Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now, my Buenos Aires..

Now, the present, after three weeks in Buenos Aires - we have our path home. We have been able to settle here, to sleep easy, to waste a day if we wish, and to plan the rest of our trip.

We have explored tango. Sweated through the steps. Chased the city for lessons and let Catedral squeeze us. I have experienced Copa Libertadores football, the clasico of the south between Banfield and Lanus, and bathed with thousands of Argentines as the rain sunk our match in General Mitre and sent us home floating in a city bus.

I have forgotten my backpack, in the closet, no longer musty - more like moth balls. I have been looking at this flat as if it were my own. Looking at the Peruvian fruit stall below as if I might one day be their friend or considered a "regular."

I know the subte and the plazas and where to get what and when. Holed up in this barrio, I venture out at night for a Quilmes or Brahma with Marko and Kaitlin - only getting angry at the neighbors and their cat that never stops moaning or the trash collection that rumbles through the concrete canyon - even the same man on the same squeeky bike the same time every night. No more Nueve de Julio, no more protests from Plaza de Mayo to Congreso.

For Mass at Parroquia Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. For helado at Munchies. For the nights indoors when we just sit and laugh at the Argentine commentary for the winter olympics - marveling at the strange snowy sports.

But we will leave - for Lima, then Trujillo, then Guayquil, then somewhere along the Ecuadorian coast, then Otovalo, then Cartagena, and Medellin, and Solento - until we leave this continent from Bogota.

It is a mixed sense.. I am excited to travel again and to see Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. We plan to meet up with our Finnish friends Antti and Laura in Lima. We plan to drink coffee and sit in hammocks by the beach all day.
But we're leaving a comfortable place. We're leaving a good friend, that has taken care of us in innumerable ways. We're closing the door not only on Buenos Aires, but eventually South America.

Though there is so much left for us to do yet.. so many other things to look forward to. It can't be helped, I am looking towards California and all the struggles that will entail.

And since that is not the topic here..and that there is so much left to make of the present, I won't bother pontificating. But it still acts as an intensifier. It still factors in when I decided, "Should I take this train by myself to an unknown part of the city?" - Yes, because it will be a long time before I get back here and how can I expect to succeed in my new city, if I can't take a chance here.

So, to more chances! Thorough and committed. Throw in a little help and luck.. and I think I'll be just fine.


We pulled into the bus station in Mendoza around 5:30am. By six we were at the hostel, but since check-out was not until ten, we had to crash on the couch until the morning. However, this was no problem at all, it was so warm and dry that we were immediately asleep with the oscillating fan keeping us alive.

I woke up between nine and ten as I tend to do and was amazed at the hostel we had ended up with. Having had some pretty poor reviews online, it was clear that the standards were a little different in Mendoza. With a pool, grape vine covered patio:

an exceptional free breakfast of various pastries - fruit - coffee - yogurt - cereal - etc.. as well as multiple computers with internet..AND tons of comfortable places to lounge. It was so good to be back in Argentina.

We decided that we might take it easy the first day (after the night bus) and try to do the bike tour the next day. That was until we met Fabricio..

Fabricio is a young Brazilian from Porto Alegre who introduced himself to us by convincing us that we should do the bike tour through wine country that day with him and his girlfriend Helena. So there it was, charmed by Fabricio we were then finding out which bus would take us to wine country in Maipu (the next town over after a forty-five minute bus journey).

After getting off the bus we were immediately greeted by three young boys on bikes, from Mr. Hugo's - the company we were looking for. We followed them a few blocks to the shop, paid about thirty pesos per bike (around $10 US total), and were on our way down Urquiza towards our first bodega on Perito Moreno: Vina el Cerno

There we took a rather uninformative tour of the vineyard that practices more "traditional" methods, but I'm still not too sure what that means.. However, there was a wonderful bottle of white at the end of the tour that was a fraction of what it would cost in stores and quite refreshing on what was an incredibly hot day.

From there we had only a short journey back up the road to get to Tempus Alba. Quite the opposite of El Cerno, this bodega was sterile modernistic wine factory. With only so many hours in the day, we opted to skip the tour and head straight for the patio for a drink and something to munch on.

