It took us a bit of time to put the finishing touches on it (not to mention upload the 1GB video using Bolivian Internet...), but feast your eyes on a trip summary of the first few weeks of the journey! This covers Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to El Calafate, Argentina.
It's time for us to leave BA and head south to Patagonia! We went out with a bang!
Morning run along the canal again. We included some sprints this time to make it more challenging! Some showers and general clean-up at home and it was time to head out to the Plaza Dorrego market.
The market is in the San Telmo area of the city and happens on Sundays. I was expecting a lot of "handmade" trinkets and general tourist stuff, but I was surprised to find it full of neat antiques, art, and more. Sandra picked up a mate straw. Mate is kind of a tea mixture that people drink a lot of around here. The straw is special in that it includes a filter for the tea, so Sandra can use it for tea back home. A neat purchase for about 3 CAD! We also found an amazing leather company by the name of AWAX selling gorgeous bags of all kinds. Of course we can't really carry any more weight with us, but I'm sure we would have picked some things up were we back in Canada. A bit painful to have to walk away from beautiful things! We also paused to listen to a great traditional tango band called El Afronte. I think their music would make an incredible soundtrack to a video game!
We rode the Metro for the first time today. The stations were all full of hand-painted tiles, which was neat to see. And the escalator stairs were covered in wooden slats. Old school.
After the market we went straight to Plaza Italia to celebrate Aussie Dave's birthday/Australia Day! We had a frisbee, some meat/cheese/bread spreads, desserts... and a set of 1L Quilmes beers that make me feel like a Captain of Industry! You can't not feel like a hero drinking from a novelty-sized 1L beer bottle. After a few hours of good chatting and sweaty frisbee we retreated home to pack up and get ready to head back out for more dinner celebrations. Unfortunately the frisbee was sweaty enough that I was forced to toss a red shirt that we discovered was leaking dye all over me. I looked like I had a bizarre rash all around my armpits and neckline. Turns out it's just a bad shirt. So I'm down one article of clothing and saving weight as we go!
Late night empanadas and more drinks at the hostel. Then back home for a few hours of sleep before our flight in the morning!
We've just now gotten off the bus at the airport for our flight. Our shuttle bus driver collected everybody's baggage tickets when we got off. And promptly threw them on the ground before departing. I really don't understand why anybody thinks that's an acceptable thing to do! Littering still ain't cool, folks!
We're now headed south to El Chalten. It's going to be a long day with a connecting flight down there followed by a bus north to El Chalten. We're there for a couple of nights, then to El Calafate again, then Puerto Natales. It's going to be a bit more intense for at least the next week! Wish us luck!
Just a nice walk around the city today to see some areas we haven't visited yet. Some beautiful architecture in the city. Some interesting signs too, like ones that directly translate to "Sorry for the molestation" when a public area is under construction. I've had a few things built up here that I wanted to mention, some of which go back to Brazil. Sorry they don't match up with our geographical location at the moment, but I have some time to write in the random thoughts that didn't fit anywhere else.
The famous Brazilian flip-flops are Havaianas. They're popular the world over. But awesomely enough, tons of Brazilians wear them too! It's like a bunch of Canadians walking around in Roots gear. So at least I don't feel like a crazy tourist wearing mine. Good news.
My favourite word I've learned in Portuguese so far is saudade. Pronounced "sow-DAD-jay". First off, it just sounds sexy. It means "the act of missing a person". Kind of like the English "longing" or "nostalgia", but it must be directed at a person. The best part is, you can use the word as a noun. So you can have saudade about somebody. I think it's a great concept that doesn't directly translate but is quite beautiful.
The little Portuguese I learned was honed in Rio. This is a problem. People in Rio are called "carioca" (or "cariocas" for more than one). Everybody who's not from Rio hates cariocas. Also, people from Rio speak with a Rio accent. So when I learned how to say the plural of real (or reais, which is the Brazilian currency), I learned to say it as "hay-EYE-sh". Pronouncing the "R" like an "H" is pretty normal in Brazil, but the "sh" sound instead of the "s" sound is definitely 100% carioca. So then when we went to other areas of the country and I tried to use my newfound Portuguese, people had a mild hate-on for me due to my city-boy pronunciation. Damnit, Brazil!
Brazil was very fond of what can only be described as plastic napkins. You'd eat out at a restaurant and be given what might as well be slices of a garbage bag. You're expected to wipe your face with these, somehow. Unfortunately their noticeable lack of absorption power meant you just ended up moving food around on your face instead of wiping anything. This cultural phenomenon has got to go.
