Polka Dots

I was a little nervous that after being in winter for SO long (ok, two weeks), that I would have lost my tan and head back to school without my summer freckles.  This is clearly not an issue though.  I was doing childcare for my friends’ 10 yr anniversary party, and a little girl looks up at me and says, “you have a lot of polka dots on your face!”

Whale watching and dog stalking

Yesterday we were so excited to go on a ten hour city tour from Montevideo to Punta Del Este. We got up early, strategicially showered in one of the few hostel bathrooms before most of the hostel-ites were awake, ate toast with dolce de leche, and awaited our bus to pick us up. After waiting for a while, we asked the hostel worker dudes who looked into it for us. Apparently the punk workers the night before never confirmed our reservation and now it was too late 😦

So we headed to the bus station where we started our own tour of the beautiful city of Punta del Este, taking a two hour bus ride to get there. We are pretty glad we didn’t take the real tour, because we would have missed out on the following:

– a stray dog following us for at least four hours. Seriously – we did not want to be friends. Why did it like us? The stupid dog even waited outside the restaurant while we ate our lunch for an hour. We definitely did not pet it or make eye contact, but at least it was a pretty clean and healthy dog and not a creepy one!

-we ate lunch at one of the most ridiculous places of our trip. What made it so riduclous is the waiter guy. We are fairly certain that he is in the mafia. And he sang to us when delivering our food. Sometime we like to play a game called “guess what the Spanish speaker is saying to Miranda”. It is a fun game, really. We guessed that the mafia waiter told Miranda that he was from Verona Italy and had ties to the families of Romeo and Juliet. His mom and dad moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, but soon discovered that it was a gelato-free zone, so they relocated to Punta del Este. Seems likely, right?

– we walked along the coastline – first the ocean, the turned at the end of the peninsula and walked along the river. It was a gorgeous day out! We even went without cardigans for a while! The ocean was a brilliant sapphire blue and the sand was so fine and soft! We definitely sat/laid on the beach for quite a while at the end of the day. It was so relaxing. Did I meantion there was a giant hand coming out of the ground? After seeing this sculpture, we wanted to dig down and see if we could find the whole arm!

– apparently whales come close to shore this time of year. We put a minimal amount of effort into watching for them, but sadly did no see any.

– lots of famous people have houses here… Such as Shakira and Ralph Lauren. Judging by the number of people we saw wearing giant sunglasses, we are fairly certain we saw so many famous people, so that is exciting!

All in all, minus the pesky dog, this was one of my favorite days. Relaxing and beautiful! Just what we needed at this point in the trip.

Today we woke up to find the power was out at the hostel. Boo and a half! It was sketchy enough in their showers. No way we were attempting that in the dark! We packed up our backpacks and hung out at the beach for a while before heading to the bus station, where Amber and I had delicious mcFlurries. WAY better than the ones back home!

Our South American adventures are wrapping up. We just have this bus ride that I am writing from, a ferry, a taxi, the subway, a shuttle, and two plane rides before we are back in Minnesota!

Looking for Sheep

Uruguay is very fancy and they have wifi on their bus to Montevideo! I am looking out the window for sheep as we drive through the countryside, because basically the only thing I know about Uruguay is they are famous for their wool. So far I have only seen cows. Maybe they keep all their sheep in a magical sheep pasture away from the highway.

This morning amber and I got up at the crack of dawn. No, actually it was earlier than that. We got up about 2.5 hours before the sunrise to walk to check out of the hostel, walk to the subway, take multiple lines to get to the spot where we were meeting Miranda. Then we walked to the port and went through customs before getting on the ferry to Uruguay. We watched a beautiful sunrise over the river as we departed.

After a brief siesta, we arrived in Uruguay. Yes, this is a real country. Look at a map.

