Text 15 Nov bye bye, buenos aires

Tango. Polo. Wine tasting. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Dalai Lama. La Boca Juniors. Iguazu. Teatro Colón. Mar del Plata. Uruguay.  And the stories untold.

After nearly four magnificent months full of countless life-changing experiences in the amazing city of Buenos Aires, and beyond, my semester came to its inevitable end last Thursday. A mix of relief, happiness, and sadness overwhelmed me the final few days. I really grew to love this place (for a second time!) and the people around me who shaped my journey into the unique experience that it was. And the city… there just isn’t any other place in the world like Buenos Aires.  I will sincerely miss it. I’ll be back, someday… 

My fellow GSE students and I ended our trip at a fantastic tango show dinner in Puerto Madero last Thursday. After a delicious meal and a spectacular performance, we said our goodbyes along the moonlit port, some people crying, other people laughing in an attempt to conceal the sting of sadness we all felt as we were leaving our new best friends. What can I say. It was a sad night.

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However, as sad as I am to part ways with my friends, I have a new journey to start. One goose crash accident and a volcanic eruption later, my parents finally made their way to Buenos Aires after losing one day due to delays.  They stayed at a fantastic hotel in Palermo Hollywood called the Fierro, which is actually just 3 blocks away from the host family I lived with during my trip here in January 2010. Small world.

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With just three days, I did my best to play tour guide and show them the main attractions; Recoletta Cemetery, El Ateneo, La Boca, and enough leather stores to make a cow go mad. There is no humanly possible way to see Buenos Aires in three days, but I think they got an honest feel for the place nonetheless. If the day-trips didn’t do the trick, the dinners full of meat and red wine certainly did.

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And then, there was Santiago, Chile.

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I have been dying to visit this city ever since I saw a picture of it when I was younger; enormous skyscrapers with snow-capped Andes mountains in the background. And while the mountains weren’t covered with snow, the city was everything I’ve heard.

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The people in Santiago seem incredibly laid back compared to the porteños of Buenos Aires. On two occasions, my mom was looking at a map on the side of the road, and both times she was approached by a local who asked if we needed any help. Whether this was a rare occurrence or not, I don’t know. All I can say is that in Buenos Aires, I would think twice before pulling out a map in public. That’s a big no-no.

 And it isn’t just the people; the roads are much less intense than Buenos Aires (there are even BIKE lanes!!!), the pace of life seems infinitely more relaxed, the city seems much cleaner, police are more legitimate. I can’t make the best observations in just two short days, but from my experiences, Santiago seems incredibly laid back. Some people call it underwhelming, which I suppose I agree with. But it is nice not to be on your guard all the time. Well, not as much. I’d definitely like to come back for a longer stay.

And now, Villarrica.

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(view from our hotel room)

The “adventure capital of Chile. “

Hiking. Kayaking. Rafting. Skydiving. Fishing. Caving. 

Volcanoes. Lakes. Mountains. Thermal Springs.

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We have a whole new world to see down here.

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More to come in the next few days!

Text 8 Nov Music > Cerveza

For the last three months, my Thursday nights in Buenos Aires usually end up taking place at one of my favorite bars in the city called Antares, slapping back some brews, and attempting to strike up conversation with my far-from-fluent Spanglish skills. Its fun, sure. But there is so much more to do in this city, I started to feel guilty. SO.  A few weeks ago, my trusty amigos Alex and Adam joined me in a spontaneous decision to see the Buenos Aires Philharmonic play at the world-renowned Teatro Colón. 

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Of all the concerts we could’ve chosen to see, we just happened to pick the night they were playing a piece by Sergei Rachmaninov, one of the most incredible musicians I’ve ever heard. Even though we were all the way up in the fifth section, suffering from altitude sickness and heat stroke the entire show, we had a perfect view of the pianist and most of the orchestra. It was absolutely incredible. The strings, brass, and piano… it was one of those events that makes me want to go home and take out my trumpet, guitar, and piano all at once and practice for hours. Music really is a beautiful thing.

