Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Viajando: Buenos Aires, Pinamar, Rocha and beyond!

I am not sure how many times I have started writing this post, stopped, forgotten to post etc. Moral of the story: time is flying by faster than I know what to do with it! Instead of deleting what I had written before I left it here below in red, its a decent recap of what had happened until Thanksgiving day...
Well- 20+ days since my last posting and that is largely due to the big things happening down here in the small country of Uruguay. I have finished my classes, I have two exams left, and less than 4 weeks to cram in as much traveling and adventure as possible. I think I am up for that. Since my  last post I have been doing a lot of small travels and catching up on what remained of my days in school. It's hard to believe that it is all coming to an end.
Since my last camping trip I have spent more time in Montevideo, gotten to know a couple beaches, climbed a Uruguayan mountain (aka hill), gone to Argentina and did some beaching there. All in all the last month has been wonderful and moving along very quickly. Almost too quickly for me to stop, smell the flowers, and really appreciate all of the wonderful things happening around me.
I got to meet part of Ali's family this past weekend as we traveled to Buenos Aires together for a few days. It was great to return and see more of the city. Her mom was so good to me and her brother was a lot of fun and even stayed out until sunrise one night with us, I was entirely too lucky to have spent a few days getting to know them. After they left for the U.S. Ali and I continued exploring one more night, got caught in a rain storm while out and ran back the entire way soaked and laughing until our stomachs hurt. Warning: laughing and running do not make a good combination. Then the next day we took off on a little adventure of our own which I have to say a little about- it was quite the vacation (or honeymoon as Ali liked to call it).
We traveled about 5 1/2 hours south to the coast of Argentina to Pinamar, a small beach town. When we arrived. It was a small, very tranquil town- at least at this point in time, supposedly it gets pretty busy during the summer- with a wonderful beach! We stayed at a "hostel" that was more of a B&B in some random guys house a 45 min walk from the grocery stores, on some random sand road. But it was nice enough and really our only option; I guess that's just kind of how it goes. One day Ali and I were swimming in the ocean, taking advantage of the massive waves, and not even 2 minutes after we left the water a giant sea-lion washed up on shore EXACTLY where we had been swimming. Neither one of us could believe it. I have never been so close to such an impressive animal before in my life, it was amazing. Don't worry he didn't wash up to far and after a minute or so he easily pushed himself back into the tide- I just couldn't believe it. We were probably swimming within a few feet of it!
 Other than that we spent a very relaxing couple days- I am so happy to have such a wonderful travel buddy!! Ali and I have basically been on every little adventure together (looking forward to our last one coming up this week) and I wouldn't have it any other way. With only a few minor hitches, a sold out bus, a sketchy neighborhood, and an almost overly friendly taxi ride Ali and I made it back to our terminal in BA to head back to Montevideo.
The following day- after an early morning exam- it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving, Uruguay style. The meal was complete with: 2 chickens (turkey doesn't exist), garlic mashed potatoes, twice baked sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and apple pie. After about 5 1/2 hours of cooking Ali and I sat down to enjoy our feast with my entire host family. Each person went around and said what they were thankful for, in the end it was a wonderful dinner. I was really excited to be able to share this part of my culture and family tradition with my new family I have created here. Everyone left the table entirely too full and sleepy- typical after meal food coma. Although I missed my family a lot that day, I was glad I was in such wonderful company. It made it much easier to be so far away from home being able to share something so special with everyone here.

Now what has happened since all of that? I have officially finished with school- exams and all. Done. and the day I finished exams I took off on my 6 day beach hoping trip to celebrate the beginning of my Uruguayan summer which brought me to today- the 5th of December. So how were the beaches? Amazing.. Let's see if I can put this trip into words: or better yet, pictures!
Ali and I took off for the beaches on November 29th after I finished my exams and around 8pm that night we arrived in a tiny, basically deserted beach town called La Paloma. (For those who don't know all of the words in a different color underlined like this one are link you can click on!) Tiny and deserted and a lot of what we would see in our journey and it was absolutely perfect. Unfortunately- or maybe not- our first two nights brought rain and high winds which led us to stay in a hostel instead of camp like we had intended. There were met a woman from Argentina with whom we ended up spending a good amount of time. We cooked dinner together and ended up inviting a guy from South Africa to join us. After dinner we spent about 2 hours at the table chatting about the world, life, whatever topic presented itself.
I have really come to love hostels and the community they bring. Even though in many cases you may never encounter the same person twice, what a feeling it is to enjoy a cooked meal with two strangers swapping points of view and talking about the world. I absolutely love it.
La Pedrera: Little Mermaid Style!
Also when the rain took a break for an hour or two, we took the chance to climb the light tower. It was windy on the ground and it was basically like sky diving on top- we spent a good chunk of time running in circles at the top. Oh the little things in life :)
Luckily the weather cleared up and we had sunny skies to accompany us on our next journey. We took off walking down the road towards La Pedrera- a place we were told to at least stop. And stop we did, for an amazing view of the ocean with the most beautiful waves I have ever seen. Oh and and excellent ice cream shop! Other than that there wasn't a whole lot to be seen.

