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Honeymoon Recap 2: Beautiful Boracay

January 6th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

You may recall my mention earlier of the Philippines being a little too rugged and not touristy enough.  Well, I apologize for sloppy storytelling when it comes to continuity because Boracay, the first major stop of our trip, was an exception to all that.  The small island only 7 miles long and as narrow as one mile wide in the middle is sublimely gorgeous, your true-to-form typical beachy paradise with white sand and warm, clear turquoise waters.

In fact it’s so typically paradisey that I’m actually going to skip over describing most of it.  It’s the sort of stuff that if you’ve already been, you know pretty well what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, well, who wants to hear the ramblings of some dude’s time on a beach when you’ve been rockin’ the non-beach thing all along?  So instead I’m going to opt for telling the weird stories.

Two of the three mornings in Boracay I found myself waking up around 3am, bright eyed and ready for adventure (jet lag can be fun if you embrace such early morning shenanigans).  The rooftop of our resort offered choice views of the partially clouded night, painted purple and yellow by the low hanging, jumbo-sized moon.  It was the kind of serenity you hope for if you’ve ever yelled out “serenity now”, and made a fine occasion for doing a few Sun Salutations (though in fairness to the sun, I was totally saluting the moon instead).  The sandy beach below at 4am, I found, makes a great time to sit on your butt and read Heinlein by the beach-facing floodlights of Fridays’ Resort while giving out respect nods to the occasional jogger who passes by.

One morning (after enjoying beach-side ninja training of a run plus bonus cove abs) I took to exploring more the beach with a single-minded mantra of “keep going”.  I just wanted to see how far I could take it to find what I would find.  Rocky ledge to shimmy around?  Keep going.  Some stairway through dense foliage with a couple dudes standing on it in my way?  Keep going.  Looks like I’m trespassing on someone’s private property?  Keep going.  Obscure, narrow, winding path with many steps leading upwards?  Keep going.  Resort security checkpoint?  Play it cool, like you belong there.  Actually I just let ’em know straight away that I was wandering about, checking out other cool beach-side places to stay.  I was welcomed right in, which gave me rights to strut about the property with impunity.

And what a find!  What I’d stumbled upon was this Ewok village-like formation of cabins and foliage strewn about a dense maze work of stairs and narrow paths, which opened into a system of interconnected sea-facing terraces with many nooks of cabanas and lounge chairs at varying elevations, all with spectacular views.  The place seemed deserted, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise since there were about 4 occasions during my journey to it that I thought I should turn back because I didn’t belong.  (In fairness, it is also quite new and “Secluded luxury” is one of their marketing tag lines.).

While staring transfixed by the view the nice lady appeared and handed me a rate card for the rooms on property.  At $20 less a night I was a little crestfallen that we’d already prepaid our 3 nights at the Two Seasons.  We did get to experience at least some of the awesomeness when we returned the next night for sunset drinks.

A now a tale from the Poor Planning Diaries.

Just minutes before we took to the beach bound for the nearest SCUBA dive shop, I realized I forgot my contact lenses (oh I had the case, it was just empty).  My vision is poor enough to make the natural splendor of tropical coral reefs look like boring blobs, so even when you discount the whole “safety” thing my lack of lenses might’ve rendered any diving opportunities this trip completely moot (and I do love me some diving).

I opted that we head for the dive shop anyway, reckoning that I’d “think of something”.  Along the way [confronted with the possibility that surfing would also be ruined for me] we contemplated zany schemes for damage control, like having our house-sitter ship ’em to Manila and we’d somehow pick ’em up there (terrible idea for its complexity).  Hey, what if I could just, you know, buy some contacts here?  On this tiny island?

I had my doubts given my state-side experience, which teaches me that no “respectable” optometrist will sell you contacts unless you present a prescription given during a complete eye exam within the last year (it’s been 3 for me).  But hey, we were in a new world here, presumably a little less sue-happy and perhaps a little less stringent in their dispensary of prescribables,  and I happen to remember my magic prescription number (-5.5)… so why not find out!  I had an hour or two to do it while Tracy got schooled in the PADI basics for her first dive.