Conversation somehow turned to Chinese food and MSGs - which proved to be a hot topic for the guy sitting alone, sweating over his merlot - John from Rhode Island. John started telling us about the history of MSGs from a book he had read and next thing we knew he had become the fifth wheel in our trip through wine country.

With most of the bodegas closing soon, we decided to bike all the way to the end, see the Laur olive press, and maybe catch another bodega on the way back.

We didn't really pay attention to the tour. As interesting as it must have been, by this point we were a collective one-track mind. Jokes and wine and olives..no room for information.

Eventually we made it back to Mr. Hugo's where chilled red was waiting for us. Around dusk it was time to get back to Mendoza. In the course of conversation, under the fog of perhaps a bit too much wine, my camera was left on the 152 - never to be seen again.

It's hard to be bummed about anything for too long when you're traveling for months. Despite losing some possessions or having a rough day here and there - you always have to keep in mind that you are doing something extraordinary and to ruin it by being negative is far worse than losing an old camera or external harddrive..or even half a day in the bathroom.

So the next day, we walked around the city of Mendoza - taking in some of the wonderful plazas and parks throughout the city. We ended with a bottle of wine before the all-you-can-eat barbeque at the hostel.

The next day we got on our bus to Buenos Aires with full bellies, new friends, and a peace-of-mind we had been missing. We were on our way to our home away from home..

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Osorno and Valparaiso


There are a lot of places to visit in Chile between Isle Chiloé and Santiago. Puerto Montt, Pucon, and Concepcion to name a few.. but Osorno - who knows? Possibly the first time I told Kaitlin I wanted to go to South America, I put my finger on Osorno. Before arriving, I knew just as much about the place as I did in that moment back in Columbia, South Carolina.

Osorno is not the place for everyone. It was the place for us in that moment, the perfect place. We arrived in the mid-afternoon and after dropping our bags at our hospedaje, decided to walk around a bit.

Bolstered by street food every where, we continued wandering until we found a suspension bridge over a thick copper-tinted river. We crossed and headed up a dusty hill. I wanted to head back to the town center, but Kaitlin lobbied to continue down what looked to me to be just another dirt path in the woods.

After a minute down this path it was clear there was some sort of park in the area. Couples cuddling, families out together, all walking in the same direction. We followed them forward and soon heard music in the distance. Not five minutes later we found ourselves in the heart of a massive folk festival. Mapuche folk music blasting from a stage, all sorts of grilled meat on sticks and in buns, beverages I had never imagined and still can't quite describe, and loads of artisan wares..including some truly unique wood carvings.

We circled the fair before settling at a table with a good view of the stage - ordered a pitcher of beer and were informed that the concert would start any moment. I made a point to do so then, and I will do so again now..

Traveling with Kaitlin has not always been easy. Surely and pair will at times feel hindered by the other, it is human nature. But those times when you relent, when you let someone else follow their intuition and it bares fruit - that is an incredible thing.

We wore smiles for the remainder of the evening as we finished our pitcher entertained by the Mapuche band and a curious toddler that kept flirting with us.

The next day we revisited the country festival, ate more, drank more, and then left to explore other parts of the city. We walked from one side of Osorno to the other- stopping at the Catholic cemetery, the German bakery, Club Provincial Osorno's stadium (which I walked right into unmolested), and all through the suburbs in between.


Another instance where I have thought and thought about how to explain what happened to us... Over our three and a half days in Valparaiso we ran the gauntlet of possible experiences in South America, the high and the low.

Our overnight bus from Osorno arrived in Santiago around ten in the morning with another hour and a half left to go before our final destination in Valparaiso. We dropped our bags in the Yo-Yo Hostel on Ecuador, it was immediately apparent that we were back in the "party hostel" scene, but after a few weeks of hospedajes - it was a welcome change to be around people our age again.

The night bus strategy* left us no choice but to go out and explore after checking in and dropping our bags.

