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Smuggling Americans over the border

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Brazil just recently implemented a new requirement whereby which Americans have to get fingerprinted and photographed at the border (since we are now making them, and everyone else applying for a visa, do the same upon entering America). On top of that, Americans need to pay $100 dollars to apply for a Brazilian visa (what we charge to apply for a visa in the US). You have to wait for a few days before getting your visa and then you’re golden – you can enter at will.

This was one of the reasons I didn’t get a chance to explore Brazil. Besides the fact that it’s huge and I would have to spend lots of time in buses (and not getting to know the country), it would set me back $100 bucks, so I opted to save it for another time. But…I still wanted to see the Iguazu Waterfalls from the Brazilian side of the country.

What are the Iguazu waterfalls, you may ask? Well, to start, they mark one of the coolest and most incredible things to see in South America. Nestled in a tropical rainforest, the waterfalls fall smack dab in the middle of the borders between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. The best viewing points are on the Brazilian side and the Argentinian side and you have to make special trips (and pay separate entry fees) to get to each. Each side has it’s unique attributes, as I had been told from other backpackers, and I really wanted to get a chance to see the falls from both vantage points.

But yeah…that whole visa thing. I didn’t have one. And I wasn’t going to apply for one. I had heard that sometimes they weren’t very strict with who they let cross (as long as you made it clear you were just going to see the falls for a few hours) but I had also heard that they turn people away occasionally. Was it worth the risk? Well, seeing as the bus ticket over the border cost me a whopping 45 cents – yeah, I think it would be worth trying.

So let’s back up a little bit. How did I get to Iguazu? Did anything interesting happen? I took a bus. And not really. (Why do you ask such stupid questions?). After exploring the Retiro area with Julio and bidding our goodbyes, I went back to the hostel and at some food – mentally preparing myself for the 18 hours of staring at some fat guy’s head in front of me that would invariably ensue shortly thereafter. I packed up my stuff, bought some food at the supermarket and began my journey to the bus station. It’s a pretty easy trip, seeing as there is a subway entrance right outside my hostel. But yeah, the heat. The damn heat. It was so incredibly hot that by the time I had carried my backpack into the subway, caught the train, got off, walked the short distance to the bus station and found the gate where my bus would eventually arrive – I was drenched in sweat. Completely drenched. I dug out a shirt from my bag and changed out of my wet one. Everyone watched. “God…he’s soooooo white!”, I could imagine them saying. Jealous. Of course, I only had to wait two more minutes to have drenched that shirt, as well, but not to the same degree. I hoped my bus would arrive soon. And it did.

I hopped on and took my seat on the second level up at the very front. Not too bad. I had room to rest my feet and I had the whole front window to look out. This wasn’t gonna be too bad. The really nice buses in South America are just that: really nice. They are two levels, with a bathroom, coffee machine, air conditioning for each seat, area to keep the meals warm (yes, there are meals – which are actually pretty tasty), TV’s every few rows for the movies (I ended up seeing 3 movies) and the chairs are really big and comfortable. I was in the “Coche cama” seat by myself (there is a column of single seats next to another column of double seats on the other side of the bus) which reclines back almost horizontally and had a thing that comes down for your feet to rest on (like a recliner leg rest). Although it’s still a pain to sleep in it, it’s still pretty nice. So yeah, I sat there for 18 hours listening to music, watching videos, eating and sleeping. But I didn’t sleep that well, as the conductor and his assistant kept talking unusually loudly the whole night and I could hear them over my earplugs, but I eventually got a few hours of sleep and woke up with the assistant guy poking me for breakfast. And then we arrived.

I was expecting it to be hotter, as that’s what everyone was telling me, but it wasn’t too bad. I got my stuff and hopped in a taxi to the hostel I had reserved the previous day – “Las Cabañas”. 5 pesos later I was there, checked in and getting my tour of the facilities. Not too shabby, I must say: they even had a pool. I asked the lady at the desk if I could go see the falls that day (I had my doubts as it was already 1:00 PM) and if so, how I would go about doing it. She informed me that there was a bus that came by the hostel and would take you to the bus station, where you could take another bus to the waterfalls.

