Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Homeward Bound

Six days ago I did something that I had not done in 26 years, step on soil of my native Nicaragua. I left long ago, under not so good circumstances, mostly because I was tired of the hot weather,just kidding, it was more because of the F.S.L.N., the National Front of Sandinista Liberation. So to make a long story short, I have not been back to see where I am from, and where I lived.

Upon entering Nicaragua, I felt something, not nostalgia as most would expect, or melancholy, rather like a stranger in a place I no longer knew and did not know me. We traveled from the border town of Peñas Blancas and into San Juan del Sur where we stayed for a night and I slowly began to get a feel for the people, their manerisms and talk, which I know I have lost / maybe never really had. Today, we finally arrived in Managua, and I was a bit nervous about what I would see and how I would find things.

It is hard to imgine how things are, after having vivid memories of how they were. Often I had dreams of my childhood, where I would be at the little house with the three foot tall white wooden fence and hear Doña Rita´s green and red parrot yapping away. Or at my elemntary school, constantly running with the other kids in our blue and white uniforms as we played tag. But time passes and sometimes I can no longer differentiate what part of my youth I am remembering from Nicaragua and what is coming from my times at 1523 Meridian Ave on South Beach.

Today though, we finally arrived in Mangua and after asking half a dozen people if they remembered where the old (from 30 years ago) Reynaldo Hernandez Hardware store was, we arrived at a house that is not as I remembered it, but the lot is there nonetheless. The house had been split in two and converted to two tiny houses, resembling more of a shanty favela, with metal decking for a roof, than the cute house where I would climb the guayaba tree. The parrot was no longer there (obv.) talking everyone´s ear off and neither was the small white fence, but new residents were. I spoke to them and they mentioned how they had only been there for five years and did not know of the neighbors I spoke of. Maybe they were affraid that I was there trying to claim the house (as another man I spoke to said they knew someone would eventually come to claim it), or maybe they were too young to know the neighbors I remembered who were no longer there.

Either way, I made it home. I saw my little street where it bends to the left, took a few pictures to show my parents what is left and went back to the (Piedresitas) the park where my father would take us. And now, I feel fine, no longer wondering about the littel house on the little street. Now, I can simply go back to my other home.

Hernaldo

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Into the Home Stretch

For all of those worry-wort readers (and parents), do not believe the hype! We were not in fact kidnapped by drug lords in rural Colombia and forced to design them lavish mansions. We did not succomb to malaria and yellow fever. We did not become filled with fright and terrified to write after the mention of the SSTSA on sites like Check on My Bike and phillyskyline.com.

Truth is, we've just been on vacation. Quite literally. As the weather got warmer and the days got longer and South America became Central America, we got lazier and lazier. And even I´m learning that on vacation, that's ok.

Not like we´ve been resting on our laurels, however. Since we last posted, we´ve been to three countries (Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua), three times as many cities and towns, and I tell you, we have done everyone of them to the utmost. Still, among all of those languid, delightful beach days and sweaty, slogging climbs up volcanos I´ve managed to find some time to upload some photos to share with you the many things we´ve seen.

A look back at the blog reveals that I haven´t posted a full set of photos since Buenos Aires, a mere month or so ago. Let´s go ahead and fix that right now.

After Buenos Aires, we flew a short hop over the Andes to Santiago, the bustling business and political center of Chile. Like a number of bustling business and political center of's that we've seen on this trip, Santiago was, sadly, a pretty average place. Granted, we certainly did not see all of a city this size in a mere couple of days, but there didn´t seem to be much to see. While Dan and Joey headed for the hills, Hern, Carlos, and I took an afternoon to bang out the city´s major tourist sites. Santiago has an incredible location in a bowl, surrounded by the Andes' peaks on all sides. This location also contributes to the awful air pollution in the city. In many of the pictures, you can see the tops of the mountains and the city below, but the middleground is a gray miasma. The city had an amazing park, Cerro Santa Lucia, which covered a tall mini-mountain rising from amid the city´s street grid. Pretty amazing to stand on a hillside at the equivalent of 20 stories and look over at a skyscraper across the street. Definitely the highlight of this stop for me. Carlos (who of course, bumped into someone he knew in the park) might list the city's latest fad, called cafe con piernas (coffee with legs), as his favorite. I´m sure you can imagine, but I'll just say that it involves coffee. And legs.

