Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year in BsAs

When we came to Buenos Aires we had an idea. We wanted to crew on a sailboat that would take us aaaall the way to the coast of USA, or at least the Caribbean. We had our successful crewing experiences rosing up our imagination, and we had no doubt we would find our boat in such a huge port that is Buenos Aires. Well, after about two weeks of visiting marinas spread out on the shore of Mar del Plata, of looking online and talking to people we discovered the following: Buenos Aires is not on the route of world-cruising yachts, and seldomly does anybody sail out of here anymore. There are a few boats that stop over on their way to Ushuaia, but that´s the other way:) There are lots of marinas, but they are all private and closed to visitors. We learned that most of the sailing traffic that does leave the area goes as far as Uruguay or the south beaches of Brazil at the most. The commercial container ships are out of the question - there are too many ¨safety¨ barriers. This means - no boat for us.
We shall now head directly north, to the North of Brazil and see what it looks like there. Perhaps we can get to Trinidad or Venezuela and try to find a boat there again... Sailing friends of ours from Costa Rica sent us a letter with loads of useful info, and it looks like Trinidad and Tobago is the place to be for us. It is too far to think about right now, but at least our route is chosen for the next little while: through Brazil, not around it.
Now, an update on our whereabouts in the city. Since our last post we have moved, and this is how it happened: One day we met with Pablo (Pablo and Julieta), we went to see a drum performance, Bomda de Tiempo (Time Bomb). It is sort of like the drum-circle on Mont Royal on Sundays, only they charge admission and there is a drum orchestra playing. It is a mix between a jam percussion session, a dance hall and a concert. We were having a beer before heading to the show when Pablo asked us if we would like to live in their house while they go for a vacation. ¨We will be gone for three weeks, and if you could look after the house in the meantime, we would be very grateful to you¨, he said. ¨Well, uhmm¨ we did not know what to say for a moment, ¨yes, we would like to, very much!!!¨
So this is where we live now, in Julieta and Pablo´s house. It is located in the historic La Boca neighbourhood, which has a feel very similar to Saint-Henri, the neighbourhood where we lived in Montreal. There are tourists strolling on El Caminito one block away from the house and the proletariat has beers on the sidewalks and mothers shop for groceries one block away. The two worlds collide and mix right at our doorstep.
The house has its own blog and the photos there truly show the spirit of the place. This is a kitchen, for example: The place is huge, there are six rooms (three of them are workshops), two bathrooms and two staircases leading to a terrace on the roof with lots of plants. We are living in our own room, which is built as a house of its own on the terrace! Our duties as house keepers are to water the numerous plants in the morning, feed the shameless black cat Vicente and feed a turtle that roams around on the terrace.
There is one more person living in the house - Augustin. He is a painter, he works selling paintings on the touristic commercial stretch El Caminito one block away from the house.
We moved in a few days before our hosts were due to depart, so we got to know them a little better. They are both artists, Pablo is a silversmith and Julieta is a painter, their respective art blogs are here and here.
We will stay here until our hosts come back, and then we will pack our bags once again (leaving out the warm clothes) and head out into the heat...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Buenos Aires

We have spent only one week in the city, but so many things happened to us that it feels like we’ve been here for much longer.
Maxi and his family received us with open arms. It will not be far from reality to say that his parents, Jorge and Claudia, took us in as their own kids. They invited us to stay with them for as long we need!
The very night that we showed up, Maxi took us out to a dance. He participates in a community dancing group. They dance Murga, a traditional Buenos Aires dance with roots in Brazilian culture. The group danced out in the park for the community for a few hours and then we all piled up in the back of a pick-up and went to a kindergarten graduation party. The group was asked to dance for the kids. We watched them dance there too and walked home with our friend way past midnight.The next day Maxi took us out to a rock concert, in a pleasant art center called ¨Ana Pavlova¨. The evening felt very much like the ones we passed at ¨Shizo¨ in Montreal – small space, about 50 listeners and young musicians playing good music until late.
Before coming to the big Babylon, we contacted a few CS hosts, not expecting to stay with Maxi for a long time. Although we already had a place to stay, we still wanted to meet the good-hearted people who accepted our requests. The first on our list were Julieta and Pablo, a couple living in a huge artistic apartment in one of the neighbourhoods of the city. Their home amazed us: every single square foot of surface in the house had not gone without loving and creative attention of the couple: colourfully painted trim, lots of paintings on the walls (both by Julieta and Pablo), and plants, lots of healthy growing plants… We accidentally stayed overnight, for the conversation and the company emanated a very good vibration.