Teatro Colón
Director: Ira Levin
Solista: Vladimir Feltsman
Sergei Rachmaninov, Concierto para piano No. 2 en Do menor, Op. 18, Sinfonía No. 2 en Mi menor, Op. 27

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And if the music wasn’t enough to impress people, the theatre is one of a kind. Teatro Colón dates back to 1857 and is among the five greatest theaters on the planet, and by far the best acoustics I’ve ever heard. Sitting on the fifth floor right next to the stage, we had a spectacular view of the entire U-shaped concert hall, which was another piece of beauty on its own. Closing your eyes to lose yourself in the music, or gazing out into the hall, you can’t go wrong either way. 

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By far the best-spent 90 pesos ($25) of the semester. 

Video 7 Nov
Text 2 Nov iguazu falls: land of “big water”

You know the feeling when you see something so beautiful, so extraordinary, so naturally magnificent, that your stomach churns, your mind is silent, and your eyes are glued wide open?

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Well, the Iguazu Falls are quite a sight. Of all the mountains, canyons, rivers, oceans, forests, and lakes that I have seen, this behemoth of natural beauty beats them all.

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Located close to “La Triple Frontera” of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, the falls divide Brasil and Argentina in the most spectacular display of any natural border. The picture above is taken from the Argentine side, looking across over to Brazil. Unlike my trip to the falls back in 2010, we were not able to visit Brazil to see the other point of view. If you ever have a chance to visit Iguazu, I HIGHLY recommend paying the Brazilian visa fee and seeing Iguazu Falls from the panoramic view it offers.

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I can’t decide which is more impressive; the amount of water that flows over the falls, or the 1.7 mile distance where the 275 different falls are spread across. It is a truly remarkable sight. The power nature is capable of creating without human intervention, it really leaves a person speechless.

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Waterfalls, rainbows, butterflies, all sorts of wildlife. I’ve never seen a more spectacular display of nature. (We’ll see if that statement holds true after 5 weeks in Patagonia!)

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As if walking the trails didn’t stimulate our senses enough, the boat tour offers a completely different perspective of the falls; a heart-throbbing, jaw-dropping, fist-pumping experience that takes you within spitting distance of these monsters. The price includes free showers for everyone.

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I feel so lucky to have been able to visit this phenomenal natural gem TWO times already. While the shock-factor was slightly tainted because I knew what to expect, I could visit this place fifty times and still be speechless every time.

Video 30 Oct

going to sleep at sunrise, it makes things interesting

Text 23 Oct unplugged in uruguay

It has been two weeks since my adventure to Cabo Polonio, Uruguay, and I still honestly don’t know how to create an entry that will do this paradise any justice.  Pictures and words will only take me so far in my attempt to recount the beauty of this isolated utopia.

First off, isolation is what maintains the unique atmosphere of this village. Accompanied by my three trusty amigos Alex, Adam, and Sophie, our journey began in Buenos Aires on a 12 a.m. ferry across the Río de la Plata to Colonia, Uruguay, followed by a bus ride to Montevideo, the capital. It was 6:30 a.m. after our long night of travel.

We gathered some food and drinks and wandered around the city for an hour or so before hitting the road on our next bus ride. The five-hour ride took us through several small towns stringed together by hours of open, flat farmland.

Fading in and out of consciousness the entire ride, we were woken as the bus conductor announced our arrival. 

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Well, this isn’t a comforting sight. Where the hell are we?

There was a big ol’ safari vehicle waiting in a nearby parking lot. This handy vehicle is what bridges the isolated Cabo Polonio to the rest of the world. After a 20-minute ride through a forest, over sand dunes, and across the beach, it began to set into our brains that this place really is off the beaten path, a small blip on the radar.

We were greeted by our hostel owner, Alfredo, and walked to our home for the next four nights. Alfredo is a Buenos Aires expat, enjoying the simple life in Cabo Polonio.

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The simplicity of this place will never cease to amaze me. So many people, myself included, tend to seek out the modern and equipped hotel that includes Internet and a flat screen T.V. and a pool and a gym and… things, unnecessary, suffocating things. The only electricity we had in the hostel was for the tiny lights in the bathroom and bunk rooms, and for the stereo system in the main room. 

