Tag Archive: americas 2012

the americas, part 7: colonia


on our last full day in south america, we took a trip to colonia del sacramento, two hours’ bus ride from montevideo.  it was supposed to be quaint and historical and scenic, and several friends had recommended it to us if we had any time to spare.  since we had done very little in the way of independent sightseeing on this continent, and we wanted to get mari & mati back out of exile into their own room, we booked a night’s stay and hopped on the bus.  the elf, rather unlike her usual chipper self, did not enjoy the ride, and ensured that few others in her immediate surroundings did, either.  i’m pretty sure a lot of people were happy to see us disembark, but not as happy as we were.

the bus let us off a few blocks from where we were supposed to be staying, in an area that looked distinctly non-historic, but we quickly came to older pastel-painted buildings in tree-lined cobblestone streets and decided we might be in the right place after all.  the hotel italiano, too, proved to have been a scenic choice; our room was off a central skylighted patio that did indeed seem appropriately italian-pensione-like (at least to someone who had never been to italy… the pebbles concurred, though).  the hotel also boasted two pools: an outdoor, rather south-pacific-feeling, but distinctly chilly option, and an indoor italian-renaissance-style, bath-warm lagoon that we thought might be a bit more to the elf’s taste.

refreshed from having washed off the annoyed glares of other bus passengers, we went exploring, and found that everyone had been right.  this was a lovely place.  and it seemed to be a fairly quiet season, so we had many things to ourselves.  we walked first along the ocean, which was brown but briskly breezy in a nice seaside way, then found some lunch in one of the many open-air cafes.  we admired stuccoed buildings and gardens stuffed with riotously colored flowers, art galleries with things we liked but patently could not afford, and sections of the original city wall, especially the gate and drawbridge.  we did a little shopping in some more affordable, perhaps backpacker-targeted shops, and came away with some nice presents and a large paper star lantern that would later grace our christmas tree.  i climbed to the top of the lighthouse (the elf was mysteriously not allowed in, so the pebbles stayed with her, being himself no great fan of high, narrow stairways) and was rewarded with a nice view over the old portion of the city, and of a twin-towered church that we went and investigated next.  it was empty of life, but full of an eerie blue light from twin windows high above the doors.

we stopped for a drink at the ‘slow snail’ cafe and let the elf out of the front pack for a few minutes, then made our way to the other side of the old part of the city, which felt distinctly more run down and less touristy–interesting to see, but we didn’t dawdle.  we did see a fish driving a car on the way back to the old city center, though.

in the evening, we found a quiet but nice-looking restaurant for our last dinner in south america.  at least, it was quiet until a fairly large number of men arrived, singly or in small groups, and all having some kind of set menu that seemed to involve soup, a main, and some kind of jello for dessert.  we couldn’t quite tell whether they were a sports team, or local tradesmen with an established deal, but it was interesting to watch them while we took turns eating and feeding the elf her bottle.  she complied beautifully as usual, nearly making up for the morning’s bus ride, and even allowed us to take a night-time stroll back around some of the places we’d been earlier and sneak some more dramatic photos, before turning in for the night.

we left fairly promptly the following morning to begin our long journey back to new zealand, but greatly enjoyed our time in colonia.  it was quite different from most of the rest of the trip, a little oasis of peeblestad-only adventure to a beautiful spot.  it reminded us a little of a day trip we took to tallinn a few years earlier, and will probably live alongside it in memory as one of our favorite travel days.

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the americas, part 6: montevideo


uruguay was probably our favorite new country for this trip, in spite of a slightly fraught arrival experience.  the ferry from argentina arrived late for no discernible reason, and the elf had an uncharacteristically fussy ride over, requiring a lot of walking and shushing; then luggage retrieval and the customs processing were an absolute shambles, making us more than an hour late (930pm instead of 830) with no way to notify the person we were meeting.  this was my good friend mari, my roommate from the south atlantic voyage in 2009, whom i hadn’t seen since.  and she had enlisted her boyfriend’s father to drive us to her place from the ferry in his tiny car.  so, like clowns, the five of us ducked out of the heavy rain to pack in alongside (and under and over and between) our luggage, with the elf, now mercifully quiet, riding in the ergo carrier and sharing my seatbelt as usual.

