Thursday, March 30, 2006

A note about Argentinian radio...and a bit of ranting

so after that last blog entry I thought I would write about something a that I enjoy about's a little note about my enjoyment of Argentine radio mixed in with a little ranting about Omaha radio.   
so listen up...
The music they play here in BA, it's great!  It is such a departure from the music that you get stuck listening to back in Omaha.  I cannot stand Omaha radio stations.  They say one thing and do another.  They promise music variety but then conform to the vanilla norm.  The music predictibility makes you wanna do the same thing to your radio that Michael Bolton, Samir, and Peter did to the printer in "Office Space." 
Back in Otown, all radio stations are so narrowcasted that it drives you nuts.  Here's how the narrowcasting works.  A bunch of guys with pants that match their suit jackets and who live in a bottle get together and say, "Well, let's play and play and play and play these 10 or 15 songs because that's what we think people like."  It's really not what is good nor what people really like.  Then all the radio stations turn around and say, "We promise our listeners the greatest music variety in Omaha."  However, they have never really delivered on the variety.  Listeners really do want music variety.  Even 89.7 The River which proclaimed to promote music variety a coupla years ago and actually did play some good music has now fallen into that same boorish groove of overplaying songs that are popular for one month and then never heard from again.  All the stations play the same two songs by DMB, Green Day, U2, etc, etc, ect. 
Fellas, c'mon, there are alot of good songs by these artists...U2 has more than two songs. 
Omaha FM radio is not bad...compared to something that is terrible.
That is why I have really come to enjoy Buenos Aires radio.  It is the real music variety that appeals to me.  The radio offers a little something for everybody.  In one hour you can hear a little bit of the 80s punk rock like The Clash, or other English rock music like Coldplay, The Verve, Rolling Stones, or Oasis.  Other artists include REM, Blur, Led Zeppelin, and Gorillaz.  Heck, they even played The Blues Brothers' Sweet Home Chicago after playing a double play from Bob Marley before mixing in some Shania Twain.    
Another great thing that I really enjoyed about radio down here is stations play lots of cuts from a single album.  Radio stations back home will play one or two songs from the entire album and forget all of the other songs.  This stinks because every album has got some great songs on it.  
Buenos Aires radio stations even play live versions of songs by great artists.  These are the versions that we never get to hear back in the States.  The idea of music down here is to play what is good, not to overplay it, and play live versions.  Live versions is where you get to really here what an artists is like.  REM or Rolling Stones, or even Jamiroquai have live performances and remixes that never make it onto the airwaves back home.  I was in BA when The Rolling Stones and U2 came into town.  What I couldn't believe was that the radio stations would actually broadcast the concert as well as broadcast the live tracks after the concert was over.  That would never happen back home. 
It's gonna be frustrating to come back home and hear these damn DJs claim how their music radio station is better than the next.  the truth is they are all cut from the same mold.  The same damn boring mold.  DJs in BA are not afraid to play any type of music and mix it up a little bit. 
So dear old DJs back in Omaha.  It is time to throw away that short play list and dig into some good music...use guidebooks and whatnot to help you out.  It is scary...but be original.   
Goto Sokol for a concert or two.  Play some of the artists that come to town before and after they come to play.  Be original.  There are some great artists that come through town that people would be interested to hear. 
At least there are some radio stations in BA that broadcast over the Internet, that will make the adjustment a little easier as I come back home. 
i now step down from my soapbox. 

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sabes porque, amigo? Por que eres...

As you travel there are things that happen. Things you just remember. People you remember. Events you remember.

I have this page in my journal that is ripped out. Now, I never rip out any page in my journal because I value those blank pages. I like to keep them and fill them out with ideas, experiences, thoughts, and random ramblings.

There is a weird story about this ripped out journal page that I have and am writing about. This blog entry is about a guy I met in the Plaza Independencia in Santiago, Chile. A bum. A guy who had nothing. A guy who really opens your eyes to how lucky you really are. I wrote on the back of the journal page that I ripped out for him after our encounter.

So here goes.

There are lots of benches to sit on in the Plaza Independencia in Santiago, Chile. Plaza Independencia's are town squares. The cathedral as well as important government buildings border plaza independencia's in South America. The Plaza Independencia is the main place where people to gather and enjoy the day or evening while talking, playing chess, or whatever. There are lots of trees, benches, a statue or two, and lots of folks taking a break between commitments. Its a great place to relax, do some people watching, and write in your journal. It was a very nice night back in early March so I decided to take a seat on one of the many benches and eat some pasta salad with beef strips on top that I had purchased at the grocery store after touring three museums that day. The beef strips in the salad were excellent, but the pasta salad with cilantro was not a choice combo that I enjoyed. Just a bit too much cilantro for me (had a bad experience with cilantro in Mexico). So there was a little bit of peas, corn, some pasta, and cilantro in my little portable dish that I was not going to eat.

In South America Ive become accustomed to taking whatever I dod not eat and giving it to bums on the street or whatever. No sense in throwing food away when someone else can eat what you dont eat. And giving food to someone is always better than giving money. This was a great idea that I learned this from a crazy liberal lady I met in Cusco, Peru. So I saved this to-go platter for any bum that would walk by and ask for some money.