Haciendo dedo...
So on we went, haciendo dedo to Cabo Polonio. When we arrived and got out of this African Safari looking vehicle, our two friend were waiting for us to enter the small village on the beach- oh yeah did I forget to mention the only way to get there is on a giant sand dune truck? Yeah, well Cabo Polonio doesn't really have electricity, running water, or anything like that. Not because they can't have it, but that's the way I want it and frankly I am glad because I absolutely loved my experience there. The first night we walked down the beach a little ways and pitched a tent between two sand dunes.
Aurore, Me, Ali, Laura
There is nothing like falling asleep and waking up to NOTHING but the breeze and the sound of waves crashing against the shore. and by that I mean falling asleep, waking up, falling asleep, waking up (repeat until sunrise). We put 4 people in a tent big enough for 2-3 (oh yeah that had 1 broken pole), it was cold that night and one person didn't have a sleeping bag, let's just say we improvised. It may have been kind of chilly, maybe even a little uncomfortable, but its a night I will never forget- the night spent between the sand dunes of Cabo Polonio with three absolutely amazing girls!

The next day we decided to stay at one of the local hostels so we didn't have tote all of our things around. We explored this little village and I saw one of the most amazing sights. SEA LIONS EVERYWHERE! I had heard about La Isla de los Lobos (The island of the sea lions) but I never could have imagined it. Not only was there an entire island off the coast, but standing on the beach you could see them swimming all along the shore. They were also all over the rocks, sun bathing, playing, yelling? Not sure if that's the right word- it was just so cool!
 I was awake for the sunrise and the sunset that day- it's hard to fathom all of the feelings and thoughts that I tried to process in the serenity that accompanied the time spent at the beach. I doubled over laughing, rolled down a sand dune, cried for the people and loved ones lost (missing my puppy dog, rest in peace Fierry- wonderful part of the family), cried of pure joy for all of the blessings in my life, and relished in the beauty of nature. I sound like an emotional wreck huh? Well I don't feel like one and I often appreciate the time to sit and just let it all come to me like that. For me its part of the journey, an extremely important part.
When our time in Cabo was done and after we had said good-bye to Laura (who's has already gone back to Nicaragua) we headed to our final stop: Punta del Diablo.
Punta del Diablo had the most people of any of our places we stopped, but I would be crazy to say that it was anywhere near busy. Like the other towns, most places were still closed and the only people around were the few that actually live there. We arrived without any plans, considering camping again, but then an owner from one of the hostels driving around the company golf cart/ truck offered us a ride to the new hostel they had just opened up. We almost immediately decided to stay in the little bungalow looking rooms, out door bar, an abundance of hammocks, and a ping-pong table for $u 300 pesos a night (or about $15 US dollars). After dropping our stuff we hopped on a bus for a short ride to the national park just a little further up the coast: Santa Teresa Fortaleza. We walked through the park, which is surprisingly long, to get to the old military fort on the one edge. The walk through the park was beautiful0 full of trees, wildlife aka cows, and even a little playground we took full advantage of.
When we finally arrived at the fort it was situated high on a hill. We entered and walked around this 360 degree view of the land surrounding us- to one side we could see the coastline/ ocean in the distance at the back end of a forest, there were rolling hills, pastures, a giant lake: it was beautiful.
The next day was lazy beach bum day. We packed up and headed to the beach with all of our things to spend the day there until the bus came a little after 7pm that night. I can sum up this day pretty quickly: sun, waves, wind, sand, Frisbee, reading. That is really all there was too it. Oh. and we finished it off with giant ice cream cones of course!
It was the ultimate last day to the trip. When I got home I was dirty, sandy, tired, but I was very happy!
Now I have time to catch up on things here in Montevideo- laundry, this blog, talking to family, etc and try to fill up the days this week with random little adventures until Matt makes his journey to South America. Less than one week now and I absolutely can't wait for Sunday evening! I'll try to update you, but looking at the upcoming events- I will probably do my wrap up/ next and possibly final post once I have made it back to good ol' WI.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Campamento Artigas

What an exciting week it has been! I got to spend 4 more days camping this past week and it was absolutely fantastic. This time I didn't spend days on horseback, instead I got to be a child and essentially go to "summer camp." I am taking a techniques and activities of camping class that essentially prepares people to be leaders/ run summer camps (or similar things) for kids. Believe it or not this 4 days of camping was actually part of my second exam grade!

