About HurricaneJoe

I'm a searcher and a dreamer. I'm a sucker for good food, wine, and adventure. There's more to life than sitting in a cubicle wasting away in front of a computer screen, and I'm destined to find that life. I cultivate music, friendship, and learning. I'm a cynic that wears his heart on his sleeve. I'm hopeful.


Situated in the South Pacific, over 3000 kilometers from Chile, is a small island that is home to a number of statues carved out of rock.  It’s one of the most isolated places on the planet to visit.  The allure of traveling to Easter Island comes from trying to understand where the stone statues came from, and how they were moved to their current locations.  Since childhood, I have wanted to visit Easter Island.  There was something spooky and mysterious about an island full of face statues, and I wanted to be there.

When I first started planning this trip, I knew that I wanted to incorporate Easter Island into it somehow.  This has been a dream in the making for over 30 years.  Logistically, it’s a more difficult destination to get to.  One must travel either from Santiago, Chile or Papeete, Tahiti.  Only one airline services the island and that is LAN Airlines.  Ticket prices are not cheap, and the fact that I was going during their Tapati festival makes it even that much more expensive.  But hey – you only live once, and I didn’t want to go though my life not having visited one of the more interesting places on the planet.

When I finally arrived in Easter Island, I handed over the 60 US dollar park entrance fee and then was picked up by my hotel.  Tekena Inn is a nice little Inn situated on the main road that cuts right through the center of Hanga Roa, the only town on the island.  It’s quiet and the breakfast is solid.  The internet is basically non-existent, but then again, you’re on the most remote place on the planet.  There’s really no good internet anywhere.  I dropped my gear and got my bearings by walking down to the area where most of the Scuba Dive shops are located.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Peace Boat docked right off shore behind the Moai Te Ata Hero.  A friend of mine had spent a number of months the prior year on Peace Boat.  I stopped into Orca Dive Center and scheduled two dives for the upcoming Monday and Tuesday.  That would give me 2 – 3 days prior to that to explore the archeological sites on the island.  I later wandered around and ate dinner at Te Moana and later walked to Tahai, right outside of town where a couple of Moai stand with their backs to the ocean.

The next day, wanting to see more Moai, I rented a bike for 10,000 Chilean pesos and set out to explore the west side of the island.  I first stopped in and visited the museum.  Next, I made my way to Te Peu and slightly beyond.  The road to Te Peu is a rocky dirt road, and as you go farther, it becomes a bit treacherous.  It’s best to have a 4 wheeler or jeep to traverse this road, although at some point, visitors are not allowed to continue on in any vehicle as it must be done by foot.  I returned to Tekena Inn later in the day sore and tired from my bike ride.

Not having seen many Moai the prior day, I set out the next day again on a bicycle with a plan to see as many Moai as possible.  The guy at the bike rental advised me to take the paved road up through the center of the island and then come back along the coast.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I decided to rent a bike again, as I was still a bit sore from the day before.  With the bike seat reminding my ass that I obviously hate it, I set out on my adventure.  After stumbling upon a small unlisted statue on my map, I accidentally arrived at another unlisted gem – Jardin Tau Kiani, a beautiful botanical garden.  The garden reminded me a bit of a Japanese garden where oriental statues were replaced by small Moai replica’s surrounded by exotic plants indigenous to the island.  A groundskeeper started offering me advice about the location of archeological sites of interest on the island and how to get there.  I was struggling with my Spanish and unsure if I was understanding him much.  The conversation quickly deteriorated into Spanglish intermixed with vague hand gestures and confused looks.  I clumsily got back on my bicycle and headed out.

I finally arrived at A Kivi, confused and realizing that I had been going in the wrong direction.  Thinking that I had botched my plans for the day, I continued onward and miraculously located the main highway again and finally arrived at the other end of the island, tired and sore.  I started to curse myself for this fools errand.  Having traveled close to 20 kilometers, I was not sure if I’d be able to walk properly the next day.  But, that’s how I roll – unprepared and uncomfortable.  I reminded myself that it was an adventure and that it would make a great story to tell my friends when I arrive back home.

I quickly located the beach at Anakena and dismounted my bike for awhile.  I walked across the entrance and visited the two platforms supporting Moai overlooking the beach.  What a spectacular view with palm trees, statue, sand, and ocean.  I decided to get into my swim trunks and take in some relaxation on the beach.  After an hour of some swimming and sun, it was time to continue my quest.  Following the road to the east and south, I made my way around Maunga Puakatike to Tongariki and Rano Raraku (the Moai quarry).  Many of the pictures you see in books are of the stone statues from Rano Raraku.  It is one of the those places that leaves you in awe and feeling blessed to experience this place in the flesh.  It was here that I met James Grant-Peterkin, a British native living on Easter Island and founder of Easter Island Spirit.  He was at Rano Raraku helping a cameraman get pictures for a new documentary on Easter Island that was being produced.  James was very personable and I enjoyed talking with him a bit.  Before heading out, I found myself hungry and I knew that I would need some energy to make it back to Hanga Roa.  So, I went to the cafeteria and ordered what became the best banana bread I had ever eaten.  I spent the next hour riding back to Hanga Roa, alternating between a sitting and standing position as I was exhausted and sore.  In fact, I was so sore that I spent the next day recovering from my 40km bike ride the previous day.

