Skip to content
Jan 29 12

Punta Cana, DR

by dan.kronstal
Reunited

Reunited

Our quick stopover in Santo Domingo featured some pretty spectacular hospitality by Armando’s family, which extended right up to the door of the bus. Our five hour ride to Punta Cana was pretty uninteresting, but in conjunction with a short cab ride, was enough to see us into our resort – the VIK Cayena Beach Club.

Our stay here is a Christmas/Birthday gift for Christina from Tito Greg, her uncle, who has provided timeshare-venue accomodations at other exotic locations for us and other family members in the past. We were expecting Carmela’s arrival at the airport within the next couple of hours, so we didn’t take time to get too comfy, although we managed to down a couple of rum and cokes before departing for the airport.

We're here!

We're here!

It would have been fun to hold a sign with her name on it, amidst the throng of other sign-toters, but we didn’t have a piece of paper. Her flight arrived on time, but Christina was so anxious and excited to see her, she was practically halfway leaned over barracade, straining to find Carmela in the crowd.

Birthday evening

Birthday evening

Carmela eventually emerged and we returned to the resort to get her checked in as well. We got tucked into our room, then tucked into some food at one of the five restaurants available at the resort, La Trattoria, an a la carte Italian spot – to celebrate Christina’s birthday. Later on in the evening with Cuba Libras in hand, we smoked a celebratory cigar by the pool.

Our bar

Our bar

Our week was spent loosely balanced between the beach and the buffet table, sprinkled with trips to the bar, pool, and dance floor.

Perfect weather

Perfect weather

The Dominican Republic is well known for spectacular beaches, and after walking along either side of our resort’s beachfront we could tell that ours was on one of the best ones.

 

Salsa with Camille

Salsa with Camille

The white sand was soft enough to feel like walking on cotton candy, and was decorated by grass umbrellas and lounge chairs as far as the eye could see.  Water in sarcastically bright tones of azure and turquoise, as well as palm trees extruding at irregular angles made the scene look like a cariacature of itself; like maybe it had been created as a set piece for a movie about fabulous beaches. Our accomodations at the “Beach Club” part of the resort instead of the attached hotel area allowed us, among other things, access to an exclusive area of the beach where we didn’t have to compete with the mass of guests for lounge chairs, but I still got up early each morning to ensure that we had our towels on the “best” seats, which meant chairs that were perfectly situated under private grass umbrellas.

Beach Club apartments

Beach Club apartments

Our club pool

Our club pool

Cayena Beach Club Restaurant

Beach Club Restaurant

Cool trees

Cool trees

Another beach shot

Another beach shot

Punta Cana mornings

Punta Cana mornings

The food was very good, and with five different restaurants available we had lots of options to choose from. The main buffet restaurant was good enough and varied enough to be our most regular choice, but the a la carte options had their chances as well. I did find that despite so many choices available, I regularly put together a fairly simple plate of rice, beans, chicken/beef, and salad. Very similar to the “pollo guisado” dish eaten by locals, and very similar to what I would typically make for myself at home. I’m afraid that we didn’t really pull our weight in packing away enough groceries to justify the “all-inclusive” meal plan. I did try and make up for it at the bar, and put away a fair number of gin & tonics and caipirinhas – both admirably suited to the beach.

Manager's Party

Manager's Party

On one of the evenings we were invited to the Manager’s Party, which was a special event only for guests of the Cayena Beach Club. It featured a nice selection of barbecued meats, live entertainment, and prizes. We won some small souveniers and a discount on an excursion (which we gave away to some other guests from Quebec), but missed out on the massage certificate (which we certainly would have used).

 

Our running track

Our running track

We went for a couple of morning jogs along the beach, and also visited the gym. I had been pleased to learn that there were tennis courts available, but we never got around to using them.

Yoga while drinking

Yoga while drinking

Instead, I focused on my ‘yoga drinking’ a trend that I can see taking off here in Punta Cana. We took quite a few photos and on one occasion had a bit of fun taking beach shots – which Christina has blacklisted from the blog.

Girls gone for a beachside massage

Massage Hut

The girls were keen on reading and napping in their lounge chairs and one afternoon got themselves a beach side massage.