Now then, on the beach of Boracay there exists a reckless abundance of people brandishing little cards featuring small pictures of activities with large, inflated prices just beneath, so many so that “Water sports today?” may be confused by the untrained eye to be a traditional island greeting.  With such eagerness to help me get onto a sail boat for only 5000P (about $125 US) I figured I’d reply in earnest what I did need.  “Water sports today?” said the next such fellow along my sandy path  (how do they know I’m a tourist?  Ah, right: I have been judged [accurately] by the color of my skin!).  Instead of the “No thanks” that I was getting good and polished at saying,  I stopped in my tracks, looked him square in the eyes, and replied: “Right now, no, but what I am looking for is some contact lenses, can you help me with that?”

As eager to be helpful as any good salesman is, my new friend Dwayne offered to wander along and help me on my quest to and through D’Mall in search of my odd need.  We talked as we walked of hobbies we enjoyed, he when not hustling activities, me when not saying no to them, and found common ground in dance and bemusement that I suck at basketball.  He was a cool guy.  The second shop we tried at had just what I needed.  The friendly woman who tended the counter asked only for my prescription number in answer to my question (as opposed to demanding to see my papers like in the US, which now seems kinda fascist by comparison), and then wandered over to the display case to pluck out a small box.  900P and a quick use of the backroom with a sink and I was set.  Perfect vision.  No wacky postal pickup in Manila required.  Dwayne you’re the man, and a gentleman for making me work to convince you to take my 200 gratitude pesos.

Ah, and the diving was most beautiful and laden with 20/20 visual goodness.

I’d like to end my recount of Boracay with a tale of how even in splendorous paradise the simple joys never go out of style, and that simple joy is a happy hour bucket of beers.  During a beach walk when things were not yet happening at the tender hour of only 9pm, one of the hustlers at a club bar smoothly offered and got us situated at a cheap plastic table whose legs were planted in the sand just 10 feet from the rising midnight-tide.  200P (about $5 US) for six bottles of cold beer is a bargain at your local friendly dive bar, and seems triply so on the beach in Boracay.  We partook of a local brew called Red Horse while staring out at the sea.

By the time we finished the first bucket and started on our second, the bar scene behind us had filled out with a great mix of both locals and tourists, and the DJ was cranking out some bumpin’ tunes.  A Lady Gaga came on and, perhaps thanks to the graces of moderately consumed alcohol, Tracy was game to rock it out with me (yeah I like to dance to Lady Gaga, so what?).  We gave it our Red Horse best in our center, solo spot on the dance floor, and for it entertained locals and gringos alike.  I know this because they were both clapping and cheering at song’s end.  (That now makes 2 countries abroad in which I have been applauded for dance prowess, sweet!)

The night was rounded out in perfection when we happened upon a beach-side food vendor, serving up some tasty meat thing between 2 weird pieces of bread toasted nicely on his little grill of hot coals.  Ah, the simple joys.

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Honeymoon Recap 1: Prologue

December 19th, 2010 No comments

The food sucked, we got majorly sick, and John went to a strip club.

I was too jet lagged to remember now whether or not my first report on our trip to the Philippines was quite so terse, but that, according to Tracy, is how I summed it up to our friend Doc while in LAX’s international terminal awaiting our final connection back to Denver.

Truly, I would require some more sleep and/or practice in choosing my mention-worthy highlights before I could be trusted to paint a fairer picture of the whole 18-day experience.

For it wasn’t that bad, whatever images popped into your head while reading the opening words above is most likely a far cry from how our trip went.  And it is in that spirit that I would like to acknowledge a few things up front and get them out of the way:

First, it is true that, of the now 4 international adventures that Tracy and I have taken together, this one happened to take 4th place.  And I’m not bummed by that.  After all, one of the 4 trips would have to take that slot, and I see no reason to think that particularly disappointing because this one was our honeymoon.  The flip side of that coin is the realization simply how fantastic it is that we’ve enjoyed now 4 trips of a honeymoon-esque scale and radness.

