Friday, December 26, 2008

Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

A week has passed since I've arrived in my home state of Colorado to celebrate the holiday seasons with the family and friends that I love. Every visit to Colorado since my departure after high school graduation has been short and sweet. This visit has been relatively different. Maybe it's my perception that has changed or maybe it is the struggling economy reaching all homes and families or a combination of both. The people here, especially in my hometown of Salida, are really down with a low or negative energy. I am witnessing firsthand the struggling economy reaching the back roads of our country at a time when everyone is supposed to be joyous celebrating their respective holiday.

I was sitting at a bar in our town last weekend watching some football and that one Christmas song kept playing in my head "It's the most wonderful time of the year..." just then, I witnessed a friend's mom storm through the bar in a high-strung ball of stress because of lack of money, being lonely, etc. Those who were trying to help kept saying, "it's the holidays, tough time of year." Let me get this straight, the most wonderful time of year really ends up being the most stressful time of year for many... especially in a struggling economy, why is this?

Your number one answer can be pointed to the fact that our religious family holidays have succumbed to the pressures of corporate America and has become a consumer-based holiday. I believe we should give gifts to those we love at any point of year, not just on Jesus Christ's birthday. What is so wrong or politically incorrect about that? The pressure for lower to even middle-income families begins to build around mid November and takes full swing on black Friday, day after Thanksgiving when all the blowout sales take place. This year especially has been very alarming since the Wal Mart employee was trampled to death in Long Island due to frenzied shoppers who somehow forgot what the true meaning of these holidays are. It seems to me this holiday season was a great national gut-check for our conusmer-based society. I thoroughly enjoyed spending my time with those that I love and didn't ask for a single gift, though my Mom gave me several books to add to the collection, thank you Mom.. you really didn't have to!

The point I'm trying to make should be absolutely clear by this point, I only hope that for a country that has had a 20-year party of over-consumption on the next hot buy for the bigger and better, we are beginning to realize what really is important in these times and any time for that matter.... friends and family. Material pleasure is only satisfying until the next best thing comes out, which happens more and more rapidly these days in a Web 2.0 digital world. Let's take some time, even one day during holidays from time to time to keep the credit card in the wallet and show our loved one they are loved by being there for them, hugging them, and letting them know what really matters, a simple "I love you."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lose Your Shoes, $50bn Fraud and Internet vs. Sex

First off, thank you to those who took their valuable time to respond to my last blog, it means a lot. Much of my time recently has been filled with job interviews, networking events and reading. Being unemployed has been an absolute blast because I've been able to fill my time with reading what I enjoy, authors Robert Kiyosaki and Deepak Chopra specifically. Also I've been able to enjoy the finer side of San Diego; farmers market, Argentinian restaurant and a Spanish tapas bar. However, I'm fully aware with the many interviews I've had recently, one of them will pull through and provide me a paycheck in exchange for my time, woopie!

The recent current events have had me engaged. What's the latest?

Did you see Dubya's reaction time? Though he hasn't necessarily been the brightest President and has probably been worn out from 8 years of being surrounded by dead-end ideals and administrators, he sure hasn't lost his cat-like reactions. Who in the world who has seen this hilarious seen doesn't wish at least one of those shoes connected, it would have been one of the most remembered scenes in his Presidential career. I commend Bush for being quick to duck out of the way and laughing it off, however I don't think he's fully aware of how large an insult shoe-tossing is in Arab countries. It made me think that Bush and Cheney probably play ''duck the shoe'' at their holiday gatherings every year, how else could have Bush ducked quicker than De La Hoya could manage against Pacuqiao? Cheney and Bush probably had a recent ''duck the shoe'' game just to prep for Bush's last visit to the country he liberated.

Enough with shoe games, let's talk about something that really does concern me and should concern anyone who has any kind of investment in ''securities.'' Former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange, Bernard Madoff, was arrested and charged with fraud which has affected some of the world's largest banks and is estimated at a value of $50bn, 33 billion Euros. You can read the article here. This is likely to cause hedge funds to go out of style as well. What comes of frauds like this and the Enron scandal? I hope it leads the average investor or citizen to become financially educated instead of always relying on your financial advisor who probably knows less than you and has just mastered sales jargon. My opinion is if you really want to place your hard-earned or inherited money into the markets, read up and educate yourself on what the hell you're doing. How do you do this? Read Benjamin Graham's "Intelligent Investor," "Prophecy" or "Financial IQ" by Robert Kiyosaki or any literature by Warren Buffet. Don't let yourself be a victim of any frauds or schemes.

The final piece of news that caught my eye today was how nearly half of the women surveyed by Harris Interactive would rather go without sex than losing their internet connection. Meanwhile, almost half of men in a similar survey earlier this year by electronic retailer Comet would give up sex for six months in exchange for a 50 inch plasma television. This is how we know we are truly in the digital age. It makes me wonder if this could be a cure for overpopulation? There's no doubt that people are addicted to clicking on the 'inbox' tab, opening messenger chats and have blackberries attached to the ears at all times, but giving up a basic human need for it? It just goes to show that sex really isn't even a human need anymore, just a luxury that is a backseat complement luxury to your plasma screen.

What can we conclude from all of this? When losing your investment to a fraudulent hedge fund, show how pissed off you are by throwing your shoes at the situation and telling your significant other that you're a reborn virgin who can't escape internet blog junkies like myself.

It's a strange world we live in and I love every minute of it, after all it is the most wonderful time of the year right?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Need Your Thoughts!

Hola Hola everyone!

I'm now back in California, as many of you know already, and actively ''starting from scratch'' as I like to think of it. I sold my car before I went to Argentina so am actively searching for employment, a place to live and an automobile, or a scooter :) . Amongst all of this, I do wish to continue one of my passions, which is writing. I've received many compliments from those who read this blog and would love to continue.... so....

My next task is what I should do with this blog. Pura Vida came from the Spanish reference of a pure life, which in my opinion, can be lived anywhere whether I'm writing from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, California or Colorado. Regardless, I was thinking that I continue writing that which is of great interest to me and could possibly benefit you and your life for the better, or search for your pura vida. This includes health, diet, exercise, sport, media, current events, comedy or travel. The point is I've had people ask what I planned to do with my blog now that I'm back in the 'boring' United States which most of my readers are fully aware of. Well, I do plan to continue my writing but am not sure whether my readers want more of one niche topic or a very general delivery on my future posts.

Therefore, I would love to hear from you whether you want to read more on the aforementioned topics or whether you could care less... an email from you saying "I don't give a damn," would suffice. Maybe I could even create a new blog tailored to whatever you want to read. If I don't hear anything, no worries, I'll continue to write. I just love to hear from you as well!

Hope all is peachy in your world, and in an effort to gain more Spanish-speaking readers, I will tranlate this, so please pass it on to anyone you know that speaks Spanish or Spanglish. If I am aware of Spanish-speaking readers, I will translate the majority blog postings!!! Take care

Hola Hola todos,

Ahora estoy acustombrandome a la vida aca en California. Estoy buscando trabajo, un lugar para vivir y un coche. Deseo continuar con una pasion para mi, escribiendo. He recibido muchos elogios de los que lean mi blog.

El proximo objectivo para mi es decidir que debo hacer con el blog. El nombre, la pura vida, significa vivir una buena vida. Sin embargo, alguien puede vivir la pura vida en cualquier lado del mundo, ya sea en Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, California o Colorado. Estaba pensando en escribir lo que me interesa y pueda influirles a ustedes por el mejor, en su propie busqueda de la pura vida. Esto incluye la salud, ejercicio, deportes, medios de comunicación, acontecimientos de actualidad, comedia y viajes. Lo que quiero decir es que me han preguntado muchas personas que voy a hacer con el blog ahora que estoy viviendo en los EEUU que es tan conocido. Me gustaria continuar escribir pero queiro una opinion de ustedes, los lectores.

