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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Niagara WHAT?

The road from Punta del Este led to Iguazu Falls, the 300+ waterfalls that border three countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. I took the bus from the fantastic Punta to Montevideo, where I waited out my hour until flight in the cleanest, smallest and emptiest airport I´ve ever been in. I couldn´t fathom where all the people came from when it came time to board. You would´ve thought the airport was created only for me. Very odd.... But, after my Buquebus TO Punta, I was determined to fly just about anywhere to get to Iguazu.

I entered Iguazu on the Argentinian side, of course, staying true to my love of my future country of residence. :) As we flew into Puerto Iguazu, the pilot announced in both Spanish and English that if you moved to the right side of the plane, he´d be flying over the Falls. The whole plane shifted seats, it should´ve tilted. For good reason. Iguazu, from overhead, is mammoth. I couldn´t imagine standing underneath falls this huge. And from air, you can not only see the breathtaking Falls, you can see the triangle of all three countries, living in perfect harmony within such beauty. Pretty outrageous.

WITHIN the Falls of Iguazu, there is only one hotel on each the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. On the Argentinian side, it is the Sheraton, so I used AmEx points to book myself a room. There you can sit on the balcony, with a view of the Falls in the distance, bloody mary in hand, mariache band making the rounds singing songs in spanish in the background, and watch the sunset over the water. Not too shabby. Until you look around and realize that an elastic-banded-high-waisted-khaki-pant-wearing-over-50-convention EXPLODED at the Sheraton about four hours before I got there. And, add to that, they all have Chi-caaaa-go accents, singing the songs in mock-midwestern-espayyynowl accents, with sweaty-beet-red-drunken faces and shiny-wet-comb-overs to go with their fanny packs of various colors., I guess I´ll be spending my nights in Iguazu solo. No worries.... Happy to separate from the group on this one. ;) I console my young self with a call to sweet Lukoff who´s bridal shower was today, likely the only regret I´ll have all trip, missing my best friend´s shower. But hearing her excited and enthusiastic voice across the miles, more than compensated for my lack of attendance at the party going on down below.

I woke at 8 AM for La Gran Aventura, a combination 4x4 expedition that takes you through the jungles of Iguazu to a boat ride which will take you straight through the Falls (why I´m capitalizing Falls, not I supposed to?). The jungles of Iguazu remind me a little of Costa Rica, a little of the Peruvian jungles, so it doesn´t seem THAT new to me, but the view once we got to the boat was worth the trip. OF COURSE, as we board the boat, I realize I was again left off the ´wear your bathing suit´ memo, as all of my fellow travelers undress down to their skivvies and bathing suits. I might´ve well have been dressed for winter in my baby yellow pants and wife beater that would make for a somewhat familiar sight of me during this trip. The sopping wet, see-through look, I´ll call it. Yeah, hi...what is with me and wearing the wrong thing around water, rendering me a walking fashion faux pas for hours to come. I mean....

However, as you approach the Falls, your breath is literally taken away. They are MASSIVE and omnipresent. Left, right, center, WATERFALLS. It´s amazing to see, it´s so absolutely beautiful, being there right under them, they stretch for miles and are populated by rainbows everywhere. It´s nature at it´s absolute best, anyone who has the opportunity to experience Iguazu in their lifetime, should. Looking around, you can´t help but take photo after photo (I´m still not sure which are best, I must´ve taken a hundred pictures) and stand in open-jawed awe at this sight in front of you. Thank goodness for me I had Olga and Anna on my boat. Two Spaniards who were OBSESSED with taking pictures. To the point, that they spent many hours trying to feign the nonchalant, candids...Olga pretending to be too obviously unaware of the camera, only to have Anna take four, five, six, photos, look at them together like schoolgirls, decide they sucked and Olga then would assume another "unknowing" pose again for Anna. But, they loved taking pictures for me, which was GREAT. After their session, Anna would go, "Marie Elena, poose for Olga," grab my camera, tell me how to hold my hand, head, leg, and then shoot about 10 pictures (many were discarded), turning my camera in various directions and making me "hoold poose" for too long. I felt ridiculous, but it was worth it!

Then, just as you´re content with the view, pondering questions like....

1) How do waterfalls occur in nature?
2) What makes rainbows?
3) Are Niagara Falls a joke? (On a side note, we´ve all been on teen tours, ridden the Maid of the Mist, have photos in the blue raincoats smiling like happy teenagers, which we were. Lemme tell you, it´s a sick joke that we call those WATERFALLS, Niagara Falls are, FACT, nothing more than the drippage when you don´t turn off the faucet properly...) see yourself coming WAY too close to the Falls, and BAM! there you are, underneath them, hearing the wa-hoos of properly clad passengers, as water pours into the boat, a refreshing reprieve from the heat, yes. But, god I wish I was wearing my bathing suit!!!

The second day of Iguazu after much hiking around the Argentinian side in my see thrus, I went to the Brazilian side, Foz de Iguacu, as I was flying out of the Brazilian side to get to Rio. For anyone taking notes, the Brazilian side is better. If the views on the Argentinian side are breathtaking, the ones on the Brazilian side are heart-stopping. The "Devil´s Throat" or the largest, wildest waterfall is on the Brazilian side, and you walk out onto catwalks that take you right under it, mist spraying everywhere and really take in the views in a way that you can´t from the Argentinian side. I spent about 2 hours on the Brazilian side before my flight and it WASN´T ENOUGH! But, all in all, Iguazu was a fantastic, amazing experience, something I´ll likely never see again. And, I couldn´t be happier that I made my way there.

Now...onto fabled Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
My second to last stop. Which, even writing, makes me sad.
Alas, I will not focus on home, only where I am now (which is actually Buzios, Brazil -- a place I´m in love with, dreading departure...)

Until the next one...which will be soon because I´m coming home in a few days... Wait, really? NO!!!!!!


Monday, December 12, 2005

Punta del Este, the destination worth the journey...

I know, I know....
I've been offline, doing my thing. In Punta del Este, no less. Not a bad place to do anything.....Trust me.

So, as mentioned, Tony called Bruno who called housekeeping to make up Apartment 0-1-1 for me in Punta del Este, Uruguay. From Buenos Aires, which has practically annexed Punta as their own vacation spot during the summer months of January and February, most people get there via Buquebus, which is a combination boat-bus situation. OK.... I've been all about the overnight bus, so...the boat is just background noise, right? WRONG. Buquebus is a very cheesy casino-style boat. By that, I mean, it's like a gambling boat, without the gambling. The christmas tree lights around the periphery, the dramatic staircases connecting upstairs with downstairs, the stores selling god-knows-what, the gracious staff. But, that's where it ends. Because at least on a gambling boat, you forget everything and concentrate on the stakes. Here, the stakes are...well....getting a good seat. And, by that I mean, a seat without a heavy coffee breathers exhaling their morning stench all around you, without wailing babies in your left ear, without passengers with bladder problems asking you to get-up-down forty times (did I mention there's about 60 across seats to a row and I was on the aisle), and a seat NOT behind a person who has little regard for crashing back onto your kneecaps every time they stretch like a giraffe. Add to that, I am sick, it's 7 AM, I didn't sleep (shocker...), I have three hours to go, have just taken meds and vitamins on an empty stomach and am cranky. Oh, and the guy next to me had hands that were a cross between Mark Smith's fingers with Plum's thumbs. Mesmerizing, but scary. Buquebus. NO.

I (thank the freakin Lord that I don't believe in...) get off the boat part, and get onto the bus to Punta. Salvation, you ask? Not yet. I sit next to a woman about sixty-five years old who must NOT have a sense of smell because her perfume intoxicated the whole country of Uruguay, easily. Let alone the seat next to me. (Maris, I totally understand how Curt feels about Petit Cherie when it catches in his throat and makes him reality on the bus...) She, meanwhile, is taking out a pocket-mirror every five minutes to put a Danny Zuko style 50's comb through her thinning dyed black hair all the while giggling like a schoolgirl and waving the guys half MY age boarding the bus. What, I wonder, does a woman like her do in Punta del Este. I stop pondering. Too frightening (and sad)...

But, when we get to Punta, it all vanishes. I jump in a cab that takes me to the apartment complex Terrazas de Mantaniales, which is a huge brick red complex of gorgeousness, right on the beach. Punta del Este is comprised of an enormous stretch of beach that encompasses Punta del Este peninsula (the hey day in the 90's that is pretty rundown and cheesy now, La Barra -- the hey day of today, and Jose Ignacio -- the hey day of tomorrow). The amount of real estate is unreal, construction everywhere, it's booming right now. Terrazas is in between La Barra, which is a cute, isolated strip of shops and restaurants that gets going in about two weeks (I'm in Punta about 2 weeks early for the "season" -- think Hamptons pre-Memorial Day with better weather), and Jose Ignacio, a quieter fishing village that is now drawing the likes of the rich and famous (Martin Amis owns a house there ) with a quieter, more affluent vibe.

Apartment 0-1-1 is wonderful. 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, living room, terrace overlooking the beach. Thank you Tony and Bruno!! Since I'm still nursing my bronchitis, so this solitude couldn't be better. But, I don't even unpack (my usual protocol when I get to a place, even for a night...), I go straight to the beach with my book and just take in the ocean air and feel happy. This is the same feeling I get when I go out to the Hamptons alone, and sit with myself on the beach, at sunset. Pure bliss. I couldn't find a way to be happier than this. So, I decide, after constant occupation by Santiago, Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Punta will be my relaxtion. From there, I head to the supermarket, which I can guarantee that none of you would venture to entertain the thought of making purchases in because it's so minimal and dirty. But, there I buy tea, cookies, croissants for the mornings, milk, eggs, etc... and start to make my little Punta home for the next days.

My days in Punta took the following shape:
Wake up around 11-12 Noon. Make tea, breakfast.
Head out to the beach with my Ipod (Ilana, Gina - I think 'Constellations' by Jack Johnson is my new favorite song - thought of you guys) and book and Halls. Sit there, content, until about 5 PM.
Walk 5 miles to La Barra for coffee, midday snack, window shopping.
8 PM - go back to Terrazas, watch the sunset of outrageous hues of color and light (some of the best sunsets I've ever seen)
Either have soup for dinner, or go to the little Parilla on the corner for grilled cheese and soup and ogle the waiter I would've rather had for dinner had I felt well.
11 PM. Bed.

And, that was wonderful. Yes, yes...they say Punta is a party town. But, I couldn't have been bothered. (even though Jude Law was in town throwing soirees every night) Plus, I was early in the season, was a non-issue. But, my obsession with Punta wasn't about partying, similar to how I've come to feel about the Hamptons, it was about just relaxing. Terrazas was like Amaghansett with it's dunes and sunsets and quiet friendliness, and local cafes. I fell in love with Punta for everything it's NOT reputed to be, a place for down-time. I've never actually lived on a beach before, so the wind and the sea at night - an amazing sound - took getting used to. But, by day 5, I was sleeping like a baby. Sea sounds, real ones, not machine generated ones in NYC apartments, are a wonderful thing....

I left Punta with a heavy heart, part because I only have two weeks left of this absolutely breathtaking South American adventure, part because Punta just made me smile. But, I know I'll be back. I just now....