We left their house early in the morning, heading to meet another CS person: Mago Daniel. He is a professional entertainer, he works as a clown, magician and a juggler, depending on the occasion. He had a shaven head, and a goatee. He met us in his house a bit before noon. We were sitting in his impossibly dirty kitchen with cockroaches running all over the place. ¨Hi, I am Mago Blanco Planetario¨, he said, sat down at the table and had a vegan breakfast while lecturing us on the benefits of a vegan diet. He poured us a cup of herbal tea sweetened with a special herb Stevia, NOT SUGAR, which is a deadly poison, according to him. George had to fish out a small cockroach out of the cup before sipping on the delicious (and healthy) brew . We spent a few more hours in the bad-vibe circus house and then navigated our way back to Maxi’s family through the crazy but well-organized metropolis which is Buenos Aires.
Maxi makes gnome-looking dolls in the sparetime. He has a good eye and the gnomes (duendes in spanish) turn out each looking very different from the other.The family is doing a little renovation in the house, so we offered them our help. ¨Can you lay a wooden floor?¨ Jorge asked us. ¨Yes,¨ we said. So, for the last two days we have turned into semi-professional floor-layers. We spill glue on the concrete and stick the exotic woods parquette down, it looks like it is turning out good so far :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Puerto Natales - Buenos Aires

After a few more relaxing days in the house of the welcoming La Familia, it was time for us to travel again. In the morning we made our way to the exit out of P. Natales. The sun was shining but the wiind was very strong - it was impossible to stand on one spot.You had to struggle against the wind, sometimes falling forward when the wind weakened and sometimes taking a few steps back not to fall over when the gusts were strong. We must have looked like two drunk persons hanging out on the side of the road. After a few hours of this we got tired. Nobody was stopping, so we decided to walk, thankfully the wind was pushing us from behind. We leaned back into it and walked. As it usually happens, about 100m into the walk, a car pulled over and gave us a lift to the turn-off. A few minutes of wating there and an empty tour bus took us across the border and deposited us in Rio Turbio, Argentina. Good bye, Chile!
A truck took us from Rio Turbio to Puerto Santa Cruz. It was a 6 hour ride across the empty pampa. The trucker talked and we had a good ride. Daniel dropped us off at a YPF (he went 20 kms out of his way to do it) on the ruta 3 when it was already dark.
We camped out in the pampa. In the morning, the usual routine got us 900 kms closer to Buenos Aires, we went to sleep outside of Trelew. A quick rest from the road in Rawson and back to la ruta. Next day we started out late, around 3. A few long rides and then a super-long ride with Gustavo. He was heading straight to BsAs and we covered over a 1000 kms that day. This is the scenery we have observed for the three days it took us to cover the emmense distanses of the pampa.
Gustavo was a very good driver: he drove prudently, listened to good music and had a laid-back attitude towards life. The first day he drove until 3 am, smoking cigarettes and listening to Papos Blues.
The second day looked little different from the fiirst, but the scenery changed: the pampa ended and fields of wheat were rolling out on both sides of the road. Gustavo stopped in one small town, bought meat and vegetables and then he cooked an awesome dish - ¨colchon de orvejas¨, which is meat stew with vegetables. Oscar, Gustavo´s compañero, pulled up iin his rig to join us for the meal. We ate and listened to the two of them chat about things the truckers always talk about: who went where, where are they going next, how many kms each of them covered yesteday, the strange sounds the motor is making recently...
Gustavo drove us to his house on the outskirts of BsAs. The neighbourhood he lives in is considered a dangerous one, there are mounds of garbage blocking some streets and the burnt-out carcasses of cars are eternally parked along the curbs.
We had a chat with Gustavo´s family and had a chance to check internet at his house - good news was in stock for us. Our friend Maxi (whom we met in Cusco), was inviting us to stay at his place for the weekend. We called him, got the directions and were sharing a beer wth Maxi and his family some 30 minutes later.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ushuaia to Torres del Paine

Having hitched out of Ushuaia with sublime ease (a first car pulled over) we reached Rio Grande in a pleasant company of an aged couple. They dropped us off on the other side of town.There we had to shiver in the cold wind for a few hours before a few short rides to the border. There was zero traffic at the border. Thankfully, the complex was equipped with a heated ¨waiting room¨. There were two french girls waiting for a ride there already, so we joined their company. We boiled tea and chatted with them for a bit, enjoying the warmth of the shelter. When a truck would pull up to be inspected by the customs officer, one of the girls would go out and talk to the trucker. After a few trucks, they got a ride, and we, following their example, got a ride with the very next one. Our driver Cristian was a classical Argentinian trucker. He had bouncy curly hair and a wide smile. He owned his own truck (a rare thing here) and was in love with his machine. The ride was long and the scenery beautiful.¨Watch out now,¨ said Cristian, ¨there is a big pot hole somewhere soon on the road¨. Having said that, he got absorbed by our conversation when, all of a sudden, he gripped the wheel tightly and said:
¨Get ready here it comes!¨
We hit the pot-hole dead-on, full speed. Things leaped at us from the dash board: papers, toothbrush, mate cup, everything. There was a big storage space above that also emptied out: wires, radio, a cell phone, a heavy log book... ¨I told you there was a pot-hole here somewhere...¨ said Cristian, laughing. The floor of the cabin got covered with the mess. Having fished out his cell phone, Cristian said: ¨don´t worry picking things up, I was gonna clean the rig tomorrow anyway.¨ The whole incident gave us about an hour and a half of laughter and chuckling after, the truck-drivers never shunning from discussing anything in depth, for as many times as they find it entertaining. ¨That was a good one, Cristian!¨ we would say for the tenth time and the cab would fill with laughter, rolling through the rain in the night pampa.
