Libby’s Travels

Notes and personal experiences from Libby’s travels, musings.

Desenchufate!

Unplug yourself!  That´s advice I absolutely did take last weekend. Tickets to Uruguay quadrupled in price as the hectic holiday season is still at its peak. I was hoping to go before leaving, but instead took an offer for my roommate´s parent´s cabin in the town of Las Toninas, just north of Mar del Plata, a famous beach town for people in Argentina

After several hours in the rented car (two hours after getting lost 200k out of the way) and five people crammed with bags, food, and a guitar, we arrived at nighttime in tiny Las Toninas.  Small but alive the streets were bustling well into the late hours of the night, typical for Argentina.

Got to see the Atlantic ocean!  It was so nice to dip our toes after the long drive.  We settled in, got a full chicken and some papas fritas (fries) to share for dinner then off for a night long nap until waking up to bird´s chirping this morning and the sun shining brightly to a gorgeous day on the beach.

Having no running water or sheets suddenly seemed much less important as I headed to the beach.  6 hours later I sat there, typing this, looking like a lobster – burnt to a crisp and exhausted – but happy to be alive.

Dinner that night was an asado on the house grill that is outside yet inside the wall of the terrace.  Sunday would have been another full day of beach, possibly some fishing, and more surfing the waves, but it turned out to be I had to hide from the deceivingly strong sun.

That night after dinner we all cheered on Caleb, our roomie from BA, as he busked (illegally we found out as we had to shut down after 40 min) on the streets as he gathered a large crowed and earned 26 pesos.

The next day was back to city life.  As sad as I was to leave the beach, I sort of felt like I was home when we got into downtown and had a strange sense of familiar comfort, surprising but good.  I got a chance to learn how to drive like a real Portena, I realized if there isn’t a lane, you make one.  People will always cross the street, just try not to hit them.  I would call the driving experience ‘defensive yet creative’.  At least it wasn’t like Sarajevo, no driving on sidewalks.

Now back to being enchufado… plugged.

New Year’s in Buenos Aires

Another 20 hour bus ride with alfajores, medialunes, bad movies … though much better, and plush seats, back in Bs As it was for warm weather and the anio neuvo.

Like Christmas, everything shuts down early, families and friends celebrate, fireworks are set off in all neighborhoods at midnight (or before in anticipation), and bars/restaurants open back up at 2 am.

Staying low key in San Telmo, had an asado (bbq) with roomies and friends before heading to the Plaza Durrego the main square in San Telmo for fireworks and champagne.  The locals all bought and shared beers and Fernet and CocaCola drinks as bands played in the streets, people laughing and dancing.  I too joined in the firework celebration, lighting off my only firework that almost hit the policia…. good thing I didn’t have to call home to get bailed out of prison.

It was fun to learn new traditions and celebrate the new year in Buenos Aires.

Trip to Tigre

On New Year’s eve day, for $1.36 pesos plus the $1.10 subway fee (a total of around US $0.50), I got to take a nice venture with some friends to a town an hour outside of the city, called Tigre.

Feeling like I stepped into another country completely, we came to a quaint town on the river called Tigre.  Forgetting it was a holiday until we took the little wooden boat for 17 pesos all the way down to the closed museum, we then ended up just cruising along on the dirty river.  The boat had several dropoffs only the way, including people’s houses, vacation rentals, museum (or not), restaurants, canoe or kayak rentals, or where we eventually got dropped off, Parque Lyfe – a campgrounds with volleyball, sand beach, sports courts, etc.

There I invented a game called ‘Log’ where the object was to see who could balance longest on the log, in the river.

After a few laughs and some swimming with locals – watching out for viburas (snakes) of course – we then headed back to Tigre, then eventually back to Buenos Aires, via the train then connecting subway, as we watched the endless salesmen come up and down the aisles pitching their latest and greatest books, windsocks, camera cases, and what have you.

A quick stop through Chinatown in Belgrano district before realizing everything was closing and it was time to buy food and champagne or go without and to head home to prepare for the New Year celebration.

Amo Patagonia!

A break from the exhaust and hustle and bustle of the city, I took the weekend and headed to the long-awaited Patagonia.