Onto Iguazu Falls, the waterfalls bordering Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Then, Brazil. The last leg in THIS journey.

More soon.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Calling Page Six...

Would you believe it....I'm still in Buenos Aires.

I cannot escape, I don't want to escape, I never want to leave.
But, alas, tomorrow I head off to Punta del Este in Uruguay to log some quality beach time. My friend Tony from Santiago (yes, the one I spilled margaritas all over in the poetry-reading-Chilean bar) decided to take pity on my traveling ass and hook me up with some beachfront property he owns in Punta. So, yeah kids, I'm checking myself into Apartment 011 (not sure why they need the 0 in front of the 11, but....) in some fabulous complex in Punta. Gratis....thanks to Tony (and Bruno, who put it all together with the Spanish email to the housekeeper to make up the apartment, Uh-huh...). I can't complain. But, that'll be my next adventure. For now, I'm still in BA.

And, very ill. For those of you who know me well, you know I'm a victim of a nasty spell of bronchitis every now and again. So, hi. Now. Couldn't have been worse timing, I've got a hack cough to rival an old bum in a Plaza with emphysema. But you'd think I just got back the annual physical of an Olympic gymnast. Slowed me down, no way. Put a damper on my smile, nah. Left me shackled to a hotel bed with meals of Halls, Vitamin C, Echinacea and OJ. Don't even think about it. I've been out, EVERY DAY, EVERY NIGHT. BA just does that to you.... Bronchitis? What's that you say?

So, since we last left off, I was pursued by a Brit from Calgary (what a blend, huh...I'm in freaking South America and get pursued by a Brit from Calgary!?!?!) with a penchant for sweet young thangs who eat a lot of carne (no pun...), and then, as if my illness couldn't get any worse, it rained. A LOT. On Sunday. After a lunch at Bar Uriarte in Palermo Soho where I learned that scrambled eggs (huevos revueltos) and sunnyside-up eggs (huevos estrelladas) are two different things and almost vomited when they brought me runny, eyes-wide open, drippy sunnyside ups, I took the opportunity to stop shopping (for just one little, itsy-bitsy moment) and take in some culture. I checked into MALBA. The modern art museum of Latin America. Pretty amazing stuff. I actually haven't seen such cutting-edge, modern art like this in a while, and I like to think myself pretty knowledgeable about the modern art scene. The two featured exhibits are worth mention. The first was by an artist named Fabian Marcaccio, who did an outdoor mural of a 1973 (pretty sure...) uprising at the airport when a former Argentinian president was returning from exile, turning into one of the bloodiest riots in Argentinian history. It's the length of a city block and he uses photographs of the actual incident, but blurs them with both lens and, then, paint on top of the photographs, to create an almost photographic orgy of colors, mixing violence, politics and life and sex. It's not pretty, it's intense, but it's absolutely riveting. The other was an exhibit that is going to be hard to describe, but I'm going to try. Two artists, created a sensory exhibit that is insanely weird, but effective. One, Heli Oiticaca, took iconic images associated with pop culture (Marilyn Monroe, Yoko Ono, Jimmy Hendrix) and lines famous images or album covers of their silhouettes in cocaine. And photgraphs a series of various stages of the usage, from completely coke-covered images to just a few lines left. Ok....I get the comment. Then, enter Neville D'Almeida, years later. Takes these photographs and creates unlit ROOMS, that projects huge, massive replicas of these photographs on the walls and ceilings of these darkened rooms, where you have to take off your shoes to enter. When you enter, your feet sink into either plastic covered sand, water mattresses, ball chambers, just something sensory under your feet, with music BLARING around you and pillows to sink into and chill on. And, YOU SWEAR, you are on the drugs in the images of Heli Oiticaca. It was almost unsettling how fucked up you feel, like out of your mind. And, I guess that's why I'm writing about this surreal experience at the MALBA, because regardless of liking or not liking works in provoking a visceral reaction.

Onto Bar Six in Palermo for an "early" dinner at 9ish, because I was invited to a dinner party from friends from Bariloche who have a friend who lives here. They were cooking a lamb feast. All of the restaurants here are very similar, they're very lofty spaces, industrial in their exposed concrete walls and silver ventilating systems lining the ceilings. Each has an upstairs with 4-5 tables overlooking the downstairs action, the difference is the decor, but all have a similar feel. After dinner, headed to the lamb party in Belgrano (another younger, up-and-coming neighborhood) where I met the Bariloche friends Josh (Aussie, been traveling for 2 years), Olly (Brit, traveling since summer and much much younger). They were staying at the apt of a friend, Noel, who lives here now from Ireland who wants to open a bar/restaurant here. The other two girls at dinner were from Chile, they were 20. I felt like I birthed them by C-Section. Dinner, though, was amazing. I learned a) I liked lamb, b) men can cook, and, c) I REALLY WAS OLD (and really sick) and had to go home when they decided to go to Club Pasha at 4:30 AM to start the night ... While Pasha is world-renowned for clubbing, and international DJS, I felt I could pass w/o regret. I lived the days of Limelight, I lived the Roxy, I need nothing more to feel club-satisfied in this lifetime.

I woke up the next day and, shocker, felt worse. But, onward ho! Today was Opera Day! I had purchased tickets to Teatro Colon, for a rendition of Cappricio (German, with Spanish subtitles) a few days earlier and couldn't wait. The only opera I've ever seen was in Mrs. Cleary's "extracurricular activities" class with Marisa called Die Fledermaus (she died like the day after, Sass!!) and it sucked. But, this one...what a completely fulfilling experience. I was all nervous I wasn't going to make it there b/c my Sodowickian waiter at Olsen in Palermo for brunch was like, filing his taxes after I asked him for the check. Hello, I have OPERA TICKETS, Sodowick! So, in the cab, I'm freaking out that I'm not going to make the Opera in time. I was all dressed up and having a NY heart-attack, trying to keep my South American cool, but having bronchial palpitations all the while. When I got there, all anxiety vanished though, because, excuse the cliche, I WAS Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, only with cotton on my bodice and plastic beads around my neck.

Teatro Colon is one of the foremost opera houses in the world. It rivals La Scala, and while I've never been to La Scala in Italy, I was wholly impressed by where I was. Sometimes solo travel works in your favor, b/c I was able to snag one seat in a right side box right above the stage. (See, Pretty Woman analogy applies, box and all!) As I was escorted to my seat my a white gloved usher, holding my arm, and all, I felt like the most fabulous girl on earth. The lights, the ornate gold intricacy of the theater, the red carpets, the painted ceilings, the orchestra right beneath my balcony playing the overture, the intensity of the song, the arias of the divas, the music, the words... What a phenomenal experience! I am, an opera convert. Possibly the setting helped, but lord, what a night!

And, it had only just begun. Heather from Santiago (not sure I blogged about her yet), had arrived in BA today. She was my angel in Santiago, when all I needed was girltalk. We found each other in the Hotel Orly late one long, Chilean night and became friends. She, on a 1 month vacation with all her older family (lots of wheelchairs involved in her entourage) and me, needing a FEMALE companion every now and again (for the record, not MANY women do what I'm if you need me to tell you this tidbit). She was my godsend, I was her godsend. So, after her cruise around the tip of Chile, she emailed for dinner plans. SURE! Why not? Believe it or not, I really have pretty much forgotten the definition of planning ahead. Don't get me wrong, when I arrive into a city, I know the restaurants, bars, beaches, barrios (neighborhoods), etc....I've read up (on the crossing to the next place, I KNOW?!?!!?) But it's ON THE DAY that my plans happen, and 90% of the time, I wind up with solid plans - go figure. Yes, yes...very un-Marie. Yes, yes...I'm usually booked until the next leap year, but, here it's just uncessary (to further clarify - Cherilyn started making plans for while I'm home over Xmas, and it was no big deal, really. Daddy's here this day, Mommy wants to do this, how about this... and I SWEAR I almost had a heart attack. And I love her for it, it's just so not part of my frame of reference here. I know NOTHING about tomorrow. What of it? Very funny to notice on myself).

So, Heather and I went to Sucre, another of the moment establishment, that, if I may say so myself, was an excellent selection. Atmosphere, low lights, crowd, menu....Black sleek tables - communal and individual - leather beds on entry lounge, bar stocked with colored bottles to the ceiling, catwalk across the top to the bathrooms. Bellisima.... After a debaucle getting "vodka and jugo de pina" recognized as something other than Chinese, we noticed Fergie, Dutchess of York, stumbling along to the table next to us. Yes, red hair, divorced from Andrew, has a kid named BEATRICE, Fergie. Heather, from Portland, almost fell off her chair. Me, well...Fergie's been on my mind. In Bariloche, at the Estancia where I spent the day riding, there was a "Wall of Fame" with signed photos from famous people and the lone celeb on the wall was Fergie from York. Odd, that's who they chose to headline their wall. Not a cowboy like Jack Palance, or a hottie who's been seen on a horse, Brad Pitt/Antonio Banderas, etc..., or even a soccer star from Britain like David Beckham. Fergie. From York. Now, at the table next to us, communal, Fergie is the belle of the ball. Doing tequila shots, then throwing her hands up in the air, and screaming "Wa-Hoo" like she's done a whirlwind tour on a mechanical bull and survived. I mean.... So, when Fergie, was ambling without direction around the restaurant, in a shearling coat (it's 80 degrees here in BA!!!) and smudged mascara, I saw my opening.

Me: "Um, Sarah....excuse me."
Sarah, Fergie, Dutchess of York (falling ever so slightly onto me, British accent kicking): "Yes, Hallo..."
Me: "I'm sorry to bother you, but I just HAVE to ask you a quick question."
Sarah: "Yes, sure..."
Me: "Were you just in Bariloche, because I came from an Estancia, and you're on the wall, like the only picture on the wall and so, you've been on my mind, and you're here (Sarah, Fergie, Dutchess of York now takes my hand) and so, I was wondering, have you come from Bariloche, are we...dare I say, following each other?"
Sarah: "Oh, no no... I didn't just come from there (wobble, wobble), but I know what you mean, the place, and no I really haven't BEEN there, but....I know I'm on the wall and (wobble, wobble) ... you are?"
Me: Marie Elena, this is my friend Heather. (Still holding hands)
Sarah: "Very well, it's a pleasure to meet you, very much. But I will say, (wobble, wobble, lose balance, regains) it's a VERY VERY GOOD thing that you're thinking about me." And stumbles back into the abyss called WASTEDNESS.

I mean.....Do I know my 'hot spots' or what? I should call Page Six. Now. Paging Richard Johnson. Fergie's in BA, WASTED OFF HER ASS. I have more, I do...Good stuff from the past two night/days. But it's 3:30 AM+, and I SWORE tonight was going to be my early night, and it didn't turn out that way b/c after dinner I got suckered into drinks with a cute Buenos Aires guy who as I was walking out of the restaurant and he was walking IN with Americans (I knew b/c I overheard the "Dude, you wouldn't believe....") and we were doing the look-at-each-other-look-away-look-back-look-away thing... Then, he came to GET ME out of the cab I was getting into for my early night (at 1 AM) and so, I caved and had a drink with him and his two friends (girl-guy) from San Diego, and now I have to pack and go to sleep for 1 hour and did I mention....I have goddamn bronchitis.