Por lo tanto, me encantaría saber de usted si quiere mi opinión sobre los temas antes mencionados o si no les importa... un email que dice "No me importa," esta suficiente. Si no recibio nada, voy a seguir escrbibir, solo quiero su opinion!

Espero que esten bien y que sigan leer la pura vida!!

Friday, December 5, 2008

La Bomba de Tiempo

"Bomba Hoy?" Reading the flow of text messages every Monday would all entail the same topic, 'bomba de tiempo.' It literally tranlates the the bomb of time. So every Monday evening in the cultural arts center Konex located in the Abasto shopping region of Buenos Aires the bomb of time takes place. Not your typical bomb of time, this one is in the form of percussion drums transcending a high level of energy to an audience in attendance just to de stress.

Bomba de tiempo is a drummer group led by Santiago Vazquez. The group has an improvisational style and creates a very festive, rave-like atmosphere for the crowd. Each week, a new guest accompanies the drummers and throws their own style into that continuously changing style of the group. The guests would range from Ecuadorian vocalists to saxophone players to hip hop vocalists. One of the fourteen members would rotate every half hour and serve as the conductor for the rest of the players. Each conductor had their own style and you never hear the same set twice, it's continuously new!

From the moment you enter, the drums take hold and slowly begin to impart a positive, high energy into your bloodstream. You look around and notice people of all ages and backgrounds feeling that same energy, it becomes contagious as the night goes one. The two hour event really starts rocking the crowd with thirty minutes left and you take a momentary gaze around the audience and notice ten different forms of dancing, which do you choose? La bomba de tiempo has no judgement on which form of dance you take part in; jump, swivel, rock, just find a way to move and let the energy take hold so you are no longer aware what day of the week it is. You notice parents with young children on their shoulders rocking, a young man with his shirt off on someone's shoulder performing spiritual-like movements, young women shaking the salsa hips, and hippies swivelling and swirving. Bomba doesn't care, just move por favor, let your body go. By the time the last drum beat has vibrated the sound waves one last time for the evening, you are now ready for the rest of the week to take place, no more stress, no more worries.

You remember why you would come to this event every Monday you had the opportunity to. Thank you for taking a step into our shoes and those who are true 'bomba heads' in Buenos Aires. This is a reminder that music is there to serve you, let it absorb you transform your energy to that which is feliz. My hope is that when if/when you are in Buenos Aires, your Monday evening is taken up, la bomba de tiempo is yours for the taking. Handle this bomb with care, if not, you'll find yourself as a bomba head and never consider leaving.... which case of the Mondays would you prefer to have?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Experience Life in the People You Meet

Our first days in BA, we were in for a good year...
Maybe it has yet to sink in, I am back on US soil sitting here in San Diego doing my best to stir up my memory bank to recount the last year of my life in South America. I spent much the time on my long flight home- between connections in Lima, Peru and San Salvador, El Salvador before arriving at LAX 20 hours later- reviewing what I might have learned by living abroad for and extended period of time. Besides the obvious of adding a new language to my toolbelt, I struggled to put into words what I have learned. Maybe it's not all that practical or maybe it's too practical that I just haven't noticed. I find these days to be very interesting because it feels like I just went into a time warp for a year and WHAM, here I am back in San Diego, just one year later. It was this same time of year just nearly one year ago when I departed to Argentina with my good amigo Mikey to discover a new world eternally and internally.

I will never forget how Mike and I were feeling when we first arrived in Buenos Aires, everything was new and we had all of one contact that we hadn't even met yet. Uncomfort was at a high level for both of us and we were not sure what to expect on a daily basis. We felt like we were just passing through and traveling instead of our new residence for the first month or so. My Spanish was sorely lacking which created even more discomfort. I think, looking back on it, Mike and I depended a lot on each other, much more than we really knew at the time, to get accustomed to our new home. Time was in slow motion all until we moved into the Salta house aka Casa de Eduardo. It's a huge international residence where we met about 10 new friends all at once, many of whom we are still in touch with. This is when our full residence of Argentina began, we were in a rough neighborhood of Monseraat, which made us feel really into the mix. The landlored, dueno, of the house is a middleaged man named Eduardo who is a character to the fullest. He is really hard to describe in one sentence but he always makes people unsure whether they should love him or hate him. It was at this house that we developed some great friendships and true learning process launched into full swing.

Fast forward nearly 9 months later and I was at the point of departure from South America having to say my goodbyes, or better yet 'hasta luego's' to all of the great friendships that I was fortunate enough to have developed. I think it was in the last week of my time in Buenos Aires when I just began to realize that my experience was fully based on the people I met. It's all about the people... whether it was a crazy landlord named Eduardo or Pamela- the Uruguayan landlord who we lived with the last 6 months in San Telmo- or it was a great profesora named Julieta who has an impeccable sense of humor. Then was my Bomba del Tiempo buddies Brian and Lucho. If you're asking what the hell is Bomba del Tiempo, I write my next blog about this. Then there was my good buddy Rodrigo, who is one of the most intelligent young men I've met who studies his brains out and enjoys a good porro at any available moment. How can I forget the best Argentine futbol player we played with, Marcelo who was like a field general and made Mike and I better every game we played with him. How can I forget my three favorite students who made English Teaching a sincere pleasure; Leandro, Emilio and Rodolfo. These three individuals opened my eyes to seeing that they are much like adults in the States, just doing what they can to provide more for their family in a volatile economy. I wish Leandro much luck in his goal of going to the US or Australia to start a new life.
Representing Argentina with Lucho

Last Bomba del Tiempo, l to r: John, Mikey, Brian, me

My favorite students l to r: Leandro, me, Rodolfo, Emilio

I was also able to meet many great people from other countries around the world; Sophie from France who was like our mom at the big international house; Timm from Germany who was a polite Adrien Brody look-a-like; Sam from the UK who was a melancholy young man but always provided a very blunt point of view of how the world works; Andy from Scotland who is very opinionated and will let you know what he thinks whether you like it or not; Keegar from Ireland who could run past 5 defenders with ease and score a goal with a Guiness in his hand; Pauline from France who was a doll-faced housemate the last several months in San Telmo; Jenny from Australia who was also a housemate for four months in San Telmo and one of the nicest girls I have ever met; Isaac from Brazil aka the big goofy Brazilian who had the most unique dancing style at our Bomba de Tiempo outings; Dave from England who also became a great friend from the futbol field and is one I hope to keep in touch with down the road. This blog wouldn't be complete without mentioning one of my new best friends, Barry from Cuba who has been a citizen of Argentina for 12 years and produces music for a living. He is one of the most admirable people I have ever met for the way he lives his life and treats other people. Barry laughs and smiles more than anyone else I've ever met, his positivity is truly contagious and his athletic lifestyle has him looking like he is 30 years old even though he's really 44. We met him on the futbol field and he became a workout partner and he even challenged me to a wrestling match after my last futbol game. I took the big guy down before he flipped me over on to my head and gave me a nice scar on my forehead to come home with. That is my Barry scar and a constant reminder not to wrestle big Cuban guys but more a reminder of the great friend he is to me. All of these friends I hope to keep in touch with and have stimulated my interest in visiting their countries to take a peek at their lifestlye.

Final day toast, l to r: Barry, me, BJ, Mikey

Barry showing off the scar he gave me, one strong dude!

the infamous 10 vs. 10 game, the futbol crew!