So, here's a sampling of 45 choice shots from Santiago, Chile. (click the photo to launch the Picasa set)
From Santiago, it was a short bus out to Valparaiso on the Pacific coast, which was slated to be the highlight of our Chilean leg. It did not disappoint. We settled into an awesome hilltop hostel, and set out to explore the city. Valparaiso is a port town, and for a long time it was the port of call on the west coast of South America for ships heading from the east coast to California around the tip of South America. The city prospered and grew immensely. Needless to say, the construction of the Panama Canal put a damper on the party. So, Valpo has become one of those delightful, elegant-decay kind of towns, though it maintains an active port and incredible buildings and public spaces. Also unique are the ascensors, near vertical cable railways that connect the lower town to neighborhoods perched on the steep cliffs above. Finally, Joey and I managed to get kicked out of the old jail (now a cultural center) for climbing the walls. There was no specific admonition against doing this, but even our dumb-american routine failed to keep us in. Regardless, it was totally worth the 45 minutes of sitting outside waiting for the rest of the guys to finish.

107 shots of Valparaiso, replete with harbor tours, the requisite excellent seafood, lovely vistas, and antiquated public transportation can be launched below.
Ok, where's next? Ah yes, Lima. See the Santiago entry and the whole bustling business and political center of's part. Another ok, but unispired and often quite shady place. I hate to pass judgement after what was essentially a stopover, but that was my impression of the place. There was a beautiful central square with a great cathedral and some absolutely incredible woodwork. This was reached via a long pedestrian street of dodgy characters. The food was good, with the ceviche being a standout, but when we tried to get more ceviche for dinner, we were told that it was too heavy for the stomach (?) and never sold after 2pm. So we went to a chain chicken place in seaside mall that honestly looked like it was airlifted in from Orange County, fashionably-dressed tweens and all. It was a very odd way to end the day.

So Lima... check it out. By clicking. Right there.
From Lima, it was just a brief, very early flight to the navel of the world, Cusco. The capital of the Incas. An ancient and beautiful place. A pile of modern over colonial over Inca. It's a big part of what you think of when you think of Peru, and it will be a big part of the way I remember it. The town is also the jumping off point for everyone heading to or from Macchu Pichu, and as such has become a bit of a tourist trap. Still, we enjoyed it, despite each having our own individual struggles with the altitude. We splurged on a nice hotel for the last night before three days of hard hiking and sleeping in tents, then took an afternoon to storm the town. Lots of coco tea (which I grew to loathe in the coming days) and incredible people and places.

So, here's 36 good shots from Cusco...
A note on Macchu Pichu: it was a four-day hike, over the mountains and over the mountains and over them again to Macchu Pichu. This was one of the hardest, most interesting and most rewarding four days of my life. It was also among the most beautiful places I've ever been. Hence, I managed to take nearly 600 photographs. As with the experience, I'm still trying to process all these, so I decided to skip them for now, and will do a proper post in the future. From home, I guess. Don't worry though, I'll happily show each of you all of the hundreds of pictures and give you the play-by-play.

Nest stop, Colombia. And where else to begin but it's bustling business and political center. In thinking back to our visit to Bogota, it was astonishingly similar to our visits to Santiago and Lima. These are all enormous cities where many millions of people live their lives. But we really only saw the nice park, the view from the mountain, and the main square in each of these places. I never really felt comfortable in any of them and they tend to run together in my memory. Still, Bogota was not nearly as bad as many imagine it to be. Very nice center square, good food, rainy views from mountain, and the Botero museum. This place was new and absolutely gorgeous, in a rambling old block of houses in La Candeleria. As a combination of physical museum and quality of the collection, it vies for the best of what we saw in South America.

Pictures of all that goodness (and some of that average-ness) are below.
Off to Cartagena. The colonial jewel of Colombia's Carribaean coast. Great beaches, hot as hell. Incredible old walled center city with a tunnel-ridden, ant-farm of a fort to match. Cartagena reminded me a lot of Charleston, South Carlolina. The colors and feel were very similar to me, though the differed greatly at the finer scale. There were great churches, replete with opportunities to sneak onto roofs. We even managed to walk the walls without being asked to leave. We saw a couple of good museums, ate well, and even sat in on a beach side wedding (I´m sure they were thrilled) during our brief stop in town. It was fascinating to be there during the announcement of Ingrid Betancourt's (and a dozen others') rescue from FARC captivity. The story was huge deal there and consumed the Colombians for the rest of our visit.

Cartagena. Check it out. Fifty-seven times.
A note on Medellin, Colombia: Basically, this was the finest surprise of the trip. From the great (and cheap) apartment we rented, to dinner and drinks with local friends, to the generally amazing nightlife here, Medellin was a winner. Add on top of that the best contemporary design we saw on the trip, incredible transportation and public space initiatives, Freddy the 10-year old tour guide and entrpreneur, and everything else that was just right about this place and it's clearly deserving of it's own post. Certainly a place that requires a bit more refined thought and a properly assembled photo-essay. So... yeah, at least you've got that to look forward to.

