Saturday, April 18, 2015

Urug-where?


I'm guessing the last time I gave much thought to the country of Uruguay was when I was studying for the South American countries and capitals test in Señor Powers' Spanish class in 4th grade.  

Which brings to mind the extent of my Spanish lessons for 5 years: "A, E, I, O, U. Me llamo Señor Powers, como te llamas tu?", "La Bamba", "Guantanamera", "Las Mañanitas", the pledge to the America flag... in spanish, but I'm pretty sure the class favorite was "Bistec! Bistec! Quiero, quiero, quiero el bistec! Oh no no no no el bistec! Los frijoles, la ensalada, las tortillas y el chile..."  Oh... what am I thinking? Of course the class favorite was Spanish Kickball (aka: kickball during Spanish class).  It's a wonder I ever got this far in my Spanish, but necessary to explain to understand how I've only gotten this far in my Spanish since I started learning it when I was 10.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

Uruguay. 

I had one week from the time Moms and Pops' South American Adventure came to an end in Buenos Aires and my flight left for Ecuador, also departing from Buenos Aires.  Not being a big "city girl" and feeling we had done a good job touring around BA the previous 4 days, I was looking for somewhere else to explore. My first thought was to head west to Córdoba or more north to Salta. It'd be a lot of travel and money for one week but I was about to pull the trigger on travel arrangements when I pulled out the map (always a good thing to do when planning travel).  And that's when I discovered that Buenos Aires was just an hour ferry ride from Uruguay. So I flipped to the relatively short chapter on Uruguay in my trusty Lonely Planet. A suggested itinerary indicated you could hit many highlights in a week.  Decision made! 

So I booked my ferry to depart the same evening as Moms and Pops.  I was already getting sad a few days before considering I'd be alone again after having constant companions for 2 weeks, and I knew it be a depressing evening in a hostel in Buenos Aires without them. After a tearful goodbye, I hopped into a cab for a rush hour ride to the boat terminal.  But tears were soon dried as a sympathetic taxi driver tried to lighten the mood. Turns out Miguel was from Bogotá, Colombia!  So it was fun to talk about his home as well as our shared interest in travel. And as I said a thankful goodbye to Miguel, I walked into the ferry office, when I met my first Uruguayo, Daniel.  He gave me some local food recommendations as well as a possible itinerary, a crash course in his country's politics and then an invite to the Peñarol soccer game on Saturday (which, sadly, didn't end up fitting into the itinerary).  

Moral of the story: Even when traveling alone, you are never alone!  I'm super thankful for these guys who helped turn a sad goodbye back into the unexpected journey I've come to expect. 

And then, suddenly I was back to hostel living: putting clean sheets on my bunk bed, chatting with new roommates about one another's itineraries and experiences and then connecting to the interwebs to catch up on what's going on back home. Admittedly, I'm usually the first one asleep in the room. I blame it on being "la viejita", the little old lady. But truth be told, being the first to sleep dates back to August 1999 and being the first one asleep on Third Center Olson at good ol' Taylor University. Some things never change. 

I shared breakfast the next morning with Annabelle. She is a lawyer from France who has also been bitten by the travel bug. We seemed to have lots in common in terms of style of travel and outlook on life. So it was nice to have a buddy to explore the quiet cobblestone streets of Colonia during the early morning hours. We snapped some photos before she headed on to her next destination. 





I wandered around town looking for a cafe to work on the previous blog when I stumbled upon Buen Suspiro, an unassuming wine and cheese bar that turned out to be number one on Trip Advisor. I enjoyed a quiet afternoon in the courtyard, catching up on journaling before going down to the river where I found a nice rock under the shade of the willow tree to take a nap. Again, it was a good time to reflect on God's goodness and thankfulness for his provision in my life. 







Back at the hostel I met my new roommate Els from the Netherlands. It was exciting to chat as she is a recent college grad and has one week under her belt of her 1 1/2 year long journey!  It was a fun reminder of the excitement of setting out on my own journey 19 months ago. 

The next day I took off in the morning on a 2 hour bus ride to Montevideo where I caught another 5 hour bus ride to Punta del Diablo, a chilled out beach town that my friend Daniel recommended but with the warning that once I arrive, I'll never want to leave. He was right. My reservation at the Hostal de la Viuda doubled from 2 nights to 4. 

I had the best welcome after a rather long day of travel and a somewhat unsettling arrival to a new town after dark and navigating the 10 minute walk on the dirt roads with yellow arrows to guide the way. Hostess Elle greeted me with the customary kiss on the cheek. When I inquired about food options, she said the hostel always has free pasta or rice available for travelers. It looked like pasta would be dinner, until I met Max and Erica from Seattle. They were just cooking up some freshly gathered mussels in a delicious sauce and offered to share them with me. Yes, please!  Basically, I decided this hostel was like a cool beach house some nice guy owned and invited all his coolest friends from around the world to stay... and then would serve you breakfast including homemade jam in the morning. Sweet!

