Graffiti: Valparaiso Style

Graffiti: Santiago Style

 So, instead of being in Santiago for three days, I ended up spending nearly two weeks here, mostly waiting for parts of my electronic life to be shipped to me. Santiago is not a particularly amazing city, but the culture is interesting to observe. The neighborhoods are quite different and the people in them vary with the surroundings. I would say that the division is about as severe as NYC neighborhoods, if not more. Still not ready to ask people for their photos, I have only streets and PLENTY of graffiti on my camera (well, as much as I could cram in 26 hours).

A little bit of Marilyn
More graffiti after the jump..

Santiago Fast Food: Dominó

Well, fast food here is tasty. I forked over about 5k in Chilean pesos both last night and an hour ago to devour a massive sandwich that can only be described as extremely satisfying. Yes, I ate at the same place twice in less than 18 hours. 

First the setup: American 1950's burger joint with no less than 18 dudes cooking and serving up food behind the counter, a scene of controlled chaos. There are 10 meat options and 20 topping combos ... That's 200 combinations available to this first-time customer. First thing first, I knew that avocado was a biggie at this spot, so I needed to figure out that topping, pronto. 'Palto.' No palto for me.

Right before going out on the food venture, I read that Anhony Bourdain liked the lomito in Santiago (super thin cuts of braised/marinated pork), thus, lomito was going to be the guts of my sandwich with a chacacera topping, which was shredded string beans, slightly spicy fresh green pepper, thick cut tomato, and lots of mayo. A camera would help here, but as you may have read in previous post.. gonezo.

Still not brave enough to try the amped up hot dog, I went for 'mechada,' which I thought was beef. Wrong. It was a thicker cut of pork. So much for aiming for variety. This time topped with (look away if you have an aversion to mayonnaise): something that sort of, kind of resembled a coleslaw, mayonnaise, and tomato. The coleslaw bit was described as salsa verde, so not at all what I was expecting with the double helping of mayo.

My table outside was adorned with 6 options of squeezy bottles, 5 of which were variations of mustard. The last bottle was a red squeezy that could have been mistaken for ketchup, except it's not. It's a sweeter, brighter version of Tabasco. I quite liked it, but the guys back at the old workplace who used to down a bottle of sriracha in a week would not be impressed with the potency. ('Sup, guys!?)

With a few more days here, I'll likely eat at this place again, but hopefully no pork. Now that I've spent nearly an entire paragraph on purely mustard options, I'm out.

Post note: I did eat at this place again, one pic of the chicken sandwich encased in mayo:

Bolivia: Camera goes into Coma

So, I had already been to Bolivia last year and saw the magical Solar de Uyuni but did not get a chance to see the Lagunas Coloradas, etc, which was my reason to go to Bolivia in the first place. As luck would have it, my poor camera zoomed its last zoom. After sandboaring, the group went up to the moon valley (earlier post). On the way down, since I could definitely not walk down with ease, I decided to crab walk. Well, one slip and one slide later, clunk.. clunk.. clunk. Camera makes contact with moon rock. It begrudgingly takes a few more photos over the next 2-3 days until it finally just could zoom no more.

More story & photos after the jump...

Sandboarding in the Atacama Desert

Sandboard San Pedro

[Written on the evening of sandboarding]
All of my buddies' boards

There is still sand everywhere. Every crevice in my ear is full of it. My hair is now officially 'sandy' in color. Pockets of my pants? Quantity of sand rivals that of Miami Beach. How in the world did this happen? Well, since I am a connoisseur at snowboarding (been exactly twice, spent majority of time on behind), I decided to give sandboarding a try. Yes, sandboarding. The board is similar to a snowboard and where else to try it for the first time but the dunes of the Atacama Desert? The thought process in the decision to go was, "Wow, this seems cool-- I'm definitely going to try it!" to being a bit more than worried on the drive over to the area to climbing up the dune, board in hand, seeing the slope at a 60 degree angle (no, not 30, don't invert) and thinking "IS THIS INSTRUCTOR F&*$# kidding!?" Getting to the top, I think every curse word in every language I knew came to my mind and probably out of my mouth.

Stunning sunset photos after the jump...