Until Punta....Ciao, Ciao!


Friday, December 02, 2005

I'm a ham and cheese whore named Evita...

I am 100% convinced that, in my past life, I WAS Evita Peron....

Buenos Aires. Love it. I'm easily obsessed with this country, more so now that I'm in Buenos Aires.
The 20 hour bus ride was uneventful, 3 meals guessed it....ham and cheese sandwiches in some incarnation.
Breakfast: ham and cheese with a crossaint and coffee.
Lunch: "Lunchable" type ham and cheese white bread with the crusts cut off packages sandwiches.
Dinner: Ham and cheese with melba toast, olive oil and bread to, yeah...sandwiches. But, I'm into it. Forget turkey on seven grain with tomato and honey mustard. I'm ALL about jamon y queso. Any way you want to give it to me, I'm all over it. (Cher, I know I've always given you shit about your pork chop fetish. Yeah, well...I take it back. B/c I'm SO blue-collar-in-a-lunchbox ham and cheese, it's SCARY.)

Anyway....I'm in BA now. And love it. LOVE IT. If Bariloche was great, this is super fantastic.
How can I explain Buenos Aires?
A little bit of Paris (a million plazas and parks and open spaces, an obsession with fashion and being posh), a little bit of NYC (the restaurants, the shopping, the fast-paced atmosphere, the cityness of it, the clubs and lounges) and a little bit of Barcelona (the ports, the water, the bar/restaurant area that is always happening right on the port) and a little bit of South America thrown in for good measure. That's about right, but not exactly. You have to come here to experience it. And, I highly advise it. It's my favorite place, so far. Buenos Aires is full of life, energy, passion. Buenos Aires is full of itself. Buenos Aires is an eclectic mix of people, cultures, politics and classes. It's heaven on earth. I've been here for 3 full days, and I can't imagine EVER wanting to leave.

My friend Leslie, from Harper was here with her husband, Josh for the last few days. And it was SOOO nice to see them. They are the first Americans I've seen yet! Do you believe that? THE FIRST. And it was bliss. Of course, after getting here on Wednesday, I set out to conquer Recoleta, where many of the tourists stay (including me), full of fancy shops (Fendi, YSL, Louis Vuitton), hotels (Four Seasons, Sofitel, Alvaer), etc.... The city is peppered with plazas of grass, interspersed with shops, always teeming with people. That night, Leslie and Josh took me to Palermo, another neighborhood, north of Recoleta that is divided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood. The easiest way to explain it is -- East and West Villages. Young, hip types live here, lots of restaurants and boutique shopping. I think, initially, when Josh and Leslie got to my hotel and I pounced on Leslie, Josh might've been a little taken aback. While I LOVE every minute of my time, meeting was SO nice NOT to have to talk about why I decided to take this trip, where I'm going, where my boyfriend is, what my old job used to be, how old I am, etc.. etc.. etc... BLISS. We went to Casa Cruz, a wonderful trendy restaurant in Palermo Hollywood that reeked 'of-the-moment' and I embraced every ounce of it wholeheartedly. When I saw tuna tartar on the menu (though I didn't order it) I knew Leslie loved me a lot and knew JUST WHAT I needed a dose of. A great meal, I probably talked too much, but didn't care and was happy to be with them.

Day two brought more exploring. I headed out to the Casa Rosado, or as you all know it, the palace from which Evita sings "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" and man, did I channel her, standing there. In my head, I was all Madonna-ing my ass off, one hand raised to my general public, the other holding my laced, veiled hat in place. An imaginary moment on the Plaza Mayor. All mine. Savored. Then, reality hit, and I was back in $30 Urban Outfitter gaucho pants and a wife beater, holding a camera and a backpack and returning to my very comfortable state of traveling schlub. Mmmmm..... Anyway, I went through a good amount of the city, seeing the sites which are all amazing. There's a million balconies here, mixed with Gaudi architechture and a touch of modernity. It's eye-candy to walk around. And, I may be travel Marie here on this little adventure, but my heart belongs to AmEx. And in 24 hours, I managed to buy 3 bags (aaaah, the leather here), 3 pairs of shoes, 5 shirts, 1 skirt, a belt, numerous tchotchkes for the home and other crap....HAPPILY. I've been "browsing" for just the right leather jacket, bargain-shopping it out, if you will. I also have discovered antiquing. I found this unbelievable Jaeger couture clock from 1920 which is being "transported" to me via a commercial pilot who flies from Argentina to NY in the next month. You pay him cash on arrival because customs denies many of the $$ items that stores try to ship to the States b/c of the exchange rate. So, I am working on blackmarket shopping now. More to come on that front when an Argentinian pilot rings my bell for cash one day soon in NY......and hands me a clock. My doorman will deny him, after ALL of that. Watch....

I LOVE BA, did I say that already? After all the shopping, I went to the Four Seasons to do what was MOST necessary. Mani, pedi, etc.... 1 month, no pampering.....what's a girl to do? Check into the spa at the Four Seasons... duh! And, it was only $65. Are they on CRACK? Wonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful. Meanwhile, the funny thing is, or maybe not funny, but interesting is that, I'll meet many other travelers and love hanging out with them bc those are the best nights I have. Just easy, fun, down-to-earth nights. No pretense, no bullshit. But, I'll bust out the antique silver bracelets I bought that afternoon, with my little Gucci clutch and return to my "hotel, not hostel" and sleep in my king size bed. And, on other nights, I'll go to some fantastic restaurant, and meet a doctor, and have lovely drinks at the Ritz, but the night before I was in a Patagonia fleece tied around my waist listening to a band at the local pub with people who don't own razors and think growing facial hair is an international contest. It's a fine line to walk, and I take a lot of shit for it. And I'm aware that I'm always walking it, but it's ... if nothing else, lends contrast to the whole experience, and keeps me ME. Just a random thought ... especially here. B/c I like being fancy here, but the more interesting people ARE NOT the people you find in the Four Seasons. (Except Josh and Leslie, obv....)

Anyway . . . we went to see a Tango Show, night two. But, it's a tourist trap. A woman who looked like Michele Hanft with black hair sang the whole damn time. It should've been called the Michele Hanft look-a-like show, instead of the Tango Show at the Cafe Tortoni. The best tango can be found on the streets, in the plazas, in places you don't expect. NOT the shows. Today, in La Boca (another neighborhood, characterized by the buildings painted bright bright colors which you'll see in the pix I'm about to send), I tango-ed myself a ditty or two. Might've even been decent at it. CERTAINLY better than the Aussie couple that were doing their best to 1-2 to the beat, but might as well have been saying 1-5 in their heads. Very fun....

And tonight, went to another Hanft recc called Cabana de Las Lilas for steak and FEASTED b/c my NZ and Aussie backpacker friends went to like Chinese take out and ... nah. Met them after, at 4 AM!!! What???? I eat like a 250 lb linebacker here in S America. A Brit at the next table was like -- have you eaten in a year, you're a little girl and you ordered a ribeye, potatoes, an antipasto plate to start AND dessert. Yeah, so what of it, mate?!?!?!?! I can't get enough.

Yeah, welcome to Buenos Aires. Don't cry for me, kids....I'm doing JUST FINE.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Claudio, the Argentinian Stalker...

So, I'm totally over my last blog angst, and Thanksgiving I'm in Argentina.
Aaaaah, Argentina. I think I've already fallen in love with Argentina!!!

The "Cruces del Lagos" or Chilean Lake Crossing was absolutely amazing. The sun came out for me, shining the whole day, as we made our way from bus to boat to bus to boat to bus to boat to bus to Bariloche, Argentina. 4 buses, 3 boats, 12 hours. A very long, but absolutely breathtaking day. The water of the lakes is a turquoise blue/green that I've never seen before. It's so clear and crisp, you just want to dive into it and/or drink it. The lakes are calm, set in between mountains as far as the eye can see, lush and green at their bases, white with snow at their pinnacles. Waterfalls streaming down the mountains into the lakes. I mean, it's just the most naturally beautiful setting I've ever seen. I don't think many people get to see settings like this in their lifetimes and I felt to lucky to be getting such an opportunity. Amazing.....

On the last boat, which takes you right to the port on the Llao Llao peninsula (where Llao Llao hotel sits perfectly atop the mountain), I met Claudio, a very nice (and cute) sailor on the ship (Kim - he kinda looked like Chad in a weird, Argentinian way) who told me that everyone in town goes to Wilkenny Bar at night and I should go there. Ok...maybe. I hadn't gone out out in a while, so maybe. Exhausted, happy to be in Argentina, the bus drives down Avenue Bustillo from Llao Llao, dropping people off along the way. I am still stunned by the view, at this point, the sun is setting, giving off hues of pink and orange that bounce off the mountains and reflected back off the water. I couldn't take my eyes away from it. Really, it's one of the most unbelievable places I've ever seen. I had wanted to stay at Llao Llao, but on my arrival night, they were booked, so I booked a few days later with them, and opted for a cabana (they're everywhere here, it's a ski town, and there's cottages everywhere for rent) instead, closer to town, for half the price. It looked really nice online, was recc'd by the guidebooks and having a little cottage to spread out in might not be so bad, right?

Well, to say that I'm living in a PALACE here in Bariloche, is an understatment. Forget Llao Llao. Wisemans, you think we had a nice house in Tahoe? Yeah, not so much compared to my little villa here in South America. So, it's huge. It has a kitchen, living room, dining room with seating for 8. A fireplace, 2 bathrooms. My bedroom with walk in closet. Jacuzzi, BBQ, terrace. I mean.... I didn't want to leave. I loved it so much.... But, Wilkenny bar beckoned. I had to go out, and be social. And cute Claudio invited me. Why not?

Wilkenny Bar was an Irish pub that seemed tame when I got there. After settling into a meal of pumpkin soup and a salad, I struck up a conversation with two girls at the table next to me. Turns out, they're both traveling alone too. Sarah, from Sydney, is a hilarious redhead. Anneke (pronounced Anika) is from South Africa, and is a striking, refined blond. They met in Bolivia and have been traveling together ever since. Turns out, Sarah will be arriving in Vietnam the same day as I am! What are the chances!?!??! Anyway, it was such a great night....GIRLTALK! It felt terrific. If there's one thing I miss here, it's that, GIRLTALK. So, you all best be prepared for me to burning up your phone lines when I get home. Anyway...they were on a boat crossing earlier in the day and met a "guide named Claudio" who told them to come to Wilkenny too! This Claudio has his act down with the ladies, seemingly . . . Sarah's hooked on capirhinas since Brazil, so we're getting wasted on them with the Argentinian rugby team, who are in town for the championship game, can only speak phrases "I may not speak much English, but I feel a connection with you" and "I love rugby but I think I can love you more." YEAH. Next thing you know, Claudio shows up. Whispering sweet nothings in my ear. To say the men here are touchy feely. I mean, the caresses, the intensity of the eye contact. It's VERY overwhelming. Asking to come home with me. Anneke is being slobbered over by one of the rugby players who cannot even do the cheesy phrases in English and Sarah is working the bar, capirinha by capirinha. At 5 AM, I finally looked at my watch, then around the PACKED bar and decided fun as it was, it was time to go.... After turning Claudio down on the offer to accompany me home, he made me promise to go to dinner with him the next night. Fine, fine, whatever...just let me go to sleep!!!

