Saturday, August 25, 2007

Is Castro dead?

Rumors are swirling.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003852598_castro25.html

Exciting times for Cuba up ahead, gente.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ready, set, summarize!

Since I promised in my latest post that I would try to give a bit more detail on the last few weeks of my life, I feel like I need to be a woman of my word and belly up to the bar and suck it up and pull myself up by my bootstraps and do the damn thing. Or whatever. If I tried to write about everything that went on since I finished up work on Aug. 3 (almost a month ago!) this post would be so long it'd be Harry Potter 8, so I am going to give you a higlights reel of my last weeks in Argentina.

BUENOS AIRES

I finished work and turned in my 26 page research paper (en castellano!) on institutional reform litigation. What a feeling. Then, I ran around the city for a few days tying up loose ends, going to the gym, and sleeping a shedload in an effort to recover from the sickness that I finally contracted after having a subte full of porteños cough in my hair for the last 2 months. On the 8th, Suraj got into town (from Colombia) and Ariella and I threw our last shindig at Club Stariella. It was quite epic - we cooked a Mediterranean themed dinner and had 12 peeps (más o menos) over to eat it. The highlight of the meal, even if no one else noticed it, had to be the absurdly expensive pine nuts in the pasta sauce, which were lovingly purchased from the Arab market across the street by yours truly. In case any of you are interested in pine nut futures, in Buenos Aires, pine nuts (piñones) cost $200 AR(about $70 USD) per kilogram. I am pretty sure you can get cocaine for a cheaper price than that, but pine nuts probably taste better in a tomato sauce. Maybe.

On the 9th, Karen showed up, and S, K and I embarked on a whirlwind tour of Buenos Aires. We walked all over the city one day - we went from my house in Palermo Viejo to the Recoleta cemetery, all through Recoleta to Congreso, then to Plaza de Mayo, then back through San Telmo, and then we took the subte back towards Palermo. Later, Karen looked in a guide book to see what they recommended people do in Buenos Aires, and they suggested the one-day walk we did, spread out over five days. Wimps!! The rest of our time in Buenos was spent eating delicious meals and drinking fantastic wine. Oh, and clubbing like whoa. On Sunday, we packed up the departamento and caught a flight to Cordoba. See below.

CORDOBA

We arrived in Cordoba with big plans to do a lot of stuff, but mostly we just slept. And went horseback riding. But mostly slept. Horseback riding was fun - a lady named Belén picked us up in her funky car and drove us to a ranch outside of the city where we went on a ride, and then we came back to an outdoor asado. We also went to a restaurant where Suraj devoured what looked like an entire goat on a plate. Yum.

MENDOZA

We rented a car -- more specifically, a Corsa -- in Cordoba and hit the road to Mendoza. On the way we passed through la Valle de los Condores (valley of the condors!) and stopped for almuerzo at an almost abandoned road-side restaurant that looked over a canyon where the condors flew. At least, I think they were condors. Maybe they were vultures. Let's say they were condors. There was also a parrot in a cage. So a very bird-y place, which made Suraj supremely nervous, and for good reason ("they peck your eyes out"). After lunch we continued on the road to Mendoza, stopping in a few towns that had been recommended highly to us, all of which sucked.

Along the way, Suraj taught K and I how to drive a stick shift. This was a huge accomplishment for me, because I was pretty sure I'd drive the car off a cliff and we'd all end up being eaten by "condors." But happily, Karen and I were both natural stick-drivers, and Suraj was a good teacher. I did stall out in the middle of a little town that we drove through, but that was because I felt intimidated by the stoplights and other drivers and stuff. But if anyone ever needs me to drive a stick shift on a flat road with no other cars and/or any other sensory distractions, I am all over it.

We arrived in Mendoza and bunked at a slightly weird hostel called Itaka House, where the front desk guy brought us two sets of sheets and two towels and then said he was "too tired" to bring us the extra set. Hm. The next day, we switched to the Mendoza Inn and decided to go on another driving adventure. We ended up driving from Mendoza City all the way to the border with Chile, which meant we went into the Andes and passed a lot of really astonishing scenery. I have driven through the Andes before -- several times, actually -- in a bus on my way back and forth from Santiago, but to see it first-hand, up-close was a whole otra cosa. On a few occasions, we got out of the car and frolicked in the snow until my appendages started to lose feeling (approx. 30 seconds) and we took a shedload of pictures. One of the coolest things we saw was the Puente del Inca, a really cool looking ice bridge very close to the border with Chile.



