Saturday, March 27, 2010

Touch and Go

This is a rare opportunity: free internet and time to spend typing. I'll start where I last left off, somewhere in Argentina. Cordóba, that's right. Cordóba is a college town in north-central Argentina. It manages to exude a laid-back vibe while maintaining its bustle. We spent two days cruising the streets, just trying to get back on campus. We were dead-set on getting a dorm tour, but were unable to find any willing guides, although they appeared to be everywhere. We went bowling in blacklight, throwing neon balls down the lane as fast as we could, since the pins simply had no pop. In such situations, it's all about ballspeed. A group of giggly too-young girls were in the lane next to us, and we fear they spoke more English than we had assumed.

What else, oh: Cappo bought a tie. In the process of reliving our days as mallrats, we wandered into several upscale clothing stores, intending to try on suits, or at least buy some cufflinks. It was only when Cappo saw this golden tie, really gold on gold, hanging from the neck of a window mannequin that we (he) saw something he absolutely had to have. But the salesgentlemen refused to sell it to him. They claimed that to remove the tie from the mannequin was above their paygrade, that they couldn't possibly replace it since they themselves could not tie a tie as neatly as is required for display in their prestigious window. And to be fair, seeing the state of their knots, we could not help but agree.

So anyway, we went back later that night (after bowling; tie shops are open late in Argentina) and spoke with the manager. He had been told the story of the gringos locos who demanded that one tie. We could not have possibly been interested in any other tie, for the gold was truly the only one worth buying, a class act all the way, brilliant with a simple black suit and white shirt. These are articles of clothing Cappo owns, as he continued to admire the mannequin saying, in all ironic seriousness, "I could have that look." So anyway, after battling through the language barrier by placing cashmoney on the table, the manager said that if we came back tomorrow, the tie would be ready for us. Short story longer than it needed to be, Cappo has a stunning new tie. But only after we went back 3 times! It appears to be amatuer hour in the sales department.

So that was Cordóba. Oh, also, we stayed in an American-owned and operated hostel, called The Turning Point, and it was a terrible error. There were long-term residents who felt they owned the place, and were offended by our mere presence in 'their' room. There was a half-assed tourist office whose knowledge of the local bus service was second-rate at best (our outdated Footprint guidebook was more well-informed), and, to top it all off, what really made us furious, was when they promised we could go skydiving, then we waited around the hostel all day, hearing reports of "20 minutes, 20 minutes, the guy will be here". Supposedly he came, but a group of Hawaiians jumped the line by sitting in the doorway, obstructing all entrance and exit, while we made the mistake of being merely in the lobby, and therefore clearly not interested in going. If the day wasted was not infuriating enough, it was made more so when the owners (who had been all buddy-buddy with us) asked us to pay for half-a-days stay. Clever fucks.

So we shorted them and skipped town to Capilla del Monte, three hours North. Capilla is pronounced Capeesha, and is the UFO capital of South America. It is a small town, set at the base of Cerro Unitorico, with a thriving 'mystical tourism' industry. They also boast lots of outdoor adventures (horseback riding, paragliding and the like), and have some of the best fruit available. We consistently feasted on plums and peaches beyond compare. So we went to the UFO museum and managed to transcend the language barrier with the owner-operator, agreeing that all we need is patience, and all will be revealed.

We visited the Pyramide Mysterioso, which turned out to be not so mysterious as we might have hoped. Then we got my aura read. Turns out I'm green and blue and live from my heart, but tend to brood over the scars this heart has accrued. Something about carrying a 'burden of love'. I blame it on the language barrier.

And then we climbed a little mountain. Cerro Unitorico is a nice little cliff they claim requires 4 hours to conquer. I believe it took us two. At the top we lunched on olives and Oreos, polishing off a bottle of Carmenere in the process. Then we ran down. We figure it takes more energy to fight against gravity than to just let it have its way with us. Risk divided by fun to the power of wine equals I broke my camera.

Okay so, after two days in Cordóba, and two more in Capilla, we were finally on our way to Buenos Aires, with promises of steak and dance parties, babes and Boca. We arrived on a rare Friday night when Boca Juniors were playing a home game. Our siesta ran a bit long, so we missed the train of friends we had arranged to meet, but we managed to finagle our way into the game through some nefarious means. Well, actually we still aren't sure.

Clearly gringos, a man sought us out and offered us entrance. He said nothing of tickets. He suggested that we give him 300 pesos for the two of us (regular tickets would have been 280), and that his friend, who happened to be walking up just then, would bring us in. His friend was decked out in Boca gear, so we figured okay, sure, porque no?