Yesterday, we did it all over again. After a rainy day of shopping (where I bumped into my sister/jordan's friend on her honeymoon....I mean, only me, right? who knows people in bariloche??), planning my next moves, etc... I got a call in my room (which I didn't take) from Claudio, and headed out to meet Anneke and Sarah. All of a sudden, Sarah busts thru the door of the pub and goes -- Claudio is outside, he's looking for you! I walk outside where Claudio is waiting, telling me that he's been to every pub in Bariloche after I wasn't at my hotel. He WENT to my hotel and knocked on all of the doors of the cabanas (!!!!!!!) and then proceeded to tell me how mine was laid out, where in the room my computer was, my backpack, my sweater that I wore on the Lake Crossing b/c he was peering in the windows. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?!?! Claudio was the nice boat guy who was so sweet last night. And now, I'm looking into the eyes of my stalker, Claudio, who is no longer so cute.... He then, without being asked, joins us for an amazing dinner at a parillada (or grill, where you pick out a cut of meat and they grill it for you -- huge portions of steak, cooked exactly right for $7 -- amazing meal). Professing his love to me all the while. I can't.....

Back to Wilkenny after dinner, where Claudio proceeds to tell me that he's a realist and he understands that I'm only in town for a few days, but I'm not showing him any "carino" or affection and that he's trying so hard to get me to like him, and it's obvious to him that I don't. At this point, I'm having a "talk" with a guy I met yesterday. Finally, as I'm talking to someone else, he comes over and very angrily tells me he's leaving, I'm not paying him any mind and balls me out to Sarah and Anneke and leaves Wilkenny and my life forever.... Unless he comes a-peering later. Sarah, Anneke and I accompany the rugby team to Rocket, one of the many clubs here. We left to go to Rocket at, gulp, 5 AM. Anneke and I left at 7. Sarah stayed. When we walked outside, it was light out. I flashed back to Cancun, senior year of Michigan, spring break, laughed and crawled into bed. Spent again.


More soon....

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Freakin´ Thanksgiving...

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thought it would be best to get online and write mine out, because well....let´s be was heinous. I´m in Puerto Montt, the port town in the Chilean Lake District. It´s here that I´m taking a boat trip for 12 hours tomorrow across to Bariloche in Argentina. Starting the second half of my trip. CRAZY that this is half over. The countries I was most looking forward to hitting were Argentina and Brazil and to think that I have all of that AHEAD of me, after all of the wonderful experiences I´ve had so far in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. I cannot wait. More so, because today just sucked and I´m going to tell you about it. I feel better venting but you ALL know that already don´t you? Hehe....

So, backtracking a bit: Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I´m obsessed with the turkey meal. I´ve just always loved it. Maybe it´s my mom´s Thanksgiving that I love, but it´s always been my favorite holiday. Last year, the title got tarnished a little when, in Puerto Rico, at the buffet at the Ritz, they RAN OUT OF TURKEY right as I was next in line and tried to offer my schwag-cooked-under-the-heat-lamp-leftovers instead. At the Ritz. To which I said (c´mon, unison now...) ¨ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?¨ My dad, sister and Jordan were mortified by my behavior to the holiday waitstaff of the Ritz, I didn´t have turkey and I was upset for days. Seemingly, I´m still not over it. ;)

This year tops it. Getting into Puerto Montt, guess what? It´s raining again. Are you keeping track? Day 5. Then, got in a fight with a Chilean cab driver that took me to no man´s land b-c he misunderstood and took me to the actual name of my hotel, sure, but a street CALLED THAT NAME in the slums, not the HOTEL and I FREAKED OUT (I speak a mean fighting Spanish I realized...) until I understood the mix-up and that he wasn´t going to take me to alley and slaughter me for kicks while his taxi driving cab friends watched them kill the little American chica. But then, we became BFF (obv...) and he asked me where I was from and I said NY and he said, you were so rude with your mouth and your hands and your tone, that I knew you had to be from the United States. ME? RUDE? Then, he let me go for free b-c he thought I was funny and knew that he scared me taking me to that part of town (I was shitting in my pants) and he was sorry, and was tough and stood up for myself. He told me my heart stopped and I turned white. PROJECTS, I tell ya. With like bars on the windows of houses made of cardboard materials. I don´t know why you need bars on cardboard houses, just use a $1 box cutter to bypass the bars part and you´re inside. I mean.... it was a bad scene. There were like wild horses in the middle of the half paved road WITH the wild dogs, cats, goats, rats, mice, pigeons and guinea pigs.

So, I ate a hamburger with guac (big thing here) on it for Thanksgiving dinner after the taxi debaucle. And it´s raining. Did I mention? Again. And the hotels were all booked so I was walking the town in the pouring rain, with my 400 lb wheelie bag that kept flipping over down EVERY curb and knocking my ankle out, going into every hotel asking, begging for a place to stay, and they had NONE (I went to about 8), and finally some receptionist was nice and told me that a new hotel just opened and had 170 rooms and I should check there, so I did. But, NEW HOTEL DRAMA, the first room wasn´t ready and like had dirty sex bed sheets still happening when I walked in. The second room had no lights or electricity hooked up. The third room the key wasn´t working. When I finally got into mine, and was changing, the door flies open with a staffer giving a tour of the new facilities... HELLO!?!?! Did you not check with the front desk about WHICH room to use as show!!!! I was mid-pant change. `Lo siento, lo siento, senorita`... says the tour guide backing out of the room gingerly. Geez. Then, the ¨machina de tarjeta de credito´ isn´t up and running yet, so I had to find myself a money exchange (another hour of rain walking) or else I couldn´t stay there. Aren´t hotels a SERVICE industry. Meaning, they serve you?!?!? Not in Puerto Montt, Chile. I mean....all I wanted was a ROOM!!!! A bed. A place to wash my face. OH, and I´m PMS.

I´m OVER Chile today, can you tell?

Onto Argentina tomorrow. Crossing through the lakes. CAN´T WAIT. Maybe it´ll rain again. That would be nice and different. I´m fine, I´m fine but today´s been a long, long day. And I VERY MUCH needed to vent. I just want some turkey. And sun. Sun would be nice.

Happy Thanksgiving. Big smiles. No, really.


PS. I just reread this, what a day! Thanks for listening...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Romancing the Stone....

I made my way from Santiago to Pucon, Chile in an overnight bus two days ago.
Yes, you read correctly, an overnight BUS.

I asked my concierge at the Santiago hotel to book me an overnight TRAIN with a sleeping car and he booked a bus. So, I bit the bullet and went. Again, the public transportation here in Chile is fantastic.
Basically, it's a double-decker bus with seats that flatten out into beds. Black out shades, snacks, breakfast for like $50! 12 hour trip. I'm going to try to see if I can do the same thing from the south of Argentina to Buenos Aires, it's so much less hassle than getting to the airport, checking bags, going thru immigration, sitting waiting for the flights, etc... I'm now a converted busser.

Arrived in Pucon, a ski town here in the south of Chile yesterday morning at 9:30 AM. It´s pouring here, day two of it, no less. But the town has so much charm, even in torrential downpour, that I can't help but adore it and want to make every moment count. My hotel fronts the Plaza and backs Lake Villaricca. The best way that I can explain Pucon is that it's like Interlachen, Switzerland. Set in the mountains, surrounded by lakes, with tons of outdoor activities. I just can't help but look around here, craning my neck constantly for a better view of the snow-capped mountains and the blue of the lakes.

Deciding NOT to waste time, I went rafting yesterday. Yes, I know, I know. We're all taught in the States that thunderstorms and being outside in them equals sudden death by lightning, that's not the consensus here in Chile, so I went with it, and took a Class IV rafting trip down the Trancuro River with two guys from Chicago. My guides Jorge and Christian (the rescue kayaker) were skeptical of how successful a trip it would be, considering the rain, but took us anyway.
I had a blast! The rapids were fantastic and enormous. We actually had to walk the raft down the river for a couple of the rapids because they were too strong and the current would've toppled us. But, what an exhilirating feeling. Better than sitting in a hotel, waiting for Mother Nature to give it a rest.

Of course, the day couldn't be without incident. During the 'walking the raft' segment of time, we (me, Mark and Sam, the Chicago boys) had to walk thru the jungle to get the end of the rapid. In our wetsuits and booties, torrential downpours, it was a bit slippery, so I'm not sure what exactly possessed to take a shortcut from one riverbank to the other by climbing through a huge tree. YEAH, I'm always full of bright ideas. Well.....serves me right. I fell out of a tree while going across and
I´m sore as shit. Like full on "Romancing the Stone (thank you Karen) jungle acrobatics. Shimmying out to the edge of the very strong, thick branch. Shimmy, shimmy, shimmy. Moving my ass right on down. As I got above two huge rocks where I had planned in putting my feet down and jumping across to the next riverbank, the slick branch betrayed me, ungripping my ass, and letting me plummet, footing not yet quite right on the rocks, down. Flipping while hitting the fissure between the two rocks. My helmet (THANK GOD) bounced off one rock, then the other, while my hips flew straight up in the air. A complete an utter wipe out. I don´t black and blue easily, and I am like blackened on elbow, hips and knees. I literally fell out of a tree!!! Thank god the raft trip photographer didn't get THAT shot. Well, kinda funny if he did.

Anyway, I´m fine but just kicked around today, no rainy outdoor activities for me. Hopefully, the weather will clear tomorrow, there's an active volcano here that is supposed to be an amazing hike, with hot springs to ease the pain afterwards. The weather report for tomorrow is looking better. But, the south of Chile, bruises and all, is wonderful. I absolutely love it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone... Mind you, I've yet to see turkey on a menu anywhere. Guinea pigs, yes (it's a delicacy in South America). Turkey, no. So, I'm very jealous of you all....

More soon.


Saketinis in Santiago...

So, a few nights ago, I went out with Tony, a Chilean friend of a friend from HarperCollins who lives in Santiago.
He was born in Chile, but has lived everywhere from New York and Miami to Rio, to London, to Buenos Aires, but now is back
here. He's been very helpful throughout re: Chile and South America. He took me out last night in Bellavista, the Villagey part of Santiago. What a night! I realized I'm just not equipped for South American night life and better get it together before I get to Buenos Aires and Rio and have to really pull out the stops....

Tony is 39, about 6'5" and looks like John C. Reilly from Boogie Nights. Picks me up in a little Alfa Romeo, and takes me to
some fabu sushi place called Etniko (a play on the word Ethnic, I'm told) that's hidden behind a door and you have to "know" about it. It's like Bond Street or as close in feel as it can be. Have drinks, I order a saketini. They almost
balked when I asked for sake and VODKA...very conservative city and he said it's unladylike to drink like that here... he wasn't being rude, just explaining and being incredulous of my order at the same time. Tony's the mayor, knows everyone. Amazing...people keep coming to table. I'm minding my own business, happy to be eating SUSHI, though the comparison with the sushi we all know and love isn't necessary, not even close to the same thing! After dinner, I'm maintaining I'm FINE (having had vodka for the first time in 3 weeks) and we head to the next place which is a little Chilean bar that unbeknownst to us, they're doing poetry readings and an open mike at..... We're loosening up a bit, or maybe it's me doing the loosening b/c I I knock my WHOLE MARGARITA as the waitress is putting it down ALL OVER him. Not a drop touches me. NOT ONE DROP. But remember, I'm FINE.....

