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Published: March 14th 2007
It's been more than 2 weeks since I last updated, and I apologize...traveling is kind of crazy sometimes, allowing little time to breathe or relax, and when there is that time, I usually just want to go to sleep, or do simple things like take a shower and recharge (batteries, body, etc.).
I'm going to try to get Aaron to add his two cents in this entry, since he obviously has a somewhat different perspective on the same events! He's currently indisposed, playing with Paige (well, keeping her busy, anyhow!).
Aaron on 'my two cents': "In other words, over the last two weeks we've been spending the majority (and by "majority", I mean "all") of our time doing the exciting things that will ultimately provide material for us to describe in this blog, instead of blogging. I my mind, that is time well spent. However, that's not to say that we haven't tried to update all of you on our adventures south of the equator...it's simply that we've taken a strange routine as of late: prioritizing hygiene and sleep over blogging!"
Right now, we're in Bariloche, staying with a wonderful family: The Hartwells (Michelle, Tony, Ellie, and Paige).
Garganta del Diablo!!
Tourists came face to face with the devils themselves...
Michelle swam with the Mudsharks (Sharlene van Boer's swim team), and that connection has turned out to be incredible for us. Last year, they decided to leave their native home of Petaluma, CA, and head out to Argentina, mostly for Ellie and Paige, who are 11 and 9 respectively, so that they could learn Spanish and have an experience abroad. They first lived in Buenos Aires for 2 months, and then traveled around Argentina for a month, and now have been living in Bariloche, a town of about 120,000 people that is located in the northern lake district of Argentine Patagonia (the city itself is situated on a huge lake--apparently, 5 Buenos Aires can fit inside this lake; and Buenos Aires is a city of 16 million people). It works out, since Michelle runs her own business in refinancing and contacts people on Skype, and Tony is able to homeschool the kids with his teaching credential. (I mostly wrote this to make it clear how easy it is to live abroad, and how amazing an experience it can be for the entire family). I also have to publicly thank them for their eternal patience, generosity, and advice on backpacking trips!
Iguacu takes recycling seriously.
It's important to recycle-reduce-reuse; especially in areas suffering from a water shortage.
Aaron: "It's true! Just as Robyn noted, I also still can't believe how great of an experience for a family living, studying, and working abroad can be. Now, I understand that many are unable to simply "uproot" their families due to job, academic, and extra-curricular constraints, but if you can find a way to somehow make it work, then let the Hartwell family be a of how to do it successfully. The three main aspects (although, of course there are more) that have enabled the Hartwell's to get the most out of their experience living abroad are the following: 1) Michelle's ability to run her business over the internet, basically enabling her to conduct day-to-day operations from virtually anywhere on the planet; 2) Tony's ability to homeschool their two children, which not only allows them to skip over the hassle of enrolling their children in a foreign school, but also gives them a classroom with a set of "limitations" alike to Michelle's business...non-existant; 3) both of their kids being at a perfect age to travel abroad (Paige is 9, Eleanor is 11), as their young minds are like sponges focused on soaking up the unique language, culture and experiences
We didn't find out until later that it was the waterfalls people were taking pictures of...not us.
around them, rather than on raising hell on their parents. Thus, by combining all three key ingredients you get a lean, mean, mobile, self-sustaining, education machine (with a disposable income continuously flowing in...unlike us)."
But---to catch up on where I left off: visiting Iguacu Falls (Cataratas de Iguacu). First of all, the bus ride there was amazing (as have been all the long 15-20 hour bus rides we've taken)--a "bus attendant" (always male) starts you off with candy, then coffee, then a meal (forget about trying to stay a vegetarian), then wine, whisky, or champagne, then breakfast in the morning. All this while you lounge back in huge chairs and can watch one or all of the several movies that are playing (some American ones that I've never heard of, but some that are actually pretty good!).
Aaron on Robyn's opinion of the movies shown on the Argentine long-distant buses: "Although Robyn is probably refering to the higher quality movies shown during our time in transit, such as 'Thank you for Smoking' and the one about the Coast Guard Academy with Kevin Costner and the guy from 'That 70's Show'...I'm not ashamed to admit that our guilty-pleasure was
Speechless, except for three letter words.
a flick that centered around the antics of two pre-teen s, bound and determined to do everything in their capability (that's realistically possible of course...I mean, this is Hollywood afterall) to rescue their mermaid friend from an arranged marraige set up her totalitarian father (played by Poisidon) by manipulating the local hunky beach lifeguard (a David Hasselhoff Jr...if you will) into falling in love with their mutant fish-tailed friend...not Oscar caliber, but entertaining non-the-less. In fact, I could tell by the sound of Robyn's snores that she enjoyed the movie just as much as I did!
