Sunday, April 30, 2006

My life in these United States

Whoa, slowly readjusting to the USA.

Yesterday I took muni downtown to get my haircut at Chakra, my man Thomas' new salon on Sutter. It's one of those airy, Aveda concept salons where they offer you water, wine (!), or weird Aveda tea as soon as you walk in the door. I took the water -- it was lemony. It was lovely getting my hair worked over by Thomas. He told me about his trip to India -- he did a lot of yoga -- and his plans to enroll in an alternative college in San Francisco where you sit on cushions and the professors are all swamis. Go boy!

After my first real hair appointment in over 9 months, I felt refreshed, so I walked around downtown a bit, past Union Square, down by Powell and Market, with the obligatory stop in DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse). The crowd down in that area is the same as it always is -- tourists with shopping bags, San Francisco people in padded jackets and boots, and a crapload of crazy people of all stripes. I couldn't decide where I fit in -- tourist, native, crazy? I most felt like some sort of weird South American tourist who didn't pack proper clothing for the chilly (freezing) San Francisco spring. I was wearing sparkly gold flip flops, cuffed jeans, a tank top and a little half sweater over it, and I was freezing my booty off. I kept noticing how many people were wearing gloves and hats -- wimps!!!

The evening back with my family was spent eating dinner (where my grandfather and I attacked a chicken carcass for a good hour after dinner, oh boy), and hanging out with Emily down in her apartment. We watched the goofiest (yet creepiest!) movie called Identity, about a guy with multiple personalities who kills a bunch of people and then goes through therapy, which causes his personalities to kill each other off to see who wins. Thrilling. Not to give it away or anything, but the creepy child personality ends up winning. Oh, whoops.

So guess what I am doing today? Job interviews with HOSTELS in SF!! Yeah... I guess I can't get out of the traveling loop!! Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

More Buenos pics


I got these from Faith, bless her.



Madeleine, Sunny, me (holding wine!!!), Charlotte















Girls at Cafe Tortoni








Marko, Lucy, Faith and Tony




Madeleine and me at Gran Bar Danzon

The Gap, F*** yeah!

America, F*** yeah!!!

I am back in the USA. What a journey it has been....

It all started yesterday at 10 am Chilean time (I guess about 6 am California time?) when I got to Pudahuel Aeropuerto (Santiago, Chile) to begin my crazily long trip back to the land of chimmichangas, Lincoln Navigators, and Celebrity Fit Club. My first flight was from Santiago to Sao Paulo (Guarulhous), which was weird. It was odd being back in the city that I had lived in for 8 months, but not being able to go anywhere or visit anyone. My flight was delayed 2.5 hours so I spent a total of 4 hours in the airport, speaking Portuguese with people (didn't realize how much I missed it, ay!), eating weird, freeze-dried sandwiches, reading Anjos e Demonios, and chewing Trident azul claro compulsively.

My flight finally took off after 10 pm -- 10 loooooooooong hours to Chicago O'Hare. It was the coldest, most uncomfortable flight ever, and despite downing 2 Tylenol pms, I could not sleep. I kept trying to prop the little airline pillow on my shoulder and then rest my head on my own shoulder, but gravity kept holdin' me back. Dang it!! When I got to Chicago, I was in a daze, and it was weird hearing chatty American voices all around me all of a sudden.

I really knew I was back in the US, litigious land of the free, when I stepped onto the moving sidewalk to go to my terminal, and a recorded voice above me said, "Caution, the walkway is about to end. Please look down." THANKS for that. Later, as I was getting onto the tram, another recorded voice said, "Please do not try to enter tram when doors are closing." Holy mackeral. America, America.

Once in the terminal, I had another 2 hours before my flight to San Francisco, so I tried to check my email ($5 for 15 minutes, whaaaat!!!). As I was sitting there waiting for my gmail to load, a lady with fright bangs came up behind me and said in that special nasal, Chicago-y voice, "Heeeey, you can check your emails here?" I turned slightly, smiled, and said, "yep." She said, "Well, son of a gun! How much does it cost?" I said, a little embarrassed, "Uh, $5 for 15 minutes." She said, "Holy smokes, that's expensive!" Then she stood there and looked over my shoulder for a few uncomfortable seconds before making her merry, Midwestern way down the terminal. Again, holy mackeral.

My flight to San Francisco was uneventful, except that I sat next to an old lady who smelled funky and bit her fingernails. Oof. The light at the end of the tunnel was landing in this beautiful city and seeing my mom waiting for me at the baggage claim, wearing her green velour Juicy-esque sweatpant outfit and BRASIL shirt. I missed her so much! My dad showed up a few minutes later -- he had gone to verify that I was in fact on the plane -- and I was thrilled to see him too. I immediately regaled him with the bottle of Santa Julia Malbec that I had been carrying around with me (from Mendoza) for the last few days -- don't tell, but it only cost me 9 pesos ($3 US)!

We drove back to my grandparents' house, said hi, picked up my cousin Catie, and went for some sushi (f*** yeah!!) on Irving St. Then my mom, my cousin and I hit Stonestown Galleria, where I bought 4 books in English, tried on clothes at Abercrombie, and ordered a blended coffee drink at the Nordstrom Cafe. Yep, I'm home.

Friday, April 28, 2006

overMENdoZing

Okay... quick recap of my last night in Mendoza.... it is all sort of a haze, but it definitely involved drinking three different types of wine out of a plastic cup and a mug, eating a crapload of barbequed meat, then going to a bar with my new French Canadian friend Pierre-Marc (I simply can't resist men with hyphenated names, meu Deus!) and ordering a bottle of champage. Yeah. Somehow, at some point in the night, I made it back to my room, which happened to be a dorm full of boys, and struck up a conversation with 2 English 18 year old boys in football jerseys. Don't remember what we talked about but I think it was definitely deep and meaningful.

The next day I had to get on a non-airconditioned bus across the Andes with this girl Sarah that I met in the hostel. It was a loooong ride, made longer by the fact that our bus-driver seemed to have some sort of grudge against us and tried to drive away when we were purchasing alfajores and coca lights in the border kiosk. Bastards!! We narrowly escaped being left for dead at the Frontera, and made it back to Santiago, but that was a close one.