Second, I want to grant up front that I would not recommend the Philippines to a friend.  Tracy and I wrestled with this a bit while over looking the South China Sea from our 3rd floor balcony one night, wondering if that meant we were genuinely not having a good time?  We decided that more than anything the reason we wouldn’t is because it’s TOO hardcore: we love to find travel bliss in more obscure places, preferring to sidestep touristy hot spots, but for even us the Philippines was too far off the beaten path, a bit too rugged, and even (oddly enough) not touristy enough.  One hint that we are not alone in this belief was the sheer regularity of the question “So why did you come to the Philippines?” as posed by locals to me.  I gather that they really wanted to know, as though the obvious rationale of tourism somehow did not apply.

Third, though as a rule I prefer to refrain from being a big complain-monkey, I will go on the record here and now stating that yeah, the food did kinda suck.  There’s a curious and consistent culinary quirk in the Philippines, and that is the sweetness found in everything.  Basic staples like butter and bread are infused (sans exception, it seems) with sugar, and it permeates out from those basics accordingly: even the catchup for french fries and marinara sauce for spaghetti are acutely sweet.  Once the novelty wears off, it’s just kinda gross.

That about covers the upfront caveats: I lay them out here with care because of the tendency for people to expect that your honeymoon should be this magical, unforgettable getaway where you have your first span of time together as husband and wife.  It’s a sweet presumption, for sure, but for it I feel compelled not to dash anyone’s well meaning presumptions with tales of my honeymoon that came in 4th place.

With all of those things said and done with, I wish to clearly articulate now all of the things that were fantastic about our trip to the Philippines.  Tales of our travel–free of superfluous commentary on things like sugary spaghetti–begin with the next post!

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Panama in Review 4: Surf’s Up

March 16th, 2010 1 comment

It was our last day on the island.  At 4:45pm we would hop a plane back to Panama City, stay another night at the Hotel California, and wake early for our all day adventure back to Denver.

There was unfinished business.  Surfing.

But we weren’t sure if we’d fit it in.  Who knew when and if we could get a surfing excursion that included a beginner’s lesson in time, and besides, that morning we thought we’d do 9am yoga.  I like to think that fate kicked in when we arrived 2 minutes late to what was, in my experience, the first and only yoga venue not laid back enough to admit such barely-late stragglers.

So we wandered the main drag in search of surfing opportunities instead.  Ricardo, the rad proprietor of La Buga dive and surf shop, had a deal for us.  (Ricardo is rad for a number of reasons: wall full of PADI certifications, friendly manner of speaking English with his kickin’ Panamanian accent with which he can always convincingly tell you it’s a great day for diving, and Tracy and I were both pleased and unsurprised to see him doing well for himself romantically, apparently dating the smokin’ hottie who fixed Tracy’s smoothie that morning).  His deal: another person was going for an excursion at 10am and we could get in for $49 a piece, including a lesson, and back on land by 1pm.  Sold.  Pardon us while we run back to our room to change.

The lesson was a quick 20 minutes in a few forms, balance, and a fun test of whether you ride normal or goofy foot (i.e. with your left or right foot forward: the test is to push you from behind and seeing which foot instinctively leaps forward to prevent your imminent face plant).  Our lesson was held on the back porch/dock, and was punctuated once or twice by Ricardo stopping by to briefly and nonchalantly pump some serious iron at the weight station 6 feet away.  (Ricardo, you’re such a bad-ass.)

And then it was off to a nice patch of wavy water just off the beach we’d visited the day before.  We jumped into the water with our boards tethered to us by our ankle leash, and our instructor positioned himself with fins and snorkel in the middle of the bobbing water, ready to guide us to hang ten glory.

The premise of surfing, I now know, is simple: hang out in one spot, bob up and down as you wait for a good wave to come your way.  When it does, paddle like hell away from it so that you have speed enough to ride the wave once it does catch you.