One of best parts may likely have been the Omnibus, or the double decker, extremely comfortable reclining seats.  20 hours flew by … except for the lack of videos – the driver had a Luis Miguel´s Best special and we got to listen to a local famous singer.  We weren´t the only ones wishing it would stop, and we did convince the bus attendee, with a few laughs, to turn down the volume at the very least.

They served alfajores (dulce de leche snack with chocolate, like the Little Debbies of Argentina) and medialunas (croissants), some cafe, and some milanesa with papas.  Not bad for the bus.  The way back they shared vino and whiskey – a much smoother ride.

Bariloche, later I discovered to be ´the most important tourist city of Argentina´was just that – touristy – but also beautiful.  Nestled in the Andes mountains near the border of Chile, this skiing town on a huge lake was a great site after the long bus ride.

I was ill prepared for the city, as the mountains with their still-snowy peaks weren´t as inviting as I thought.  The warmest gear I had was a pair of jeans.  I had to buy a sweatshirt to fight the cold winds.

Everyone said to get out of Bariloche so I followed their advice, rented the last car (talked the rental company to let us drive a dirty one and with a discount) and headed to the circuito chico and circuito grande – the small and big loops.

Both gorgeous, as you can see from the photos here that I just added, the first loop was more touristy.  Stopped only for some great photos and a short hike up the side of the smallest of three mountain peaks (again, no gear with me limited my trip and it was expensive to rent, let alone finding an open store over the holiday).

Next was the big loop.  The rental car agency was off on their estimation by about 60 km (you rent a per km price) and never mentioned that 1/2 of the way was a gravel road.  But nonetheless, an adventure.

Patagonia – and in Nahuel Huapi National Park, where the big loop was – it reminded me of a mixture of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest with snow capped forested mountains and fresh mountain water streams, mixed with a little bit of the BWCA (Boundary Waters / great lakes) with fresh water lakes and trout fishing, a little of the Irish sea due to the deep blue green and blue colors in the water, a little bit of Neuschwanstein Germany with the castles (in this case a hotel) seated high in the mountains overlooking little lakes and islands, and Utah just east of the Andes with deep dry valleys and large unique rock formations.

In short, pretty amazing.

I saw a sign that said ‘don’t be like cats, wrap your feces’.  Ok….  will do.  Now, it was getting dark and I checked out a campsite but you had to pay to use the toilets and showers, but hey there was a place just down the road that was open camping and free, but no showers.  Really?  Awesome, thanks, I’ll take that.

Though once again unprepared for the cold, and now some rain, it was like pulling up to a private beach in the middle of the mountains… not just any mountains – Patagonia!

It was the most amazing place to stop, have a sandwich, play on the beach until the sun set (later in the West, 9:45 vs. 8 in Bs As), then putting every warm piece of clothing I could find to cuddle in and off to bed.  Only had to turn the car and heat on twice throughout the night before waking to the most gorgeous view ever.  I had turned the car around so I could see the view, I would have had to pinch myself to believe it otherwise.

The next day was off to finish the big loop.  One of the most unexpected and beautiful views came from out of nowhere, just after deciding I was incredibly sick of gravel roads and was ready to return the car.  Right up there with the Cliffs of Moher was Villa Traful.  Villa Traful Patagonia Argentina A near 360 degree view of mountains, lakes, and wind like I’ve rarely felt (throw a rock and it boomerangs back), a steep dropoff that warns you not to trust your luck, beautiful blue waters, white capped waves, some snow still glistening on the mountains.  I wanted to breathe every inch of the view.

In the actual town, well, a dirt road and a couple of buildings, and some cattle and horses meandering aimlessly, happy and plump, was Villa Traful.  I stopped at the town’s only gas station, and only one for a while I’m sure, I had to drive around a cow feeding her calf.  It was incredible.  No wonder why the beef in Argentina is considered the best in the world, the cows are just happy and chill.

Long story short, after the great car camping, private beach, and tourist loops, it was back on the bus and back to Bs As for New Year’s.  If I’d had more gear and more money to spend I would have continued south to the End of the Earth, Ushuaia, but with holiday season, it was very expensive – and cold, and far far away.  Someday I’ll need to come back and spend at least a month in Patagonia.