A note on Costa Rica: I hate to do two of these in a row. However, I did not take a single photograph in this entire country. In fact, I didn't really do a damn thing. For three days. And it was great. We left San Jose in a hurry (that whole business and political center thing) and headed to Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast. Then, we sat around on the beach, surfed a bit, drank copiously with wonderful Irish friends. And that's about it. It was a great few days though, to say the least. So... don't look forward to that Costa Rica photo essay. It ain't coming.

On to Nicaragua. We're here now. We started in San Juan Del Sur, on the south Pacific coast. It was basically a continuation of the Costa Rica beach week. We swam, watched a lightning storm from a restaurant with a thatched roof, and rode in the back of a pick-up truck driven by a one-armed man (manual? of course) to an even more remote beach, which had some awesome wildlife and rocks and waves and all that good stuff. It was called Playa Madera, and was were I took most of these shots. I think only the first one is actually in San Juan.

Click it. Check it.
There´s certainly more to tell, though I'm not sure that we´ll be telling it from here, as there is still so much left to do. So hopefully, we´ll talk to you again, but if not we'll see you even sooner.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

UPDATE!!

Hola amigos y amigas...
Winter gave way to summer about a week ago when we arrived in Colombia from Cusco, Peru. Tonight is our last night in Sudamerica as tomorrow we move on to Costa Rica and well, Central America where it only gets warmer. Mike and Joey's Spanish has gotten so good, that they now speak English with a lovely Mexican accent. We have decided that upon our arrival in the good ol' U.S & A, we will open an empanada stand somewhere on South street, as they are clearly the best source of nutrition. While we have spent nearly a week in Colombia, I must say our hike through the Andes is still fresh in our minds. Here is one of my favorite images of one of the many children we'd come across, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. We'd fill their hands with candies, toys or any goodies we'd picked up beforehand to which they'd respond with a smile, a face of confusion or our favorite..."grashas"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hiiiiiiiigh Andes!

Hello from Bogota! (okay, we're now in Medellin by the time I've finished this post!)

Sorry for the long break in updates to our Team Sud America blog, but we were a little busy crossing the Andes... on foot! Yes that's right, our little team ventured out in the high alpine region of the Lares Valley in Peru for a 4 day trek, that brought us to Monchu Pichu. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience because of the difficulty of the hike and coping with the high altitude, the many native Quechwa villagers we encountered, the way we shared our adventure with 14 new friends and fellow hikers, and of course ending at Monchu Pichu. So, here's a synopsis of our trek!

Our first day of the trek began at 5 am when the alarm woke us up from our comfy hotel beds. We got our hiking gear together, ate the typical breakfast of ham, cheese, and bread, and put our extra luggage into storage for a few days. We got onto the bus with our fellow travelers, which was loaded with our gear for the next few days, and had a crazy ride into the mountains. We were going up these really steap switchbacks, climbing at one point to 14,000 feet. The dirt road wasn't a deterrent to our bus driver, who liked to pass every car and truck in front of us. We had a short stop in the town of Pisac where we had some breakfast and picked up some candy and presents for the children we would see at a local market.

We got to the start of our hike, at a small mountain village where the little kids came running up looking for candy and little presents we had brought with us. Our hike was not the famed Inca Trail, which is loaded with tour groups, and so we passed through solitary little villages that hadn´t changed much in the last few centuries and probably only see a handful of hikers for a few months of the year. So we started our hike around 3,300 meters and instantly the altitude was a problem for a lot of people. One group member lost his lunch, some of us had shortness of breath, I had a pretty bad headache as we slowly made our way higher into the mountains. But it was okay because they kind of know that is going to happen and are very helpful and we took many breaks to regroup. Hernaldo was able to hand off his pack to a porter, who slung it over his shoulder with no trouble! Apperently, they recently changed the hike to become the hardest hikes in the area, which almost none of us knew! But altitude sickness aside our trail was taking us through a very beautiful place. We could see glaciers high up in the mountains all around us, passed through famers tending to their llama herds, met lots of adorable little kids, and hiked our buts off! All of the people we saw were dressed in traditional red ponchos and sporting colorful hats. They don´t even speak Spanish mostly, and still speak the Incan language, Quechwa. But we had two great guides, moved at a slow enough pace for everyone, and everyone had an amazing trip.



We had teams of llamas and horses carrying most of the gear, I just had my pack with a sleeping bag and clothes to worry about, but at that altitude even that was tough. The porters would of course move faster than us, setting up camps for lunch with huge meals of rices, meats, salads, potatos, and lots of coca tea. When we would arrive for lunch, they would have bowls of warm water for us to wash up, cups of juice ready to go, and of course the huge meals. It was pretty awesome. Same kind of thing when we would arrive at our camps at night... the tents were all set up, with hot tea and snacks waiting.