when we got to mari’s place, we met her boyfriend mati, and discovered to our great embarrassment that they had exiled themselves to the lounge for our visit and had us staying in their room.  way to make us feel old; my parents used to do the same for my grandparents when we were little.  oh well.  their flat was lovely and welcoming, and we had a delicious meal of homemade pizza before turning in for the night to gather some energy for exploring.

it turned out to be a good thing we had, too, because mari & mati had rather an amazing itinerary planned for us.  we started out downtown, and went to artigas‘ tomb, then to the historic teatro solis, where we watched a bit of a very strange modern dance show (an hour of six performers listening to individual headsets with instructions for sounds and movements, then performing accordingly, but with no group coordination or soundtrack for the audience; we bailed early).  we perused the port market and had lunch, trying a few uruguayan specialties on the barbecue platter, which was served on an a small charcoal brazier in the middle of the table.  we would recommend the chorizo and veg, but probably not the kidney, salivary glands or chichulin

in the afternoon we walked through a lovely park and around the outside of the soccer stadium, i believe the oldest purpose-built FIFA world cup stadium.  it was closed, as was the associated museum, but we snuck a peek through a peep-hole anyway.   we also took a bracing walk in the salt spray along the harbor, but quickly decided that a siesta at home might be a better idea.  the evening held a late meal at a nice pub amusingly called ‘burlesque’ (mari & mati were interested to hear what the word meant, as no relevant entertainment was on offer), with the elf asleep on my knees under the table.

on day 2 we were in for some more endurance sightseeing and culture, checking out a huge market in the morning, then lunching on some tasty chivitas with a bonus accompaniment of green beer.  we had promised some friends who own a house in montevideo to stop by and see it, although they wouldn’t be there, so we took a picturesque stroll through a nice architectural part of town, also admiring the creative and often truly artistic graffiti.  after a brief stop at the art gallery and an ice cream, we were once again nearly dead on our feet, and called it a day.  after all, we had a new destination for the following morning!

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the americas, part 5: argentina


from brazil, we traveled on to argentina to see friends in northern patagonia.  i won’t  claim to have seen much of the country at all, given that we stayed almost entirely in a rural small town apart from passing through buenos aires twice, but what we did see was plenty interesting.  the friends we stayed with had a nice flat, able to house them (two adults + two small children + 2-3 cats [depending whether you define the resident cats as tame or not] + the yorkie formerly known as malena but now called tumbleweasel) plus the three of us visitors pretty comfortably.  the landscape was quite arid overall; the kids’ bathwater was reused for watering the garden (a nice water conservation idea for more places than just the desert), and we spent the week in varying states of general dryness and found ourselves drinking much more water than usual. or, in some cases, more beer, since the pebbles and one of our hosts are home brewers, and ‘needed’ to sample as many techniques and products as possible.

we also went on a very cool day trip to cerro mesa (alas, not the galapagos one — a nearby plateau in a very fossil-rich area).  while our friends’ older son (two years old) was busy dreaming of dinosaur bones, i scrabbled around in the shale for long-gone marine beasties and came up with a good several-kilo sack of ammonite fragments, sheets of tiny sea stars, large bumpy clams and a few other things that just looked interesting.  of course, i had a hard time convincing the pebbles (who had been off playing mountain goat on the mesa itself) that i should be allowed to add rocks to our already considerable pile of luggage, but i did manage to sneak a few things home with me.  the landscape overall reminded us very much of some of the californian deserts we’d seen the previous december, but it was different too.  the andes hovered in the distance (we would get to see them much closer a little later in the trip), wild horses ambled past occasionally, and bumbling dung beetles rolled their precious cargo through the scrub.

from patagonia, we took a 16-hour bus trip back out to buenos aires in order to travel on to uruguay.  the time on the bus was an exercise in contrasts… the trip was quite luxurious, with large seats that extended to nearly horizontal so that we did actually get a decent sleep.  we departed in the evening, and darkness fell about an hour later, so we didn’t see much for the first ten hours or so.  but with darkness, the other residents of the bus began to show themselves—small residents of the six-legged variety.  not hordes and hordes, but not just one, either.  let’s just leave it at that.  we rumbled through the night along roads that were only barely wider than the bus itself, and when we woke up in the morning we had passed out of the desert into areas of extreme flooding.  entire fields had become lakes as far as the eye could see; farm outbuildings stood halfway submerged, and the rain continued to fall.  as we approached BsAs it became heavy, then nearly torrential, and the final half hour or so saw us pass through some streets where the water was literally knee deep.  we saw businessmen roll up their suit pants and wade to their cars, and drove behind other buses that sent rolling tsunamis in their wakes.  the water even came in under the doors of the downstairs level of the bus (we were upstairs), but had drained again by the time we disembarked at the ferry terminal.  it was a strange and surreal end to our time in argentina, and with the fairly scary vibe we had sensed from BsAs during both stopovers, we were not sorry to board the boat make the 230-km journey across the rio de la plata to montevideo.

