Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ten Things You Should Know Before Going to Argentina

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We spent a month in Argentina, and I still have so much more to say about most of the places we visited there (how am I ever going to get to Chile??). I would highly recommend visiting this beautiful country, and I hope that all of you get a chance to experience it! Before you go, here are a few things that you should know.

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Buenos Aires: The City That Defies Description

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I have so many great memories of our time in Buenos Aires, yet I’m struggling to figure out how to do our time there justice. As I try to put together my thoughts about our day to day in Argentina’s capital, I’m having trouble figuring out where to start, or how to start. There were no epic hikes or picture perfect views, or even much in the way of beautiful architecture. Our time there was pretty lacking in picture worthy moments – outside of some phone photos and a lot of graveyard shots we have less snaps from our twelve days there than we’ve taken in one day in other places. And yet, despite the lack of big moments and once-in-a-lifetime happenings, Buenos Aires holds the spot as my favourite city on the trip so far.

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Maybe that seems counterintuitive, but I guess it’s a testament to the way I like to travel. Since we had such a long stay in the city, we were able to take off our tourist hats for a while and just live. We went to some cool shows, went for coffee every morning, and searched out fun restaurants to check out most every night. We went grocery shopping and cooked ourselves breakfast in our rented apartment and did laundry upstairs and pretended for a little while that we were PorteΓ±os going about our daily business. We began to understand the rhythm of the city and grew accustomed to late breakfasts and even later dinners. While previously steak after midnight had seemed pretty ridiculous, when the rest of the city’s doing it, you join in.

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Of course there were plenty of touristy moments sprinkled throughout our visit to the city, but they were just that – a sprinkling, rather than our every day. In Buenos Aires it was easy to feel like we were just part of the crowd, and even the most tourist-oriented attractions that we visited didn’t feel overrun by outsiders. Whether on bikes, on one of our long neighbourhood-spanning walks, or on the subway, it felt like we were able to navigate the city from the inside, rather than just scratching the surface as we often had in other spots. Buenos Aires has a way of keeping you guessing, though, and just when we thought we had a handle on things we’d discover a new neighbourhood with a totally different flair. That’s part of the thrill and intrigue of the place. It’s a city that charms you with a new facade at every turn.

So many of the places we’ve been on this trip have been incredibly memorable, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. So far, though, Buenos Aires is the only place I could see myself happily staying for a long time. While many of the things we’ve done have been true once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, I can see myself going back to BA for more midnight steak, delicious choripans, amazing coffee, fascinating cultural events, and all of the nooks and crannies and quirks of this crazy city. Here’s hoping I get back there before too long.

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Buenos Aires: The Coffee Diaries

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As I’ve mentioned on a few different occasions, we’ve suffered from a serious lack of good coffee on this trip. The coffee in Peru was pretty terrible across the board, and, minus a few exceptions, Colombia’s wasn’t much better. One reason I was excited to get to Argentina’s biggest city was that I knew there would be a chance that our coffee fortunes would turn around, at least temporarily. Buenos Aires is a modern metropolis filled with hip neighborhoods, and trendy areas usually bring with them people who like a good cup of joe. I’m not sure why, but that just seems to go hand in hand. We tried three of the top rated cafes in Buenos Aires, and here’s what I thought.
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The Dreaded Sunday

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You’re fresh off the airplane, ready to explore a new city. As your taxi winds through the one way streets and shop-lined thoroughfares, you notice that most stores have their shutters pulled. Maybe this is just a quiet part of town, you think to yourself.

You check in to your hotel or hostel or apartment and drop off your mammoth bag. This routine is nothing new. The leaving and arriving and rediscovering has been played out so many times over your trip that you’ve lost count. That’s not to say you’re sick of it, it’s just a part of the game that is long distance and long duration travelling. You actually relish the chance to walk out your door to a sight that you’ve never seen before. Yes, you’ve read the TripAdvisor reviews and the Lonely Planet tips and heard about THE BEST cafe in town from your newest, and now former, best hostel friend, but discovering a city is so personal that you don’t know what you’ll think of it until you get out there yourself. As tempted as you are to maybe just stay in the comfort of your room, the one place where you don’t have to attempt to navigate a foreign language and wave off sticker sellers and tour hawkers, for a few more minutes, you know it’s time. It’s time to get out there and find out what the city has to offer. It’s time to discover your version of the latest stop on your travels.

As you walk out the hostel door, you’re confused. All of the reviews on HostelWorld said that this place was in the heart of the tourist district, that there were a ton of things to do just steps from your door, and that THIS was the place to be if you really wanted to have a good time in your temporary hometown. So why is there no one walking the street? The main square is so deserted that you could probably hear a two peso coin drop. The snack sellers and vegetable vendors have left their stalls deserted. The only restaurants open have ten page long menus and are clearly only geared towards the desperate tourist. It turns out that that’s you right now, and suddenly you figure out why. It’s Sunday.

When you don’t have the five day work week and two day weekend rhythm dictating your life, losing track of the days is a regular occurrence. Friday’s no longer your holy grail, and there’s no reason to wait for Saturday night to party when you could just as easily live it up on Tuesday. You don’t fear Monday morning unless it involves trying to dig your truck out of the Argentinian salt flats. Sunday, though… Sunday is the worst day to be a traveller. Yes, there may be an antiques fair here or a market in the park there, but that’s no consolation for the fact that your first eight restaurant choices are closed, and every shop except for a couple of corner stores has its doors barred. If you want to turn the most bustling downtown into a ghost town, just tell everyone it’s Sunday.

You walk back to your apartment and remind yourself that tomorrow is Monday, and tomorrow the streets will come back to life. Tomorrow is a better day to form your first impression of this place. It’s a good thing you’ll still be here tomorrow, because today is Sunday, and the city is asleep.