The next morning I enjoyed some time in the hammocks with a long distance view of the ocean and then ventured down to the beach in the afternoon. I was definitely impressed... soft sand and clean beaches with only a handful of people in sight awaited. Punta del Diablo wins the award for nicest beaches of my trip although I've admittedly not spent too much time at the beach for this award to be that prestigious. But I was happy.



But the highlight of my time in PDD was the opportunity to catch up with my Patagonia Hostel fellow-volunteer Mèlo from France and her boyfriend Antoine!  We enjoyed wine, bread and cheese on the beach at sunset, some great food at Cero Stress, and a fun adventure at the national park Santa Teresa- complete with botanical gardens, a picnic lunch in a gazebo over the lake, a random zoo experience and a long walk back down Playa Grande to return to Punta del Diablo. It was fun to hear how the last few months of travel had treated us and how plans may or may not have changed for the future. And this is why I never say "goodbye" but just "see you later"!  










And another example of this, a few days after I arrived, Els showed up at the hostel in PDD as well!  Fun!! 

The beach was the perfect way to spend the last few days of my time truly alone on my journey, as the weeks ahead would all be travel with friends or family. 

I headed back to Montevideo for one afternoon of walking through the old town and then back up the boardwalk at sunset where Uruguayos were getting in some exercise or sharing their mate with one another. Which brings up the point, Uruguay definitely wins the award for consuming mate, herbal leaves packed into a gourd with hot water poured from a thermos and drank from a metal straw. It was more common that not to see the people walking down the street with their thermos under one arm and the gourd in the other hand. 

This day also happened to be my birthday. It could quite possibly be the most uneventful birthday I've ever had, but I think I could handle one day of lonesome travel considering all the other amazing days I've had in the previous year. But I did decide to treat myself to the top rated Francis Restaurante.  Sushi was on the menu and it did not disappoint!  





And I can truly say the same for my week long unexpected adventure in Uruguay.

Next stop... Ecuador!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Moms and Pops South American Adventure Travelogue!




From a hostel in Arequipa, Peru in mid-January I was able to FaceTime with the Padres. On a whim I threw out an invitation for them to come join me in Argentina. Dad's response: "Find us tickets using air miles and we'll think about it." Challenge accepted.

Not only did I find them tickets, but I also made a 14-day itinerary that included a few days in Chile. Considering I knew a reasonable amount of convincing (manipulation) would be necessary to seal the deal, I pulled out all the persuasive writing skills I could recall. Here is a small sampling of said itinerary:

"Day 7: "Promises Fulfilled"
Wake a little earlier to enjoy breakfast before the drive back to Santiago. Drop the rental car before flying to Puerto Montt at 11:00. Rent a car and drive 2 hours to San Carlos de Barloche. The beautiful drive will take us to Argentina, where Pops can officially fulfill his promise to his loving daughter (who has so thoughtfully prepared this itinerary), by "taking her to Argentina if she learns Spanish." And not only that, but he gets to take his wife to their dream destination for their honeymoon that just couldn't happen a few years back! What a way to make a man look like a winner. But wait, he doesn't just look like a winner. He is a winner! Because he gets to spend a few days in the Lake District of Argentina with the "two women he loves most in the world!" Score! Rent a car (optional) and settle in at the lake-side destination of Los Juncos Lake House for a 4 night stay. Stroll around the lake before enjoying a tasty meal at Cassis. Early to bed as it was early to rise!"

Pretty good, huh? I thought so. So you can imagine my response after I sent the itinerary I had spent hours preparing on a bus ride from Peru to Chile, when my parents each responded to the email with one word: "Wow". Wow? What kind of "wow" is that? Wow-incredible? Wow-you're crazy? Wow-I'm a little overwhelmed? I was grasping for straws here, people. So I waited a few more days for further response... And get nothing. The next time I talked to Moms I asked her what they were thinking. To my surprise, as well as hers, Pops was ready to book tickets the next day. Moms needed to ponder a little bit. After answering a few more emails and convincing them I would take care of all details (as long as Pops provided his credit card details) and that I would be with them every step of the way, the deal was sealed! I was stoked! I'd have the opportunity to share a little bit of life on the road with the two people who love me most in the world. This would be a pretty special opportunity, I would say. Granted, I knew hostel digs would have to be upgraded so I booked us into B&B's along the way... and local buses would have to be traded in for rental cars and taxis... not that I minded either.

And then I had to wait... almost two months! And then the day arrived for their departure... And I had to wait again. Mechanical problems delayed them a day in Peoria. Sad. That meant one day less in Santa Cruz, Chile and that "Sabbath Day" I had planned in the itinerary would be scratched out. We had places to go and people to see! But first, they needed to get into the country.