*"sleeping" on a bus combines the need to move location and lodging, essentially a free nights lodging - which for two people traveling for an extended period of time in Chile can keep a few hundred dollars in the coffer*

Our bravado swept us out the door, without consulting the receptionist or a map - as was our usual custom, down the hill aimlessly. We squeezed through narrow streets with steady traffic - a mixture of work-a-day pedestrians and tourists. With the Pacific as our only compass we eventually found ourselves in Sotomayor Square with naval uniforms striding in and out of offices and bermuda shorted tourists snapping away at the hills with their gaudy Nikons. We sat on the steps of the wharf as too many families were loaded onto too small skiffs.

From there we decided we'd head up a hill and try to find a local place to grab a bite to eat. In the absence of any prior directions..or even a map.. we continued west along Serrano until turning south up what appeared to us to be the first "decent" hill - Ave. San Francisco.

After a block or so, it was becoming evident this hill was different than others. Less business, less pedestrians, but we had a mission at the moment. Another block more and we found a nice little dive for pizza. It was a cute little family place where the grandparents did the cooking and the grandchild moaned in fits after being scolded for locking the cat in a cabinet.

We chewed happily while we discussed our next move. Ultimately, we decided to continue up the hill to see if it would eventually connect with our hill. We were bolstered and pleasantly surprised to find the bill was LESS than we expected - quite the anomaly from our experience, and so we chugged up a few blocks with smiles.

It had been some time since we'd seen much in the way of business or foot traffic. I was feeling a big unnerved as locals peered at us from their balconies. Another block and we could see an intersecting road with buses, so we continued on.

At that intersection it seemed unlikely the road would connect with our hill and as the overall dodgey nature of the area set in - we finally decided to make our way back down the hill. Not two blocks later, two gentlemen started talking to us from a half-block away, "Hey! You Chileno?! No? German? English? French?" We walked faster and ignored them as they crossed our path and continued down somewhere unknown.

In Castro we had been called "GRINGOS!" by a group of young adults from across the street, but their tone was juvenile, these men were aggressive.

So we began to briskly retrace our steps. But the sporadic maze and our hightened state led us down a wrong turn. We came back out only to see that there were two men following us - two men I had seen when we first left the restaurant. We continued down the path we had taken, opting (wrongly) to take the desolate alley from the walk up, rather than the busier street only two blocks over. Less than halfway down that alley we heard running behind us. Before we could turn to see what it was, the two men (though they couldn't have been older than us) were infront of us - one holding a small knife.

Between the shouts of "Money! Money!", the knife infront of me, and the hands fumbling through my pockets - I didn't really feel that scared..only when I looked over at the other guy searching Kaitlin did I realize it was real, but by that time they were running up the hill with twenty mil (about $40 US).

We had maintained the habit of carrying little cash and no important documents, but we had failed in the biggest areas. I have hesitated to write about this incident, because I think it is what many people expect and it only perpetuates the perception by mentioning it. But the truth is, aside from the systemic problems in the area itself, it is gallant tourists who are to blame for incidents such as these. The same crime takes place in the richest nation in the world, because people think that their passport or their money or their past experience will exempt them from considering their surroundings.

We walked back to the hostel in silence. Kaitlin napped. I zoned out watching television and drinking water, just trying to forget how stupid we had been.

That evening we met an English couple while making dinner and ended up staying up with them for quite a while talking about soccer, music, and on and on..

The next morning I woke up early in a feverish state. In a daze I became violently ill, able to leave bed only for the bathroom. After about two hours, there was nothing left in me and I slipped in and out of sleep. I eventually awoke, but was still too weak to leave the bed. While Kaitlin nursed me with water, ginger ale, and crackers - I deduced that the water must have been the culprit. Though I have had the tap water everywhere we have been thus far, I hadn't gulped it down like I did the day before. Clearly, I overloaded.

Later that day I was able to make it out of bed and up our hill to see the brighter side of Valparaiso...

We stopped for a vista of the port city and then sat for a while having a cafe, but that was about all I could handle. The next day, with my legs stronger, we could explore a bit..

Valparaiso is alive. With graffiti everywhere there are countless characters sprawled over every wall in any color and style. Neruda's city seems to have embraced these murals as guardians and have designated public spaces for artists to develop their craft.