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The Peruvian Cooking Experience

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On our last day in Arequipa it was time for some learning of the culinary variety. We participated in a cooking classs called the Peruvian Cooking Experience, hosted by hotel that was, conveniently, only a couple of blocks from our hostel. I’d been looking up cooking classes in almost every stop along our way but they’d all been way too expensive, so I was pretty excited when Zevi said he’d found one that would fit our budget. We had a lot of fun making two traditional Peruvian dishes with instruction from Lady (Lady is a legit name in Peru, as we were told a few times), the head chef.
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Exploring the Colca Canyon

As Cusco equals Machu Picchu, Arequipa is practically synonymous with the Colca Canyon, and many travellers treat it as a jumping off point for treks in to the second deepest canyon in the world. Although we thought we might do a longer hike, and I know that it would have been great to do so, we were pretty exhausted from our time in the jungle, so we decided to make things a little easier on ourselves by opting for a single day excursion.
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The Peruvian Amazon – Part Two

This is the second of two posts about our stay in the Amazon. Find part one here.

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On our second morning in the Amazon we were up bright and early to visit a clay lick in the hopes of seeing some birds eating there. Apparently the clay in their stomach helps them filter out the toxins from the jungle fruit that they eat. We lucked out and managed to squeak in there before it rained, which meant that got to see a ton of macaws and parrots, among others. Unfortunately we couldn’t fit our enormous zoom lenses in our backpacks (even our imaginary ones were too big), so we had to observe as our fellow travellers took pictures of the far away birds. We definitely didn’t have a prime picture taking set up for the jungle, so most of our animal photos are blurry blobs in the distance. There’s only so much room you can devote to photography equipment on a three month backpacking trip. We lucked out on our way back to the lodge and spotted a couple of capybaras, which are the world’s biggest rodents.
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The Peruvian Amazon – Part One

This is the first post of two on our experience in the Amazon. Find part two here

We’d been to big cities and explored ancient ruins, so naturally next on our list was heading to the remote jungles of Peru. That’s the natural order of things, right? Anyways, we arrived in the small city of Puerto Maldonado after about a thirty five minute flight from Cusco. It’s amazing how much things can change in just half an hour. When we left Cusco it was about eleven degrees and quite dry, and we stepped off the plane in Puerto Maldonado into thirty-plus degrees and some noticeable humidity. We’d been expecting a pretty dramatic rise in temperature, but it was still a bit of a shock after spending most of the previous week wearing all of our warm layers.

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Since we were the first of our six person group to arrive, Paul, our guide, had time to take us on a little tour of Puerto Maldonado. With all due respect to Puerto Maldonado it’s not exactly a hotbed of tourist activity, and most people treat it as a jumping off point to the jungle as we were doing, so we basically covered everything in half an hour or so. It was fun to see all of the moto-taxis zipping around, and visit the market, where we managed to find a flashlight among the stalls jam packed with every household item you could think of as well as the usual fruits and vegetables.

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After a short drive to the Tambopata river, we boarded the boat that would take us to the lodge. All of the boats on the river were long and skinny with benches on each side, and even weight distribution was pretty key. Sudden movements were not a good idea, as I found out when I tried to jump quickly over to the other side of the boat to take a picture on one of our boat rides (oops). It was about an hour and a half down the river, and along the way we ate our lunch of vegetarian fried rice out of the large leaf it was wrapped in. It was filled with salty soy-meat, little pieces of squeaky cheese and various vegetables and even as an unabashed carnivore I thought it was pretty delicious! Eating out of the leaf just added another level of novelty – it was fun to pretend for a little bit that we were natives of the jungle, eating the way they might. That fantasy didn’t last long though. We stuck out like a sore thumb with our comparatively pale skin, although you couldn’t see much of it through our long pants and long sleeved shirts. I was pretty envious of the locals in their summer clothes as I sweated in my leggings and thick socks, but the warning of bug bites kept us pretty covered up for the first little bit.

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We arrived in the lodge and got settled in our little bungalow. Inotawa lodge has no electricity, except for between the hours of six and nine PM when the dining room was lit up and plugs were available at the bar to charge any of our various electronic devices. Our bungalow, however, was completely power free, so we relied on candles, flashlights and our questionable night vision when it got dark. Though perhaps a little inconvenient when we wanted to read before our eight o’clock dinner, it was actually really nice to be off the grid for a little while. It’s so easy to stay connected on the road now, which I really appreciate, but I welcomed a few days of truly distraction free living. It forced us to truly slow down and just relax when we weren’t out on a jungle excursion, and I actually managed to read a book or two.

All of our meals were provided for us by a team of cooks at the lodge, and we were lucky enough to get some top notch food. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy, but there were a variety of options and everything really hit the spot after a long day of hiking and being outside. There would always be a meat option, either pork, beef, or chicken, and it was usually in the form of a slow cooked and very flavourful stew. There was always white rice, and I don’t know what they did to that rice, but MAN was it good. I want to know how they prepared that stuff, because it was definitely much better than what I make at home. I’m guessing there was lots of oil involved, but I’m going to claim blissful ignorance on that front. The meal wouldn’t be complete without the ever-present Peruvian second starch, which would come either in the form of potato, plantain, or some sort of sweet potato. The token salad was always super salty and practically inedible, but I tried to appreciate the fact that they at least offered it.

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Getting up before six was the norm, but it really wasn’t all that hard since the darkness forced us to go to bed by nine anyways. Just after we arrived, we went on a creepy night walk, where we saw lots of cool bugs and a spider that was a little too big for Zevi’s liking. We went to sleep under our mosquito netting trying not to think too much about the creepy crawlies we’d just seen mere metres from our bungalow.

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