I spent my last night in Santiago watching telenovelas with Marg and Is (and I recognized some of my favorite actors from MACHOS, the teleserie that rocked my world 2 years ago), and then going to bed, where I proceeded to have weird dreams about made-up animals attacking me. Not the best night of sleep I've ever had.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

All ova Mendoza and stuuuuff

Oh, Mendoza. Such a cute place...

I met up with my friends, finally, and we all went out last night for Ambra's bday. We went to a Spanish restaurant, and 20 people showed up, so we had to all crowd around this long table, there was very little breathing/bloating room. I was feeling tired going into dinner because earlier, Tony and I had split a bottle of $6 peso (US $2) red wine, and it sloooowed me down a bit. Anyway, dinner was loud and fun, but afterwards I just wanted to come back to the hostel and crash. I had a beer with some people (and spoke Spanish with them, thank God my español is slowly coming back), then went to sleep. Despite being awoken in the middle of the night by the loudest, grossest snoring man EVER, I got some good rest, and felt chipper this morning.

I went for a long walk in the park with Sarah, an English girl. It was a beautiful, perfect morning, and the park has a gorgeous lake with lots of fountains and statues and stuff to look at. Afterwards, we came back and bought bus tickets to go back to Santiago tomorrow. I spent the rest of the day walking around Mendoza with Ambra and Katherine, another English girl. We went to the Plaza de la Independencia, ate dulce de leche ice cream, talked about boys, watched the people (and weird hair) go by, then came back. It was a good day!

Tonight our hostel is hosting an asado -- meat, salad, bread, and most importantly, WINE -- all for $15 pesos (US $5) per person. They might have to roll me out of there afterwards but I am looking forward to it! Hee hee.

Anyway I thought a lot today about the fact that my plane for the US leaves the day after tomorrow. It still doesn't feel real. I can not believe this long journey is finally ending, and I am not sure how I feel about it. I am so excited to see my friends and family and be back in America (fuck yeah!), but traveling this last month and a half has been so wonderful, liberating, exciting, fun, luxurious -- ugh, hard to put into words. I'll have to write a sappy, reflective post tomorrow when I am bored in Santi... more later.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Confused in Mendoza

I am back in Argentina! I woke up early this morning, intending to run, but when I saw how pitch-dark it was outside, stayed in bed. I had breakfast with Marg, then caught the micro down to the metro (both of which were madhouses, by the way -- a far cry from the ghosttown that Santiago was yesterday), then got on the 9:30 bus to Mendoza.

The ride was beautiful -- to get to Mendoza from Santiago you take a winding path through the Andes and pass a deep blue lake (el Pasillo?), as well as the tallest mountain in South America (which, to be honest, didn't look that tall, but that is because we were up so high I think). The bus conductor dude took a shine to me and kept trying to strike up a conversation, but all I wanted to do was read, snooze, and look at the sights. At one point, he wanted to draw my attention to something outside the window so he grabbed my face to show me. Unnecessary. He also insisted on grabbing my hands as I was coming off the bus each time, even though I really did not need his assistance. He was a touchy feely kind of guy.

I got into Mendoza in the afternoon and went to the hostel where my friends are (supposedly) staying, la Damajuana. It is on the main, fun street, Villnueva. In fact, I remember seeing this hostel last time I was in Mendoza and thinking it looked more lively than the one we were staying in. Since I couldn't locate any of my three friends, I went for a run (oof) to the Parque San Martin, then came back, showered, and looked for them some more, to no avail. Where are they?! Fingers crossed that I find them!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hi, I'm in Santiago

So here is what I did today, my one full day in Santiago....

I woke up at 10, went for a run in the park nearby, which was lovely, actually. In my three months of living here in 2003, I never went to the park, so I never knew what I was missing. It is extremely clean, with running and biking paths, and a little laguna with boats. I ran around for a while, realized that I am horribly out of shape after 12 days of decadence in Buenos Aires, came back, showered, and then chilled with Margarita for a while. She showed me pictures from her trip last year to Rio and Buzios, so I got to see pretty pictures of Brazilian beaches --- oooh I miss Brazil already!

I ventured by myself down to the Che Legarto Santiago to see if they had maps of the city but was intimidated by the bars on the window and didn't go in. Instead, I went across the street to the Los Heroes bus terminal and bought a ticket to Mendoza for tomorrow morning. The area I was in was pretty deserted and looked boring, so with my ticket sorted, I got back on the metro and went to Baquedano. As soon as I emerged from underground, I knew exactly where I was! I crossed the river and went into Bellavista, towards the Cierro San Cristobal, a big hill with a zoo, a park, and a big statue of the Virgin Mary at the top.

Last time I was in Santi, my girl friends and I hiked to the top of the hill (doble oof) and then took the crazy teleforico egg thing down to the bottom, where we got completely lost and wandered aimlessly in Santiago for 3 hours. Wasn't going to reenact that scenario, so this time I took the funicular, a little, rickety tram, up to the top. I looked at the virgin, wandered around the gift shop, stared out at the city, ate a granola bar, and went back down. I had fun wandering down Pio Nono street and looking at all the bars and empanada shops, but I really wished I had someone there to share it with me, especially one of my friends who had been here with me two years ago. It's weird to visit my old haunts without my crew there to relive it with me.

Afterwards I had a hankering to go to the UniMarc, the grocery store near my school where I used to eat lunch (avocado, bread, and turkey) almost every day with Dan VanTasma, Brooks, and Julia. I went in, bought some bread and queso fresco, then took it to the McDonalds outside of the Tobalaba metro and ate it. I got creeped out by the mayonnaise-slick pigeons so I got back on the metro to Escuela Militar, got off, and got on the first bus that was stopped. I asked the micro driver if he went to IV Centenario, which I thought was where I needed to go to get home, and he said yes. I thought to myself, ¨Stephanie, you are SO good,¨and was patting myself on the back for the next 30 minutes, until I snapped out of it and realized I had no idea where the hell I was. Turns out I had missed IV Centenario, but even if I hadn't, IV Centenario is a huge street and I would have been lost anyway. Go me. I switched buses, ended up somewhere else completely unfamiliar, and ended up taking a taxi back. It's not Steph in Santiago unless I get lost on some form of public transportation, I suppose.

This eve I ate dinner with Marg and Is -- empanadas de pizza and chocolate Easter eggs -- and now I am super tired and wanting to hit the sack... I leave for Mendoza tomorrow at 9:30, yay!