Buenos Aires is home to the largest ex-pat (US citizen) community outside of the US in the Western Hemisphere so I formed a ton of relationships with fellow yankees as well. Jessie from New Jersey who became my best girlfriend in BA, she was the most hospitable person I knew and I wish her the best of luck with her big goofy Brasilian hubby, Isaac; Josh Wolpe, a fellow Coloradoan who was a housemate in the international house before he moved on to Israel and eventually back to Denver. He was well known for his gigantic salads, Wolpe Salads, that is now a part of my cooking regimen as well; Alan from Las Vegas who is another opinionated SOB and drew a laugh from me many times with his curt personality; Carlos the big man from Houston who was like a big teddy bear and became a friend to anyone he passed in the street; Sarah from San Diego who was actually our first and only contact when we arrived to Buenos Aires, it all started from her; John from LA who was actually born in Argentina but lived most his life in LA then moved back to BA, he was with us everyday and it felt like we had been friends for years; Nate from Pennsylvania who represented for Americans on the futbol field with his physical play and hustle that could match anyone's talent; Kyle who was my fellow red head brother from San Diego and actually lived in the same apartment complex as I my second year of college, yet I didn't meet him until we played futbol together in Argentina, go figure; Eric Olsen who is from Aspen and worked with my brother then moved to Argentina with his girlfriend (Argentine), he was one of our great buddies on the trek through Torres del Paine and can light up any room with his outgoing energy; then there's William Alan Whittle Jr. or BJ as we call him who was my roommated all through college and is basically my brother from another mother. I consider him family and he made his own move down to Argentina in September and will be staying at least until April. I am truly proud of him for making the move and sticking with it. It was a sincere pleasuer walking the streets of Argentina with this 6'4 blonde-hair, blue-eyed California kid because he drew the most interesting looks from the people and was even likened to Nick Carter, the famous Backstreet Boys singer by some of the locals. It was classic! Remember BJ, you're not a tourist, you live there; And finally one of my best friends who went through the experience with me step by step and is practically full Argentine now, Michael Cando aka Chinito since he is Phillipino and all Argentines call any people of Asian descent Chino. Mikey is one of the most positive people I know and kept my experience in Argentina from ever being dull, he always had something exciting going on and kept me in the excitement and I owe Mike nothing but my full thanks and appreciation for sparking the idea in my head to move to Argentina with him, one of the best things I've done in my life and he has continually sparked my interest in seeing other parts of the world that I will someday see. Thank you Mikey, good luck with the rest of your time in Argentina.... who knows if you'll be back to the States :) .

last night with the Argentines, l to r: Rodrigo, Mike, Brian, me, Luchoht

ke, Brian, Me, Lmom's last night in BA, first row: Mom, Jessi, Isaac. Second row: Me, BJ, Mike, Simone, Pauline, Jenny

This is a blog posting about many strangers to most of your readers but this is all I can think about when I think of my experience in Argentina, it was about the people who shaped my experience. It would not have been the best year of my life without any of these people mentioned and the many others that weren't mentioned. When I was struggling with a way to put a closing to the experience on my last day in Argentina, I had to follow the advice from Barry and put all of the memories into my heart, not my head. I will forever store this experience in my heart because thats where it belongs and that is where these people belong. I am now back in the States and still struggle to sum up my experience abroad so I feel a bit lost in my transition but the best way for me to sum up the experience is remember the PEOPLE who made it what it is, the greatest year of my life yet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tudo Bom in Rio de Janiero

Bem Vindo a Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

All of those amazing photographs of that you see of that city placed on the beautiful Brasilian coastline are real! Trust me, my mother and I had do some of our own little investigation to see if that dangerous, yet lavishly designed city called Rio de Janeiro really did exist. I remember the first time I saw a photo of the Christ the Redeemer- one of the 7 wonders by the way- overlooking that beautiful coastal city with the bay and Sugar loaf in the background, I had a long conversation in my head about how I would get there and when. Well, that long convo in my head was negated when my mom mentioned she would be going there to visit her friend Carla, whom worked with her through an exchange program at Monarch Ski Area in Colorado several years back. Great, I´ll just tag along with ma and get some free room and board with our friend Carla and her amazing parents, who speak very limited English, not a bad gig eh?

Copacabana Beach

We arrived on Tuesday, November 4th around 10pm. It was election day for the United States of America so you could sense this relief in everyone around the world. A relief that signified the end of that phony Bush Administration, whew!!! That was a long 8 years wasn´t it?? Anyways, Carla was there to greet us at the airport and get us on the next bus heading into the city where she lives, Copacabana. We arrived at Copacabana Palace, right on the beach and I suddenly thought it was all too good to be true, ¨no way, we´re gonna be staying in the palace.¨ She immediately crushed my all of the sudden high maintenance hopes by saying its only a one block walk behind the palace. The heavy ocean air blanketed us on our short walk and the smell of the salty Atlantic Ocean just 20 meters away filled the air. Carla´s parents were there to greet us and help us with our bags. Her mother is a very nice, polite Japanese woman named Bette and her father is a big Brasilian man named Carlos whose English vocabulary is limited to ¨I love you.¨ So that meant a loving, accomodating household and good family fun. As soon as we walked in he was watching the election day coverage in Portuguese which he immediately switched to English coverage for us. Just 90 minutes later, the screen was displaying what I never thought I would see this early in my lifetime. Barack Obama is the next President of the United States. I send out my congratulations to Obama and look forward to what him and his administration have in store for such crucial time for our economy, country and the world at large. By the time people in the U.S. had whiped their tears from the historic election it was 3:30am in Rio and the perfect time for me to discover my shampoo had exploded everywhere in my bag. I enjoy cleaning shampoo out of my luggage at odd hours of the morning I don´t know about you...

Acaí bowls, love ´em!

The next day, Carla took us for a walk along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. We stopped about every hour or so to taste some of the Brasilian flavors. Our first stop we had Guarana, the Brasilian natural energy drink. Then in Ipanema I had my first Acaí bowl in quite some time, I love Acaí!! In the states, it´s a bit more expensive since it is imported, yet in Brasil it comes at such a reasonable price. Walking along the Ipanema beach was amazing as I had the famous Brasilian bossanova song stuck in my head ¨Girl from Ipanema.¨ The sounds of Portuguese being spoken at all angles was like music to the ears anyways. On paper, Portuguese is very similar to Spanish but phoenetically it´s a stark contrast. Another interesting contrast from Argentina and Brasil is the health lifestyle. Argentines typically smoke cigarettes much more and the Brasilians are really keen on working out and staying fit to maintain their beach bodies, its like everyone in Rio was queuing up for South America´s Next Top Model, which they could easily be in any country... Brasilians are beautiful people. There was a gym everywhere you looked and even a gym right on the beach in Ipanema, Muscle Beach, a nice imitation of Muscle Beach in California. They definitely work hard for the beauty they strut, but alot of it still comes natural, damn them!waves crashing at Ipanema beach

cloudy day on Ipanema Beach

Evening time came and Carla had to study for an exam so her parents took my mother and I out to dinner at their club which sits right on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon which sits in between the Christ the Redeemer and Ipanema beach, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The club had it all, swimming pools, spas, tennis courts, futbol fields, volleyball/basketball courts and one of the best restaurants in Rio. They treated us to a fine meal that consisted of rice, an assortment of seafood in a yummy sauce, vegetables and a caipirniha to complement the meal. In the seafood, I later found out we had eaten shrimp, octopus, crab, lobster and a bunch of others that we couldn´t exactly translate. Caipirinha is Brasil´s alcoholic drink of choice which can be made with Cachaça-a rum made of sugarcane-cut up limes, sugar and ice. They aren´t made to fool you or sneak up on you, because you clearly taste the alcohol to the fullest. We were also serenated by Carlos who, when discovered I speak decent Spanish, began singing his favorites from Carlos Gardel, a famous Argentine tango singer. It was classic, our conversation was limited and we both had Portuguese/English dictionaries in hand in search for our next sentence. Though, with some Portunol (Portuguese, Espanol), we were able to communicate a bit more. The meal was fantastic, one of the best I´ve had in South America.

