Destinations

Reflections on Ending our Trip Around the World

This morning we find ourselves in the Atlanta airport en route to Cincinnati, officially back in the United States. During our six hour bus ride and a ten hour flight, we have had a lot of time to reflect on our travels and all that we have seen, learned and experienced.  Now that it is over, we can say without hesitation that this trip around the world has been an unequivocal success.  We are proud of what we’ve done; it has been incredibly satisfying and rewarding.   It hasn’t really sunk in that it is over, and what a bitter sweet ending it is.  We have stayed in so many hotel rooms, it will be nice to sleep in a familiar bed for several nights in a row.  And we will have significantly fewer buses, planes and trains in our near future.  But we wouldn’t trade the many different beds, moments of frustration and exhaustion, bumpy flights or even bouts of food poisoning.  It is all part of the overall experience. We would do it all again in a heartbeat.

On our last night in Mar Del Plata, really our last night of the trip, we laid in bed and talked about all that we have learned from our travels.  Of course, the list is endless and we shared everything from the silly (a”hairy coo” is a Highland Cow in Scotland ) to the practical (the London Heathrow airport has absurdly restrictive security) to the profound (by and large, people around the world seem to want similar things from life).  Not only has our understanding of other cultures grown, but also our understanding of our own culture.  We have seen the ways the U.S. can be much more restrictive than other countries, to the point of making us feel stifled.  At the same time, we have grown to appreciate things like vehicle emissions standards and road construction because the lack of these things in other countries is incredibly off-putting.  Traveling for four months did not allow us to spend tons of time in any single city, so we cannot call ourselves experts on any one place .  However, it is amazing what 3 or 4 days can do to create a real impression–the people, food, drink, transportation, shopping and overall vibe of a city shows itself pretty quickly.  We can now speak knowledgeably about cities around the world which six months ago we might not have even been able to find on a map.

We are happy to report that even on the last day of the trip, we’re still finding ourselves surprised.  Predictability has certainly never been an issue on this trip, and as we sat on the bus from Mar Del Plata to Buenos Aires, the movie in the DVD player was not another of the terrible movies we expected.  Instead, it was the new James Bond movie, Skyfall.  You know, the one that just came out in the U.S. on Friday?  How refreshing, if not a bit surprising, to have a movie that might actually entertain us!  Of course, we stopped paying attention when we realized it was dubbed in Spanish–those DVD pirates sure are quick!

As our trip comes to an end, we find ourselves overwhelmed with feelings both confusing and understandable.  We know the real world will be calling soon, so we have begun taking steps to ease the transition–polishing our resumes, reaching out to potential employers, making appointments to look at apartments.  But, we didn’t want to pull the emergency break on our journey, either.  We wanted to savor the end because we still can’t believe it is actually over.  No longer will we have to be hyper-vigilant about our surroundings, keeping an eye on our bags at every turn and constantly jotting down notes on our observations from the day.  We won’t have to worry about where we will be sleeping two days from now or if the room falls within our accommodations budget.  Nor will we have the pleasure of discovering a great local favorite like the Shopska salad or a wonderful free walking tour.  Our life experienced a huge tectonic shift when we left New York City to travel the world, and we are now on the cusp of a new shift.  Yes, our way of thinking will shift with it, we just hope that the perspective we have gained from our experiences stays with us.

We look back and feel so thankful for the amount of support and encouragement we have gotten from friends, family and even total strangers.  It has been much appreciated and has helped inspire us each and every day to continue with our efforts in writing the blog.  What started out as a travel journal for us and a way to keep in touch with our loved ones has turned into a labor of love that is a happy surprise.  It has been a pleasure writing each day and we are so thankful that we have had experiences enough to fill the page.  Of course, there was always so much more to say and we constantly found ourselves editing down to make the entries readable.  To those daily readers, thank you for going on this journey with us.  We feel so enriched from all we’ve seen and done, and we hope in some way you feel enriched, too.

Although this is the end of our trip, we are smart enough to know that this is not the end of our journey.  In fact, in some ways our journey is only just beginning.  As we enter this new phase and into a life with more routine, we will always have this remarkable story to tell.  But never fear, we will continue to make more stories, both at home and abroad.  One thing we know for sure is that this trip has made us hungry for more travel.  It is such a big world out there and we have so much more to see.  Yes, we still have lots of travel in our future.  But for now, we can officially say that we have completed a voyage around the world.