 Before going we were divided into groups and each group was assigned an activity to plan according to a certain theme- then we spent the entire weekend playing the games/ taking part in the activities everyone else had planned.

Winners of the Greek Olympics!
(there was a game including Frisbee-
I think my team had an unfair advantage! hehe)

Sure- their idea of camping and my idea of camping are slightly different, but hey it was still a nice vacation! We stayed the first 2 nights in cabins and the 3rd night a little further away from camp in a tent, but really that wasn't the most important part of everything that happened.
This was a wonderful weekend for really making some strong connections- not just with the people I was with, but for the first time I got to experience a strong connection with Uruguay. I don't know how to explain it, I just feel like I was adjusting, then once I felt adjusted things just started going so quickly, time was passing, then finally this weekend I had time to sit and process it all while surrounded by an amazing group of newly created friends as we watched the sunset on the beach. I don't think I could have asked for a more ideal time for it to happen because I know that those connections will make the rest of my trip that much more special.
 I almost feel like I am going through the process of separation now and it's wonderful at giving me mixed feelings. I feel like when I try to write about my mixed feelings of my time coming to and end, I just tend to ramble a lot. It's probably hard to follow, but welcome to the workings of my brain :)
I also never used to take this much time to reflect on the happenings of life- honestly I probably would have said it isn't necessary to do so often. That is one thing that I have learned- its so good to be able to take some time to reflect on things flying by in life, makes it much easier to appreciate the small things and take nothing for granted. I have not only been processing the happenings in Uruguay, but what got me here and what made the the person I am today that's crazy enough to leave home and make this solo journey to a foreign country for five months. Sure- its fun, there's new people, and traveling, but its also very difficult and it takes a special kind of person to go through this process and succeed at doing so. I am proud to say I consider myself very "successful" for lack of a better word.
So- only 6 weeks and 5 days remain of this amazing journey. I hate to see it coming to an end because I still have so much I would like to accomplish and I hate the thought of saying good-bye to some of the amazing people I have met along the way. Yet at the same time when I think about it, I'm not really sad because even if we don't ever cross paths again the people that I have met- and that I will continue spending time with for the next 6 weeks- made this experience everything I could have hoped for (or better) and I will always remember that.
Anyway I want to share something that came to me- I sometimes write little phrases or poems when the words happen to grace me with their presence. While I was sitting there watching the sunset I felt kind of lonely, missing people, but stronger than ever and this is what I wrote:
Feeling lonely doesn't make you weak, on the contrary, it makes you stronger.
But strength is the person whose has the courage to face the world alone
yet still opens their heart to the support of other along the way.

And I think that's where I'll end for today- a little food for thought.

Un Beso

Thursday, October 27, 2011

La Redota

Here it goes- the two week power through again... Just kidding! I mean I know I haven't updated in 2 weeks, but that really doesn't matter all that much. I am however going to share the important things that have happened starting with the coolest. Or maybe the less cool so I can end with a bang.. I guess you'll never know which order they are in!
(I am sorry in advance for the size of this post hehe but its going to be a lengthy one)
Two weekends ago I fled the country of Uruguay and headed across the river to the booming city of Buenos Aires. Two things motivated this trip- 1: I had to leave Uruguay within 90 days of arriving because I didn't get a visa to come here, 2: why not!? I mean its Buenos Aires and its only a 2 hour bus ride and a 3 hour ferry ride away, not many people can make that claim. I went with a group of 5 (1 Nica-or Nicaraguan, 1 French madam, and 3 US citizens). I am not sure exactly what we were thinking, but we booked our departure for about 2am!? So on Thursday night we were off to Buenos Aires and we arrived at a bright and early 8am.
I'll have to admit I wasn't really sure what to expect since my only comparison to a South American city was Montevideo. They aren't really anything alike, but I am glad I went there without any expectations at all. Sometimes no expectations makes things easier to enjoy in my opinion.
Our first experience in Buenos Aires: getting robbed by the taxi drivers. We didn't really know it at the time, but they charged us a 3-4 times more than what our ride should have cost and they definitely  the long way around. What should have cost us about 15 pesos cost us 50 pesos. Lesson 1- we are no longer in Montevideo, and tourism is much more popular therefore, tourist sharks are much more popular. This was a lesson and an annoyance for much of the weekend. Buenos Aires was a gorgeous city (as far as the beauty of cities go, most of you know I prefer things that don't include cement, steal, or car horns haha). I think that is what I loved about the area so much- yes Buenos Aires is a HUGE city, much bigger than Montevideo, but many times I felt as if it were smaller because there is space to breathe there. The entire city isn't compacted into an area of 30 city blocks, it is spread out, and they have many wonderful parks/ gardens where people can go enjoy the little pieces of nature the city has preserved.