How did I do?  I attained the goal I’d set for myself during our lesson: I managed to stand up and ride a wave for a good 8 or 10 seconds.  That was the last of maybe a dozen good waves I’d caught: on the path to said competence I’d had one good salty gulp of the sea, nearly ran over Tracy once, and appreciated the heck out of the aforementioned ankle leash about 4 times (when you fall off the board, the board keeps going: the ankle leash is pretty much the only thing that puts a cap on how far it goes).

In just two hours out I gained two unexpected things: a sudden and profound appreciation for the scattered bits of surfer talk I’ve heard all my life (ahhh… turns out that “catching some killer waves” is worth getting excited about!), and a wicked sun burn on the back of my legs (I neglected to mention the other side of the surfing equation: after riding a wave, you spend a lot of time lying face down on the board, peddling with your arms back up to where you started–it’s a fantastic shoulder workout).

Living Well on the Cheap: Quick Picks from Buenos Aires

January 5th, 2010 No comments

The sister of a friend contacted me recently looking for tips for her upcoming visit (as she puts it, “I like touristy things but my friend and I (who will be there for 2 weeks with me) are more interested in good food, good wine, good people and dancing!”).

Armed with both hindsight and fond recollection, I came up with the following.  Bear in mind that the exchange rate during my visit was about 3.8 Argentine pesos to the US dollar, so to get dollars the mental math is just to divide by four, then add a little more.

  • The Japanese botanical gardens.  5 or 8 pesos well spent and the weather should be great for leisurely wandering about (hopefully not too hot!).  The restaurant there has primo sushi.
  • Practica X tango dancing.  Ten pesos gets you in for great dance every Tuesday night with a great crowd geared towards more relaxed tango practice, complete with a lesson at the start.  http://practicax.net/ for complete details.
  • Ricoleta fair on Sundays.  Right on the grounds surrounding the famous Ricoleta cemetery, it has tons of stands featuring artesian crafts and more importantly great crowds of people laying about on the lawn, enjoying yerba mate and often live music.  Try the “pan rellenos caliente” being peddled about, a hot tasty snack of stuffed bread for just 8 pesos.
  • Freddo helado.  Ice cream that is kinda ritzy at 15 or so pesos a cone, but well worth it.  My favorite cone combo is the regular chocolate and the regular dolce du leche.
  • If you’re in to meat, parrilla (Argentine-style grilled meats) can be found all over.  One superb experience I can recommend is at a restaurant called Miranda.  50 pesos gets you an amazing beef tenderloin (lomo).
  • Duck your head into any bakeries (patesseries) that have nummy things on display.  I highly recommend anything with dolce du leche in it, especially the churros.

The other day I paid about 7 bucks for a so-so steak at the local King Soopers.  It made me appreciate and miss places like Miranda and Roberto’s meat counter.

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Yesterday’s Vision Now a Fulfilled Adventure

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

I tell you, it wasn’t that long ago that, while traipsing about in Guatemala, I had the thought “wouldn’t it be cool to get a flat in a place like this, do my work time magic via laptop and wifi, and otherwise live and love like a local?”  This vision came during the tender, early weeks of my Spanish language immersion, when words like “comer” (to eat) and “comprar” (to buy) were similar enough to confuse and thus prompt me to ask a cab driver if I could eat more pants in the city of Antigua.

How far I have come in the ten months since.

But let me pick up from our earlier cliffhanger before I wax too much nostalgic.  I believe my words spoken shortly after that fine Piriapolis sunset were “Tracy, what do you say you and I share a fantastic life together…” (then a brief pause whilst I completed the fumbling about in my pocket to fish out the ring), “Will you marry me?”  What followed I believe was a bemused and surprised chuckle followed by “Are you serious?”  “Yep, totally”, I replied.  Then she said yes, and possibly with an “Of course” thrown in for good measure (it’s worth mentioning that Tracy and I have been clear for one another on the whole “yep, you’re the one for me” sentiment since September, so I’m tickled that I managed to pull off the whole “surprise” element.)