Christ Redeemer: 13 stories high, one of the 7 Wonders

Mom and I trying to measure up to the Christ; our photographer couldn´t fit it all

Day 3 we went to Christ the Redeemer with guided by Carla´s mom who was so patient with us and our lack of Portuguese. We took the train up Corcovado hill which supports the 13-story Christ emblem and holds it nearly 2,500 feet above sea level, which is just several kilometers away. There is no wonder it is one of the 7 Wonders, it is massive and quite an accomplishment for man to get it up on that hill overlooking the city. Another interesting fact is that it is in Tijuca National Park, the only national park that is inside a metropolitan city such as Rio. The train ride up apparently took us through jungles and we saw all forms of birds, fruits and plants. A group of Brasilian samba artists also graced us with their presence and made the ride really feel like we were in the heart of Brasil.

view from the Christ Redeemer over Rio, Sugar Loaf in the distance

After a nice buffet lunch that consisted of more seafood and caiprinhas, Bette took us across the bridge to another town called Nimeroi where the Museum of Modern Arts placed on a cliff overlooking the bay back to Rio awaited us. The Musem itself from the outside was impressive, built like a spaceship by the famous Brasilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who also built the capital of Brasilia! The inside didn´t have much in the way of quantity but exceptional quality. Our return back across the bridge to Rio was hampered much of the way with rush hour traffic and a sudden rain storm. We were able to see a slight sunset before the showers unleashed, however.

Museum of Modern Art created by Oscar Niemeyer

view of the museum with Sugar Loaf in the background nearing sunset

Our final day in Rio, we rose early once again to visit the famous Pão de Açúcar, Sugar Loaf. Sugar Loaf is that beautiful upright hill that you see in most Rio photos. It appears as if its an island perking out of the bay from the distance but is actually connected to land. We took the cable car through the air up to the top of Sugar Loaf which once again magnified the beauty of the city, even on a cloudy day. I realized the importance of how lucky I was when we sat atop Sugar Loaf, since I was seeing decisively the most beautiful city I´ve laid my eyes on, not to discount the many other great cities I´ve come across. The only one that may compare is San Francisco. Rio, besides its danger and favellas-shantytowns- is city with infrastructure placed on and all around incredibly beautiful Brasilian coastline. Sporadic green hills reach to the sky along the coast and inland which provides borders to the different areas of the city, the lagoons and beaches are second to none I´ve ever seen and the locals are as equally funky as the cityskape they inhabit.
View from Sugar Loaf, Christ in top left corner and Copacabana Beach on the far left

It´s no question why I feel so fortunate for the last 6 weeks of travel. I´ve seen some of the most incredible natural (Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Iguazu Falls) and manmade (Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer) wonders there is to see in South America and the world. Not to mention the most beautiful city, Rio de Janeiro. As I write this, I am nesting on the island of Florianopolis, Brasil which is in the southern part of the country. To give you an idea of my continued but soon to be ending travelling fortune, this is an island with 42 beaches. Stay tuned for more on the next posting which will also be wrapping up the South American travels. Until then, find a way to get to Rio.... ask your madre, perhaps?

P.S. A big thanks to Carla and her family for feeding us, giving us shelter and tipping us off as to where to avoid and when. Rio is a dangerous city for tourists and if it weren´t for their kind hospitality, my mother and I might had become City of God´s newest residents.

Friday, October 31, 2008

W Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine

"He who finishes a journey is not the same as he who began the journey" ~ Chinese Proverb

Trembling legs, sore knees, cold hands, uphills, downhills, lakes, forests, rivers, rocky beaches, cabins, tents, snow, rain, sunshine.... we literally had it all, a mix of all types of landscape and weather in the span of 4 days on the W Circuit trek. Most of all though, we had the most beautiful views that any of us had ever seen. A group of five young, open-minded, adventurous Gringos set out on the W Circuit on October 20th not knowing the beauty that would be encountered. Our group consisted of my good friends from San Diego Mike Cando and BJ Whittle who now both live in Buenos Aires, my brother Dana, our friend Eric who worked with Dana in Aspen, and myself. We had all seen the pictures and heard stories from other trekkers of the nice views that Torres del Paine provided, however we all approached it with few expectations and a genuine happiness for escaping the city and being in the outdoors. The W circuit is roughly 80km long and provides a mix of rugged and easy terrain, it was very dynamic and always changing.
Glacier Gray

Day 1:

Our first day, we set out from Puerto Natales at 7am and arrived by bus to the Catamaran dock at 10:30am. We had time to spare before catching the noon ferry ride across Lago Pehoe to the western part of the W, Camp Pehoe, our first campsite. So we killed the time waiting for the ferry by going to see Salta Grande, a beautiful waterfall that makes for some good picture opportunities. Our optimism was carrying us high as we kept saying "How does it get better than this?" We had no clue what lied ahead. After the 3o minute ferry ride across Lago Pehoe we quickly dropped off all of our bags and set out on the 11km trek up the left arm of the W to see Glacier Gray, the first glacier most of us had seen in person. We set out on the trek at 1pm with a full tank of energy and curiosity.
the crew at Glacier Gray (left to right: BJ, Eric, Mike, Dana, Me)

It took us nearly 3.5 hours to reach the glacier through the 11km up-down trail. Shedding layers and putting layers back on every 20 to 30 minutes would set the tone for the next couple days as the weather changes so rapidly, remaining comfortable was a task not to be overlooked. Stuffing our mouths with coca leaves also got us through the 22km round trip on the first afternoon, coca leaves are a great source of natural energy and are used whether you're an Andean trekker or a coffee shop fanatic in Peru. After seeing Glacier Gray from a distance we went down by the lake to touch the chunks of glacier that had broken off just for the claim to fame of touching a glacier. Our trek back to camp took us just under 3 hours since it was more downhill. Even so, it was a good sample of what trekking was all about. Arriving back at camp at 7pm that night, I was completely taxed and struggled just walking to the bathroom. BJ was battling his own leg cramps as he made the mistake of lying down before stretching. Twenty two kilometers, roughly 13 miles for you yankees, in 6 hours absolutely wiped us all out. We then shared a small pasta dinner, took a few swigs of whiskey to battle the cold and went for cover in the sleeping bags around 10pm. Day 1 was in the books and we were exhausted, yet satisfied to be camping under the Antarctic air in such a beautiful place.

Day 2:
sunrise at our camp Day 2

We rose at 6:15am on the second day in time to see a beautiful sunrise in our campsite. We each had 3 hard-boiled eggs and some dried fruit to get the engine running for a solid 28km trek that lied ahead of us. It was 7am when we started our slow pace on the trek. It would take a good 30 minutes to get the blood going and overcome the sore legs in order to develop a solid pace. We arrived to Camp Italiano, base of the middle arm of the W, Valle Frances. We left our heavy bags and equipment there at the camp. Valle Frances is known to have crazy weather so we weren't too sure how far we'd go. We ascended the valley and saw our first major wildlife, what we like to call the devil deer, because its' antlers looked like devil horns. We were able to get within 10 meters of it to snap a couple pictures before it disappeared across the river. The weather was very cooperative so we continued. It was a pretty steady uphill and it was putting the legs through more exhaustion. We got high enough to where we could see some of the towers (torres) through the trees, so we continued until we could find an opening to snap some pictures and get a good view. We ended up going all the way to the lookout, mirador.

