Monday, March 28, 2011

Christmas in Mendoza and the Gift of Girlfriends

I booked a hostel online which is something I don’t normally do. I was paranoid I wouldn’t find anything decent for Christmas as well as the fact that I was dying from the heat of this country and needed a hostel with a pool. My anxiety of being alone for Christmas however took over and I ended up following a really nice English girl to her hostel which lacked in the pool department. She was cool, we got along well and I didn’t have a down payment on the other hostel so I figured why not spend Christmas with her.

I soon met friends of hers that she had met in Bolivia a Scottish girl, an English girl and a Belgium girl. We added an American guy to our mix who became the token male in our girl chats. I was feeling in good spirits again I was surrounded by a group of independent single traveling girls around my age which I was discovering harder to find as most travellers seem to be 5-8 years younger than me now.

This is the one thing I really miss when I am traveling; my group of girlfriends. The girlfriend bond is a very important one to have in our lives and we are very lucky we are able to have this type of relationship. Men’s relationship with other men usually revolve around an activity, it’s not too often that they will sit up all night sharing hopes, fears, and dreams with another mate over a case of beer.

Our girlfriends are reflections of who we are, they will be an understanding ear, a comrade in retail therapy, and they are honest and will give insight. Having a girlfriend makes you feel loved. It doesn’t matter if you are single or if you are having family problems, girlfriends provide you with love and support. As well with true friends no time or distance will ever affect that bond.

You can be an independent traveller who is able to make friends at every hostel or you can be traveling with your boyfriend who is always there for you but in the end something is always going to be missing, we need our girl time. I was very grateful to be able to spend my Christmas with a fantastic bunch of girlfriends. I had just met them but we got along right away and soon enough we were saying cheers to being single, independent women traveling the world and dishing our men stories.

Christmas is celebrated December 24 in Latin America so our chain of hostels put on a Christmas party. We didn’t have the traditional turkey and stuffing that comes from our countries but it was a nice meal with lots of Argentinean wine. They had a DJ playing pop, funk and reggeaton and gave out masks and shakers. This wasn’t enough entertainment for us so we decided to do the typical girl’s night out thing and make up dares. Ok I admit this is more like a typical 16 year old girl’s night out but I have never claimed to be mature. Fireworks went off at midnight while we saw how many Brazilian nipples we could lick... unfortunately they were all prawns.

I have never liked how commercial Christmas is and that’s why I can handle being away from home for it for the last few years but the one thing I do like about the concept of Christmas is being around people you love. Friends really are a better gift than anything else and I was happy to have the gift of girlfriends on this Christmas.

Jaded Travellers

I was back to my indecision and lack of direction, somehow I ended up on a bus to Salta, why the heck was I going to Salta which is North of Cafayate when I was trying to get south to Mendoza? I was in search of a random adventure but the reality was I didn’t have time for a random adventure. My friend from Tucuman had to return back home so he could work on his music so I was left hanging in Cafayate on my own. A town which I had adored but all of a sudden I was alone again so when a German guy told me he wanted to further north to a place he would have to hitch hike to get to I decided to join. This was my chance for a crazy adventure hitch hiking around South America. I always liked the idea of hitch hiking but knew I would only do it with a guy.

Unfortunately our plan of taking off and hitching the north of Argentina was squashed by the bane of my travelling existence; Christmas. For some reason even though Christmas doesn’t really mean that much to me, especially when I am travelling there is still always this pressure to be somewhere on Christmas and to not be alone. I know I am never alone when I travel, never. When I tell people I travel alone they are shocked but honestly when you’re backpacking you can’t get away from people. When I come home I feel a bit odd because there isn’t a bunch of bunk beds in my room. So you would think I wouldn’t worry about finding people to spend Christmas with but I always do and my travel plans have to revolve around being somewhere on that one day. In the end I decided to spend a few days in Salta then head down to Mendoza which I should have done in the first place and the German had booked a hostel in La Paz for Christmas.