Monday, I awoke early for my dive.  The dive site that day would be Hanga Roa (also named after the town) where there is a fake Moai placed at the bottom at about 15 – 20 meters deep.  Arriving upon the site, everyone had their underwater camera’s, including me, ready for the photo-op.  The water in Easter Island is really clear due to the low plankton levels and lack of pollution.  You can sometimes see up to 200 feet underwater.  But while the visibility is crystal clear, the sea life is not that exciting.  I was fortunate enough to capture a sea turtle swimming not far from our group.  At the surface, I was able to meet one of my dive partners that day, Vanessa, who comes from Chile.  I would bump into her many times during the course of my trip.  I spent the rest of the day relaxing and checking out the artisinal markets.  The next day, my dive was at Motu Nui, a giant wall of coral.  Our group went to 30 meters before returning to the surface.  All around, I had a great time diving.

The next couple of days, I spent my time relaxing.  I eventually rented a scooter and checked out the volcano at Rano Kau, the stone village at Orongo and Ahu Vinapu.  During this time, I got a ride up to Cerro Pui where participants in the Tapati festivals, Haka Pei competition slide down the hill on sleds made from the trunk of banana trees.

Back in Hanga Roa, I often ate at a dive bar a block from the dive shops.  It was here that I ran into Vanessa again.  Between my bad Spanish and her bad English I came to learn that her Easter Island trip was a gift to herself because her Cancer had recently gone into remission.  Again, I had the privilege to meet someone that was conquering life’s challenges and living their life to the fullest.  If there was anything to take away from this trip, it would be the number of people with truly inspiring stories that I had continued to run into.  Later, I was fortunate enough to watch Vanessa join other tourists alongside the community for a parade in which everyone paints their bodies and wears traditional celebratory garb to celebrate the heritage of Easter Island.  And then, before returning back to the mainland, I would take my scooter up to Anakena for one last visit to the beach for some ocean and sun.

I spent my last night on Easter Island, again at Te Moana, outside, dining on grilled fish with coconut and pineapple sauce served with mashed potatoes.  With a glass of Chilean Merlot in my hand, I gazed out at the ocean and enjoyed another spectacular sunset.  I had done this.  A journey that I had envisioned for years, it took a lot of sacrifices and changes on my part.  But I was here and incredibly grateful for the fortitude, strength, and support of my friends to make it all happen.  Topping off this gorgeous sunset, I ordered up a serving of their coconut helado.  Taking a bite, I realized that I had reached my goal and was ready to head back to the mainland.  To be honest, 9 days was a bit much and I was ready to go.  I had mixed feelings.  This was the start of the end of my trip, and I’d be making my way back to the United States in the next couple of days after returning to Chile.  It’s been an incredible journey and I’m having trouble processing everything that I’ve experienced and understanding all the new feelings I’m having.  The journey’s not over, but I think it will change a bit from here on out.  Stay tuned for more posts where I hope to illuminate the fog a bit more.

Of Art and Soul


Sometime before leaving on my grand adventure, I had contacted Tona, a friend of mine who grew in Chile to see if she might be around to meet up while I was in Santiago.  Unfortunately, she’s currently studying in San Francisco.  I guess that’s what I get for letting my friendships go idle.  However, she did put me in contact with a friend of hers that lives in Santiago, Esteban, whom agreed to host me and show me around a bit.  After arriving, I hopped a taxi into town and soon after, met up with my host.  We were both hungry, so he took me to the Harvard Bar, a bar right outside the campus area for a beer and some Chorillana, a Chilean bar food consisting of fries topped with meat, egg, onion, and sausage.  We discussed my plans which included heading to Valparaiso in a couple of days.  Luckily for me, Esteban would be heading there the next evening to be with his girlfriend and offered to meet up with me on Sunday to show me around.  Valparaiso is Esteban’s favorite city in the world which not surprisingly is the place that he grew up.

The next day, I first got my bearings by locating the tourist office in Providencia, and then I was able to track down a dealer of EBook readers in town and replace my stolen Nook.  I’ve felt so lonely the last month not being able to go someplace and read the many books I had selected for my trip.  Afterwards, I decided to seek out the Japanese garden located at the Santiago Metropolitan Park.  After walking all day, I was exhausted.  I stopped by a small food store and picked up some Empanada’s and a Danky.  It would be dinner at the apartment and then off to bed.  Esteban arrived later, collected his things, and then was off to Valparaiso.