The ring has a pretty blue topaz gemstone, nearly matching Tracy’s favorite color, a.k.a. “Tracy Lee blue”.  Sorry DeBeers, I think I’ve found another answer to your riddle of how else could two months’ salary last forever: a few months worth of memories living abroad with my love.  Tracy and I agree: that’s just more our style.

The process of leaving Buenos Aires was great.  I spent the better part of the afternoon doing my favorite round of errands in my old neighborhood which gave the whole thing a nice “full circle” feeling: a visit to Antonio’s to pick up some more of those primo cherries (good enough to smuggle through customs undeclared–they would soon be in ma’ belly anyway), another haircut from Frederico (may as well look sharp for spending the holidays with my future in laws), and another steak from Roberto’s (thank goodness the hostel we stayed at but 2 blocks away from his stand had a communal kitchen).

My final day there I did one last round of what I call my Ninja Training (but you can call it a “work out”) in my beloved nearby plaza: a run around the perimeter and then about a dozen push ups (that may not sound impressive, but you try doing ’em with a cadence of 5 seconds down, and 5 seconds up).  Add to that another round of sushi in the Japanese garden and one last stroll about the Recoleta fair with some Freddo helado (ice cream) to boot and you’ve got the fine makings of a fond fair well to the city that has treated me so well.

Now I sit in the living room of Tracy’s parents.  I’m ready to celebrate Christmas (turns out it IS a treat to land smack in the middle of the holiday season!), I’m on the precipice of a groovy new adventure called creating a life in Denver with my gal (should be way easier–I get to use English this time!), and I’m delighted to have been congratulated and warmly welcomed by Tracy’s family.  There’s nowhere I’d rather be.  I offer my heartfelt thanks to all who gave me support and encouragement to live out this dream–especially Tracy, who, by virtue of frankly asking me back in June what I could possibly be waiting for, seems to have devised the most perfect and seamless plan EVER to uproot me from St. Louis and smuggle me to Denver.

Darling, you’re absolutely brilliant.

John

comprar
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Christmas Time in Warm Weather

December 20th, 2009 No comments

It’s disorienting in a beautiful way.  Every time I see a Christmas tree while basking in the heat I smile at the novelty, and suspect I’ll STILL be taken by surprise when suddenly I’m thrown in the middle of the more familiar (read: cold) holiday season of the northern hemisphere.

Paragliding is rad.  I had no idea: it turns out that a skilled pilot can ride the winds to gain altitude, and thus stay up indefinitely.  After about 20 minutes of twirling about I think I must have exhaled a bit too audibly during one of the sudden ascensions, for Eduardo, my rad pilot, asked right away if my stomach was ok.  The well seasoned pilot, I gather, possesses perception of such things bordering on clairvoyance, for he was right: delighted as I was in the moment, other parts of me were ready to descend.

As far as the whole “action sports” thing goes: it should be noted I anticipated imminent death more on the way up than the way down.  While driving up the winding, gravelly road etched into the mountain side and laden with large rocks, with mere shrubbery doing rail-guard duty between the 4×4 we rode in and 50+ foot drops down the mountain, I was keen on leaning my weight to the mountain-facing side of the car like never before.

From Mendoza we returned to Buenos Aires by plane, sailed to Montevideo by ferry, and arrived in Piriapolis by bus (but not before an evening spent in Montevideo, including a fine meal at a restaurant named after what sounds like a made-up mobster, Don Peperone, which we assume has delightfully comical Spanish pronunciation “Pepperoni”).

Piriapolis is a beautiful and (currently) sleepy beach town that is gearing up for their high season, and we were happy to help with their dress rehearsal.  I think they’d finished the beach prep work by the time we arrived, for the sand was white, fine, and felt fantastic on bare feet (both of ’em).  It was just after watching the sunset for 2 minutes one evening by said beach that I, in order to make the world a more interesting place, suggested that Tracy and I enjoy a fantastic life together, and I asked her to marry me.

What did she say?  Tune in next time to find out, it’ll be the grand homecoming finale!

John

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Argentine Wine is Mighty Fine

December 14th, 2009 No comments

And being in Mendoza is a pretty good way to experience that.