So here's the story from the last blog's cliffhanger.

I had taken an early 3-hour bus to Santiago to meet Moms and Pops at the airport. I was running a bit behind but wanted to take care of the rental car before they arrived. It appeared that their flight was arriving as I was doing this but by the time I had finished, the stream of people coming through international arrivals had slowed to a trickle. I began to get nervous when I saw overnight flight exhaustion coupled with some sort of frustration bordering on anger written all over their faces. You can imagine this was not the arrival I was hoping for. Pops barely gave me a glance and Moms shrugged her shoulders as they were being lead by a Customs Official to an office across from the arrival door. Our only way of communicating was lip reading and pantomiming. Moms' signal was that of pealing a banana, then pointing to Pops. I had forgotten to remind them of Chile's rather excessive customs inspections, essential to protecting their agricultural industry. Eventually Pops was escorted into the office with a rather perturbed look on his face. I managed to express the need to "be nice!" to the customs official. 10 minutes later Pops exits the office with a couple of extra legal forms and a picture of the banana taken next to his passport. His side of the story: The customs form asked if he was bringing any plants into the country. A banana is not a "plant" so he didn't check the box. Señor Customs Official begged to differ.

Not the best welcome to Chile. And on top of that, Pops had come down with the cold that Moms was just getting over. Lesson of the day: you can plan all you want but some things are out of you control, and then you have to "roll with it." This would not be the last time on the trip that this lesson would be experienced.

But the peace and tranquility of Hotel Vino Bello in Santa Cruz was awaiting Moms and Pops arrival. I needed to get them there ASAP!

We had a sweet 3 days there, although they both thought they could happily spend the whole trip there. Santa Cruz highlights included...

A "Bienvenidos" Lunch at Casa Colchagua across the street from the hotel and Moms and Pops introduction to delicious Chilean cuisine. Moms was as excited as I was to pick figs from the tree at the restaurant.



Several restful moments under the willow tree at the hotel.


My favorite walks through the vineyard to dinner at Restarante Vino Bello.





An awesome lunch at Rayuela's at Viu Manent.



Incredible views and food from Restarante Vino Bello.





Delightful lunch at Montes



And a sweet last night at Hotel Vino Bello, sharing good food and stories with my fellow workawayers: Josh, Majo and Cassie.

And then it was off to Santiago to catch our flight for Bariloche, Argentina the next day. I knew Moms and Pops would love a dinner at Barrica 94 in the Bellavista neighborhood. Then it was an early night as we had an early flight but Moms enjoyed taking in the lights of the city from our AirBnB room.





Lesson #2 in "Rolling with It":
We arrived at Santiago airport at 7:30 for a 9:40 flight to Buenos Aires. The terminal seemed to be eerily empty and there were many "canceled" notices on the departure monitors. We got to the ticket counter only to be surprisingly greeted with "Ah! Mr. Stephen and Mrs. Michele and Ms. Ashley Weaver!"
"Yes?"
"We've been trying to get a hold of you! There has been a strike in the Buenos Aires airport today. No flights are going in."
"Ok..."
"Would you like to rebook for tomorrow?"
We did some fact-finding and regrouping and weighing our options and decided that we would in fact like to rebook for the next day. One more day in Santiago. What to do?

Well, it just so happened that my Uncle Chuck had been keeping me updated on the status of the World Polo Championships taking place in Santiago that same week. And it just so happened that the U.S. was playing England that afternoon in the semi-finals game. After a morning of emails flying around between some very busy yet accommodating polo people Moms and Pops South American Adventure itinerary was modified to include a stop at the San Cristobol Polo Field in Santiago. I think we can roll with this! It was a great game with the U.S. advancing to the finals against Chile the next day. (Although we were in Argentina by the time the finals were played, we learned that Chile won in "overtime" as should be the case with the host country). Thanks Uncle Chuck for the hook-up!!







Ok... Try #2 for "Promises Fulfilled" Day on the itinerary.

And success. I think we may have all been a bit underwhelmed as we drove through the town of Bariloche itself but by the time we arrived to Km. 20, outside of the town and further along Lake Nahuel Huapi, things began to look more of what I had in mind. And once we checked in to Los Juncos Lake House, we were feeling right at home. Augustina, a few years older than me, was a gracious host, welcoming us to her home and getting us settled in. The best part of the day was our meal prepared by Gabriel. The food was spectacular. And the ambiance incredible... Candlelit and Rachmaninoff coming from the record player! (Oh man... B&B inspiration hitting me from all sides!!!)



Augustina did a great job in recommending some highlights of the area. Here were some of our faves.

Incredible views of the Lake District from Campanario.