Once we stepped off the bus in Puerto de Iguacu (the town nearest to the national park), the heat was even more heavy, wet, and inescapable than it was in Buenos Aires. Perfect mosquito breeding climate (luckily, I had Colleen's advice about garlic pills--I haven't gotten another bite yet!). We somehow found our hostel, after trudging down several streets, cobbled with jagged rocks and all the same reddish iron-tinted color of the dirt, and lathered our skin with a concoction of sunblock and bug repellent, which mixed with the sweat of course. Oiled up, settled in, and after booking a tour for the
Coati in action
The antithesis of sloths--these guys are on a virtual 24/7 sugar high off the nectar of guava!
next day through the hostel, we went back into town to catch the next bus into the national park (8 pesos both ways--that's a little less than $3 round trip). As is our style, we barely made it onto the bus in time.
On the bus, we made friends with some Spaniards and a couple Argentines who sympathized with us about the heat, and continued to travel with us on the small train that carries the multitude of tourists to and from different "stations" in the park. Most of the people working around the Iguacu area seemed to be impressed that we spoke any Spanish--maybe because most of the tourists try to communicate just in English (while it may work in Europe, either you get blank stares, or someone will answer you in English anyway if they sense you're struggling with Spanish).
We arrived at the station Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil), and began to walk across the steel structured pathways that traversed over the enormous Iguacu river and through jungle-like islands filled with insects buzzing loudly, while getting literally "hit on" by the plethora of multicolored flirtatious butterflies. We took our time walking along this
trail, taking lots of pictures, and even spotting a small Caiman (Amazonian crocodile) in the water!
As we approached the waterfall called Garganta del Diablo, we could see mist rising in clouds and hear the distant roar of water (how much, we couldn't have had any idea). To add to the suspense and slight impending doom, the cloud-filled skies over the rainforest began to create their own thunder (it tended to rain on and off every few hours).
When we finally stared down into the tons of rushing water, mist and wind spattering our faces and clothes, we could hardly believe what we saw. I was truly in awe. I've never seen anything like these waterfalls in my life, and was simply astounded. Obviously, words cannot describe the experience of seeing the Cataratas, and if you want to see them, you'll have to experience them for yourself to understand (I'd reccommend it!!).
On the bus ride back to Puerto Iguacu, we heard the 3 s sitting in front of us speaking what sounded like Swedish. So Aaron asked them in Swedish if they were Swedish. They thought we were Danish because of our accent (learned in southern
ALL TERRAIN VEHICLE
Does "ALL TERRAIN" better describe the vehicle behind us, or...AARON AND ROBYN???!!!
Sweden, which isn't technically Sweden, if you ask the Swedes themselves--it's more like an offshoot of Denmark...meaning it sounds like you're talking with a wad of flem stuck in the back of your throat). We ended up having dinner with them, sharing stories and talking about politics, traveling, and the like. Also, if you're reading this, Becca and Lo, thanks for the advice on Uruguay--read on and you'll see what happened to us there!
In pursuit of an ATM (it's definitely always a quest to find one around here, but ironically, hardly any places take credit cards, so you always need to have "efectivo"--cash--on you), Aaron and I heard the strange noise of loud drums. We followed the sound, and came across a sort of rag tag marching band playing large to small drums in the street. People gathered around to watch, listen, and dance. The beats they had going were infectious, and drew a large crowd while small shoeless children scampered around, chasing each other with shaving cream. Just as this one group had finished, another one started playing in a circle--a more militant, straight beat than the more syncopated, rhythmic one that seemed more suitable for dancing
Welcome to Uruguay...
...The most unwelcoming country in South America...
that the other group played. We couldn't have stumbled across a more vibrant expression of culture and music in the streets if we tried!
Aaron on the drum circle: "Immediately upon hearing the dynamic and sensuous rhythms punctuated in syncopation from the local drum groups I felt strangely, yet almost instinctively compelled to let the reverberations manifest themselves through my body in a wild and expressive form of dance. However, after catching several of Robyn's horrified looks and repeated attempts to restrain me from carrying out what I though was only my best theatrical performance, I decided it would be best to stop before I hurt myself...or others."
When we got back to the hostel, we had a long conversation with some Israelis (they love traveling to Argentina, for some reason), and had an interesting (if somewhat uncomfortable) talk about the requirement for both men and women to serve in the Israeli army, as well as touching slightly (but not too much) on religion and politics.
