´ve been super bad about updating! This is just a short post to commit myself to posting a real update. We were in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, for about 4 days after having left Peru. We just left Atacama today on a 12 hour bus ride to Salta, Argentina, where we are right now.

We just got back from at an amazing meat restaurant tonight where we had the first red meat I´ve had in a really long time. It was delicious, and think $8 to split a bunch of ribs between two people. Tomorrow, we´re going to this Lebanese restaurant Shai´s really excited about.

Salta also has non-food related things to do, surprisingly enough. I´m hoping to check out this museum here that has the frozen body of a woman who was supposedly an Incan sacrifice. She´s supposed to be perfectly preserved--hair, clothes, skin and all. I don´t think Shai or Jonathan particularly care, but I´m looking forward to it. Then at 3pm, we embark on a 21 hour bus ride for Iguazu Falls. Apparently they serve one meal on this ride, so we´ll have to get creative about what food we bring with us. I´m imagining eating a bell pepper and a lot of yogurt. (The yogurt here is amazing! I´ve never eaten so much of it in my life.)

Friday, July 3, 2009


There are some things that we eat a lot of, here in our travels. Shai randomly gets cravings for apples and generally buys them in bulk from either a grocery store or the covered and usually crazy food markets. I´m trying to only buy my food from these markets, I love them so much. She also consumes a lot of this watery thing that people sell along the side of streets unrefridgerated. It comes in a plastic goblet with small chocolate balls on top, which you´re supposed to pour into the yogurt.

I´ve been on a quinoa kick and have tried to prepare it in different fashions, although I´ve really only had one success: quinoa with tomatoes, onions and garlic. I tried to cook this when we were in Arequipa, except with the addition of bell pepper. I bought two big, round peppers from the central market. I chopped them all up and mindlessly slipped a piece of pepper in my mouth as I was finishing, only to die from its spiciness. I had no idea that peppers that look decievingly like sweet bell peppers could be so horrifyingly hot. My lips burned for a good 20 minutes after eating it. They had black seeds, but I still don´t know if that was a sign or if all peppers here have them.

I think I forgot to mention our transportation fun, so I´ll mention it now. There have been a bunch of transportation strikes throughout the country due to a few factors, none of which I fully understand but I´ll skim over anyway.
1) Some people (possibly indigenous) are protesting the privatization of water.
2) Local indigenous peoples are protesting oil drilling in the Amazon.
So we got into Arequipa from Ica at around 9am, after being on a bus for 13 hours. We checked into our hostel (Home Sweet Home - it was cute, although a little far from the center), wandered around the town for a good majority of the day, and got back at around 6pm to find out from someone sharing the dorm with us that the road to Cuzco was going to be blocked for a week starting the next day at 6am. We had been planning to hang out in Arequipa for a few days and then meander over to Lake Titicaca, from where we would head on to Cuzco. This was bad news, since it meant we wouldn´t be able to get into Cuzco for at least a week if we didn´t leave before 6am. I had been cooking the quinoa when we found out, so I hurried it up, threw the quinoa in a plastic bag (this wasn´t the first time) to bring with me, and we headed straight for the train station to find out what was going on. We ended up buying bus tickets for Cuzco that night and left at 8:30 pm, to arrive in Cuzco at 6am. So we spent 12 hours in Arequipa, after having traveled a total of 17 hours (Lima to Ica to Arequipa) to get there. And that´s how we got to Cuzco. (For the record, the blocade ended up not even happening. Tuesday was supposedly a nation-wide transport strike, which also didn´t happen. We´ve also heard that there are blocades occuring between here and La Paz, which is our next destination after Macchu Pichu, but who knows what´s actually happening.)

Today we´re meeting up with Josie, another friend from Grinnell who moved to Cuzco to become fluent in Spanish, and then we´re going to Chabad (an Orthodox sect of Judaism who has centers set up in popular travel spots for Jews) for dinner tonight to celebrate Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown is special in Judaiasm, celebrated on Fri with prayers and dinner). I´m really curious about who these people are that run the center, who will go, what we´ll eat. It should be an interesting experience.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cuzco Updates

Shai and I yelled at a woman working at the tourism office yesterday.

Randomly ran into Ami Freeberg, a friend from Grinnell, on the street in Cuzco. We met up yesterday and made lunch, then went to a cultural dance performance last night and today we walked 4.5 miles around some really amazing Incan ruins just up a hill from Cuzco proper. I´ll add links later for info about the sites.

