Monday, January 25, 2010

Mendoza summer

I´m just starting into my second week of Spanish lessons at Intercultural Institute in Mendoza and still enjoying the city. I´d love to say that I´m getting used to the heat, but that would be a big fat lie. In reality, I think I´m actually sweating more and more as the days go by. By the time 9am rolls around, its already close to 90 degrees and it just keeps climbing from there. The hottest part of the day is from 1pm to 7 or 8pm, that´s right... pretty much all freakin day. Its now perfectly clear why these folks hide out for 5 hours a day. Unfortunately I´m rather hot blodded to begin with so I spend sietsa looking for a cool spot or in the pool at the apartment.

My favorite little spot is a bodega in the main center of town called the Vines of Mendoza, twice a week they have a 50% off tasting menu. As such, I find myself there often and its a good spot to find english speaking folks. I´ve made some friends, a couple who are currently living in town and another couple who will be leaving this Friday. In the meantime its nice to see familiar faces and have some english conversation. Of course, going out for dinner at 7 or 8pm also ensures that you´ll be surrounded by Americans, who else would dare to eat dinner that early. Still not sure what I´m going to do for my birthday but I´m thinking its the perfect opportunity to treat myself to a fancy dinner followed by a weekend in a hotel with air. For now, I´m heading back into the heat to tackle some laundry. Its impossible to wear any clothes more than once with the amount of sweating I´m doing.... maybe I´ll loose some weight on this trip afterall.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Summer has arrived

In my last post I mentioned that its quite hot in Mendoza. I´m now under the impression that I have severly underestimated what hot means. After spending 4 days sweating at the mere thought of moving my body I am exhausted. It doesn´t help that the hostel only has AC in the common room and the bedrooms are like ovens all night long. It doesn´t really ¨cool off¨at night here so in general, it just sucks. Finally, after 4 sleepless nights I conceeded to my desire to be cool and sleep so I spent the day going from hotel to hotel. By the end of the day and hotel number 17, I finally found one that had AC in the rooms and actually had a room available for me. I jumped at a two night reservation, went back to the hostel and packed my bags. I could see the envy on my roommates faces when I said I was upgrading for a few days. A couple of girls wanted to come with me but had already pre-paid the hostal for their entire stay. Ahh the beauty of paying day by day!

I moved into my small hotel room, cranked up the AC and took a nap. Heaven, pure heaven. Not to mention, it doesn´t hurt to have a little personal space after 10 days of sharing with others. Tomorrow I will be moving into a shared apartment for the next 10 days. The spanish school I´ll be working with arranges the homestay and had many options near the town center. I decided to go with a shared apartment, I´ll be living with a mother and her daughter. I´ll have my own room and bathroom and the building has both AC and a pool which will be very handy consdiering this heat wave doesn´t seem to be letting up any time soon. The apartment option doesn´t include meals but I have free use of the kitchen and its about $80 cheaper than the other homestay option which includes dinner with the family. Considering my food allergy I figured it would be best to make my own meals and use the cost savings for groceries. The thing I love about Argentina is the abundance of gluten free products in the grocery stores. Unfortunately I can´t find all the flours I´m used to having but I have found bread mixes and some other basics so it works, far better than when I was in Chile. Kitchen here I come!

The strange thing about Mendoza, and from what I hear most of Argentina is that they have a 5 hour siesta everyday instead of the normal 2-3 hours. The stores, post office, everything closes up shop somewhere between 12-1 and doesn´t re-open until 5 or 6pm. Most of the stores stay open until 10pm or midnight and the restaurants close up shop somewhere in the wee hours of the morning. Even better is the eating schedule, many restaurants don´t open until 8pm and don´t seem to fill up until 11pm. It took some adjusting to look around and see families with small children chowing down on steak at midnight. I´m not sure how they do it, I don´t think my stomach could handle eating a steak at midnight and then heading to bed. No wonder these folks spend several hours a day resting out of the heat, they must be trying to digest the previous nights dinner. That said, as the days move along I find myself eating dinner later and later. Its now 9pm and I haven´t had dinner yet. I mean, I don´t want to look too American by sitting by myself at an empty restaurant at 7pm. As they say, ¨when in Rome…¨