One such place is Ex-Carcel, an old prison that has been reclaimed as a public space for people to practice whatever art they wish. Kaitlin and I spent a few hours exploring the space, marveling at the contrast of prison cells with faded pin-ups still pasted to the ceiling and fifteen foot murals depicting scenes of struggle, freedom, joy, etc...

The next day we rode one of Valpariso's famous ascensors, rode it back down the hill, and continued on with the things we normally enjoy. Walking around the local markets, smelling and tasting.

On the streets of the outside market in the Old Town we found street vendors eating what looked to be a delicious concoction of corn meal and meat. We stopped to ask a woman who was helping attend a fish stall, what exactly it was..

While explaining to Kaitlin she scooped a forkful and lifted it to Kaitlin's mouth. Have some. I was next. It was a mixture of cornmeal and various meats, still mysterious, but delicious. We thanked her as she directed us to her family friend that was selling them.

While we scooped our own mouthfuls in the nearby plaza... I couldn't help but marvel at that woman. Her eagerness to share. So content. Oblivious to our accent or gringo attire. Beautiful woman - I won't forget you.

We passed the rest of the day with a trip up to Pablo Neruda's house on the hill. The tour was certainly interesting, but I think we both left with more questions than answers about the man who is so important to Valparaiso, Chile, and South America as a whole. Ultimately, the author lives in his words, not in the stuff he keeps and how people interpret those possessions.

Our last stop in Valparaiso was a beautiful orange bed and breakfast on a hill overlooking the entire city. With a local porter and a pisco sour we waxed philosophical as we tend to do every so often.. patting ourselves on the back a bit, but also preparing for more difficult decisions ahead.


But what lay ahead at this time, we hoped, was a return to calm. Easier times. We had weathered the worst of Valparaiso and were now a night bus away from familiar and tranquil Argentina..

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mystical Island of Chiloe, debunked

After landing in Quellon, Kaitlin and I faced the decision that had become quite familiar by this point. Since we had more or less thrown the guidebook out the window and taken the vast range of input from fellow travelers with a grain of salt - we had to make an immediate judgement of a place - whether we stay or go.

In Aysen, we arrived at the hospedaje and immediately signed on for four days. In Quellon, we wandered up and down the two main roads.. poked our heads in a few restaurants, checked out a few artisan stalls, and decided - maybe it would be best to push on another hour north to the capital of the island: Castro

It is a strange thing to make such decisions, but we did, and in the grand scheme of things - I think it has paid off. We arrived in Castro sometime around midafternoon. Shopped around the hostels and hospedajes until we found a cozy family run place at a fair price.


I can't quite recall the cronology of the next three or four days in Castro..

I know though that Castro made quite an impression on me. The market, though filled mostly with tourist junk, was certainly a highlight. The amount of quality wool on display was staggering and had Kaitlin and I considering rearranging our entire wardrobe to incorporate every possible item - made in wool. Ultimately, it was a stall selling simple woven cotten garments that caught our eye and our wallet. Little color, but the designs were so extraordinary - we chipped in for a shall for Kaitlin and a top for me.

Despite this find - I think the highlight for us both was this place:

Offering ceviche of all sorts (salmon, clam, mussel, congrio) with the simplest freshest ingredients - we were in heaven.

We made it a daily (sometimes twice daily) ritual to pick up a few pieces of bread from the convenience store then savor their dish (sopping up everything last bit with the bread) while people milled around the market.

Parque Nacional Chiloé

In the middle of our time in Castro, we popped over for a few days to Parque Nacional Chiloé. The park is divided into two sections: Chepu in the north near Ancud and Anay near Castro

After braving the rural bus station (if you are anything less than completely attentive - you'll never catch your bus...) we caught a ride from Castro west to Chonchi, the main entrance to the park.

In general, it was a very interesting park. Quite nice, but horribly disorganized. It started as a frustration, but became a joke after running into so many people looking for the trailheads. Still, the persisent drizzle that would completely envelope the area for twelve hours of every day broke our resolve to stay until heading to the farm..

We made our way back to Castro, for more ceviche and warmth, in order to be in our best spirits upon arrival in Ancud/the farm.

Ancud - Caulin Lodge - Escape

I had written quite a bit about this experience. Climbed back into my mind at the time to revisit and document how these people took advantage of a program that is intended to be an exchange..and I have now deleted it.