We got up early on Sunday for our tour that we had booked, and arrived (once again, in classic Robyn and Aaron style) barely on time to climb onto the huge
Eating like kings and queens
Colonia, Switzerland (at least it seemed like that with this giant fondue feast).
all-terrain vehicle that jolted and bumped its way through the rainforest on the way to meeting up with a boat. I learned that palmitos (one of my favorite vegetables served in lots of salads down here) are actually endangered, the edible part being a small section of the miniature style palm tree. The boat sped through the water, bringing us right up to the waterfalls, and at a couple points, underneath them (needless to say, we were soaked)! A Hawaiian couple took some pictures of us with their waterproof camera, and promised to send them to us. It was amazing to have another view of the indescribable falls from below them.
Aaron on the our "extemely wet" tour of Iguazu: "The official name of the tour Robyn and I booked was called 'pasaporte verde': a package deal that provided two different perspectives of experiencing Iguazu: the first half consisted of an adrenaline pumping speed-boat driven madly by an apparent who got his thrills from semi-drowning vulnerable tourists (aka 'his victims") by repeatedly thrusting us into the thunderous splash-zone of the titanic falls coming from above. In other words, it was AWESOME!!! The second half, almost as if designed as
Looks different at 4 in the afternoon as opposed to 4 in the morning!
a form of R&R from the morning drenching, consisted of a silent eco-exploration of the flora and fauna in and around some of the tranquil and lush tributaries of Iguazu (which Robyn will further detail in the passage to come). A pretty compatible pair, don't you think?"
Then, we made our way around all the other trails that weaved in and out of the rainforest, with views of the waterfalls that never ceased to amaze. At one point, we were walking on a particular trail to get to our next "ecological tour", and we were shocked to see tons of Coatis scurrying around close and in plain sight, scarfing down guavas.
Aaron on Coatis: "These guys are like the racoons of Iguazu...yet, as fearless as dogs and as ravenous as rabbits. Without hesitation they will scurry around your feet, almost oblivious to your existence and close proximity, in a furious rampage toward the next guava tree. Then, in a frenzy these curious creatures will devour every guava fruit in sight, as if they were scarce to the region, in attempt to appease their insatiable hunger. In my opinion, these four-legged scavengers are sugar-addicts desperately seeking their next fix...yet
You're looking at the highlight of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
in a proud and almost patriotic manner, consistently tramping about with their long, striped tails held taut high in the air."
The ecological tour was tranquil and relaxing, in comparison to the huge speedboat we were on earlier that morning. We were the only English speakers on the boat, so our Spanish skills really came in handy speaking to the Argentine guide and tourists on the boat. We saw another Caiman, a gigantic brightly colored (and apparently poisonous) caterpillar, a toucan, and some beautiful trees shaded the boat as it started to rain.
We left the national park and Iguacu on a bus headed back down to Buenos Aires, satisfied and awed by the incredible displays of nature we had had the opportunity to see. We had the great pleasure of getting stuck in traffic for 3 hours because of a huge that had occurred on the freeway, as a small mutiny erupted with some international students who were on the bus with us, dissatisfied with the service. They took it upon themselves to serve the rest of the drinks and champagne to everyone. We made friends with a New Yorker whose 30th birthday it was on the
We met up with David, and made our plans to go to Uruguay that day. We took the Buquebus (strangest name ever for a ferry) in the early evening across to Colonia, a small historical town, and spent the night in a dorm that we shared with a from Colombia named Katarina.
Aaron on his first Mate experience/night bike adventure: "Although Robyn had already turned in for the evening, David and I felt a sense of urgency to continue our exploration of Colonia...on bikes!!! Thus, we headed deep into the night/earlier morning doing a little sight-seeing on our own, without the nuisance of other tourists around. After realizing that the "old town" was more of an "old street", and could be covered entirely and extensively in about an hour, we decided to head down to the beach to test other "waters". It was there, on a small peninsula near the historic lighthouse, that we met a gathering of some local Uruguayan fishermen ritualistically sipping Yerba Mate, the national drink of several South American countries that has a whole culture and etiqeuette of its own. After striking up conversation and thuroughly expressing our discontent with the current international
Hand in the Sand?
We never could find the head.
behavior of the United States, David and I had finally found hospitality in this, otherwise, anti-American country. We shared some laughs, we shared some stories, but most memorable of all (like many first-time experiences), we shared a cup of Mate...
After some confusion with the check out time (we were able to negotiate the extra price that they had tacked on by paying with US Dollars--no surprise there), we had a huge delicious lunch with fondue (which cost about $11 for 2 people). Then, we explored the old town, with remnants of Spanish and Portuguese influence; both countries had been striving for sovereignty over the prized location on the bay. The town is quaint, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and generally underwhelming, but with some pretty cobblestone streets reminiscent of 17th century Europe.
