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Archive for July, 2008

Part I

Tigre, a popular weekend getaway town located about 50 minutes outsde the city of Buenos Aires. I went there with three of my friends from school. The day was overcast, promising the rain that was later to come, but for most of our time there the weather was nice.

After having tea at the bus station, we walked along the river taking photos. There were many tour boats (rides along the river are offered) and a good number of rowers. The Buenos Aires Rowing Club sat large and imposing along the river.

After a bit of a walk, a hideous pink building appeared. This was a casino. Poorly constructed and an eyesore on the outside, however inside was much worse. The thousands of blinking lights visible at every turn were enough to create an instant headache.

After we passed the casino and walked across the polluted stream, culinary delights presented themselves. A small little shop called Waffles del Mundo sat small but impressively full of customers. They offered large waffles on sticks dipped in Chocolate, Onion and Garlic sauce, catchup, etc. I ordered a waffle dipped in chocolate with dulche de leche in the middle. It was well worth the messiness.

The beating heart of Tigre is a collection of restaurants, storefronts and booths along river. Weaved baskets and furniture are popular along with art items for the home (both decorative and useful). We walked around for a while and by the time we left everyone had bought something. I purchased two framed prints for about $20. While passing the casino, on our way back to the train station, it began to rain and then pour. We ran for about the next few minutes until again reaching the station. Fortunately we entered the train just before it took off for Buenos Aires.

Part II

Colonia is another popular weekend destination for the citizens of Argentina, however one for which they need a passport. Colonia is in the neighboring country of Uruguay. The only barrier is a 50 minute boat ride across Rio de la Plata.

Craig and purchased tickets for Saturday, but due to our lack of knowledge about international boat travel and a misguided taxi driver, we managed to miss the boat. I moved my ticket to the next day, and spent the rest of my Saturday in the Japanese Gardens and at an Argentinean producers show (where I purchased an beautiful pink leather bag among other things). After missing the boat on Saturday, I woke up at 6:00AM to ensure that I indeed would be there. As it turned out, I could have slept another hour. I was the second person to show up for the check in to the boat. After a rather nice (if not sleepy) boat ride, I finally arrived in Uruguay.

I was immediately joined by a family asking for directions to town. There were no signs posted, but fortunately I had a map procured at the check in office. I studied the map and had already picked out several sights I wanted to see in town. After helping the family find the tourist office, I took off for the old section of town with them. We were walking down the main road (Flores) and suddenly I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and my friend from school, Mary, was behind me with several of her friends.

After our surprise encounter I went along with Mary and her friends for a while. We walked through the old section of town and along the wall bordering the view of the river which looks a lot like lake Michigan because it is impossible to see the other side. After hanging out for a while, I decided to see what else the town had to offer. After browsing through a few shops, I stumbled into a nice leather shoe shop. After debating for a while, I bought a lovely pair of black leather dress sandals.

After taking several photos of the town gate, I confirmed the location of a motor/golf cart/scooter/bike rental shop. Now, I would love to claim that I rented a scooter (or even a golf cart) however my driver´s license was in my apartment in Buenos Aires, so I took the bike out for a spin.

The weather was perfect (about 75 and sunny) and so the bike ride along the shore yielded many beautiful views of the river. However after about 2 hours I had biked my way through Colonia. It is really a very small town. I went back to the historic section and took some more photos, climbed up the lighthouse, ate dinner, bought some ice cream, and then headed on back to the boat for check in.

This time I was again among the first in line, but there was a problem with the boat, and so I had to wait to board with the rest of the passengers. I arrived at the station at around 6:00 for a 7:45 departure which did not happen until 9:00. People in the boat station actually began clapping (a much used Argentinean form of popular protest) due to the delay. After arriving in Argentina at 10:00, I took a taxi to my apartment, very glad to spend the night in my own apartment instead of an interesting hostel.

Laura R.

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This past weekend Craig and I and another student from the school named Kent traveled to Cordoba for some fun in the sun. After visiting the tourist office, we realized that the City of Cordoba really held no interest, and so decided to head out for a small town called La Cumbre. This is where our adventure takes place. Here is our story:

Part I: Cordoba

Unlike the trips to Iguazu and Bariloche, our plane left at 6:30 PM on Friday. This sounded great. No more waking up at 5:00 in the morning. However, it meant we also had one more night to account for. The plane ride was fairly uneventful, except for the 1.5 hour delay in Buenos Aires due to low clouds. These clouds have caused major airline and traffic problems, however, there is not much we could do to change that.

We arrived at the Cordoba airport at around 10PM and proceeded to the Bus Terminal by taxi. By that time, it was about 11PM and so we decided to bunk down in Cordoba city near the bus terminal. We bought tickets for the 7:45 bus the next day.