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I can’t describe the overwhelming relief I felt to take off my watch, turn off my phone, and live completely unplugged. Breathin’ in that fresh coastal air, staring out into the great Atlantic, walking no place in particular in no particular time frame. Absolute freedom.

With a few hours of daylight to spare, we explored the sand dunes for a few hours. I felt completely insignificant as we marched our way up these behemoths. 

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My man Alex showing me how dune-jump.              

The next day we explored the colony of sea lions that have claimed the enormous boulders around the lighthouse. This was the first time I’ve ever seen sea lions in their natural habitat. What fascinating creatures.

image image By noon, the beautiful weather that had greeted our arrival quickly surrendered to an enormous storm. We made our way back to the hostel to take cover, but I was itching to run barefoot on the beach. I wound up running about 8 kilometers to the next point in that treacherous storm before slowly walking back, singing songs out of tune and picking up seashells along the way. I didn’t think through that decision very well; I now have acute tendonitis in my peroneal tendon, in both feet. It was worth it. I made my way back to three worried faces; apparently I had been gone a long time. After reading our books and playing cards, I convinced Adam to join me in another adventure, this time to the sand dunes. The wind was so strong that any loose sand was blasted right into our legs; it felt like the sand was peeling off our skin. Instead of trekking back across the dune, we opted to take our chances in the ocean. It was surprisingly warm, I must say. The storm continued to brew throughout the evening and into the night. Our window frame blew out, and a slab of our wooden door cracked off, though that might have been Adam’s doing, not quite sure. Sleeping in a tiny wooden shack, listening to the rain pounding against the tin roof, the wind howling in every direction. It wasn’t the typical vision most people have when they think of going to the beach. But I enjoyed every second of it, even if I was a little nervous we might not wake up the next morning.

The following day, we confined ourselves to our cabin for most of the day, reading books and hangin’ out, occasionally wandering around the peninsula for a change of scenery. The wind had died down, as well as the rain, but the thunderstorm that night proved to be spectacular.  image

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On the final evening, the clouds and the fog finally broke, and we could actually see more than 10 meters in front of our faces. As soon as the sun came out, we camped out on top of the dune to soak up the rays. I found this old wooden chair next to our cabin, which I brought with me right up to the edge of the surf. I sat there for a long time, playing my harmonica and enjoying the view.

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After a delicious fish milanesa dinner, I wandered to my bed and took a nice powernap until about 3:30 in the morning, when Alex woke me up with an announcement. “Im hiking to the point. I’m going to see the sun rise.” He is one spontaneous young man, my friend Alex. After about 20 minutes of attempting to fall back asleep, I decided to chase him down. I stumbled to my feet, which were in an insane amount of pain, packed my camera and water, and started walking. I found Alex walking back towards the hostel about 20 minutes later, and he immediately started laughing at me. Apparently while I was packing up my things to chase him down, I forgot to put on a pair of pants. Hiking in boxers along the beach, that’s what life is all about.

We walked back to the hostel, grabbed some blankets from our bunks, and posted up on some chairs, and waited for the sun. Alex bailed out after feeling a few drops of rain, but Adam and I were determined to see the sun rise on the Atlantic. The clouds eventually cleared, treating us with a jaw-dropping view of the stars. It was pretty funny to see all the constellations upside-down in the southern hemisphere. I saw a few satellites, several shooting stars, but not a single airplane. As the sun peaked up along the ocean, I remember thinking how lucky I felt to be there in that moment. No roof, no bed, no lights; just a couple of blankets and a 360-degree view of the world. I hope everyone can experience something similar.

The next morning the sun was full force, preying on our cloud-bleached skin with an intense heat. It was possibly the best-feeling sunburn I have ever had. We soaked it in for a few hours before having to make our way to the bus stop and starting the long journey home.

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I’ll be honest, I was in a terrible funk for the week following my trip to Cabo Polonio. The simplicity of life in that town is mind-boggling. The isolation, the lack of distracting technology, the comfort of knowing I can get away with not showering for five days, the spectacular display of nature. Coming back to the loud and dirty city, living on a schedule, having to constantly rely on technology, it made me sick for a few days. I love living in a city, but sensation I felt by reconnecting with the earth for a few days is something I cannot explain.