I can tell he's livid, but dealing. I was getting up/down in the middle of the poetry reading to get napkins (I cleaned out the whole supply b/c in S. America, napkins are like 1-ply paper. They crumble up into a spitball, like you can't evn put it on your lap but it's only as big as your kneecap and so light (1-ply) that it flies off from like a sneeze breeze from 2 tables down. HORRIBLE. So, I use all the napkins and my heels are clicking back/forth as I keep getting more napkins for him b/c he's Margarita-sticky. The Chileans who are VERY SERIOUS about their poetry/singer dudes on stage are pissed at us. I'm asking them to take pictures, to boot. Blah, blah... So, we move on. Now, at this point, we're best friends, bonding over the spillage and the awful poetry set to song.

So, we then go to some CLUB called La Feria. Again, hidden behind a door, it's a full on lair. Red everywhere, the walls, the couches, the light fixtures. The DJ is jamming with himself like it's New Years Eve. But, we're early and there's nobody there. It's like 2 AM!!! And we go in anyway, and just sit on these red couches and talk and I'M WASTED b/c I haven't had vodka, and now I've had 3 (do you believe I'm saying this...?)!!! And, at about 3 AM, the club starts to fill up with all these Chilean youngsters that I cannot believe are JUST coming out to play, and thinking to myself, what the hell happened to the days when I WAS A YOUNGSTER like this and could drink 7 saketinis and hold my own and dance all night and never come down. I'm sad to leave, goddamnnit, I've got dancing shoes. But, I just can't party forward, I need sleep. And...........was miserable the next day. My first serious South American hangover.

Moral of the story: I have a lot of work to do before I get to Buenos Aires, let alone Rio. A lot of freakin' work......


Friday, November 18, 2005

Would you believe, I love the Metro!


I wasn't sure what I expected from Santiago. The word on the street is that there's nothing to "see" here, it's a city you'll pass through. Not for me, I've now been here for 4 days.... I like getting to a city and settling myself into ONE hotel, unpacking and doing everything I can from one localized city. It's not as hectic a pace, not as harried a schedule, and you get a better feel for the places you're visiting, as opposed to only tastes of more cities. At least, that's what is working for me. I'm taking day trips to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar (beach towns outside of Santiago) and took a day trip to the vineyards the other day. It's just easier than being go, go, go, every 2 days. So, hi from Santiago, Chile!

Santiago is VERY modern, very clean, and feels very American. The American brands are everywhere, posted on billboards, on street signs, it's omni-present just how westernized Santiago is. It reminds me a little bit of Washington DC, at least in the "Gringo" parts of El Bosque and Las Condes and Vitacura. It's very much high-rise, glass buildings, interspersed with leafier streets and older, little townhouses that house restaurants and residences. For some reason, I'm channeling DC a bit. It actually felt kinda nice to be in a city when I first got here, the familiarily of seeing AT&T, Hooters and Ruby Tuesday, Starbucks and Jeep. I felt very "city girlish" and when I saw a Starbucks, ran for it with a pace that I haven't hit since my last jaunt on my treadmill as Sports Club LA. But, I'm over it and excited to go to Valparaiso/Vina del Mar tomorrow which supposedly have a little more culture. Then, down to the lake region of Chile for some Andean mountain time in the outdoors on Sunday. Modern is good, in doses, I'm finding. But, the more rewarding places have been those I don't know as familiar, not the ones that I'm too comfortable in.

Also, the people in Santiago are more conservative than in other cities. The city, the people just lack a little passion as far as I've seen so far. And, they admit that. They know that the city is just a little more hands-off than the rest of South American in many ways. Their lifestyle is more sedate, there's more quiet, there's less flavor. I like Santiago, it's just a little bland.
On the first day here, I just kicked around town, exploring (on foot) Gringo land. I met up with a friend of a friend who lives down here, is Chilean, Tony. We met for coffee on what might as well be the Miracle Mile of Santiago. LV, Hermes, Longchamp, Burberry. Boy, does he know where to take the NY girls... I had my first Cafe Helado and just explored the city on foot. I wound up stopping for a glass of wine at a bar, unbeknownst to me at the time, called, of ALL things, Publicity. Go figure......

My second day here I took in more of the sights, riding a funicular up to the top of San Cristobal, overlooking the city, seeing the snow-capped Andes in the backdrop. It's easy to tell direction here (thank you, Brett Isaccson), if you see the Andes, that's the east. Helpful to know. VERY helpful to know. San Cristobal is part of Parque Metropolitan, which is in Bellavista, the more bohemian section of town. Colorful little homes, tree-lined streets teeming with cafes and outdoor restaurants. Here, I stopped for a conger eel soup, which is a whitefish that they serve locally. Then, onto La Chascona. The Santiago home of Nobel prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda. His homes (there are 3) are attractions here in Chile, they are all VERY eclectic, he was a collector of everything and his houses are amazing to see. What struck me is that they let you sit in the chairs, touch the books, and things stored in the house. Imagine going into, like...Roosevelt's Oyster Bay house, and dilly dallying with the mooseheads he killed on African safaris. Right..... So, La Chascona is named after his lover, Matilde. It literally means BAD HAIR. The guide, a funny little man with a fantastic ranchero mustache that you see in my pix (couldn't pass up a photo of his 'stache...) told us that Matilde had big bushy hair and they called her La Chascona or Medusa, hence the name of the house. Granted, I have a japanese treatment on my hair now, but can you imagine if my famous poet husband of my future decided to name our house after my old hair...? I mean, talk about the most heinous of insults!!?!?! Then, to meet Ike's brother Brett who lives here and is a TWIN for Ike, but bigger. Very weird to meet someone's sibling in Santiago for the first time. He took me to a place for the typical Chilean sandwich, which are everywhere down here. Very good, but not sure how many more Chilean sandwiches are in my future. ;)

On the third day, I had a debaucle with the Sheraton, as I used AmEx points for my room there the first two nights but try explaining that to the Spanish desk guy who could give a shit about you and your American Express card and tries to make you pay double. I mean.... Then, my Treo spazzed (in a modern city like Santiago of ALL places) and so, I spent part of the day, trying to get back online with that. Then, I put hot milk in my Cocoa Puffs knockoff b/c I didn't the sign on the breakfast buffet that said HOT MILK and then, they didn't have anymore cereal left and the eggs looks like vomit and so I didn't eat breakfast before heading out. Again...stupid issues but frustrating, nonetheless.

Headed then, to the vineyards. Concha y Toro, the #1 exporter of Chilean wine to the States. I tried it in Costa Rica, and have since been hooked, so it was great to get to tour the vineyard, send home a ton of rare bottles that I can't get in the States and get out of the city for part of the day. I even, GULP, mastered the Metro here. The subway is amazing. The MTA should take a few tips from the Chilean government on how to create worthwhile, clean and efficient public transportation systems. It was fantastic and I went to Conchy y Toro on the subway, then to a bus, and back....EFFORTLESSLY. I arrived at the Plaza de Armas, which is eye-candy with all the performance artists, kiosks of Chilean art for sale, chess players in various stages of games and other such distractions. Pretty wild scene, you don't know where to look first. There's a lot of dirty old men with bellies overhanging their pants on the Plaza, waiting for girlies like me to ask them to take a photo, at which point, they harass you to join them for coffee, a drink or whatnot, following you around the Plaza like a lost puppy. But, I digress....

I lunched at Mercado Central, which is the fish market. It's exactly how South Street Seaport used to be with the open air fish vendors selling their catches of the day everywhere. But, here in the middle of the market, is a huge restaurant called Donde Augusto that sells lunches, dinners of the fish from the market. Total tourist trap, but fantastic fish and atmosphere. Worth the trip. The waiters all bum rush you as you walk in, trying to get you to sit in their section (ummm, what are they all freaking out about, it's the SAME restaurant) and then, bombard you with choices to eat. It's overwhelming but kinda fun to play with them all. I sat overlooking the whole market and my waiter (didn't catch name) decided to fall for me, wrote me a love letter on the tourist post card and then, proceeded to get a guitarist to accompany his "Ode to Marie" in the middle of the whole place, and SANG TO ME loud and passionately for all to see. He said "Amor" in the song like 50 times. I was....MORTIFIED. You think getting a meek rendition of Happy Birthday by 2 waiters in ---enter your favorite birthday restaurant here----- is bad. Go to Donde Augusto, I promise, it's much much worse.

So, that's where I'm at..... now, I'm signing off to go shower for some dinner with Tony, who's going to take me out local Chilean style in Bellavista. Then, tomorrow, I'm off to the beach towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar to work on my jacked tan . . . I'm VERY uneven b/c of Peru. I'll report more soon... Hope you're all doing well.


Dirty nails complete a look...

Hi there...

I know, I haven't been online in a while...I've been running around South America, what else...?

Anyway, I'm going to try to play catch up today. I have a free day in Santiago, Chile and I'm just taking it to walk around, email and write a little and drink lots of coffee. I've become hooked on a coffee drink that they serve in Chile, it's called Cafe Helado, which basically tranlates to coffee with ice cream on top. Uh-huh....not the BEST thing to be hooked on. But, nonetheless... So, sitting in a coffee shop is a pretty enjoyable treat in Santiago.

Ok, backtracking...
Lima. As per usual, I got up at the crack of ass in Cusco to go to Lima. I wasn't connecting to Santiago, until 9 PMish, so I had a full day to spend in Lima aimlessly wandering with maybe two hours of sleep logged. At best. I had heard dreadful things about Lima and wasn't really looking forward to it. Dirty (check), congested (check), and ugly (check). Since I had only passed thru for the splurge night at the Marriott a week ago, I had some exploring to do to form my own opinion. As it turns out, I really enjoyed it (EXCEPT for how freaking dirty I was after walking around all nails turned grey, my white beater....yeah, not even CLOSE to white anymore (I threw it out), and my legs had a film of dust on them that I had to SCRUB with the Sheraton/Santiago soap bar to get off...yeah. You should've seen the shower drain when I finally showered in Santiago. Mmmm...hmmm. Images, images.)