Brooke and Phil

Advertisements
Categories: Destinations, Eating, Post Trip Reflections, The End of our Trip, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sunrise on our final day in Argentina

Given how far South we currently are in relation to the rest of South America and also factoring in the time of year, there are some long days here in Mar Del Plata. Lots of daylight over the course of any given day. All of that made it even more challenging when we pledged to wake up and catch the sunrise this morning. We set the alarm for the official daybreak time of 5:30 AM, but in all honestly dawn starts lighting up the sky around 4:45. Somehow, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and onto the balcony by the magical, early hour. Facing due east, we were able to watch the sun quickly rise right across the horizon on schedule. Moving from a slight sliver to a full glowing sphere in just a few moments. Sort of spectacular. Ocean view sunrises aren’t something we will have much opportunity to take advantage of moving forward. We’ve managed to see several sunsets during our trip, but this one was the first sunrise. I know it’s just a sunrise, but it was magnificent all the same.

Thus began the final, full day of our Around the World Trip. An easy going day overall. I finally stuck my toe in the ocean – oh so cold. Long walks around Mar Del Plata followed taking me to the cute and charming Guemes street. Another run in with a Post Office complete with long lines, difficult staff and overpiced ($3!) international post card stamps. Sweet Cliff Claven, I’ve come to loathe all post offices. Later on, I contemplated the gravity of the end of our trip at lunch while a plate of empanadas stared back at me. We’ll have more comprehensive trip reflections in future posts (oh, there is much to say), but as we wind down the trip and prepare to head home, I have a general feeling of accomplishment. I feel really good about things. Although, there are some clothes that I’ve been carrying around since July that I never want to see again. It also might be a sign of apparent good timing to head home as I just ran out of shaving cream this morning and I managed to pack exactly the right number of razor blades. On a more meaningful scale, I really hope that Brooke and I managed to expand our horizons and maybe, just maybe, grow a bit as travelers and as people.

Less stunning was the challenge we had with the local bus company later in the day. We rode all the way on two buses to central bus terminal where there, and only there, we could purchase a bus pass card. After interacting with the two most bored information booth employees I’ve ever seen (never a good sign when you have to wake one of them up), we thought we were all set. It wasn’t until we were headed back home boarding another bus that the driver yelled at us in Spanish that the card is not good. Apparently, there are separate bus companies in Mar Del Plata running different routes. Awesome. We bought a card we’ll have little use for. In hindsight, there were some clues that the 221 bus might not operate the same way the 581 bus does, but it would have been incredibly kind of anyone to have clued us in along the way. It’s actually reassuring to know that in our last days of our trip, we’re still getting bamboozled from time to time. Running into these small and ridiculously frustrating issues is all part of the package deal. It would be kind of shame if we had mastered world travel in a matter of a few months.

We closed down the day with one last, delicious, romantic Mar Del Plata dinner at a top local seafood joint named Alito. We’ve been in Argentina for a while now but we just can’t get the hang of eating out at 10:00 PM. In fact, when we sat down to eat at the reasonable dining hour of 8:15 PM, we were the only patrons in the entire restaurant. More guests showed up soon after, but they were mostly of the elderly persuasion. For a while, it felt like we wandered into the equivalent of the Early Bird Special. Luckily, this didn’t have any impact on a scrumptious meal that followed. Our dinner was bookended with a bottle of one of our new favorite wines from Mendoza (The Trumpetter Malbec, if you’re keeping score at home) and two over-the-top desserts. Brooke’s dessert that involved Baileys, ice cream, walnuts and cookies was served in a cocktail glass. There was a dish on the menu called Flan Solo that Brooke joked should be served with Luke Piewalker and C3POreo. Yeah, I’ve got a damn clever and funny wife. This trip has been made up of several wonderful moments spread across the globe and this would count as one of them. We toasted to our time in Argentina and enjoyed a nice, intimate, slow meal as is the style around here.

One last, delicious dessert!

Now, I’m going to get back to enjoying one last morning of seasside living. One of the nicest things about being here has been simply looking out the window and watching the waves crash into the giant rocks far below. Additionally, given how many hotels, apartment buildings, hostels and homes I’ve seen that are blocks from the beach, we’ve been so lucky to have this place. Having been through so many places (often for just one or two nights), and now having all these days in just one apartment has felt like a pleasant eternity. All we need now are some comfy pants and slippers. Soon enough, I suppose. Next stop, a bus to Buenos Aires, another bus to the airport, a flight to Atlanta and a final flight to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

-Phil

Of all the currency we’ve encountered, Argentine peso bills are often ratty and tattered. This was my change from lunch today – the bills are falling apart!