Even though we didn't sleep really at all Thursday night we took full advantage of our early arrival on Friday morning! Of course we visited the touristy areas of town because that is generally where there are interesting things to see. We started off the day at La Boca was one of the first areas of Buenos Aires colonized and (if I am not mistaken in my information). The houses are all very brightly colored and Tango is on every street corner. This was also the first experience we had in a very touristy area- there were many outdoor restaurants and the people stand in the streets practically grabbing your arm and seating you as you walk by.

Personally I was fairly annoyed by this, also I heard more  English spoken in 2 days there by street vendors and people trying to get me to buy things than I have heard in my 3 months in Montevideo. The funniest part was we had two people with us who don't really even speak English and by the end of the weekend we were all claiming we were French and didn't speak English- that really confused them! It really made me appreciate the not-so-touristy aspect of Montevideo. I may stick out as a foreigner here, but at least I don't have people trying to cater to me and speak English to me 24/7- that would have made for a long 5 months for me personally. I love the fact that I am forced to use my Spanish in public it has really pushed me to get better.

Anyway- enough about that rant. The other places we visited included- Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Obelisco, Cemeterio Recoleta, and various plazas/ parks. The previously named are all fairly famous "must see" destinations for people who make their way to Buenos Aires. I really enjoyed getting to know a different city in South America. I was semi-astounded by the differences- especially considering they are right across the river from each other. There were certain aspects I loved about Buenos Aires (parks, open space, and clean streets!!) but there were other aspects that really made me appreciate my choice in Uruguay!

The look of PURE happiness!!

Just a quick insert before I get on to big even #2- I finally went to a Tango lesson! I don't have too much to report on, unfortunately it wasn't quite what I expected. I really enjoyed the experience and it was cool to take part in something so important here. I got to dance with a couple people (just the basics, nothing too crazy) and the instructors were very adamant and focused on form and posture with all of the participants! It was pretty hard work, but I really enjoyed it. My feet, however, took a beating- I didn't walk around my house enough to break in my new dance shoes and after 1 1/2 hours of dancing that became extremely apparent (an painful).

Onto big event #2- La Redota. This is something I have been waiting for since one of my first weeks in Uruguay when my host family mentioned it to me. It is kind of hard to explain, but is basically a representation of the journey that occurred when Artigas fled Montevideo and the citizens left all of their belongings and followed him. It is a way of holding on to their history and maintaining it as a huge part of their culture today. I think that had a lot to do with why I loved the experience so much.Oh and if I haven't already previously mentioned this journey is made on horseback through the countryside.

My host family had talked a lot about how difficult and trying these couple days would be. At times I almost felt like they were trying to talk me out of it, but the more they said the more interested I became: something challenging, I've never done before, camping, gauchos, mate- not something I could ever pass up! I love to challenge myself in different ways and so long before they were convinced I wanted to go I had already made up my mind- I was going on La Redota in Uruguay!

 There is such an amazing sense of pride in so many people I have met and this weekend was the icing on that cake. The slogan of the weekend was "Arriba la Patria" I wish I had a good translation of what that signifies- I think the best thing I can think of is "long live the country" but that just doesn't give the feeling of it justice.
We started off the weekend in San Jose with a "parade" of sorts to signify the start of the journey. Not only were there about 250 on horseback starting, but there were hundreds of people lined up along the streets to see us off.
This journey was a lot for me, but first off it was a crash course in "how to ride a horse for 2 days without killing yourself" something I wish I could have taken lessons in before we left! I have ridden horses a couple times, but it was always such short distances/ amounts of times that form never really mattered. Well 3 hours into this trip and I already new- it was either learn how to ride the animal properly or don't make it out alive. So I watched, I listened, and I took every piece of advice I could to get it down. I think finally toward the middle of the second day I had it down more or less and thank goodness because my body was feeling the effects if the previous day!

Our crew of horses 

The first night at camp was memorable just due to the nature of it- nothing crazy happened, but sometimes I forgot that here I was in 2011, if I hadn't known better I would have sworn I went back in time. The military had set up large military tents for people to sleep in, others were in their own personal tents, cooking fresh meat over the fires, drinking mate, playing guitar and "singing" around the fire. I say "singing" because the type of music I heard was more a spoken story accompanied by the guitar. That is actually what I fell asleep to that night and it just felt right to have the night end that way.