Bienvenidos a Valle Frances

Two and half hours later, we arrived at the mirador around noon and all we could say was WOW!! This was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen, the prettiest valley any of us had ever been in. We were surrounded by the rock cliffs 270 degrees around us until the opening of the valley where we could see the turquoise lake in the distance. There are no words to describe what we felt at the mirador in Valle Frances. A nice lady from Israel, Tulie, joined us at the mirador and graciously offered us some tea, which hit the spot. We ended up spending two hours at the mirador admiring the beauty around us, consuming some yummy tea, oranges, granola bars and chocolate. I had never experience such a feeling of being surrounded by overwhelming beauty. I left my broken pair of sunglasses there at the mirador to essentially keep an eye on Valle Frances for me. BJ summed it up best by saying leaving Valle Frances was like that dreadful feeling of breaking up with a beautiful girlfriend, so hard to do but we had to carry on.

break time on rocky beach, we earned it

We left the mirador and began our descent back to Camp Italiano at 2pm and arrived in a speedy 90 minutes where we re-collected our luggage and I was one glove short. I think some animal came in and stole my other glove when we were gone, either way I hope it was put to good use wherever it ended up. On our way to Camp Los Cuernos, where we would stay, we found a rocky beach where we would end up laying for a half hour, it felt so good to be lateral after all that trekking. Then we finished off the rest of the 28km with a short 2km trek to the camp where we were reserved to rent tents. The Camp messed up our reservation and ran out of tents so, fortunately for us, we were able to stay in the lodge for the same price. We were looking forward to camping until that night a major storm came through, we then knew everything was working out in our favor.

Day 3
the cleanest water on earth

Our departure was delayed on day 3 due to the crazy storm that was still spitting snow at 7am when we were going to start trekking. Instead we waited for a bit and let nature take its course. We began the day 3 trek at 10am after a very yummy breakfast served by the Camp Los Cuernos kitchen staff. We trekked through snow, rain and sunshine on this day and really took a slower pace to rest our legs a bit, even though most of this day was uphill it was only a 15km trek as opposed to the mid 20k treks on the previous two days. We even found time to play a little hacky sack on a windy point overlooking the beautiful Lago (lake) Nordenskojl which is the most turquoise water. We arrived at our next Camp, Camp Chileno, at 4pm. We were just able to see the front of the towers at sunset from this camp, it provided quite a view for dinnertime. We were due for an early betime yet once again since we had planned to awake our final day at 4:30am to go see the towers for sunrise. Many trekkers of the W Circuit claim they don't have the energy on the 4th day to rise early and make the two hour uphill trek to the end of the trail to see the towers at sunrise. It was our goal full on to see the towers at sunrise, it would cap off the trek perfectly. After a yummy pasta dinner and two pisco sours as a nightcap, we dozed off around 10pm.

Day 4:

4:45am came very quickly and we all contemplated staying in our warm sleeping bags, but we knew full and well that we can sleep when we die and this was our one opportunity to see the towers at sunrise. After a quick tea-time with Tulie, our Israeli friend, in the lodge we mustered the energy to commence our final ascent of the trek to the end of the trail with headlamps and all. The morning was very calm and we felt we were the only people on earth awake. Ninety minutes later we arrived to the end of the trail and had the closest view of the towers. We couldn't quite see the top as they were dipping into the morning clouds but even so, they were impressive and it felt as we reached the end of the world. We all embraced and congratulated each other on completing the 80k in 3.5 days and of course had another cup of tea with Tulie. Something about drinking warm tea on a cold peak, it tastes ten times better than it tastes at the dinner table. The sun peaked over the mountains and clouds to the east for a short 15 minutes before disappearing for the whole day as a storm rolled in for the rest of the day. The luck we had on this trip was unbelievable, everything worked out perfectly. A pair of Brazilian guys were ascending to the end of the trail as we were on our way down, later they informed us that they missed the sun and could barely see the towers, thus waking up at the butt crack of down was worth it afterall.80km, 3.5 days and we made it

We made our way back down the right arm of the W in several hours in time to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales. A great sense of accomplishment filled us all and we all felt somewhat changed in our own right. My 29 year old brother summed it up greatly by saying "I've been around the sun 29 times and nothing compares to 4 days on the W Circuit." I couldn't have summed it up better. We experience a little bit of everything but in the end it all worked out so perfectly which may make this a boring blog post. Exciting blog postings include about how one overcame adversity and what he/she learned from it. This is a blog post of a group of people feeling so much freedom in one of the most beautiful places on earth and overcoming the daily stress on the legs, knees and ankles. All of our physical pain never led to complaining, we were all too consumed into the beauty around us, it was sensory overload to the fullest. I'll always remember the feeling we experienced in Valle Frances, tea time with Tulie, shedding layers only to put the jacket back on 5 minutes later, the taste of coca leaves pumping energy to the legs, breathing in fresh Antarctic air, drinking fresh spring water from the rivers, waking up at 6am to eat cold hard-boiled eggs watching the beginning of a day, rest breaks consuming peanuts and chocolate and the list goes on. It was all about those small details that made up the trek. It's great to be in nature because we kind of revert to animal instincts, all you really think about is how to stay warm and how to keep your energy level up. There were no thoughts of regular societal worries, the economy, jobs, politics, etc. My mind was fully concentrated on the sensory overload and what I needed to do to have more energy or keep warm, it is very liberating. All in all, it was the best 4 days of my life!End of the trail

A special thanks to my brother, Mike, BJ and Eric for experiencing it with me!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Patagonia Express Parte I

This first leg of our Patagonic experience is a tale of animals. It was as if we were in one gigantic zoological viewing area. Our first full day in the province of Chubut, Argentina was full of aquatic wonders. Our rent-a-Fiat got us to Puerto Píramedes right in time to board the boat to go view the Southern Right Whale. Every October, an estimated 1,050 Southern Right Whales fill the bay near Puerto Madryn and Península Valdés. Five minutes into the boat ride we were able to see a small colony of sea lions on the rocks. Then we went a little further out until we were luckily surprised by seeing a school of dark dolphins circling the boat, the captain continued to mention how lucky we were since dolphins don´t usually populate the bay until mid December. Due to the mass amount of seagulls from above, there must have been some good feed taking place, since the dolphins stir the fish to the surface which provides ample opportunity for bird feeding.

Sea lion soakin up the sun

Dark Dolphins showing off

The fascination by our dolphin surprise was enough to make me almost forget about why we were on the boat in the first place, that was until we saw the massive Whale surface in the distance. This was the first time I had ever seen a whale that was not named Shamu at San Diego Sea World and let me tell you, Shamu pales in comparison to viewing a massive Southern Right in its natural habitat. It was as if we were paparazzi on board stalking the whales as they would surface several times before taking a deep dive and allowing us to snap the classic tale picture. Typically, a mother whale would be with the baby whale, which itself was gigantic enough to ingest a person or two. The mother would submerge and go deep to the sea floor to gather food while the baby whale would stay near the surface until the mother would come back to the surface and blow a fountain of water through its nose. We spent roughly an hour with our new whale friends before heading back inland filled with a kid-like excitement. I felt like it was my first trip to the zoo when I was 10 years old.

close up to the Southern Right Whale

The rest of our day one entailed driving around Península Valdés and seeing the many sheep and guanacos (similar to antelope or deer) roam the land until we reached Punta Cantor on the far east side of the Peninsula right on the coast. There we spotted a small colony of Magellanic Penguins and a large colony of Elephant Seals. Since the day two plan was to go see the largest concentration of Magellanic Penguins, we skipped right down to see the Elephant Seals loathe in their blubber on the beach. These animals were comical, all they do is lay their and make every kind of flatulent noise you can dream of and move around about 10 meters every 10 minutes. It appeared as if it was so difficult to move that they can only go so far at once before loathing some more and squeezing out a few more flatulent noises. The elephant seals provided the perfect ending to a perfect day. We then drove our little Fiat back down the coast to Trelew to our hotel, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kids once stayed as a side note. Something we took note of while driving in Patagonia is how much open space and nothingness there is. The sky is absolutely incredible here and provides some jaw-dropping sunsets and sunrises.

penguin love

As mentioned above, day two was penguin day. Punta Tombo, which lies on the coast about 100 km south of Trelew, is home to the largest concetration of Magellanic Penguins in the world. Magellanic Penguins aren´t the kind you may have seen in the March of the Penguins but they´re close relatives. These penguins were nestled up as far as a half kilometer inland from the shore. They were literally everywhere, so much so that I was afraid to step on a few of them. The penguin walk was on full display and made for many laughs, I am now a huge fan of elephant seal flatulants and the penguin walk after this trip. It was also really cool to see them swim under water, they´re like little torpedos underwater. That explains how they migrate all the way from Brasil down to the Falkland Islands every year. They feed at sea but breed on land.