Hotel, Schmotel

First of all, I thought I had problems as I began to write this post. My 17-year-old looking self is attempting to get my "free" beverage in the hotel lobby bar that came with my thoroughly-over priced night's stay, only to be ignored by the middle aged staff. A senorita who looks older than me but is likely younger than me finally approaches me to ask why the heck I'm standing around like a stump, albeit she asks a bit more eloquently en espanol. Clearly, sitting at the low tables where I can comfortably write this up was the sure way to be completely unseen, yet standing at the bar area right before the restaurant full of guests only took 12 minutes to get someone's attention. To boot, when she finally does acknowledge me, I ask if I can use my drink ticket at this bar, and she says, "Yes. You can get a juice." [Pause] Was she waiting for me to jump on this one? She sure was eyeing me suspiciously. What the heck? 

Fashion in Buenos Aires

Yep, finally. The first thing R & I noted in Buenos Aires was that we were the only ones wearing shorts out and about town, despite the blistering heat. It was over 30degreesC (about 85degreesF), but that did not stop ladies our age from sporting jeans and even long sleeve tops. The only relief that the female crowd in BA showed were skirts, but in the first few days, we were not able to spot many of them. Once I realized that I stood out as a tourist in my khaki shorts, on some days I opted for my uneven skirt + tank ensemble and on others... I went back to shorts. When a 45L pack (plus a small carry on) is all you have for an undefined amount of time travelling through multiple activities (dancing to hiking) and weather conditions (dry+hot to cold+rainy), you don't have the luxury of walk-in closet space. At some point, my list of how/what I packed for a lengthy excursion will be posted to satiate curiosity or help anyone planning a similar trip.

Back to fashion: Buenos Aires was inspirational in terms of indie designers taking the lead in fashion. Big house and luxury names, while available, are not at the tips of people's tongues or sprawled across the city. There was some Zara and some H&M, and with their affordable up-to-date style, who can blame anyone for their widespread access to the female consumer? Anyway, the bag to have is from Prune, the dress to yearn for is Maria Vazquez, and the label to have fun with is AY Not Dead. To see what all the hype was about, I set off to a few malls to see what the fuss was about in these few particular names. Both of these names are local to Argentina and widely available in any shiny mall or shopping strip. Maria is known for her loose, slinky, colorful sundresses, and the collecions do no disappoint. While extreme color is not in my wheelhouse, I can appreciate the indie feel left in the designer's clothes though she is now a household name. The star dress on display, retailing for about $1000USD, however, I found exquisite. The mid-thigh length fabric and the coloring flowed effortlessly, admittedly not enough for me to fork over the dough. I tried to snap a picture but as the items in the store are originals, it is quite difficult to do so without drawing too much attention and getting excorted out of the store.

Next, my stop was Prune: a house that started with basic leather handbags. Still comparitively inexpensive to similar quality US brands despite the price hike due to populatrity, these bags look sturdy and chic at the same time. Made of quality leaher, the designs are basic/classic totes but range in details and size. Their target is clearly a classic, mature audience, particularly a working or sophisticated woman. Colors mostly run in the neutrals (creme, white, black), but they do peak into oranges and blues.

AY Not Ded was the line with the most indie of the three despite its grown popularity. Clothing items here are displayed only one piece per design. The color palette in the store I visited was black mixed with intense colors and strategic cuts of fabric, most of the items pushing the edgein terms of mixing fabrics and textures. The items remind me a bit of Latin American Asos clothing.

One other major thing I noticed in BA was the choice of shoe: a fully platformed sandal. Not elegant in any way, this shoe is clearly designed for the crappy BA sidewalks that are Fall Zone in flat shoes, let alone heels. To get around the fact that the sidewalks are flawed while still boosting height, these sandals offer a compromise: height for style. Personally, I'm not a fan of the clunky shoe, but I was amazed at how it was THE shoe to wear for females, particularly during the day and aged 18-30. Every designer and every store was sporting their own version of this elevated-flat sandal, each of them devastatingly ugly. There was one instant where I saw the shoe attached to an outfit that made me think twice: a young 19 or 20-something, clearly trendy with her own twist, paired the light orange clunky things with a long, cream flower-studded billowy skirt and plain cream tank top. Perhaps if she was older, or older looking, the shoe may not have suited: it still reminded me a bit of yucky maryjanes I was forced to wear in Catholic school. Ick.

Whirlwinded Tornado

Yes, I made that up.

Some Volcano at the Park Nacional. The Cheetoh shaped blob is a defect in the camera due to dropping in water. NBD.

South of the North (Cafayate, Argentina)

[I've been sans phone, sans internet (thank you, Bolivia), sans electricity (same, Bolivia), and sans time. Details to follow in further posts. Without further ado...]