But which side to go see first? Well, from all accounts, the Argentinian side was much better than the Brazilian side, and one should devote no less than 5-6 hours on the Argentine side, as opposed to maybe 2-3 to the Brazilian side. After doing the math, I decided that I could smuggle myself over the Brazilian border, see the falls and be back before the buses stopped. So I set off without any Brazilian currency and not knowing a lick of Portuguese. I got to the bus station, bought some food at the supermarket, and before I knew it, I was on my way to the border.

When we arrived, everyone got out and walked into the Border Control office. I nervously handed over my passport to the agent and told him that I was just going to be over for a few hours to see the falls. He nodded in approval and stamped my passport. I walked out and looked. Hmm…I have just been stamped out of Argentina. I got back on the bus and we took off. “No Brazilian office?”, I thought to myself? And then we stopped. Everyone looked around and I kind of looked towards the ground (God forbid some guy sees that an American is sneaking across). And then the bus started back up and we continued on – and I was in Brazil.

“That was easy…”, I thought as I waited for another surprise. But as it turned out, I was in the clear. I made it. Hell yeah! I examined Brazil from my window.

Portuese is very similar to Spanish and I could understand most of the signs and billboards as we passed by them. Everything else though looked a lot like Bolivia, actually. It was interesting. And before I knew it, we were at the bus station and I hopped out, looking for a bus to the waterfalls. I was approached by a guy who spoke perfect English and he told me everything I had to do.

“You pay here, and hop on bus 120, and then your there. Easy as that”, he told me.

“Wow…you speak perfect English! Did you study in the US?”

“Yeah, I spent a few years there. Hacienda Heights”.

He even knew where Riverside was. That’s a first. So I hopped on the bus and took my seat and this pretty cute Brazilian girl in exercise clothes came and sat next to me. She spoke portañol (portugues + español – which is almost a new language in itself) and we could both understand each other more or less. She was a Arabic music dancer and gave me a brochure on which she then wrote her email.

“Are you going to be staying here? Where? You should come out with me! Ah, only a few hours in Brazil, eh? Hm, well, we can still talk on email!”

Yeah babe, sorry. Your not gonna get into America that easy. I was reminded of Omar in Bolivia (Omar Spechar) who told me that I should just go into a club with my passport and wave it around.

“Dude, you’re sure to get laid.”

Such power.

So anyways, we said goodbye and I was soon at the waterfalls. I paid my $20 pesos and started exploring the park. I walked along the catwalks and explored the various viewing points of the falls. It was pretty cool, but nothing spectacular. Or at least, not what it had been hyped up to be. On the Brazil side, you get to see everything from a distance – in a panoramic sense. It’s not very intimate and you get really ripped off in the exchange rate if your paying in Argentinian pesos. It was also insanely hot and humid. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to just die. Well, not die, but at least get to a room with air conditioning. I saw everything there was to see, then hopped on the bus back to base of the park. Then caught the bus back to the bus station and then walked around looking for the bus to get back to Argentina. A guy told me it had just left and another would come in about 40 minutes. So I sat and waited with a French couple and before I knew it, we were on the bus back to Puerto Iguazu. I was exhausted and had to fight to keep from falling asleep. I made it back, checked my email, got something to eat and went back to the hostel. I slept really really well.

I woke up early (7:00 AM) though to see the falls on the Argentina side. I went to bed at 12:00 so I was running on little sleep, plus the little rest I got from the bus trip, but I was sure I could do it. I got breakfast and then headed to the bus station. I was able to get a ticket back to Buenos Aires for that very day (after getting back to the falls) so I was happy that I wouldn’t have to waste an extra day (and pay another 23 pesos for the night) in Iguazu. I bought some food and was on my way to the waterfalls.

The Argentina side was much more nature based, so it seemed. They had a lot of trails to explore, where you could see wild animals (this whole thing, is in the middle of a rainforest, after all) and a train that would take you to the different viewing points around the falls. I spent the day wandering around in awe. Yes sir, the Argentina side was definitely better than the Brazilian side. It was incredible. Many more waterfalls to see up close and there was even an island to which you could catch a free boat. The views were spectacular and the whole thing was finished off with a trip to the top of the waterfalls to see “La Garganta del Diablo”, which is where a bunch of falls all crash into each other in an dazzling display of force and energy. I really don’t think the pictures I took do justice, but check them out. They are incredible. I even have a video which is definitely worth checking out.

