Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The way back

To quote Sir Paul, it was a "long and winding road" on the way from Buenos Aires back to Santiago.  We could have easily stayed another year in South America, and kept heading south into the Patagonia region and further still to the Antarctic, but money was running low, family was beaconing, and we had a wedding to attend - OURS!  

We had an extra couple of weeks to spend in Santiago before our flight was scheduled to take us home.  Luckily for us, Amelia, one of the most generous and trusting people I've ever known, continued to open up her home for us to stay!  Without Amelia's help, we truly wouldn't have been able to afford the bottom leg of our trip.  Although we were using the current year (2011) Lonely Planet, there was a massive economic shift in Chile and Argentina after the time the book was published, resulting in a price inflation of up to 3 times what was published in our book (especially for bus travel).  This blew our budget right out of the water for the southern countries; however, we had a secret weapon in Amelia.  Amelia provided us with companionship in the Galapagos, an amazing experience at the observatory outside of Antofagasta, a place to stay in Santiago (I think we stayed at her house for over a month in total), and pure and true friendship that we will keep for a lifetime!  We still keep in touch with Amelia and hope that one day soon, our paths will cross again (we're itching to return the generosity that she showed to us).  

After our time in Santiago (spent drinking ourselves silly off of Chilean wine, shopping at the night-cat market, and maybe one or two more cafes con piernas) we caught our flight home.  Our adventure didn't end there; however, as our connecting flight ended up getting cancelled, stranding us in Cancun of all places!  There, we had to endure the hardship of having the airlines put us up at a resort for one last night of fun before real life started again.  It was a tough break :)

Over the course of 10 months, we travelled to exotic lands and saw amazing sights.  I still vividly remember landing in Cartagena, not knowing what to expect - hearing all the horror stories about the dangers of South America (Colombia in particular).  Going in with an open mind and an open heart, we found nothing joy, friendship, generosity, and an adventure of a lifetime.  Other than some of the crazy roads, I never once felt in danger during our travels!

I've been asked a number of times, "what was your favourite place?" and I honestly can't say.  Each leg of the trip was an incredible experience that I wouldn't trade for the world.  The beaches, festivals, and friendly people of Cartagena; our chance to play Indiana Jones and visit the Lost City, deep inside a Colombian jungle; getting fat off of pies and eating a 5 star meal with a spiritual leader in Otavalo; going to a Christmas concert in Quito; exploring the natural paradise that is the Galapagos;  living with a family and experiencing life on a Chocolate farm in Puerto Quito; playing Evel Knievel in Banos; becoming beach bums in Huanchaco and mountaineers in Huarez; shopping in Lima; ridding sand buggies in Huacachina; eating in Cusco; fulfilling my dream of proposing to my wife atop of Machu Picchu (that was a particularly good one); making a wedding dress with Lydia in La Paz; exploring deep into the Amazon jungle; taking a road trip with new friends through the Salar; seeing the stars in Antofagasta and then Paul McCartney in Santiago; drinking the Malbecs of Mendoza; seeing the waterfalls of Iguazu, the dancers of Buenos Aires, and the sunset in Colonia.  These are adventures I will hold next to my heart for the rest of my life.  

Even with all the adventures and exotic lands, it will be the people and the shared experiences that I will remember the most!  Above all else, I will remember my time spent with Lydia.  For close to 1 year, we were joined at the hip; literally spending every minute of every day together!  Of course we had a few spats here and there, but we never went to bed angry and we were always there for each other.  It doesn't get better than sharing a once in a lifetime trip with the one you love, and I was lucky enough to be able to make it the trip of trips with the woman of my dreams!

I cannot recommend travel enough.  See the world, eat the food, drink the wine, experience life (you only get one).  I remember when we were planning for this trip, most people thought that we had won the lottery.  How else could we afford such a trip?!?!?  We would always hear things like, "I wish I could do something like that" or "I could never afford something like that" and the fact of the matter is, YOU CAN!  Lydia and I saved for this trip with part-time jobs, while going to (and paying for) school, and that's it!  The only thing left to do after watching your budget for a while is to take that first step and leave everything else behind.  All it takes is planning and commitment!  If you pick the right country, you can live for just dollars a day and live like kings or queens!  