So basically, our first day we had a pretty steady hike to our lunch spot at a high alpine lake, where we had a big feast and a short siesta. We then continued a steep ascent to our first mountain pass at 14,200`!!!!!! It was a tough push to the top and I think everyone was feeling the effects of hiking at such a high altitude. Needless to say though, the views from up there were just amazing.

We had a pretty long descent the first day to our camp, and everyone was pretty beat so after a big dinner and some conversation with our fellow travelers we had an early night in our tents. There were so many stars out because we were so far from any major populations and it was a pretty cool sight to behold way up in the Andes. It was pretty cold at night, but we had great sleeping bags to keep us warm.

On the second day, we woke up at dawn to watch the sun rise on a distant peak and glacier that glowed red from the sunrise. Once we got hiking into the sun, things warmed up and we had a great stop in a Quechwa house, seeing how the native population lives. After a few hours got to our second pass, at 14,100 feet! Again, all along the way little children would come up to us hoping for more candy and pens and pencils to use.


We had a beautiful descent passing more alpine lakes and seeing a few more small villages. At this point, we had a small horse with us that we were taking turns leading to our lunch camp. We had another big lunch and afterwards got some time to rest. Somehow, Carlos and Hernaldo scored massages from some fellow travelers!



After lunch, we had a long trek to our last mountain pass, climbing in elevation and racking up the kilometers along the way. Although it was a tough push, we arrived at the top and felt awesome about reaching the high point of our trek at 14,600'! It was waaaaaaaaay up there, and the views were amazing.



The descent to our camp that night was beautiful as the sun set on us walking past more llama herds and alpine lakes. We got to camp and had a really fun night talking with our group of travelers. There were 16 of us total: Mike and I were the only Americans; Hernaldo and Carlos hail from Nicaragua; Joanna, Jock, Peter, and Ronan made up team Ireland, Louisa, Alexandra, Allistar, and Charlie were the English chaps enjoying their gap year, Dinesh was from India, and Helena made the trip from her native Australia. We also had two excellent guides, Roberto and Salvatore, who told us all about the areas history, culture, and geology as we walked. After another great dinner, we had a few beers we were able to purchase from locals who came to our campsite, and then a bottle of rum was passed around to add to our tea! We were having a great time telling jokes and thinking about the hike we had finished. The stars were out in full force again and our guides and fellow travellers pointed out the constellations, both the modern ones and the ancient Inca ones. It was cool being in the southern hemisphere, because all of the constellations were different.

The third day was an easy one, and we had about a 3 hour descent to a cool town way out in the mountains where we were to meet a bus to take us on our next journey. While we waited, we of course had to play a game of football (soccer), and I hate to admit I was the goalie that let in the only goal. I guess it´s not just my sport! We took a cool bus ride to an ancient Inca town Ottoytomboa where we had a good lunch and some time to explore the area. Mike and I went to check out some ruins high up on the hill, structures very similar to the ones from the Peublo Indians like Cliff Palace and such. We had the place to ourselves which had amazing views of this small town set in the Andes. We then got on a really cool train ride to take us to Agua Calientes, a town close to Monchupichu where we stayed the night in a hostel with hot showers and comfy beds! Me and my friends and the Irish group had a really fun night putting a dent on the restaurant's beer cooler, but we didn´t stay up too late since we had an early start the next morning.


We got up on the last day at 5, had a quick breakfast, and borded a bus to take us up some really steep switchbacks to the lost Inca City of monchupichu. We arrived before dawn and the crowds were pretty small. That´s because there is no road to the site, just the train. The only people that can get there so early are the ones who stay in the small town... the first train doesn´t bring people until 10.30. So our guide brought us way up on these terraces where he explained how this city was a type of Inca university that was abandonded when the Spanish began conquering the area, and it was left untouched until 1911.


It is on a mountain plateau, surrounded by incredible mountains. To see the sun rise on this place was just unbelievable, and it was really one of the most amazing experiences I´ve ever had.



We had a great tour with our guide who told us all about the different temples and structures for about 3 hours, and then we had some time to explore on our own. We did two hikes from the top to check out some other sights, the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge. The former is a gate at the top of a mountain pass that the Inca trail passes through with amazing views of Monchu Pichu.


The Inca Bridge was a very narrow trail with a few hundred meter drop off to one side! After those adventures, Mike and I decided to walk back to Aguas Calientes down a thousand steps through dense jungle! It is was as amazing as it sounds! We had a great last lunch with our guide, then we went to the hot spring in town for a good soak for a few hours! Just what we needed after all that hiking. We had a late night train back to Cusco, the main town where I last wrote from, and after a few celebratory beers with the group, we went to bed at our hostel.

Phfewwww.... that was a long one and I hope I did our amazing trek justice! We've just finished a great week in Colombia and are looking forward to our next adventures in Costa Rica!