Then this homeless guy walks by. He sticks out hand and asks for "una moneda" (some change). I shake my head and hand him the to-go platter with a fork inside it and then continue to write in my journal. Most bums usually take what you give them and move on. Or Ill be walking along and hand it to them. There is usually no more than a "gracias" exchanged. Well, this time I was sitting down when I handed it to him. So this guy sat down. And he sat down right next to me. He received the salad with open hands and then sat down. I was surprised that he used the fork I had expropriated from the KFC down the block. Two fork fulls later he lifted the to-go platter up to his mouth and wolfed down the peas, corn, pasta, and cilantro as fast as he could. I expected him to leave after that, but we started to talk. He talked, I nodded. It was very difficult to understand him through his mumbled words and I saw that he didnt have any teeth. The odor was repugnant. We sat side by side for about 20 minutes and thought a few different things to myself like, "What is this guy teaching me?" or "Wonder what I can learn about him?" and "I hope this guy doesn't try to hurt me or make some type of move on me." It was tough to sit next to this guy and listen to him. I was trying to be as helpful as possible but was a little jumpy (more jumpy than usual). I tried to make eye contact with a coupla people that walked by, I was trying to find a way out. Someone offered the bum a cigarette and thought that was just great. I was pretty worried that he could go nuts and burn me or something. Crap. I was alternating between worried and not too worried because he would say to anybody that walked by and point to me, "Amigo, aqui hay un caballero" (friend, here is a gentleman) I never felt in danger but didnt feel safe either.

This was just a weird night. Throughout the whole conversation he would say "Sabes porque, amigo...Por que eres caballero (or whatever)" I felt I really needed to get out of there. It started to get uncomfortable. He saw my journal and asked for a piece of paper and pen. All I had was my journal and so I had to rip out a page and offer it to him. He wrote on it "Te Quiero, Amigo" I believe that he was expressing his thanks for the food and time i offered to listen to him. It was just kinda weird. He offered his hand and I shook the grimy hand, looked him in the eye and told him that it was getting kinda late and I needed to get going.

Suddenly he stood up and in a low voice that grew louder as he grabbed his belt area up and down and said "Amigo...amigo...oh, amigo...) I left pretty quickly after that because I really had no idea what was gonna happen after that. Wasnt too sure if he was gonna whip it out or use the restroom right there. Ya just never know. "No tengo plata, ya te auyde, che" ( i dont have any money, i helped ya already, bro). That is when I left and walked home.

What I really got out of this encounter is that it's saddening to see people who have absolutely nothing. People who hafta beg for your spare change. People who dumpster dive for cans to recycle or for scraps of food to eat. They are at rock bottom.

This encounter really drives home the message that you should be very happy with the things you have. Family, friends, a roof over your head, and a little bit of change in your pocket. Stuff we take for granted are the things these people dream of. It makes you feel very thankful for the people around you in your life and the things that you have. Every time you get down on yourself or are feeling like nothing is going your way you should remember that there are people who have it worse. A lot worse.

So here is the little call to action portion of this blog. Why not take some time out of your schedule and help someone out. Instead of going out to the bar or getting a nice meal, use that money you would have spent and donate it to a shelter. Don't have a lot of dough, then donate a coupla hours every week/month. Im pretty sure that you will get more out of your time doing this than just going to the bar and people watching.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hangin with JC for an afternoon and then up to Sugar Loaf Hill

Hey there, folks...

more exciting times from Rio de Janeiro. This place is a city of have very rich people next to some of the worst slums imaginable. Slums where people live day to day and dont know where there next meal is coming from. Life really doesn't make any difference to these fellas.

So I stayed out of that area and stuck to the touristy areas of Rio. I am a Lonely Planeteer here in Rio. Not speaking the language really cuts back your ability to meet people and makes ya kinda feel a little helpless. Hand movements, pointing at maps and the goodwill of strangers help ya make it through the day. That's what Ive been doing during my time here in Rio.

A coupla days ago the sky finally cleared and a perfect view of Cristo was seen from the beach and everywhere in Rio. I took the ol 538 bus to the foot of Mount Temptation which is the home to Christ the Redeemer. Also known as Cristo. I call him JC. The bus cost me about two Reals and I was in luck because this time I got an air conditioned bus. Sweetness. The ride takes about 45 minutes and winds its way through the bustling streets of Rio. Bus drivers are pretty much the same here in Rio as they are anywhere in South America. No matter where you go in SA the conductors are gonna drive the hell out of that bus. You better hold on or you will get tossed around like a cheap suitcase going through customs and the baggage handler is having a really bad day. These guys jostle for position, run red lights, grind the gears until the find the one they one they want, make stops, and converse with the copilot taking change from the passengers taking your money at the door. I made my stop and was glad to get off near the tram station at the bottom of the mountain. The tram station that takes you to the top to see JC is surrounded by taxi drivers wanting to get your money and take you up there themselves. The taxi cartel charges you the same price and tells you they will take you to another lookout point for the same price as the tram, but I wasn't too interested because any yahoo can have a taxi and print out some pictures of where they are gonna take you. Just didn't get a warm fuzzy from some of those fellas. Now it would make sense to have a small little bus that takes the tourists up the paved road leading to JC, but that would put the tram out of business. I went with the train company to see JC and paid my 36 Reals for the 10am ride. All the seats on the tram were made for people around 5' 4". Reminded me of some buses in Bolivia and Patagonia, not the most comfy but it was only a 25 minute ride to the top so it wasnt too bad. We get to the top and disembark the tram. I take my time and hang back because I wanna get a foto next to it and next to a sign that says "Welcome to JC..etc" Around me people are jostling for position to get on the elevator that'll take them to the top. relax, folks, JC is going nowhere, you don't hafta be the first one on the elevator...