Vamos Chilenos

A more detailed entry to follow, but for now, I NEED to do a bullet-point list of stuff I have seen/heard here in Santiago today that has pulled at my heartstrings:
  • the Chilean futbol cheer -- Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, ¡VIVA CHILE! -- in the metro
  • a little kid asking for a completo (hotdog smothered in mayonnaise!!)
  • the funicular at Cierro San Cristobal -- so rickety, so wonderful, so Chile
  • Tobalaba metro stop
  • Che Legarto Santiago -- I didn't go inside because it was in a weird area and looked unfriendly so I just looked at the outside
  • Escudo
  • the clubs and bars in Bellavista with names like "Aliens Nightclub" and "Crazy Bar"
  • empanadas -- huge, fried, dripping with oil and deliciousness
  • zoo with crazy parrots and foxes and things
  • a guy with two llamas that you can have your picture taken with!!! I resisted, but barely.
  • YELLOW MICROS!
  • paying billions of pesos for things -- a granola bar today cost $200 pesos... the bus costs $350.... have NO idea what the exchange rate is but I do know that I am confused
  • lapis lazuli stores
  • "Si po" and "aaaah, ya."
  • Jumbo, in all its glory
  • 2 hardboiled eggs and a cup of tea with Marg for breakfast
  • CHULLETs galore -- for those of you out of the Chilean hairstyle loop, this term refers to the Chilean mullet, which can include anything from a full-blown, business front/party back, South American mullet to a slight, semi-mullet with assorted rat-tails/skinny braids springing from various places on the head. Men, women, kids, everyone here has a chullet of some sort, it seems
  • Juanes "A Dios Le Pido" playing at a bar in Bellavista

Oh man. Lots of love for this city. However, I have decided that tomorrow morning I am going to Mendoza for a few days to meet up with Ambra, Tony and Marko, some peeps I met in Buenos Aires. As much as I love Santi, I don't know what I would do here for 4 more days, and I reallllly want to go to Mendoza and drink wine and see some people my own age. I am excited already.

I am near the Cierro San Cristobal (at the Baquedano metro stop) at the moment. Now I am headed to Tobalaba to check out the area where I used to go to school and stop at the supermarket for some palta, pan, and peru, just like old times. Chau chau.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

bwenos fotos



A couple of pics from Madeleine's website... these are the English chicks I hung out with for the first week, they were great girls.




Charlotte, Madeleine, Me!


Madeleine, Sunny, me, Charlotte

Me (looking slightly stroked out) and Madeleine

Viva Chile

Here I am back in Santiago! It feels very strange to be back in my host family's apartment with the same mental cat, Josefina (who is now much calmer because they got her fixed, FINALLY), the same bed, the same stray dogs wandering outside the condominium complex (BEWARE!!) and the same house smell that I remember from two years ago.

I flew to Santiago in a daze from Buenos this afternoon. I shared a cab with an Australian guy and we both just sat there talking about how shitty we felt, ha. Getting on the plane, I still hadn't slept and was feeling down, and by the time I got to Chile, my whole journey just felt surreal and far-away. As I drove from the airport to Las Condes, the neighborhood in Santi where my ex-host fam lives, I didn't recognize anything we passed. The city seemed cleaner somehow, newer -- I seem to remember more dirty buildings and people in the streets. As we passed by palm trees and office buildings and the shocking purple Andes, I thought, how can ANYONE not think this city is beautiful? It really is a unique place, anyway.

I fell asleep in the cab and when we arrived at Chiu Chiu, at the old apartment complex, I was totally weirded out, in a good way! Everything looks exactly how I remember it. I lugged my suitcases up the three flights of stairs to departamento 302 and greeted Margarita, my host madre. She is the same as the last time I saw her -- smiling, smelling like smoke, wearing heels around the house. Love it. I laid in bed and read my book (Anjos e Demonios, a Dan Brown book in Portuguese, whee), took a bit of a nap, then greeted Isabel, Marg's daughter, when she came back.

Last time I saw Isabel she was 8 and sort of bratty -- there was a series of unfortunate incidents involving her stealing chocolates from my room, asking me why I never made my bed, lighting things on fire, etc. -- but she seems so smiley and well-adjusted now. Could be a ruse, but let's hope not. One difference is that she has met her father -- she never knew who he was till last year -- and now spends lots of time with him, so that probably has a positive influence on her attitude.

Ana
Anyway I am happy to be here but am sort of wondering what the hell I am going to do with myself for the next five days. After the whirlwind that was Buenos, I feel sort of bored and isolated here in Las Condes but don't know what to do. Hmm. Any suggestions?

Boohoo

Ok, I won`t write an emotional, whiny post about leaving Buenos Aires, but I won`t pretend I am not sad to be going. I will miss a bunch of the people I met here, some in particular... it`s weird how attached you can become to people you meet traveling. Carrie, the American girl who I hung out with here, pointed out that when you meet someone in a hostel and click with them, you can tell them your life story and listen to theirs and really connect, and then you leave and you might never see them again. It`s a strange dynamic.

Last night was very nice, although I missed out on sleep again. Now I am finishing up last minute emails before going to the airport to go to Santiago. Sorry this post is not as bubbly/detailed as usual... I am feeling a little funky I guess.

Next time you hear from me I will be in Santiago F***ing City, in Chi Chi Chi Le Le Le... more later.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Chicken supreme

Yesterday after my shopping expedition, I came back to the hostel, hung out a bit with Carrie, an American girl who`s my roommate now, took a nap, then got up and went to dinner with a bunch of English and American people. We went to the same corner restaurant where I got my chicken sammie the night before -- sort of a dive but they serve up a nice, fat steak and keep the bread coming, so I can´t complain. We were sitting around the table and someone pointed out that this was the first time they had been in a group of only Brits and Americans -- whoa! We toasted to US-UK relations, cheers!!

After a couple of glasses of wine and a chicken supreme (don´t ask) I was feeling lethargic and ready for bed. We all went back to the hostel and goofed off for a few minutes, then I went to bed and slept like a log. Woke up this morning at 10, went to the gym, and came back just as it started pouring rain, oof! It has been raining all day, so there was not much to do except go online, watch TV, change my flight (leaving Saturday now instead of Friday), and eat. Carrie and I went back to the SAME restaurant on the corner for a nice, filling lunch. I am becoming a regular there!