When Tracy and I arrived at Mendoza’s bus terminal at 8am the other day we were soon met by a woman who thought we might like to rent one of her furnished tourist apartments for our stay (there’s something about standing next to a heap of luggage with nose buried in a copy Lonely Planet that really gives you away as a tourist).  She (and her husband Julio who soon joined us) seemed friendly enough and the idea of having our own place with a kitchen for a paltry 120 pesos a night enticed us to agree to give the place a look.

It was probably at about block 4 of our 5-block walk to their car when the wisdom of NOT getting into the car of someone who just picked you up at the bus station kicked in, so we ultimately declined with our apologies and said we’d circle back with them after taking some more time to orient ourselves in the city.  (Paranoid?  Maybe.  But in fairness we’d watched the new Will Smith movie the night before during the bus ride.  You know, the one where he offs himself with a jelly fish in an ice bath in order to donate his organs and be a hero.  We as scraggly travelers may not have cash enough to justify such an elaborate ruse by would-be evil doers, but our organs are in fab shape, yo.)

We did circle back with them the next day.  After a one-night stay at the good-time party hostel Damajuana (that looks and acts like a frat house) for 170 pesos, complete with shared bathroom and sudden blaring tunes at 2am, we were in a good place to appreciate the heck out of Nancy and Julio’s offerings*.  With kitchen, air conditioning, and peaceful sleeping conditions we are delighted.  AND after now three nights I’m pleased to report that NOT A SINGLE organ of ours has been harvested.

Right then, so about wine: I’ll not go too much into our bike tour of neighboring Maipu’s wineries as it got cut short by the rare privilege of getting to experience what must have been the bulk of desert-like Mendoza’s annual 200mm of rain (this may have been for the best, as I’m still feeling the effects of the hard plastic seats after a mere 13km).  It was the Vines of Mendoza wine tasting room that really captivated my interest: for 60 pesos you can do what’s called a “flight of wine”, or a carefully selected progression of 5 glasses of wine complete with insightful descrption of each.

I am still at a place where drinking wine usually amounts to sipping quasi-grape juice with a kick, of variable nummy-ness, and that hopefully doesn’t burn too much going down.  I still like it, I just don’t have many distinctions by which to appreciate the difference between, say, top shelf vs. three-buck-chuck.  That said, having a little card that tells me what subtleties to notice and enjoy does wonders for helping my suggestible little brain appreciate the particulars of one specific wine versus the next.  Tracy and I both became fans of 4 out of the 5 wines in our flight, and were moved enough to buy a dozen bottles, shipped to her folks’ place in time for the holidays.  Y’all please let me know if any pretentiousness about my expanding wine appreciation creeps into my day to day conversing, ok?

In two hours we paraglide.  Soon I’ll know if it gives as much of a buzz as the rapid fire wine tasting we did to pick bottles 10, 11, and 12 of the aforementioned dozen!

John

*It should be noted that I LOVED those kinds of hostels during Eurotrip ’04, and I’m struck by how strongly the sentiment “I’m getting too old for this” resonates here.  Makes me seriously wonder: am I going to yell at kids to get off my lawn someday, too?

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Refreshing is the Air of Bariloche!

December 6th, 2009 No comments

I mean I know I just came from a city whose name literally translates to “Good Airs”,

But man, somehow the lake-laden and mountain-surrounded environs of this next town have a lot over the well-trafficked city streets when it comes to air quality.

A few wrap up notes from the big city!  Turns out I enjoyed a more proper Thanksgiving dinner after all (thank you to all who expressed concern over my well-being regarding the sushi/hot dog/ice cream combo described earlier).  Liz and Julia put on a fantastic meal for 7 last Saturday, and though turkeys and pumpkins are hard to find in these parts, two well appointed chickens with rosemary rub and a smartly spiced butternut squash pie really narrowed the gap between my experience and the traditional fare (especially relative to the aforementioned sushi/hot dog/ice cream).  Add culinary moxie to the stack of my gratitudes.