I get off the elevator after a coupla minutes waiting my turn and walk a few steps and look up. This statue is HUGE! I dont ever remember seeing something so large in front of me. The statue literally takes up your whole field of vision, it is that profound and that large. The guidebook said that it is around 38 meters tall and has a 36 meter wingspan. It's right. To get from the elevators to the foot of JC you need to take two escalators. I hopped on and got a great view of the city and a up close and beautiful view of JC when I got off the escalator. The view of Him and of the entire area was spectacular! The entire city of Rio sat right in front of us and reached out in every direction. One view had Maracana, the gigantic soccer stadium that I visited last Sunday. Another view had the spectacular stretch of sand composing Ipanema, Copacabana, and then leading to the 1000 meterish tall Sugar Loaf Hill. The view around 11am was a little hazy but things cleared up as I was leaving around 2ish. JC was a sight to see. It is much different to actually see it in person than to see it on the postcards. The statue is very simple and elegant.

And now to the folks that I met. To get a really cool foto of you and JC doing the wingspan thing you need someone to lay on the ground and take the foto from. It's pretty hard to go up someone and be like..."ummmm, can you take a foto of myself and JC? And could you lay down here on the concrete because I wanna get a really good shot." Naw, ya just dont do that to folks. So what I did was wait for someone to lay down and do the ol' "umm, while you're down there...would you mind?" routine. I found a coupla Americans that were traveling around the world and who just so happen to be laying down in the place i needed and were snapping a foto or two. Ben from Seattle was more than willing to help me out. It's not common to find Americans traveling for such a long time, Ben said that too when we struck up a little conversation about our travels. So I gotta give a thanks to that guy for taking a minute out of his schedule to snap a foto of a kid from Nebraska. Thanks, Ben.

Leading 15 meters from the feet of JC is a pathway, a staircase, and a viewing platform. You can stand on the staircase and have someone snap a foto of you from below and get a really good foto of yourself and JC. The only problem is that everybody will be in your shot because it is such a small space with so many people. Supersaturation. It's a supersaturated plot of land with camera crazy tourists. Most people wait their turn, stand on the staircase for a coupla seconds, snap the foto of them with their arms out or raising the roof or whatever and then they are done.

However...this is one of the problems with digital cameras; you have a massive memory card so you can snap unlimited amounts of fotos. Lots of folks may have huge memory cards but forget to use their own memory and manners when taking a foto.
Which brings me to That Girl. That Girl was the ladytype who actually stood on the steps of Cristo for a good seven minutes while EVERYBODY was waiting for her to get down. People began to crowd, get anxious, and kinda cranky. What I really wanted to do was just stand right in front of this girl to get a good foto but decided otherwise because that would prolly just delayed her from getting down from the stairs. In the end I got a good foto and hopefully That Girl got one as well.

Standing at the feet of JC on one of the most recognized icons in South America was pretty cool. It was a great time to just stand up there and look at Him and then down at the city below. Around 2pm the weather on top of Temptation Mountain was getting pretty darn hot. The sun was beating down and there really is no shade on tops of mountains. It was time to head back down and enjoy a nice Skol beer. I got back down, had a drink, and then hopped on the bus. I was debating whether or not to goto the Sugar Loaf Hill or just catch a nap back at the hostel. Going back to the hostel meant having to interact with Private Dead Puppies Gomer Pyle. Going to Sugar Loaf Hill meant a lot more than dealing with that knucklehead. So I opted for the Sugar Loaf and took two buses to get there.

Sugar Loaf Hill is another one of the icons of Rio. It is roughly a 1000 meter high hill with very steep granite walls that really prevented anybody from accessing it for a long time. Then someone had the idea of installing a cable car from one side to the other. This gave people a great view of the entire city of Rio. It was even featured in the James Bond classic Moonraker where Jaws as the movie's antagonist. The cable car ride up was spectacular. It was a ride where the view kept on getting better and better. Being the joker and kid at heart I decided to kinda jump and make the car kinda wobble a little bit. One girl didnt think it was too funny since she was scared of heights. whoops...But we ended up talking a little bit after that and she was one of the few Israeli girls I have met and actually got to talk to that wasn't traveling in a massive group. That's just something you don't see very often.