When I got in, I went straight to the Plaza de Armas, chatting with the cab driver all the while (I'm really good at chatting with cab drivers. They always give me their cards when I leave their taxi. I guess I'm not intimidated to talk to them and sound foolish b/c it's only the two of us there to hear...I dunno. I give my best Spanish in cabs, though, I'm realizing). The Plaza de Armas is gorgeous. It has a huge fountain in the middle, with tons of benches surrounding. The buildings on the Plaza consist of the Presidential Palace which is a massive, white gated mansion that is offset by the municipal buildings on the other side, which are a bright shade of pumpkin color. It's aesthetically pleasing and while I'm sure you're thinking "pumpkin colored?" I really, really loved sitting in the Plaza. You would too. It's a highlight of Lima, for sure. The Catedral is on another side, and after being approached by a student named (didn't catch it) who just wanted to chit-chat with me, and for those of you who know me...I'm NOT exactly a morning person (though I'm getting better, I SWEAR!), I ducked into the Catedral under the guise of being REALLY interested in like, God, b/c you have to pay to go in and the chatty student wouldn't pay. There's a lot of ducking out like that, b/c you're constantly approached as a solo traveler. The only time I'm TRULY alone is when I'm hiding in my hotel room. Alas, in Lima, I had no hotel to hide out in.

Then, from the Plaza, I walked to the Plaza de San Martin, which was fine but underwhelming. Off the Plaza, though is the Hotel Gran Bolivar, a regal and uber-fancy hotel that I was told by a Peruvian author of my friend Michael's to visit. So, I checked into the hotel which was lovely, and parked myself on the terrace to down about 3 Cafe Americanos con leche while I wrote in my journal and caught up with myself. From there, I went to the neighborhood of Miraflores, first noticing at this point, the grey of my nails....where you can look out onto the ocean. I walked the whole area, it's young and more trendy than the other areas of Lima that I've checked out today, and full of shops and restaurants. I walked to the water, where there is a huge promenade of about three levels on the coast that overlooks the ocean. Lima is overcast most of the time, so you see a lot of fog as you look out onto the water, but regardless, it was calming and I was just completely happy being there with my Pisco Sour. Then, OBVIOUSLY, needed food. (I swear, if I don't get to a gym soon.....) So, I went to Astrid y Gaston, which was recc'd to me by everyone I met. THE restaurant in Lima. As I walk in, I feel at home. The deeply colored walls with great artwork on them, the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs cook, the waiters in their expensive, tailored suits, the hot looking Peruvians in clothes I wish I packed.......and me, in my sweatshirt and gaucho pants and Pumas, my messy ponytail with dirty nails and mammoth North Face backpack to complete the look. But, without missing a beat, they sat me right down amongst the men in business suits smoking cigars and took care of me. GREAT MEAL, they even let me hang out there until closer to my flight even though they were closing before dinnertime (I was kinda there in between meal services). And, then... I went BACK to the airport for my PM flight to Santiago, Chile...where I forgot to turn off my computer before putting it through the X-ray machine and jacked it for about a day. Yeah...sometimes there's just too much to concentrate on when you're schlepping from country to country. These are my issues.... :)

More soon...


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Like the Liptons...

I´m leaving Cusco at 8 in the morning, to head off to Santiago, Chile. Spending the day in Lima, as my flight to Chile isn´t until 9 PM. Gets in at 2:30 in the AM. Gotta love Taca, right? Last time, the very last time.

Anyway, just wanted to write a little something less ridiculous than Bad Marie-isms. I´ve been here a week and have really come to adore Cusco. The Plaza de Armas (main sqaure) is almost European in feel, the town surrounding is quaint and warm, bustling always, and even the altitude has grown on me. I have a very weird tan, though. Like a ski tan, but peelier with a freckled nose. (Me peel? I know...) And that water isn´t exactly doing wonders for my skin. But, I really have come to love Cusco. I bought myself an Alpaca sweater, not a fancy one. One that makes me look like a local with wild goats on it, I´d be blasted a fashion faux pas in the States, but I´m kinda into it. I feel Cusqueno in it.

I finally got to see the B-level ruins with a ¨real¨tour company that spoke English and used buses (back and forth) and it was really fantastic. You get a sense of just how advanced these civilizations were back in the day. We place so much emphasis on equating modernity with material things, but it´s not that way at all. All of the Andean civilizations were far more advanced than we realize. The irrigation systems, building construction, villages are astounding to comprehend. The size of the rocks, the way they are placed and utilized, you just find yourself asking over and over again, how the hell did they do this?

At the end of the tour, I befriended Nick from London, a shaggy haired lawyer who looked like he´d rather be at a Phish show, and two Aussies. We spent much of the day together, being wow-ed by the Incans. We hiked many of the ruins together, which is scary at points, as these ruins are built high into the mountains for protection from invasion, and when you go to see them you find yourself on the top of the world, looking down, and disbelieving where you are at that very moment. At points, my knees were shaking b-c I was so high up, with so far down to fall. (You don´t hear about people falling off these mtns, but they must... I wonder.) The other thing that you notice is people of ALL ages are visiting Peruvian ruins. Like, 80 year old shrunken grandmas in orthopedic shoes, hiking unbearable altitudes, climbing up 200 steps to holy altars of the gods. It´s so refreshing. I mean, my mom (sorry, mom...) let alone my grandma couldn´t do these hikes. I was amazed over and over again at the sampling of people. It´s not just schoolkids and backpackers. AT ALL.

After the day, I was just ´going with the flow´and went to dinner with Nick and the Aussies. I now know that I am (and why I am) a complete and utter food snob. For 10 hours, the Aussies talked about the ¨gorgeous¨meal that they were looking forward to for 7 soles, 4 courses ($2.50) that was such a bargain but sooo wonderful. Nick and I got roped in. We went, starving from the day. And....I might as well have eaten my right Teva for dinner. I had to KNOW that $2.50 wasn´t getting me a Chateaubriand steak, but...calling something ¨gorgeous¨all day has to account for something. Nope, not at all. In my head, I was thinking the whole time (and I think Nick was too...) what the fuck? Is this really edible? Anyway, when it was done, assuring the Aussies it was indeed a ¨gorgeous¨meal and thanking them for introducing me to the restaurant (yep, I did...), I went around the corner for another, REAL MEAL, alone. I was starved ... and pickier this time around. I don´t eat to nourish, I eat for the experience, I decided. And will continue to do so, I decided as well. Teva-meat for $2.50. Pass.

Macchu Picchu was yesterday. And it was everything they say and more. Since I couldn´t get on a 4day hike w/o spending a practical month in Cusco, I opted for the 2 day one, which was more than ample. While I fancy myself fit, I wasn´t born in the forest and a 2 day hike was fine for me. At 6 AM, we took a train 3 hours to the 104th KM of the Trail. And, then we hiked 7 hours to Macchu Picchu, coming onto it at dusk. First of all, I know Amy and Brad (could someone tell them this please?) did the 4 day hike which Brad wrote me a lovely email about. I read it and moved on. Ok...they are now my idols. It´s a hard trek, with dizzying heights and steep drop-offs. And, the campsites....leave a hell of a lot to be desired (not that my hotel was anything of merit, more on that in a second) but, everyone is all into the 4 day Trail. I give them credit. 2 days was plenty, 4 days in likely rain, wow. Liptons, impressive.

Anyway, during the hike, which I happened to get the most amazing, perfect, sunny days for, I felt a million different things. At turns, you´re peaceful and calm, exhilarated, frightened to death, and physically taxed. But, it´s one of the greatest things I´ve ever done. Hiking a trail thru 12,000 feet in the mountains, looking to your right of the 2 foot trail you´re walking on and seeing the amazing view, with the treacherous drop off. It´s like NOTHING I´ve ever experienced (or likely will for a while). I used a walking stick (wasn´t sure about it at first, then got REALLY into it, b-c it a) helped and b) made me feel officially hiker cool). But, of course, nothing in my life is without incident. I had an allergic reaction to the sun, b-c I was so overheated and it was so hot. I basically had baby water blisters all over my arms and back. Like teeny tiny spots, that were filled with water. In the shade, they went away. In the sun, they returned. I don´t know what´s happening to me down here in South America. I know you´ve all been envious of my tan at some point in your life. Don´t be. I´ve lost it. I´m a peeling, water blistery (they´re gone, relax!) mess of a tanner down here.

When you come onto Macchu Picchu, it´s amazing. I felt VERY impressed as I was the second in my group to arrive (the first woman!) and awed by the sight. It´s massive. A literal lost city. And since we came upon it at dusk, we got the place to ourselves. Similar to the feeling at the B-level ruins, you can´t help but feel inspired and, a lowly materialistic ass. We were staying the night in Aguas Calientes (the town below that was created around the tourism that MP brings), so we would be able to go into the site in the morning at 6:30, watch the sunrise and be inside MP for about 4 hours, before the first train of tourists arrived. Not bad.

At the end of the day, my body was exhausted. But, accomplished. It was a fantastic day, really one of the best I´ve had. We retired to our hotel in the town and since they stuck me and 2 other Americans (ben and asra from colorado) on the tour at the last minute, we were put at some fleabag hotel b-c the other one where the rest of our tour was staying couldn´t accomodate us. Don't ask... The room was a color pink that even a 128-box of Crayolas wouldn´t house among its assortment. I was terrified to look in the corners-walls of the room, certain a cockroach was going to lay eggs in my ear while I slept. There was a stench of feces eminating from somewhere in my room, but I couldn't locate where. I sniffed all corners (without looking in them) without resolution. Thoroughly nauseating. Whould've thunk this is my life...after such an amazing day. Thank god I got home drunk as a skunk with only 6 hrs to be IN the room. Maybe I should´ve camped out like the Liptons . . .

Gotta go and sleep for an hour or so...onto Lima, then Santiago in a few hours.
More adventures soon.
Miss u all.


Bad Marie...

So...she surfaced. Bad, NYC Marie. BUT....only for a bit.
And, then she was gone. Here goes...

I decided that since I was going to be in Cusco for a week until I could get on my Inca Trail hike, I would make the most of this town and see everything there is to see. So, priding myself on my horseback riding skills (as you all know, ad nauseum), I decided to tour the C-level ruins (there are B-level ruins too, A-level obviously being Macchu Picchu) by riding thru Cusco for the day. I got up at 8 AM, very excited for it and wound up being paired with two Brits, Warren and Keri. He, a paparazzi (who admits that´s their job? Everyone hates the paparazzi.) and she, a typical worrisome British wife, ¨Waaaahrin, are you wearing your sunblock? Waaahrin, don´t bugger on my horse to make it trot. You know I don´t fancy trotting. Waaaahrin.¨ Blah blah. They were amusing, though.

Anyway, Ricardo, our guide doesn´t speak English, but is leading us by walking alongside with a handheld transistor radio that looks like the Germans used it in WW2, it´s so old and all he gets is static the WHOLE time. Never a song, never a newsflash, static. But, you´d think he was listening to the Word of God the way he´s got that thing to his ear. We get up into the mountains to saddle up. horse is probably as big as me (when I download pix, you´ll see...). But, I´m still excited, even though I feel like I´m riding My Little Pony. No worries, right? Ok, so go to see the ruins. C-level, nothing to REALLY describe. The views of the mountains were breathtaking, but the ruins were, well...underwhelming. Anyway, the day is long (but nice, glad I did it) but it´s starting to get cold. It´s rainy season here in Peru now, and it rains at least once a day. So, we get to the last ruin and after we get off to go take a look, Ricardo goes: ¨Adios,¨ takes the reins of all three horses and starts to leave us.