My horsey for the weekend

What I saw as I stepped out that morning
We awoke bright and early the next day and I heard the sounds of the horses much closer than I remembered them being and for good reason- when I stepped out of the tent we were surrounded on all sides by horses. People had already brought them in from the fields and were getting them ready for the days ride. We took off from camp, after our breakfast of Chorizos, around 7:30am and rode until sometime after 12. I don't know exact times it is all kind of relative. Day 2 I was feeling much more comfortable with riding and I was even able to get up to a gallop a few times (for very very short periods of time) instead of just trotting- a lot harder on the body. I had to put a lot of energy into focusing on the beautiful landscape we were riding through; it was much easier to think about how sore my body was becoming and how tired I was getting. Once I finally took my mind off that, the view of the country side never ceased to amazing me. Uruguay is an absolutely beautiful country! After a couple hour break for lunch (and a nap face down in the grass) and a couple more hours of riding, we finally arrived at our destination for the day: Ismael de Cortinas. I have to say I was very thankful to be able get off the horse, but it took a few minutes before I was able to actually walk (and a little bit of stretching out the hips).

Notice the meat on the grill...
 My host family decided that enough was enough and they were ready to head back to Montevideo- I was a little relieved to hear their decision because I am not sure I could have taken another 5-6 hours riding again the next day. I could hardly lift my arms and I walked like an 80 year old for a good day and half following. But the soreness I felt was just trivial compared to everything I was able to experience and take away from those two days. First of all I got to take part in a truly Uruguayan culture experience that represent their history, a history that they still know and hold close to them. I also got to make better relationships with people in my family and see parts of Uruguay that many will never get to know. I also did something challenging and gained a new respect for people who spend their days atop a horse- its much more difficult than they make it look! I am so glad I took full advantage of this, it is an experience I will never forget. Oh- and it really made me want horses of my own someday, they are magnificent creatures!
It is actually a 13 day journey from San Jose to Paysandu which is something like 300km or 186 miles. And as hard as it might be to believe- there are people who are doing the trip in it's entirety. I think two days was just about perfect for me.

Finishing off the weekend
with the sunset and Mate!

Un Beso

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Helados, Bodegas, y Bicicletas

Hola a todos!
Wow. Time is surely flying by! I can't believe another week has already passed since my last post and I have another amazing weekend to tell you about! On Friday Uruguay played Bolivia in Montevideo. This is the team I saw win the Copa de America my first week here so of course I took full advantage of my opportunity to watch them live. Although it rained all day and we watched the game soaking wet, it was worth it! Uruguay won the game 4-2 and I learned a thing or two more about soccer. By the end of it all I have it all I think I'll have a pretty good grasp on it :)

This weekend Ali and I took a "girl's weekend" which was really an impromptu "LETS FIND SOMEWHERE TO GO" weekend. The ultimate decision: Colonia del Sacramento.

7 different kinds of oranges/mandarins
from one fruit stand!
So far this might be my favorite place in Uruguay, although each place for me has been very distinct and I have enjoyed every place I have visited. They have all been wonderful, there was just something about the atmosphere and feeling I got when I was walking the streets there. Hard to describe but it was calming; made me feel really good about all of the things I have done thus far and made me look forward to what is yet to come. I know that probably doesn't do it justice, but somethings just can't be explained very well in words- ya just had to be there.

How to sum up Colonia? It is a small town about 2 1/2 hours up the west coast of Uruguay right across the river from Buenos Aires. It is the only place in South America (outside of Brasil) that was founded by the Portuguese-so I was informed this weekend- and it still has a big historical feel to it. There is a historic district where all of the streets are still the old cobblestone, they have old ruins, and the historic buildings. It's pretty much what I like to call- a postcard city- every street corner looks like it belongs on a postcard. With Spring in the air, all of the trees and flowers were in full bloom and the sun was shining most of the weekend. It was wonderful.

Saturday we found ourselves a beautiful little restaurant and sat outside. One thing I would come to love about Colonia: the food. It was a fairly cheap meal but sooo yummy! and we were even able to enjoy another cup of Medio y Medio. We had heard a lot about the little shops around Colonia so we just spent the afternoon exploring and the best find we had all weekend (in my opinion at least) was an Artesan ice cream shop. AHHH. not good for an ice cream addict. It was excellent and I had to restrain myself from buying a second- I just decided to go back on Sunday and get 3 flavors instead of two :D

Sunday we had plans to bike around because renting bikes and exploring the outskirts of the town (there was a bodega-winery- we really wanted to see) that way is very popular, but the weather didn't want to cooperate. Well.. wait.. it didn't want to cooperate when we were sitting outside with our bikes- as soon as we gave up the idea of biking and proceeded on foot it cleared up and was beautiful the rest of the day. n the hostel we met someone from Ohio that was on his first vacation since he joined the Peace corp over a year ago. He has been living in Paraguay since last September and it was extremely interesting to hear about his work there! We ended up throwing around throwing a Frisbee for awhile and enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on the waterfront to watch the sunset with a nice bottle of wine.
 I just can't help but think about how crazy the whole situation was- there we were in a tiny town in Uruguay, met and befriended someone from Ohio who was living in Paraguay... and we are living in Montevideo. Sometimes the things I do or see here just seem so surreal, I find myself wondering "did that really just happen?" quite often. I mean there I was eating dinner with Ali, who I could swear I have known for years when in reality it has only been about 3 months, talking with someone we had basically just met as if we had already known each other. Or sometimes it just randomly hits me- I'm in Uruguay. I'm in URUGUAY! It's such a blessing to have all of these opportunities and to meet so many wonderful people.