Ciao, Joey

Monday, June 30, 2008

Where we've been...

We've been running around a bit lately, and haven't had the time to update the blog as much as we'd like. It's 9pm in Bogota now, so we certainly don't have time at the moment.

So, here are a few panoramas to update you on where we've been...

We started here, high above Santiago, Chile...
Then to the port city of Valparaiso...
Then a quick flight to Lima, and its Plaza De Armas...
And off to Cuzco which has its own Plaza De Armas...
Then for a little walk - through the Lares Valley in Peru, where we walked to see places like this:
And then some more walking...
And a bit more...
And finally through the Sun Gate, to take in this vista...
Which includes, if you look closely this...
Overall, a pretty amazing week. We'll be back as soon as time allows with proper updates on the goings-on.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

NEW Feature!!! The progress map!!!

Carlos has applied his phenomenal Adobe Illustrator skillz to the challenge of creating a cogent visual expression for the progress of our sojourn through Sud America. Below is the result of his efforts (click to enlarge):

To complement his efforts, I've done a bit of statistical work. To date, from Philadelphia to Valparaiso, we have traveled a total of:

8,459.2 miles or
13,613.8 kilometers

Hopefully, we'll be able to keep this feature up to date as we move along, and maybe add some new statistical elements (empanadas consumed, photographs taken, litros de cerveca, etc.)

But for now, it's time to finish our exploration of Valparaiso... Ciao!

Buenos Aires Photos

Here's my set of photos from our week in Buenos Aires. It's a very photogenic place, where we stayed for a while, so there's 145 pictures of boulevards, cemeteries, protests, and more. Click the photo below to launch the Picasa gallery.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pista-Off in the Andes

Hello Everyone! Our adventures have brought us to Chile. In the winter. Near the Andes.

If that doesn´t conjure up images of skiing, then I don´t know what does! Hammer and I decided a skiing adventure was in order while the other guys decided to explore Santiago for the day. When we arrived in Santiago on Thursday, there was intermittent rain in the city, but I knew that it must be snowing in the mountains a few thousand feet above us in elevation so I was getting pumped for a powder day in the Andes. As with any good ski day, it started before dawn when a mini-bus picked us up from the hostel and took us to the tour office to pick up skis, boots, poles, goggles, and ski pants. Although that took a long time, soon we were heading up to the mountains in a packed mini-bus sharing cups of matte tea (an argentine tea I picked up and was eager to try. Yummmmm) and cliff bars.

The drive was really the first adventure, and soon the mountains we had seen from the city were all around us. The best way up them was over many tight switchbacks that a steady line of cars was snaking up. We had chains on the tires, and the ride wasn´t too scary, but plenty scenic. Soon, we were at the base of El Colorado, one of the bigger mountains close to Santiago and we jumped into our ski boots and headed for the first lift. After all, it was a powder day!

The mountain was above the treeline, so it was a big expanse of snow, with a good network of ski lifts and surface lifts crawling up. The day started out warm and sunny and we had amazing views of the Andes all around us, and could even see Santiago way down below. Most of the mountain had sections that were expertly groomed right next to areas of fresh powder, so there was something for everyone. The mountain wasn´t too steep, but the 10 or so inches of fresh snow made for really great skiing.

We were conquering even the toughest trails, but there was a section of the mountain that led to the base of a closed lift, requiring a short hike back to the open lifts. I parted ways with Hammer (the rule that there are no friends on powder days was only a little true!) for an hour or so to spin some laps in the knee deep fresh snow, and I got a fresh line each lap. Needless to say, I was prett happy!!!!! While the terrain wasn´t very steep, there is something magical about being able to take perfect turns in thigh deep snow. Ahhhhhhhh!

Hammer and I rendevoused at a mid-mountain eatery for a great lunch and a few beers. But we were there to ski, and were quickly back at it. After a few more runs, Dan joined me on the fun powder field and he was carving up turns like Alberta Tomba. We did the short hike out and found another little powder stash that Dan promptly got stuck in. But hey, it´s not easy to put your skis on when the snow is up to your thighs! I needed to spin a few more laps on that powder field, so we parted ways for another short time. I could have skied that part of the mountain until my legs gave out, which actually happened after another hour over there! As I was heading back to the base area, Dan passed me overhead on a lift, and he gave out the first part of our new favorite cheer, ¨Chi, Chi, Chi¨and of course I responded with the ¨Le, Le, Le, Viva Chile!¨

At 4:30 we met up at the base area with time for either one more run, or one well-deserved beer. Guess what we decided on???? Beer never tastes as good as when it´s after an amazing day on the slopes, and this was no exception. We traded our boots for sneakers and boarded the mini-bus back to town. The sun was setting on the Andes as we snaked down the mountains, and we were exhausted and really excited that we had such a fun day on the slopes.