On Sunday I had a rude awakening when everything was closed, other than the supermarket there really wasn´t anywhere to get lunch. All the shops and markets seemed to be sleeping. I could´t help but wonder where all the people went, until I went to the park. It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday. The San Martin Park is a 900 acre park on the east side of the city, very close to where I´ve been staying. Just inside the park entrance is a lake with a 3 km path around it and more big shady trees than you can imagine. I pulled up some grass under a tree, just to the edge of the water and started into a new book. Five hours later I decided to walk around a bit in the park and discovered the rest of the city must have had the exact same idea. Everywhere I looked people were sipping tea and eating picnics in the park. It was a lovely day!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Arriving in Mendoza

After 6 days in Pucon, Chile.... waiting for the volcano to re-open for summiting I finally gave up and bought my bus tickets to get to Mendoza, Argentina via Santiago. Wouldn’t you know, the day after I bought my tickets they announced it was going to re-open. In reality it was a ``might` re-open in a couple of days so I decided to stick with my original plan and head out. I splurged for the plush premium seats for my overnight trip to Santiago and was happy to find that the two girls across the isle from me were from Australia and they had come armed with a couple bottles of wine they wanted to polish off before flying back home from Santiago. Needless to say, I was happy to assist them with the mission. They had been travelling for a few weeks so we spent a couple hours sharing stories of adventure and drinking, then slowly we started to fade and the bus attendant came in to convert our seats into beds. The seat folds down completely flat and had an eye mask, earplugs, a fresh pair of socks, blanket and pillow. After we were all tucked in it was lights out. I woke up around 6am, just shy of our arrival in Santiago.... wish they had this kind of bus transport in the states.

I decided to kill a day in Santiago to break up the bus trip and give myself some time to try and find a few things in the larger city. I was out of face wash and knew this was the place to try and find it. Now mind you, all I wanted was some cetaphil (allergy free) face wash which you can buy in any grocery/drug store in America for about $6. After searching 4 pharmacies I finally found some, exactly what I wanted but I about choked on my gum when she rang it up and told me the price. At first I thought I mis-heard (common problem for me with Chilean spanish) so I asked for her to repeat the price. They wanted 13,000 (about $26 bucks) for the stuff. Naturally, I bought it anyway. I was tired of my face breaking out from using some other stuff so I decided to splurge for the day. No wonder my budget has been blown to hell. While I was at it, if I was going to spend some money then I knew exactly where I wanted to go for dinner. I went back to the same restaurant, Brown Cat, Morgan and I had been to for the best meal I’ve found anywhere in Chile, rabbit with a bacon cream sauce! HEAVEN. I cought the movie Surrogates and called it a night.

The following day I finished my bus trip, another 7 hours to Mendoza, Argentina. The border crossing went faster than the last few had so all was well. The streets in Mendoza are lined with big trees and there are several parks so it doesn’t look like the desert but as soon as you step off the bus, there is no mistake. It was about 5pm and well over 95 degrees, holly crap. The hostel I booked online stated it had AC and a swimming pool so I grabbed a cab with a British girl and we headed toward the hostel. Of course, the AC is only available in a private double room (bastards) which is only $180 pesos ($45) a night. As for the swimming pool, its about 4 feet wide and about 8 feet long, even so I have a feeling I’ll be in it before long to cool off. The fan was a bit noisy in the room and the British girl didn’t like to sleep with earplugs so she turned it down to stop the noise. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. The hostel manager said he was moving folks to different rooms so maybe tonight will be better, if not, I may be splurging for a private room for the third night. AC here I come, those of you who know me can appreciate how much I´m melting right now. I haven´t hit the cranky stage yet but its coming, I'll be missing Seattle weather by day three or four.

Well, I’m off to explore the city, will post photos of Mendoza with my next update.