After looking at my watch and realizing I had to go, I hopped on the train back to the base of the park. A butterfly accompanied me for about 25 minutes while it licked my backpack (don’t ask me why). It was pretty funny. And yes, butterflies do lick.

At the entrance of the park, I waited for the bus and met an Australian girl named Bill who was just finishing a year long trip through Europe, Cuba and South America. We chatted about our travels and I realized…I’m six months into my trip and it seems like it’s been a week. I’m going to be in her place in another year and a half, which although is kind of a lot, but if it goes as fast as these 6 months have gone by, will be gone before I know it. And she had a boy’s name and I have a girl’s name. The similarities were uncanny.

So anyways, we said goodbye, I went to the hostel, took a shower, bought some food for the bus trip and sat around at the bus terminal waiting for my bus. A really cute girl came and sat really close to me, which was strange, seeing as she had been sitting next to her friend across the way before that. Her friend watched and smiled. I guess I was expected to talk to her. And I did. She was from Holland and we chatted about South America and what we were doing for about 5 minutes. But she was leaving for Brazil. And me? Buenos Aires. Our respective buses arrived and we said goodbye. Too bad. She, I don’t think, wasn’t after my passport. It would have been cool to get to know her better.

And so after another 18 hours in a bus, next to the toilette (god it smelled so bad), I am back in Buenos Aires. I got an email from Simon (who I met in Bolivia) and he and his girlfriend are renting a car in New Zealand and they invited me to come. Sounds good to me.

The agenda for tomorrow? A quick stop over to Uruguay and then back to Buenos Aires. This too sounds good to me. Or maybe I’ll save that for the next day. I don’t know. The important thing, however, is that I go take a shower right now. I stink.

The clock ticks down…

It was dark and late. Like maybe 1AM – or maybe 2AM, I don’t recall, and we observed the city night life from the comfort of our taxi. The driver pretended he was lost and cruised by the prostitutes standing in the street (as I believe he gets a commission if he drops us off at one). The girls looked at us coldly – which I would imagine had something to do with that fact that they were literally wearing nothing more than a plastic bikini and high heels – and a slutty looking blond wig. An American looking tourist walked by and talked to one, then started walking down the street with his new girl.

“Right here is fine”, we told the taxi driver after passing the girls a good distance.

We stepped out of the cab and looked around. We were surrounded by beautiful girls eating at restaurants, walking to and from the clubs, walking in groups, standing around doing nothing – it was incredible. Truly incredible. Never in my life have I seen so many beautiful girls everywhere I went like I have seen in Buenos Aires. It’s like walking down the street with supermodels zooming by every 20 feet. Don’t believe me? Come here and see for yourself.

But Julio and I were on a mission: to find a Tango place. We had been told that we could see a cool Tango show in this area and we had the address…it was just a matter of finding it. And we did. But it was locked up.

“Hey”, we asked the guy standing out front (I’m translating to English for you), “can we still go in?”.

“I don’t know. Ask,” he said as he rang the buzzer.

A door opened out of the sheet metal that was covering the entrance and a guy poked his head out.

“Do you have an invitation?” he asked sternly.

“No…but the lady at the tourist information office recommended that we come here.”

“Alright, come on in,” he said reluctantly.

He guided us down a dark hallway and we entered a fairly descent sized theater containing about 50 people and took a seat towards the back.

The show was already going and we quietly watched. Over the proceeding hour and a half, we saw Tango dancing, a band playing the Tango music itself, a guy reciting poems, people singing and, of course, lots of beautiful girls. It was a mixture of all of the above with a comic twist and we laughed our asses off. It was awesome. And when it was over, we left. We couldn’t order drinks during the show and so we didn’t spend any money and there was no charge to get in. We had just watched an incredible show – for free. That sure beat the shows that were advertised in the tourist office ($140 pesos, or about $50 US bucks) until Julio said, “Yeah, but is there anything for non-gringos? I’m not a gringo.”

So I saw a tango show. What else have I been up to since I arrived to Buenos Aires? Well…besides gawking over the girls (did I mention that there are about a million beautiful girls per city block here?), I have taken the subway/bus/taxi combination to see many really nice areas of Buenos Aires. I have taken a city tour (which was okay, but way too fast and way too superficial), visited parks, plazas, museums, theaters, libraries, art galleries, some really good restaurants, the dams of a river that flows at the edge of Buenos Aires and then out to the ocean, checked out a dance club, and gone to the movies. This city is awesome. I love it. There is so much to see and do, everything is so incredibly cheap, and the people are so incredibly friendly.