The next day was spent checking out Santiago where I took in most of the tourist sites.  I started by checking out Barrio Brasil and the Concha y Toro neighborhood.  It’s a street with late 18th century / early 19th century buildings.  It’s a peaceful neighborhood with park benches, water fountains, cafes, etc.  While looking for a cafe, I stumbled upon Hostel Tales, where Scott, the  attendant greeted me at the door and invited me in for a cup of tea.  Scott, originally from the US, looks to be in his early 50’s.  We talk about Chilean culture.  He moved there, because, as he describes it, the people are much more welcoming and “dating” after your 30 is a joy, rather than the chore he perceives it in the US.  I also make the acquaintance of Kherfia, a French traveler of Arabic descent.  I’m overjoyed to be able to practice my french with her.  Scott invites me to join a group that he’s taking down to the Lakes region in Mid-February.  I take down his information but do not make any promises.

I spend the rest of the day checking out La Moneda, a site of historical significance in Santiago.  It’s a building that was originally built for producing and distributing Chile’s currency but later became the site for politicians.  It’s not much of a tour, and I found it mostly uninteresting.  Afterwards, while searching for a place to sit down and have some tea, I stumbled into Cafe Bombay, a coffee shop that Chileans commonly refer to as “Cafe con Piernas” or “Cafe with Legs”.  It’s a new thing popping up in coffee shops around Santiago where the waitresses are dressed very provocatively.  Coffee and Tea never looked this good.

I finished off the day by eating lunch at Mercado Centro and later having dinner at the MosaiCafe in the Patio Bellavista.  I went home soon after, ready to take a bus to Valparaiso in the morning.


The bus ride to Valparaiso from Santiago is roughly 2 hours straight through Chilean wine country.  If you have the time, you can stop off and tour some wines in the Casablanca valley.   I arrived in Valparaiso and after locating my hostel, La Casa Volante, I met up with Esteban for a quick tour of the historical part of the city.  Valparaiso seemed in many ways similar to Naples, Italy for me.  It’s a bit dirty but there’s culture and art all around you.  The city is filled with brightly-painted staircases leading up to all the cerros.  Walls throughout the city are painted with amazing murals.  This isn’t graffiti.  It’s art where many creations are of the caliber found in many post 20th-century, contemporary art museums.  And of course there are the walkways and balconies that cover the city, overlooking the harbor filled with all kinds of shipping and naval vessel imaginable.  After walking for an hour or two, taking photos of every kind of art or vista imaginable, Esteban takes me to Los Portenos in Plaza Sotomayor for lunch.  It’s completely packed and we arrive just in time to get the last seat before a line starts to form outside the door.  It’s popular for a reason.  The seafood here is amazing.  Esteban and I order the seafood chowder and talk over some wine.  After lunch, Esteban and I say farewell and we go off about our own adventures.

The next day, I start off my day attending a tour of Valparaiso run by Tours 4 Tips.  It’s an organization that does tours around Santiago and Valparaiso for only tip money.  It was highly recommended to me by people that had been to Santiago and Valparaiso before me.  Afterwards, I enjoyed lunch at La Belle Epoque Cafe, an art gallery and cafe overlooking the harbor.  In the evening, I sought out Empanadas las Famosas, a restaurant famous for, you guessed it, making amazing (and cheap) Empanadas.  For 600 pesos, it was the best and least expensive option I’d encountered in Valparaiso so far.

My last day in Valparaiso was spent visiting the Maritime Museum and lazing around taking in La Belle Epoque Cafe one more time, as well as trying some pasta at Pasta y Vino.  Pasta y Vino changes up their menu most every day.  I was fortunate enough to have some of their spinach gnocchi with 2 glasses of Chilean Carmenere wine.  It was a fantastic way to end my trip in Valparaiso.  In the morning, I’d be off to accomplish a dream of mine that I’ve had since I was a young child.

Patagonia: Part 2

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is a small town that is essentially the gateway for getting to Torres del Paine.  Everyone I knew that had been to Torres del Paine told me that I really needed to go.  So, I arrived in Puerto Natales after a 5 hour bus ride from El Calafate, not really sure if I’d be able to give Torres del Paine the time that it really deserved.  I booked 3 nights at small hostel, hoping that I could do some type of day trek and see at least some of the greatness that Torres del Paine has to offer….. at least from afar.

I first located the tourism office down near the water and was informed that there were day trips up to Torres del Paine, but that a real excursion through the park would require anywhere from 2 to 7 days of trekking.  I wasn’t equipped for camping, nor did I have reservations for one of the hostels that were already booked.  I easily found a tour company in the center of town that assured me that I’d see the sights that I wanted to see.  I signed up not realizing that instead of a day of hiking, I instead would be driven around in a van with other people, making 14 stops along the way for some light hiking, photo-ops, and an occasional snack.  I’ll admit that initially, I was frustrated and a bit disappointed at myself for the lack of planning on my part and the limited exposure I would have with Torres del Paine.  But dealing with cold weather and extremely strong winds all day long left me exhausted and somewhat happy that everything worked out the way that it did.