Friday, January 8, 2010

More fun in Pucon, Chile

Well, I´m on my 5th day in Pucon and still finding new places to explore and things to do. After our day of kayaking, we rented mountain bikes and headed off for a popular loop toward some waterfalls and the lake. Unfortunately we got a late start and didn´t have time to make it to the lake but we hit a few mild trails and some back roads until we came upon the waterfalls. It felt good to be out in the fresh air and getting some exercise. On the way out of the waterfalls Morgan spotted a sign that we thought might be apple butter for sale so we stopped to see. I sat out on my bike and waited while Morgan looked through the options, there wasn´t any apple butter but he did come back with some quince jam. We headed back to town on the main road which was about 20km, it wouldn´t have been so bad if there was more of a sholder to use to get away from the traffic. Regardless we made it in about an hour and managed to return our bikes just after the 8pm cutoff.

The following day we decided to rent a car and get out to explore some of the things that were harder to get to. It was a tiny base of the line chevy that didn´t have a ton of clearance or sound very good but it ran and the rental agency assured me we´d be ok with our driving plan, he commented we didn´t need 4x4 for what we were heading out to do. First we headed to the volcano caves, well one particular cave. Once you got close to the cave the dirt road turned into something my subaru would have handled with ease but the little chevy wasn´t doing as well. I managed to avoid the worst of it but did hit a rock, after that... the car sounded like parts might start to vibrate off and leave a trail behind us. When we parked and I cut the engine, I was sure the engine was going to vibrate out of the hood, it sounded just awful. All I could see was $$ signs as I thought about returning the car the following day. Anyways, we walked around a bit on Volcan Villarrica while we waited for our tour to start. The cave was a bit of a rip off, not sure I would recommend it but it was cool to walk through the old lava tunnels and see the landscape inside. At the end of the cave the guide had us all stand around in a circle and then he turned off the light for the far end of the tunnel where we stood. Talk about pitch black! I couldn´t see my hand infront of my face and suddenly realized it would be nearly impossible to make it out without a light even if we were crawling on all fours. Spooky.

We went back to town and I did some grocery shopping while Morgan went for another kayak run. At this point, the car seemed to be getting worse, I felt like everyone looked at me everytime I cut the engine, at least they are used to seeing junkers here. Afterwards Morgan got back from playing in the water we met for dinner and then headed out to some of the local hot springs, Los Pozones. On the way we saw a guy and his young son walking on a long dark road, they were trying to hitch a ride so we picked them up. Maybe that will improve my luck the next time I´m trying to hitch. The hot springs were nice, my body enjoyed it tremendously. I was so tired on the drive back it was hard to stay awake, I slept like a baby that night.

The following day we returned the car, and right off the bat I mentioned that it was vibrating badly and that it didn´t sound good. The woman behind the counter said she knew and that it was a problem. At that point I didn´t feel the need to disclose my rock incident, my conscience was clean. She refunded my deposit and I escaped quickly.

We decided to spend the rest of that day on a canopy tour of the trees. We had heard that Bosque Adventura was the best around, there are 11 different zip lines and they cross the river twice so that is the company we went with. The equipment was top of the line and seemed very secure so after a bried demo on safety we were off. As we all started to move toward the entrance the guide pointed to me and said lets go. Not sure how I got choosen to be first but I decided it might be better to just swallow my fear and go for it. Honestly the zip lines were great, the part that scared me the most was the platforms and ladders. Its a bit difficult to climb a ladder when you have big bulky gloves on but I managed without killing myself. All in all it was the most fun I´ve had in a long time. I kept thinking of the story my dad told Ellerie and I when we were little girls, he teased us that we had monkey tails when we were born and he had them cut off in the hospital. When we´d run to mom to ask if it was true she would tell us no but then dad would say Ï had to have them cut off before your mom saw you¨. It was an ongoing joke that I always think of when I see a monkey, it brings me fond memories. Swinging through the trees like a monkey brought back those memories.