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the americas, part 4: brazil

and now we move on to brazil! new country!  new continent!  the ride down was a bit rough—i don’t recommend delta for long-haul flights in general, i have to say, and we had some extra bumps from hurricane sandy as we flew over the caribbean. the elf was only able to be in the bassinet for about half an hour of the whole 11-hour flight.  but we made it in the end, arriving at our hotel in florianopolis about 24 hours after leaving the states (not counting the drive back up to mn from omaha, made the previous day).  initial impressions of a pleasant climate, interesting city and good food were confirmed as we explored over the following week, the pebbles and elf often checking things out while i was conference-bound and then taking me back to the good places later.  i did wish i’d been more motivated in learning portuguese in the preceding weeks, but we managed ok and didn’t end up ordering any meals that were too surprising on arrival.  the conference was great and we had fun taking the elf swimming (her first experience with non-bath-temperature water… but she loved it), and she enjoyed exploring the city with her dad.

we also managed a day trip out of floripa, on hallowe’en, up the coast to a large nature (and partial amusement) park, and to blumenau, where german settlers have left their mark and the largest oktoberfest outside of germany takes place each year (but had mercifully finished three days earlier).  we took a gondola ride up to the park from the seaside town of camboriu, admiring the golden-blooming garapuvu trees along the way (symbol of the state of santa catarina), then walked for a bit among lush greenery to views down to the coast.  the plan was to take the gondola down this side as well, but another option appeared: a zipline, disappearing down into the distance, offering the chance to make the five-minute stately gondola descent in about 40 seconds instead.  while we debated over which of us would have this adventure, leaving the other to carry the elf, our tour guide came up and offered to carry her down for us.  we briefly consulted among ourselves, concluded that the likelihood of him absconding with her was relatively minimal given that the rest of the tour group were also colleagues from the conference, and then abandoned our child with a relative stranger so that we could race through the air on steel cables.  bad parenting?  maybe.  worth it to fly down a brazilian mountainside in the spring sunshine?  totally.

at the bottom we found her completely unfazed, strapped to the guide and as chipper as ever, so we moved on to the beach, where she had her first dip in the ocean.  the pebbles was a little sad that this momentous event didn’t happen at home in new zealand, but i’m not sure how long we’d be waiting before the water there is a suitable temperature for baby swimming.  in any case, she loved it, although not the sandy drying-off part (who does?) and we headed off to blumenau, with a quick stop at a small museum dedicated to early brewing equipment (to the pebbles’ great interest).  lunch was delicious (german–brazilian fusion! sauerkraut and churrascaria!  score!) and then we walked around the near-deserted grounds of oktoberfest central, complete with a mini german village.  a few minutes here were enough to appreciate the architecture before an overwhelming atmosphere of hangover set in, and we started the trip back to floripa.

the remaining days held more conference events and a few forays into the town—along the waterfront and to the older part of the city, to the markets.  the conference dinner was held at a lovely restaurant and involved many tiny courses of delicious things, some vigorous dancing, and parading the elf around in an octopus costume, giving her an early taste of what the paparazzi may be like if she ever becomes famous (it was a conference of ceph enthusiasts, after all).  we decided to call it a night when the brazilian drum/dance troupe came in, though, and woke our exhausted little octopus in her tent in the corner.  that was already the wee hours of the morning, so we headed back to the hotel for a quick sleep before the big re-pack and next journey in the morning.

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the remaining days held more conference events and a few forays into the town—along the waterfront and to the older part of the city, to the markets.  the conference dinner was held at a lovely restaurant and involved many tiny courses of delicious things, some vigorous dancing, and parading the elf around in an octopus costume, giving her an early taste of what the paparazzi may be like if she ever becomes famous (it was a conference of ceph enthusiasts, after all).  we decided to call it a night when the brazilian drum/dance troupe came in, though, and woke our exhausted little octopus in her tent in the corner.  that was already the wee hours of the morning, so we headed back to the hotel for a quick sleep before the big re-pack and next journey in the morning.