Today I got up late (got in from the club at about 6AM) and took the subway to the bus station to buy my ticket to Foz de Iguazu. What is Foz de Iguazu, you may ask? It’s an incredible arrangement of waterfalls right on the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. I leave tomorrow and it will take me about 18 hours to arrive.

I’ll check it out for a day or two and then head back to Buenos Aires. And when I get back, I’ll have about two days to check out Uruguay and then it’s back to Buenos Aires to leave for New Zealand.

I’m pretty excited and sad at the same time to continue on and I don’t know what exactly to make of it. I have had an incredible time in South America and have been really lucky to have had the experiences I have had here. How many Americans do you know that have come down here and gotten showed around countries and cities by locals they happened to know, worked and traveled around with families from that country and then traveled around for another few months on his own? One? Oh yeah, me. I met a guy from New York yesterday named Brian who did a similar trip a couple of years ago and he has gotten me all riled up about India, Asia and Africa – and I am really looking forward to them. After six months of traveling, I have still only just begun. It’s crazy to think that I am still going to be traveling for close to another year and a half.

But you know something? I can’t wait.

Hello Buenos Aires!

So what’s new since my last post? Well, I’ve since moved. Yes, indeed. I have moved on. I spent a few more days in Bariloche and then finally bought my bus ticket. Eugenia’s (one of the most incredible girls I have ever met) family was coming to visit and we wouldn’t get to hang out as much for a few days so I figured yesterday was as good a time as any.

And then, 18 hours later, I was in a new city. But not just any city, mind you – Buenos Aires. The most cosmopolitan city in South America. Everything is big and busy and there are loads of things to do (or, if you’re Australian, “heaps” of things to do). And it’s really hot.

When I arrived at the bus station, I walked through the 1/4 mile long bus station (no joke), found out how much it would cost to my next destination (Foz de Iguazú to see the waterfalls) and then hopped on the subway to get to my hostel. It was so humid and sticky that I was afraid I might bump into someone and get stuck (and then have to wait for the weather to dry to unstick ourselves). It wouldn’t be so bad if it was a hot girl, but if it was some ugly Chilean chick, what would I have done? I don’t want to think about it (the horror!).

So anyways, I made it to my hostel, checked in and took a shower. Everyone here speaks English, which is a little weird. I prefer Spanish. About two minutes after taking a shower, I was drenched in sweat again so I gave up and went walking in the city. I tried to check out some of the museums but the ones I wanted to see were closed (lots of museums close in February – probably on account of me coming to visit) so I walked through some shopping centers and just ended up going to see The Last Samurai, which I thought was a pretty good movie.

It makes me want to go to Japan and become a samurai (don’t laugh, I so could). After, I got the paper and read it over dinner before heading back to the hostel and falling asleep (in the intense heat).

Today, I got up late, drank some mate, read the paper and then ran into a guy I met in Bariloche in the hostel. We’re going to meet up in a little bit and head out to do something with another guy we both met in Bariloche (one’s from Peru and another is from Buenos Aires). It should be pretty fun.

Not much else to report. I leave for New Zealand on the 15th. I really want to stay here in South America but I know that I can’t. I have to move on and continue with the plan. If I extended my time in each country that I liked a lot, my trip would get extended to like 10 years long, and I don’t have that much money. And no, I am not missing home. Home is a state of mind.

Did I mention that I love Argentina?

Did I mention that I have a dog now? Yup. His name is Sam. He lives on the corner of the street next to my hostel. He’s always there, hanging out (whether it be 3pm when I’m going to lunch or 3am when I’m going back to the hostel). I feed him empinadas when I see him.

And I’ve been resting. For the past several months, everyone that I have met has been telling me about Bariloche.

“It’s so awesome. Incredible chocolate, craft beer, windsurfing, rafting, hiking, trekking, mountain climbing, fishing, you name it!”

And I haven’t done anything – except eat the chocolate and drink the beer. Of course.