Learning Merengue

Learning Merengue

I was keen on drinking some liquid courage and squeezing in some dancing lessons in, butt shakes and all.  In the evenings, we were treated to a different show each night.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

There was a competition for “Miss VIK”, a Michael Jackson concert, complete with impersonator and back up dancers, and my favorite, a burlesque show. For a week where the three of us did nothing but relax, it went by all too quickly. Before we knew it, we were seeing Carmela off to the airport, thus ending Christina’s birthday extravaganza.

 

We’ll be in the area for a short time longer before our return, but do not have any specific plans beyond getting the last of our journalling and reading squared away. I’ve already got my first meeting for work scheduled, and it definitely feels nice to come home to some sort of routine. Our next post will most likely be the “conclusion” of this chapter of our lives, and include our reflections on our travels and experiences from the past year – a conclusion we will be sad indeed to author.

Fun on the beach

Fun on the beach

Too much energy

Too much energy

Yay!

Yay!

Jan 26 12

Cabarete, Dominican Republic

by christina.kronstal
Monument

Monument

Our road trip from Santo Domingo to Cabarete started with a full history of the Dominican Republic given by our friend, Armando.

Viewpoint in Santiago

Viewpoint in Santiago

Veronica, another friend of Armando’s who is actually from Quebec, but studying in Chile also joined us and put in corrections about names/dates, since she is a Latin American studies student, trying to earn her Masters Degree. It was an educational ride and the first three hours flew by – before we knew it, we found ourselves in at our rest stop, Santiago, the island’s 2nd largest city next to Santo Domingo.

Carnival Costumes

Carnival Costumes

We took a tour up through their large monument, which can not be missed since the main highway seems to go right passed it – and learned a few more interesting facts about Dominican history, but truth be told, we probably at the best in-depth study in the car. There were several levels of paintings and murals, all depicting important historical events and the top level displayed some of the crazy costumes that the locals wear for Carnival. Armando explained to us that these costumed men would run around and smack people’s butts with their pillows, and it’s a huge game to try to taunt and run away from these folks.

Santiago Monument

Santiago Monument

After our tour, we ate at a nearby restaurant and relaxed for a bit before pressing on to Cabarete. We hadn’t made any reservations beforehand, but Armando got us a pretty good deal with a hotel just 3 km outside of town and surprisingly enough, turned out to be right next door to the hotel that Dan & I would be checking into for the rest of the week. We washed up and napped before heading out for dinner around 9:30pm.

Dinner with Armando & Veronica

Dinner with Armando & Veronica

Armando took us to the main beach strip, which was exactly like Boracay. The bars and restaurants lined the beach and offered all kinds of local and international cuisine. We settled under the white canopy of a restaurant and made ourselves comfortable on the soft lounge chairs.

Hip shaking lesson

Hip shaking lesson

By the time we finished dinner, the music from the nearby bars seemed to increase in volume and so we joined the crowd and made sure we had either beer or rum in coke in hand.

Dancing the Bachata

Dancing the Bachata

Dan even got a quick hip-shaking lesson from Armando. The clubs’ music filled the air with bachata, salsa, merengue, reggae and reggatone. We all had a great time and stayed out until 3am.

The next morning we woke up bright and early (by our standards) at 9:30am and headed south to 27 Los Charcos. We were unsure of how the weather would be up in the mountains and if the river would be cold, but we were willing to find out. When we got there, we suited up in our lifejackets, shoes and helmets and followed our guide, Chico, through the forest. After crossing several streams, we finally got to the bottom pool – so we jumped in and started swimming towards the first waterfall. Luckily we only did 7 of the 27 waterfalls, because I quickly realized at how unfit and how bad of a swimmer I was. At one point I wasn’t moving as I swam with all my might against the current of one of the waterfalls. And then once you get to the bottom of the falls, then you are heaved over with the help of the guides. While the climb up was exhausting the ride down was pretty exciting. Once we got to the top of the 7th waterfall, we turned back around and this time slid (or jumped down) the waterfalls. It was a pretty sweet experience and I’d probably do something that like that again (but only after working out the arms and buffing up on my swimming). :) After our excursion, we said goodbye to Armando and Veronica, and we headed back up to Cabarete via what they call ‘gua guas’ down here, which are basically local transport vans packed with as many people as possible.