We passed the cash, and followed the Boca-clad man. We got in line at a turnstile, and as we got to the front, he gave the guard a look, then pointed at Cap and I. So okay, up we go, climbing nicely spaced stairs way way up, until we found seats at midfield, essentially providing us with the same view as you see on TV. When we first sat down, there was a game in process, just ending as a matter of fact, and we were shocked with the thought that we had misread the gametime, or failed to translate the time change accurately, and had just paid a stupid amount of money to watch 6 minutes of soccer. Oh, nevermind, that was just the junior squad. So we got to watch Boca snatch a draw from the jaws of victory with Estudiantes. 1-1. Boca made several inexcusable errors in the last 5 minutes, failing to clear their lines with any authority, and the Estudiantes fellow took the ball on the half-volley and buried it high to the far post. Brilliant goal, deflated the atmosphere a bit. The Boca fans did manage to sing nearly the whole time though. Really fantastic fan base, jumping up and down in unison to literally shake the stadium.

Then the next night was Paul van Dyke, a DJ most famous in Europe about 10 years ago, but still touring the electronica/trance circuit, pumping up the jams for all the party people in the place to be, and that sort of stuff. So we drank, and danced, got offered drugs, and were constantly disappointed by tension in the music, which was constantly building, but never dropping. They build it up, but refused to let it drop. No lo entiendo.

Great night. Ended at about 8 am with Cappo and me in a yelling match with the elderly owner of our friends apartment building because she refused to let us out. We were locked in, and she was standing there with the key, demanding to know which apartment we had been in. Before letting us even think about answering, she started buzzing the wrong apartment. Then she told her elderly husband to call the police, but he said something incomprehensible and she let us out. Great fun. But seriously, all over Buenos Aires, people get locked into buildings. Our hostel, this apartment, this other apartment, everywhere. Is this not a fire hazard? Are they not creating thousands of death traps? Seems crazy. Nice lady though, just hope we didn't get some random people evicted simply because we wanted to go home and sleep.

And then... and then... umm Oh we flew to Ushuaia on the 3rd of March. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and the jumping off point for the vast majority of expeditions to the Antarctic. It has the feel of a little ski-town, maintaining a hefty dose of charm despite the fact that it is entirely oriented towards tourists. We stayed at the Freestyle Hostel, and recommend it highly enough to have purchased Tshirts. Hot showers, firm pillows, and a pool table with generous pockets. (Hint: the table is supposed to take pesos, but 25 centavo pieces work just as well). So we took a boatride out around Beagle Canal, saw some penguins, seals and cormorants, a red-and-white striped lighthouse on a lonely island outpost, and were treated to free beer the entire time.

Ellen, I found a quartz rock on a sacred island and pocketed it for you even though they told us not to. It was so obviously yours, it would have been irresponsible not to return it to you.

We spent the next day organizing future travel plans, booking our place on the NaviMag (to be explained later) and buying bus tickets North (nowhere else to go). Cappo and I then climbed up to the glacier that pokes its nose just over a mountain ridge at the top of Ushuaia. There is a chairlift available, but for 20 USDs we decided we could just as easily walk. I don't know why anyone would ever take the lift. You can either sit suspended, getting dragged up over destroyed forest floor at a snails pace, or you can take the path and walk for 20 minutes up a gentle slope, crossing a glacial river through evergreen forest and stunning scenery which you can simply spin around to see, instead of cultivating an unnecessary crick in your neck. Anyway, it was a spectacular stroll, and again, would recommend it highly to anyone who finds themself in Ushuaia.

Tierra del Fuego National Park is the most amazing place I've ever been. Hands down. It requires about a 2 hr busride from Ushuaia, but if you get up early enough, you have time to climb to the top (there is only one peak to climb) and hike some other tamer trails as well. We, of course, were not up early, and starting climbing at 2 in the afternoon. The sign says not to start after noon, so we hustled up, and were the last people on the summit that day. Alone, with a 360 degree view of Beagle Canal, ocean and the town of Ushuaia in one direction, lakes of at least five different blues below mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. We could see Chile, we could see.... everything. And to boot, there was a fox waiting for us at the top. Yeah, a fox. We just sat and looked at each other for about 20 minutes while we ate M&M's. Something profound about a mountaintop fox. I will refer you to Michael Cappo's Facebook photos for evidence of this event. I believe they are in the album named At Least The Maximum.

I have to go now. We are in Santiago, staying at the apartment of a friend we met in the Pampas in Bolivia. She is taking good care of us, and today we are headed to Valparaiso to see how big a party we can be a part of. Okay for now.

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