Anyway Monday we made it our ultimate GOAL to get on those bikes and go to the winery regardless of the weather. Lucky it was nice out- unfortunately our hostel only have one bike left. So we went in search of others. Now the bikes that we had seen people riding and that were at our hostel were GT or Trek- very high quality. So when we asked someone where we could rent a bike they pointed in the right direction... well kind of. We showed up to this tiny whole in the wall place and when the guy was getting one of the bikes off the chain fell off twice, and Ali's bike ended up not really having breaks, and anyone could hear me coming from a mile away. But there we were on our bikes pedaling down the highway 4 miles to the winery!

It was WELL worth the bike struggles because we came up to this small little winery that was a 4th generation operation with only the 8 siblings running it. We got a free tour/ wine tasting and the wine was wonderful. It was my first wine tasting as well! Since they don't mass produce the wine and it is only sold right there to people to come for tours, etc it was very inexpensive and Ali and I both got a bottle. She got Tannat- the wine of Uruguay and I chose a Rosado (a little more sweet instead of super dry).

Then off we went to catch our bus and head back in Montevideo. What a weekend.

Un Beso

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2 semanas y Carmelo

 I don't know who's keeping track- but this weekend officially marked my 1/2 point in my stay here in Montevideo and I can hardly believe it. I feel like just a few weeks ago I was writing about how hard it was to adjust and how December seemed so far away.. now it's right around the corner! I can't believe the things I have learned since I have been here- and we are not just talking the language and books. So far I have had such a wonderful growing experience, granted I haven't enjoyed every step of the way, but I appreciate all of the lessons I have learned. I have started making a list of all of the things Montevideo/ living in Uruguay has taught me. I will save that post for later on this week possibly when I don't have quite as much to write. I feel like two medium length posts are better then one GIANT. So for now.. I know it has been forever since I have written and I am going to spare you all of the details I usually include or I would bore everyone immensely so here is a recap on what I have done in the last few weeks... Just as a heads up- this will probably be exploding with pictures :)  I have been on a picture taking spreeeee!

Well first and foremost Spring has officially started down here! Flowers are blooming, trees have leaves, and the sun bares it's face much more frequently. I have even found myself walking around in shorts and a tank-top a few days! It has been wonderful because I am much more motivated to spend time outside just walking around and exploring a bit more. Its helpful when its above 60 degrees and sunny!! I have spent some time sitting on La Rambla looking out at the ocean/sea/river whatever you want to call it and just enjoying company with friends and my family here. It is a wonderful place to take in some sun, drink mate, and really just enjoy the day. I also walked almost the entirety of Ciudad Vieja with Ali one day. Ciudad Vieja is the oldest part of the city with many street vendors and a place called El Mercado del Puerto that is essentially and giant garage filled with different food vendors. I hadn't eaten there yet so we decided to make a day trip of it. We bought hand made hats from a lady making them in the street and continued on to eat some wonderful food and we tried Medio y Medio. It was so good! Medio y Medio is 1/2 white wine and 1/2 champagne- don't knock it till you try it- quite tasty!

I have also learned how to bake homemade Alfahores, another baking skill to perfect when I return. Depending on how things go they might even make it in the running for the Christmas cookie baking, but we will have to see about that. They have a lot of trial and error to go before they are just right- and I may be lacking in the Dulce de Leche department.... That is going to be unfortunate. It truly is a staple down here, if all else fails put dulce de leche on it! That should be a slogan here. I was thinking about learning how to make that as well, but apparently it takes hours to do and no one here seems motivated to take the time when they can walk 5 minutes away to the store and have their pick. I guess that is another battle for another day.