We'd also notice a ton of stores with their doors wide open in 40 degree weather. Blasting their air conditioning. Almost every store did this. I can't even imagine the utility bills these places have to pay! Why can't you just plop a door on your place like all of the other places in the world where the outdoor temperature isn't necessarily desirable as an indoor temperature?
Lots of songs in Brazil seemed to be direct copies of big US singles but with Portuguese words inserted by a different artist. It's like karaoke. But these are their top hits. Here's an hilarious example. Listen to the track on the left. If it's not immediately obvious to you what the track is, listen to the one on the right. Goodness knows if these cats are paying royalties for this stuff, but it's pretty funny regardless.
A common "function over form" tactic in Brazil to deal with the heat was the infamous "roll the shirt up over the belly" manoeuvre for men. Too hot? Roll that shirt up. Just over the belly, though. Don't expose those nipples -- let's keep it PG and cool ourselves down at the same time. Everybody wins! I didn't really try to catch anybody in the act with a camera, but we've certainly seen our fair share of offenders. Maybe I'll try bringing it back to Canada.
Now onto something Argentinian we've found. Or at least, something we've noticed in Buenos Aires. It hasn't rained since we've been here, but darned if you're not constantly getting spat upon while you walk the streets. By AC units. Everywhere! There are all of these huge buildings with AC units hanging out and dropping condensation all over the place. It's bizarre to feel these icy cold drops landing on you in the scorching heat. Sometimes they come down as big fat droplets. Other times it's a pleasant mist. But it's almost inescapable!
Another difficulty of navigating the city as a pedestrian is the number of one-way streets and corresponding lack of signage. Handy "yes, you can walk man" signs are not very common, so you have to guess at whether it's your turn to walk based on whether the traffic appears to be moving in your direction. This can obviously change at a moment's notice, so it's not a perfect system. Compounding this issue is the fact that because there are so many one-way streets, you can't see a green light for the cars headed in your direction, so you're really just guessing as to whether or not it's your turn to go!
In terms of fashion, Sandra has noticed that super-chunky sandals are quite the rage here in BA. Big platform sandals. Like you took a pair of Birkenstocks and resoled them 28 times without removing the previous unworn soles. Sandra's convinced people are insecure about their height here. Easy for Captain Talls-a-lot to say.
We completed our first "blue market" money exchange today. We got about 41% above the government rate for the peso by trading in a bunch of Brazilian money. That's how it works here! I guess maybe we should have brought more cash, because this rate makes the country a lot cheaper to travel in. But then you're taking the risk of travelling around with pockets full of money. Generally considered bad form in the risk management department.
Tomorrow we celebrate our Aussie friend Dave's birthday! It sounds like the plan is frisbee in a park followed by some good Argentinian steak. I'm looking forward to it because I haven't really had any yet. It's oatmeal and yogurt for your frugal travellers!
This morning, we joined up with our Aussie buds (and some others -- Leo (UK) and Charlene (France) from the dinner last night) at the Plaza San Martin. We had our eyes on a free walking tour. The tour guide (Adam) was fantastic and we had a blast! We learned:
We were taken through the famous Recoleta cemetery to visit the grave of Evita Peron. There's quite a lengthy story about how after her death her body was sent to Italy to stop locals from gathering at her grave site and continuing to support Peronist ideals. It took many years before her body was returned to Argentina.
After the walking tour was complete (and most of our party was suitably sunburned), we dropped into a small brew pub called Buller's for some grub. Pizzas, burgers, salads, and beer all around.
Sandra and I walked home and had a bit of relaxo-time back at the apartment. We went back out to grab some groceries and snacks for the trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay tomorrow. It'll be a long ferry ride there and back, but it should be interesting!
Fairly uneventful day today. We ran the length of the Puerto Madero today. Running is a lot easier when it's only 25 degrees out, as opposed to the 30+ degrees we were melting in back in Rio. Our Airbnb apartment also ran into difficulties when the gas was cut off in the building. The owner moved us to another property she had available, but that was a bit of an interruption for us. At least now we can have a hot shower and cook in something other than a microwave!
We wandered over to the main strip in Buenos Aires that's supposed to be the widest street in the world. It is indeed wide. Bang in the centre of it is the "Obelisk" that you might associate with the city. It's very neat to see, but it is a bit of a pain crossing 20+ lanes as a pedestrian. It takes several stages of crossing.
Sandra has noticed that big, chunky sandals are all the rage here. Platform sandals. She is not pleased with this fashion trend. Also popular is smoking. And whistled cat-calls. And sleeping on benches (siestaaa!). That being said, Buenos Aires is a beautiful city and we're enjoying ourselves immensely!