The top of Sugar Loaf Hill had a splendid view of Rio de Janeiro. The Rio harbor and business district was viewable from right side of the cable car house. Ipanema, Copacabana, a series of small mountains and JC were what you saw on the left side of the cable car house. Both sides had a really unique view because the business district was all cloudy and overcast while the left side had the happenings of a gorgeous sunset. And it was. The sunset turned out to be a canvas of all sorts of pinks, reds, oranges, blues, purples etc...Only a poet could give you a better description of what there was to see that evening. The silhouette of the mountains and JC really contrasted the partly cloudy sky. Down below the city lights were flickering on all the way from the main strip along Copacabana to the Favelas (slums) up in the hills of Rio. It was one of those evening where you just sit back and relax and take it all in. It was worth the trip up to see the sunset.
beautiful sunset on the sugar loaf hill

I returned back down 730 in the evening and had to hightail it back to the hostel. I was to have dinner with two Argentinian guys from the hostel around 9ish and you can never tell when the buses are gonna be running. So I catch the 512 and start talking to two of the guys I met on the ride down. Roman and Jeremiah were two guys from Carnegie Mellon spending some time on spring break down in Rio. They kept on getting surprised by the number of backpackers they were meeting who were taking off six months or a year. I told them traveling does good for yourself. I said that I thought it helps you figure out what you wanna do and prepares you for the next episode of your life. (as corny as that sounds). You could tell they were pretty smart guys from the way they acted and how they never took whatever you said and one-upped it. They also never interrupted each other when we were talking. They got off the bus before I did and before I knew it I had missed my stop. Cities look alot different down here in the evening. I ended up in Ipanema and was like..."####, i just missed my stop." I didn't wanna be late for dinner with the Argentine fellas so I walked about 50 minutes back to the hostel and made it there for the 9pm dinner bell.

So that is whats been going on so far in Rio. Speaking of dinner bell, It is time to get some food. Laters.

Mullet Potential!

Well, I let my hair grow out for about two months or so and it looks like there is some mullet potentiality here.

The haircuts are pretty cheap here. Maybe I should throw down some cash and have one of the fine haircare places give me the mullet.

Now that is the kind of haircut that I should have when I start going in for those interviews.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rio de Janeiro Update

hello there, folks

Rio is a pretty different experience than all the other countries I have been to in South America. You really do feel like a tourist not knowing the local language, Portugese. It makes your world a whole lot smaller when you cant interact with folks on the street. Its kinda intimidating to go to a country and not know a single lick. But Im gettin by, slowly but surely...I know "please", "thank you", numbers, and try to throw some Spanish in there because its at least a little closer to Portuguese than English. Hand movements, pointing at maps, and a nice smile will get you where you need to go most of the time.

The hostel that I am staying at in Copacabana is a coupla blocks from the beach and the folks in the hostel are a little bit weird. Actually its the folks working in the hostel that are weird. One of the guys looks really similar to Private Gomer Pyle and he is always in a grumpy mood. A Dutch guy and I were talking about this at dinner. He noticed how surly and churlish Private Pyle was as well and was like, "If you are not a people person and are grumpy all the time, den why in de hell are you working in a youth hostel?" Good question. The Dutch guy was pretty cool. Yauger is a 25 year old artist who brought some fotos of his works. We sat down with an Argentine guy in the hostel over some pasta, wine, and beer and chatted. Good times.
Another guy staying in the hostel is pretty interesting. Olivier is a Canadian who speaks English, French, Spanish and Portugese. He has a curly hair-fro like Napoleon Dynamite, but that is about where the resemblance stops. We have hung out quite a few times and always have a good time talking about stuff. He invited me out last night to meet up with some Argentine and Brazilian folks somewhere in one of the Bohemian parts of town. This guy has been all over the place in Brazil and South America. He even told me about his hitchhiking adventure through the USA. I forgot to ask him if he made it to Omaha. I can prolly guess his answer "uhhhhh, we drove though it..." thats what everybody else says when they mention Otown in conversations.

So far the beach has been nice. There is a ton of inspiration at the beach. Some times you can feel a little self-conscious after seeing some guys with 12-pack chests. But then you feel alright after seeing a coupla fellas with dunlop disease. Im somewhere in the middle. I have the Taco John's stomach (Six Pack and a Pound). Ive walked up and down the beach and am still in search for that girl from Ipanema. Maybe she speaks Spanish or English. maybe...

So what does everybody think about when someone mentions Rio de Janeiro? Lots of folks think about Carnival, Copacabana, and JC. Well, today I planned to go up and see JC as well as the city below but it was 100 percent cloudy. Bummer. They say that it the weather is better in the morning, so ill give it a shot and get up early and then try my luck up there all day. I did get to catch a Brazilian art exhibit and might get to end up on local tv. There was a small group of folks there that were looking for tourists to film looking at the art. I obliged and did my second film, im tellin ya, this film career is gonna take off, one of these of these days.