After getting back to town, we regrouped with the Hern, Mike, and Carlos and headed to the beautiful port town of Valparaiso which we have been exploring all day and will get a post all to itself.

Ciao, Joey

Valparaiso... It's not just a Lutheran school in Indiana anymore!

It's also where we are, on the Chilean coast. After a delightful week in Buenos Aires, which is a truly fantastic city - among the finest I've visited, we flew to Santiago de Chile. After a fairly quiet night in the city, we broke up in the morning - with Joey and Dan leaving at the break of dawn for skiing in the Andes, and Carlos, Hern, and I slept in and explored some of the cool parks and interesting cafe's of the city.

Carlos has spent the better part of the last two days reciting the following exchange from There's Something About Mary:

Norm: Really? Where would I have seen your work?
Pat Healy: Well, have you been to, uh well, let me see... Santiago, Chile?
Norm: Twice last year. Which building's yours?
PAre you familiar with the soccer stadium?
Norm: Did you build the Estadio Olimpico?
Pat Healy: No, just down the street the Celinto Catayente Towers. It's quite a fine example, in fact. I recommend that next time you're up that way that you drop in and take a gander at it yourself.

As for today, we had a killer day exploring Valparaiso. After a nap and some fun tonight, we'll be back with a full update on Buenos Aires, replete with a full photo gallery!

Here's a little taste of the city to whet your appetites.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Love Doing Hood-rat Stuff With My Friends

Day 18 - We all woke up this morning itching for some adventure, so Hernaldo scored a Peruvian visa, Mike stole a pair of pants from Joey (not for adventure's sake...) and we then headed to the local gun shop (aka Museo de las Armas). Mike picked up a sweet Swiss-army gun with a convenient cork screw, while Hernaldo browsed some gatling guns - more of his caliber. I grabbed some grenades, Dan a bazooka and Joey an empanada and an orange fanta.



Once equipped, we headed to La Boca (a blue collar barrio of Buenos Aires where Spanish and Italian immigrants settled in mid 19th century - and home of the Boca Juniors, one of South America's best futbol clubs) for some hood-rat action. A lot of houses consist of colorful corrugated metal, which port dwellers painted using leftover paint from shipping barges.


After terrorizing much of the neighborhood (with our tango dancing skillz) along el Caminito (that's small path for those of you that don't habla español), a pedestrian path with shops/restaurants and La Boca's most famous street, we hopped on a bus and headed back to the 'hood - without paying, of course.


We continued on with our wild adventures by devouring some amazing pizzas (NO HAM!! [for Dan]) whilst watching the Celtics destroy the Lakers (we strongly believe the sighting of the leprechaun helped insure their victory) and downing some cervezas - no worries, we were sure to pour some beer on the restaurant floor for our cronies back in North America (that continent is so last year). And this here picture is to prove that we do smile after all...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tons of all new photo galleries.

With good wireless in Buenos Aires and some down time from a cold, I've put up galleries for most of the other cities in Brazil that we've visited. With more time, I'll be able to caption and tag all of them, but for now, here they are in raw form.

Ouro Preto, Brazil

82 photographs of our day and night in the hilly little gold town can be found here.

Belo Horizonte, Brazil

40 photos from our day in BH with plenty of Oscar Niemeyer buildings and a guest appearance by a pair of capybara (which look kind of like dog-sized guinea pigs) can be found over here. Sadly, there is not one picture of the beautiful women who were crawling all over that town.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

113 shots from a few days spent in Brazil's largest city are here.

Curitiba, Brazil

Love it or hate it (and I'm probably the only one who didn't hate it) we spent a delightful day of public transport and closed attractions in Curitiba. The next day featured a train trip through the Serra Verde mountains to the small town of Morretes. 73 photos from Curitiba (and the fun train rides that leave from there) can be found right here.

Iguaçu Falls
Straddling the river border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguacu is one of the world's three great waterfalls. (Niagara and Victoria being the others) We saw the falls from up close, far-away and both sides of the river. Our trip also included a stop by the Itaipu dam, which is the world's largest or second largest, depending on which guidebook you're reading. Regardless of its rank it is quite large, and involved a technical (but no passport stamps) visit to Paraguay. 57 wet and wild pictures from three countries can be found aqui.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

IguAWESOME!

During our single pre-trip planning session, we had come to the conclusion that making a trip to Iguacu Falls would be very difficult and so we had left it off our itinerary. Once we were underway though, we realized we would be foolish if we skipped one of the world's biggest waterfalls, and against Mike's protests, we decided this was something we should see. So our adventure began from Curitba, and we boarded a 10 hour night bus to head directly west, to the Brazilian town of Foz de Iguacu. We arrived early on Wednesday morning, found a hostel, and quickly made our way to the bus stop to catch a bus going to the Parque Nacional de Iguacu. At the visitor center, we boarded a double decker bus that would take us into the park. The fact that this double decker bus was a cooler ride than even the famed busses of Curitiba was not lost on us, and Mike endured another round of Curitiba bashing!