Kite surfers

Kite surfers

The rest of the week was spent hanging out our hotel, Kite Beach Hotel, while admiring the dozens of the kite surfers bombing down the water and taking jumps. Every now and then we would walk into town, a 45 minute casual walk down the beach, and just hang out in the numerous restaurants. While we had some good weather, it was mainly overcast until our last day in Cabarete – go figure, but that didn’t matter much, since I was excited to start heading back down to Santo Domingo and to get over to Punta Cana.

Our bus ride down was comfortable enough and Armando and his family were extremely generous and had us stay at their beautiful home for the night. We went out for dinner at a nearby fusion restaurant and Armando had clandestinely asked the wait staff to sing “Happy Birthday” to me when it hit midnight. We were pretty tired from travelling that day and knew we had to catch a 10am bus the following morning, so we called it a night. The following morning we said our goodbyes to Armando and his family and hopped on our bus to Punta Cana – finally!

Jan 17 12

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

by dan.kronstal
Santiago, Chile layover

Santiago, Chile layover

Our flight from Buenos Aires to Santo Domingo took a circuitous route. We flew first to Santiago, Chile where we had a long layover, and spent the night in the departures lounge.

Our 5-star hotel

Our 5-star hotel

Christina had investigated the airport hotel adjascent to the terminal, but in addition to the pricey room rate we would also incur an additional $140 “reciprocity fee” per person for leaving the departures area (thereby forfeiting our “in transit” status), so we decided to camp out instead. I brought a sleeping bag for her to use, earplugs for myself and borrowed her stylish fuzzy eyemask.

The Andes

The Andes

Thus equipped we snatched a few hours of sleep at a gate mercifully supplied with benches lacking armrests (the best kind for sleeping on). When we woke there was a crowd of people waiting at the gate, shooting us evil looks for occupying so many seats with our sprawl.

Punta Cana?!?

Punta Cana?!?

We headed out to find our own gate, and passed a few more hours before boarding. Signage as we boarded indicated that our flight to Miami would be routed via Punta Cana. Had we known this when booking the tickets we would have hopped off at that point and figured something out on the ground. Our checked bags were headed to Santo Domingo however, so we resigned ourselves to a silly flight. The 10 hours in the air passed well enough. We alternated between naps and movies, and generally had a good flight into Punta Cana, then deplaned there while they fooled around with our plane for a while before letting us back on. A couple more hours put us down in Miami where we had to explain ourselves to the customs agent there.

Agent: “Where are you arriving from?”
Us: “Well, technically from the Dominican Republic…”
Agent: “And where are you heading?”
Us: “The Dominican Republic”
Agent: “Ummm, what?”
Us: “Yeah, it’s not the best connection”
Agent: “Ok, right on! Welcome to Miami!”

A short time later we boarded our last flight. I had always thought that the warnings to turn off electronic devices were mostly intended to spoil the passengers fun, but just after the message was played we lost power – all lights including emergency lights extinguished, and the engines and air systems went completely quiet – so clearly someone disregarded the rule and some rogue electronic device had interfered with aircraft systems. Presently our engines and power were restored, and we departed without much further delay. By the time we began our descent I was nodding in my seat, fully exhausted after our long day of travel. It was about 1:00AM when we checked into the hotel, which placed our travel time from Buenos Aires at about 32 hours.

Zona Colonial

Zona Colonial

Lovely flowers

Lovely flowers

Church Bells

Church Bells

Oldest church in the Americas

Oldest church in the Americas

Hard Rock Cafe

Hard Rock Cafe

Camarones by the sea

Camarones by the sea

Haircut time

Haircut time

We had a few days in Santo Domingo, which gave us ample time to explore the touristic core of the city, Zona Colonial. We visited the Hard Rock Cafe in Parque Colón to pick up a new shirt for Tito Greg, as well as to get a dose of some ‘merican home cooking. The waterfront had a few beaches, but mostly was taken up by the port and a rocky shore. We visited Parradillas D Luis, a restaurant clinging to the edge, for a couple of meals which were very good, and also visited the Megacentro mall, which wikitravel.com had implied was a big deal (it wasn’t).