The German had decided to take off from Salta and bypass 90% of Bolivia and go straight to La Paz. To this day I regret not seeing more of Bolivia, the highlight of most travellers’ South American tour is the Uyuni salt flats, and yes I know I can’t believe I didn’t go either. I didn’t want the German to pass it up either and have the same pang I feel whenever I see someone’s photos of this majestic site. The German didn’t care though, I realized him as well as the only other non-Israeli guests in the hostel were “Jaded Travellers”. The German and this Portuguese-English/ German couple had just been travelling too long and it had gotten to them. The German booked his hostel in La Paz because he wanted to do a paragliding course, he didn’t want to be traveling anymore. He missed working; he missed “doing” something. He wanted a course to keep him busy. He didn’t care about seeing anything more in Argentina, Bolivia or South America for that matter. He had worked in Australia 6 months with his girlfriend, travelled Australia and Asia then they bought a motor bike in India travelled there before saying goodbye to his girlfriend then he hopped on a flight to Buenos Aires. He didn’t want to see another waterfall, beach or jungle; he was comparing everything to what he had seen before. His big round the world expedition was mushing together. I have travelled a lot in the world seen many churches, waterfalls, beaches, colonial towns, jungles, desserts but this has been over time and never in one long exhausting round the world trip so I am still able to appreciate a beautiful site. The German seemed to be burnt out.

The couple in the hostel were even worse. They were “complainers” I have never met travellers that complained as much as them, I couldn’t take the negativity. Sure some things in other countries don’t work as well as our countries and things can be a hassle but you aren’t home you get over it and deal with it. They spent the first part of their long winded journey traveling in a camper in New Zealand. They were obviously novices at this traveling thing because you don’t go from shinny green, clean and friendly New Zealand to Lima, Peru. For people who like clean eco friendly, safe, under populated, calm places I advise you Lima might not be for you. They spent the rest of their travels comparing everything to New Zealand. They didn’t like Peru they complained out Machu Picchu, they hated Bolivia and thought it was a shit hole and then they met me in the same shitty Israeli hostel in Salta. I think negative people are drawn to shitty places so they can have more to complain about. They were jaded they had travelled too much and seen too much, they were burnt out and exhausted. They didn’t see Bolivia for how amazing it is the landscape the culture and how frozen in the past it is. When you are in Bolivia you know it, you couldn’t be anywhere else in the world, it is so distinct and unique and those qualities are what makes it so appealing. When they saw Bolivia they saw the filth, they saw how backwards it is and how far behind New Zealand it was.

I felt like telling them maybe they had been gone too long maybe it was time for them to go home. The odd time you do come across these jaded travellers, the ones who have burnt out and I admit I have probably been there as well but we hate to admit it’s time for us to go back. It’s like giving up but travelling is not a marathon. It’s not a competition to see who can stay away the longest. You are not throwing in the towel and admitting defeat if you go back. You won’t get stuck in your home country forever and not be able to travel again. If you want to do something you will you left this time didn’t you? If you are a traveller you will always travel but sometimes you need to go back and recharge your batteries.

Perhaps I didn’t recharge my batteries long enough before leaving for South America again. Maybe that’s why I was lacking this sense of direction and have this constant indecision and anxiety. I hoped not, I decided Mendoza was going to change things for me. I was heading back on the Ruta de Las Vinedos.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Bicycle built for two; Cafayate, Argentina

In Santa Marta I was changing my mind about where to go and what to do every 5 minutes. I had planned to fly to Argentina then I decided to stay and work in Colombia then I was certain I would go to the Amazon and take a boat to Brazil. In the end after finding a decent flight to Buenos Aires I was teetering on that and the boat idea I was having problems making a decision and knowing what to do. I wrote earlier, “the obstacle is the path,” thinking Colombia was my obstacle but as I was staring at my computer screen with the Gol flight in front of me tempting me I looked up and saw in the hostel restaurant a group of people eating pasta and sharing a bottle of red wine, right then and there I knew what I had to do. I was going to Argentina for the red.

Like most people a wine tour of the famous Mendoza region was on my itinerary but I did not expect to be enchanted by the small village of Cafayate.

I had kept in contact with a young musician who stayed in my hostel in Colombia last year, we planned to meet up and travel together, so I left Cordoba spent one night in Tucuman and headed off on a bus to Cafayate in the state of Salta with my Tucu man.

We talked endlessly on the bus in Spanish about his music, my writing, Argentina, Canada and life in general. He can speak English but doesn’t and I was glad for it. He is one of the few people I can have a deep in depth conversation with in Spanish.