After our Andean roadtrip, we embarked on a self-directed wine-tasting adventure. Here's the thing about doing your own wine tour in Mendoza -- don't. We got lost in an approx. 2 square-mile area for close to three hours, seriously, before finding the first winery, which we reached only after following an elaborate (and wildly inaccurate) set of directions provided by a guy in a gas station ("turn right at the Girafa gas station, then make an S. Then go 4 blocks. Then make another S. Then turn right. Then do another S"). Turns out in Mendoza 4 blocks actually means 12 blocks, and "S" actually means "T." Pero bueno. We finally arrived, ravenous, at La Rural, our first winery, and devoured an overpriced, mediocre lunch, only to discover that the winery wasn't doing tastings that day. Awesome. So we packed into the Corsa and drove to the next winery, in which the tasting consisted of one sip each of a crappy Cabernet that we didn't get to choose, in a room that was so frigid we had to wear gloves and hoods. Trying to make the best of it, we bought a bottle of Malbec, and were told that we weren't allowed to drink it in the winery. Huh?! I think the lady took pity on us shivering gringoes and allowed us to each have a glass from the (crappy) bottle we had just bought. Mercifully, after that things improved markedly. We went to two fabulous wineries and tasted a variety of fantastic wines. We felt like big spenders in the last winery, La Cerna, and bought a bottle of artesanal Malbec-Syrah (one of only 1200 bottles)for $80 pesos (less than $30 USD). That night we brought it to a tapas restaurant near out house and paid the $7 peso corkage fee to drink it with our paella and pan de campo. Delicious.

S left Mendoza on Friday morning and Karen and I faced the (scary) prospect of getting new roommates in the hostel. The guy at the front desk told us that there were "dos chicos" from the room next door that would be moving into our room. We feared the worst, since the only people I had seen emerging from the room next door appeared to be aging heroin users/kidnappers, but we lucked out and got two normal roommates, Ryan and Megan. They were down to earth, funny, and not in the kidnapping business, so, pretty much all you can ask for in a hostel roommate.

On Saturday, K and I decided to do something semi-adventurous and go on the hostel's "trekking" and rappelling excursion. Trekking in Argentina actually means hiking, but I guess there is that added element of adventure since the safety standards probably aren't completely what they should be. Example: the guide had us hike up a little mountain covered in ice, which would have been fine, except that our group consisted of a bunch of completely unprepared (and drunk) Europeans, many of whom were wearing shiny Puma sneakers and fitted peacoats -- not exactly the get-up you want to be attacking the foothills of the Andes in, right? Some of the girls showed up with full faces of makeup and one of them was carrying a purse. A PURSE. To go RAPPELLING. Karen and I, in our North Face jackets and ski gloves, looked on in disdain.

We hiked/tripped up the hill and then hiked/slid back down, then we rappelled down three cliffs to get back to where we started. Rappelling was a new experience for me. For those who don't know, it involves walking backwards down a cliff with a rope and a harness. It's pretty easy in the great scheme of things but still freaky enough that I don't feel embarrassed about bragging that I did it. Obviously. The last cliff we descended was about 45 meters, so almost 150 feet. It was fun for about 75 feet. The last 75 I could have done without, to be completely honest. It was like, okay, enough already. Anyhoo, after rappelling down the last cliff, we waited, freezing, at the bottom for all of the boozy Europeans to make their way down, and then finally went to some indoor hot springs. Hot springs have saved me from frostbite in South America twice now. God bless them!

So, that was Mendoza in a nutshell. Karen and I spent the rest of our time there eating, relaxing, and huddling for warmth, since every day in Mendoza seemed to get colder and colder until it was just ludicrously cold and we were both ready to depart for warmer climes. All in all, a great trip -- I think we did almost every type of activity there is to do there (except skiing, but who needs it) and saw every sight there was to see, and more. GO US.

Now, as I mentioned in my last post, I'm in São Paulo. My co-researchers and I just got back from a sushi rodizio dinner, which reminded me of my 9 months of utter sushi gluttony in this city. Those were the days! Alright, I am fast going into sushi coma and must go to bed. Good to be back!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Little by little

This blog entry is like one of those emails you (I) send to your (my) parents just to say that you're alive, since it's been a while and they are picturing you dead on the side of the road with tire tracks on your face.

So HI, I'm alive!

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Let me summarize in a really obnoxious, one-paragraph-with-minimal-explanation kind of way: I finished work at my NGO, my friend Suraj came down from the US, Ariella and I threw one last awesome dinner party at Club Stariella, my friend Karen arrived from the US, the three of us drank and ate our way through Buenos Aires for a few days, we flew to Cordoba, we slept (a lot) we went horseback riding, we rented a car and drove from Cordoba to Mendoza, S taught K and I how to drive a stick shift, we got to Mendoza and went on a roadtrip into the Andes and crossed the border into Chile just for the hell of it, we saw an ice bridge, we organized our own wine tasting trip (semi-successful), Suraj left, Karen and I went "trekking" (hiking) with a group of unprepared (and possibly drunk) Europeans, we rappelled down a few cliffs, we froze our asses off and then visited some much-needed hot springs, we chowed down at an asado, no one showered for a few days because the hostel showers were so putrid, K went to the bus station, I went to the airport, I flew to Brazil, I got held up in Guarulhos airport in São Paulo for several hours while attempting to pay the ginormous fine I had racked up from overstaying my visa last year, I arrived at the hotel in São Paulo, I tried to recoup my Portuguese, and here I am, sitting in the hotel lobby in São Paulo, updating my blog.

So, I should probably write more detailed posts about each of the things I mentioned above, and I'll get around to it eventually, but right now I am so exhausted from attempting to think, speak and write in Portuguese all day (after three months of near-immersion en castellano), that I just can't do it. Don't give up on me, though, I'll be back soon.

Tchauzinho e até logo!