The other day, I was Skyping with one of my oldest pals, Ethan, and he could already sense that if I decide to drop off the world someday, he knows where he can find me.

Cabo Polonio is a diamond in the rough, a blip on the radar, a place to kick back and take a breather from the crazy world we live in. I can only hope that it can withstand the expansion of society and preserve the tranquility that is hard to find.

Video 20 Oct

A small selection of my pictures from Cabo Polonio, Uruguay.

Text 4 Oct Mar del Plata

After two solid months of city life and a long two weeks of exams, our group took a weekend excursion to Mar del Plata, a beach town about a five hour drive south of Buenos Aires. The last time I went to a beach was two years ago in Uruguay, so I was pretty stoked to be back in the Atlantic. Even if it was only 60 degrees (15 C). 

Needless to say, the first thing on my agenda was to take a dip in the frigid waters. There is something unusually satisfying about plunging into uncomfortably cold water. Everything in your instincts is telling you what an incredibly stupid idea it is, but at the same time you are itching for that icy delight. My fellow polar bears Jorge and Alex accompanied me to do the deed.

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After a few plunges, we shivered our way back to the hotel and enjoyed the indoor pool and the sauna for a few hours. 

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As we were deciding where to eat, we found out that our favorite bar in Buenos Aires, Antares, has two bars in Mar del Plata. So obviously we decided to have beer for dinner. After putting a large dent in their barley wine and stout supply, we walked next door and stuffed our faces with some delicious empanadas. It was a successful night.

We had a few tours scheduled for Saturday afternoon, so I decided to go for a run along the coast in the morning before we left.

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The first thing that caught my attention about this city is the amount of runners there are. And after my run, it isn’t hard to understand why. I wound up running a lot further than I intended to.

I decided to skip out on the tours and explore the city on my own. My friend Jacob decided to tag along and we set out for the beach.

There were plenty of people out and about; surfers, vendors, couples… and lots of kids. After strolling around for about an hour, one group of kids came up to us and asked if we wanted to go for a swim. Jacob declined on the count that he didn’t have shorts, but I was ready for round two. We must’ve swam for at least 30 minutes, floating on some waves and being pummeled by others.

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We eventually got out and attempted to warm up with a spontaneous game of fútbol. I couldn’t believe how friendly these kids were. I don’t think I will ever see the day when a group of kids in Buenos Aires invite some gringos, some yankees, to play a game with them. And this is just one example of the different mindset here in Mar del Plata; everyone I encountered was very friendly and welcoming towards Americans.

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After the beach, Jacob and I took to the streets and wandered about the city. After enjoying a 14 peso ($3.60) milanesa sandwich, we stumbled across an arcade. We were feeling spontaneous and decided to take a peak and relive the glory days.

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Later in the night, my friend Adam and I finally enjoyed a nice glass of scotch accompanied by Romeo y Julieta Cuban cigars as we had agreed to do back at the start of the trip. 

The night ended with a huge dinner at Coyote Ugly, followed by a night of dancing in the huge club surrounding it.

Mar del Plata might not be the most glamorous beach town I’ve ever been to, but the attitude and personality of the people was a welcomed change from the constant tension in Buenos Aires, and the sight of runners made me feel at home.

This will be the last blog for a while; I am off to the small fishing town of Cabo Polonio, Uruguay tomorrow night through next Tuesday. 

Hasta luego

Quote 29 Sep
study abroad
— The last two weeks have justified the “study” part of our program. With two midterms last week and three this week, my brains are like scrambled eggs, over easy. Time to kick back at the beach for the weekend in the lovely city of Mar del Plata.
Text 24 Sep the last cerveza on earth

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Apparently there is a beer god in Argentina after all. But it can only be found alllllllllll the way down south in Ushuaia, the southernmost town on the planet.

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I picked it up at a an expo event featuring Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. It is some pretty tasty stuff, thats for sure.


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