Cristian dropped us off at the crossroads in the middle of the pampa, already on the mainland, in the middle of the night, strong cold wind hawling. We had nothing else to do but to set up camp as soon as possible and sleep tightly until the next day.
In the morning the rides came fast and easy and we rode into Puerto Natales in the afternoon. We had CS connection there, and that is where we headed. Familia Seguel Albornos received us with open arms. They have embraced the project of CouchSurfing and are hosting about 15 people DAILY. We rapidly integrated into the big and ever changing family and rested for a few days before heading to the park.
The Park.
National Park Torres del Paineis located about 150 north of Puerto Natales and there is no better way of reaching it than by – you guessed it – hitch-hiking. We hitched out of town in the morning and arrived to the entry gate with a truck loaded with firewood. The entrance fee is an astounding 15 000 pesos ($30), which we had no desire to pay. So we climbed the near-by hill and observed the surroundings of the ticket booth. The most likely way around it seemed to be across the river, only we did not know how deep it was. The water was very blue and it could easily have been over our heads. We were devising a strategy of circumnavigating the building when a guanaco appeared on the rock.It stopped and looked at us. Then it gracefully trod down the slope and headed for the river. It paused a bit at the water´s edge and forded the river. The water was shallow, only reaching up to its knees. That was a sign!!! Guanaco showed us the way! We had no doubt now about what we should do: we shall ford the river just like the guanaco, and walk to the bridge under the cover of the low bushes.
We went down to the river, rolled up our pants and crossed at almost the same place as our animal guide. We were careful to stay in the cover of the vegetation not to be noticed from the guardhouse. Having crossed the river, we decided not to advance any more that day, so we made camp on the little island, enjoyed the view of the towers and went to sleep early.We woke up precicely with the sunrise (5:19 am) next morning, packed up quick and proceeded with our ¨infiltration¨. We had to scramble on all fours at one point – the bushes were that low, but we made it with no problem to the bridge, and once we were on the other side, we were in the park. High five!
We hiked 50 kms of trail in the next two days – something we are not particulary fond of at this point of our trip – walking with backpacks on a trail just does not seem that appealing to us as it used to. The trail was very busy – tourists from all over the world, clad in the latest fashionable gear trod up and down. When we greeted them, many did not even acknowledge our presence. Oh well.
There were a lot of red berries growing alongside the trail – the delicious heathberry was beginning to ripe.Anastasia saw a description of it in a book earlier. We did the one hour test (a hand-full of berries in the mouth and then wait for an hour if a stomach ache appears) and found the berries edible. The good thing for us was that the throngs of tourists did not know what the berry was – the bushes were full of it. They were taking pictures of it! Ha-ha! We filled our mouths by a handfull under concerned glances from passing trekkers.
We camped for two nights in the park. We did the most straightforward route possible, connecting with the road in only two days. As we walked onto the road, we stopped to check our map to determine which way we should hitch to get back to Natales. As we were examining the map, a rental car pulled over.
¨Are you guys heading to Puerto Natales?¨ Asked a white-haired driver in pure English.
¨Yes we are!¨
¨Would you like a ride?¨
¨We would like a ride very much, thank you for asking!¨
¨Get in, then!¨
Jeff, the driver, was from Calgary, a geologist specializing in petroleum. His friend Farook was also from Calgary, a medical practicioner. We had a very pleasant chat with them, enjoying speaking English for the first time in a while. We stopped for scenic photos a couple of times on the way and they dropped us off in the front of the supermarket in town. We got some groceries and headed to the familia, admiring how effortlessly we arrived into town. This, in our understanding, was a perfect ride: We were only thinking about it, and it was all it took to materialise it. No waiting, no thumbing, none of that. Moreover, the conversation was good and everybody felt good after we parted. Per-fect!