When we were only a few hours outside of Buenos Aires, our bus was stopped by a group of military police. They boarded the bus and started checking over documents. Everything was going well until they peeked inside the bags of two younger guys a few rows up from us. They smelled something funny. Weed. The two gents were summarily removed from the bus while the officers looked through their checked bags. The entire process took about an hour, wherein they were taken physically into the border checkpoint and then released. They made it back on the bus, but who knows what the consequences were! On the bright side, during our time outside waiting for this process to complete, we met two great Aussies named Jess and Dave!
Upon arrival, we walked to our Airbnb place to check in. Many elevators in Buenos Aires are of the old style wherein the user must close an outer and inner door manually for the elevator to function. They're fun and old-timey, but they're also tiny. Sandra and I barely managed to squeeze in with our bags still on our backs. We couldn't move on the way up to our floor and could barely push the buttons!
For dinner, we met up with our newfound Aussie friends and some other friends of theirs at a restaurant called Siga La Vaca in the Puerto Madero area. It's just a nice 3km walkway along the waterfront with a whole ton of restaurants. The dinner was a fixed price buffet that included a whole bunch of Argentinian meats straight off the grill and 1L of beer or wine. So everybody got their own bottle of wine! Well, technically I stuck with the mini-pitcher of beer, but I made Sandra get the wine so I could double up. Travelling smart over here!
The dinner grew in attendance as other hostel friends continued to show up. By the time we left, we had a group of about 12 that all wandered over to a bar. Sandra had a sip of "Fernet and Soda". Fernet is a drink primarily consumed in Argentina and Italy. Sandra was not a fan. I was stupid and didn't have a sip, so now we'll have to order it again somewhere else. We've heard it's better with Coke, so maybe that'll be the approach next time.
Back on track with the running today -- 5km around a large military camp near Jason's place (where we spent our last night). Sandra insisted on having a last blast at the Acai place, so we hunkered down and both ordered the same thing we'd been ordering for the past few days. We're both pretty big fans of the stuff, obviously!
The company we had organized to bus with was fairly "full service" -- they came to pick us up in a van taxi on the Brazilian side of the border, shuttle us across to Argentina where the bus station was located, and then hook us up with tickets for the ride from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires. Eighteen hours of glory, my friends!
Upon getting on the bus, we found that the two ladies behind us were Irish: Aoife and Dervla. They were both super nice occupational therapists on a multi-month South American journey of their own. We struck up a great conversation, much of which consisted of them talking about how much better this "cama" style seating on our bus was than the junk heap they got to Puerto Iguazu on. You could recline almost fully, and the seats were quite wide. Not a bad overnight bus, all in all.
My favourite aspect was probably the enroute menu. After being on the bus no more than 15 minutes, the first part of the "meal" arrived. Whisky. Yes, a gentleman walked down the aisles offering whisky to all of the passengers. Not something like "Would you like a beverage?" or even "Is there a certain kind of alcohol you might enjoy?", just "Whisky?". Sure! I was the only one in our group to partake, but I've gotta say it's a great way to start a bus ride. Then the meal arrived. Not much to say there. It was fairly plain. However, along with the meal we got some vino tinto. That's red wine, gringos! Ice cold red wine for everybody! Pretty rough stuff, but hey, free wine right?! Once dinner was complete... well, time for a round of champagne for everybody! These guys are definitely trying to run a party bus company. They're just missing a great soundtrack and lighting system. But they're great at getting everybody hammered.
The entertainment was lacking, to say the least. Everybody gets to watch such blockbusters as "Grace of Monaco", then "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", then "Automata". But there's no volume. And the plug-in sound system doesn't work. And when they try to turn on the volume, a very unfortunate buzzing like an improperly tuned FM radio plugged into a failing amplifier comes out. Somehow it's below the threshold of volume required to alert the driver on the level below us, so the horrific noise continues until a complaint is made and the sound is muted. So now you just watch the scenes from the film and try to intuit the goings-on from the Portuguese subtitles. It's a remarkably good way to learn a language.
It wasn't long before we were dozing off. Only to be awakened by incredible rain, hail, thunder, and lightning. The bus was being hammered by torrential downpour and ice stones. It was shaking and everything was flashing and it was loud. The scrolling electronic marquee at the front of the bus that would tell you when the washroom was occupied instead showed a message stating that the maximum allowable speed of the bus was being exceeded. I fell back to sleep.
We made it to Buenos Aires alive.