Why? I was tired. And still kind of am. I’ve been sleeping 12 hours a night and doing nothing all day and have been loving it. I get up, check email, get the paper, read the whole thing, drink mate (don’t worry, I will explain mate, pronounced mah-tehy, in a few paragraphs), maybe play pool or chat with the Argentinean guys in the hostel, meet up with this really cool girl Eugenia that I met for dinner (gotta love Buenos Aires girls) and get to bed really late. Or should I say early? No matter. The important thing is that I sleep in till noon the next day and do it all over again. I’m also eating for like 10 pesos a day. That’s about 3.5 bucks. My hostel costs 14 pesos a day. That’s about 5 bucks. You simply can’t beat it. I love Argentina!

How long can I keep this up? A few more days, at least. I leave South America pretty soon.

So what is mate? Philosophers have been asking that question for centuries. Actually – no they haven’t. You’re the first one (how does it feel to be the only one who doesn’t know?). Ya te digo.

It’s a very Argentinean custom which I have taken it upon myself to adapt, seeing as my kids will be half Argentinean. The herb mate is kind of like tea, except you pour it in a special cup or dried out gourd (called “un mate”) which you can get in about a million different styles and shapes. You pour the mate (the herb) in your mate (the cup) and then poor hot water in slowly so that it gets absorbed completely. From there, you insert a special straw/filter thing called a bombilla into the mixture and drink.

You get only about 2-3 sips before your out of water, so you put in some more from your thermos (Oh yeah, you have to have a thermos. Like everyone else here.) and pass the mate on to the next person in the group. Everyone takes turns drinking from the mate and passing it to the next person, and you continue until you suck the mate clean. Then you dump it out, add more and continue. When you are done, you leave the yierba (herb) in the cup so that the flavor can absorb into the wood (or gourd, or whatever your mate is made of). It’s really cool and really tasty. From what I gather though, most foreigners hate it. Not me. I can’t get enough of it. And I can’t explain it, but it makes me feel really good. I read on some website that it has some crazy ingredient or something which imparts “well-being”, which I don’t take much stock in, but I can’t argue with results. You can share with others or drink it by yourself and the best part is that it makes your whole mouth green! Oh no, wait. That’s the annoying part. Unless you like your mouth green. Do you like your mouth green?

So where to next? I don’t know yet. I’m really enjoying my time here right now.

Some time in the next few days, I will leave to Buenos Aires. Or Mar del Plata. Or Foz de Iguazu. But I don’t know when. That’s what’s great about this adventure. The only thing I have to do is keep traveling. Yeah, easy enough, no? Come to Argentina, see the sights, eat the food, meet the girls, talk with the people, drink some mate – and then tell me if it’s easy to leave.

Just stick to the plan, Casey. Just stick to the plan. You can do it.

Chillin’ next to a glacier

The glacier looked like an army. An army of ready and willing ice soldiers all standing at attention and ready for battle. Indeed, they were (and are marching). The El Calafate Glacier is advancing at about 3 meters a day. The ice stretches back as far as you can see, up the hill, into the mountain and into the clouds. The incredible weight of all the snow falling in the mountains piles and compacts, forming an unstoppable mass of jagged and cold energy.

As I stared in awe, the glacier rumbled and cracked – somewhere in the distance, out of sight, a huge tower of ice fell. Although I couldn’t notice, the glacier had inched forward. Roland and I had just gotten off the tour boat which takes you very close to the glacier to see it from the water level (we saw several of the towers fall into the water right in front of us), and went to the terraces to watch the glacier from a little higher up. It was very, very impressive. Roland and I wandered around for a while, ate lunch, chatted with some girls from Buenos Aires (who were nearly as impressive as the glacier, I might add) and eventually wandered back to the tour bus to go back to the main part of town. I got the incredible opportunity to sit next to a stinky French guy on the way back and I think I blacked out a few times (so I was back before I knew it).

We got some coffee with some German guys we met, chatted and then headed back to our trashy hostel. Right now it is vacation season for Argentinians and we couldn’t find a decent place so we ended up staying in this bar/hostel (although I didn’t ask if I could get a discount if we paid by the hour – as I’m sure we could have). We had walked into several places that were booked full and suddenly, $15 pesos didn’t seem so bad ($5 a night, which is a little high, but oh well) – except for the toilet that would spray water out two feet in front of it when you flushed (Everyone got sprayed at least once). We spent our days in El Calafate playing chess, shopping for stuff (I got all the stuff to drink Mate, which is an Argentinian herb that you have to drink in a special way), and eating. Several times for dinner, we went to an all you can eat buffet for $15 pesos (so yeah, you could get your money’s worth after a slice of pizza) and it was a pretty cool place. The first night, the power went out in the middle of dinner and everyone started clapping and singing to get the owners to bring out candles.