There was a paved path that led into the woods, high up above the Iguacu river. The first sight wasn't the falls, but some raccoons that were scrounging for food around the path. I'm pretty sure no one from our group fed them, but I really can't be sure. Carlos had some really mischievous looks. The path initially led through some dense fauna, affording us only quick and limited glances of the falls. There are 271 individual falls that stretch 1km across the river, and we were seeing a good portion of them, but it wasn't until we got to Garganta do Diabo that things really got impressive.


The Diabo is a horseshoe shaped part of the falls where the path leads right into the river to let you get up close and personal with the water. The bridges they have built into the river are awesome, and you can peer right over the edge to see the water thundering down a few hundred feet or look up and see more waterfalls coming right down at you. As if the view isn't good enough, you are also getting soaked from the midst and hearing the roar of all the water!


After soaking in the falls (haha, get it!) it was early enough in the day that we wanted another adventure, a dam good one too. Lucky for us, the Itaipu Dam was close by, so we jumped back on the park bus, got on a city bus back to town, switched to one heading in the Dam direction, and arrived with 10 seconds to spare before the last tour left. We dam near missed it! We opted for the extended, or engineering tour, which started with a short propaganda film about how great the dam is, even though it flooded a few dozen towns, a famous waterfall, and has hurt a lot of the wildlife in the area. But still, this is the world's biggest hydroelectric dam and powers 40% of Brazil and 90% of Paraguay. The dam is shared between the two countries.

The tour started with the panoramic lookouts, and the scale of the project is pretty insane. If you look at this picture, try to find the red bus!


Then we drove along the top of it, checking out the massive reservoir on one side, and the 180 meter drop on the other. We drove over the spillway, which only opens and creates a very dramatic setting when the water in the reservoir is too high. Unfortunately for us, it was closed. But we still continued on to the main level of the dam, walking in between the massive buttresses and seeing the old river bottom way, way below. The white pipe below is us one of the 20 penstocks where the water falls. It's 10 meters in diameter just so you know!



We got to go into the main power plant and see the dam control room and how much energy was being produced at the time. Then we went to the dam turbine floor, which was 1 km in length. Although the turbines were in the floor below us, it was still an impressive space. Our tour actually continued down another level where we actually saw the turbines spinning. Since we were only a few feet from a machine that was powering most of Paraguay, we were pretty impressed! I don't think they let you get this close to sensitive equipment in the US, so we were happy for the opportunity.That just about wrapped up the dam tour, so we headed back to town for some food and an early night to bed.

Wait, our adventure at Iguacu wasn't over yet... there was day 2! We had a slow start, but eventually caught a bus to take us to the Argentine side of the falls, but that meant us Gringos had to stop at the border, twice. The bus dropped us off, we got our passports stamped out of Brazil, and had to wait for the bus again. In the meantime, we did our calesthenics and strength training excercises much to the delight of the border guards. These included pushups with our packs, lots of pull ups on a bus station kiosk, and situps. We're getting buff on this trip, so watch out!

We arrived at the Argentine bus terminal, booked our tickets for the 18 hour ride to Buenos Aires, and then got on a local bus to the falls. Once we arrived there, we realized we were very short on time, so after a little train ride into the park, we started the hustle. The five of us were power walking / jogging along the metal decks that led to the falls in the most ridiculous fashion possible. It was slippery, and that just made it all the more hysterical. We would stop at a scenic lookout, take our pictures, then sprint to the next one. There is video documenting this and we'll upload that as soon as we can.

The falls on the Argentine side were really awesome and we got up close and personal with many of them. There was another bridge we could take that brought us right up to the falling water where we stopped for a few minutes to soak in the setting. I can't believe I have been able to use that cheezy joke twice in one post!!!

Once we had seen everything at the falls, we headed back to the tourist train which departed about 15 seconds once we got on board. Our timing was impeccable on this day. After that it was a local bus to the main bus station where we boarded our night bus to Buenos Aires.

Sorry this post has been a long time in the making, and I'm sure it doesn't do justice to how awesome Iguacu was. But it certainly was IguAWESOME!

Ciao! Joey











Saturday, June 14, 2008

Buenos Dias, Buenos Aires

Heading South, Portugese has given way to Spanish (kudos to Carlos for his tireless translations thru Brasil), Reals to Pesos, pasteis to empanadas, Flamengo or Corintheans to Boca Jr., samba to tango, and 70-ish degrees to 55-ish degrees.