It also gave me the time to relax and enjoy myself in the sleepy town of Puerto Natales.  Some of the highlights of my stay in Puerto Natales included having a beer at Baguales, a local brewpub in town.  I also came across a small vegetarian soup and sandwich shop called El Living.  While I’m not a vegetarian by nature, I was happy with the healthy food served and the availability of mate.  And with a small bookcase filled with old magazines (both in English and Spanish), I did not lack for any reading material, which was nice considering I haven’t read much since my Nook got stolen in Buenos Aires.

Punta Arenas

If you’re looking to visit the southern most, accessible city in South America so that you can brag about being at “The End of the World”, then you’d likely visit Ushuaia.  But, if you want to visit the southernmost city in South America of respectable size, then you’d visit Punta Arenas.  I was disappointed that my planning had left me unable to visit Ushuaia, but was still happy to be far enough south to be in the Magallanes region of South America.  I needed to go through Punta Arenas so that I could catch a flight to Santiago, Chile.  Initially, I didn’t have much interest in Punta Arenas and was only planning a night or two.  Instead, I recognized the need for some down time and scheduled 3 nights there.  Punta Arenas turned out to be a much more pleasant experience than I had expected.

I first checked into my hostel, Patagonia House, a house that has been re-configured to be a hostel.  A family lives there while guests from all over the world stay in the other available rooms.  While relaxing in your room upstairs, it’s not uncommon to hear some the kids playing Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto on their video game system right outside your door.  It’s never too loud and the place has a comfy, feeling like staying with your family.  I quickly made friends with two of my room-mates from Portland, Oregon (two of the few travelers I’d come across from the US), Brian and Blake, and decided to head out for some dinner.

The next morning, having nothing on my agenda, I hopped a ferry to Isla Magdelena to see a colony of Penguins.  Upon arrival, you walk off the ferry and are surrounded by a multitude of penguins running around, burrowing in their holes, procreating, or taking a dump right in front of you.  It’s an episode of National Geographic right in your face.  I was having the time of my life.  But the bonus for me was the lighthouse that was located there.  After returning to town, I met up with Brian and Blake to explore the cemetery which very closely resembled the Recoleta Museum found in Buenos Aires (but much smaller).

I spent my last day in Punta Arenas checking out the town and relaxing in coffee shops.  The next day, I’d be off to Santiago, Chile.

Patagonia: Part 1

San Carlos de Bariloche

Originally, when I started thinking about my visit to Patagonia and where I wanted to go, it had never occurred to me to visit San Carlos de Bariloche.  I was in my hostel in Mendoza having breakfast across from Emily, a nice young woman from Ireland, and we were discussing places that she had visited in Chile and Argentina.  “If you’re going to Puerto Natales and visiting Torres del Paine, you could do the “W” trek.  I’ve heard it’s great.”, she said.  “You should visit Bariloche in Argentina.  It’s beautiful.”  So here I was in Bariloche.  The first thing I noticed when I got out of the cab was how incredibly windy it was.  The next thing I noticed was how incredibly beautiful the lake was.  Here I stood at the doorsteps about to enter Patagonia and I couldn’t be happier.

Patagonia is an area in the southern part of both Argentina and Chile.  It’s where the hot and humid area of Argentina and Chile stops and it opens up into great big lakes, with great plains decorated with huge mountain ranges and glaciers.  Bariloche is a fun tourist town.  It has trendy streets filled with chocolate shops and small bistros selling artisanal beers or souvenirs.  Cafes that sell mate and wine are just up the street from the lake.  And of course you have the beautiful boardwalk area with health-nuts running along the lake.

I’ve come to regret it, but I only gave Bariloche one full day.  I could have easily relaxed here for a week or at least enjoyed three to five days sipping tea and reading books.  I got up early the only day I spent there and walked along the boardwalk until I spotted a chocolate shop and decided I needed a snack.  Afterwards, I bought my bus ticket to travel out to Puerto Pañuelo so that I could hike Cerro Llao Llao (pronounced ‘shao shao’).  The hike produced some incredibly beautiful pictures of Nahuel Huapi Lake.  I finished the night having a nice dinner and going to bed early.  The next morning I’d catch a flight to El Calafate.

El Calafate

While flying to El Calafate, I made the acquaintance of Tiffany, the woman sitting next to me on the plane.  After landing, I asked if she wanted to get out ahead of me and exit the plane.  She preferred to stay in her seat.  I said goodbye and offered that maybe we’d pass each other while in El Calafate.  But you say things like that so many times, rarely believing them. You understand that as a traveler you pass through so many lives and for the few times you actually cross paths again, there are a million more where the opportunity never manifests itself again.  Little did I know at the time how important meeting her would really be.