Last Tuesday I had a man date with Christian, the fruitteria guy who works at Roberto’s stand.  The fellows there all seemed to think it was cute that I liked beer when they noticed my being muey tranquilo: I guess the Japanese Asahi beer that I’d enjoyed with sushi just before really brings out the mellow in me.  Christian said we should go for a beer sometime, so we made a plan for me to come back at 10pm and do just that.

There’s something magical about two people coming together to shoot the breeze over beers and with a language barrier.  We talked and toasted liberally to the things in life that matter: our respective loves, family, beauty, good beer, and what a neat thing it is to be able to kick it over good beer and connect with another in spite of language differences and vastly different cultural backgrounds.  Christian has a wife and a four year old son (whom I was invited to come by to meet the following day after yoga–super cute).  He’s from Peru and his whole family is still there.  His plan is to return there in 2 years, and I’m heartily invited to come visit and meet his family and be shown around.  Peru 2012 sounds like a great option to me.  We agreed that if he and I were able to communicate this well now with my current level of Spanish immersion, it should be fantastic by then!

Now Tracy and I are in Bariloche.  The chocolate shops here are as fantastic as they are abundant.  First recommendation from the trusty Lonely Planet is Mamushka, a Russian-themed chocolate shop complete with those cool nested dolls everywhere.  Most note-worthy was the tiramisu chocolates modeled after the famed Italian dessert.  My literal first words to Tracy after the first bite: “oh my God, it’s like Italy just made love to my mouth.”  Even in retrospect, them’s about the most fitting words I can think on in my clumsy efforts to convey such flavor bliss.

I’ve learned that I really love architecture that prominently features wood: big, oft gnarly and imperfect logs that convey cozy and quaint like little else can.  The other night we ate at a restaurant that looks as though pulled straight from the hobbit village of the Lord of the Rings universe: finely finished cypress logs, ascending stumps of a staircase, and a big rounded wooden door that swings lightly on it’s hinge despite being 5 feet wide.  With food and wine fit to match the grandeur of the space I might’ve surmised I’d been thrown into a fan-fic plot where Frodo settles down after that whole ring nonsense and makes it big as a restaurateur.

Yesterday Tracy and I spent some quality time on the lawn of the town square enjoying the live music juxtaposed against a “Jesus es el camino” parade and a passing through motorcycle rally.  I gained the title of “dog whisperer” for having a troupe of 4 of them hanging out beside and being petted by me for like an hour.  I believe I asked the phrase “who’s a good doggie” (and “quién es un buen perro”) about 80 or so times.

Ole!
John

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Thanksgiving in South America

November 26th, 2009 No comments

…Isn’t celebrated in any formal way that I’m aware of.

So today I had the fun of more or less creating my own experience of the holiday, and the gratitude and thanks giving that it stands to evoke.  While walking along the boulevard and just ending another Spanish audio lesson re-run, my iPod jumped to the Office Space soundtrack classic, “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster”.  (There are times when I swear the people at Apple programmed magical clairvoyance into the shuffle mode, and this was one such time.)  Grinning broadly while soaking in the lyrics, I walked no doubt with that very walk that is described by others from time to time as that bouncy, long-gaited strut.

In the midst of my current life adventure it is easier than usual to recognize the many things these days to be thankful for, and the many people who have contributed to me and for whom I have gratitude.  The list of people to whom I’m sending this email overlaps quite well with the list of people I thank, so you probably know what I’m talking about when I say right here and now: Thank you for the part you play in my life and the contribution you are and/or have been to me.  (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about as it relates to you, please bust me on that and I’ll express more clearly to you my due appreciation!).

I’d also like to make a special shout out to all of you who are my teachers in life, namely for schooling me on subjects which include (but are not limited to) the following: math, business, dance, communication, being, science, music, poetry, computers, life, love, relationships, growing old, being happy, beers, design, being young, enlightenment, Spanish, programming, education, cooking and Aikedo.

Right then, with thanks now given, allow me to proceed to more centrally Argentine missives!