There are commonly found at traffic lights in Argentine cities: Street Entertainers that perform for stopped cars in order for tips. This kid was a pretty fierce juggler.

This is a water tower designed to look like a medieval tower at the highest point in Mar Del Plata. Free to get in, but it was apparently closed for the day so this is as close as I got.

Categories: Beach, City Visits, Clothes, Destinations, Eating, Hotels, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Enjoying Mar Del Plata

Choosing to come to Mar Del Plata as an end to our trip around the world was a fantastic idea.  We have enjoyed our time relaxing, doing some “re-entry” work, and literally taking long walks along the beach.  No, we aren’t placing a singles ad or anything, but the coastline here stretches for miles and it is wonderful that we have time to simply walk.  Like many other beach towns, there are dozens of runners, roller bladers, power walkers and skaters moving about and enjoying the sunshine and ocean breeze.  The beach is noticeably busier on the weekends and the atmosphere is charged with energy and excitement.

Determined to take advantage of the awesome apartment where we are staying, we wandered half way across town to find a better grocery store in order to make dinner for ourselves.  Though this Toledo store is the same brand as the other, its much more expansive aisles and wider selection made this one far superior.  We could actually identify vegetables through the mud caked on them, unlike our previous Toledo visit.  The floors were also level, allowing us to let go of our cart without it racing to the other end of the store and crashing into a wall.  What a refreshing change!  We bought all the fixins for a truly delicious homemade dinner.  Once preparations began, we found ourselves faced with a challenge.  Now, bear in mind we have cooked using a gas stove and oven for years–this is what we are used to.  Also know that our Air BnB host, Carlos, demonstrated how to use the oven on the first day we arrived.  None of that made any difference.  On this stove, the pilot light for the oven has to bit lit manually using a match.  Simple enough, but we had the hardest time finding the right combination.  Light the match, push in the dial, spin until you hear the gas release, then release and set the temperature.  Each time we tried the last step, the flame disappeared.  In fact, every time I had the stupid thing lit, the flame would die if I made any moves with the dial.  I wasn’t too keen on sitting with my hand on the dial for the entire time and not only did my frustration began to build, but my fear that we were going to blow up this apartment in our efforts.  Phil took over and had similar issues.  Match after match, we lit the flame to see it almost immediately die out.  As soon as we were about to change the menu from oven-roasted carrots to sautéed carrots, Phil saved the day and figured it out.  It took us at least 15 matches and I’m not sure we’ll be able to do it again, but at least we were able to roast those carrots and enjoy a delicious homemade dinner.

After dinner, Phil was excited to check out the casino.  I was feeling much more comfy and cozy inside and managed to talk him into staying home and just hanging on the couch.  As Phil mentioned in his last post, one thing we have been doing is watching a fair amount of television, which we haven’t done much of on the whole trip. Now, almost every channel we get has the shows dubbed over in Spanish, but there are a few reliable channels that merely have Spanish subtitles and we can actually watch the programming.  We don’t really get many typical American networks–no NBC, CBS, or ABC.  We do get FOX, but it is some different version and of course there is AXN, with its endless episodes of CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds and Castle.  However, even with our limited choices, we have managed to discover 2 new shows which we think are part of the new fall schedule (though we aren’t sure, because here they were shown on Cinemax).  These shows are Arrow and Revolution.  Both on in marathon format (though Revolution was only 2 episodes), we watched from pilot to current episode and really enjoyed them both.  Are they high quality shows?  Maybe, but we have been starved for such television, and it was fun to indulge and watch for hours.  There is a 75% chance we won’t ever watch these once we return to the States, but I’m glad we caught them here.

We should have known. It doesn’t even look fun or inviting from the outside.