The old adage (Hernaldo) claims South Americans find Argentinians to be snobby and aloof, and in turn Argentinians think that way of Portenos (people of the River Plate port, i.e. Buenos Aires residents). So far, however, nothing but platitudes to report here at one of the most cosmopolitan stops on our itinerary.

I'm sure our faithful readers will forgive our non-chronological postings, and perhaps text-heavy entries, as images/videos take a while to upload. Anyway, one of us will fill you in on the thoroughly amazing Iguacu Falls and the Itaipu Dam, from which we took a surprisingly pleasant 18-hr bus ride to Buenos Aires, where we have taken up residence (at $12/night hostel) in the ritzy Recoleta neighborhood. The Wallpaper* City Guide describes our current 'hood as "A little slice of Paris' staid, salubrious 16th arrondissement in South America." I've not been to Paris, but Recoleta is replete with comfortable confiterias (bakery/coffeeshop/cafes), fashionable clothing stores, and grand architecture--Beaux Arts and other styles of which we learned nothing in graduate school if a little in undergrad. Tree-lined streets sandwiched by rusticated stone, wrought iron, sculpted gargoyles, and mansard roofs. Meandering through the city in our first day and a half, we have explored the Microcentro (business/museum district), Puerto Madero (a recent dockland development with its own thoroughly-photographed, pivoting Calatrava pedestrian bridge), Avenida Florida (pedestrianized shopping area), and other neighborhoods. Last night we checked out Palermo, a very cool part of town full of restaurants, bars, clubs, all different cuisines, bebidas, tunes, crowds, and scenes, indoors and outdoors. Nightlife does not even pick up until around 1-2am, as Portenos generally don't eat until 9 or 10pm, which is followed by a nap before hitting the town. This meant that as we were getting tired, places were just coming alive. So no doubt we rallied, even Joey stayed out until 7am or so (playing bingo at the church, of course...)

It's about time for a quick power nap before heading out tonight. It looks like Palermo/Palermo Viejo tonight, and tomorrow San Telmo (perhaps Mike will be forced to take a tango lesson, or at least watch), La Boca, and if we can find cheap tickets, the Argentina-Ecuador qualifier match. I'm also very excited to meet for the first time a large branch of my extended family for a Dia del Padre (Father's Day) lunch tomorrow. Happy Father's Day to all back home.

-DH, el hombre martillo

Rio Flashback


I've finally gotten a chance to upload and geo-tag the 114 best pictures that I took in Rio de Janeiro earlier this month. You can check out the album over at my Picasa page:

http://picasaweb.google.com/michael.g.burlando/RioDeJaneiroBrazil

I'll try to caption them as I get time. And yes, Picasa also has a comments feature.

-Mike

Friday, June 13, 2008

Log-roll races at the Curitiba Botanical Gardens

I definitely won this...
video

Curitiba - A City with a Case of the Mondays


We arrived in Curitiba, Brazil after a brief 7-hour night bus from Sao Paolo. I was pumped to see the city, which is upheld as a model of urban planning, innovative transportation, and creative solutions to the myriad problems growing South American cities face. Of course, leaving the bus station, we ended up in a cab out to our hostel which was out in the suburbs. The hostel, Curitiba Eco Hostel, was among the nicest we've stayed at. Unfortunately, it was rather far outside of the city center. After checking in, we took a little nap, and caught a bus (just like any other bus, in any other city) into the center.

After a quick lunch, we took our first ride on the vaunted Bus Rapid Transit. Here's how it works: you pay in order to enter the tube, which means that the bus can run faster, by loading and unloading more quickly at each step. From the tube, you enter at the level of the bus floor, and the buses are HUGE. The BRT runs double-articulated buses capable of carrying 270 people. So, we waited a while, and caught the bus out to the Botanical Garden.

Botanical Garden - very nice. Cool greenhouse.


Great views of the city.

On the way back, we decided to hit the tourist office to see what else we could see in Curitiba. Here is where we encountered a little problem. Being a Monday, all the museums were closed. Unfortunately, the tourist bus line that connects all of the sites and almost all of the sites were also closed. So, with only a day in Curitiba, we were left with little to see.

So, we went to a Niemeyer museum!

After, we walked into the center, which was nice and had a most enjoyable pedestrian core. After the bustle and excitement of Brazil's big cities, Curitiba was quite a change. We found some good eats at a Pinhao (some weird fruit/nut thing) Festival - the Brazilian pulled pork sandwiches were a hit as was the mulled wine and chocolates.

After a couple of beers, we headed home in a heavy downpour for a good night's rest. In the morning, we were up early to head into town to catch an 8:15 train to Morretes, a small town to the east of Curitiba. The train route crossed the Serra Verde mountains, and is billed as the most scenic train route in all of Brazil.