I can't even remember all the names.. and I can't be bothered to think so much about the events that left us feeling so discouraged. I feel no malice towards them - I feel little at all towards them. I have encountered enough single-minded people in my life to know that you can try to work with them, you can try to get to know them, and find out what, if anything, is beneath the protective/superficial layer - but not at the expense of your own sanity/integrity.

On the evening of the fifth day, we had a "discussion" with Ines and by mutual consent it was determined that it would be best if we left in the morning..


We had planned to stay a month - to learn farming practices, speak spanish, and plan the remainder of our trip. We had done none of these things and were reeling..

I risk redundancy, but it can't be stated enough how strange and beautiful and simple the world can be. After such a disappointment and disruption, what is the outcome? An open door in Buenos Aires: You're welcome whenever..

With the comfort of a fail-proof destination we could continue north and enjoy ourselves knowing that we were ultimately heading for a safe, familiar place where we really could unpack our bags and breathe deep.


The next morning we caught the first bus from Caulin to Ancud - purchased a ticket for Osorno and were on our way north before noon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Dream: Chile - Coyhaique, Aysen, and the ferry to Chiloe

How is it that the country that first captured my imagination - the origin of my desire to make this journey - has largely gone neglected?

I remarked to Kaitlin, and I'm sure in this blog as well, that after completing the circuit in Torres del Paine I felt "fulfilled" and that everything else this trip had to offer would be "bonus." I think this mentality is partly to blame for my absence the past month - though I still don't think I was wrong to feel this way.

More so, this mentality breed a more severe consequence - naivety. Having not only survived, but thrived, in one of the largest urban centers in the world..and then repeating the feat in the most severe trekking experience of my life - I started to let my head inflate and carry me north - ignoring my analytical impulses both internally and externally.

But after a few pitfalls, I am back down to earth and giving my experiences their deserved consideration.


After a twenty-four hour bus journey that took us first south to Punta Arenas and then north into Argentina, again through the Patagonia almost 1,000km, crossing the Andes back into Chile, through the idlyic country-side, down into the valley - we arrived in Coyhaique - "Koy-Yiy-K."

We romanticized about making our way to nearby rustic hot springs - only to learn that one had been closed due to landslides and the other situated on private land only open for cruiseships...

So we drank cafe cortado at Cafe Konken, talking to the owner about Coyhaique and fly-fishing. So we visited the wool market and picked up various items to keep our limbs warm. So we planned our travel north to Chiloe (a thirty-six hour ferry from Puerto Chacabuco to Quellon on Isle Chiloe). So we decided to to camp in Parque Nacional Coyhaique to pass the time until heading to Puerto Aysen (and then Chacabuco).

Parque Nacional Coyhaique was a modest park. Situated mainly for day-trippers from the town with persistent views of the valley:

We spent about three days in the park, lounging in the dry - windless - paradise. Every now and then venturing out of the tent to take a walk and speak spanish.

Approaching the summit we strolled through what seemed to be an illustrated forest of contorted trees and old man's beard..

Eventually making it to the snowy top with little to see in addition to the ever present Coyhaique valley - still, good exercise and a decent vista.

After making the peak, we decided to make our way an hour west to Puerto Aysen. So we thumbed a commuter who barreled through the winding valley highway - passing minibuses on blind curves as he told us about the massive roadside shrine to all the people who died making the commute during the icy winter. GREAT! If not for the lush green mountains riddled with massive waterfalls - I would have been terrified the entire time..

A rather poor example, but still..

Puerto Aysen

There are two ways to spell Aysen: A-y-s-e-n and A-i-s-e-n

I still have no idea which is correct..if there is a correct spelling. It was spelled both ways on signs in the town and I have gone with aYsen, solely because it was the first way I saw it spelled. Seemingly insignificant bit of information, but I think quite significant after interacting with the people.

There is a regional rivalry, though "perception" is probably a better word, since people from Aysen don't seem to participate in the fray. Suffice it to say, people from Coyhaique see Puerto Aysen as a bit of a wasteland. The "people over there" are lazy, incompetent in business, etc...