After much begging, pleading and arm twisting, we finally found ourselves at the Casino Central the following day.  Okay, so maybe Phil and I love casinos and we have found it interesting to see some of the differences between the ones we are used to in Las Vegas and those around the world. Set in an old hotel, this casino was said to be a fun time and the best of a few of these establishments in Mar Del Plata.  It may be the best one, but think our standards might be too high.  As we walked in, I got the distinct feeling that we were in an old hotel convention floor which is hosting a casino night.  All the games were concentrated in one area with the corners and edges of the room largely empty.  There isn’t much different from one slot machine to another, although we did see one of our Vegas favorites called Milked Money that involved racing cows and more fun.  However,  when we played electronic roulette, we couldn’t determine how to cash out our winnings.  We hit all the buttons and read the whole screen (in Spanish), but no ticket printed.  Finally we asked the attendant and he showed us this ridiculously obscure multi-step process of cashing out.  Great, at least it was possible to actually get the money out.  We weren’t ready to leave, so I went to put the ticket back in the machine and keep playing, but unlike most casinos, the tickets can’t be used at cash in this electronic game.  Argh, what a pain.  Finally, we settled in an played for a bit.  The minimum bet was 1 peso, which is a little less than 25 US cents, so we weren’t exactly risking our life savings, just having some fun.  Once we ran out of pesos, we headed for the door.  The only thing this trip to the casino really did was give us the itch to go back to Las Vegas.

And now we find we have come to our last full day of the trip.  True, we don’t leave until Tuesday, but that we mostly be spent traveling.  So, we will continue to soak up the sun, reflect on this amazing journey and prepare to establish ourselves back into the world of work, family and friends.  It may surprise you to hear that this is actually something we are really looking forward to. But first, we will enjoy Mar Del Plata–the beach, the sun, the seafood–for just a little while longer.

–Brooke

The bigger, better grocery store also has these crazy peanuts we ate at a restaurant. They are battered and fried. And delicious!

During the high season, it is almost impossible to find a spot on the beach. That won’t happen until late December and January.

Categories: Argentina, At Night, Casino, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Mar Del Plata, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back through Mendoza

As we trek onward through Argentina, we’re putting our phenomenal time in wine country behind us and heading back east. Ah, I already miss enjoying a daily bottle of wine. A cheap ride on the city bus took us back into the city of Mendoza. Brooke and I were looking forward to one more day in Mendoza since we liked so much of what we saw the first time around. One of Argentina’s larger cities, the central area of Mendoza is compact, walkable, tree lined and punctuated with several lively public squares teeming with ample green space and functioning fountains. The sidewalks are packed with people on their way to school and work or, in the evening, leisurely ambling across town. Toss on the marble tiling found everywhere and the aqueducts running beneath the sidewalk that feed the city and Mendoza is an easy place to like. Returning to endless dinner options doesn’t hurt either. A tasty Italian dinner at a popular favorite restaurant called Marchigiana was a big success. We’ve found quality Italian cuisine is common in Argentina which is no surprise given the amount of Italian heritage found throughout the country.

One last great photo from our time amongst the vineyards

Zip Lining or Hail Protection Gear?For a change of pace, we headed down to the Avis storefront and decided to rent a car for the day. It’s been several weeks since we’ve had a chance to do any leisurely driving and this seemed to be the right place for it. One insight we’ve gained from traveling is that if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car, you’re not going to get very far in just about any country. Lucky for us, Brooke and I are both well versed in the five speed, although the reverse on our tiny Chevy sedan was a bit tricky. One of the primary reasons we rented a car was to scoot out to the Argentina Rafting company outdoor complex about 45 minutes away. Our plan was to tackle a long-standing adventure on our list that we hadn’t had the chance to do yet: Zip Lining! Or, depending on your geographical preference, you may call it Canopy or even Flying Fox. After waiting for a guide, we strapped on our harnesses, hiked up to the start of the course and we’re ready to, er, Zip. Not so far- just about five minutes before we were going to descend down the first line, it started to rain. Then the rain turned into heavier rain. And the heavier rain turned into hail. Nothing says, “you’re not going to be Zip Lining today” like a hail storm. Good thing we had these handy helmets on to protect our noggins from the nasty sky ice. Actually, good thing it started hailing before we started the two hour course. Once you start, there is no where to seek shelter between each zip line.

Undaunted and not discouraged, we hopped back in our rental car and began the scenic drive past the foothills of the Andes and back into Mendoza. We wandered a bit and even found ourselves in a local Wal-Mart stocking up on snacks. Sad to report that an Argentine Wal-Mart is identical to an American Wal-Mart. Our car made it’s way to an extraordinary nature reserve/city park north of the city that offers everything from soccer fields to golf courses. I even managed to sneak in a quick park nap on a bench near the lake. Later, we found ourselves enjoying a late lunch at an outdoor cafe in the center of town. Over afternoon coffee, sandwiches and even more empanadas, we allowed ourselves to wonder what we’ll be doing two weeks from now. After this trip is over, we have a lot of unknowns and another big adventure waiting for us. Even though it likely won’t include afternoons at outdoor cafes, it should make for an exciting and remarkable time.

