Friday, March 27, 2009

Sizzlin' Salsa

Azucar, on Avenida Corrientes in Abasto--it feels like a mix between a gym and a tropical bar. Wall-sized mirrors and waxed wooden floors sidelined by a counter covered with sweating bottles of Izenbeck. Salsa music is all around and dancers are shimmying their shoulders, moving their feet back-middle-front-middle-back--TURN! Some couples are klutzy and some are as sexy as Havana nights. Some, like the three of us, are watching from afar, nursing our beers like safety blankets, too shy to test our feet.

Vera and Eva have staked out their stardom on the floor and are switching between a dozen happy partners. Elsa comes and tries to refuse a beer, but her resolve doesn't last long. Pretty soon her bottle of Izenbeck is gone and she is teaching us how to step-and-shimmy, step-and-shimmy.

Nick and I give it a go. We are all left feet. But we laugh and keep trying. Pretty soon the music stops, indicating that it is time to switch partners; we panic--we don't mind embarassing each other, but it's too much to embarass a stranger. We escape and head back to Elsa and Caitlin. Nick teaches Caitlin a few salsa moves (or perhaps she teaches him!). Vera and Eva come running off the dance floor, flushed and excited from so much shimmying. It's time for all of us to head to a Peruvian restaurant and share some liters of Quilmes.

Which we do, quite happily.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Caitlin Cunningham Has Arrived!!!

On Wednesday morning, Caitlin Alice Marie Cunningham arrived safely in Buenos Aires...Thank goodness!! One day late, but all in one piece. She had taken off on Monday evening, only to turn back around AFTER her plane passed MIAMI because of a storm in South America. (Why the plane then went back to Washington, we have no idea...) But she got up and did it all again on Tuesday evening, and twelve hours later, she was in our apartment, safe and sound.

And now our apartment feels like home :-) Wednesday we spent the day making lunch and relaxing on the terrace (I don't know how Caitlin did it--she had only slept one hour on the plane!), then napping, and then making a gigantic dinner and watching the love of all our lives: Jack Bauer. (AHH, what's going to happen next???!!!) Oh, I can't forget--Wednesday was also colored by the taste of the most AMAZING cookies from Sugar and Spice, my new favorite place in Buenos Aires! Sugar and Spice is a cookie shop located in Palermo and run by a VERY sweet ex-pat couple. The cookies are beyond delicious, the store is beyond adorable, and the owners are beyond nice...I think I am going to go back very soon and STOCK up!!! But, needless to say, Nick, Caitlin, and I spent the better part of Wednesday afternoon dunking our delicious cookies into coffee. Then we took a nap--full and happy. :-)

Thursday brought its own adventures, too!! Caitlin and I went to the Japanese Gardens in Palermo, where we walked across the bridges and around the pond, looking at the colorful fish and posing for a few pictures for each other. I think the highlight of that trip was witnessing Argentine un-political correctness at its very best--a family, consisting of a mother, father, and toddler son, stood posing next to the wooden geisha cut-out next to the pond. First, the toddler son pulled his eyes back to imitate a Japanese person, then the mother did it, then the father. All the while they were cracking up and taking photos. Oh my goodness...It was Caitlin's first introducting to the lack of PC here. Lol! :-)

After touring the gardens, we met Nick at a cute bar/cafe in Palermo, where we toasted to Caitlin's first Quilmes! Afterwards we went home and made dinner, for which we were joined by our Austrian lovelies Vera and Eva, and of course the love of our Argentine lives, Jenny. All of us ate and drank wine and sat talking on the roof til the wee hours of the morning. It was perfect...

And yesterday was Caitlin's first day at the office. (!!!) And she was pretty much, I think ROCKSTAR would be the best way to put it. Yesterday we had a brainstorming session for the Enchanting Group site, and Caitlin pretty much led the way with her eco-expertise, while Nick and I sat back with our mouths agape. Lol! It was wonderful. And it was very exciting to begin our projects together!!! And now it's the weekend...

We began the weekend eating Peruvian food and drinking more Quilmes with Leonor and Elsa at a Peruvian gem we had never tried--it was painted in the brightest yellows, bedecked with paintings of dancing Peruvian beauties, and borderd with blinking Christmas lights. When I mentioned to Caitlin how I would love if my house looked like that, she asked me to please never mention that to her mom. Lol! What can I say...I love kitsch. And I LOVE Peruvian food!!! We got so full on ceviche, baked chicken and rice, and potatoes smothered in a creamy cheese sauce. And the whole night was made all the better by the Peruvian guitarists going table to table playing traditional Peruvian ballads (which made Leonor tear up and miss her country...). It was really lovely...

And now it's Saturday. And we are cozy. And about to start some adventures for the weekend. I'll be sure to keep you posted!

Friday, March 13, 2009

We Left our Hearts in Chile...