Amo Patagonia!

New Year’s in Buenos Aires

Another 20 hour bus ride with alfajores, medialunes, bad movies … though much better, and plush seats, back in Bs As it was for warm weather and the anio neuvo.

Like Christmas, everything shuts down early, families and friends celebrate, fireworks are set off in all neighborhoods at midnight (or before in anticipation), and bars/restaurants open back up at 2 am.

Staying low key in San Telmo, had an asado (bbq) with roomies and friends before heading to the Plaza Durrego the main square in San Telmo for fireworks and champagne.  The locals all bought and shared beers and Fernet and CocaCola drinks as bands played in the streets, people laughing and dancing.  I too joined in the firework celebration, lighting off my only firework that almost hit the policia…. good thing I didn’t have to call home to get bailed out of prison.

It was fun to learn new traditions and celebrate the new year in Buenos Aires

Traveling again, por fin! Bs As, Argentina

Buenos Aires! Launching out again—another test in life, knowing myself, and working and living virtually from another culture. Another continent, another history full of new rules, new foods, and a whole new set of experiences! A dream come true… on purpose.

Someone said to me recently: “Remember, you’re very lucky to be experiencing all of this.” Though I definitely agree with that statement, I have to say it really has nothing to do with luck.

I carefully planned and prepared for my traveling, and notified business associates, coworkers, family, tenants, etc of my absence. I set up my Skype phone, my Google Voice number, my International plan for my iPhone, got a SIM card for my local Argentine phone, searched for and set up an apartment via Craigslist before I left. I have been no less available to anyone away then I was when in Seattle.

This is the 3rd test so far and each time I learn something new. My only criteria for a new place:

1) A quiet place, with my own keys

2) Internet

Sound simple enough? From staying between hostels, friends’ houses or hotels, to renting a shared apartment, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve learned that all I really need are those two to be successful.

Internet usually means WiFi that is ‘available.’ If you’re in Central America, it can be like dial-up, with 8 people sharing the same connection. And maybe, just maybe, the power won’t go out for hours.

In Eastern Europe, they may have WiFi but if the cafe is open until midnight, they might decide to cut it off around 8 pm. It’s probably great to turn it off so people will relax and enjoy life. But still, some warning helps.

Buenos Aires is a city that is always connected, unless the neighbor decides to do construction and cut the power lines. A quiet apartment in a city that never sleeps isn’t impossible, but noise canceling headphones for Skype turned out to be an invaluable purchase.

Okay, here’s an adapted version of what I’m learning that I need:

  • A private apartment
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • A dedicated Internet connection that can’t be turned off
  • An environment with good temperatures (not too hot, not to cold, or the ability to moderate)

Still, it’s a simple list relatively speaking. I think we’re very lucky in the US in that we have this, and also it’s something I’m accustomed to. But Buenos Aires has been a great experiment in living/working virtually. I’ve been able to have some of the most important business meetings and conference calls while experiencing Bife de Chorizo, Tango shows, Christmas in 80 degree temperatures, Empanadas.

And after hours, there was nightlife that goes until 6 am, speaking Spanish every day, a mix of European and Central (and North) America, theaters, the widest street in the world, great parks, and everything great about a new culture… all within the view of my “office.”

Wherever you go, There you are

wherever you go there you are

One of my roommates met an 80 year old man on the bus. This man had lived in NYC, BA, and other places in the world.  The man said ‘wherever you go things are the same’ – same buses, same people, same taxis, and so on…

This may sound pessimistic.  But I love hearing what people that have gone before us have to say about life.  Travel has indeed made me realize that everywhere, though the scene may be different with different culture, food, history, etc that which gives a place a heart and soul and make it fascinating, that at the same time – people are good and bad everywhere, people laugh, people cry, people eat, sleep, drink, work, do business, have families, need to get to work, make money to survive, have happy moments, can be sad, greedy, selfless, afraid, bitter, tender

…. are simply human.

Though the differences are what ignite a passion for travel in me, I also realize that it really comes down to being human.  Learning to deal with happiness and pain, working or not working, sadness or trepidation, all are there no matter where you are.  Learning to find happiness and tranquility, your purpose and meaning for life, complimentary and reciprocal relationships, and building a better future for yourself and those that will walk your footsteps when you leave, can happen no matter where you are.