After re-fueling and returning the car, a small slew of logistical challenges in their own right, we made our way back to the Mendoza bus station and prepared for another comfortable 14-hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. And I think that this bus was a little bit newer and nicer than the last one. Really, anyway you slice it, these are high quality buses. The overnight ride was comparable to the easy-going trip out that we wrote about last week. Although the morning traffic getting into the center of Buenos Aires was brutal and seemed to last forever.

Sunset view from our bus

Fireproof - forced to watch on a busThe one constant on both of our bus rides? Terrible, terrible movies. Films so bar that we never heard of any of them. I kept hoping and hoping that the next flick the bus attendant was going to pop on would be a box-office smash. Or at least enjoyable. Instead, each film was worse than the one before. And with a screen a few feet from my head, there was no escaping. The first film was “A Little Bit of Heaven” – an obnoxiously adorable Kate Hudson movie that started out like all Kate Hudson movies. That is until Kate Hudson gets a terminal case of cancer and spends the rest of the film dying with dignity and grace. The second movie was “Get The Gringo” a 2012 Mel Gibson movie that might have been the most brutal and violent movie I’ve seen in years. Not so much suitable for a public bus ride, but I’m more stunned that they are still letting Mel Gibson make movies. The last film was “Fireproof” an independent starring former heart-throb turned evangelical actor Kirk Cameron. It was in Spanish, but I got the gist: small town Fire Chief spends a lot of time crying and being angry about his failing marriage until he accepts Christ’s understanding. Awesome. The Avengers it was not.

After a brief stop in Buenos Aires our next stop is the beaches of Mar Del Plata! Can’t wait to check out another Argentine town.

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Driving, Mendoza, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Delicious Wine with New Friends

After a day of laying around, reading, sleeping and being doubled over in pain, I awoke on Saturday feeling like an almost normal human being.  We were finally ready to have the day we had been envisioning upon planning our visit to Mendoza–a day entirely dedicated to visiting wineries and drinking different, delicious wines.

We laid out a plan to visit at least 4 different wineries and engage in both tours and tastings.  To our delight, our new friends from Tikay Killa, Lyn and Dan joined us for the entire day.  To begin, we had to find a way to the winery (or bodega as they are called here).  Obviously drinking and driving is a big concern here and police are on the lookout everywhere.  We don’t have a car anyway, so that wasn’t really an option.  For this reason, tourists are encouraged to either take taxis or ride bicycles from winery to winery.  Going for the more cost effective and fun method of transport, we chose bikes.  Luckily, our lodge has a few on hand making rental a breeze.  We set out for our first stop of the day–Mevi, a small winery with an amazing view.  None too keen on drinking red wine in the heat, instead we imbibed in the whites and roses as we lounged on their sunny terrace which overlooks the vineyards and has stunning views of the Andes Mountains in the distance.  We sipped Chardonnay, Torrontes, Malbec Rosado and various other wines.  After an eight kilometer bike ride in the Argentinian heat, these cool, refreshing varieties helped recharge our batteries so we could continue on our way.

Only three kilometers further, Familia Di Tommaso was the next vineyard on our list.  Rather than just drinking, we first took a tour of this small, family run bodega which is the oldest in Maipu.  They showed us the old cement tanks which were formally used to ferment and age the wine.  More modern systems have been put in place, so these are now used as wine cellars for the bottles they produce.  Like many of the wineries in this region, their gem can be found in their Malbec Reserva.  Aged in oak for 12 months, this wine has a robust flavor which impressed us all.  We immediately ordered a bottle to accompany lunch aside the vineyard.  Something which makes the wines here even more special is that they do not export or sell to grocery stores.  This family’s produce can only be bought here at the bodega.  Unfortunately, they don’t make ordering a case of wine very easy since they don’t take credit cards and don’t ship directly from the winery.  Dan was especially disappointed, but with the help of Elena at our lodge he was able to work it out.  At lunch, we were joined by a couple from Holland who we met on the tour.  I don’t know if it is the wine or just travelers to this region in general, but we have met such wonderful, like-minded people on this visit.  Everyone is traveling anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months and no one looks at us like we’re crazy when we tell them about our trip around the world.  Building friendships with people from around the world has been a major added benefit of this trip that I didn’t anticipate beforehand.