I located my hotel and then walked the mile and a half stretch into town to locate the Tourism Office.  I inquired about going to Perito Moreno, the giant glacier.  They provided a map, and informed me that it was an hour and a half bus ride to the site.  I located the bus station and bought my ticket for the next day.  The Perito Merito glacier is a massive ice shelf floating on an azure blue lake.  Perito Moreno glacier has been tamed with walkways that provide multiple balconies for viewing the glacier as well as protecting the landscape from the large numbers of people that come to visit this site every year.  A cafeteria is also on hand to feed the throngs of people that become hungry watching and photographing this incredible monument.  The weather was bright and sunny.  You can only walk for so long before stopping and staring at the glacier, hoping to hear the soft crack that precedes a big chunk of glacier that falls to the water below, leaving an azure blue imprint among the dirty remnants of the glacier where the chunk used to be.  It’s peaceful and captivating.

Back in El Calafate, I needed something to warm me back up.  Stopping in a bar near the artisinal market, I inquired to the bartender if they served any mate to which he replied “yes”.  Within moments of ordering my mate and sitting down at the bar, a woman’s voice called my name.  I turned to see Tiffany, whom I met on the airplane earlier, propped up on crutches and smiling at me.  When I asked her to join me for some mate, she readily agreed and sat down to provide me company for the night.  2 cups of mate turned into 2 beers, when she finally opened up about her story.  Tiffany uses crutches because she suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a balcony in Dubai years back.  Despite doctors telling her that she’d never walk again, she set out to prove them wrong.  And she did.  She’s still paralyzed from the knees down, but can still walk with the help of two crutches.  Her next challenge….. to prove to herself and the world that she can travel for the next 13 months all over the world.  You can read her story and adventures at her blog, A Tale of Two Legs.

Serendipity is a very real thing.  I’ve known people in my life that seem like they’re plugged into this universe.  They ask for what they want and then they receive.  Through perseverance and a positive outlook, they overcome all obstacles and achieve the most incredible feats.  I too am plugged into the universe, but still feel awkward and doubtful at times.  But when I’m feeling unsure and doubtful of my life and purpose, someone like Tiffany shows up to remind me that almost anything is possible.  I have doubts and questions about my travels thus far.  Tiffany shows up and dispels my doubts and answers my questions.  I start to feel stronger and thank the universe for putting her in my path.

The next day, I have a lazy day and sleep in.  Later, Tiffany and I meet up for dinner and afterwards hug and say our goodbye’s.  She’s off to the glacier, and I need to make my way to Chile.  I’m starting to feel energized again.  My next stop is Puerto Natales where I’ll hopefully get a glimpse of Torres del Paine.


People from all over the world come to Mendoza, Argentina for primarily one thing: to taste the wines that have given Mendoza its reputation.  I was coming to Mendoza for that very reason.  Truth be told, Maipu is actually the center of many of the famous bodega’s.  Plan your trip accordingly as Mendoza is quite a bit busier and Maipu is more laid back.

After checking into my hostel, I quickly booked a wine tour where you traveled between bodega’s on a bicycle.  Thoughts of riding a bicycle from one bodega to another, through wine fields and trying ample samples of wine raced through my head.  Contrary to my romantic notions, it was more like riding a bicycle between bodega’s on the streets of Maipu, in 100+ degree heat with 2 or 3 very small samples of wine.  We visited 2 bodega’s, Lopez and Cecchin, and one olive oil producer.  Lopez is an old wine producer that uses new methods to produce high-quality wine.  Cecchin is a family winery that produces organic wine.  The best part of the wine tour was the lunch provided at the end where we all spent together in and around a small pool.  The family ran a small vineyard, and for me, it was a cultural experience spent with my new friends from the hostel.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Mendoza much past that, but I found a place in Mendoza that was able to partially solve my technology problems.  Todo Computacion was able to look at my computer right away and fix one of the problems.  And, since I decided to stay 2 more days due to high airline ticket prices, it was inevitable that I try out one more one tour.  While walking back from lunch one day, purely by accident, I walked by and then into Trout and Wine, a small travel agency specializing in wine tours.  For double the price of my last wine tour, I was able to book another wine tour that included 4 bodega’s (one of which was also an olive producer), and a gourmet lunch.  No bicycling involved in this one, either.  I’d escape the heat (mostly) by being shuttled from place to place.