Hostel is having one of its gringo parties tonight, so we´ll see how THAT goes.

Lembranças do Brasil




Thought I´d post a cute pic of me and Mariana on here. I miss those Brazilians!!


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Valleys and Peaks

I am feeling like a new person after getting two nights of sleep for the first time since arriving in Buenos. Last night I walked to the corner and got myself a chicken sandwich, and chatted with a Brazilian dude who was trying to ask the waiter if the bus station was close to the train station -- I helped him. I came back, ate my sandwich, chatted to an American girl who is in my room now, and then went to bed at 11:30.

I woke up this morning at 9:15, went for a little run down to the eco reserve and back, ate breakfast, then set out for a three hour shopping trek. I found a cute pair of jeans, a cheap gray sweater, and a present for Isabel, my little ex-host sister in Chile. She is ten now, which is sort of a cusp age, but I think she should still be into dolls and stuff, and if not, tough break. I got her a Barbie (but not one that encourages eating disorders because it looks like a little girl, not an impossibly shaped woman), and a Barbie make-your-own-sparkly-jewelry kit. Last time I was in Chile she was 8, and sort of getting into makeup and slutty clothes, which I found horrifying, but I am going to try to nip that tendency in the bud by giving her age-appropriate toys. You WILL play with Barbie and you WILL like it, dang it!

Anyway, my feet started to hurt about half an hour ago, despite my 1:30 ice cream break, so I came back to the hostel to gather my strength for a bit. I might try to go out and get depilación, but I am hesitant since I don`t know how to say the part of my body that I want waxed in Spanish. I miss Brazilian beauty parlors because they are all so crappy looking that they are not intimidating, whereas here, the salons all look snooty and fashionable, and I feel weird walking in and making obscene gestures to indicate what process I want done. Hmm, dilemma.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sleep debt

Went to bed at the SUPER early hour last night of 1 am, and decided not to set my alarm for this morning. I woke up when Ambra left around 9, then went back to sleep, and the next time I opened my eyes it was 3 pm. No joke. I guess this is what they mean by "wisdom of the body."

I spent the day going to the gym, walking around, eating an empanada, and checking email. Woooo.

Last night a bunch of us went back to dinner at Desnivel, the place in San Telmo with steaks the size of my head and liter jars of wine. Mm! After dinner I came back to the hostel and crashed, despite the loud party (with a dj) that was happening in the lounge. At least I am feeling somewhat more normal now. Sleep works wonders!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Running on empty

I think I got a total of .2348273 hours of sleep last night, yet somehow, I am out on a shopping expedition with Ambra.

Yesterday was spent sleeping, NOT going to the soccer game, walking around Recoleta a bit, visiting Evita`s grave (again), and attempting to go to mass. The hostel white board said that mass at the Municipal Cathedral was at 7 pm, but when I showed up, the 6pm mass had just ended and the church was closing. I spent half an hour looking at the statues and chapels before I was kicked out. Oh well, I tried to go to Easter mass!

We went to dinner last night at another steak house on the water, and again, we got comically bad service. The waiter was a Dear Sweet Love, as my grandmother would say, but he was completely inept and screwed up everyone`s order. But I liked him anyway because he was smiley and little and cute. By the end of dinner, several people at the table were practically snoring into their meat -- all the partying has finally caught up, I suppose.

I managed to stay awake through dinner, but I was not feeling at the top of my game, since I woke up that morning with a sore throat, cough, runny nose and sneezes. I actually wore down my immune system enough in 6 days to make myself sick. Go me!!! After dinner, I came back to the hostel, crap happened, and I ended up getting into bed at 8 am. How I am awake right now is an utter mystery. I really must start taking it easy. I will, today, I swear.,,,

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Large and Lovely

I think last night was the icing on my Buenos cake. Let me start from the beginning...

During the day, some of us went to La Boca, which is an area with one brightly colored street, El Caminito, and outside of that, a bunch of crappy houses and crime. El Caminito is cute, with lots of artisan shops, little bars, caricature artists, performers, and plywood cutouts of tango dancers where you can stick your own face in! Love those. Anyway, we ate in a touristy bar with a tango show, and all of us girls got our picture taken with Mr. Tango Man. I was totally against it but I was forced into taking a photo staring intently into this guy`s eyes -- you gotta suffer for tourism, I guess.

After lunch we went to the Ecological Reserve, ate some fried dough with beef gristle off the street (ohhhh beef gristle), then made our way back to the hostel for a nap. At around 10, Ambra (Italian girl) and Lucy (English) and I rallied a bunch of people for dinner at Rey Castro, a Cuban restaurant near the hostel. BEST DINNER EVER, and not because of the food (which was lovely), but more because of the delicious wine, fabulous dessert, and CRAZY drag show after dinner. The drag show was actually just one very large man in a red dress and a wig who slithered around the restaurant, dancing seductively with poles and touching cute customers on the face. She ended up bringing two of our group up on stage, which was funny, because neither of them spoke Spanish and both were very confused. Lucy took loads of pictures, which I will have to steal off her website once she posts them.

By the end of dinner, we were all tipsy and enthused from the show. We got back to the hostel and got ready to go clubbing. I ended up at Opera Bay, a club down by the water which is sort of a mini version of the Sydney Opera House. It was true insanity. I spent a large chunk of the night dancing like a madwoman to 80s music, heaven! Anyhoo, went to bed at 8 this morning.... long story short.

Happy Easter! more later

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I just fell up the stairs

You know you need sleep when you fall UP the stairs and then just sit there on your arse for a few minutes before getting back up. Oy. More later.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Splendiferous

Last night was another ridiculous Buenos Aires night. Dinner was at 10 with 15 people from the hostel. I was impressed because the dinner plans started off as just a few of the English girls and guys and myself, and we invited more and more people until there were 15 of us sitting around a table at Las Cañas. We all ate, drank, and became merry, and then made our way back to the hostel, where a party was in full swing.

The party was fun, despite the fact that it was nearly all Americans, Canadians, English, Aussies, Irish -- we could have been in London or Dublin or Melbourne. At around 2, lots of people started to go out to this club called Club 69 (ew?), but of course my group and I all pottered around until 4 or so, then decided to get our butts in gear and go to the club. When we arrived, the line was crazily long, it was drizzling and cold, and no one felt like waiting, so 6 of us packed up and went to a nearby bar.