It was an animal-filled first two days in our Patagonia experience. I now write this posting in Rio Gallegos in a 4 hour bus layover until we head west another 4 hours to El Calafate for the night before crossing into Chile tomorrow to begin the 4 day trek! We took the overnight bus to get here and were able to witness the magestic sunset in the right window last night and woke up in time to cock the head to the left to see the sunrise light the sky once again. Running off little sleep, I now remember what it feels like to be traveling again... by the way what is today anyways?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Marvel that is Machu Picchu

It was 6:15am when we first set our eyes on one of the marvels of this world, Machu Picchu. It was roughly the same time when it was rediscovered by an American explorer, Hiram Bingham, in 1911. Since then it has been flooded more and more each year by tourists from all over the world. When you actually see the old Incan city from first view instead of in a photograph it really makes sense why people come from all corners of the globe to witness the marvel of what was the Incan royalty get-away at the height of their empire in the early 16th century.

For those who don´t know much about the short-lived Incan Empire, here´s the skinny version. They were a very powerful empire that spread from today northern Chile, parts of Bolivia and almost all of Peru. Their engineering feats are still a wonder. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of this empire was how great of engineers they were. When you are in the presence of any Incan ruin, be it Machu Picchu or another, you can witness how much damned time they must have spent building these perfect walls made of stone. Machu Picchu was jaw dropping to see the engineering feat. Studies show that about 60% of the construction done here was done subterranean to preserve the foundation of this site, largely why all of us tourists are still able to witness it today still standing. The location of this site is on the cusp of the Peruvian Amazon, lying to the east, and the Peruvian Andes, to the southwest. Large rainfalls and lush greenery surround this setting. Machu Picchu was built in between two larger peaks, Machu Picchu mountain to the south and Wayna Picchu to the north. Wayna Picchu provides the incredible backdrop to all of the famous pictures, my brother and I also eventually climbed it to get the true overhead view of Machu Picchu river and the Urubumba river. The Urubumba river wraps around the mountain on three sides and also causes a mysterious mist to pass through during the early mornings.

My mom, brother and I sat in amazement for about the first hour or so looking as the morning mists passed over this spiritual-like venue. It was that feeling where you really aren´t sure what to say, the mind´s constant search for words to label what the eyes are capturing. I feel this view was just too much for a label, it just is what it is... a marvel of this world. We then spent the next hour walking through the city and admiring the detailed stone work and the incredible water management system the Incans had created so they didn´t need to use irrigation, they really were brilliant engineers for their time.

bro and I in front of the main gate

hanging out with the llamas and alpacas, they still call this place home

exhausted from the climb, breathtaking view!

Then my brother and I decided we would hike Wayna Picchu to get the heart pumping and break a good sweat as the sun came burning off the early morning fog. Only 400 people per day are allowed to climb the steep, narrow trail to the peak of Wayna Picchu, fortunately we signed up in time to start the ascent at 10am. My brother´s quick pace up the steep trail led me to quick exhaustion and nearly a break for the quick vomit check, fortunately there were some slower trekkers in front that we caught up to and slowed our pace. Since he lives in Aspen, Colorado and is accustomed to the altitude he kicked my ass up the trail but I stayed closely behind because I hate to lose, especially when it comes to the brother. In less than 45 minutes, we peaked Wayna Picchu and saw the marvel from way above, it was as if we were looking at an architectural model of the Incan city from so high above. We could have stayed up there all afternoon and would have, if it wasn´t for the wicked mosquitos and dragonflies that harrassed us into submission until began our descent.

the sepia version of Machu Picchu from the top of Wayna Picchu

After a 45 minute descent that compressed the knee joints into that rubber-like feeling, we had to quickly rush to the exit in order to catch our mid day bus going down the mountain in order to catch the train back to Cusco. Unfortunately, our train didn´t leave until much later. Therefore we could have stayed up at Machu Picchu much longer. I can´t complain much because I was able to see the wonder but any regret that I do have is that I wish I wasn´t so rushed. It´s a place that I could have spent the full 12 hours. It was very sweet while it lasted but almost too short-lived, much like the Incan Empire itself.

Some notes about Peru in general:

The Incan empire was destroyed by the Spaniards in the 1530´s at the height of the empire, much of the death caused by the Spanish was caused by diseases brought from overseas rather than gunfire.

Peruvian food is outta this world, if you ever go, don´t forget to order: Lomo saltado, ceviche (spicy seafood dish), trucha (trout). In Cusco, they have cuy which is guinea pig. I didn´t try it but I hear it tastes like chicken, I´ll leave you to be the guinea pig... no pun intended.

If you have short time in Peru, definitely go to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Lima, you can do without, just another big city. Cusco is high altitude so treat yourself to lots of water and coca leaf tea upon arrival to battle altitude sickness. I hope you are able to go someday or have already been, its a fascinating country.

Stay tuned for more on our Patagonia trek as we see some Whales and Penguins then head to Torres del Paine for the 4 day trek in the Chilean Andes!!!

Until then, all my love!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Magical Cusco

It was a case of love at first sight between ol´Cusco, Peru and I. The moment we got off the plane I looked around the little valley we are now in and just felt the magic of this place, or maybe it was just the altitude. Cusco, the historic capital of the Incan Empire, is now a city in Southeastern Peru near the Sacred Valley, where we plan to visit tomorrow. It is nestled in the Northern Andes at approximately 11,000 feet (3,300 meters). So it has taken our breath away literally and figuratively. The altitude has taken its immediate effects on us as I haven´t been at this altitude since last year hiking the hills of Colorado. We´ve consumed large amounts of agua and coca leaf tea to combat the altitude sickness. It´s also a custom here to suck or chew on the coca leaves, which I´ve partaken in as if I was a local. Besides the altitude, this city is downright fascinating, as it has still preserved much of the Incan culture. It´s a large tourist attraction but once you´re here you see exactly why people come from all corners of the globe to witness this incredibly spiritual atmosphere.

The one bit of bad news that I have in this post is that I haven´t found a way to upload the mass amount of photos I´ve taken onto these internet cafe computers. It appears I will have to wait until I get back to Buenos Aires to install the CD rom onto my laptop to then down/upload these pics for your viewing. For all I can do now is to tap into every adjective to describe this atmosphere.

Our plan for the week is an all-day trip to Sacred Valley tomorrow where we will take a look at some other Incan ruins, supposedly the next best thing besides Machu Picchu. Then Tuesday we will use to explore the whole of Cusco. Wednesday we begin our journey to Machu Picchu and will stay Wednesday night in Aguas Calientes and most definitely enjoy the hot springs before our early morning ascent to Machu Picchu on Thursday. To put it bluntly, I´m fortunate and overwhelmingly excited to be here right now. Maybe its being back in altitude and the mountains that gives me that comfortable home-like feeling. As my brother said today, high altitude is good for the soul if you notice most spirtual gatherings in the world are located well above sea level, it makes sense to me. Cusco is by far much more impressive than Lima and even the Lima faithful will admit it so it is great to know we only planned two days in on the coast and four days here in the mountains. I do apologize for not having photos on these blog posts but please come back to these posts in the next week and I will have some shots on here just to give you a glimpse of how lucky we are to be here.

