Sunday, January 6, 2013

Buenos Aires and Uruguay

¡Hola from the season of 15 hours of sunshine! I realize that if I lived here my sentences would be a mess of ¡!'s so I'll work on that :) I'm writing this as we wait for our flight out to Ushuaia...the southern most point of South America. We just got through security in 3 minutes flat. No 3-1-1 rule and no shoe or backpack removal.

My first site upon arriving to Buenos Aires was that if Paris and Quito had a baby, this would be it. The first whiff of the distinct South America grungy exhaust I experienced in Ecuador is now familiar and comforting. Car after car were parked in the green areas along the drive to the city from the airport, families picnicking for the long New Years holiday weekend. That made me smile. In the city are majestic old renaissance buildings. As my friends have said, it's the Europe of South America. In fact, it smells greener without the smell of coffee and cigarettes.

I met up with Jess, a college friend whom I haven't seen since those days. The timing just worked out to explore the area together. I planned the trip solo, but was definitely more excited to share the experience with someone!

Our hostel was located in the Palermo district. Tree lined streets and sidewalk cages and parks galore. Most businesses were closed for New Year's Eve but we were still able to see the neighborhood, get some delicious 'helato' (ice cream) and earn a few blisters. Midnight we went to our hostel's roof deck, popped some champagne and watched fireworks fly for an hour with other hostel roommates.

New Year's Day we departed for Punte del Este in Uruguay via the buquebus ferry to Colonia, then a 4 hour bus ride. I had no idea what to expect of the country, but we drove through what looked like the fields of the Midwest (besides the occassional palm tree and the family cow/horse/goat that was tied to a leash while the dogs roamed free). And everything was so clean. Punta del Este was the most expensive area in this small country, as it is a beach resort town. It was cloudy, rainy, and cold when we arrived...our 12oz beers costing 140 pesos, equivalent to US$7. That's NYC prices! We were both thinking this was going to be a miserable experience if this continued for our next two days, but the sun came out and gave us plenty of vitamin d. I of course am overconfident in my tan base from the ever sunny Colorado, and neglected to pack more than a 'serving size' packet of toxic sunscreen. The sun and cool breeze (like the hot/cool of arid Denver) were just too perfect not to nap in! But a definite kick in the shins for these next few days when we painfully put on our backpacks.

Not many people spoke English in Uraguay, so I enjoyed speaking the words I did know, but mostly turned to Jess to translate. I hate being labeled a snotty American...which is why Jess tells most people that we're from Canada...which is great until we met someone from My theory is to prove to everyone that we're not so bad. Though they were probably pretty annoyed at our excited when we saw the NIU Huskies playing in the orange bowl on tv there!

Along with the prestige of Punta del Este, everyone there was dark and beautiful. Women were curvy and fit in their Brazilian bottomed bikinis. The beaches were covered with men playing soccer and families playing a sort of sand bocce ball with discs. Everyone carried around thermoses and mate (tea)...few were drinking beer...but no one was stuffing their faces with churizo and corn puffs and cotton candy like the beaches of Chicago. I still have yet to attempt surfing but that is on my list...hopefully within these next couple months.

I have also decided that the coffee is in fact delicious if I drink it 'cafe con leche' (with milk). Otherwise it's way too strong. There are Havanna chocolate shops all around but I'm nervous to try, as I have yet to enjoy chocolates in South America. The fruit in the street markets are delicious and grown within the country. Not sure if its organic or not but I figure in season local trumps that.

Water must be legit because one vendor washed my fruit and another restaurant put ice in my coke and I haven't gotten sick yet (knock on wood!). I'll be more cautious in the other cities, promise :) my theory is that I'm also building immunity with my water filter which doesn't kill the bad bacteria, but just makes them non-active.

So from Punta del Este we took a 2hour bus ride west to Montevideo, the capital city of Uraguay. We stayed in Centro, the center of the city, in another great friendly hostel with floor to ceiling doors and windows. It was very humid here, which also meant lots of mosquitos. This city felt a little grungier than BA, but that may be because there's no train system, so the streets are congested. We were just there for a night, then returned to Buenos Aires. This time we stayed in the central district and walked to San Telmo for a delicious steak dinner. For a bottle of Malbec wine, provoleta (grille provolone cheese), bruschetta, and sirloins, the tab was 350 pesos...US$70. Half price from anything top of the line in the states! Best steak I've ever had...again, not sure how it was raised though. And I now know how to say 'la cuenta por favor!' (The check please!)

The sun set last night at 9pm, not long after we arrived to the empty restaurant. Apparently that's still early for dinner there! After we got our steaks it started pouring and the lights went out. The memory of that setting is one for the books.

This morning I think the sun was up at 3am...just when a jam session began in our hostel. We left at 6:30am for our ride with a remis driver to the airport...the streets filled with college aged kids still up from a night out.

Which brings us to present in a plane en route to Ushuaia and I've already been yelled at twice by the flight attendant so I will put my phone away. Hope to post more shortly to avoid these long novels of posts!

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