As we were leaving the bar at 5, unbeknownst to me, one of the English dudes we were with decided to take a handful of peanuts off someone else's table as we were passing by. The Argentinians sitting at the table obviously did not appreciate some drunk ass gringo sticking his fingers in their maní, and a fight was avoided only when the Italian girl in our group apologized profusely and hustled Drunky McPeanutEater out the door before he could get his ass kicked. Sigh.

This "morning" I got up at 1 pm, only because the cleaning ladies came into my room and wanted to make the bed. I went for a slow, dazed run around the Plaza de Mayo and down to the port. I came back, feeling slightly less fuzzy, and four of us went to lunch on Avenida Florida. We had another wacky waitress who opened our cokes with her thigh, somehow, and gave us free Easter bread for dessert. Whee! We finished lunch at 5:00 and wandered down to the Casa Rosada, where we dodged pigeons and police officers, then went back to the hostel.

It´s Friday night and I imagine stuff will be happening tonight, but I also sense that my poor body can't take TOO much more of this partying pace. One can only maintain the meat-wine-beer-dance-water-sleep-meat-wine-beer-dance-water lifestyle for so many days! But I am going to do my best...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Zombie town

Right now I am a total zombie, so this entry probably won't be witty, and def won't include overly-detailed descriptions of food. My fuzziness at the moment might have something to do with the fact that I drank an entire bottle of wine last night and ate a steak the size of my head, then went to bed at 5:30 and got up at 11:30, and have done something along those lines for the last three nights in a row. Doble oof.

Yesterday night was interesting. We -- the British girls, these 2 guys from our hostel named Marco and Tony, and I -- went to a restaurant called Siga La Vaca ("Follow the Cow?"), where you pay $32 pesos (about US $11) for all-you-can-eat meat, plus a bottle of wine PER PERSON, plus a dessert each. CRAZY town! By the end of it, we were all tipsy, full of cow, and ready to hit the town. Unfortunately, the town was not ready to be hit.

We wandered down the pier to try to look for a fun bar, but nothing seemed to be going on. No fun to be had anywhere. We sat down at a random bar on the water, drank some more -- obvio -- then stumbled onwards into the night. There was a big, lit up, partially-outdoor club on the horizon, so we made our way over, slowly, since at this point at least 2 of us had taken off our shoes and were mincing along the ground in bare feet.

The club was about a quarter full, and was emptying quickly, with people striding out of the door non-stop, yet we were all convinced that we NEEDED to go in. It just needed to happen. However, the $30 peso entrance fee was sort of a turn-off, so I conceived of the brilliant idea of sneaking in. I made several valant attempts, all of which were quickly thwarted by the same bouncer. No matter which entrance I tried, the same guy would pop out of nowhere and interfere with my plans. He looked quite un-amused every time that he discovered me non-chalantly sneaking under a guard-rope or sneakily climbing a wall, and patiently walked me out each time. Dude, I tried my best. In the end, we admitted defeat and went back to the hostel, where I drank a LOT of water.

This morning -- and by morning, I mean 1 pm -- we all felt like crappola, so we walked down towards the Plaza and had lunch at a café. The waiter was a wacky old guy who messed up everyone´s order and had a good laugh about it. He was fun.

Afterwards I took the subte (metro) to a shopping mall and bought a tulip skirt. I was disappointed to note, by the way, that the metro in Buenos is VERY shoddy. The cars are all different -- some are brightly lit with ugly upholstered benches, while others have dim lighting and weird little lamps everywhere. The metro itself was dirty, with lots of bits of paper and trash strewn about, most of the escalators were broken, and the signage was confusing. Bluh! What a disappointment. But, it got me where I needed to go, so it´s all good.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Banana split

Ummmm can I just say that Buenos Aires is INCREIBLE, despite the nasty men who leer at me on the sidewalk and overabundance of dog poop in the parks. Nothing about this city can get me down! I spent today shopping, with a break for lunch with the English girls at Cafe Tortini, this old and elegant café near Plaza de Mayo. Afterwards, we went to an ice cream parlor and I had a scoop of banana split ice cream. Heaven on a June day.

Last night was fairly uneventful. Steak happened, then the inevitable steak coma, then a lot of sitting around the hostel with people, drinking beer and talking about maybe going out. It never happened, but that´s not that big a loss, since last night was Tuesday. Tonight should be more exciting, I think.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hog heaven

Okay, I am officially in heaven. I forgot how COOL Buenos Aires is!

I am staying in this nutso hostel with 150 beds called Milhouse. It's right near Plaza de Mayo, and it's like this giant backpacker mecca. When I walked in, it reminded me of that Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach," about an island paradise full of young travelers -- well, paradise until the community breaks down and people kill each other and there are shark attacks and stuff. Anyway. This is like that, except not an island, and no sharks, and not in Thailand.

Right off the bat, I met some English and Australian girls, and we ended up going out to dinner in Recoleta, at a restaurant that Julia and I ate at a few years ago with a weird Canadian girl from our hostel who took $20 from me. Memories! During dinner this big group of Argentine guys sat behind us and tried to talk to us the entire meal, and even went so far as to cut some of their entraña steak off and put it on our plates to try. Mmmm, entrails.

After dinner we went to Gran Bar Danzón, this cool wine bar that Foolia and I had also frequented on our last trip. The place has a very laid back, sexy atmosphere -- lots of candles, dim lights, bossa nova music, and a bar with pinpricks of light shining through it so it looks like the night sky. Very Sao Paulo, actually. We had a few drinks there (a Reisling from Mendoza for me), then went back to the hostel. The hostel was hosting its own Monday night party, with a dj and a lot of sunburnt, drunk, English speaking kids dancing around like eejits. It was fun!!