We started things off at Dante Robino with an explanation of how wine is produced and 4 very generous samples of Wine.  Next was Alta Vista, where we had another explanation of how wine is produced (let’s get to the wine samples – I’ve heard this before) and then 3 – 4 more generous helpings of wine.  It was by this time that I was getting a bit peckish.  Have no fear – a gourmet lunch was right around the corner at Tapiz, a winery with a nice boutique restaurant upstairs.  We started things off with a plate of bread, olive oil, and balsamico.  We were then treated to an appetizer of Gazpacho and then followed up with our main entree of some Asado.  During this time, we also were treated to another 4 generous samples of wine.  We finished things off with some helado for desert and were off to our final vineyard.  Lastly, we visited Carinae, a small, french-owned vineyard.  The owner, an astronomy enthusiast, named the Vineyard Carinae after what he felt is the most beautiful constellation in the southern hemisphere.  We were all treated to another tour of the facilities and an explanation of how wine is produced (we didn’t care this time, considering we were all a little buzzed).  In the end, we were treated to 4 more samples of wine.  This was the tour that I was hoping to have.  Obviously, I splurged a bit for this one, but it was well worth it.

At this point, I felt like the heat and humidity were getting to me.  I needed some cooler weather, and Patagonia was calling.

The mate always comes to you

When my friend, Lynn, discovered that I’d be going to Uruguay, she introduced to me Elian, a young woman she met the previous year in Minneapolis that was visiting from Uruguay.  Before arriving, I promised I’d contact her as soon as I got to Montevideo.  I was excited to spend some time with a local and make a new friend.

Before I left for my trip, one of my colleagues whom spent a year in Buenos Aires had told me about a drink that I must try called mate.  While in Argentina, I hadn’t really given it much thought.  And then, after arriving in Montevideo, it seemed like it was everywhere.  You see tons of men everywhere holding their gourd and bombilla in one hand, and their thermos tucked between the forearm of the hand holding the gourd and their chest.  What is this magical substance?  This link hopefully explains.  On my first day in Montevideo, I stumbled across the restaurant Facal and for dinner ordered a small pepperoni pizza and some mate.

The next day, I shot off a text to Elian and headed out to explore the old town.  Like most historical centers, the old town is an area of cobblestone streets and people from Uruguay selling their artisanal wares.  I stumbled across Bacacay Cafe, a simple, tranquil cafe and decided to have some lunch.  Afterwards, I returned to my hotel where Elian was waiting to take me out and show me around.  She explained to me that she considered herself a terrible host because she wasn’t sure what to suggest and instead asked me what I was interested in doing.  We decided to go back to Facal, have a drink and then go to the Rambla and walk the beach.  The beach was the type of beach where you could walk for hours.  Women were sunning themselves and families were frolicking in the surf.

The next 3 days were spent exploring the city and spending time with Elian.  We checked out a lot of different restaurants, including Alebrijes, an excellent Mexican restaurant.  It was there that I was able to have a michelada, a drink from mexico essentially consisting of beer and salsa.  I was excited since I hadn’t had one in about a year.  My plan after Montevideo was to go to Punta del Diablo, but Elian told me that I should spend my time in Cabo Polonio instead.  They were close by, so I thought it could be possible to do both.  So, I decided on a bus to Cabo Polonio.

Cabo Polonio

If anyone were to ask me to sum up Cabo Polonio, I’d probably tell them that it’s basically a hippie commune on the beach.  There are few hotels, and the hostels are very basic.  I was lucky – my hostel, Del Cabo, had warm showers, a kitchen, and one outlet to charge your phone.  Leave your computer and other items at home – Cabo Polonio is a place to get lost for a couple days or week.  Cabo Polonio is also a protected park and the park currently does not allow any new construction.

After arriving in Cabo Polonio, I quickly decided against going to Punta del Diablo in favor of enjoying Cabo Polonio with all the time that I had.  I’m glad I did because I spent most of the next day visiting the lighthouse, watching the sea lions sun themselves and bark at each other on the rocks, sharing some mate with friends, and of course, walking the beach.  During the evening, I walked the beach with my new friend from the hostal, Ivana.  We came across a capsized boat on the beach.  It couldn’t have been any longer than 30 feet.  The sailor was living on board and I believe trying to figure out how to get his boat back in the ocean.  Nonetheless, it provided some amazing photographs at sunset.

The next morning, I said goodbye to my new friends and headed back to Montevideo.  I would spend some more time with Elian before heading out to Mendoza, Argentina.

Back in Montevideo

Sitting in Cafe Bacacay on my last day in Montevideo, I ordered a Mate and something to eat.  While starting to sip water from my cup, I noticed an older couple situated near my table looking at me quizzically, laughing, and then talking to the waiter about something.  Not long after, the waiter approached me and starts to give me some advice on “how to drink” mate.  First off, he tells me that no one drinking mate bends over and sips from the cup.  “The Mate always comes to you.”  You always bring the cup up with your hand and then sip.  Next, he explained to me that if the taste of the mate starts to become weak, that one can adjust the straw by scooping in and then pulling it to a different side about 45 to 90 degrees.  And lastly, when you start to drink a cup of mate, you need to add just a bit of cold water first, so the mate can expand and grow.  When it’s mostly filled the cup, then you can pour hot water, near the straw and start drinking.  I’ve come to appreciate these fish-out-of-water experiences.  They’re the experiences that, while embarrassing at times, make me feel like I’m having a truly cultural experience.  Nothing is ever gained if you don’t screw it up first.