Aaron on UNESCO World Heritage Sites: "I'm curious, and very interested in researching exactly 'what' entails a 'UNESCO W.H.S. and who is the 'decider' (Bush???) on which places qualify."
Next, we took 2 buses over to Punta del Este, a fairly large beach resort city (it reminded us of Honolulu), which we took to calling "Punta del Capitalismo" because of the VISA logos
on every single street sign. Katarina was on the same bus with us, and came with us to the hostel we stayed at, with a really friendly atmosphere. We went to Moby Dick, a popular bar that served "Grappa con Miel", a Uruguayan specialty shot that tasted sweet, but was definitely "effective".
The next day we went to the beach and traded off time laying in the sun or body surfing in the waves. We stayed out for about 4 hours, and only realized later that despite our sunblock efforts (which we had been diligently applying every single day--that's for you, Mom), Aaron and I were, in fact, the whitest people on the beach, and soon became the reddest. David was hit hardest, since he didn't put on any sunscreen!
Aaron on body surfing: "I think Robyn is part fish...we could hardly carry on a conversation out there in the waves because of her bouyancy."
We rushed to the bus station, just in time to get a bus to Punta del Diablo. The bus took about 3 hours, and it dropped us off in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Apparently, we had to walk about
Looking for a place to stay? So are we...
These beach houses look exactly like the ones we stayed in...only 10 kilometers closer to town...Oh yeah, and they have street signs, too.
6 kilometers to get into town. It was getting dark, and there were no lights on the streets. Quite an adventure...but only the beginning: after we got into town, it was a whole other adventure trying to find a place to stay. We had to ask people in random little markets who were outside drinking mate in the yellow light, if they knew anyone who "alquila cabanas", since this was the cheapest way to stay there. We were re-directed to about 2 other people after each time we asked. After 2 hours, we ended up at the same place we started, sunburnt, tired, and sweaty. A man who had been sipping mate called his brother, who sent a woman in a car to drive us to a random area out of town that had several cabanas. We settled for it--$20 for the three of us to have our own place.
We got back into town and had dinner, wondering how crazy we had been to come to Uruguay and this surreal tiny beach town with stray dogs that constantly wandered the unpaved roads. We had some cheap wine, and started to head back to our cabana, when we realized
Trashy, yet....no, just trashy.
Note the stray dog and beached boats in the background.
that we had no clue where we were going. And then it started to rain. Things just seemed to get worse when we realized that in the darkness we had taken the road that we had taken to get into town...and we had to walk all the way back. In total, I think we walked about 12 kilometers that entire night!
After spending the night on beds without sheets or blankets (which of course feels great on sunburns), we walked back into "town" to try to figure out when we could catch the bus back to Montevideo to get back to Buenos Aires. The "bus station" was really a kiosk that had another small counter to buy bus tickets at. We discovered soon after that that there were no ATMs anywhere in the vicinity (one person told us that there was one "nearby"--in Montevideo), and that we had no more Uruguayan pesos on us. We worked out a deal with a restaurant that let us have some waters, and then served as an "exchange" where I used the last of my Argentine pesos to exchange for Uruguayan pesos to pay for our bus ticket out of there. We got to do a little more exploring, passing by closed shops and we eventually found a place that served small quiches (only), which we had for brunch, paying with our remaining pesos after buying the bus tickets.
Even though Punta del Diablo was kind of "devilish" to us in the way that we had some unfortunate circumstances there, Aaron brought up that it was the first place that we could consider truly "South American"--we definitely couldn't find another place like this anywhere else. Plus, the beaches with their sand dunes and grasses were beautiful to see, along with the sleepy corrugated buildings that slumped over the coast.
Aaron on why Punta del Diablo was truly "South American": "Now, don't take this statement in the wrong way. It's not like all of the other places we've traveled to so far have not been 'South American'. In fact, what really is 'South American' anyway?! However, my intentions were to solely point out the apparent lack of presence of 'Western culture' along with our international corporations, 24/7 access to funds (or any access whatsoever), paved roads, and animal control services. In other words, Punta del Diablo was the antithesis of Punta del Capitalismo/Este, the yin to the yang, the undeveloped to the developed...an example of a small town trying to hold onto its 'olive tree' in a world full of 'Lexus'."
After many hours of traveling, we made it back to Buenos Aires. Exhausted from the journey, we spent the night there, preparing for a long bus ride to Bariloche the next day. We barely had time to say goodbye to David, as we rushed the taxi driver to get us to the bus on time (again, we barely made it).
That's all for now, folks!! More to come shortly...
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