Now, before I go on, this bus terminal deserves a bit of time. I suppose I have not spent much time in terminals, however this one was fairly unique to my experience. There was a rather large supermarket on the third floor, and several different “restaurants” all pretty much serving the same greasy meals. People and dogs sat around the edge of the building waiting. Overall it was a busy terminal and the buses tended to run a strict schedule. What it basically came down to was this: your bus could be late, but you had better not be. The buses pulled in for about a minute before heading off to their next destination.

After leaving the terminal, we began hunting for a decently priced hotel. Craig has a book of Argentina travel, and so we looked through the index for all the one star hotels in the area. We finally decided on one two blocks from the bus station. I would say it was highly comparable to the hotel in Iguazu. It did have heat (thank goodness) but that was just about the only thing that worked.

The room we chose had a bunk bed and a double bed. Craig and Kent slept on the bunk bed, while I got the double bed. The room was pretty small, and incredibly filthy. I do not think they had a maid. There was one mirror that was very warped. The bunk bed must have been purchased from a children´s store, because it was bright red and flimsy. I made Craig shake the bed before climbing on to test for sturdiness. It was definitely not made to support his weight (fortunately it managed to stand).

In general, however, the beds were not a problem (although when Craig lay down he discovered someone´s deodorant stick under his sheets, thus supporting my nonexistent maid theory). The real problem was the bathroom. The first thing we noticed was the horrible smell, and so initiated a closed-door policy. Then we noticed that there was no soap, however I was experienced enough with this kind of hotel and had purchased soap in the supermarket at the bus station. After that we found out there was no toilet paper. Craig got some from the front desk. This was the oldest most disgusting role of toilet paper ever, and so Kent went out to buy another one (at my insistence). However, the final blow came when we found out that we did not need toilet paper. The toilet did not work. After that, we just avoided the bathroom altogether.

There was another room down the hall that had an open door. The toilet did not work either, but at least it did not smell bad. Small blessings always seem huge in these kinds of places.

Although there is clearly a lot of bad to say about this hotel, there was one good thing. We all slept like the dead. When the lights were out, it was impossible to see the hand in front of your face. Fortunately I had an alarm, or we would have never woken up.

Part II: La Cumbre

After catching the bus to La Cumbre, we settled down for the 2.5 hour ride. An advantage of leaving in the morning was we got to see more of Argentina. At first the land was flat, but then the hills began. Where we were heading, they never actually became mountains, but they were still beautiful. It is winter here, so the grass was a tan color, interspersed with small bushes and occasionally a tree or two.

La Cumbre. 75 and sunny. An amazing town that I am completely in love with. Due to the capital brought in by so many tourists this small town is flourishing. The streets are clean and in good repair. There are many nice shops open, and people are incredibly kind and cheerful. Although, I must warn you that there is not a whole lot to do around town. The main entertainment on a Saturday night was driving in circles around the town square.

We first visited the tourist information office that was next to the bus station. They gave us some numbers and locations for the activities we wanted to do: paragliding and horse back riding. We decided to first find a place for the night and then call up one of the paragliding numbers.

What looked to be the best deal was Hostel La Cumbre, a Hostelling International member. I loved this hostel. Not only was it in complete contrast with our lodgings from the previous night, but I was actually able to take a shower (that had been one of my standards for a two night trip). It looked like a beautiful old house that had been converted into a hostel. Everything inside was clean and bright and all bathroom appliances functioned beautifully. This was the first time I felt comfortable sleeping in between the sheets on one of our trips. It was amazing.

Part III: Paragliding

After we had settled in to our hostel, Craig called up one of the numbers on the paragliding sheet. He spoke with a man who said he would meet us in an hour. We walked down the hill and bought some bread for lunch and then sat outside to wait in the beautiful sunshine.

I actually was not feeling any nervousness about paragliding, and when I shook our driver´s hand, I knew that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. He was a bit taller than Craig and he completely crushed my two smallest fingers.

The ride up to the hill we were to jump off was incredibly fun in itself. We were in some sort of jeep, and the rode was strewn with rocks. The driver kept turning around and taking his hands off the wheel to make conversation. It was very much like an amusement ride.

At the top of the hill, we came to the paragliding spot. It was breezy (a good thing) and we were overlooking a river and some more hills off in the distance. After about 20 minutes of waiting for the wind to pick up, we were suited up and jumped off the cliff.