Well, its time to spit out the coco leaves and go enjoy a beer or two with my bro, at this altitude it may only take one sip to feel the buzz... I love the high altitude attitude.

Stay tuned for more on the Sacred Valley, Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu near the end of this week, until then... Salud!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Deja vu in Lima, Peru

That feeling has returned. That feeling of strapping on the travel pack and shoes to embark on a new cultural experience each day has crept its way back into my life. Though, this travel experience will include my dear mother who is along for the South American tour, now its no question from whom I inherited the travel gene. This trip has been preceeded by several months of planning yet very little expectations on my part. I have not thought much about this trip that we have now taken upon us for the next six weeks since I have been fully indulged in my ¨porteño lifestyle¨in Buenos Aires. The whole month of September in Buenos Aires was a rare, yet exhilirating combination friendships established here in South America and back in my previous chapter in life, college. Every minute of it was worthwhile to say the least. The daily crew consisted of Mike, BJ, Taelor, Alyssum, Barry and myself. It was like our San Diego crew reunited in Buenos Aires with the much appreciated addition of our good friend Barry from Cuba. We somehow always found each other on the same wavelength, which really is what great friendship is all about. My final night in Buenos Aires as a long-term resident was capped off with perfect vibes, onda, provided by BJ, Cando and Barry. How lucky I am to call these guys friends, they made me realize how great of a trip I was about to embark on since they each called on me to document as much as I could to provide them with the vicarious experience, as I hope to do for all of you who take the time to read my content.

My experience at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires was a very ideal travel experience as I almost missed my 6am flight due to the fact I had overstayed my 90-day tourist visa by three days. I knew I would be fined, a whopping $50 pesos, which didn´ t bother me so much. I found it to be a better alternative than a $200 peso trip to Uruguay just two days before going to Peru or going to Imigrations in Buenos Aires and paying $100 pesos to renew the visa. I just hadn´t prepared to wait in an hour long line to pay my fine, which nearly cause me to miss my flight. The sprint to the gate was priceless, I always feel like I´m in the Amazing race when I´m in these situations, maybe because it feels more like a competition (fun) rather than such a stressful scenario. Needless to say, I made the flight and arrived in Lima, Peru a mere 5 hours later.

Bienvenidos a Lima, Peru!

I had a day to kill here before my brother and mom were due to arrive. So I walked along the coast in the cloudy afternoon and was strangely reminded of San Diego. For this is the first time I´ve looked out over the Pacific Ocean since last year when I was a San Diegan. Lima is a large city, with over 50 districts. We are staying in the district of Miraflores which has a slight resemblance to La Jolla, though a less developed than the multimillion dollar neighborhood of La Jolla CA. However, its enough to make me feel deja vu as I walk along this boardwalk poached on a steep cliffside. I then went to a little sports bar to watch the Vice-presidential debate, which was a bit humorous to me, I elect Sarah Palin for hockey mom representative of the year, not Vice President. Anyways, my exhaustion got the best of me as I went back to the hospedaje early and fell asleep waiting for the arrival of the rest of the fam. 3:30 am is when my mom and brother arrived as they were both delerious from a long day of travel as well, they were due to arrive at 9pm but the stories of flight delays and other mishaps provided clear explanation to my not-so worried self. It was great to see them though, now begins the family journey...

Friday, we woke up and set out to go see a Pre-Incan art museum in downtown Lima, it was $45 soles to get to downtown just to find out the museum was closed for the rest of the year. Great! What else is in downtown Lima I inquired to our taxi driver. No hay nada. Ok, well that was splendid, we made the most of it by walking every square meter of the park before returning to Miraflores for a nice lunch. Then it happened. That need for adventure that my brother and I carried throughout Europe last year came creeping back in as we saw the paragliders flying over the coast. Yep, lets do it we said without hesitation after we were told the relatively cheap price. We spent a good 20 minutes paragliding over the coast of Lima, Peru which provided the adventure the day had been missing. What an incredible feeling it is indeed to be flying over the ocean and the steep cliff faces. I´ve always wondered what it would be like to fly and even capturing a slight glimpse through paragliding provided fulfillment to that lifelong curiosity. Then, we fed our dinner appetite with a Paella dish over looking the Pacific Ocean. A frequent thought that creeps into my mind is, wow I feel like I´m in a scaled down version of San Diego, this is all too much deja vu!

Saturday, our last full day in Lima, we set out South 30 km from Lima to see the ruins of Pachamac. Pachamac is a great site of ruins and was supposedly the holy place for three different Pre-Incan civilizations leading up to the Incans. Each civilization that conquered the previous built their temple up the hill from the previous civilizations´temple ending with the Incans´Temple of the Sun. Ironically enough, the sun finally came out from hiding behind the clouds as we approached the Temple of the Sun. It´s quite a relief to have some sunshine on this beautiful coastal city of Lima before we venture further inland to Cuzco tomorrow.

Some things I´ve noticed so far about Peru in general is how overwhelmingly nice the people are here. From our taxi driver Fernando, who was my escort from the airport and has become our full-time taxi I was so impressed with him, to the guys who took us paragliding to the people in our hospedaje. They have all been such amazing hosts and would make any traveler consider moving here for their welcoming smiles alone. Another interesting thing about Lima is the over abundance of horn-honking that takes place. As our driver Fernando explains, ¨its just our culture, its what we do.¨ Many of the taxis will honk at you, especially if you look foreign like I do, just to get your attention because they all think that you need a taxi. I´ve heard some interesting beep tones, you could download them as your ringtone. As you walk the streets of Miraflores all you hear is beep beep. The nose is filled with the smell of seafood and the cool breeze from the Pacific is slightly reminiscent to that of where else... San Diego, did I say it was deja vu yet? How could I not touch on the food here? Since I moved to Argentina and tried my first taste of Peruvian cuisine I´ve been a huge fan. Wow, until I arrived in Lima and got the actual fresh ceviche, pescado saltado and other rice and seafood dishes. This is the best seafood I´ve ever consumed without a doubt.

It´s been a pleasurable few days here in Lima, especially being back by the Pacific Ocean. We now head off to our next adventure, Cuzco followed by our trail to the infamous Machu Picchu. Stay tuned for more....

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Planning vs. Living

Hola, Hola everyone! It's been sometime since I've posted anything. You might be thinking that Mendoza was so great that everything since has just been trying to fill the void for my last few months in Argentina... that's right I'm returning back to the states November 20th, however my mind and full concentration will be here enjoying every last moment I spend in this beautiful continent.
Truth is, I've been rather occupied in a time that I thought I would be very open to get a lot of writing done on this blog. The last two weeks, I forgot I even had a blog... can't you sense the passion for writing? I've been enjoying the weekly futbol games and continuing teaching several English classes a week. Among this well-established routine, I've also been playing the role of travel agent for my mom, brother and myself for the whole month of October and into November. More on this later. I've also been doing free lance work for a company down here called WebAr, translating web content from Spanish to English. A big thank you goes out to my Spanish Profesora Julieta for helping me find this work. It has allowed me to afford my final week in Buenos Aires before I set off to Lima, Peru to begin the 6-week continent tour.
Throw this all in with the fact that my good friend, BJ (college roommate) just moved down here for 3 months to get a taste of what Mike and I have been living. Our other college friends, Taelor and Alyssum just arrived 5 days ago as well. So, much of our time has been spent reminiscing, catching up on our current lives, and of course enjoying the moment, here and now.