Went to a restaurant today with a menu in Spanish and in Hebrew with Shai and these Israeli guys we met. The other patrons appeared to all be other Israelis too. There are some buildings here that just have signs in Hebrew, targeting the many Israeli travelers that pass through. It´s actually ridiculous how many Israelis we´ve met on our trip.

Today I began a 5-word-a-day program for learning Hebrew. My words: peelpal (pepper), melach (salt), zifra (syphilus and also the name of a food dish), and I forget the rest. I´m pretty confident I´ll be fluent soon.

I´m awful at updating here, so I apologize! I´ll keep posting stuff, but I can´t guarantee a constant rate. Hope you´re all well!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Come Peru, Ica

I´m sorry; I´ve been super bad about updating the blog since we´ve gotten to Peru! We were in Lima and I might explain that more later, but we had a really great time. Definitely the most beautiful city I´ve seen in Latin America so far.

We met up with Angie, a classmate from Grinnell who´s from Lima, and she showed us around her side of Lima. It was so great to see her and she gave us such a great tour. She took us to this outdoor mall built into ocean cliff, which was something that seemed like it belonged in Orange County but there´s probably no way in hell any company could afford to buy the property to build it. I´d never seen anything like it. I also finally tried lomo saltado, a typical Peruvian dish consisting of meat, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. We saw super cute botiques, the private school she attended, beautiful churches, her house. She also told us our (or at least my) most profound discovery on this trip: you can buy clothes in parts of Lima made by big clothing companies (Gap, Michael Corrs, Abercrombie & Fitch, etc.) for ridiculously cheap because the clothes are made in local factories. If any piece has some type of mistake, the clothing gets taken to one of these stores for locals to buy at super cheap prices. It´s like shopping at a thrift store, with boxes of clothes to sort through to find the gem in the sand dune (I hope that´s the phrase). So if you go to Lima and like to shop, you should find one of these stores!

We then took a 5 hour doubledecker Cruz del Sur bus from Lima to Ica , where we are now. (We´re following a path loosely called the "Gringo Trail," where travelers make a loop from Lima to Cuzco. This path breaks up the 24 hour bus ride between the two cities and enables us to explore more of Peru.) So thisbus was crazy, in a good way. They gave us a blanket, a pillow, dinner, and even provided a screened movie (Lady of the Lake), and a bus-wide game of bingo, which Shai and I did not win. They also offer bathroom assistance, particularly when one gets locked in their restrooms, which Shai discovered. The entire back of the bus heard Shai scream, "I´m locked in!" when she couldn´t figure out how to let herself out of the bus´s small bathroom. The attendant had to yell directions lound enough for Shai to hear her, which caught the attention of anyone who didn´t hear Shai´s initial pleas for help. It was hilarious. I crying from laughing so hard by the time Shai got back. Describing it, this situation really doesn´t seem that funny but trust me, it was great.

We just took a tour of a local bodega, or winery, and had some very sweet and very tasty wine. They produce pisco here, which is a type of hard alcohol used to make pisco sour, a Peruvian specialty. We´ll wander around Ica for an hour or two and then head to Huacachina to go sandboarding. At 8:30 pm we board another bus to get to Arequipa, a trip that will last 12 hours.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back in Heredia

Shai and I are back in Heredia, staying with my friend Coralia, who I met in San Ramón and stayed with me and my family for a week last winter break.

We had a monumental bus trip yesterday, one of many. We left Ometepe at 7am on a ferry to San Jorge, then took a cab to the Ticabus station. The woman selling tickets for Ticabus was ridiculously rude so we protested by leaving and decided to take a cab all the way to the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border and cross by foot, which was incredibly stressful the last time we did it. The system is ridiculous - there are no signs telling you which way to go and people try to charge you for the government customs documents that you can get inside for free. We survived it, though, and managed to get a bus to San José at 10:30 am. We got in to San José by 4:00 and met up with Coralia after having gotten a little lost in Heredia.

Now we´re just chilling out, eating oatmeal, and probably will go into Heredia today. I leave tomorrow at 4am for my cousin´s wedding in Wisconsin and then go home on Monday (my birthday) for my brother´s graduation from high school. Hopefully I´ll be able to see some of you guys when I get home! I´ll leave the following Sunday (21st) for Peru.