Getting started paragliding is not actually that easy. I was placed in this harness contraption and my guide (Toti) was on my right side facing me. My job was to run as fast as I could towards the cliff on his mark. At this point I did get a little bit nervous because I was going first. They spread the wings of the para-glide out and I ran for all of 2 seconds. The wind was very strong and as soon as the wings lifted off of the ground, so did I. Immediately a guy was there pulling me by the legs towards the edge of the cliff. This is now all very confused in my mind, but it must have only taken a few seconds. I can remember people shouting at me to run and lean foreword, and then we were over the cliff and I was able to sit in the “chair”.

Paragliding was actually incredibly peaceful. There was almost no noise, and we were gliding over beautiful scenery. It was absolutely lovely. I took a lot of photos of the surrounding land and the other para-gliders. For some reason I forgot about the video feature on my camera (something I now feel really stupid for). However, it was a great experience. Something I would recommend to everyone. It is nothing like what I assume parachuting to be. You do not rush towards the ground, but fly tranquilly over it. Really, it is not scary.

Part IV: The motorcycle and El Cristo

After another crazy ride back to town, Kent and I decided to go to look for a place to go horseback riding the next day. We took a leisurly walk through the town and ended up exactly where we were supposed to be on the map. However, unless they had invisible horses, it was definitly not a horse ranch. Deciding to ask for directions I flagged down this man on a motorcycle. He gave us directions to a place called Rosario which was about 3 blocks away. He was taking his mother home and when he dropped her off a few houses down he then offered to take us on his motorcycle to the ranch. We were probably on for all of two minutes, but it was still really fun. I had never been on a motorcycle before.

Once we arrived at the ranch, we arranged to meet the ranchers the next day at 9AM. We were very close to this huge white statue of Jesus holding out his arms called El Cristo. It was on top of a hill, but there was not really anything else exciting to do in the town, so Kent and I decided to climb the hill. It was reasonably physically challenging and a nice walk. About every 30 feet there was a monument with a bible verse. When we finally reached the top, I took pictures of the gigantic monument and the beautiful view of the town in the valley.

The base of the monument was made of stone and people had decided to carve their prayers or nail flowers onto it. Most of the prayers were “Gracias por todo” but there was one that was strikingly different:

Senor te pido que Fernando se case conmigo. Sil

God I ask you that Fernando will marry me. Sil

I thought it was awfully bold of Sil to carve that in stone.

There was a guy and his girlfriend selling little handmade crafts at the top of the hill and we spoke with them for a while. I actually ended up buying a wooden cooking spoon for about 2.50 US which has been very useful in the kitchen.

On our way back to the hostel we happened to bump into Craig and the three of us went out to eat and then walked around the town for a bit. Here is where we discovered that the only movie theatre in town showed one movie a week and that people do literally drive in circles for fun. However, everyone seemed to be having a good time with friends and family. That is a kind of atmosphere I appreciate.

Part V: Horseback Riding

After sleeping in the most wonderful hostel, we set out to meet the men from the ranch. They took us on a 30 minute drive up to their ranch in the heart of the hills. The horses are allowed to roam freely around the good sized patch of land. However, when we arrived a number of them were close to the gate. Of these, five were saddled up. In stark contrast to the safety-conscious United States, no papers were signed or helmets worn. Between Kent and Craig, I was the one with the most experience on horseback, so they gave me a young horse that was not used to having other riders.

I discovered that my horse liked to run going up the first hill. I was holding the reigns too loosely and the horse just took off. I was able to slow it down, however the real problem came when we descended the hill. My horse decided it was time to run again and off he went. Unfortunately my stirrups were too short (a problem when going downhill because they are what you brace your body against) and there was no saddle horn, so with nothing to hang on to I began to bounce right off the horse. I was about halfway off, when I managed to give a good tug to the reigns and the horse stopped. For me, that was the scariest part because we were on an incredibly rocky cliff, and I did not have any kind of protection. However, once the guide tightened my stirrups and I got a bit more used to the horse, things went well.

I really do have lots of photos, but an incredibly accurate mental picture would be Rohan in the Lord of the Rings. The landscape is almost identical. The weather was beautiful and we all had an amazing time.

Our ride took us through the hills and then on to a path that lead back to town. In total, we were on horseback for 3 hours. That is a long time, and by then end I was definitely wishing for the guide´s pillow, but I was also able to become accustomed to riding again. When my horse spooked at a dog barking near the end of the trail, I was able to calmly stop him.

Besides my near fall, the guide also almost fell. His horse spooked at something and almost backed off the cliff. He was actually grasping at branches in order to stay on. All in all, horseback riding was an impressive experience.

After leaving the horses at the ranch, we slowly and sorely made our way through town, stopping to eat a nice lunch, and then continuing on to the bus station that would take us to Cordoba and then to the airport.

Laura R.

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