“Ocean front suite on third floor with private balcony and hammock. Breathtaking sunsets every night, and dry, sunny weather with lots of good surf every day. Let the sound of waves lull you to sleep and the view of them awake you for just $160 per month.”
And so would read the advertisement for the place we are staying in Huanchaco, a little sleepy beach town in Northern Peru. Sounds like paradise, right? We thought so too. So, sight unseen, we reserved a room in this house and hopped on the next bus out of Lima.
We arrived late in the evening and began walking up a dark little side street searching for house number 306. The monotony of the waves beat the shore to our left. We could hear it, but all we could see was black. The buzz of a motor grew loud behind us and we scooted to the side of the road to let it pass. But just short of crescendo, the buzz suddenly slowed to a putter and lingered at our heels.
“Master of puppets I’m pulling your strings…” Sound bites from the previous night’s Metallica concert in Lima, Peru stream from the radio in the background as we ascend Machu Picchu Mountain by bus to the entrance of its ancient world heritage site.
It is early and the sun has only recently risen and begun to expose the tips of the green Andean mountaintops. In an effort to retain their mystic quality, the mountain peaks coyly keep themselves covered with the heavy mist of lingering clouds. They are not quite sure they want to expose themselves yet to all of us gawking tourists.
We disembark from the bus like all the other tourists, just another lump of legs, eyes, hiking boots, and cameras, but that is all about to change. Overhead we hear the “thith thith thith thith” sound of helicopter blades circling above and we watch as the helicopter slowly sets down on a flat platform near the entrance of the park.
Like an encore to last night’s concert, the band Metallica steps out of the helicopter with bodyguards and family in tow. All five us stand there stunned and starstruck, reverting to our teenage selves. Our friend Matt remembers the Metallica poster that used to hang in his room and all the surrounding hoards of tourists simply fade to black.
"Can you take one more picture of me?" Under normal circumstances Jenny's request was a harmless one. But I knew the potential igniting power of it in this particular moment.
I quickly and nervously glanced to Tom and Danny as one looks on fearfully and helplessly at a ticking grenade. Tom's face turned bright red and the vein on his forehead bulged slightly, but with all the discipline he could muster, he pursed his lips to contain his wrath. Danny issued a silent and characteristically sarcastic commentary with the roll of his eyes.
After two days of catering to this girls' preferences, her refusal to take a turn in the back seat like everyone else, her barrage of complaints (including but not limited to the use of too many eggs in her specially prepared vegetarian meals), her full-on photo shoots with six different cameras at every stop, and her general disregard for everyone else in our group and the established schedule, no words were necessary; I knew exactly what Tom and Danny were thinking because I was thinking it too.
I have sat down to write this post at least three times now, and I have given up each time.
We just finished a month long trip through Patagonia. It was the most jaw-dropping natural landscapes I have ever laid my eyes on and yet I have toiled to figure out what to say about it.
My husband, Tom, suggested that I write this post to an audience of hikers and to explain why they need to visit Patagonia. But against his good judgment, I decided, instead, to write this post to you.
You, who does not own a pair of hiking boots. You, whose idea of nature is your own backyard. And you, who feels more at home in cityscapes than landscapes.
To you, I am recommending that you add Patagonia to your bucket list.
In lockstep with “selling ice to eskimos,” one would think that selling hot water to Portenos in the middle of the hottest summer in Buenos Aires in 43 years, would be nearly impossible.
But it’s not. It’s actually quite easy.
In fact, it’s rare to find an Argentinian or Uruguayan walking around without a thermos of hot water under one arm - rain or shine, blistering hot or freezing cold.
In the parks and at the beaches, kiosks advertise “hay agua caliente” (hot water available) as people walk by dripping in sweat. The first time I saw one of these signs, I did a double take and wondered if my high-school Spanish teacher accidently taught me the wrong word for hot.
I thought to myself, why in the world would anyone want hot water in this weather?
I’ve fallen a bit behind on a few of my posts, so I’m taking some time to play catch up. I’ll keep this post short because the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia and the loud crashes of a cracking glacier are beaconing me to put my computer away and come outside (more to come on Patagonia in the next few weeks).
Given that my last post was on Mendoza, I figured now is a great time to tell you about another wine region we visited, Tuscany:
Tuscany was the perfect place to get sick.
Don’t go wine tasting in Mendoza. Do lunch.
We walked out on the terrace, the Andes to our left, the parilla (grill) to our right, and a chilled glass of Torrontes, an exclusively Argentinian white wine varietal, directly in front of us. One sip and I knew we had made the right decision.
The day prior we had toured the valley on bikes attempting to visit five different wineries as the tour company had recommended. We made it to three and that was plenty. Have you ever tried riding a bike after tasting vino at three wineries? It’s hazardous to say the least.
“Cambio! Cambio!” Tom and I nervously walked down Florida Street in Buenos Aires stereotyping the hawkers as we tried to select which person was least likely to rip us off. There were hundreds to choose from and meanwhile the weight of thousands of US dollars in cash felt heavy next to Tom’s groin. For the first time on our trip we decided to actually use the RFID scan-proof money belt we bought from REI.
We selected our guy and after a brief negotiation for the best rate based on the amount and the denomination of bills we brought (with $100 bills being the most valuable), we followed him into a building, up a few floors, to a small, unmarked 6x6 foot office.
We entered the tiny room. There was no sign, no pictures, and no furniture; just an overweight, slightly sweaty Argentinian man with a stash of cash, an electronic bill counter, and a calculator. The windows were covered by old newspapers; papers that probably reported the ever decreasing value of the Argentinian peso and next to it the unofficial “blue market” exchange rate.
I love you, but my time away from you has been the best thing for our relationship. As it’s said, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and my appreciation for you has grown during this year abroad. I miss your peanut butter, your Heinz ketchup, and your widespread availability of toilet seat covers in public restrooms. For many reasons, you are beautiful just the way you are.
However, there’s another saying, which is “out of sight, out of mind.” And during many of my days of travel this year, I found myself fully forgetting you, spending my days and nights in the arms of others: France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Argentina, and the list goes on. It has given me some healthy perspective and while I wish to someday return to your warm embrace, there are a few things I will need you to work on first.
So for the 2014 year, I recommend you adopt these 5 New Year’s Resolutions:
I stepped inside from our balcony to grab my camera and suddenly heard a loud boom, this one much closer than the others. I whirled around just in time to see the flash of light fading into the thick, damp summer air and a few wisps of smoke rising off the hot pavement just outside the gate to the US Embassy.
Cheers erupted and several other bright flashes continued to dot the Buenos Aires skyline. It was midnight on Christmas Eve and all seven of us huddled on our tiny balcony on the twelfth floor to watch the Porteños usher in Christmas with a traditional citywide display of fireworks.
Sweat dripped down my temple as I hurried to set up my camera. I positioned myself between two strangers-quickly-turned-friends and took my shot.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!