If there's one thing I hope people take from this blog, it's to not be afraid to get out and see the world.  I guarantee you will have the experience of a lifetime!

Thanks to everyone for sharing this experience with us!  Until our next journey!
- Tydia (Tyrone and Lydia Austen)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Colonia - Uruguay

Just a quick 1 hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires, Lydia and I decided to take a side trip to Colonia, Uruguay for a couple of days.  Am I ever glad that we did, as we found Colonia to be one of the most picturesque sleepy towns I've ever set eyes on.  In just the two days we spent there, we took around 5 times the photos that we took in the month that we spent in Buenos Aires... and Buenos Aires is stunning!  This place is just a freak of nature though for post card images everywhere you look!

That being said, the first thing we saw from the ferry wasn't all too scenic :S  Technically, this was taken off the boat on the Buenos Aires side though.  I have no idea what they're pumping out into the water, but it certainly doesn't look good!

That's more like it... though we're still on the Argentina side here :)

BC ferries may have the occasional lecture about dolphins and plankton during the trip between Victoria and Vancouver, but the ferry between Buenos Aires and Colonia has the forbidden dance of love!  Take that dolphins!

Sorry about the shoddy camera work here, but I was battling with an old lady over positioning to film the dancers!  I think she won.

Ok, so this is officially the first picture that actually takes place in sleepy Colonia.  Cobblestone, tree-lined streets, vintage buildings and cars, cafe's, old forts, oceans, birds, and the perfect mix of sun shinning down over the blue sky means that camera battery life is in high demand here in Colonia!

Having worked up an appetite during the ride over, we decided to have a light lunch before we got started exploring.

Mmmmmm salad!

There's really not much I can say about the next set of photos, other than Lydia and I had an absolute blast just walking around the town and taking it all in! 

Prepare the cannons!!!!!  

Colonia has a number of old forts and walls lining the old coastal town.  My guess is it's something pirate related.

Damn that town is beautiful!

Lydia and I found this cat saving us a seat at one of the street-side cafes.  There we got to partake in our first yerba mate experience.  Yerba mate is a very popular tea drink in Argentina and Uruguay.  It's essentially a copious amount of tea leaves piled up in a wooden cup, drank with a filtered metal straw.  You can only add a bit of water in at a time (since there's so many leaves in the cup), so you'll get a pitcher of hot water alongside the tea to keep re-filling the drink.  It's potent stuff.  After drinking it, you'll get quite a caffeine buzz (like head flying kind of buzz).

With their copious work breaks, you'll usually find the families sitting down with one another drinking their yerba mate together.  It's believed to be a social drink, never to be taken on the go.  You always have to sit down and enjoy it with your company (not such a bad idea), so we did just that!  Our company just so happened to be a cat though!

That didn't mean that she couldn't enjoy some yerba with us though!

By this time, I was flying from the yerba!  We loved it so much that we ended up taking home a couple of kilos of the stuff with us on our trip home (along with the special cup and metal filter straws).  It must have given the customs officials a bit of a start to see the large kilos of green leaves taped up in our bags! lol

I imagine that there will be several times in my life were I will look back at this exact moment!

Some gorgeous vintage cars lined the streets of the city.  I'm not sure if they were for decoration or function, but they definitely fit the scene there!  

The car pictured above was definitely decorative.  It was actually converted into a dining table at one of the local restaurants.  We were a bit stuffed from our prior 'salad', so we unfortunately didn't take that one in.  I'm not sure I would have fit anyhow!

I want to find this couple so that we can give them this picture!

The town didn't lose its alure at dusk.

One thing that I can't forget to mention is that by this time in the trip, Lydia and I were actually getting a little down on our spanish abilities.  It seemed that since we left Bolivia, we weren't able to keep up in conversations with the locals as much as we had in the previous countries.  Then in Colonia, while taking in the night shops, we ran into a sweet street jeweller, who we ended up talking with for hours.  We were both really confused by this.  Had our Spanish abilities finally come back out of the blue?  Later in the conversation, however, we found that the girl wasn't actually from Uruguay, rather she was from Colombia - hence the reason we could actually understand her!  The countries in the south of South America (i.e. Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay) each have unique and thick accents which makes understanding their people really difficult.  Seriously, it's like they're speaking a whole other language! 