We spent the day meandering through the quaint little town of Colonia. We spent our time in the historic neighborhood along the river (which looked suspiciously like the ocean, but the map claims is a river). It was charming – reminded me a little bit of Antigua, Guatemala, with the cobblestone streets, colored building fronts, adorable streetlights, and gated windows with flowers etc. We also took note of the interesting modes of transportation for rent, and enjoyed watching people nervously drive their rented mopeds past us. Perhaps they should have stuck with walking, like we did

We went to a few museums and saw what life was like in the past few centuries. Although we should have been able to see that by just looking around the village, since theguidebook did tell me that Colonia is “untouched by time”.

We are now on a bus to Montevideo. We will be glad to check in to our hostel so that we can stop carrying our backpack everywhere.

Since I can’t upload any pictures right now, I will just tell you to loom forward to a picture of me with a miniature trolley.

Time to return to watching for sheep!

Navigational Wizards

If there is a musical genre called Hipster Tango, last night we experienced it.  As part of the World Tango Festival, we had tickets to a tango concert – it was tango music mixed with other styles, including a little rap!  It was SUPER cool, and we loved it, and we loved watching the little four year old girl in front of us dance to the music.  She was pretty enchanted by our English skills as well.

Today Amber and I (and my map) took on the Palermo neighborhood.  We are quite proud of our accomplishments, because we navigated our way to: a botanical garden (apparently it is the wrong season for flowers though), a beautiful garden with lakes on it, where we used our awesome Spanish skills (good job Amber!) to rent a paddleboat!  We paddleboated amongst the ducks, turtles, and sleeping park workers.  Enchanting!  And then we went to a Japanese garden!  It is like I was back in Tokyo (well, not really, but S. America tried, and did pretty good!)

I can’t write more because Amber and I have a new home at a hostel and we  must leave here before the subways close.  We are backpacking to Uruguay for the weekend.  Not sure if the internet has gone to Uruguay yet (or rather I don’t know if the hostel will have wifi) so you may or may not hear from me this weekend.

It will be exciting to get another stamp in my passport!!

Dolce de Leche: the other food group

I don’t know how Amber and I will manage when we return to the states and do not get our daily fill of dolce de leche. It is in everything here! ( or at least in everything sweet!)

Today we had some of the world’s best ice cream. It was from a place called Freddo – right across from the cemetary where Evita is buried. Before coming to Argentina Amber checked out a tourist video from the library and the lady in it apparently personally recommended this ice cream to Amber. We split a big thing of it and got to try Irish cream, mint chocolate chip, and of course dolce de leche with brownie! It was amazingly delicious. I have never had such flavorful ice cream in my life! It was like a flavor explosion in my mouth with each bite!

We also went to several museums today. Thank you CIFA for teaching me about all sorts of famous artists so that I could appreciate my cultural experiences today!

Tonight Amber and I are being kicked out of the house. The landlord apparently was not overly excited about our extended stay :(. So we are relocating to a hostel. This will just add to our adventure. Wish us luck as we make new friends!

We will be going to a world tango festival concert tonight. People here might be illiterate because they seem to have trouble reading the no smoking signs. We are debating whether this will be an issue again tonight. Should we change into our “smoking” jeans? Or risk exposing a clean pair to the cigarette smoke? Life is full of hard choices…

We did not go on a jungle safari.

You are welcome.

That’s right, I am making good on my promise and I am going to share some pictures with you from the week. Below, you will see things such as the inside of Casa Rosada (which I’m sure you read previously about our visit there)

You probably have been clicking the “refresh” button on your computer incessantly for the past few days, just so excited to see pictures of la Boca – the most colorful neighborhood you will ever see…

And I’m SURE that you can hardly contain yourselves for waiting on the highly anticipated pictures of our famous pizza outing!  We certainly will never be eating cheese again, and you probably won’t need to either after just LOOKING at this picture!

Here are some things you most likely didn’t even KNOW you were excited to see:

Visiting the Obelisco at night:

Learning to make empanadas with Miranda (you can expect to eat some at the next Fiesta Without Socks we throw in honor of our time in Argentina):

And a memory from today: our trip to el Tigre.  A cute, quiet town, on the Tigre River.  It was an enjoyable afternoon out of the big city.  You will note from the picture below that we were living on the edge and didn’t even wear our fleeces!  You will also be interested to know that we did not go on a jungle safari, even though our Tigre Best Friend really wanted us to go on a zodiak ride through the jungle.  We were tempted, had it been southern hemisphere summer and cheaper, but in the end we went on a traditional river boat cruise, and enjoyed the surroundings near the brown river water.