Another thing I got the opportunity to do was go to Lagomar where Ali lives and see what is like to live in the "suburbs" of Montevideo. It is a decent bus ride to her house I will say that for sure, its nothing like me hopping on the 15 minute city line to my house. Really nothing about where she lives is similar to where I am- the are really polar opposites. Lets compare: her neighborhood is quiet with very little traffic, I live in the middle of the commercial center of the city; she's in a 2-story house with a backyard and 3 dogs, I live on the 8th floor of an apartment building; The Rambla is about 1/2 a block away from her house with a wonderful beach. the Rambla is about 10 blocks from me with an awesome view but no beach. I think you get the picture- both places have a ton of pros and cons for sure. As much as I would like to say "I wish I would have ended up some where like that" I can't say it with confidence because the amount of time she has to put into planning her day around going home/ coming into the city would have made it very easy for me to isolate myself from the happenings on Montevideo. I now understand the effort she puts in to participating in things and I must say I am impressed. Oh also, she lives in a GREAT spot to see the sunrise which we took advantage of when I stayed. It was beautiful!

The big trip I took since my last post was this last weekend to Carmelo with Kelsey to visit her family (a different part) and what an experience! Carmelo is a little over 3 hours up the coast from Montevideo where the Rio de Plata and Rio Uruguay meet. It is a pretty small town, but Buenos Aires is easily accessible from their little port so it attracts a decent amount on tourism in the summer. We arrived in the later evening on Friday, ate dinner, and got our butts kick in Chinese Checkers by Kelsey's grandma. On Saturday we spent the day at el campo (literally means the country). Her family has land and a farm that has been in the family for many generations. They have horses, sheep, cows, and huge wheat fields. I am so glad I got to go after Spring made it's appearance because everything was flowering and green. The area is truly magnificent. Kelsey overcame her lifetime fear of horses and we spent a good couple hours just trotting around the area taking in the sights and smells. The fresh country air was so crisp and had the aroma of all the plants blooming, a person can't really ask for anything more.

The original staircase
Then there was lunch. Oh lunch in the country. I know I have talked about asado a lot and raved about how good it is, but really I was just naive. I had really country made asado this weekend and it blew my mind- anything I previously said was the best has now been overruled. I don't think I will get any better than the food I had for lunch that day. The asado was grilled to perfection, we had salad with the lettuce we had just cut out of the garden, fresh cheese, Coca-cola.. followed by homemade dulce de membrillo with more cheese... a lunch to be remembered that is for sure! Sorry to anyone who hasn't eaten before reading this post- my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
After that we took a walk back into the wooded area, over two streams, to the location where Kelsey's great-great grandfathers house once stood. The only thing remaining now is the original stone staircase. We ventured around, did some exploring, and just kind of took it all in. It's hard to fathom how truly "in the middle of nowhere" he lived because the area now isn't close to anything at all... I can't imagine what it was like then. Kelsey then had her first time at driving stick-shift. But wait. This was no ordinary first time- she was in the middle of a pasture surrounded by cows, lucky for her the only things she could hit moved before any accidents took place!
A little after sunset we headed back into Carmelo, I learned a new card game called Escoba, and had a very tranquil evening. Sunday Kelsey and I spent the day walking around Carmelo getting to know the area a little better. I ended up buying a t-shirt that a guy hand paints scenes onto- mine has the Uruguay flag and a candombe drum that says Carmelo Uruguay on it. I was pretty excited about that. OH. and we went to a park that had an awesome slide, it looked like so much fun. Unfortunately there were tons of kids on it so I didn't get to try it out. Maybe next time.
That basically sums up the last weekend and my last two weeks here (besides the boring school things)

WAIT I forgot one thing- I gave my first (and hopefully only) presentation in my Psychology of Religion class this past week.

 I was nervous to speak in front of an entire class of native speakers, but they were supportive of my efforts and overall it was a good experience.
I shouldn't have anymore problems with presentations in English from here on out right?

Un Beso

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Un pedazo de paraíso: Salto!

I feel like I am always just re-capping my weekends, but in reality that's when all the good things happen! School is the same old same old.. so on to what I did last weekend!

I went to SALTO this weekend which was about a 6 hour bus ride up the coast from Montevideo. It is located on the Uruguay river which happens to be the border between Argentina and Uruguay.
Our bus departed from Montevideo at 6:30am Friday morning, but since I decided to stay Kelsey's (and forget my bus ticket at home) we had to leave at 5:30am to get there on time. Not a whole lot of sleeping occurred Thursday night since we decided this 3-day weekend was our "Spring Break Re-Take." All of the other schools here are on Spring Break this week and for some reason we don't get the week off- so we made our own Spring Break! Although we didn't have a week to spend traveling our weekend in Salto was an amazing way to spend our impromptu Spring Break Re-Take!