The following day Morgan had to return to Santiago to catch a flight to Lima so I had planned to lay on the beach and soak up some sun. There is usually a lot of morning clouds so I was lazy and waited till about noon to see if it was going to burn off. It didn´t seem like the sun was gonna come out to play so I rented a bike again and headed up to Lago Caburga. It´s about 25 kilometers outside of town, a nice ride to do when it´s cool and the sun isn´t beating on you. I hung out at the beach for a bit and ate some lunch then headed back to town. Not a bad day.

I´m down to my last couple of days in town and the sun is out in full force so I´m getting in a little beach time before heading to Mendoza, Argentina via Santiago. I can´t get a straight bus to Mendoza so I´ll stay in Santiago for a day to break up the bus trip and then head to wine country. I need to enjoy the mild temperatures, Mendoza weather looks like its well into the 90s. I hope I don´t melt!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pucon, Chile

We welcomed the new year in from Puerto Varas, Chile. Its a small town with a large lake flanked by 2 volcanoes. The weather sucked so we mostly stayed around town. For new years eve day we went to a local bar and had the most expensive mexican food I´ve ever had, they did however give me the largest White Russion I´ve ever had. The ´Dude´would be proud. After spending a few days in Puerto Varas hiding out waiting for the rain to stop we finally had one sunny day. We decided to head out to Volcan Osorno to hike around on the volcano. By the time we got off the local bus it was about 11am and the sun was blazing hot. We walked around and viewed some waterfalls and met a couple of guys from West Virginia who work for a kayak school where kids travel around the world with tutors and kayak instructors. Sounds like one of the coolest jobs I´ve ever heard about. Not to mention one hell of a school year, how many high school kids can say they´ve played in Patagonia white water. We had heard and read that Pucon was an outdoor mecca in Chile and these guys said they were stationed out of there.... long story short after a day on the volcano we packed up and left Puerto Varas for Pucon.

We arrived in Pucon on January 3rd in the late afternoon. No more than 5 minutes after getting off the bus I was meeting a guy from Whidbey Island, WA. The world is a small place! We wondered around looking for our first adventure and found a spot called Kayak Pucon. They seemed like a really cool group, very friendly and had some American´s working for them so I knew language wouldn´t be an issue. We decided to take it. They did a class 3 run down a river not many other local outfitters could do because it was only accessible by private property along the river. We showed up at 10am on the 4th to join a group of 7 for kayaks and 5 for a raft. Once we hit the launch site we started putting on our wetsuits and gear (fleece, dryshirt, life vest, booties and helmets). Six of us were in inflatable kayaks which are far more stable but a bitch to steer. Morgan went in a ¨real kayak¨ considering he has some white water experience. It was pretty calm when we first put in but when I saw a girl flip out of her boat on the second set of rapids I decided it was highly likely I was gonna go for a swim. Sure enough, by the 3rd set I was bombarded by waves from all directions and wasn´t sure which way to lean, next thing I knew I had a mouth full of water and was trying to remember to pull my legs up so I didn´t hit any rocks. On the fourth set of rapids I was feeling pretty good, I was still nervous considering I´d already been for a swim but went for it. At one point I popped up out of my boat with the exception of one foot and somehow managed to land back in the boat. It was great until I realized I had many more rapids to navigate and my oar was in my right hand and under my kayak. I had to lean back to pull it out, managing to stay in my boat as I did it but I hit a rapid that spun me so now I´m backwards and heading for more fun but at least my oar was in my hands. I spun as quickly as I could, which is pathetic in those boats and made it through the rest of that set without any additional swimming. The next set of rapids were going great until I realize I was heading for a big, huge rock! I was to the left of the rock but if I cut over I´d be on top of the kayak next to me and flip both of us so I tried as hard as I could to go to the right of the rock, needless to say I ended up straight on it, the front of the kayak went up and over and for a split second I thought I might make it off the side but then the kayak stopped and the water took me over from behind. Once again, I was swimming and wasn't sure which way was up. I felt my head hit something so I was relieved to be wearing a helmet but still managed to swallow a small lake. It sounds worse than it was and within seconds of each fall one of the guides would be right there flipping the boat so I could jump back in. All in all it was a lot of fun but I think I might have been more stressed than happy until it was all over.