I crashed into bed at 4:45, got up at around 11, and went walking from Palermo to Recoleta with some of the British girls. We ate a huge lunch at a little pizza place facing the Plaza Palermo Viejo -- we ordered a tablita with gruyere, mozzarella, roquefort, olives, salami, ham, prosciutto, plus salads with avocado and tomatoes -- so yummy. We walked around for a few hours afterwards, which was fun except for the gross men yelling at us and making kissy noises, and ended up back near our hostel. So, who knows what will happen tonight. I have high hopes -- Buenos has yet to disappoint me.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fleeing Brazil

Long story short, I'm in Buenos Aires. I fled the doldrums of Southern Brazil this morning. I think the wake up call was last night when I ordered room service by myself at 7 pm and was already in my pajamas by the time the dude showed up at my room with my ham and cheese omelette. He looked embarrassed, too.

A little part of me died as I sat there watching bad Brazilian tv and eating my soggy omelette, in a hotel in the middle of nowhere (where I happened to be the only guest not related to some weird convention, which added to the humiliation) and I thought, Stephanie... whaaaaat are you DOING?! So the next day, I got up early, went to breakfast, inquired about the next bus out of Flores da Cunha, the ###### town that I had somehow ended up in, and took myself to the bus station.

First, some background on where I was -- Flores da Cunha is a crappy little town on the outskirts of Caxias do Sul, which is an even crappier, bigger town. Flores wasn't THAT hideous, I guess, but nothing to write home about. Yet, here I am, writing home about it. Sigh.

I don't even know how I ended up there in the first place, except that my guide book had said something about it being a village that retained strong Italian folk traditions or some such nonsense. I guess in my mind I had a fuzzy picture of myself wearing a headscarf and dancing around, eating lasagne and playing a tambourine with a bunch of cheerful villagers, but it was not to be. Turns out the town consisted of a couple of banks, an ice cream parlor with some dodgy looking teenagers hanging outside, and some ugly clothes stores. Why do I keep writing home about this?!

So I got myself on the bus to Caxias, along with several people who smelled like pee, and counted myself lucky that I had a row to myself. Then, halfway through the ride, an old man in a cowboy hat with long hair and what can only be described as a leather man-purse came and sat next to me. About five minutes into it, he started to talk to me, but I could not understand a WORD the man said. I think part of the problem was that he only had one bottom tooth and he mumbled. Anyhow, he didn't seem to notice that I had no idea what he was talking about, and was content to talk the entire way, gesticulating, pointing at things, asking me questions and then not waiting for a response. I smiled and nodded continuously for half an hour, and laughed when he laughed, which was often. What a conversation we had. Eventually he hobbled off the bus, I made it to Caxias, and got the first bus to Porto Alegre.

Once in Porto Alegre, I took a cab to the airport, marched up the Varig counter, and got my ticket switched to the next flight to Buenos Aires. I felt an incredible sense of achievement, and everything was sailing along until I had to give my passport to the federal police. I was hoping they wouldn't notice that I had overstayed my visa by almost three months, buuuuuut, they did. I was marched to the federal police HQ like a bad kid going to the principal´s office, and had to sit there for 20 minutes while a guy painstakingly typed my name and passport number into his computer with two fingers. Finally, minutes before my plane took off, they let me go and told me that when I re-enter Brazil, I'll have to pay $700 reais. WhatevaAAA!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fondoozie

I didn't end up partaking of the many fondue opportunities in Gramado last night. Instead, I walked around, got ice cream, went back to the hostel and furtively ate ham and cheese sandwiches in my room for dinner. I HATE dining alone (in public, that is) so I figured I might as well watch Brazilian soaps when I ate my dinner.

This morning I got up, went running into town (which was a bit tough because of the altitude, surprisingly), came back, got breakfast at the bakery across the street -- rolls, ham, cheese, little tea cakes, and the best café com leite I have had in a long time -- then walked into town (AGAIN) to go to mass and buy my bus ticket.

Mass was nice. It's Holy Week so they did a procession with palm leaves, which was quite beautiful. When I left the church, I was surprised to see that the temperature had dropped several degrees and fog had descended on the town. It's downright chilly; I might have to bust out the cardigan.

Anyway, my bus for Caxias do Sul leaves at 2, more when I get there.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Real gauchos and palm trees

A couple things I wanted to mention that I saw in Porto Alegre and on my way to Gramado:

1. In the Porto Alegre bus station, there was a real-live gaucho! He was black, mid- to late-sixties, had a long cowboy moustache, and was wearing beige gaucho pants tucked into high, beige boots. He had on a thick, black belt, a white shirt buttoned all the way up, and was wearing a wide, cowboy style hat. His traveling companion was a younger man, probably his son, who was wearing a tee-shirt, jeans, running shoes, and had pierced ears. Ah, generational differences. Anyway I loved seeing a real gaucho waiting for the bus. Guess his horse was in the shop, HAW HAW.

2. On the way from Porto Alegre to Gramado, I noticed that along with flowering trees, pines, etc., there were lots of palm trees growing on the hills. Are palm trees indigenous to southern Brazil, or is this a Stanford palm tree type thing, where someone paid dearly to have them planted? I can't imagine that in rural areas in this country, anyone would pay to have non-native trees planted, but who knows. That was interesting. Wish I knew more about plants. Sort of.

Southern Brazil: bored out of my skull

I got on a plane from Fortaleza to Porto Alegre yesterday at 6:35 am, and, needless to say, was a total zombie. I had uncomfortable, neck-cramping, on-and-off bouts of sleep until I landed in Guarulhos (SP) and realized I had 10 minutes to make my connection to Porto Alegre. The check-in woman in Fortaleza had said that although I had to change planes in São Paulo, I wouldn't have to re-check my luggage, but, shockingly, the airline did not see the need to send my luggage on to Porto Alegre. So, when I landed in POA and discovered my bag had not arrived, I did not handle it as well as I probably could have. I already felt like crap on a stick from lack of sleep and wine hangover, I was lonely, and Porto Alegre is ugly, so I had to fight back tears when they told me my luggage would take another 3 hours to arrive.

I checked into a depressing hotel, the Continental, across the street from the bus station, got into bed, cried a little, and then fell asleep. I woke up when they called to say my luggage had arrived. Then, I spent the rest of the day feeling lonely and mopey and watching stupid, dubbed movies on TV. The highlight of the night was when "Videos Increveis" came on and I got to see a fat kid being pulled out of a manhole. I definitely needed the good night's rest, and woke up at 7:30 feeling considerably more chipper. I had a nice breakfast and checked out of the hotel by 10, then walked across the street to the rodoviaria and bought a ticket to Gramado.