After visiting these very small wineries, we were in for a huge difference with Trapiche, easily the largest vineyard in Maipu and also a part of the largest winery in Argentina.  Here we met up with Sophie, our other new friend who was also staying at Tikay Killa.  We toured this monstrous winery, learning about its long history.  The building we were in has been dedicated as historically significant, therefore retains its original characteristics.  Though it has been refurbished and modernized, the original structure still stands including the huge tanks which are still used to ferment the wine.  This winery originally belonged to a different family who built in this location due to its proximity to the railroad.  In fact, they even have a “pool” where they could ferment 5 million liters of wine at one time! Considering some small wineries we visited only produce about 19,000 liters a year, this number had our jaws on the ground.  The idea was that all the wine from this one pool could be the entire stock loaded onto one train.  This pool is no longer used because, as you might imagine, it is difficult to control the quality and consistency of the wine when creating it on that scale.   The tour ended with a taste of 3 different wines and although they were delicious, we all agreed the smaller Di Tommassi family winery we visited earlier was superior.

Working our way back toward our lodge, we made our final visit to Finca Vina Maria, a tiny winery situated conveniently at the end of our street.  We barely arrived before their 5:30 pm closing time, but the woman was more than happy to share with us the history of the winery and a description of the wines they produce.  Rather than have a tasting, we decided to share a bottle of the Malbec while sitting outside under the shade of the huge sycamore tree.  Chatting about all things wine turned into chatting about all things life.  We learned more about each others jobs, families and travels.  Phil and I were surprised to find out a “jumper” means a “sweater” when spoken by a Brit, but be careful–a sweater is  not the same thing as a cardigan!  Dan conceded that Americans are probably more correct with some of our pronunciations of words, while Sophie staunchly believes since the Brits invented the language, they must be the ones who are right.  She does have a point!

After all this cycling, drinking and friendship, we knew we would be hungry later.  And, since we have all discovered how incredibly difficult it can be to find dinner after 5pm in Maipu (or at least nearby to our lodge), we decided to head to the grocery store and fend for ourselves.  It turned into a feast of tapas, perfect to go with the wine we had bought throughout the day.  Delicious cheese, ham, salami and bread filled our plates and the wine flowed freely.  Knowing we were all getting up to go horseback riding the next morning helped quell any desire to drink too much, and instead we spent the evening continuing to get to know one another, sharing stories and becoming friends.  Reflecting back on it all, I can’t think of a better way to spend a day!

–Brooke

Three of the many wines produced by Trapiche.

Dan, Lyn and Brooke riding bikes between winery visits.

Just place your glass on the wine you want and it appears as if by magic!

Vineyards as far as the eye can see. It’s pretty much like this everywhere in Maipu.

Categories: Argentina, Bars, Destinations, Diversions, Friends, Mendoza, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Mendoza and the 14-Hour Bus Ride

Phil's long, gangly arms go a long wayAfter spending a few days in Buenos Aires, we were really ready to get out of the bustling city and into another region of Argentina. So, we boarded the 14-hour bus to the Mendoza province – wine country!

Now, you may be thinking that a 14-hour bus ride sounds like pure torture, and generally speaking, I would agree. But the coach buses here run the gamut from your basic Greyhound style (complete with 50 people crammed together and a smelly bathroom) to luxury coaches fit for a rock star. We found ourselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum having chosen the Andesmar Ejecutivo class of service. We boarded a double decker bus and headed to our assigned seats on the top floor. Immediately impressed by their size, we found them to be more comfortable and spacious than Business Class Seats on an airplane. Because we were traveling overnight, it was important to us that we get some decent sleep. This was part of the reason for choosing this bus–the Ejecutivo seats recline to a 160 degree angle, so they lie almost completely flat. They come with a footrest, a small blanket and a pillow. Overall, they were quite comfortable. However, it wasn’t only the seats that made this bus ride bearable. We also had the luxury of having an on-board attendant, much like an airplane. He served us both dinner and breakfast, made sure the bathroom was clean and generally ensured everyone was comfortable. But the best part? Bingo! That’s right. Our trip had only just begun when he offered us all bingo cards and began calling out numbers. Phil was only one number away from winning, but the man seated in front of us beat him to it. The prize? What else on a bus to Mendoza but a bottle of wine. Overall, the whole trip was really easy and definitely the way to go when taking such a long ride. We think the U.S. could really benefit from these types of buses. If we can’t convince people to expand the rail network in our country, maybe we can encourage public transportation in this way. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but you never know.