A coupla days ago I got to go to Maracana, which is the world's largest soccer stadium and got to see some great soccer. It was a perfect night. Around 23 degrees and a great sunset in the background. There was one goal that we saw that was of the forwards had his back to the goal and bounced the ball off his knee into the air and did a bicycle kick into the goal. Wicked sweet! The crowd when nuts!!!!
Maracana was the first stadium ive been to in SA that actually sold beer inside the stadium. And the beers are not like the ones in the states. These beers are your normal 12oz cans but are priced reasonably. Beers inside the stadium went for about three Reals and the Skol beer outside was two. Around a buck and a half or so. The food outside the stadium was great! Nothing beats some meat on a stick. And when you are kinda buzzing, it tastes even better!

The beer brings me to another thing that I really like about South America. Down here if you have your own cooler n stuff then you can just go to any sporting event and sell beer! This is great since you dont hafta pay for a license which raises your costs which is then passed onto the consumer. It is a free-for-all of guys selling beers at the game. Forget about open container laws because you can drink anywhere. Open container laws remind me about the time when my buddy Dan and I were coming back from the World's Most Dangerous Road. We stopped at a mini market in Coroico to buy some beer. We were at the bottom of the road and wanted something to tranquilize us a bit while making the WMDR ascent. Dan asked our guide, "Hey, Ian, are there any open container laws to worry about here in Bolivia?" Ian's response was like, "Bro, you can drive drunk here and never have any problems." He also said "Yea, we tell our drivers not to drink while they are on duty." That was nice to know.

The city is full of contrasts and this is what makes it really different. It is different than anything I have seen. For example, the number of folks begging seems to be more than what I have seen. It is always really tough to see folks begging in the street while you are enjoying a nice meal. Especially when kids beg. That is tough to see.

One thing that I have never seen that really makes me cringe is the amount of ladytypes on the street. These are not the type that you want to bring home to ma and pa. These are the ones that you dont even wanna make eye contact with. These are the ladytypes that inspired the hit song "Roxanne" The Police. It really creeped me out when Stan from Australia, Olivier from Canada, Marlyn from South Africa, and I all sat down at a bar. We ordered our drinks and kinda looked around. All of us are around 25ish and the rest of the clientele at both bars we went to along the strip in Copacabana were guys 20 to 30 years our senior. The ladytypes were not. They were younger than us and older than us. Im pretty sure that these guys were really interested in getting to know the girls' personality. That whole Roxanne type thing is just weird and not really the stuff you wanna get mixed up in. We discussed what drives these ladytypes to do this and what drives these men as well. Pretty interesting discussion. We all finished our drinks and walked home. On the way home we would get harassed by Roxanne and her friends. This was unbelievable! Getting harassed by the ones that have broader shoulders than you was also strange. You dont know whether they are chicas or chicos or whatnot. This was strange. Just dont make eye contact and walk briskly. That stuff gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Well, I think Ive cooled off from the 27 degree day here and will head back to the hostel to drink some wine and write in my journal. Tomorrow im gonna get up early for the sunrise on the beach and then head to see JC, hopefully without any cloud cover.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

i made it...

well, i made it to Rio in one piece.

and it wasnt 70 hours like the guidebooks say. just a shade over 58 hours from Santiago to Rio. Just 58.

So i got in last night slash this morning and was i go out or do i goto bed.

going to bed one. i took a long shower and scrubbed the three days worth of grime off me and am now gonna goto the beach.

i kept some notes about what what was going through my head during that time. i wrote down some stuff that i thought was pretty funny. funny to me anyways.

off to da beach and then to a soccer game tonight.

hope everybody enjoys their work week...suckas!!!!!!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

oh bed of steel - - - be my winding wheel

hey folks
just a quick message.  Im on my way to Rio and am taking the scenic route.
Santiago to Rio will last about 70 some hours in the steel cage. 

Saturday, March 04, 2006

La Vendimia- - - The Mendoza Wine Celebration

Greetings from Mendoza!

The first weekend of March in Mendoza, Argentina always signifies the beginning of the grape harvest festival. Mendoza is the home to some of the best wines in South America. La Vendimia is the symbol of the culmination of the agricultural labor and all effort it takes to produce a significant portion of Argentina's wine. Its a celebration of the fruits and labors that generations of Mendozians have invested into their city and country.

For a lot of people, its a big party. A few weeks prior to the big dance every district within the Mendoza province elects a candidate to be the Vendimia Queen. These girls are gorgeous and have their glamor shot all over the city. There is no Vendimia King. Friday night began with a big parade down San Martin Blvd, one of the main drags in Mendoza. Some things about parades - no matter where you go in the world stay the same. For example, lots of people crowd and cram their way to the barricades to see the elegant floats and the life sized paper machete figures. They jostle for position to see the people waving and maybe catch something the float participants toss into the crowd.