Gramado is 115 km away from Porto Alegre, a little mountain resort town at 825 km elevation. It reminds me of Frankenmuth, MI, which is a cheesy German-style town with lots of fried chicken-n-strudel houses, except Gramado has a fake-Swiss theme and an overabundance of of fondue joints. I am staying at the youth hostel, which is a little series of cottages at the edge of town, very cute, very clean. After checking in, I walked the mile into the town center and wandered around for about 20 minutes before concluding that Gramado is the kind of place you come if you are: a) married b) over 55, c) toting several children, and/or d) really, really, really like fondue.

Since there is nothing for a single girl to do here besides buy tea-towels and eat ice cream, I walked into the internet café (which was filled with 15 year old boys with piercings playing adventure games online) and have been here for the last hour. I am starting to get the feeling that this next week in Rio Grande do Sul is going to be a looooooooooong one, and am really tempted to change my flight and go to Buenos Aires earlier. It seems a shame to throw away all the reservations I made (a ranch! a winery!) but the idea of spending the next week alone, surrounded by elderly people with fanny packs, is not appealing. Oof.

Fortaleza recap

So, in my last Fortaleza entry I talked about creepy massages, tourist trap restaurants, sketchy bars, and beautiful beaches. There were a few more things that bear mentioning, as well. Get ready.

V, S and I decided to rent a car for two days. We drove out to a beach called Cumbuco that is well-known for its huge white sand-dunes. Unfortunately, we chose a day when it was pissing rain to go see these dunes, so we ended up soaked, covered in sand, and shivering in the car on the way back to Fortaleza. The dunes were cool, though; I felt like we were in some sort of weird desert -- a desert bordering the ocean. The next day, after V left for the airport, S and I took the car to some surrounding villages inland from Fortaleza. We went to a town called Pacatuba, which seemed almost deserted. We went to a little bakery and ordered two cafés com leite, which turned out to be a lot of milk, a little coffee, and enough sugar to make your teeth hurt. We strolled around the town with our treacle-coffee and looked at the sights.

There was a big, beautiful colonial church that was a bit fraying at the edges, bordered by the "Passion Plaza," (Praça de Paixão) which I of course assumed was some kind of illicit make-out point, but then read later that it's used to re-enact the Passion of Christ every Lent. Oh. We also stumbled upon some mango and almond trees, took some pictures, then decided to move on when we started getting eaten alive by mosquitos. We drove through another small town, Itaitinga, which seemed a bit more lively than the other one, then headed back to Fortaleza as it got dark.

That night, we went to a yummy restaurant across the street from the beach, ended up going through two bottles of Chilean cabernet, and, inspired by the GREAT music the restaurant was playing, felt the pressing need to do karaoke. We asked our waiter about the karaoke possibilities in Fortaleza, and he told us without missing a beat where to go. Once our taxi dropped us off at Sketch Central, Fortaleza, however, and we had asked a few non-hookers about karaoke bars in the immediate area, we realized our waiter had led us astray. He looked so trustworthy, too.

Luckily, there was a giant warehouse club called Armazem right in front of us, so we went in, paid about US $6 each, passed through the metal detectors, and found ourselves in the middle of a pretty legitimate club. Inside, there was a big dance floor, a stage with a band and dancers, two bars, and fake waterfalls and drawbridges galore. Off to the side, through double doors, there was another dance floor playing techno -- GOOD techno, too. The night turned out to be crazily fun, and Suraj even caught a free CD that the band was tossing out to the crowd. The music was forró -- not exactly my cup of tea -- but still, free CD!

The next day we wanted to make the most of our remaining hours of car rental, but to our dismay, S had left the lights on and killed the battery. After an unsuccessful attempt to get a jump -- apparently only one man in Fortaleza has jumper cables, and he was not around that day -- we threw in the towel and went back to Praia do Futuro, which is when the Massage Incident occurred. After trying to remove the oil from our pores, we went to lunch, then back to the market, where I bought my 3rd bikini. After resting up a while, we went to dinner -- back to the same restaurant -- at around 10, in a bid to stay out till we had to go to the airport at 5. I didn't think I was going to make it, but somehow, a couple bottles of wine helped infuse me with that extra burst of energy.

Taking the advice of a crazy cab driver we had had earlier that day who had enthusiastically recommended a beach party at Praia do Futuro called "Lounge Beach," we got in a cab and headed there, only to find that Lounge Beach was definitely closed. Can NO one in Fortaleza be trusted? We should have known that cab driver was a little nutty when he pointed out beach huts where people had been bludgeoned to death as we passed them. Still, though.

We ended up at Croco Beach, which was a big barraca (beach hut) with a live samba band and bar. The crowd at Croco Beach was a little old, a little creepy, a little lacking in teeth in some cases, but the night was still fun. We ended up sitting outside on the beach and relaxing until about 4, when we headed back to the hotel, laid down for what felt like 3 seconds, then had to get up again and go to the airport....

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fortaleza, part one

I am on a very short internet leash here so my entries on Fortaleza will have to be short and sweet. First installment, here goes!

Suraj, Viral and I transferred from the Atalaia hostel to a hotel called Maredomus, about a block away. It's great, we have cable, air conditioning, and 3 twin beds. We keep severely improving our predicament.

The first two nights in Fortaleza, we checked out the "lively" nightlife centered near our hotel, which basically consists of a street with lots of bars and restaurants with people trying to get you to come in, shoving menus in your face, offering you free drinks, etc. It was all very Suecia -- the cheesiest street in Santiago with river-boat/Australian outback/wild west themed bars filled with kind of suspect looking people. Same idea. We ate at tourist trap restaurants right on the sea, drank lots of Malbec, and ate seafood. After midnight the seediness factor in the neighborhood goes up considerably and a lot of prostitutes/people that could pass for prostitutes/people seeking prostitutes come out in droves. Kind of gross, but what can you do.

During the day, we went to the Mercado Central, which is 4 floors of trinket/handicraft MADNESS. I bought 3 bikinis for about US $5 each, and S and V stocked up on blankets, clothes, Havianas, and, yes, the obligatory Brazil-flag sungas. After shopping we ventured to Praia do Futuro, a beach at the eastern end of town lined with barracas (palapas selling food, drink, etc.). We had a leisurely lunch, admired the breathtaking beach, then it started to pour, so we packed up.