The next day, Lydia and I continued to wander the streets, did a bit of shopping (for the worlds best alfajores and tea sets), and practiced our tango on the docks, before heading back to Buenos Aires and starting our long trip back home to Canada.  

Buenos Aires

Lydia and I spent about a month in Buenos Aires and thoroughly enjoyed the city!  The beautiful thing about Buenos Aires is that you don't have to get up to anything in particular to have fun.  You can easily spend weeks simply walking down the many streets in the city and absorbing the culture.  More than anywhere I've been, the culture of Buenos Aires is incredible.  It seems that in order to live in Buenos Aires, you have to be either a poet, a chef, a musician, a dancer, an actor, or all of the above.  Turn any corner and you'll find a street performer putting on a show or maybe just some locals who have decided to dance in the street.  As a result, for our Buenos Aires section, Lydia and I don't have any photos of any crazy activities (though I tried to go sky diving and was rejected on account of my apparent girth - by South American standards).  All our photos are from simply walking around and taking in the sights.  Something I could have continued to do in Buenos Aires for mucho mas anos!

After hibernating for the first 2 days (due to our epic travel debacle) and finding an appropriate residence to setup shop in Buenos Aires for a while, we decided to take a "free walking tour" of the city in order to get our bearings.  Above you can see our Joe Rogan'esc tour guide boasting about the size of the cantaloupes in the city.

Throughout the walking tour, we got to take in many of historic and beautiful buildings around the Argentinian capital.  We also learned much about the history of the city, including the not so distant "Dirty War", which lasted from the 60s to the mid 80s.  During the Dirty War the Argentinian government "disappeared" over 30,000 Argentinian residents - anyone who was suspected of socialism.  Not only are they still discovering new mass graves of these residents, who were often picked out of their homes, never to be found again, but there are also a number of groups working at re-pairing the orphaned or abducted children from these events with their blood relatives.  The children of the abducted were often sent to the camps or murdered alongside their parents; however, there were also many cases where the children were sent to live with officials and other members of the currupt regime.  Many of these children weren't/aren't even aware of their past, as they were raised as the blood of their abductors!  Several groups in Argentina (most notably the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (the plaza pictured below) work to reveal the truth behind such cases and expose the abductors and place the now adults back with their real families.  

Luckily, this dark past is now behind Argentina.  It is now a wonderful place to meet some remarkable people and explore the sights!

This building I thought looked a lot like the one from Moulin Rouge!

Another interesting thing we found on the walking tour (though I don't have a picture to prove it) is that we crossed the world's widest avenue - 9 de Julio Avenue!  This ave is about 20 lanes across and spans over 110m in width, essentially the length of an American football field, including the end zones!  Try J-walking that one!

As I mentioned earlier, the bulk of what we did in Buenos Aires is just walk around the city, eat great food and take in the culture.  Often, you could combine eating and art by going to one of the many cafes that offered live entertainment.  The video above was taken in a small cafe outside of our hostel.  While we ate our copious amounts of meat, various performers would take the stage and demonstrate their craft.  Dancers, singers, jugglers, all were entertaining! 

The above video was taken of a particularly cute dancing couple, whose average age between the two of them was likely about 95 years old.  Man could they still move though!  Below is a video of Pinoccio - the later years (after he started hitting the bottle).  These are two of the typical scenes you can take in by just walking down the cobblestone streets of Buenos Aires!

I've never seen so many antique shops and markets as I have in Buenos Aires.  Basically, if it's not an antique shop, it's a cafe!


Check out these awesome antique clothes!

Buenos Aires also made Lydia very happy by having a central cat park, combining her love for flowers and CATS!!!

One rather beautiful side trip we made in Buenos Aires was a visit their Japanese garden.

It was a great place for deep contemplation.

Artistic Lydia - post contemplation.

Lydia was able to have her wedding dress tailored in La Paz, so continuing with the trend of custom-made South American wedding apparel, I decided to have my tux made in Buenos Aires.  While we waited for the suit alterations, we also took a number of tango lessons to prepare ourselves for the big day!