Roland cleaned out the clothes from his backpack and sold them to the owner for three nights of lodging. The owner only wanted two shirts for two nights and when Roland tried to talk him into another night, the owner pointed at the sweater he was wearing, so he took it off and gave it to him. It was pretty funny. He had to get rid of stuff so that he wasn’t over the weight limit when he flew to Ushuaia, then Buenos Aires, then back home to Switzerland.

We ended up playing one more game of chess after that over dinner (we ended up meeting two Israelis and chatting with them while we played) and the game lasted close to three hours. I am getting better, but I still haven’t been able to beat him. No worries – I found a website online where we can play from a distance. I will win. I will.

So anyways, I hopped on a plane yesterday and am now in Bariloche. It is a nice kickback place and my feet and knee are slowly recovering. I’m a little tired (exhausted) from the past few months of running from place to place so I may stay here for a few days and do nothing. It will be nice.

Although…I may have to cancel that very important business meeting my secretary lined up for me tomorrow morning…Oh no, wait – I don’t have a job. Or a secretary.

Somebody…help the animals in this zoo!

I get on a night bus to Mendoza and the next thing I know, I’m getting shaken by the bus driver to wake up. Everyone has gotten off and taken their bags already and the luggage guy is waiting on me, so I put on my shoes quickly and run out to claim my backpack (before someone else does). And there I am, in a new city at 7AM.

Let’s get started.

I walk through the Mendoza bus station in a zombie like manner to find a place selling tickets to Santiago, Chile, where I will be going next. 30 pesos? Cool. Leaves in the afternoons. Right on.

So I coger a taxi (I’m gonna start throwing random Spanish words in my speech now so you all can learn with me) and have him take me to an internet cafe, or as they call it, a seeber (which used to be cyber cafe, then cyber, now seeber). There, I check to see what hostels are in the area at and have another taxi take me to a promising looking hostel. It supposedly has a pool, free internet, cable and fans in the rooms, and that’s not too shabby. When I get there, I realize that it was no lie, and they do indeed have all that stuff.

But it’s hot in Mendoza, as it’s an Argentine desert, and when the owner shows me my room, it’s nearly suffocating. The fan blows over the other two guys, sleeping in pools of sweat and I can tell…it’s gonna be rough to get to bed at night. But no worries, it’s probably gonna be 50x worse when I get to India, so I might as well get used to it now. I check in, get situated and join a few other people downstairs for breakfast.

I talked with this one girl from I don’t remember where (it’s a neat place – you should visit) and she told me about how she and her boyfriend rented a motorcycle in Santiago and drove through Chile and Argentina for four weeks, and it sounded incredible. For $80 bucks a day though, compounded with the fact that I don’t have much time left in South America, I don’t think I’ll be doing the same any time soon. What a shame. So after breakfast, I got a shower and joined everyone out at the pool. I met Karen and Jimmy (who I swear is like 9 feet tall) from Sweden and we talked about where we had been and where we were going. Although it’s kind of annoying to explain your story over and over again to everyone you meet, it’s worth it in that you get to find out a lot of information about where you are going next from people who have been there. Sometimes, recommendations from others are the only way you can enjoy yourself in a city, as you get to learn from others’ mistakes.

So after the pool, I took a walk to the center of town to check everything out. Mendoza is built on a desert, but everything is still very green in the city.

From what I hear, they do a pretty good job of diverting water from the mountains and getting it from the ground, which means plenty of trees and shade throughout the city. They have quite a few plazas and parks with fountains and people relaxing on the benches or selling things on the sidewalks and there is also a street that is blocked off and filled with stores and restaurants for your walking pleasure. I grabbed some lunch and checked my email and then headed back to the hostel where I went back in the pool (what a great idea this pool was) and chatted with Karen and Jimmy again. They were going to see Lord of the Rings and I had already seen it, so I guess it was just going to be a night of hanging out and watching TV for me. I ended up going back to the town center that night, getting some pasta, having a few glasses of wine, and reading the paper before heading back to the hostel and going to bed.