Baby rama! Can't get enough of these little guys.
Another day trip down from Salta, having consumed too much red wine (haha, just kidding, what is 'too much red wine'?), the white Torrontes wines in the south were calling. This day trip included what any day trip would include: an organized bus that deposits you at pre-programmed stops, a comic of a tour guide that studied at NYU for a year, pre-fix lunch, singing "That's What Friends Are For" and/or "Jingle Bells" and/or "Tomorrow, Tomorrow!" at 8am on the bus in front of 21 perfect strangers, and a question of your approximate age (he was off by a decade, can you guess which side?).

Road to Cafayate

Road to Cafayate 2

First, the sights were spectacular. Though there are, oh, I don't know, 106 different Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Mouth) in South America, it didn't detract from the amazing form that this one took. Each ring that you climbed brought you higher and higher into what was once a waterfall that fell over and flooded the now arid region. Right next to the Devil's Mouth was a natural amphitheater, accompanied by a musician playing a flute to the dreamy melody of the indigenous people. The 45 degree cuts into the sides of the amphitheatre provided ample spaces for someone of my monkey nature to climb.

Natural Amphitheatre
Garganta del Diablo... Pretty sick rocks

Following the spectacular sights was the tasting of wines. To explain the phrase "Gatos de Flores," which was the name of one of the wines, our guide looked at me mid-story, which was quickly turning into a not-for-kids-story, to ask, "Oh, wait, are you over 18? Because the rest of the story may not be suitable if you are." Bright red with every curious German and French tourist, and A & R, staring at me, bubbling with laughter, I responded, "Yes. I am over 18. I am 19." By this point, I'm not sure that the guide believed me because he didn't finish the darn story! I suppose I'm over the tipping point in age now, when I start to take the mistake as a compliment. 'Starting' does not mean not turning a shade of purple when caught completely unaware that a person has gotten my age nearly a decade. What a colorful day--in absolutely every aspect.

Colores Del Norte

So much lush greenery on the way up to colorful rock.

It's not really called El Norte, but it is the northernmost region of Argentina which includes Salta, Jujuy (hoo-hooey!), Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca. Humahuaca was the northernmost point that we ventured on this trip, and with an elevation of nearly 3,000 meters, left us breathless. Literally. The air is a bit thin up here, but the sights are absolutely phenomenal. The mountains are two major types neither of which I know its technical name. We're driving south from Tilcara to Purmamarca now on a local bus as I write, and the mountains to my left are steep sloping and quite rocky. The summit is a reddish brown hue, while the layers below that follow the shape of the mountain range from orange to white to dusty rose pink burnt red. The layers create an effect that you'd see in a bottle filled with colored sand (don't lie to yourself: you've definitely made one of these before). The second type of rock is even steeper: the rock is just vertical cliffs of burnt red and white with horizontal cuts across the entire rock, almost as if water used to be there.

Humahuaca with threatening clouds that led us to a restaurant..

... that served roasted children.

The town of Humahuaca, and admittedly, every town north of Salta, has been very impressive with its cleanliness and order. While clearly not 100% immersed in typically western civilization, as the towns lack paved roads and modern architecture, many of the buildings have been either impeccably kept or their stones/construction upgraded. The girls wear fashions reminiscent of New York suburbia with Hello Kitty backpacks and boys don Puma or Adidas sneakers, while listening to their iPods. Humahuaca has the least tourism of the three. We spent the night in Tilcara, also less touristy than the nearby Purmamarca, at a hostel/B&B/house that was run by an Argentine/part hippie couple. The husband, with shoulder length grey hair tied back in a ponytail, greeted us at reception while his wife provided breakfast and taught yoga classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It was impossible not to feel calm here (except when my internet refused to work). The hotel was situated on the corner of town, with several buildings making up the yogi-inspired complex, perched high enough to provide a view of Tilcara and the surrounding landscape. 
View of Tilcara en route up to the hotel
The last town, the most touristy and also least impressive boasted the most impressive landscape. I referred to it earlier as layers of colored salt poured into a glass bottle, while the Lonely Planet refers to the colors here as "the marzipan fantasy of a megalomaniac pastry chef." They’re right too. The colors in this town range from pink to orange to green in the rock. There is even an entire peak that’s a shade of lavender. The colors are spectacular, so much so that my dinky point-and-shoot camera couldn’t possibly capture the hues in the cloudless yellow sunlight.
Me, pondering the Marzipan Madness

Our adventure of getting to these locations is a mini tale of its own. There are certainly numerous and very nice semi-public buses that hit each stop for a small price for each leg, but our reception in Salta noted that there are dudes that hang out just outside the bus station who are semi legitimate taxis that charge a similar fare but provide significantly more flexibility (depending on how many people need to fill the vehicle). Well, after wandering around Salta’s bus station for a bit, trying to ask where these guys are located, we’d just about given up until we here a low whoop, "Hoo-hooey!" Bingo. We found them and really glad we did. Since the bus stops locally, we made it to our destination a) much faster b) while being able to take pictures out the window of the sprawling landscape, which was different but just as impressive as the destination.