It is true that shops keep even shorter/stranger hours than any place we have been in South America.. there was a sign in the window of a pescaderia: "No fish this week." ..and so on..

..but from our experience the cause of this effect is hardly deplorable - in fact, the opposite.

Hospedaje San-ly

We settled in Aysen at one of only a handful of hospedajes: San-ly

I have debated with myself how to describe this four day experience since we left and a month later - I'm still not quite sure how to put it properly.

The truth is, it was hard to leave them. Nearly all four days in Aysen where covered in rain, but as we stayed in doors with Marlin, her husband Francisco, and her grandson (also Francisco) - we were warm and dry through their hospitality.

We were constantly fed, without a single word about money - taken to their farm in the country side for mate with herbs from their garden - shared an evening of music and guitar lessons.. Given the space to relax, but the attention of genuine interest.

By Aysen standards (and most other standards), Francisco and Marlin are quite well to do. Yet, they have only one vehicle (a little Suzuki mini-truck) for the farm. They could both have their own, but they only need one. They have hundreds of hectares of farmland, but a very modest house with only the basic amenities.

They were a functioning..no, thriving example of the principles Kaitlin and I hold - without trying to make a political statement, just being "normal" good people.

Of course, we did venture out of hospedaje San-ly:

For one month in every twelve, the people of Aysen organize concerts and other sorts of entertainment/music in celebration of their founding. We happened to be in Aysen during this month and were able to take in a regional group playing folk music.

Another day, we spent a few hours wandering along the highway trying to find the trailhead for a trek that would take us seven kilometers into the hills to a petrified forest. After being completely soaked through by the persistent drizzle we finally found the trailhead. Though it was immediately evident that we would not be able to continue. The combination of nearly constant rain in the region, plus horse traffic on the trail made it a sloppy mucky mess that would have been absolute torture there and back.

So we turned back towards town, but since we weren't quite ready to call it a day - we stopped by the Sanctuario that we had been told of earlier.

Sanctuario San Sebastian:

Quite an eerie thing to come up to a place with candles burning, but no one present. Made even more unnerving by the personalized sentiments/prayers/monuments left by relatives of the deceased. White wax hanging over soggy table clothes. All quite but for the pitter-patter of the drizzle making it's way through the canopy and the sporadic honking of commuters paying their respects. A bewildering space.

The Ferry to Chiloe

I have only just realized that in the chaos of the last month - somehow the pictures from the ferry have not survived. Hard for me to accept, since I had been so adamant about finding a way to make a portion of this trip aquatic.

But what can be done?

Puerto Chacabuco is an even smaller settlement than Aysen, existing solely as a port for goods and the occasional cruiseship that fills up the regions only bonafide hotel. A fifteen minute minibus took us straight from the main road in Aysen to our boat.

I can say about the ferry that it was more or less what I expected it to be. Thirty-six hours on a boat weaving through hundreds of kilometers of archipelagos. Rain, clouds, glaciers, fog, water, constant chugging of the engine, trapped children entertaining themselves at the expense of my sanity...and so on. We pulled into several forgotten fishing villages where people hop in a boat to visit their neighbors where there are no roads..

In one of these small ports we entered there was commotion outside. So everyone went outside to see what was going on. And there coming across the side of the ferry were four orcas. I have no education in marine animal behavior, but it seemed to me these whales were indifferent to our presence, just as the locals in their boats gave hardly a glance in their direction. Just a jolly group out for a stroll in the bay, breaching here and there, allowing the humans to struggle with their zooms and curse the fact that we were moving in opposite directions. I just smiled.

That was my dream. The frozen forgotten island kingdoms. Where weather reigns and humans are rarely more than visitors.

But we did eventually approach Isle Chiloe..and other feelings over took me. More so the fact of clear skies and a decidedly warmer breeze. What I took as a good omen for our trip north through the mystical island and ultimately - our month farming with locals.

But that is something totally separate..

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Exit Strategy

Disclaimer: I will one day write about Chile. About Coyhaique, Puerto Aysen, the ferry from Chacabuco to Quellon, Castro, Ancud, the "farm" in Caulin, Osorno, Valparaiso, and Mendoza - I swear.