Saying goodbye and moving on to my next destination is difficult.  Uruguay has been one of the more enjoyable and surprising experiences of my trip.  It wasn’t even on my radar to go until I started hearing about it from other people.  I think this is the travel that I enjoy most.  I’ve met incredible people here and will hopefully return someday.

A hop, skip, and a jump

Technology issues, abound.  Sorry for the lack of updates but I’m forced to work on my blog when my computer is actually working.  Hopefully I can get this fixed once I’ve reached Santiago, Chile.

Anyways, I’ve been restless.  After 8 days in Buenos Aires, I was starting to feel stuck.  I wasn’t really enjoying the big city anymore and felt the need to start moving again.  The humidity was getting to me and I was tired of solving technology issues.  I decided that my next destination would be Iguazu Falls and then Uruguay after that.

By foregoing any sense of planning, I’m not really able to enjoy the benefits of reduced airfare that is typically available to someone that plans ahead.  Needing to move forward, I booked round-trip airfare between Buenos Aires and Iguazu.  After arriving in Iguazu, I took a taxi and quickly located my place of residence for the next two nights, Poramba Hostel.  It’s a very basic hostel that is only four to six blocks from the center of town.  I headed out to establish my surroundings.  The town of Iguazu is a laid-back town that mostly survives on tourism.  I returned to the hostel and quickly befriended my roommates.

The next day, we all got up early and headed out to the falls.  Two of my roommates were attempting to do the Brazilian side in the same day.  Lacking a Brazilian passport, I wasn’t worried about fitting in too much.  We located the train that transports visitors to the top and got on.  Note:  There are two trains and the first one only takes you a short distance.  Once you reach the first destination, you’re forced to get off and re-enter the line for the train.  I think it’s better if you walk to the first destination and then get in line, otherwise, you’re burning up time changing trains.  After finally reaching the top, we were treated to some incredibly majestic waterfalls.  Make sure you bring a rain jacket as you’ll get wet from the mist.  We all took the train back, and did the 4 smaller falls which I thought offered more impressive views of all the falls there.

The next day, I hopped my flight back to Buenos Aires and readied for my boat to Colonia, Uruguay.  I had six hours to spare, so I burned it up having drinks and using the WiFi at the TGI Friday’s located around Puerto Madero.  The high-speed boat to Colonia takes one hour to cross the bay.  I decided to go with Colonia Express whom I thought was very professional and also the cheapest of the options.  You can also drink beer and shop their small duty-free shop while enjoying your ride to Uruguay.

Colonia del Sacramento is a sleepy little town.  Their historical center is full of cafe’s and restaurants.  The view from the lighthouse is incredible.  I ended up renting a motor scooter during the day so that I could ride up to some of the beaches north of town.  Before arriving in Colonia, I was told that Uruguay had some of the best beaches around.  I was impressed so far and looking forward to experiencing some more of Uruguay’s treasured beaches near Montevideo and Punta del Diablo (hopefully).  In addition to visiting the beaches, I was also able to check out the Museo de los Naufragios y Tesoros, the most ridiculous pirate / nautical museum I think I’ve ever seen.  The scariest thing about the museum was the horrible paper-mache pirates on display.  Outside the museum, one can also visit a small, abandoned Colosseum.  Unfortunately, one cannot enter due to it being surrounded by metal fencing.  I don’t believe that’s a problem in that it looks extremely unimpressive from the outside.

The next day, I would be arriving in Montevideo via a two hour bus ride.  It was nice to be moving around, but I was looking forward to a couple of days of leisure.

A New Year

The other day, I received an email from my friend Lisa, where we were discussing length of travel and some of the challenges that can occur while traveling.  She states:

“People don’t realize how exhausting it is to keep moving, finding new hostels, figuring out transportation, speaking/butchering another language, getting hustled, getting sick, meeting new people, etc. It becomes less of a vacation and more taxing overall.”

I have a friend that has spent a year in Buenos Aires on two seperate occasions and another that has spent a couple months.  Both speak very highly of the place and I’ve been quite excited coming to see Buenos Aires based on those recommendations.  I was also ready for something new after spending two and a half weeks in Cusco.  The prospect of spending an amazing New Year’s in Buenos Aires became a huge draw.  But that’s the thing.  Many times, I think I over-romanticize what my experience will be, and if it doesn’t quite come close to that, then I’m somewhat disappointed.