And that's when I noticed some large differences between the parades in the US and the ones down here in Mendoza. While there are kids clamoring for candy to be thrown their way in the States, there are people tossing (sometimes throwing) fruit into the crowd down here. No Tootise Rolls, no suckers, no stickers promoting whatever, no Jolly Ranchers, nada like that...Here are a few things that were thrown my way during the parade last night: Flyers promoting the Vendimia with little gifts attached to them (boring), grapes (appropriate), carrots, plums, apples, pears, eggplants (eggplants!?), bottles of water, boxed wine, small bottles of wine, even honeydew melons (no, really!) I caught egg plant but was like "ok, now what am i gonna do with this." The last float of the night was actually throwin MELONS into the crowd. Small honeydew melons! A quick note: Remember that Argentines are really good at football. This means they have soft feet. But they have rocks for hands. There hands are about as soft as a 3rd baseman's glove that is made by Al Kaline Steel Co. Nobody could catch these melons so you had to also watch out for the ricochet. The whole time I saw the spectacular I was like "are you kidding me?" and "when are they gonna throw some Tootsie Rolls?"

Being tall has some pretty decent advantages in parades, especially in South America where the majority of the folks are armpit size to me. I had a pretty good view of things six rows back. The only problem was that any time I would turn or reach for something in my pocket some unlucky person from Mendoza would get a elbow in the ear, nose, eye or whatnot. Sorry, perdón, disculpa, lo siento, aye! are all that I could say.

Each float was unique in the parade and each had lots of things in common. The primary thing that I noticed was the quantity of beautiful women on the float. Loads of them! And they were all like 19, 20, or 21...where in the heck were these ladytypes when I was that age? But there was one thing that I didnt not like about all these ladytypes throwing stuff into the crowd. If you were not one or two person deep in the line then you were out of luck. These girls couldn't throw. To tell you the truth, they throw like girls. Now if they were to kick the fruit and what not then I am pretty sure some windows would be knocked out.

Each float was better than the previous. And then there was That Float. The Float that I will always remember. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was a parrilla. It was a rolling barbecue pit. No, really!...There was a fire about 3 meters by one meter on the truck bed with several tiers. It had a roaring fire and was cookin some food for the folks in the parade. There were men that rotated the meat, some that cut the meat, prepped it with some bread, and then some that delivered it with a smile. That was... incredible.

And then there was the group of 10 Argentine guys next to me. You know how parents sometimes put their kid on their shoulders to allow the kid to see the show...well, these drunk group of fellas were doing that with each other. Except they were like 20 and weighed like 200lbs. They were competing for fruit and whatever with six year-olds. All the while they were drinking white wine out of honeydew melons. This continued for a good 90 minutes and well after the parade when I ran into them. The group of 10 were pretty funny, they invited me to a coupla bars after the parade. We got to hang out at some bars where there were absolutely no gringos at all. Loads of fun. Four of them who were in their own Metallica tribute band. We started to talk about heavy metal bands and they knew quite a few more American heavy metal bands than I did. Another cool thing about these fellas is that they had no fear in saying things to girls. Not talking to them, just saying things. This did help out when we saw a whole bunch of the girls from the float getting some ice cream...hello laaaaaydeeezz

Im gonna grab a steak. The steak here is good. Omaha Steaks - - -eat your heart out.

more about the festival and the wine bodega tours coming up.

Friday, March 03, 2006

My First Servas Experience

Last night was the first time I spent the night in some stranger's house. Now dont get the wrong idea. I actually planned this and was hoping to do this in order to practice my Spanish, meet some new folks, and save a coupla bucks. What can I say...going to Antarctica means that I cant stay at the Ritz all the time.

I am a member of an organization called Servas. Servas International is the world federation of non-profit, non-governmental national Servas groups. The Servas Groups are a network of travelers and hosts that encourage interaction and contact among people of all different ages, backgrounds, etc. One of its goals is to create a better understanding of all the different types of people there are in the world and potentially breakdown some stereotypes that people have of other people. The goals of Servas are accomplished through people opening their doors to complete strangers, welcoming them into their homes, and giving them a better idea what it is like to be an American, an Australian, a European, whoever...It also gives the traveler a better idea of what it is like to be an Argentinian, a Bolivian, a South American, doesnt matter, people are people. Servas hosts do not expect payment of anykind except a thank you at then end of the stay.

I first learned about Servas from a Dean Jacobs. I learned about the Fremont, NE native when Michael Kelly published a column in the Omaha World-Herald about his two year trip around the world and the book that he had published called Wondrous Journey. I got a hold of Dean about a week after the column was published and he suggested looking into Servas. He said it was a great way to travel because the experience gave you a chance to potentially see what people in a country were really like and not through the typical touristy means. It gave the photographer a look at what life was like for people through a different lens. A look at what life was like away from the touristy areas of cities.

I was accepted into Servas before I left on my trip and yesterday was the first time that I actually took advantage of it. The host packet the organization provides gives a very brief summary of every host, their interests, languages spoken, and information on how to contact the host. I got a hold of Francisco Morón after I disembarked the 19 hour bus ride from Bariloche and asked for directions. Just a quick bus ride and I was there.