But yeah, it was hot. And there was also bar in the hostel, which kept the music thumping until about 5AM. I had several dreams that I was in a concert, and when I woke up (in a pool of sweat), I wasn’t all that refreshed. At breakfast, I chatted with another Swedish guy in my room and we ended up renting mountain bikes and taking a tour of the city and the huge park (which is several square miles large) and also visited the zoo way in the back of the park.

I have never seen such a sad zoo…the foxes had mange (or however you spell it), the elephants looked as though they were about to die of dehydration, the monkeys were banging on the side of the cage for water and were given some only after the caretaker felt their tongues, the polar bears and tigers walked obsessively back and fourth in their small areas, and the camels humps were actually falling over (yeah, it was really weird). You could see the areas where water was at one time but there was none or very little (and green at that) in the pools for the animals and people were feeding the monkeys and apes popcorn and candy despite the signs asking not too (and there was nobody stopping them!!). We left the place in disgust. It was really big, but man, did they have problems. What a sad zoo…

At the end of the day, we met up with everyone else in the hostel at the supermarket (this was prearranged) and the six of us got the fixings for a pasta dinner (salad, snacks, pasta, plenty of wine) and we went back to the hostel, cooked dinner, and spent the night chatting, drinking and swimming. The dinner was awesome and I think we all really enjoyed it.

The next day we got up early and went and rented a car to go to La Puente del Inca which is a natural land bridge over a river, and lots of natural hot springs flowing through the area. I drove (which was really fun to do again, especially with a stick shift) there and back and we really enjoyed ourselves. It ended up costing us 60 pesos each after rental, tax and gas, which comes to about $20 US and it was worth every penny.

When we got back though, exhausted and sweaty (despite the AC in the car), Kristofer (the Swedish guy I toured the city on bike with) and I packed up and took off the plaza to get some food and leave for Santiago, Chile.

Our bus was to leave at midnight and after some trouble finding the right bus (they switched companies on us) and fending off a drunk homeless guy looking for money, we were off to Chile!

Mendoza was fun, although I didn’t get a chance to tour the wineries. I figured that I was pretty short on time as it was and I have seen plenty of wineries in California. I just settled for getting some good wine and promising that I would buy a few more bottles of it to try it out before leaving South America. If you don’t mind the heat (it was like So Cal in the Summer), you will enjoy Mendoza and there is a lot more stuff to do there than I ended up doing (rafting, paragliding, tour’s, and stuff like that). I recommend Puente Del Inca as the drive up there is incredible, and one could easily spend a 5 or 6 days there checking everything out. Too bad I only had time for two though.

Maximum Velocity Reached: 60 MPH!

There I sat…on a bus, contemplating the maximum velocity light up above the driver´s head. What was the purpose? If the bus was going at its maximum velocity, it couldn’t go any faster so you wouldn’t need to notify the driver. Besides, I´m sure he would know how fast his bus could go. Even if it was for him though, he couldn’t see it if it went off…it was too high up. Was it for the passengers? Why would you tell them that? If the brakes were out and you were going at max velocity, would you really need a light to notify you of this? The bus driver would probably mention something. He would have to anyway after the light went off. And how fast, exactly, is maximum velocity? So many questions…It really is overwhelming.

I was on my way to Alta Gracia, a small town in the outskirts of Córdoba, although still in the Córdoba province. Erika had to go to Buenos Aires to get some paper processed and so she recommended that I visit a few other places close to Córdoba in her absence and return in time to celebrate New Years with her and her family. Good stuff. So I planned a trip. First I would go to Alta Gracia, then Villa General Belgrano, then La Cumbrecita. And then back to Córdoba.

So I got to Alta Gracia (home of the Che Gueverra museum, and his home in childhood) at like 7:00PM on a Sunday, which was a dumb idea. Anyone who has ever been to South America knows that you can’t do much of anything on Sunday, and the little that you can do closes at like 5:00PM. So there I was, with nothing really to do. And I went for a walk. You see, it doesn’t get dark here until like 8:30 so you have a lot of time to do stuff…like walk around. But it was fun. Alta Gracia has a lot of parks with big ponds and stuff to hang out at. There were a ton of people out with their families, walking around, playing with their kids and dogs, fishing in the ponds and shopping at the stores (although I don´t know how…as they were all closed). I remembered seeing the pond/lake when I came in the city on the bus and from my hotel, I walked in the direction and asked some old man where it was. He hadn’t a clue. There was nothing like that in the city, he said. After another 30 minutes of walking – at the pond, I realized that this guy obviously didn’t get out much. I don´t know how you could miss it. Anyways, I walked around and got something to eat and then took a cab back to my hotel and got some rest. The hotel was really, really nice and I was paying 30 Pesos for it (about $10 a night), which isn’t too bad in a tourist area.