A final image to leave you with, is the fashion statement that Amber and I are making on Argentina.  She made fun of my awesome idea of socks with flip flops at first, but then when Ezekiel (one of Miranda’s roommates) was also rocking this great style (or practical solution to a cold apartment and not wanting to step directly on any cockroaches), Amber was won over, and is excited to wear her outfit out on the town in Mpls.

Love to you all!

p.s.  I apologize for typos of my post below from yesterday.  I was typing it from my ipod, and it was too much work to fix all the typos and misspelled words.  Please do not judge me.

The day my legs fell off…

We have done sooo much walking these last couple of days. I do enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but my feet are staging a protest and are refusing to take another step! (at least until tomorrow).

We have seen lots of really cool things in the city though, so I suppose all the walking has been worth it. Yesterday started out with a tour of Casa Rosada. It was really cool to see the inside of the presidential building. Everything was very ornate and decorated lavishly. I will someday share pictures with you.. It just takes SO long to upload them, so today you will need to use your imagine with my sparse details, or google image these things, or be patient and wait.

Next we set off down the cobblestone street toward the San Telmo neighborhood. The street itself was beautiful – being lined with old European style buildings like you find throughout the city – many with flowers or plants growing on the balcony. There were vendors along both sides of the road selling pretty much everything you can think of… Scarves, hats, purses, toys, figurines, etc. We also saw street performers playing instruments or dancing the tango. It was all very cool. Through the sea of people, Amber spotted someone wearing a Twins cap, but by the time I confirmed she wasn’t seeing a mirage, Twins boy was too far away to bond with. Pigeons swooped at our heads and flew toward our faces a little more than I would prefer during this leg of the trip.

After the fair at San Telmo, we went to the La Boca neighborhood. It was originally the port and inhabited by immigrants. It is also the most colorful neighborhood you will ever see! Seriously – it is like a box of crayola crayons threw up on the buildings – but in the most fun and delightful way. There were also lots of statues all around , hanging out of windows and standing on balconies. I am even starting to reconize some famous Argentine people, such as Eva Peron, Carlos Gardel and Diego M. We also saw the soccer stadium that is the home of the Boca Juniors. There were so many stray dogs in this part of the city. Our usual game of “don’t step in the dog poop while you walk down the sidewalk” was much tougher than usual.

We ended the night with a trip out to eat for pizza. Famous pizza. I cannot believe how busy this restaurant was. I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the crowd to be seated! The pizza was really delicious, but I also couldn’t believe how much cheese was on it! I probably don’t need any more dairy until 2014. We were also delighted to drink pepsi out of real glass bottles!

Today we also did a lot of walking. A lot. We started out with breakfast at Cafe Tortoni, which is probably the most famous
cafe in Buenos Aires. It is super old – famous people used to go there and write tangos. There are tall ceilings with stained glass. Wood paneling is on the walls and the tables are marble. We got the recommended hot chocolate and churros (a sugared pastry to dip in the hot chocolate). The brought us little silver pitchers with hot milk and chocolate so we could mix it ourselves. SO good!

We went to the new port, where I took a picture of the 3M building for my sister in law. We then walked a little bit in the ecological preserve. The most amazing part is that temperatures hit 60! At one point I didn’t even need my fleece or my scarf! It was a miracle for sure. We had a picnic lunch at a park and then laid in the grass.

Tonight we saw a drum concert. Although I did not see any cymbal players doing sommersaults like Rachel on the Michigandrumline, it was still very fun to watch And listen to. I took some video that I may share someday. We loved it until the crowd loved it a little too much and got a little too mosh-pit-like for our liking. We pushed our way through the mob and escaped with our lives. We are a little sad that so many people disobeyed he no smoking signs there, and wish we would have packed febreeze.

We are now letting our legs rest after so much city exploration. We will see what new adventures come tomorrow!