"Hiked" up the high part of Humahuaca (I think)

What we did miss is that in addition to the off license taxis across the street from the station, the best empanadas from Salta are at the little hole in the wall behind them. We vowed that we'd stop to feast on them on the way back, but unfortunately, all 3 shops were completely out of empanadas. There is a pasteleria/panaderia at the right end of the block, where we did sample the goods. Little flaky versions of dulce de leche alfajores and white chocolate coated cookies with walnut were a perfect temporary solution for our food search.

The best empanadas I've had to date were from Estancia de Los Dos Hermanos. They were made from a special flaky pastry, almost like a filo, then fried to light yellow perfection. The spread at the Estancia itself was impressive. At breakfast, we were given jelly filled cookies, which I picked up apprehensively (cookies for breakfast?), but immediately felt guilty at my concern. I ate three. The cookies, coffee, tea, bread was served outside in the green, hammock lined yard just behind the house. For lunch, after the empanadas, there was a paradilla, whose meat rivaled any top New York Steak restaurant (except Peter Lugar's, since I haven't been there). Dessert included a kind of custard that was a mix between a custard, flan, and cheesecake--and better than all three in just one bite. Little sweet bites afterward included a fried donut hole (Krispy Kreme, eat your heart out) and a brownie-cake that would make any chocolate lover happy. I would go back to the estancia, and even ride the horse Sir Eat A Lot, simply to have the breakfast and lunch al fresco.

Bicycle Gate in Purmamarca

Thermal Springs

Despite being surrounded by a striking mountain range and multiple pools of a thermal spring, A, R, and I could not help ourselves but complain. 25 A$A grants you access to a thermal spa, clearly a day-away destination for locals. Pools of water with various temperatures, ranging from icy cold to scalding hot, were plotted on the side of one of the cliffs overlooking the valley.

A ring of slightly cooled water circled in a type of a lazy river. In this river, none of us could figure out why the locals found it necessary to bash into us while we were tucked away in a small inlet of the otherwise raging lazy river. Complaining ensued when splashing children (aged at least 17) would horseplay right by, splashing out otherwise intentionally dry hair and faces. Trekking back toward the entrance, we came upon a pool of water, dubbed a puddle of lukewarm water,  that was situated close to a fountain, encircled by a cement "beach." Aside from the screaming children, this spot seemed like a great option to relax and let the natural thermal waters do whatever it is that they are supposed to do to our skin. Well, complaining ensued. The fountain encircled by beach would sporadically shoot cold water 5 meters in the air and into our direction. The puddle clearly didn't house enough water to cover us, thus leaving parts of our legs and torso exposed to the wrath of sprinkling cold water, which would leave us late 20-somethings squealing in angst. Nothing to see here folks, move on.

The apparel at this location was extra ineresting to me, though. Since landing in Buenos Aires, I have been taking mental notes of the fashion, the clothes, the shoes, the bags, the way people carry themselves, pretty much everything regarding choices in physical appearance. In addition to the platform shoes and severe lack of shorts in Buenos Aires, which will have a lengthy post at a later date, the thermal baths bore a style that was very difficult to explain. Firstly, a few pockets of people had piercings, many of which included a stud on the corner of a lower lip, a semi circle in the back of the neck (similar to those normally in belly buttons, but flatter... and significantly stranger), but no tattoos. Zero! Next, a few ladies clearly in their 40s and 50s found it acceptable to wear slightly decorated underwear as bathing suits. Now, I've had this debate before: certainly these articles cover just as much, and sometimes more, than a standard beach suit, it is slightly jarring to see a woman running around in her knickers. Finally, some parents found it perfectly appropriate to allow their pre-teen daughters to run around in swim suits that I have trouble accepting as an adult. I guess, welcome to LatAm?

Anyway after a few hours and deciding we had enough, we leave and take a more serious note and appreciate the fact that these baths lie on the side of a spectacular hill in Cacheuta and overlook beath-taking views of the Andes. A few silly photos and we're off to the bus stop across the street, right next to the cafe where we had lunch after cabbing it from Mendoza. One hamburger later, we boarded the van that took priority for leaving earlier (which we were clearly not meant to take but ... whatevs), and drove off after a swarm of locals on their day break piled onto the megabus in front of us. Peace out Cacheuta!