Me: ¨Wait...Ricardo -- where are you going?¨ (in Spanish, obv... which is ´A donde vas?´ for those practicing along with me)
Ricardo: ¨Fineto. Ju wawk now.¨ (Broken English)
Me: ¨Where is the bus from earlier?¨(El autobus?¨)
Ricardo: ¨No autobus. Camines.¨ No bus, you walk.

REALLY..............Ok, so we start to walk to Cusco, which looks like it´s 50 miles off ...
And, on cue. It starts to rain. No, sorry. It starts to hail. Ice balls. The wrath of the Incans.
I´m wearing off-white cargo pants (why I thought off-white hiking anything was a good bet (yes, Cherilyn...), I´m not sure...) that are now soaked thru and my orange underwear is begging to be seen. And is. The Peruvian peasants farming potatoes are whistling. I´m FREEZING, being hailed on. Ricardo and the wee horses are gone. Of course, Warren and Keri are prepared with North Face ensembles, of which I´m insanely jealous. And, I´m pissed off. We hitch a gypsy bus after about 15 minutes (buses of wild colors that pick up anything along the road with a pulse for soles) and are taken back to town. MIZ.

Getting back into town, I head to the SAS Travel office. Walk in and wail on the guides that they never told us there wasn´t a bus back and we´re freezing and cold and paid for a tour with a guide and a bus. And, all they say to me is...Aaaah, Marie Elena, we thought we told you there is no bus home. And stare at me. Um....what does one do with that? Shake it off. Shake it off.

Am supposed to meet Gabriel in the Plaza for coffee before he heads off to Arequipa, BUT also have to go to Taca (airlines) to get my flights to Santiago. So, run to Taca. Calm again. The woman who helped me the day before isn´t there, so a new agent is helping me. The flights are now $200 more than yesterday. Ok...fine, just get me to Santiago, please. ¨Jes, missus.¨
And, strike two against me brews...AmEx machine is down and can´t authorize my transaction (you need an authorization to, like, buy a bottle of water here).

Me: Um....when do you think it´ll be able to authorize.
Taca Lady: Yo no se. I hope soon. Seet down, I try again in 10 minutes.
10 minutes later.
Me: Um....are you able to authorize, I have to go, I´ve been here for 30 minutes already.
Taca Lady: Well, we just got new computers and I don´t know how to use them, actually.
Me: And, that problem gets rectified HOW, exactly, in 10 minutes?
Taca Lady: I cannot help you anymore. And leaves.

I leave (Yes, I wound up going back at around 7 and got the tix...) to go back to my hotel. Gabriel is long gone, foiled again. And...shocker, they can´t accomodate my new Inca Trail dates, so I have to find new lodging. Strike three. I am irate. I run around in orange thonged-see thru wet pants in the rain to find a new hotel (which I wound up loving), get my tix at Taca, thaw out, take an Ambien and force the day to end.

Thought you´d all appreciate. Not everything is all bubbles and sunshine EVERYDAY.
I´m learning how to deal....It was, looking back, a hilarious day. :)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mama Africa ...

Since I last left off at the cafe, I was having a hard time adjusting to the altitude.
It´s better now, but now it feels like I´m getting a cold. Sniffles and watery eyes. It´s a mild version of altitude sickness, they say. Supposedly when you come back down to sea level, it all goes away... We´ll see, I guess. I´m still drinking the coca tea (mate de coca) to keep it together. It still takes like crap. I´ve switched to eucalyptus a couple of times, as herbal remedies are big here and that´s what I´ve been told to drink. Ok....

Yesterday, I looked around the town and got acquainted with Cusco. There is so much to see here. There´s part of me that can´t believe places like this exist. Since we´re so high up, I´m completely unprepared for the weather, which is hot in the sun, and freezing (could go down to 40 degrees at night) when the sun goes in. Also, it´s rainy season, so needless to say, it drizzles or rains at some point every day. I really shouldn´t have given my dad my North Face fleece as we said our goodbyes in Miami and can´t find anything I like to buy to wear to warm up. So, I´ve just been really really cold most of the time.

Part of the allure of Cusco is the Inca Trail hike to Macchu Picchu. Since the trail is the original trail of the Incas, and mostly ruins, the city of Cusco limits the # of people they allow on it each day in an attempt at preservation. So, getting onto a hike is a pain. (yes, everyone told me this before I got here, but did I listen....obviously not). I spent a good part of yesterday running around from tour company to tour company trying to get on a hike. No dice. I am now on a trail on the 12th, so I decided to change my hotel (b-c mine couldn´t accomodate the new dates) and spend a little more time in Cusco, chilling out. There is SO much to buy here. Obviously, I´ve browsed. BUT, I have a really hard time with the whole ¨bargain¨thing. I mean....I´m a sucker for a great poncho, sure. But to have to haggle over it, yeah....not me. BUT, you have to here. I hear people doing it all over the place, but I haven´t bought anything yet, b-c I can´t overcome the anti-haggler in me. Imagine, going into like, Scoop, in NYC and being like, ¨Seven Jeans, $130. No way. I´ll give you $65. Final offer.¨ And they take it!!!!! Maybe you´d end up paying $80. Tops. I mean.....!?!?? The main thing here is Alpaca. It´s Cusco´s cashmere. A little scratchier, but it´s the thing to buy. Now, BABY Alpaca, whole different ballgame. Softer, more $$. I´ve found 2-3 BABY Alpaca things to buy, but can´t commit to the haggle so...I am purchase-less thus far. Oh right, I bought a magnet...

So, you go into all these shops and American music is playing. ONLY. Like, you´re perusing the Alpaca and ¨Meet Me Halfway Across the Sky¨is playing. Or, you´re in a public restroom, washing your hands to ¨Karma Chameleon.¨ Nobody seems to be bothered by it. It gets me everytime. Like, it´s Inca country, and yet, they´ve embraced the Black Eyed Peas.

I visited all the churches yesterday, they´re amazing. I´m actually moved to tears whenever I visit foreign churches. Italy, Spain, now South America. I don´t know why (my mom is like praising the lord and saying Hail Marys right now for me saying that...) but it happens. So, the churches here, like others, moved me immensely. They are so ornate and beautiful, trimmed in gold. Pretty amazing to see. And all the religious paintings are housed in museums near the churches. But, it´s funny, these museums, housing important religious works have like a xerox copy of paper taped to the wall next to it, with notes in pencil, detailing what it all is. The Incan artists all knocked off Spanish works of art, but added Peruvian details to show that the influence was Peruvian. Jungle in the background, for example. The best one that I noticed was a photo of the Virgin Mary wearing a COWBOY HAT!! I guess even the Incans in 1500s knew that the hottest girl in the room was the one in the Cowboy Hat.

Last night, I went out to check the scene at night. The Plaza de Armas, the main square is JUMPING. There´s a million people on it (the bars surround it) in various stages of intoxication. You hear murmurs of ¨coca, coca...¨as you walk through coming from the likes of dark, shady looking men. This, after all, IS South America. Supposedly, everyone goes to the ¨gringo¨bar called Mama Africa. Ironic, no? At dinner, met a German who was really nice and headed to NY next to have a hamburger and fries for dinner. And, visit Ground Zero. I found that SO interesting. That he´s in NY for one night and that´s his itinerary. Ground Zero as a tourist attraction. I got the chills when he said that. But, after dinner we went to Mama Africa, which is all rasta-esque (In Peru, LOL) and tries to be loungy with pillows that are flatter than flat on stiff benches. All iridescent lighting and...throbbing loud American music. Everyone in there is a traveler of some sort and before long, I´m deep in conversation with Gabriel, the sweetest guy from Buenos Aires. Longish dark hair, scruffy but handsome face, medium build. Told me I was ¨very tall,¨ was very impressed that I was from NY b-c ¨New York girls don´t do that I was doing and that I had to email his mom to tell her how well he held a fluent conversation in English with me. He also quit his job and is doing the same thing as I was re: travel. We had a blast dancing, him imitating the American guy´s hand-pumping-torso-throwing-hip-hop dance, me imitating the roll-your-hips-around-lemme-get-so-close-you-can-feel-every-bone-in-my-body South American guy dance. It was hilarious. We got drunk on Pisco Sours (me) and Rum and Sprites (him). He walked me home, like a true gentleman and we met on the square today for coffee before he headed to his next stop, and me to mine.

It´s AMAZING how you meet people, defy the language gaps, have commonalities and can just have random friendships grow out of fleeting moments. It´s been the most wonderful part of this. Anytime I venture out of my hotel room in the AM, I come home in the PM with another story, another friend, another smile on my face...

Until the next entry . . .
I´m in Peru until the 13th. Then, back to Lima for a day, then Santiago, Chile.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Pack-Of-Cigarettes Feeling

So... I've been hearing all about this blog for the past week now and am just getting on for the first time today. I must say that in preparing for this trip, l've been apprehensive about doing the blog thing. But my sweet sister and dear friend Mark have started to keep this for me, and so I said I would give it a shot and check it out. Being Type A (who me??) and all, I felt like blogging was just another thing to focus on (and be good at). I also wanted the experience to be totally mine. I know, I know...Miss-Share-Every-Detail-of-her-Life-with-Everyone (Sometimes-Too-Much)-Marie NOT blogging (total lunacy, yes?)...but I must say that it's been really nice having my own experiences over the last week. That all being said, I enjoy GETTING your emails but keeping up w/writing back the same cut/paste is getting tedious so I'll give this a try. I have no idea how often I'll get to do this, but here goes.....

Right now, I'm sitting in a cafe eating lunch. Let me catch you up what's been going on thus far...
Galapagos. Amazing. Everyone has to get there in their lifetime. It's an stunning contrast between the breathtaking turquoise of the water with the terracotta earth of the land. As the boat pulled into the port where we were transferred to taxis (which are mini white pick-ups...the kind that mexicans crossing the border are always driving in movies...), there is a sea lion frolicking on the incline of the dock, barking (yes...the bark like big dogs) like the welcome committee of the Galapagos. Like he works for the Gap. You know the greeter who's folding meticulously but still manages to snag your eye for a hello. God knows how hard I try to avoid that Gap greeter. That's how the sea lions are. Needing to say hi. But sooo cute with huge, doughy circle eyes. The islands are vastly different too. There's hot dry parts where the trees look like they've been thru wildfire, I'm burned to a crisp from my dives ... Yes, Rosenberg, I wore 15 SPF. Then, where the hotels are is humid and foggy and the vegetation is lush, at night you're in layers.

I stayed at the hotel called Silberstein but as you know from previous entries (that were emails that my sister and Mark posted for me from things I sent them), I barely stayed there. I was kidnapped (willingly) by the Gipsy Cholos. (Basically, that translates to a bunch of friends who, for this trip got shirts and hats made that said Gipsy Cholo Team, the Galapagos Project. It was all very official looking, with flags from all of their countries of origin - Ecuador, China, USA & Spain - on them. One might think them traveling Olympic fencers or something (I did...), but they were actually just friends celebrating their friendship in a fun way.) As I told them, when I first saw them, I was like 'who the hell are these freaks?' but they're like any other group of friends. There's the preppie who, according to the others, "owns 1/2 of Ecuador," the beauty from the States, the out-of-control, but terribly sweet party boy, the paternal leader of the pack making sure all is always OK, the silent brooder, the Spanish dark and handsome cigar-smoking gentleman, the outrageously smart lawyer who takes care of all the boys, and the easy-going, but opinionated, one who is everyone's best friend (he held hands with the outrageously smart lawyer on our dives, and it made me smile every time!). I stayed in their villas, ate with them, dove with them, laughed with them. And it all was so normal. When I protested about imposing, I was shut up. They were lovely people who made my first week of transition seamless. I miss them already.