After a 6 hour bus ride filled with sleeping, picture taking, and Cosmopolitan Magazine we found ourselves in the small town outside of Salto called Dayman which is where we rented a small house for the weekend. We were met by Kelsey's uncle and while we waited for the rest of the group who took a different bus we went to see the "termas" -hot springs- that the area is known for. I don't know about you, but in my mind I was picturing rocks, pools, maybe a river? Something very natural looking, but that was not what I found. They have actually channeled the hot springs into pools for people to enjoy. I wasn't sure how to feel about it at first, a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a natural feel to it, but I was happy to be traveling and seeing something new.
After walking around a bit we decided to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant. The weather there was amazing so we decided to eat outside. I ordered asado al tiro- best food you can find in Uruguay. It is type of beef ribs that is grilled on a parilla with the bones, fat, everything still in tact. It was DELICIOUS. Almost too delicious to really describe in words.

When we went to the house we were staying at it was like we had our own little getaway, a wonderful break from city life. We had a long GREEN front yard with trees! We joked as we walked up to the house "what is this green stuff- is that grass?" As if we had almost forgot what a yard looks like! Then the fun commenced: I finally introduced the world of frisbee to a few people! It became and obsession for the weekend and I was more than happy to feed that addiction! I threw for hours this weekend and it was wonderful! It really made me miss my team and I want more than anything to play an actual game now, but until then I'll just be perfecting my throws and teaching others! Later that night we headed into the actual city of Salto which is just a short bus ride away to visit Kelsey's cousins house and have some pizza! (I think by the end of this 5 months I won't even be able to look a pizza!) We walked down the mains strip of the city which was fairly deserted and quiet, much different from the main road that runs in front of my house in Montevideo. We made our way to and for the first time in my life I saw Argentina! Salto is on the Uruguay River which at this point is the border between Uruguay and Argentina. I didn't cross this time, but on my next trip to Salto (I intend on going at least on more time) I will be sure to adventure that way.

We called it an early night that night. The next morning I woke up early- much earlier than anyone else was going to! I laid in bed listening to the birds singing and decided to take sometime to go outside and enjoy the peacefulness of the morning. I don't think I have ever appreciated seeing dew in the grass and the freshness of the morning so much- I know I don't live in the country generally, but every morning when I leave my house in Montevideo I am surrounded by cars, pavement, and buildings. Something about this has just given me a new love and appreciated for the little things like dew on the grass in the morning and the sounds of the birds. Ali woke up shortly after and when we were getting ready to head to the hot springs and little shops everyone else was just getting out of bed!
Ali and I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the warm therapeutic water so off we went! The water was heavenly. There were multiple different pools- some were bathwater warm, others were hot tub warm. It was a wonderful day for it because it was slightly overcast and cooler making the water feel even more amazing. I'm not sure how I would feel about being there on a super hot day- hot water and hot weather don't seem to go together very well....

Later everyone re-united at El Rancho. We threw around the Frisbee and bit more, played poker, and had some awesome conversation. I couldn't help but feel the love of good company the entire weekend, we had such an amazing group! It was a great weekend for improving my Spanish as well! I felt so welcomed by all of Kelsey's family, it really made the journey even better for me. It was like I found another family here in Uruguay!
The crew at the bar
We ended up going out that night in Salto- 9 people in the bed of the truck and a 10 minute ride later- we arrived at a half outdoor bar. It was a lot of fun, we had a big group and danced the night... and the morning away.

Hammocks are wonderful inventions!
Saturday was beautiful and sunny all day! We spent most of the day at Kelsey's cousins hanging out, lounging in hammocks, and eating more delicious food. This time they made us chorizos- by far the best chorizo I have ever had. I also finally saw the entire process of grilling that makes meat here so delicious. First of all- they never EVER put wood that is still burning under the meat. The wood burns off to the side and as the coals go white and fall off the wood they put them under the meat. It takes a while to cook things, but it is well worth it. The chorizo had that nice crunchy skin on the outside and the inside was super juicy and flavorful- absolutely wonderful. The sun combined with good food and good company made for an enjoyable- and exhausting day. (Especially after only about 4 1/2 hours of sleep!) And people wonder how in the world I could fall asleep in this position (reference to the photo <----).
Later in the afternoon we headed for Dayman to go back to the hot springs one more time before we had to leave for Montevideo. I decided that hot springs at night is the way to go. The area was illuminated with green lights, the temperature had gone down enough for the water to give off a beautiful steam, and it was very peaceful. It was a wonderful way to spend the last of our time in the area. Before we left Totu kept telling me how much he loved throwing with me and how much he wanted to learn more about frisbee. He told me multiple times he would love a disc from my team when I returned so I decided I would give him the Frisbee I had with me. He was so excited he wanted a picture to make the gifting official! It made me so happy to share something so wonderful. Watch out: Ultimate Frisbee in Uruguay could be the next big thing!

We made our exit from Salto at 11:30pm Sunday night and arrived in Montevideo around 5:15am. Still catching up on sleep, but a weekend well worth it!