Pictures to follow.. eventually.

Busing and Biking in Mendoza

Welcoming Gates at Trapiche

Grapes and Old Railway at Trapiche
Maipu Bike Rental
Andesmar Bus Company

Many people are scared of super long bus rides, and if it was anything like the overnight bus I'd taken with three friends last year from La Paz to Uyuni, they should be. Although nothing bad technically happened, the bus sketchy and bumpy for a solid eight hours. The two bus routes that I've experienced in Argentina in the last week, the first a 13.75hr bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza and the second the one where I'm writing this, Mendoza to Salta, are not as bad as they sound. Seriously.

R, A, and I are currently sitting in what would be premier business class leather seats, playing bus bingo during hour 14 of an 18-hour bus ride. So close to the win! A had only 1 number left to win the traditional bus award: a bottle of vino. Shame. The three of us would be really enjoying it right now as A watches an Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston flick on the main screen, while I write this post and R is glued to episode after episode of Homeland on her iPad.

The three of us have our legs propped up on the seats in front of us, finally getting to sit together since one passenger got off at some stop before 7AM. Early last night, A and R tried to rearrange seats with a grumpy Indian couple, only to fail in the attempt. A made sure to have conversations with R & I across the lower level of the bus in retribution. Conversation content: "Do you guys want chips? I finished the bag. We need spoons for our yogurt. What movie do you think they're going to play?" The couple was alright, though. Just a bit finicky about their seat location.

Block Wooden Floor to Better Roll Barrels (Of Course)
Edit: Ok, so the last 2 hours were more on the brutal side. The AC broke and these megabuses, while comfortable, lack windows that open. When you travel at 10% of the cost of flying, you can't really ask for business class seats AND impeccable comfort the entire 18-hour way through, right?

The bus is a stark difference to what we were up to the previous day: 20km+ bike ride through Mendoza's vineyards in high and dry heat. Before we headed off to the vineyards, we picked up a solo fellow traveller, S, who was doing a two-week stint in LatAm from London.

Admittedly, as someone who has ridden a bike exactly once since being 12 years old, having wine midday and getting back on a bike was probably not one of my best ideas. The group of us did pedal a few extra, albeit scenic, streets along the way, none of which were even noted on the map given to us by Maipu bike shop. Whoopsy. It was along these pleasant, tree-lined, dusty streets that we enlisted the help of a friendly local to point us in the right direction, but we weren't on our way until after an overly friendly pair of dogs wanted to hang out with me. A brown and white spotted, short haired dog, with its tail whipping around furiously, lunged itself on me, sniffing, licking, and playing doggy games.

Finally, we were off. Our first stop was a big industrial producer of wine, Trapiche. Though I don't know very much about wine other than tid bits I've picked up here and there, this stop had the best tasting, a bubbly light pink and a CabSauv. After a couple more vineyards, the furthest point was an olive oil farm and processing plant before cycling the whole way back. Yum. Sun-filled, glorious day.

Sparkling Flats Over Glass Floor in Tasting Room (Trapiche)

Faded Charm

Making it look easy
This is pretty much how R and I described BA within the first 36 hours of the city. Every street corner you turn, you have to be careful of the random wood planks, missing cinder blocks, and steaming piles of dog poo. Everywhere. I mean, seriously, I have enough trouble standing upright on my own two feet on flat sidewalk in ballet flats, I certainly don't need dog turd to further complicate that issue. Fact: I fell flat on my back the night before my flight. I had no excuse. None.

Anyway, Buenos Aires has certainly grown on me in the last few days. Yesterday, we went to Estancia de los Dos Hermanos, making it the third or so time I have been on a horse. The first time, I was only five and everything went smoothly. The second time was only last year when I rode a two year old Icelandic pony over volcanic lava. All Spinka wanted to do was eat and not listen to me.

A & I  making everyone look bad
As luck would have it, the white-with-brown-specks Argentinian horse (this time a real, full grown horse) was an eater too. Corn stalks were his favorite--he went after them with a vengeance, so much so that at one point it was a hundred meters before the gaucho who was with us realized that I had been stuck, completely incapable of moving Sir Eat A Lot away from the corn fields. Other than that, we got along just fine.

Fortunately, my tango lesson partner from the previous night, A, R's friend from the old country who is coincidentally here on business, was a much better listener than four-legs. Miraculously, neither one of us fell or tripped or did anything particularly embarrassing on the dance floor, despite both of my left feet. After this week, I don't need any convincing that I could become a pro at tango or taming & riding horses.