Francisco was my first Servas host and I was the 401st traveler he's received since he began doing Servas 30 years ago. Taking a nap was the first thing on my agenda, the 19 hours in the air conditioned steel box was gettin to me. After that we ate pasta he prepared and we showed pictures of our families to each other. It was then time to buy tickets for the Vendimia festival that is coming up this weekend. Francisco helped me get a ticket to the big spectacular that is going on this Sunday. Im pretty excited. One of the rules of Servas indicates that the traveler has the chance to stay three days and two nights and it is up to the discretion of the host to extend the stay. Francisco said last night over a beer and a steak that I could stay for four or five nights if I wish. I thought that would be great since getting a hostel during the wine festival is kinda difficult. The only potential downside that I do see is that Francisco has a little kitten that uses my backpack as a little jungle gym. It also uses my legs as scratching posts. It has scratched me a few times. I also have a little bit of an allergy to cats. I hope that the little kitty doesn't use my nice backpack as a scratching post the whole time im there and i dont sneeze all over the place.

Francisco's house is a nice little place that has about seven bedrooms between the actual house and the guest house. Stretching between the two homes are a series of long metal wires with a coupla grape plants dangling there fruit from above. On the patio sat some furniture with a four foot by three foot grill for the bbqs that he hosts for family and friends as well as many of the Servas guests he receives. A great place to just sit back and enjoy the weather while reading a book or writing a little bit.

Anywho...This little blog entry brings me to something that I have always had in the back of my head. What is traveling? Some people travel and only stay at hotels where everything is taken care of and think that is it. Some travel and just do the hostel thing and go to the clubs. Some only travel with another person and rarely talk with anybody else. Some only do what the Lonely Planet suggests and dont dare go out on a limb because thats not what the guide recommends or it doesn't involve drinking or loud techno music.

So what really is traveling? I think its whatever you make of it and gets you away from that little zone of comfort that you have when you are back home. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone really makes you grow since you encounter things you are not used to and hafta deal with it. Your mind begins to work out ways to deal with the situation and come up with a solution. Many goals are accomplished this way. When you write it down on paper you see something in the present that has not been accomplished and your mind begins to work on ways to reach that goal. When you do reach it, you can look back and see how far you have come and what you have learned. The Servas experience has enriched my traveling since it puts me in a different situation that I am not used to. It also has given me the chance to just sit down over some Mate with your host and chat about all types of things. Francisco and I have lots of things in common that are important to us, even though we are on opposite sides of the planet and he's 50 some years my senior. Family, friends, travel just to name a few were things that we could sit down and talk about. He shared lots of his experiences traveling to Africa, Asia, Europe, and countries like Cuba, USA, etc...He showed me that he's a pretty normal guy and I think I showed him that Im a pretty normal guy and not like the stereotypical materialistic American that many people think we are. When I look back at this experience I think that it will help me because sometimes you can be too quick to judge and not look at things throught other peoples eyes. This Servas experience showed me that, yea, he's just like me except he uses another language to express his ideas. Maybe that is kinda deep for 4pm on a Friday afternoon.

i think im gonna grab a steak and write in my journal. jp

Bariloche Update

Im sittin in a nice little Internet Cafe and thought I would share some Bariloche experiences of last week. Im still working on that second Antarctica update...itll get on the net one of these days

Bariloche Fotos and More!

The 19 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires went pretty well. Gotta share with you some information about the bus system in Argentina. In the US we have only the Greyhound. In Argentina you have hundreds of bus companies. And within those companies you have a few options with the bus that you want to ride on. There is the airport shuttle bus type bus, the coche-semi-cama and then there is the coche-cama.

  • The airport shuttle bus type are the type that are pretty uncomfy; for tall people at least. They were designed for just shuttling people back and forth from one area...small distances. However, these types of buses are the type that many bus companies use in Patagonia because they can take a beating much better than their bigger, heavier, and more comfier bus brethren...the semi-cama and the coche-cama. I had to suffer though a coupla these going to El Chaltén and Puerto Natales.
  • The semi-cama is more like what you would find on a Greyhound...there is a little more space to stretch out, the seats go back a littlebit, there is a movie, and sometimes they serve food. Not too bad.
  • For a few dollars more you can upgrade to the coche-cama. The coche cama is the airplane first class equivalent in the bus industry. The advantages of the cama is that the seats are only three across instead of four in every row. The seats nearly recline to the horizontal position. There are food services which bring you something that is halfway decent. Lots of space, baby! It really is like they take those first class seats they have in airplanes, put them into a bus while installing foot rests and making them recline...Laiiiiidddddd Baaaaack....It doesn't take much more to go first class...
I paid the extra eight bucks for the expresso coche-cama bus to Bariloche. It took 19 hours instead of the normal 24. Less time in an air conditioned steel box means a happier jp. I left a hot and muggy BA at 2pm and arrived to a cool and very windy Bariloche in the morning. Most overnight buses give you a great chance to see wonderful sunsets and sunrises. The scenery changed quite a bit over the 19 hours. Gone was the forever flat pampa and in its place was the rolling mountains of Rio Negro province and the gigantic Lago Nahuel Huapí.