On my dives, I saw schools of hammerheads, manta rays, turtles and the sea lions following us to play on our dives and while we jumped off the boat into the sea on our intervals between dives. They're like dolphins in their playfulness. They need attention. I could've stayed longer, easily...Every time I have left a city (Quito, Galapagos, even Lima last night) I get butterflies from thinking about the next leg. It's like a separation anxiety from the amazing people and places you're leaving behind. The next unknown place is scary....until I touch down. Then, I get a new sense of awe and adventure. And feel sooo lucky to be doing this.

Today I'm in Cusco, Peru. It's in the South, Inca territory. The sight off the plane is unreal. Rolling brown mountains, regal historical town entrenched in so much history that you can smell it when you enter. I am in a completely new world than the Marriott that I liked way too much...obv. My hotel is called Los Ninos. It's $20/night. I had to ask for a room with a bathroom!!! It wasn't an option to share, not a shot. There's a space heater in my room b/c it gets so cold at night. I had breakfast waiting for my room to be ready. A huge spread of eggs, jugo de naranja (I'm practicing...), toasts and jams, fruit salad (well, sliced bananas and like 2 lone pineapple slices that had me digging for gold...ech bananas) and of course coca tea for the altitude sickness. All for $2.50. So, the altitude here is 11,500 feet above sea level. And I feel like I smoked 4 packs of cigarettes and then partied like a rock star, that's how my breathing feels. Like a chain smoking lazy ass. But it's the altitude. So, you have to drink coca tea that they serve with a HUGE bowl of sugar b/c they know you need 7 scoops of sugar to make it work on the taste buds. It kinda looks like the tea in Jamaica, but without the rush. Much better with the rush b/c I've had so many coca teas already to no avail. How many of these must I drink??? To put it into perspective, I didn't dive more than 100 feet down and needed to decompress every 30 ft for 3 mins on my way up to level out. Here a plane just drops you off mid climb, practically, and you have to deal. More coca please!

Now I'm at a cafe, had lunch. More things I've never eaten. My father told me in an email not to come back 200 lbs. Nice, right? I think he's having (as am I) painful flashbacks to college when I went on a shopping spree for fat person's clothes on his dime. Don't worry Dad, I'll come back svelte as ever... OK so there's a quintet of what look like singing Jesus's in red ponchos playing recorders and other homecarved wind instruments but dancing around like Phish during a jam. the restaurant. What is my life? Oh, they're coming around now for $$. Shoulda known... Same shit. ;-) (The Swedish tourist next to me just BOUGHT THE CD!!! Aha!!! I'm dying and fully laughing out loud as I write this and they're watching me. So are the Jesus's (is that how one pluralizes Jesus? Can you pluralize Jesus or is there only one...whatever. I have to leave here now...)
I feel like this email....correction, "entry," has been a little boring. I'll write more after some time in Cusco, after things start happening. If I've learned anything in the past's that something always will.

Going to sign off and walk a block to get pack-of-cigarettes feeling again. Fun.

A Little Pampering...

So, I'm totally pampering myself tonight even though I was thorougly pampered in the Galapagos by JoseLuis and rest of the Gipsy Cholos. Right now, I had the Marriott (where they upgraded me to a suite b/c I have some Marriott card my dad made me him) make me a reservvation at Rosa Aquatica, a renowned restaurant here in Lima. Since I'm only here for the night, I was told I had to eat well, the only saving grace of Lima is the food (everyone says that) but even though it's dark & I won't see the city in the sun, it looks very pretty. Ah well...can't do it all, I guess. My flight to Cusco is at 6 AM. For Machu Picchu.

Rosa Aquatica, though, first. It's all the way out on a pier with the waves crashing all around you. It looks like a dollhouse from the outside and the when my table wasn't ready, they bought me a drink for that!!! Imagine that happening at like...Nobu?!?! It's a Pisco Sour, a Peruvian specialty, I have no idea what is in it, but I feel sauced
a) b/c it's delish and
b) b/c it's 10 PM and I haven't eaten since a roll @ breakfast... it was just too hectic w/all the flights today and I looked up and it was after 9 when I got to the Marriott. I ordered 3 courses, a ceviche, a hot scallop app amd my main course. That's how they eat here. Cold app, hot app, then dinner. My kind of town. Only downside to eating in all these places alone-lack of sharing more dishes... Where's Jordan when I need him? My steady sharer...

Ok, signing off.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tienes una Llamada...

Sorry I have been MIA. The Gipsy Cholo posse have adopted me, literally. I don´t have a phone in my room and they call the front desk and the hostess of my hotel comes knocks on my door and goes: ¨Marie Elena, tienes una llamada.¨ (¨¨You have a phone call. It´s HILARIOUS. They must think I´m nuts. Who gets phone callS in the Galapagos Islands? I´m semi embarrassed every time they knock, but secretly love it, obv...) They are awesome and I´ve been running every minute since I got here. More soon, once I´m out of Galapagos. They're all awesome and I'm having the best time with them.

I dove with hammerhead sharks yesterday. A huge school of them above us, then got low on air (probably b/c I was secretly freaking out and using my oxygen like a madwoman -- at least it was ME using my air and having to come up, NOT my dive partner Felipe who made me come up prematurely every time) and my friend Ernesto had to take me up on our own without our divemaster so I didn´t run out of air at 90 feet and we had to swim right thru a current under a school of them. UNREAL. (I guess I was Ernesto's Felipe, this time....but at least he got to see hammerheads, right?)

The dive ended at 5PM ish and it got dark while we were on the boat back to our island and it was pitch black and all I kept thinking about was

A) Jaws and
B) how the hell does the driver of the ship know where to go b-c they´re like boats from 1902 and don´t have navigation systems.

Obviously, we made it, but being on a teeny dive boat in the middle of the Pacific at 7 PM in the dark in Ecuador in shark infested waters...a little nerve-wracking. XOXO

Friday, November 04, 2005

What is my life?

i have some new friends today from my first dive. 8 ppl from Ecuador that are
all different ages and have different lives. They´re great, very very nice and have
taken me in. I spent last night in one of their suites at the Royal Palm Hotel on the
island in some villa. I know, I mom is probably saying "Who goes with strangers to their hotel rooms?" Mom, they're wonderful people, I feel lucky to have met them! It was one of
their bdays at midnight. Antonio. He turned 32. And Jose Luis and Ernesto
threw a party for him in their suite. We drank vodka and whiskey all night and ate chorizos and cheeses and it was the NY version of hanging out with your friends, Ecuador style. Priscilla is from the States, Miami, so she was a good ally. She dates Roberto who is from Spain but lives here. WHAT IS MY LIFE. I'm spent last night with new friends at a nighttime birthday celebration in the Galapagos. If the rest of my trip is anything like this, moreover, meeting people like these people, I'm never coming home!!

I dove yesterday and there are sea lions (the look like seals...) all over playing with you in the water. And huge turtles and rays and white tipped reef sharks that are ¨friendly¨ sharks. Saw them in Costa Rica. So fun. If you can't tell, I'm having a blast here in the Galapagos...


Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Yesterday was great. Getting to Lan airlines, checking in, making myself a little window-aisle-seat-bed on the mostly empty plane. Lemme tell you kids, Lan is one heckuva airline. So spacious. Meals are normal, free tv, movies in each seat, blankets that are like...woven by the stewardess´grandma. I mean...a pleasure flight. We´re getting the crap end of the deal flying Continental and American. I´m telling you. Then, arriving into a country where the landscape took my breath away looking out the window, so much that I was tempted to take a photo but know they don´t come out because I´ve been retarded enough to do that in the past moments of being moved in the air. I got to my hotel, which looks like a Spanish villa in the middle of a dirty city called the Hostal de Fuerte Piedra 1 (NOT to be confused with Fuente 2, mind you...). It is quaint and the staff so friendly. The best part? I'm totally Spanish-speaking Marie. And they understand me!!! LOL. I slept most of the day. Finally being here is allowing all the stress of getting here to wear off. It felt WONDERFUL to sleep. I woke and needed food. Of course, I chose wisely. The guard from the hotel walked me to the restaurant b/c it's so shady @ night here. I told him I wanted typical ecuadorian cuisine, a glass of wine, not too $$ (in spanish), etc... He brought me to another villa-ish place that, on the interior, looked almost regal with high backed wooden chairs and portraits of kings everywhere. All fish-fresh that tasted like it was caught an hour before, tops. A lovely British woman (50ish) who just got back from Galapagos invited me to dine w/her. Such a nice evening. She said I seemed American by the way I "plopped" into my chair. Ha!! Josephine. I mean...such is my life now.

Today, I got up, spent about 2 hours in a travel agency re: Galapagos, Lima and Cusco/Macchu Piccu tix (did all flights thru 11-15ish...) and then, went to a place called El Panecillo, which is a statue of the Virgin Mary that sits atop Quito where you can look down on the whole city. Pretty wild to see the interface between the loud, colorful, busy city and the lush, serene, green mountains as backdrop. I took too many pictures of it, I think. And I´m HATING the stand alone photos. The Chinese tourist kind. You know ´em.... Kill myself. I´m keeping them to a minimum. They´re stupid. Then, onto the ¨Mitad del Mundo¨ or more understandably, The Center of the World. The Equator. Very cool - totally stood with one foot in one hemisphere and one in the other. Took pictures (made my tour guide I hired for the day take some with me...a little çecuadorian fellow that had too much sunburn on only his forehead that made it glow a 80´s flourescent pink...very odd and I think I stared a lot at it), got a certificate for balancing an egg on a nail ON the actual equatorial line. Tourist trap, but ce la vie, I´m a tourist. Then, into Quito´s old city for some looking around. Kinda reminded me of San Jose in Costa Rica: dirty, unimpressive. Care? Not so much. Then, back to nap-shower-email. Now, will figure out dinner. I have 3 restaurants chosen. Everyone here has said great things about all of them. Yes, I´ve inquired. Which one will be the question..obv... Shoot me, I´m still Zagat-y. For now.

Tomorrow, leaving for the Galapagos at 6 AM. Not sure I´ll be able to write too much from there. It´s totally undeveloped, internet is a bit far-off for Galapagosians (What do they call themselves? I´ll find out tomorrow.) But, you never know. I´m there until 11-6. Then, will be back in civilization. Meanwhile, the volcano on the island of Isabella (not inhabited by human life - only 2 of the islands are) is active right now and someone I met today told me that it´s a surreal thing, watching a volcano explode in front of your very eyes. I´m imagining it like a bigger version of my 7th grade science volvano project in Mr. Loring´s class (which was excellent thanks to my mom´s help). I hope it keeps erupting so I can experience it. FROM AFAR.... ;)

Talk to yáll soon. xoxoxoxo