10 Easy Steps to Becoming a Professional Gaucho

Yesterday we went to the Estancia to learn to be real gauchos – you can be one too if you follow these steps:

1)  Go to a fancy pants hotel and get on an Estancia shuttle (this is key – if you do not find transportation to the ranch, your chances of becoming an Argentine cowboy are slim to none).  The shuttle will probably be similar to a coach bus, but with seats that are very reclined.  They will play the song “Relax” on the radio, you will think of Zoolander, and then sleep the whole way to the estancia.

2)  Before riding the horses, you will probably want to move your things in to your new home: a castle.

You may need to be prepared to entertain guests in your formal dining room

and sit on fancy chairs,

3)  Once you are settled in, it is time to go find some horses!  (Horses are a key element to successful gaucho-ing)

Warning: This task may not be as easy as it sounds.  You may need to wander the ranch for days (or just for a while) to find these elusive horses.  Persevere, and your gaucho dreams can come true!)

4)  While aimlessly wandering the the ranch grounds, do not be too distracted by the other exciting things you find.  Remember: your dream is not to be a tiny bicyclist or a pilot.

5)  At this point, you will want to eat a delicious asado lunch – you will need your strength for the horse riding competitions later in the day.

6)  All of the searching has paid off!  HORSES!  Tied to a tree, just like the man in the castle said.  Too bad he wasn’t more specific about WHICH tree!

7)  While riding the horse, remember the following:

a.  remember all your horse knowledge from Camp Shamineau

b.  remember that even if your horse wants to trot up to the front of the line, while you do like going faster than a walk, you do not know Spanish, and should not lead the trail ride, because you have no way of asking the guides which direction to turn.

8) Make sure to also watch some of the traditional gaucho games – they will probably invite you to join in once they have seen your horseback riding skills.

9)  You should also familiarize yourself with the folk dances of Argentina.  Gauchos love to impress the ladies with their dancing.  However, if one should invite you to dance, you can feel free to vote for your friend’s sister to go up instead, so that you don’t have to show how uncoordinated you really are to all of Argentina.

10)  That is it!  Once completing all of these steps, feel free to refer to yourself as a real gaucho!  Because you basically are!

Our trip to the estancia was SO fun – we loved the chance to get away from the busy city and enjoy the peaceful countryside.  A map of the estancia would have been helpful – maybe we would have made our dreams to ride horses in Argentina come true a little earlier in the day.  To hear more specifics about our day at the ranch and also what we did today, head on over to Amber’s blog (the link called Amber! to the right)

Now it is time for famous pizza!

Fiestas and pinatas

We are just resting up before heading to what we are pretty sure is going going to be a half birthday party for us. Miranda refuses to translate to her roommates to ask them for confirmation on this. Yet another reason to learn Spanish…

We also have been working on planning the other days we are here. Miranda has a busy week planned for us. She is such a great tourguide. On Thursday though, Miranda will have to work, so she is turning us loose in the city. Don’t worry – she picked the safest neighborhood, which is also one she can drop us off at on her way to work and meet up with us afterwards to get us home. Minimal navigation will be required of me and Amber.

In other exciting news – the sun was actually out today! So exciting!! The estancia was everything we could have dreamed of. I will hopefully fill you in with pictures and a longer post soon that tells you of our adventures in becoming profesional gauchos.

I really ought to learn Spanish…

Before I give you the full update on our travels and adventures, let me just give you a few snapshots of a few interesting moments (this is the brief version for those of you on a tight schedule):