Once we arrived in Mendoza, we had a bit of a misadventure finding our latest Air BnB stay. The bus we were told to take kicked us off at the last stop and we seemed to be nowhere on the map which was given to us. After being reassured that we were on the correct bus, we waited and boarded it going the other direction. This did not look promising either, as we appeared to simply be headed back to the place we started. We finally decided to jump off and ask someone for directions. We found some very nice people in a party supply store and managed through our broken Spanish to determine that we were far off the map and about six kilometers from where we needed to be. This was way too far to walk with luggage. Not to mention, this journey had already taken us about an hour, it was hot and we were tired from our 14-hour bus ride. After warning us to be careful of a taxi scamming us, our helpers sent us on our way. Luckily, we got an honest, albeit reckless, driver. He barely missed sideswiping another car in an intersection, though in retrospect we realize it wasn’t entirely his fault. Many of the intersections here have no stop lights or street signs. Nothing to indicate who should give way to whom. I imagine that could be quite confusing (and dangerous) for drivers. It is hard enough as pedestrians.

Once we got settled in, we decided to take a stroll through Mendoza. We were happy to see that this town is vastly different from Buenos Aires. A surprisingly big city in its own right, Mendoza has none of the broken sidewalks, graffiti and overall downtrodden feel of Buenos Aires. The streets were bustling with activity, sidewalk cafes were teeming with people sipping espresso and the air was actually fresh. They should rechristen Buenos Aires to “Malo Aires”and rename Mendoza to the more fitting “Buenos Aires”. The downtown area has a number of vibrant public squares with five right in the center of town. They are set up with the giant, most central square, Plaza Independencia, in the middle complete with fountain, green space, vendors and four satellite neighboring squares equidistant from one another. The happy-go-lucky vibe of Plaza Independencia reinforced that we were not in Buenos Aires anymore. Shanty towns and homeless people had been replaced by families playing soccer, lovers cuddling in the grass, and skateboarders attempting new tricks.

For dinner, we looked over the wide variety of dining options available around town and decided the Ocho Cepas (translated as eight strains) was the place for us. Set slightly apart from the main touristy streets, it boasts a large menu with several wine options. Phil was experiencing almost immediate order envy with he tasted my delicious filet mignon. While it might not take top honors for the best meal of the trip, the romantic atmosphere, tasty dishes and friendly staff made it a wonderful evening out. Now off to more rural wine country so we can see the vineyards up close!

-Brooke

Notice anything odd about this busy Mendoza intersection? There isn’t a single stoplight, stop sign, yield sign or cross walk on any corner! This is (amazingly) somewhat common.

Phil smiling because we’re lost once again on a city bus. Not the first time it’s happened this trip and likely won’t be the last.

In the rooms in Argentina where we have cable television, this is how we’ve been polishing up on our Spanish! Ah, gustamos Los Dos y Medio Hombres

Quilmes – The major local brew in Argentina. While be trading these in for bottles of Malbecs for a while…

Categories: Argentina, Destinations, Driving Abroad, Hotels, Mendoza | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Voting, Bus Stations and The Argentina Reciprocity Fee

Hello again from Buenos Aires! We’re continuing to explore the expansive Argentine capital as we spend time in neighborhoods like San Telmo and Palermo. We’ve traded in one comfortable hotel for another across town in order to check out another section of the city and we’re quickly mastering the Subte (Subway) system. Our plans were thwarted a bit when had some big rain roll through the other night which ended up causing some flooding throughout town. But the storms really just made for a good excuse to stay in, order delivery empanadas and watch Three Amigos and Shawn of The Dead on television. Yesterday, however, we packed in a full day that included everything from Tango Classes to a visit to the US Embassy.

A real highlight of the day was that we managed to take part in one of the most patriotic actions an American citizen can do: We voted in the 2012 United States presidential election! Hell yeah. Brooke and I have never missed a big election but we were fairly certain that our four month trip around the world was going to cause us to forfeit our votes for this one. Bummed about potentially missing out on our chance to be part of the democratic process, we had looked into the possibility of voting absentee before we departed NYC. But since our departure date was so far in advance of the election, absentee voting was a difficult, unlikely and cumbersome proposition. The woman at the board of elections seemed to have no clue as to how we should proceed.  At that point, we gave up and figured we would probably have to miss out on voting.  Not willing to settle for this, we took a long walk down to the United States Embassy of Argentina to see what could be done.