So my mom came to visit!  Between taking the city tour bus, hitting a handful of museums, and relating to the Lonely Planet city guide as benevolent gospel for a week, I am now finally tourist-trained in this town.  There were some good moments of being mothered, too: one morning while it was raining my mom sold me on wearing a poncho.  I resisted at first (my choice line of vintage middle-school regression being “But moooooooom… the Portenoyos are gonna laugh at meeee…”  “No they’re not.  They’re going to offer to buy it off of you.”) but eventually went with it for the novelty value.  Good idea, too!  I didn’t get any purchase offers, but while comfortable in the otherwise abandoned plaza in the downpour I took advantage of the most acoustic privacy I’ve had since my arrival by singing out a few crooner tunes to no one but the trees.

My mom also took care of me when I got wickedly sick on Saturday night.  She even ventured out alone on little missions to get me food, drug and drink when I needed it during Sunday and Monday’s recovery.  All without any Spanish, which was way cool and even more appreciated.  Thanks mom!

Now I’ve been catching up on things and otherwise kinda biding my time until Tracy gets here (inlikeahundredandtenhoursbutwho’scounting).  Maybe I’ll go to another tango milonga in the next few days.  The Argentine are, on the whole, an uncommonly good looking people.  At a milonga you get like a dose of concentrated Argentine hotness, so it’s not a bad way to spend an evening even if you are remiss about your own dance ability and feel it better to just sit and watch.

Ah, in case you were wondering what I had for my Thanksgiving meal: some fab sushi from the elegant sit down restaurant perched in the Japanese gardens, a street side vendor hot dog with the works, a chocolate ice cream cone in the plaza, and I’ll probably make up that chunk of tenderloin I got from Roberto just now.  It’s no turkey with gravy, but I can’t complain. :)

With all my thanks and gratitude on this fine southern hemispheric day,
John

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Evita: Still stuck in my head

November 15th, 2009 No comments

For better or worse,

A few weeks back I listened a time or two to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Evita”, starring Madonna.  This was intended as an admittedly feeble stab at acquainting myself with some Argentinian historical context, and a handful of songs from it even now play automatically in my head when I walk the bustling streets of Buenos Aires.

I started taking regular yoga classes at the studio of a laid back yet kinda intense/passionate instructor name Marcos.  He’s gray and there’s something cool about hearing yoga orders given to you in Spanish.  It’s has this soothing, almost musical tempo with all those flowing syllables, and the massive use of the phrase “vamanos chicos*” plays pretty well.  It would be “chicas” if I weren’t there: for the most part it’s just me and the [much older than I] ladies.  I like to think that Marcos was a serious mack daddy back in his day, and that this is what that looks like in retirement.  Also, his facial hair is rad.

While on one of the sunny hills around the Ricoletta market last weekend I discovered the joys of mate (and, due to the limitations of text as a medium of communication, let me hasten to add that I’m referring to a local sort of tea drink, pronounced ma-tay).  It’s this nummy thing that you make by pouring hot water into a hollowed-out gourd packed with the mate (which comes as sort of a twiggy puree), and that you drink from a specialized metal straw that filters all the shmokus from coming up.

They say that the caffeine (or caffeine-esqe) kick that it gives you is a mellow high, though I only came to understand what that meant at about 5:00am that night/next morning, when I noticed that I was still remarkably clear headed and energized, and put finally 2 and 2 together regarding my mate consumption some 13 hours earlier (the inquiry began with something along the lines of “Hey, why AM I still awake?  And how come web programming is still fun and efficient at this hour?”).

Yep, I think there may be something about that drink that qualifies as magical… the experience came with none of the usual feelings of punchiness/jitters that caffeine gives to my non-existent tolerance!  Sweet!  Today I bought my own magic gourd and straw from among the myriad artisan options at the market.  It’s the closest feeling thing to drug paraphernalia as I’ve ever purchased.

About two hours ago my mom hopped on a plane to come here and visit me.  My place is clean and I have just flossed.  I am ready for my first visitor.

John

* More or less translates to: “Let’s go, little ones”

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