For some reason, I've found this time to be very challenging to enjoy every moment, which I had become accustomed to. It's an interesting dynamic; mixing good friends from the states with good friends we've made here all the while trying to plan for a 1 1/2 month journey with my brother and mom. What has been most challenging you may ask? Finding my balance of planning and enjoying the moment with all of the friends here. Many also ask how I feel about moving back to the States in just two months. I've been doing some work to try to set up interviews upon my arrival (planning) but other than that I am doing my best to concentrate my energy here fully until I board that plane back to the northern hemisphere. When all is said and done in this posting, a very mind-ridding post needless to say, I am enjoying the dynamic of being around friends from past and present. We've been spending much of our time with our good friend Barry from Cuba. He is a very spiritual type and always reminds me to enjoy being in that moment with his contagious laugh. I've never seen anyone so happy constantly and I have to thank him very much for making me realize how fortunate I am to have all of the people in my life.

With my birthday approaching, I will use it to fully appreciate having all of my good friends here with me and commencing on a great journey with the family to see one of the most beautiful continents in each other's presence. Speaking of our journey, I do plan to keep this blog posted with updated pics and travel stories to spice things up a little bit, hopefully I can provide you with a medium to experience it vicariously. Our rough itinerary is as follows:

Lima, Cusco Peru (10 days)
Buenos Aires (2 days)
Bariloche (2 days)
Puerto Madryn; penguins, whales (2 days)
El Calafate (1 day)
Torres del Paine, W Circuit (4 day trek; National Geographic's top 50 things to do in your life)
Buenos Aires (4 days)
Iguazu Falls (2 days)
-my brother will unfortunately be cutting out on this part to fly back as my mom and I will continue on to Brazil
Rio de Janeiro (4 days)
Florianopolis (5 days)
-back to Buenos Aires until I fly back stateside.

As you can see, Buenos Aires is a very popular hub to travel this continent. This city, my home for the last 10 months, is full of international travelers from all walks of life which is why I feel I've experienced a little bit of each culture in one city, oh how I'll miss this city! Look for more to come as far as travels and the other great cultural aspects in Buenos Aires that I've been so fortunate enough to experience. Stay tuned for more!

P.S. I do want to mention a great source for many of your travel questions when traveling Argentina or any other country in the six main continents. The best way to have your questions answered is by those who have been there and done that. My planning has been immensely helped by the message board on Big thanks to them for reducing some of the time spent 'planning' instead of living!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Treat Your Palate in Mendoza

That subtle sound of two-year old Malbec red wine hitting the glass as the tour guide poured enough for our long awaited wine tasting was so inviting that my girlfriend Dani and I were like two kids in a candy store. Our very first wine tasting brought us a smile and a Salud. Clink went the glasses and the smooth red wine glistened across our palate. Next, a sample of their Cabernet Sauvignon... pour, SNIFF, swirl, SNIFF, and again let it treat the palate. Leaving our first vineyard (Bodega y Cavas de Weinert), both Dani and I carried with us a satisfaction for our first wine tasting/tour, yet an eagerness to see and taste more.

We had looked forward to our Mendoza retreat since I received the great news she was coming to visit me. Mendoza is a smaller city that is a 14 hour bus ride due west of Buenos Aires. It sits at the eastern base of the Andes mountain range and is a very popular base for climbers from all over the world who attempt to summit Mt. Aconcagua, highest peak in Western Hemisphere. However, Mendoza is most well-known for its quality wine. What we didn't know was the quantity of quality wine they had, roughly 1200 vineyards/bodegas. Imagine for a second, Dani and I were only able to visit two bodegas which took about half a day, with an olive farm visit in between. You would have to visit 3-4 vineyards/day for a whole year to experience all of the wine that comes from Mendoza, at top ten wine capital of the world. In addition, this was the first wine tasting experience for both Danielle and I, so we let the wine take us in and make us feel warm as we retreated to feeling like little kids in a gigantic candy store.

Our next stop on the tour would leave us testing our patience for more vino as we pulled into an olive farm to see how olive oil is made along with tasting some of the region's finest fresh olives. I had never been much of an olive fan until I moved to Argentina and was forced against my will to try them, now I think of myself as the olive connoisseur. The powerful odor of olives greeted us upon arrival, which pre-Argentina would have made me gag but now had me salivating. We took a very brief tour to see how they converted olives into olive oil using a compression machine. The tour ended with my purchase of two big jars of olives, straight from the source. We also happened to meet another couple who were our age from San Diego (UCSD) who happened to be travelling South America together. Dani and the other girl knew a mutual friend.. (see Six Degrees of Separation post).Our departure from olive heaven meant we were going to our final vineyard, a small family winery that maintains a low profile and only specializes in red wines (vino tinto). Sounds like my kind of place. Cavas de Don Arturo was a very cute little family-operated bodega and the tour was much more intimate than other wine tours. One of the nieces, who happened to speak very good English, gave us a great tour and let us sample three of their four vinos (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah). The Merlot was supposedly their strongest wine, so undoubtedly I bought a bottle of their Merlot before leaving our last bodega of the tour.

(Dani and I praising Goddess of Wine) (Dani standing at hut entrance to best carne empanadas!)

Just when we thought our tour was over, our bus stopped in front of a cathedral, supposedly the first built in Mendoza. Dani and I took a quick gander but quickly escaped this part of the tour to go across the street to a little hut that had a huge fireplace. Our curiosity led us inside, fortunately, where the aroma of freshly made empanadas warmly welcomed us. First we bought two empanadas each, wow we underestimated the appetite all of that wine gave us. "Dos mas por favor," mmmm. At first I thought it was our appetite, then I realized what was really happening. We were consuming the best carne empanadas I've had in Argentina. By the end, Dani had 3 and I had indulged in 4 of them, yummers.

Something about Mendoza really grabs your taste buds, it's really hard to explain. Our appetite re-gathered itself and sent us to a great restaurant that had been previously recommended called El Palenque. Wow, one of the best dinners I've had in Argentina... just one more treat for the palate to add to the tick marks in Mendoza. If you love meat and you are lucky enough to find yourself in the wine capital of South America, clean your palate with any kind of the carne on the menu. But that's not it, what seemed to make all of our meals so delicous was this honey mustard sauce that was served with it all.. just ask for '... a la mostaza.' Every meal that we consumed seemed to be the best meal I've had in Argentina. The food in Buenos Aires doesn't even compare. The Mendocinos truly know how to clean the palate to fully compliment their abundance of fine vino.

Dani and I felt it was all too good to be true so we wanted to just test one more place to 'treat the palate' on our final day. There's no better way to treat the taste buds one last time in Mendocino fashion than where else?.. A chocolate factory!! It provided the proverbial icing on the cake that was the exclamation point to our yummy Mendoza experience. Historias y Sabores is a small little shop on the outskirts of Mendoza that makes their own chocolate, licors in assorted flavors such as banana chocolate, mint chocolate and dulce de leche among many other heart-warming snacks. Not surprisingly, Dani and I found ourselves once again like kids in the candy store. We wanted a sample of everything but we cut ourselves off after several samples to avoid the over-indulgence stereotype of North Americans. However, we did leave with enough chocolate, licors and absinthe to let our friends in Buenos Aires witness how sweet Mendoza is.
Needless to say, Dani and I rode the 14-hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires with our taste buds satisfied and our tummies full of Mendocino yum yum. All in all, Mendoza was a great reminder that fresh air really does exist, Buenos Aires pollution was turning me into a non-believer of good air.. ironically enough. I thank Dani for being such a fun and outstanding travel companion and an even more outstanding girlfriend. For those of you who have never been wine tasting, you should try it, I promise it will be a worthy experience. What I can't promise is that it will be as SWEET as Mendoza!

(Sunset leaving Mendoza)