The final theme to our Buenos Aires adventure was the end to the Canucks 2011 playoff run.  We managed to find a bar in Buenos Aires that was actually playing the games, meaning we were able to watch the SCF on the big screen (as opposed to my typical iphone viewing experience)!  Hidden away in the background of the above picture is our Buenos Aires travel buddy, Linda, who we met in Mendoza (on the wine tour), and got to watch the Canucks games with.

I thought the boys had it in the bag.  Not only were they up 3-2 in the series, but I kept seeing omens around Buenos Aires.  For instance, did you know that Kevin Bieksa is a fragrance model in South America?

Also, we found Bobby Lu in a Buenos Aires cafe, working his side job as bola juggler?

It turns out, fate was just playing a cruel trick on me.  For the second time in a row, the Canucks made it all the way to game 7 of the SCF, only to fall just short in the end.    

2014, here we come - Go Nucks?!?!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Santa Fe

I have mixed feelings about Santa Fe.  On one hand, we had a fair bit of fun while we were there.  On the other hand, it started off and ended up on the wrong foot!  Santa Fe is an industrial type town, with shipping, factories, etc.  Not your typical tourist destination.  We simply chose to (attempt to) spend the night there to break up the long journey between Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires.  

After about a 15 hour bus ride, we arrived at Santa Fe in the morning.  Not getting the best sleep on the bus, Lydia and I wanted to check into a hotel right away to get some rest.  Out of the bus terminal, we walked around and found several hotels, but most were either closed or full.  We finally found one that was open and took a room right away (by this point, exhausted and desperately wanting some sleep).  Problem was, after we were shown into our closet of a budget room, I closed the door and immediately shouted to Lydia, "Don't sit on the bed!!!!".  Why?  Because there was a used condom laying on the floor!  Blagh!!!!!!!!  

If I haven't mentioned this before, I'll mention this now.  Most of South America has a custom where the adult males live with their parents pretty much forever.  As a result, it becomes quite difficult to have sexy time with their "putas", when mom and dad are watching TV in the next room :S  As a result, hotel/motels serve two purposes in South America.  They cater to the tourists by allowing beds for the night, but they also cater to the locals, as a place for some nooky - sin parents!  Anyway, this doesn't bother me too much, as long as they keep things squeaky clean.  I cannot say this hotel passed the squeaky clean test.  According to my books, a used condom on the floor is an automatic fail!  

After spotting the soiled man balloon, I darted back to the front desk and literally dragged the manager into the room to scold him like a puppy that just had an accident (short of smacking him on the nose).  We then (not so politely) asked for our money and bags back, as we decided that we weren't going to be staying the night there.

Now exhausted, with nowhere to stay, we had to figure out a game plan.  We decided to go back to the bus terminal and try to make it to the next town, Parana, where we thought we might have better luck getting a place to stay.  We got our bus tickets for later that day, and we managed to find some showers at the bus terminal to freshen up and catch a second wind so that we could have some fun in Santa Fe.  As a result, after the showers, we sought the most appealing thing that Santa Fe had to offer...

BEER!!!!  What better way to spend a day with 24+ hour insomia delusions than to take in a brewery tour?  We hit up the Schneider Brewery (Argentina's 3rd largest beer producer) for a really fun tour.

We toured around the factory to see the beer being produced.

Learned about the history of Schneider beer.

... and drank a lot of beer!  I've been on a lot of brewery tours in my day and this one had one thing that separated it from other tours I've done...

Beer goodie bags!!!!!  After taking the free tour and drinking the free beer, they actually hand each person a bag full of freaking beer to take home!  How cool is that!?!  I think there were like 4 beer per bag!

With a bit of a buzz on, we then went to appropriately watch The Hangover 2 in the local theatre.  Then, in the evening we caught the bus to Parana (now up around 40 hours) to try to find a free hotel.  Problem was, we had the same luck in Parana as we did in Santa Fe (minus the condom experience).  After like 2 hours of walking around, we still couldn't find anywhere to sleep (a first on our trip)!  Now we were getting full on crazy for being up 2 days in a row and made the judgement call to just keep on keeping on to Buenos Aires (about a 7 hour bus ride from Parana).  By the time we got into Buenos Aires and navigated the massive city to find a local hostel, we were approaching around 50-60 hours of being awake.  That first sleep in Buenos Aires was one of the best in my life!!!