The truth is, Buenos Aires kinda wore me out.  Maybe it started when I had to rush at the Lima airport to get my reciprocity fee paid for before I’d be allowed to get on the plane for Argentina.  Or, maybe the fact that I arrived during the hottest weeks in Argentina in the last 4 years, with blackouts and no air-conditioning at a very uncomfortable hostel.  I imagine letting my guard down and having my day pack stolen in San Telmo didn’t help matters.  And of course, dealing with some crappy taxi drivers and failing technology about put me over the edge.

When it rains, it pours.  But that’s the thing about travel – despite whatever challenges arise, you find a way to keep moving forward.  There are no other options, but to go home.  And I’m not going home.  Not yet.  This trip has been too amazing and incredible to just up and walk away from it because of some mishaps.  You learn to apply this to the rest of your life.  When I do go home, I imagine that instead of walking away from many of my problems and starting over, I’ll instead face them head on and keep moving forward.  Also, I imagine I’ll be better at planning and avoid some of the avoidable pitfalls I experienced on this trip.

But enough with the challenges.  Buenos Aires was still an amazing experience.  After finding a hotel with more stable electricity and WiFi, I went to meet Juan Villafañe, a swing dance instructor I had met in Herrang this year that my own Swing Dance instructor contacted on my behalf before leaving.  For the small price of a lunch, Juan gave me invaluable information on where to go and what to see while in Buenos Aires.  We parted with the promise that we would meet later in the week for a swing dance lesson.

The first thing I wanted to experience was a tango show.  Juan recommended the Madero tango show which I can verify was an amazing show.  The food was top notch and the tango lesson thrown in at the end was icing on the cake.  The next two days were spent exploring La Boca and San Telmo, two very touristic places situated amongst cobblestone streets and very colorful buildings.  Also, I took in La Recoleta Cemetary where I was fortunate to see the gravesite of Eva Perón.  The graves were the most ornate graves I’ve ever seen.

New Years, it turned out, was a more laid-back affair.  After finally locating an open restaurant (within my budget) at 9:30pm, I was quickly invited over to the table of 3 women that were currently traveling.  2 were from Canada, and the other was from Santiago, Chile.  We all drank and talked about our travels.  When midnight struck, we all cheered the new year and watched the fireworks exploding from above.  It was here that I discovered my true hidden talent – taking selfie photographs.  New Years day found most of Buenos Aires shut down where I was told most people spend the holiday with their families instead of going out.  And honestly, it was nice not doing anything for the holiday.

I had a feeling the worst was over and that the challenges would be fewer from here on out.  I decided to spend another day in BA before heading out to Iguazu Falls.

Lost Toenails and other Christmas Stories

Traveling takes a toll on the body, and my body is no different.  While traveling in Lima, I had stubbed my toe while in the hostel, and it forced the toenail loose.  And then while in Cusco, I contracted a stomach bug.  So, when I returned from Machu Picchu, I decided that it was probably best to visit the doctor.  Luckily for the me, the Clinic was only a ten minute walk from my hostel.  While trying unsuccessfully to bridge the communication barrier between me and the receptionist, a peruvian doctor, looking strikingly like Javier Bardem and speaking English, intervened on my behalf and said he could meet with me in 20 minutes.

The diagnosis was as expected.  I needed to be put on antibiotics, and it would be best if I had the toenail removed.  Another 20 minutes later, I had my prescription, and my front toe had a new sexy / sleek look.  It was about this time, that I realized I should probably take it easy and stay in Cusco through Christmas.  This turned out to be a good choice, as I had just met a bunch of new people (many from my own dorm room) that I liked hanging out with.

The next week was spent exploring new parts of the city.  Cusco held an art exhibition in the streets near the Hostel I was staying at.  I also was introduced to the San Pedro market.  Leticia, a brazilian woman that I befriended while in Cusco, introduced me to a new Cafe named La Valeriana.  I spent the next couple of days getting to know Vanessa, Sarah, Clint, and Calvin.  We all decided to spend Christmas together.  Sarah prepared Swedish meatballs and potato salad.  Another couple contributed some fish.  We finished off our meal with fruits and cream and also a bottle of wine that I had purchased.  It wasn’t the standard american Holiday Feast that I’m used to, but it was with new friends, and that alone made it special.  After dinner, four of us went to the Plaza de Armas to participate in the Christmas festivities.  Children and adults were lighting off fireworks.  The whole plaza smelled of sulfur and small explosions.  Sarah spotted some children selling cotton candy and we all decided to have some.  I finished the night having a holiday drink with my friend Leticia.

The next day was spent saying goodbye to friends, some that I hoped wasn’t goodbye…. only goodbye for now.  I caught up on some emails and skyped with some friends back home.  The next day, I’d be leaving for Buenos Aires.