Bariloche is a great city and has a great feel to it. In the winter time it becomes the home to many skiers from all over the world. Bariloche is known as the Switzerland of South America. And for good reason. There are lots of great places to snowboard, Nordic and downhill ski all over the place. When its not snowing there are still lots of things to do check out. I went on two day hikes the time I was there and really enjoyed both of them. The first hike began from the steps of my hostel up to a viewpoint of the entire city. It was alright but kinda began to rain on the way back. There was a ski lift to the top of the mountain but I didnt wanna pay the five bucks and thought the two hour walk up the mountain would do me some good. The views of the city were excellent and the lake beyond that were mighty fine. Brought my lunch with me and planned to eat it in the ski lodge but ended eating it on the steps since they were gonna charge me three dollars to sit inside and eat my own food. The wind was strong on top of the mountain so I found a calm place and lunched on crackers, cheese, and some fruit. Towards the West you could see the storm clouds forming and the rain falling. I took some more fotos and then made my way back to the city while getting sprinkled on lightly the whole time. A good hike that got me ready for the next hike.

Had to take a break the next day because I think I walked too much the previous day. No fun hiking when you are banged up.

The second hike was a full day of walking. Quite worth it! I began by taking a 30 minute bus from the town center to Catedral Alta Patagonia. There were a coupla folks from the hostel on the bus so we all decided to hike together. The Catedral gets its name from of the chorus of rocky pillars that look very similar to the spires found on tall churches. We forked out eight buckaroos to take the ski lift to the top of the mountain. The weather changed from nice to cold and windy on the 15 minute ride up the mountain. Glad I brought some layers. The weather initially looked kinda crummy from below because the top of the mountain was covered in clouds. Once we got up there we found that only one side of the mountain range was covered in clouds, the view of the ski lodge below and Bariloche in the distance were the only things that we couldn't see. The other side of the mountain had a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and the valley that was a 1000 meters below. We snapped some fotos and got on our way. Our goal at 1030 that morning was to reach the bus stop where we came from and catch the 6pm bus back to Bariloche. To get there we took the scenic route and stopped by a refuge and a campground where hikers could rest and do some rock climbing on the impressive rocks that encompassed the refuge and the valley. Our trek lead us along the backside of the mountain where we frequently stopped for water and picture breaks. Hiking in Patagonia is alot like connect-the-dots. Since signs can fall or be stolen, most of the trails are marked with red painted dots that guide hikers. Pretty easy to do until some goonie gets the wrong idea and brings his own paint and starts painting dots all over the mountain. Our hike to the refuge brought us along the backside until we had to cut across the mountain and make our way down. To get to the Frey refuge we had to ascend and descend several tiers of rocky walls, walk along some winding rivers of glacier water, and around two big lakes of glacier water. Each lake was like the stage and the rocky walls surrounded it were like a giant natural amphitheater. I noticed some rock climbers on a huge mountain peak and gave a huge YOOOOOO!!!!! in a booming voice. I was kinda amused to hear all the echos of my voice bounce off the rocky walls. Kinda like that little toddler you hear in church who hears an echo and starts to make more sounds. Well, kinda like a toddler.

The view from the refuge was impressive in any direction. The two most impressive were the south side which had a view of a gigantic rock where the climbers were working there way up. The west side had a view of where we hiked down from. Wow...this is a lot better than the office. We rested at the refuge for 20 minutes or so before heading back on the trail. The only problem with day hikes is that you can never really stay in one space for very long because you always gotta get back to somewhere because it would be pretty uncomfy to be in the place you want to be without the right equipment. ie...stuff to keep you warm and fed.
The hike back was nearly all downhill. We passed through wildflowers and huge sections of bamboo forest as well as one side of the mountain that had been affected by a forest fire. We made it back to the bus station about 15 minutes before the bus and stretched and relaxed then napped on the ride back. A great day hike, baby...

I was on my way back from one of the many famous chocolate shops in Bariloche when I noticed something strange. It was a wheel. What in the heck was a unicycle doing in Bariloche. Well, a hippie slash juggler was in town and making his way to El Bolson, a hippie hangout in Patagonia. He and his buddy had their doubts when they saw this tall gringo making his way towards their unicycle. This wasn't any normal unicycle that I usually ride. It was a giraffe. A giraffe unicycle is a uni with a really long neck and the operator can be pretty high off the ground. It took a little convincing and a little help from the fellas to get up on the unicycle but they were pleased to see that I could actually ride the thing.

a quick note on the unicycles. lots of people think you are gonna crack open your head when you ride a unicycle. I call shenanigans. You can hurt yourself a whole heck of a lot more on a bicycle than on a uni because you really cant go fast enough on a uni to do any real damage. That is not to say that you cant hurt yourself. I have had a coupla unplanned dismounts that left their markings on certain parts of my body. But nothing as bad as the time when my buddy Jesse and I saw a women do a Peter Pan over the handlebars on the Corporate Cycling Challenge a year ago. Now that was ugly...

Anyways, the time spent in Bariloche was great. Lots of nice people that I met and one or two that might stop in Omaha when they are on passing through. I get that a lot when I tell people Im from Omaha. "Oh, you're from Omaha...I drove through there once on the way to ..." I met one girl who was a forest fire fighter who said that, we got to talking and she promises to stop and have a cup of coffee when she's passing through.

Its time for a steak. laters

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

on the road again

on the road to the Mendoza Wine Festival...
but a 19 hour bus ride stands in the way...