A pleasant surprise in Hotel Llao Llao and a fabulous lunch that awaited.









A beautiful drive around Lake Guitierrez and a "hike" to some nearby waterfalls.





A peek at Cerro Catedral ski area... Not quite as exciting in the off-season.





Some of the best steak any of us have ever tasted at Alberto's (and that is saying something!) No wonder everyone we asked recommended this place...



Including the "helpful" "police officers" who were "guarding" our rental car. A few hours later I found it strange when mom couldn't find her gloves. Moments later dads sunglasses were missing from his sunglasses case. And after that my kindle at about $20 were missing from my bag. Sad day. But could be worse. Just want to say that I haven't been robbed in 16 months of travel... until I'm with my parents. Of course. And the icing on the cake was a few days later when dad got on email from his credit card checking to confirm his $1500 purchase on top of a $1700 purchase from an "internet computer store". Really? Does this have to happen now? On Moms and Pops South American Adventure that their loving daughter so thoughtfully planned? Rolling with it. Or something.



So... Final leg of the adventure awaits! Moms and Pops return to Buenos Aires. Pops used to come here starting back in the 1970's when he was active in the cattle business. They attended La Rural at Palermo, the agricultural fair several times. But it was always in the winter, and that was a much more tumultuous era, something we would learn more about during our walking tours of the city. I was excited to see this place that I remember hearing stories about back in middle school. And I was not disappointed.

We checked into our last B&B in Palermo Viejo called Abode. We were greeted by yet another amazing host, Orlando. Orlando settled in BA a few years ago from France after meeting his Argentine wife during their travels through Bolivia. He bought the existing B&B a year ago and has done a great job in making guests feel at home. This is truly his priority and it is obvious. I had warned him I would have questions for him as an aspiring-B&B owner myself. He was more than willing to give honest and helpful answers and suggestions as I set out on this road as well.



So now we had 3 full days to explore Buenos Aires. Highlights include...

Two amazing meals at Don Julio's...steak of course. (After these two weeks I could probably go without eating for two weeks and still not feel hungry. And I could definitely benefit from a 10-day hike or something.)

Meandering through the Sunday Antique Market on the streets of San Telmo.



The big surprise... "A Night of Tango with Gerry and Lucia." I think I pulled it off as they were guessing an evening at the Teatro Colon (which would have been awesome). At first it was a bit of a stretch for Pops, but seeing as they have taken dance lessons several times through the years, I thought they would enjoy it. I'm pretty sure they did. Afterwards, we went to a milongue where the hordes of Tango-addicts go to get their fix night after night in San Telmo. Great music. Great dancers. Memorable night! (And no ruptured achilles! Last time I took a dance lesson ...Salsa in Cuba... later that night ended in disaster. Thankful!)







Two incredibly informative "Free Walking Tours". One was political and historical in nature as we walked from the Palacio de Congresso to the Palacio Rosa (and the balcony where Evita addresses the masses). The next day we took the more light-hearted, architectural focused tour through La Recoleta. (Most cities of any size or historical significance anywhere in the world have these tours. Look them up on Trip Advisor. Take one on your first or only day in the city. You will not be disappointed. Just be sure to tip your guide!)















A stroll through the small city that is the famous cemetary Recoleta in the middle of the city. This is also the resting place for Evita who died at age 33! FYI: We were informed that neither the movie nor the play were anywhere close to historically accurate.







Wow. What an adventure! Moms and Pops were true sports! I knew many things would be a stretch but they were willing to give it a try. Exhibit "A": "Sauce-on-the-Side Shells" never once ordered her sauce on the side. (I think this is because she didn't know how to say it in Spanish and she knew how much it would annoy me if she asked me to say it for her.)



Exhibit "B": We ate a vegan restaurant which was recommended to us by a local in Bariloche. Pops had to resist taking a picture of the book behind our booth called "A Beginners Guide to Global Warming" and sending it out to our family What'sApp chat. If you know my dad, you can imagine what he was thinking.

I'd venture to say that many of these things were beyond baby steps for my Padres. And for that, I'm proud of them for venturing out...and rolling with it. Part of my goal was to give my parents a little confidence in me that I could tailor an itinerary to fit their needs in hopes of taking some more trips together in the future. And as I always say, there is no better time to plan your next trip than when you are on a trip. So... I threw out Paris to Moms. I think she might take the bait ... although we might have to wait awhile to replenish funds and for Pops to be willing to give up sleeping in his own bed again. Until then, I will look forward to the day when I can link arms with Moms, Pops following close behind and walk through the streets of a new town on the next Adventure with Ash!

Moms and Pops... Thanks for the memories, the moments shared and for stepping out to join me on a journey that has been so meaningful to me. I'm eternally grateful to have you as my Padres.