We arrived late to the village, while I showered and got ready for dinner he took out his guitar which he was dying to hold. He had been all day in the bus without being with his “Niña.” Depriving him of his guitar, an extension of his body is like taking away one of his senses. I had always had this fantasy of traveling through Latin America with my guitar on my back, playing it on beaches and passing it around in hostels. I wanted to be like those Argentineans I saw last year in Montanita, Ecuador lying on the beach strumming their guitars in sync, while the sun set and other Argies made macramé bracelets. Unfortunately my music skills are non-existent and my garage sale bought guitar has been sitting idle in my basement room in Canada for years. The next best thing to my gypsy, flowers in my hair, guitar on my back fantasies is to be traveling with a musician. I am awe inspired by his passion towards his art. I was even more taken aback when I overheard him singing Tango in the shower, there is something about a musician that drives women crazy. He came out shaking his wet curly hair saying he only sings Tango in the shower.

Later that evening, after quite a bit of wine we couldn’t stop giggling over the idea of renting a tandem bike and going on a wine tour of the vineyards. I had spent the summer working on a senior’s cruise where along with playing bocce ball I had to participate in sing-a-longs featuring songs from the war time era including the classic “A Bicycle built for two.” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to actually ride one and my Tucuman friend made me promise I would sing the ridiculous song which he had never heard before. He was not impressed with the lyrics though, which do not agree with his bohemian ways about Daisy who wouldn’t marry her poor Michael because he only had enough money for a bicycle built for two.

I told my penniless guitar player I was quite happy with a bicycle built for two and we set off the next day in search of our wheels. He took the front and quickly learned how to steer while I tried to keep in sync peddling behind. Maybe I should have trusted Daisy’s opinion tandem bikes are a lot harder than they look especially when you can’t stop laughing and after several glasses of wine.

We circled the town raising the heads of locals and tourists as we zipped past laughing like children and headed off on the Ruta de las Vinedos. The backdrop was picture perfect with the Andes Mountains looming in the distance, green lush vineyards and dusty country roads. We parked our bike outside a few different vineyards with the plan to tell them I am a journalist from Canada writing about the grape varieties in Cafayate in hopes of scoring free wine but unlike the overly commercialized Bodegas of Mendoza Cafayate was willingly filling up our ready and waiting wine glasses and offered free guided tours. Argentina and Mendoza more specifically is famous for its Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines but here in Cafayate they pride themselves on their excellent Torrontés. The dry region with its scorching hot days and cool nights are prime white growing conditions.

We checked out Nanni and Vasija Secreta then turned the now wobbling bike back into town to cool ourselves down from the hot Argentine summer sun.

What do you do when you’re in Argentina and it’s too hot to drink wine? Have some wine ice cream!

Helados Miranda is run by a very friendly elderly couple; the husband is a talented artist. You can see his master pieces in the back of the shop but his true works of art are the ice creams that are making him famous. The store front windows are plastered with blown up photos copies of what the most popular guide books around the world are saying about them. They are quite a humble couple, the husband was eager to talk our ears off while the Mrs. was taking care of my friend washing him up as he had grease stained hands from fixing our bike several times. She was a proper Argentine mama. They have many other flavours of ice cream but we came for the wine, you could choose between white Torronte and red Cabernet Sauvignon. I wasn’t disappointed the ice cream was dripping in alcoholic goodness.

Back in the hostel my Tucu man returned to his precious guitar and was immediately surrounded by other travellers who in turned played and swapped music with each other. I was happy and at ease in this little artsy town with a Bohemian Argentine musician. I am always in search of the small hidden travel gems and I found my first in Argentina; Cafayate.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Back to the Blog

Ok so I have let my blog go to the wayside, I haven´t written anything is two months and I left myself hanging in Cordoba Argentina with a knob pertruding out from my elbow. I went on about me being a writer and needing to "write now" so what happened? Well life happened and traveling happened, my other passion. I wasn´t traveling open ended I knew at one point I would come back to this ice cube of a country so I let myself get swept away in the wirlwind of travel. At first this really bothered me that i wasn´t writing I felt like I was failing myself but a good friend reminded me I didn´t have that extra reflection time that I would normally have with my long winded open ended travels. As well sometimes you need just live in the moment take in what is happening and enjoy. Its like when an incredible moment happens and you have two decisions; One, you can pick up your camera and hope to catch the moment so you can save it for all time or the second option you can leave your camera, just be in that moment and let your senses take it all in; the smell, the sounds and the sights. You didn´t miss the moment reaching for a camera and trying to take a great shot. You may not have that incredile picture to show off but the memory will always be with you. I paused for a while and didn´t pick up my pen, I didn´t miss any of the incredible moments I experienced in Argentina or Brazil but I am still a writer non the less and I have come back to the blog to fill in on every crazy thing that happened. So I am going to pick up in Argentina where I left off...
Blog directory