Okay, now Nick has shown his true colors, and the pressure is ON to write good blog posts!! Lol, no no, I am just kidding...I am so excited that Nick has begun to write his own blogposts, because now this can really be the story of our journey, and not just my views on everything. :-)

As you know from Nick's blog, we spent last week in some Chilean wilderness...And it was such a beautiful week...

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the Ulaa caretaker, Martin. Ulaa is an organic farm, and Martin is its everything-man. He runs the farm, the log cabins that hold tourists and service workers, the kitchen, and all the other services for tourists and volunteers. He is truly a renaissance man! Check him out with his hardcore bow-and-arrow here (he was trying to hunt a wild pig for dinner...I'm not kidding!!):

Martin got us settled, and it didn't take long for us to feel at home...We stayed in the main lodge, which pretty much includes Martin's living quarters, two guest bedrooms, the dining room for tourists, and the communal kitchen. It was so, so cozy--wooden, warmed by a fire, and with a gigantic view of the lake. Oh my goodness, we felt like we had arrived in Heaven. (Immediately we began dreading leaving and plotting ways to innocently rip up our return tickets!!)

The first night we ate dinner and went to sleep, and woke up bright and early to begin a day on the farm. The day started on a bumpy ATV ride through the hills of Ulaa to the police station, where we got our passports stamped. On the way back, we grabbed berries from bushes along the dirt roads and ate them quickly while we zipped on the ATV. Martin asked Nick if he knew how to drive an ATV, and when Nick responded that he didn't, Martin said, "It is not hard, but there are secrets in the mountains." Oh my goodness...Apparently there were, because Martin steered us through some twists and turns I did not think would have been possible...

The rest of the day was spent learning the in's and out's of the farm--taking a hike, learning what grows in the garden, and picking produce for some of our meals! It was beautiful...The farm grows apples, pumpkins, onions, garlic, tomatoes, basil, lettuce, plums, blackberries, raspberries, potatoes, walnuts, and so much more...It was so exciting to pick fresh food and eat it in our meals, especially after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. We kept saying to each other, "Barbara would be proud!"

We went to bed so tired that night, but feeling like every moment of the day was really used. It was quite a change for us from our usual bus run-around on the busy streets of Buenos Aires!

The next days brought more of the same...We picked more fruit, fed the chickens, and brushed the horse. We helped Martin make bread, and we made homemade jam from the blackberries we picked. We even took another ATV ride, this time both of us riding on the back of the same ATV, stealing holy-cow looks at each other as we sailed down hills and ducked under branches. (That really might have been my favorite part...The ATV's! Joder!!) For two of the nights there was a group of adventure fishing tourists from Spain staying at Ulaa, so we helped Martin cook and clean for the guests. It was a lot of fun!!!

But, alas, Saturday arrived, and it was time for us to depart...I have to admit, I was surprised to find our return bus tickets in one piece (I thought maybe Nick would rip them up when I wasn't looking!). So we sadly said goodbye to Ulaa and hopped into Claudio's motorboat to take us back to the Argentine border...Que lastima!!!

However, all is not lost...Ulaa is owned by the company we work for, the Enchanting Group, and it is part of our job now to recruit volunteers to go and stay and eat at Ulaa for free in exchange for help on the farm. Martin-the-renaissance-man can do a lot, but he can't do everything. He really needs help tending Ulaa's fields, so we are doing what we can to send out smoke signals and attract people to the farm. And we are going to return ourselves to Ulaa for the month of July to help Martin out in his farmwork!!!! The days will be short in July, as it will be the southern hemisphere's winter, so there will be about 6 hours of sunlight a day, which we will take advantage of (aprovechar!) by working outside. When it gets dark, we will have English classes for Martin, since he wants to learn English in order to better communicate with the anglophone tourists who come to Ulaa...It's the very least we could do in exchange for his patience with our Spanish (okay really, it's just my Spanish that requires patience!! :-) ) So we are really looking forward to July...Anyone who wants to join us, YOU ARE WANTED DESPERATELY!!!

So now we are back in BA, but we left a little bit of our hearts in Chile...Ah, alas! I have been doing some snooping of blogs in Chile to get the lowdown on this magical place, and I found one I really like. It is called La Gringuita Diaries, and it is a really great read about living in Santiago...Check it out if Chile piques your interest!!!

BUT, even though we really miss Ulaa, it is really nice to be back here in Buenos Aires because we only have a month and a half left here in the city, and we want to soak it up as much as we can...Plus, we have a very special visitor coming on Tuesday...CAITLIN CUNNINGHAM!! So aprovechar Buenos Aires we will...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ulaa, Chile

Sarah is taking a little break from the blog because she is muy muy ocupada, so I (Nick) will take charge for a bit. Don't expect to be brought to tears with my writing. I'll try my best.

Last week Sarah and I went to Ulaa, a resort/organic farm on the border of Chile and Argentina. If you can conjure up an image of the exact opposite of Buenos Aires, Ulaa is it. Clean, pristine, remote, chilly, and quiet - it was a perfect vacation from BA.