  • There are pigeons right outside Miranda’s apartment window.  There may have been some concern about the pigeons flying into the bathroom while showering.  It turns out they do not want to come in the apartment, but just want to sing to us while we are home.  If the internet fails us, we are considering sending home trip updates via carrier pigeon.  So if you do not hear from me or Amber’s blogs for a while, just watch for a pigeon knocking on your window.
  • They greet with a kiss on the cheek here.  Definitely reminded me of Brazil!  Some of us, no – ONE of us – is working on remembering this, and not attempting to shake more people’s hands.
  • We saw kids on a field trip today.  The teacher in me wanted to take a picture of them to show my kids back in the States.  The “not a creepster” part of me thought this might be a bad idea.  So to compromise, I took a picture, but wasn’t looking through the camera at the time, so that it was less obvious.
  • It is winter here.  We knew this, but didn’t fully appreciate all of the implications.  1)  It is cold.  2)  It gets dark early (this was very confusing) and 3) hmm… I really think I had a third point a minute ago.  Oh well.  oh yeah – 4) It is even colder at night.  I was so cold last night that in my dream I went to the store and bought a blanket. ha!
  • We are staying at Miranda’s, which is awesome, but slightly entertaining that we are attempting to sleep 3 people in her little bedroom.  Her roommate laughed at us and said that he wanted to see a picture of our sleeping arrangement once we fit us all in.
  • We really wanted to go to bed early last night, but Miranda insists that even if we don’t get on a Buenos Aires sleep schedule, that we at least get on their meal schedule, which means eating dinner around 9pm.  She does live on Avenida Corrientes though – which is known as the street that never sleeps.  The tour books told us that the people who live in this city party well into the night/dawn/early morning/when Minnesotans are going to work – I guess they are right!
  • One of our biggest accomplishments is crossing the widest street in the world: Avenida 9 de Julio.  While there we saw the Obelisco – which looks strikingly similar to the Washington Monument.  It is where people gather to celebrate big sporting events.
  • One of my favorite spots was to the coolest bookstore in the world – it is in what used to be an old Opera Hall.  There, we found a movie that was made based on my life.  It is called Laura.  (I should probably read a synopsis online before claiming it as biographical – it might be pretty sketchy or inappropriate.  There is no way to know.)
  • We went on a tour with Miranda’s company: Cultour today.  They taught us a lot about the history of Buenos Aires – a lot about Juan and Eva Peron.  I learned so much, but will not type it here in case I am remembering details wrong.  I wouldn’t want to misinform the public.
  • After the tour we ate lunch with the people we went on the tour with.  We ended up sitting with some guys that spoke English – 2 guys from the US and 1 guy from Germany.  It was fun to hear about their traveling adventures and hostel stories, and it was fun to speak in English and not be the mute friend that follows Miranda around.  Talk then shifted to things of a political nature.  If you know me at all, you know I had nothing to contribute to this part of the conversation, except to share that I once interviewed to nanny for Pawlenty’s kids, but didn’t get the job.
  • The sidewalks here are kind of like tiled.  It is very interesting and not at all level – I have attempted to twist my ankle multiple times.  I probably should have brought Tim’s cane with just in case.  I want to take everything in while we walk places, but I also am needing to focus on the ground so I don’t trip and die, and watching Miranda so I don’t get lost.
  • Last night Miranda had red meat and red wine for dinner for us – two things this country loves – Amber and I were pretty ridiculous trying to open the bottle – clearly not something either of us does very often.  Or pretty much ever.  But we also had “fancy ketchup” with our meal.  Like, literally that is what it says on the package.  Mostly my sister should have been there to eat with us!  Perfect meal for her.

Ok, so it turns out that the bulleted list is captures a lot of our trip.  So much for the abridged version!

I feel like we’ve already seen so many fun things!   Some of the other great sights we’ve seen include: Casa de Rosada – it is where the president works and (fun fact) it originally was pink because it was painted with cow’s blood mixed with something.  We saw the workers’ general union building (CGT) where we saw a museum/memorial for Evita.  It is where her body lay embalmed until it was stolen during a coup.  We went into their meeting hall and led a meeting.  (or posed for a picture.  it is hard to say which).  We also went to a fancy mansion that looked like it should have been a movie set – that eventually when yellow fever came to visit, the fancy people went to the north and immigrants moved in.  It was really neat looking.

Ok, I am feeling a bit lazy and maybe will share pictures tomorrow.  Amber posted some though, so you should check them out at her blog (the link is to the right – it is called Amber!)

Time to rest up for our big day at the Estancia tomorrow!  Good thing I took horsemanship at camp when I was eleven!