My mom coincidentally gave me the pin that I wear on my backpack that says

“Wherever you go, there you are”  Simple yet profound.  Thanks mom!

Porteña sings Shakira

One of the first nights out walking the streets, came across a hole-in-the-wall parrilla (grill – referring to a meat grill restaurant/shop that grills the infamous Argentine beef, as well as chorizo).  The wine was cheap, and everyone bought bottles to share.  Singing was common, old men singing traditional songs, and 2 professional singers.  This video is of a local portena singing Shakira.

Traveling again por fin! Bs As, Argentina

Buenos Aires!  Launching out again – another test in life, knowing myself, and working and living virtually from another culture, another continent, another history, new rules, new foods, and a whole new set of experiences!  A dream come true… on purpose.

It’s strange celebrating Christmas with a tank top, flip flops (ojotas), and a sunburn.

The city is enormous.  9 de Julio,’the widest street in the world’ is here, 13 lanes and always crowded.  Unless you run, it’s impossible to cross in one go and even then it’s difficult.  Buses (colectivos) are constantly screeching, horns honking, taxis and cars riding side by side on one-lane one-way streets.

It’s a combination of Europe, Central (and some of North) America.  Much richer than Central America but still carrying the danger of being robbed if you don’t watch your stuff.  For example, don’t leave your cell phone in open view, and watch your pockets on the subway.  Otherwise, the architecture, the castellano accent, the doors, the ovens, the attitude of the people – all very European.  For me, it’s the best of both worlds.  The only thing missing is the beach, though that’s a few hours away, either Mar de Plata in Argentina or Punta del Este in Uruguay.

The city is full of parks.  Thanks to my friend Mike, I’ve experienced a new concept – self-guided running tours of the city.  Grab a map (or not) and run around the city to see all the tourist attractions.  Running / walking / getting lost… all have led me to see the famous cemetary where the body of Eva Peron (Evita) lies – with the family Duarte not Peron, the cathedral, gorgeous churches, famous monuments, parks, political protests, panaderias (empanadas on nearly every corner!), town squares, tall buildings, theaters, tango shows, huge markets, sports arenas… so much to see, every day a new adventure!

Again a challenge to be a vegetarian here so I’ve slowly returned to meet.  Bife de chorizo and every part of the cow you could imagine or never wanted to know, can be served on your plate.  As a local Argentine / Porteno (from Bs As) said ‘what do you mean all cows aren’t grass fed and roam around all day’, it’s only natural here, not mass production for human troughs.

Dogs, unlike Central America, are well respected here, which makes me quite happy.  You’ll often see a person during the week, obviously a career choice, walking up to 20 dogs!  But, lots of dogs in the city means constantly dodging dog poop while out running!  It’s a challenge to balance dodging poo while looking up and guarding yourself from the rusty water drops from the terraces above – or, remains from the neighbor’s lunch.  The other challenge, which I learned the very first day out running, is to play QBert on the uneven sidewalks where you never know when an ankle might roll.  An ever entertaining challenge while avoiding the diesel fumes or city dusting as you’re out running.

The city makes you feel at home.  The people are friendly and I spent part of the day dancing with bands in the streets and in the market.  I could only hope to dance like the locals or the Brazilians or people from Uruguay, but I had complete welcome uninhibited fun regardless.

You can live very inexpensively or the high life here, there’s a little for all.  I can get my infamous banana milkshake on the corner for 5 pesos, or about $1.20, or I can jog a mile and pay 4 times that.  Prices vary. I live in a neighborhood called San Telmo – a trendy, hipster, artsy neighborhood, maybe not the safest when you see someone crack a bottle of wine over another’s head, but an area well known and with culture nonetheless.

I’ll see what else I can jot down, but that’s what I’ve learned thus far. The city has taken a hold of me, I love that every day I can see something new, have many experiences, keep working yet learning new words and new foods, start the day late (unless there are hammers and chisels pounding near your head from all the construction) and end late, be in the hot sun in December, meet great people, dance / live / learn, and end the day be excited to see more.

Pictures are here -

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