But, we felt like Lewis and Clark trying to get to this place. Allow me to give you a run down of our journey to Chile. I think this will probably take up this entire blog post.

We had to take a 20 hour bus ride (double decker) from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. Then after a brief layover, we took a slightly smaller bus, 3 hours south to Lago Puelo (near Bolson). Then we had to take a taxi from the bus station to the port of Lago Puelo. We arrived at the shore of a lake where we were instructed to seek out a Senor Claudio, a boatman. He was to take us, by boat, to the edge of Argentina, right on the border with Chile. Now, to me, this seemed hilariously ridiculous, that we had to find a specific man to take us to Chile, not a boat service, or a ferry, or anything resembling legitimacy.

But we did just that, asking dock workers for a Claudio. They assured us he existed, but was out on the boat and would return within an hour (mas o menos). So we took the time to relax near the lake, it had already been over a full day of traveling. It was cold, and there was a slight drizzle, but the blue lake surrounded by mountains on all sides was beautiful. We got some coffee to re-energize and went down to the water again to wait for Claudio. I'd be lying if I said that we weren't nervous - our hopes depended on this boatman, if he didn't appear we would be short out of luck. We had no backup plan, and it was getting dark.

But sure enough, a boat came after about an hour and a half, and Claudio was the driver. We asked if he could take us to Chile, to which he replied "today?" "Um, por favor," I think was our desperate response. Though, this didn't seem to be a problem for him. He asked if our papers were in order. We scratched our heads for a minute, but realized that the little trailer on the shore with the half-sleeping policeman was the customs "office." We scurried over to the RV, and we were quickly processed and returned to the boat. Hopping on the speed boat, we heard Claudio on the radio to Martin, who was our man at Ulaa. He was to pick us up in Chile (via another speed boat). The radio crackled and Claudio couldn't quite get through to Martin. He gave up, put the receiver down, smiled, and despite the lack of confirmation, we departed.

We zipped across the lack, bouncing on the wake. Sarah and I smiled at each other, laughing at the situation. We looked around in amazement. "Can you believe where we are?" We asked each other. Traveling on a speed boat, across a virgin blue lake in Patagonia, about to cross the border of Argentina into Chile. It was frigid, but beautiful and very awe-inspiring.

A series of rapids ahead of us assured that we could go no further. Claudio turned the boat towards the shore and we got off. "We walk from here." Puzzled, we picked up our bags and followed him. We headed up the hill and started walking. Crossing rocks and creeks along the way, Claudio lent us a helping hand, making sure we didn't fall into the creeks. We jumped from rock to rock, and teetered across logs that bridged the rushing water. We laughed at the absurdity of this. At one point we had to really leap from one rock, across a wide creek, to another rock. Claudio first, I followed. Sarah froze, "I can't!" "Yes, you can." "No, I can't!" "You can do it," Claudio encouraged her. Probably more out of pressure than confidence, Sarah jumped, and Claudio caught her hands and safely balanced her on the other side. She exhaled a huge sigh of relief. Sarah is pretty tough.

We walked for about 15 minutes and Claudio instructed us to sit. "OK, wait here. In about 10 minutes, a boat will arrive from down river to pick you up." Thinking we didn't translate his Spanish correctly, we stared blankly back at him. "Just wave your hands when you see the boat. OK?" Still a bit confused, but not wanting to sound like wimps, we said, "OK, perfect." Claudio smiled and said, "OK, see you next week." Before we could question what was about to happen, he turned to walk away. What kind of system was this? What if the boat didn't come, were we supposed to send out smoke signals? Remember how Claudio struggled to get through to Martin on the radio, to tell him to pick us up? Yeah, well, if Martin didn't hear on the other end, we would be stranded in Patagonian oblivion. "This boat better show up," I said.

Amazing. Like clockwork a boat whipped around the bend, from Chile, and pulled ashore. We hiked over across the rocks to meet it. A rugged mountain man set out to meet us halfway. We approached and he pointed to me, "Nick?" "Si!" And we shook hands. "Y Sarah?" "Hola Martin!" "Vamos!" We headed for the boat. We threw our bags on the little speed boat and climbed in. We were introduced to the boat driver, Claudio (No, seriously, his name was also Claudio. An Argentine Claudio took us by speedboat to meet a Chilean Claudio who picked us up, also by speedboat. I'm not making it up).

Our second boat journey began. It was getting dark by this point and in broken English Martin explained, "Yesterday, very nice day, but it rains, and today is frozened." We nodded and admired the utterly unbelievable scenery.

After about 15 minutes we approached the end of the lake, and an impressive cabin perched on the hill. Chilean Claudio switched off the motor and glided in towards the dock. Martin hopped onto the dock and turned around to help us. "Welcome to Ulaa."