Today S and I went back to Praia do Futuro, where S suggested we get massages. The massages, administered by a gold-toothed gal named Olga and her surly assistant, turned out to be rub-downs with creepy oils that smelled like floor polish. These two ladies made sure every inch of exposed skin on our bodies was thoroughly saturated with oil, including our faces, hair, ears, other assorted crevices. Suraj and I were giggling like idiots throughout the entire ordeal, and we COULD NOT STOP. The last straw for me was when the surly assistant tried -- unsuccessfully, thank God -- to remove my bikini top. I was thinking, Okay, so here I am, greased up like a pig on Christmas, lying on a skeevy table on the middle of a beach, being rubbed down by a lady with gold teeth, and now I am going to be topless on top of everything else. That I just could not abide. Mercifully, the "massagem relaxante" ended after an hour -- longest hour of my life -- and S and I escaped back to our hotel to scrub the oil off our our faces.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Equator, here I come

We just got into Fortaleza, up near the top of Brazil, after taking an 8 hour bus ride from Natal this morning. The ride seemed relatively painless to me, after my 18 hour extravaganza the other day/night, but I think Suraj and Viral might be slightly traumatized. They were good sports, though, and didn't complain at all. Anyway, our hostel here, which my Rough Guide says is one of the "best located youth hostels in the Americas," seems clean and pleasant, and is spitting distance (seriously) from the beach. Oh and it's a bit of a step up from the Lua Cheia, since S, V and I have our own room (with like 5 beds), with a tv, air conditioning, and private bathroom. No more locking my suitcase whenever I go to the bathroom, yippee! Nothing much else to report. In a while, we are going to venture out and see what Fortaleza has to offer in the way of food and drink. Exciting.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Last days of the Cousin Honeymoon in Salvador

So I realized I forgot to write about Emily's and my last days in Salvador. A couple things bear mentioning... here goes. We got up in the morning, ate a yummy brekky at Refugio da Vila, then got in a cab to go back to Salvador to stay in the fabulous Hotel Cocoon. It wasn't until we arrived at the airport in Salvador that we realized the cab driver thought we wanted to go to the airport, not to the hotel, and when we told him where we wanted to go, he got all nervous and confused because he normally just goes to the airport and never ventures into the cidade... Long story short, he got completely lost and turned around, stopped at like 6 gas stations for directions, which he seemed to mistrust each time, and then when we finally got to the hotel (which appeared notably less fabulous in person than it did on the website) he charged us more for the ride. Whoa.

Anyway, at the Hotel Cocoon, where I had made a reservation 4 days in advance, the nice girl behind the desk informed me that my reservation had not been processed and that they had no vacancies. No room at the inn!!! Em and I sort of got the vibe from the oiled-up dudes at the pool that the Hotel Cocoon might cater to more of a homosexual, male crowd, but we were still pissed that we were being turned away. So, we called another cab and went to the fanciest hotel we could think of, the Othon Palace. Yeah, they were booked too. So, saddest thing ever, we ended up in a Residence Hotel. Yeah. It was like a shitty Topee Lifee, except with a breathtaking ocean view. We spent the day by the pool, watching an obnoxious child run wild as his parents watched impassively, then got cleaned up and went to a churrascaria for an all-you-can-eat meat extravaganza. This is becoming a pattern.

We ate SO much, it was ridiculous. Midway into the meal we started laughing giddily, and two youthful waiters who had been loitering by our table, trying to give us chicken hearts, hump meat, and caiprinihas, started making fun of us, sort of trying to flirt, but failing. Aw. That night we went back, watched some bloody movie on HBO 2, and woke up to the glorious view of Salvador in the morning. The next day, we ventured into Pelourinho to buy some more typically Brazilian trinkets and try to see some capoeira. Disappointing all around, especially given the utter creepiness of the capoeristas. We went to the airport to send Em off, ate a delicious lunch of Subway sandwiches, then said a sad goodbye. And that was that.

Natawwww

I'm in Natal!! Actually, Ponta Negra, a beach town about 4 km outside of Natal. After dropping Em off at the airport on Friday (SO sad by the way), I got on a bus (18 hours, holy moly) to Natal, where I checked into the Lua Cheia Hostel and waited for Suraj and Viral to show up. The hostel is weird -- it is shaped like a castle and has a moat and drawbridge, and looks like a Brazilian bastardization of Hogwarts Academy on the inside. It also has a bar in the basement called A Taverna -- kind of a dungeon theme. More on that in a moment.

First, I need to say that I think I finally understand what people have been raving about re: Northeastern beaches. Although Salvador was beautiful in its own right, and Praia do Forte was gorgeous and deserted, Natal has some of the most beautiful, clean, tranquil beaches I have ever seen. They're not full of litter like the ones in Salvador, and the water is clear as day, unlike in Rio. It also doesn't hurt that the water is like a warm bath -- honestly the warmest ocean water I have ever experienced. Today we spent the day lying under a big umbrella, eating fries and chicken sandwiches, swimming, and napping. This is heaven!

Last night was our introduction to Ponta Negra nightlife. S, V, an American kid we met, and an odd German went to a Mexican-French-Brazilian restaurant (yeah we were TOTALLY asking for it), and ordered nachos, which turned out to be extra-cheezy Doritos covered in some weird cheese and tomato sauce. Um. We had a drink there, and then, at the behest of the German dude (who spoke limited English), went next door to an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet. Again, asking for it. The funny part was that the German dude made a huge deal about this shrimp buffet and then -- wait for it --- ordered chicken. Luckily the rest of us poor fools got out of it without food poisoning, and we got to see a capoeira show while we ate. It was much better than the capoeira that Em and I saw in Pelourinho, where the drummer turned around to make kissy faces at us and the capoeira was, frankly, half-assed. This stuff last night was intense. After shrimp and wine, we went to a couple of bars near our hostel, including the medieval themed Taverna, which was having a 70s night. We all got feather boas and wacky sunglasses. Oh, the novelty.

I ended up bailing out pretty early and collapsing into my top bunk around 3 am, while the boys went on to a "salsa bar" that looked pretty shady. They report that, indeed, it was. Today was recovery day, and I am just starting to feel normal again. Now we are off to find non-shady food in Ponta Negra -- nothing involving never-ending shrimp or Nacho Cheezier Doritos, God willing....