Wednesday, January 28, 2009

South America - Boston, MA - Brazil and Afterthought

So I came to Rio not knowing what to expect. I heard stories of both robberies and wild orgies and I am not sure if I wanted to participate in either. To be cautions, in order to get to my hostel I took a car service , which cost $40, almost double if I was to catch a taxi outside. I came in very late and almost everyone were already out in the city. I decided to stay-in and explore Rio in the next few days.

The next morning as new roommates were coming into the hostel I met Cesar(Washington DC) and Marie (Paris). We were all traveling by ourselves and instantly became friends. The weather was cloudy so instead of going to the beach we decided to go out and epxlore the city. We spent sometime walking around and takng pictures but then it started to rain so we came back to the hostel. We ate, slept, and prepared for the night.

Our hostel was very small so everyone were very friendly so Cesar and I decided to buy beer and vodka and have a party before going out. That being said we set up the liquor at around 10pm and by the time it was gone we were leaving the hostel to party with another 19 people.

We went to Lapa, one of the party neighborhoods and partied into the night. Next day we did some more sightseeing and more partying. Sunday, was the first sunny day in Rio so we finally went to the beach but only to jog. We ran along Copacabana Beach for 2.5miles+ and walked back. Afterwards we watched a soccer match at Maracana, one of the largest stadiums in the world, which hosted 200,000 people last time they hosted FIFA's World Cup!!!....and then on to the airport.

As I reflect back on this trip I think about the people who I met along the way and about the cost of living in South America compared to Boston or NYC.

I recently read a book called "the 4hr work week" where the author, Tim Ferris, describes different ways to achieve a lifestyle of working one tenth of the normal time while earning ten times as much as you would if you worked a normal job. He talks about common excuses that people make on why they don't do it and how you should never put anything on hold.

On this trip I met many people who were traveling for over 6 months..some were students but there were also many adults. Some quit their jobs, some were there to volunteer, some were traveling during their gap year between school and work, and others simply came to place as tourists and liked it so much that they simply stayed there...this was especially true in Brazil. I met at least 4-5 people who came to Rio on vacation and just decided to live there. They are living in one of the best cities in the world with no worries and no money.

While on vacation, I was not very conservative and took taxis alsmost everywhere and always ate at restaurants as opposed to cooking. In most places I could not spend more then $30-$40 per day...if I lived in Argentina or Brazil I would probably spend less than $10 as I would cook and take public transportation. Hence, for those of you whore are dreaming about a long term vacation you can spend a month on the beach in Brazil or Argentina and spend less then $1000 for lodging, food, and life!!!!!!!!

An interesting fact that I saw in South America are the family values...many young adults live at home until they get married. This created a bustling industry for sex hotels, the kind you rent out by the hour. I heard there is one almost every 10 blocks!!!

Thanks for traveling with me and I will talk to you soon!!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

South America - Day 13 - Patagonia, Argentina - Paradise

For those who don´t know what or where Patagonia´s quite´s the south part of South America, which inclides Argentina and Chile. But more on this later.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on Saturday and checked into Hostel America del Sur - I am mentioning the name in the blog because it is the best hostel I have ever stayed in. It is clean, has friendly staff, amazing food, plenty of entertainment, and all for abut US$15 a day.

I immediately proceeded to Plaza Italia to watch the final minutes of the Dakar Rally, one of my main reasons for returning to Buenos Aires. I saw the first Motorbike arrive and then many more to follow, along with Trucks, Cars, and Quads. There was a hugh throng of spectators that kept on growing as the day went on. It was great to see racers who survived this truly challenging race and gladly signed autographs and took pictures with the crowd.

Dakar which originated in 1978 is a two week off road race that includes terrain such as mud, grass, rocks, etc...traditionally the Dakar Rally began in Paris, France and ended in Dakar, Senegal but due to political instability in Africa this year it was held in South America and inlcuded Argentina and Chile. If anyone is interested in joining you´ll be happy to know that 80% of racers are amateurs so anyone can take it.

After the race I went back to the Hostel and since I was by myself I began to make friends. I met many people from all over the world some who were traveling for more then six months, some professionals, some who did volunteer work, and of course a few students. The hostel offered dinner which for US$15 included all you can eat steak, salad, and wine. I took full advantage by eating 4 steaks and drinking about half a bottle of wine. I might have set the hostel record for most eaten at dinner.I decided that I will go to southern part of the country to visit more family and explore the Patagonia that I have been hearing about.

On Monday, January 19, 2009 for the first time I arrived to Bariloche, Argentina. I was met at the Airport by Nacho from BA and my uncle Nicholas. It was about 8pm and we went straight to their home. Nicholas and his wife Rosita, along with my cousin Niko live in a Chalet at the bottom of one of the mountains in Patgonia. Their property actually includes 7 units which they rent to tourists year round.

During the drive from the airport I saw that this place was special. It was a web of lakes, mountains, and trees combined together for one of the most scenic places that I have ever been to. It´s even better than Lake Bled in Slovenia, which until now was a big favorite.

We had dinner at around 10pm, which is very normal for Argentinians, and went to sleep leaving the next few days to discover Patagonia. Over the next few days we explored hidden beaches, tranquil lakes, and picturesque mountains. Right now as I am typing it is about 9:30pm and we will probably have dinner soon...this is also my last night in Patagonia. I am truly upset as I feel this to be a tease as there is so much more that I did not have time to see.