In the morning, I caught the bus to Villa General Belgrano. This town has some really interesting history. Apparently, some German battle ship from WWI crashed ashore and they set up a town. I don´t know how exactly it worked, but the whole region now has a very heavy German influence and a ton of Germans.

There are a lot of German TV stations and it’s weird hearing so much German. This is high tourist season too so there were a lot of them visiting. The town is really interesting, and it looks really German. There are a bunch of restaurants serving in-house beer and German dishes, chocolate stores and these really colorful signs for everything. It was really interesting.

But anyways, when I arrived, I walked for about 30 minutes down this dirt road to get to a hostel recommended in my book only to find out they were full so then I walked another 30 minutes back to the bus station, then another 30 to the main street to find another hotel. I found one and checked in and got situated. I was going to go to this other one before I realized that there was a beautiful girl managing it and I ended up staying. I couldn’t resist. But with a day in town, I highly doubted I would really get to know her. As a side note, Argentina has some of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen in my life. They are stunning and it really makes each town all the more interesting.

So I explored the town, walked on some trails in the forest (as this place is surrounded with pine trees, much like the high sierras in California/Nevada that I used to go camping in with my family when I was younger) and the next day I was off the La Cumbrecita. Very nice, very beautiful and very interesting. This place was even further in the forest and the two hour drive there was incredible. When there, I checked into a hotel (again $10) and was blown away by it. It was a resort room, with a small kitchen, a huge bed, a balcony, Direct TV, and a really nice bathroom. I did some hiking there and the next day I was off back to Villa General Belgrano to connect with a bus back to Cordoba.

When I got back to Cordoba, I gave Erika a call and we planned to meet up at 10:00 at her place to celebrate the New Year. I went at 9:50 to catch a cab and realized that I wasn’t going to arrive on time. The cabs were passing me by as they were filled with people. I´d cross the street and someone would get picked up on the other side. After about 45 minutes of standing there with my hand out, I saw some lady trying to get in on my spot and I told her I had been waiting for 45 mins. She said she had been waiting for an hour (Que verguenza! No hay taxis!). So I took off for the bus station. Certainly there would be taxis there. Nope. I finally went up to a taxi that was picking someone up and asked him if he could take me after. He said he couldn’t because he had to get home (that´s where all the taxi drivers were) and in desperation (it was now about 11:20) I told him I would pay him 20 pesos. That changed his mind (as it is about 4X what I should have paid) and soon we were off. We had a very interesting conversation about Argentina and America and he explained that it was his first day on the job because he got laid off from his banking job and had to support his sick dad – to which I said that the 20 pesos would go a long way, and he agreed. After he dropped me off, Erika and her family came running out, really worried and I explained the story. We all got a laugh out of it. Crazy old gringos in Cordoba.

But New Years was fun (nice food, lots of fireworks) and they took me home at about 1:30AM after coffee and we made a deal to go to the river the next day. They picked me up the next day and we hung out at the river in Carlos Paz and then headed back home. There was a lot of traffic and Erika´s brother and his buddy (both about 11) entertained themselves by picking their noses so that the person in the neighboring car would stare in disgust. It was hillllarrrrious. That night, we spent about 20 minutes calling taxis to take me back to my hotel and I was finally picked up and taken home. Today, I went and saw Lord of The Rings (which is a cool movie, but nearly 4 hours long) and bought my ticket to New Zealand. I blew my budget for the day. I´m about 1000 dollars over for the day. But we have to absorb these costs…there´s no way around it.

Anyways, I go to Mendoza tonight at 10:00. I´m looking forward to it and I´m going to miss Córdoba. But, of course, all good things must come to an end and one can only embrace the future – and the adventures which are sure the ensue.

Oh yeah, and on the way back to Córdoba, I found out how fast maximum velocity was. It was about 60MPH. Slow down there tiger. Surprisingly, the passengers didn’t seem worried.