The expansive US Embassy was more like an administrative compound than the lovely, grand mansions we’ve seen in some of the smaller European capitals. The guards directed us to a bank telleresque window where we were quickly assisted. To our surprise, it turned out to be an incredibly simples process for us to vote in the 2012 election! A pair of passports, two registration forms and a blank ballot for writing in choices were all we needed. High fives commenced! It felt like an awesome win and left us with a strong dose of American pride. I’m ready for my screaming American Eagle tattoo on my bicep. In retrospect, we should done a little bit of research on our local New York ballot in order to be more informed about local and state issues, but we were honestly so pessimistic about actually being able to vote that we never took the time. Our embassy guide told us that we just missed out on “Voting Day” a few weeks earlier that was made up of giveaways from American companies and a speech from the ambassador. I think for years we’ll remember how for this particular election our ballots were cast in the middle of Buenos Aires at the US Embassy.

From the Embassy, we made our way over to the central Buenos Aires bus station – La Terminal De Omnibus – to secure our bus tickets for our travel to Mendoza. Ever since Argentina’s government dramatically cut back on train subsidies in the 1990s, buses have been the preferred method of traveling from city to city across South America’s second largest country. Knowing all that, we weren’t surprised to find that the main bus station is absolutely massive. We’ve seen plenty of airports in our travels that are much smaller than this behemoth three-story station. Our first mission was to determine which of the 100+ ticketing windows best suited our needs. Once at the correct set of windows, we were able to adeptly apply our very broken Spanish to determine bus times, cost, service class, arrival and more. Brooke and I are actually feeling pretty strong about our abilities to hammer out the basics in conversation using the little Spanish that we know. For these long haul bus rides, there are several different classes of service. We decided on “Ejecutivos” which is somewhere between Semi-Cama, Cama or Suite. If we’re understanding the counter people correctly (fingers crossed), our ride should be in seats equivalent to Airline Business Class seats that lay at a 160 degree angle complete with in-seat meal service from a bus attendant. Snazzy. In short, it ain’t Greyhound. I’m a little apprehensive about doing a fourteen hour overnight bus ride to Mendoza. But then I remember some longer journeys in the states in which I’ve been in much less comfortable seats. And then Brooke stated that she didn’t realize she had married such a wimp when it comes to riding on a bus. So, I  got over my concerns pretty quickly.

Brooke celebrates after successfully securing our bus tickets….all by using our Espanol!

Speaking of traveling, we wanted to mention the dreaded Argentine Reciprocity Fee that we had to pay when entered Argentine the other day. Fellow travelers we talk to are always a bit amazed by this, so we thought we would share our experience. In order to enter Argentina, citizens of America, Canada and Australia have to pay an entry fee which is in place as an equivalent “payback” for the cost of a visa application that an Argentine citizen is charged to enter those three countries. The cost? $160 per person (recently increased by $20 a pop). Not a small amount when you’re circumnavigating the world on a budget.

When we landed at EZE, the imigration lines quickly diverged for visitors like ourselves. A friendly cashier soon invited us to pay the fee using cash or a credit card. Lucky for us, We had been aware of the fee long in advance and had budgeted for it accordingly. But there certainly seemed to be some people stumbling off a 10-hour overnight flight who received a rude awakening when they learned that they have to fork over the cash before getting any further. The real pain of it is that this relatively new fee is ONLY enforced at the two Buenos Aires airports; the fee is not collected at any other entry point in the country. For what it’s worth, the fee is good for ten years which I guess might be beneficial somewhere down the line. Brazil and Chile also have similar policies. We’ve also read that by the end of 2012, all visitors must pay the fee online in advance of your arrival rather than at the airport. Good times.

Somewhere along the way between trips to the bus station in the rain and voting, we managed to cram in an amazing Wine Tasting, Tango Lessons and drinks with fellow ex-pats in a pub San Telmo – all which Brooke will write more about. All in all, today was a great day to be traveling around the world.

-Phil

Brooke enjoying a legendary South American treat: Buenos Aires Ice Cream!

Our swanky room at The Tango Hotel

Categories: Argentina, Destinations, Self Guided Tours, Surprises, Tango, Uncategorized, Voting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.