As I mentioned in the title of the post this place is Paradise. It should definitely be added to everyones list of places to see before you die.

Tommorow morning I am off to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for the final leg of my trip.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

South America - Day 8 - Punta Del Este, Uruguay

Lima is a nice city and considering that we did not shower for three days we went straight to JW Marriot, a 5 star hotel, and paid $15 to use the gym, shower, and sauna facilities. We were extremely relaxed, had an early dinner and went to the Atlantic City casino, which was very impressive compared to many casinos abroad.

We arrived in Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina (BA) and checked in into our Hostel, in the trendy Recoleta district. We spent the day walking around and taking pictures of the famous sights; the Obelisk, Plaza de Mayo, Puerto Madero, La Boca neighborhood, the birthplace of tango, and some more. We also booked our trip to Punta Del Este, Uruguay via BuqueBus, the ferry connecting Argentina and Uruguay.

Buenos Aires is a very impressive city. It has many buildings modeled after those of Spain, France, and Italy. It has its own subway system, bus system, and commuter rail. There are also many tall office buildings resembling those of New York or Hong Kong.

In the evening we had steak dinner, which included 2 entrees and a bottle of wine for about US$23 then we met with my cousin Ignacio (Nacho), who showed us some of the bars in Recoleta. We were very tired and did not stay out late and agreed to meet with Nacho the following day to continue.

The next day we explored Palermo, the BA version of Soho or the Village with many cafes and shops where everyone seems to relax without a care in the world. We went out again for another super dinner with appetizers, steaks, drinks, and desert this time for only $60 for three people.

The next day we took an early ferry to Punta Del Este, Uruguay. We were very excited as this place is said to be either the South Beach of South America or the St. Tropez of South America. However, the only thing that remind us about those other places were the prices. Punta Del Este, which baloons from 10,000 to over 1,000,000 inhabitants during the summer (Dec-Feb) is prohibitively expensive even for our budgets used to American prices. Despite being expensive I don´t think there is much more here, yes there are a few beaches and a few nice houses that are as expensive as their counterparts in resort areas of the States but this is mostly a family place with many little kids and a few restaraunts that are medicore at best.

Today is Friday, Vladimir left early this morning to go back to NYC and I am all set to go back to Argentina tomorrow and plan the rest of the trip. I am debating if I should take Spanish lessons, visit family in the southern part of the country, or go to Brazil. Will keep everyone updated and let me know if you have any suggestions.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

South America - Day 2

I have not slept since 6 in the morning on Friday, when I went to sleep at 3am the night before. So far the adventure to South America is very interesting. Our first destination is Machu Pichu, The Lost City of the Incas, built more then 500 years ago and now one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Our flight to Atlanta was at 1pm after which we transferred to our flight to Lima, Peru. We arrived to Lima at around midnight. My travel partner for this trip is Vladimir and he was held up by Peruvian customs because of an Interpol alert. Fortunately, the guy they were looking for had the same name but no other informaiton matched and they finally let him go. I already jotted down Vladimir's passport number and was getting ready to call the American Embassy in Peru.

Our next flight was at 5:40am so I convinced Vladimir to forget about our hostel reservation and sleep in the airport. After sleeping for about 2 hours we found out that our flight was delayed by 5 hours, which means that we would not make the train to Machu Pichu and our flight back to Lima the next morning. We were lucky and were switched to another airline and at 8am were on our way to Cusco, the nearest city to Machu Pichu that has an airport.

My first impression was that Cusco is very poor as the street were not well kept and houses had much unrepaired damage. However, once we got closer to the center the city became more beautiful, which made sense. Tourism is the most important thing in Cusco and all the tourists live in the center. Outside of the city centers poverty prevails despite Peru's much progress as fastest growing economy in South America due to mineral exports, food exports, trade, and private investment.

We had to take a taxi for over an hour through the Huatanay Valley to catch our train. The taxi ride only cost $ that to a yellow cab. While driving we saw some of the most amazing landscapes; there was perfectly manicured farmland nestled in the valley between the mountains, animals such Cows, Lamas, and Pigs roaming freely in the fields, snow caps on the higher mountains, and everything else that you would expect from such a place.

Once we reached the train station we just missed the train and had to wait for the next one, which was a luxury train and cost over $50 for the 90 minute ride to Aguas Calientes, city on the bottom of the Machu Pichu mountain. Once there we took a bus to the top at a cost of $14. We did not have much cash since we expected to rely on credit cards and bank cards but strangely almost no one accepted them. At the entrance to the Machu Pichu site we had to buy tickets at a price of $40 each. We scraped together every penny we had and were lucky because after we paid for the tickets we were left with only 1 Sol, about 33 cents US. Hence, eating, drinking, and using the restroom were out of the question for us until we can find an ATM. It was scarry to think that we traveled for over 24 hours and almost not get in.

Machi Pichu is one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen, I can only compare it to the great Wall of China. Its a real city located at 8000 feet above sea level. It's clean, well maintained, and extremely peaceful. There are over 140 structures made from stone.

After walking around for a few hours we started making our way back to Cusco, the location of our Hostel - about a 4 hour trip. At around 10pm, about 32 hours into our trip Vladimir's body totally gave up and he fell asleep in his clothes as soon as we got to our hostel. I am debating if I should take a shower since the shower is outside and it is not very warm here.

Tomorrow, we will go to Lima for a day and then will take the red eye flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.