But for now, I'm too content with the present in Buenos Aires.

Discerning earnest is difficult while traveling. To your disadvantage you have the myriad of scams and traps designed by locals whose sole intention is to extract as much of your currency as possible. Arguably more damning are the throngs of fellow backpackers that speak english and use your experience as a barometer of their guidebooks accuracy.

The greatest disadvantage is that because I have only so much time here - that if someone is "on the bubble" regarding my trust - the decision must be made immediately - whether I am ready or not.

Only in a handful of faces have I found what I would call, "earnest." One such place is with our landlord and friend here in Buenos Aires - Marko. Though it is understood that he has taken the "next step" by becoming a full blown expat and that we are still merely backpackers - this apartment is a place where I can do as I please.

Where I can joke constantly about nationality and simultaneously forget about it completely. Where I can plan two months of travel, as if I were back in Denver. Where the pressure of a hostel or hospedaje are null. Where I have a door. Where I can sit and share mate or beer or a football match without worry of "wasting resources" - it's always worth it with friends.

I'm trying to say that I am so glad we are here. We are enjoying the sort of travel we always had in mind. To sit around and ponder what we would like to do or see and then do or see it when we want. We can lounge the day drinking mate and reading before heading for tango lessons or a football match or a humid milonga.

I don't think I could or would ever pretend to be a porteno. I don't think I could or would ever assume to fully understand this culture and this people. But, it feel so good to walk out of an apartment building and give a nod to the lady selling fruit and to know where I'm going - which street - which building - etc... I'm still a tourist, still a gringo, but no one has to know..and maybe even I can forget for a little while.

I felt this for the few days we stayed with Marko before we left Buenos Aires the first time...and I think it's why we had to come back. It is a power I now wield over myself - in that I no longer divert my eyes - I can sing and jump at the football match - I can laugh at my poor Spanish, because I know I'm not just using the culture to last a few days in the city - there is a part of me here that I cannot and never will be able to ignore.

But of course, the purpose of this trip is to discover many such places. It has now been decided (though no tickets are purchased) that the first week of April will be our deadline to make our discoveries.

Thanks to Marko's insight into cheap airfare it looks as though the flight home will take us all the way north to Medellin - Colombia (saving us about $300 each).

The details of the area between Buenos Aires and Medellin are yet to be determined, but it's safe to say that the Atacama, Peru, and Ecuador are on the table as well.

Surely, with this time to sit and breathe..and stay up until 4:30am, if I please, writing entries and searching flights and travel information - we will have a solid strategy for the remainder of the trip. Both firm in our determination to reach certain destinations, yet maintaining what has been a largely improvised modus operandi.

It is best this way..

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Perhaps it has not been a full month, but it feels like it has been longer - since I have been able to sit down and write a proper entry about our exploits here in South America.

Currently, I am back in Buenos Aires. Though my frame of mind is much better now that I am surrounded by familiar and friendly faces, the last three/four weeks are still a bit of a haze. I think I will need a few more days to settle into the stable life here in Palermo before I go back and recite the choas that led us here.

For now, I am just grateful to have space and time to breathe. We have been on the run since leaving Chiloe and it (I think) has resulted in some pretty harrowing experiences. Of course, the challenges have only strengthened our resolve and I remain the optimist about the remainder of our trip, as well as our move to California.

We are currently looking at our budget for the rest of the trip, but I think another two months here would be reasonable. We will certainly make it to Peru, but whether we go through Paraguay and Bolivia or Argentina's Salta and the Chilean Atacama to get there is still up in the air. Depending on that decision, we will decide whether we try to make our way up to Ecuador and Colombia. It may turn out that Colombia is the most economical option for a flight home - not a bad excuse to go there (assuming you needed one).

Until these decisions are made - we will continue to keep a low profile here in BA. Since arriving we have been hanging around the flat, walking a little, catching up with friends, etc.. But we won't just sit on our hands. Last night we all went out to an underground tango hall in an old cathedral. We stayed until three in the morning watching couples of varied skill level test their partners. I believe Kaitlin and I will go for our first lesson tonight - maybe in three weeks we'll have the courage (and skill) to take the floor.