Dinner night with Armando & Angela

Dinner night with Armando & Angela

One of our reasons for choosing the Dominican Republic was to try and meet with our friend, Armando, whom we had met in Australia, so many months and countries ago. We got in touch, and he took us to a fantastic dinner spot in Plaza Espagna. Pat’e Palo claims to be the oldest tavern in the New World, which might actually be true, based on its historic location and thoroughly rusticated interior. Angela, another friend of Armando’s met us there and we had a fantastic evening catching up on our mutual adventures had in the past nine-or-so months. We didn’t stay out too late, since we were planning on leaving the next day for a weekend of fun in Santiago and Cabarete, in the northern part of the country. This has been a great choice for us to end our world trip here, since we wanted a spot to relax and have a proper vacation. How many times in the past have we exclaimed, “Oh how I wish we could have a vacation to recover from our vacation?” Well, we figured this will be the only time to do that, so why not?

Jan 8 12

“Adios” Argentina

by christina.kronstal

We find ourselves staying in Buenos Aires for a third and final time as we prepare to leave the country. We have decided to stay in our favorite neighbourhood in the city, Palermo Soho, which is a large version of our Kensington neighbourhood back home. We fell in love with this area during our first stay in BA, while we were still in the Recoleta area and ever since, Dan had been pretty vocal about wanting to stay here at least once before we take off. The past couple of days have been geared towards buying some last minute things for ourselves, taking advantage of the generous VISA gift card that a few friends from iStock had given us as a parting gift. Dan has commented that this area (in all our travels this year) is the most densely packed with boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and markets, making it a great spot to end off on.

We can’t believe that we’ve already been here for a month and a half and are truly surprised that we will be boarding our plane in a few hours, taking us to our last country on this world trip. The friends we’ve made and experiences we’ve had at the Eco Yoga park will probably be one of the highlights from this leg. Iguazu Falls was also an amazing sight to see and the travelling adventures we had getting to and from there will always be a good story to tell, and of course, spending our most relaxing Christmas holidays in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay as well as New Year’s in Mar del Plata, Argentina are added highlights.

We’re curious to see how the Spanish will differ between the Dominican and here, but are willing and ready to learn! But we need to get there first, so it’s off we go to start off our 16 hour total flight time (28 hour total travel time). Next stop, Santiago, Chile for our layover…

Jan 6 12

Mar del Plata, AR

by dan.kronstal
Ferry to BA

Ferry to BA

Our ferry ride from Colonia to Buenos Aires was pleasant, and we taxi’d to the Retiro bus terminal to book our travel to Mar del Plata. At the terminal an agent sold us tickets for a bus departing almost immediately. We sprinted down the length of the concourse, only to be brought up short halfway, when we realized that we had crossed a timezone on the ferry, and actually had an hour to spare. Boarding the bus was chaotic; half a dozen buses were leaving for either Mar del Plata or nearby Miramar all at the same time. All of them were quite full, making the departure gates a madhouse of scrambling people, piles of luggage, and muffled announcements over the speaker system. Finally we found the right one and made our escape.

Once in Mar del Plata it was a short taxi ride to our hotel, and we checked in without issue. While showing us to our room the proprietess of the hotel asked if we were here for “dakar”, which neither of us understood, assuming it to be a Spanish word we weren’t familiar with. On our way our a short time later she whipped out a newspaper and showed us the front page headline about the 2012 Dakar Rally, happening here, and starting tomorrow! I had thought that the Dakar Rally was run in Africa, so was very surprised to hear that we were in a position to experience it.

Dakar Village

Dakar Village

In the morning we headed over to Dakar Village, the center of the action, set up in the Mar del Plata naval base on the other side of town.

Entering Dakar Village

Entering Dakar Village

There we found a midway of booths and tents from sponsors showcasing their products, countries providing route info and tourism pamphlets, and of course a number of beer gardens and grills to keep everyone fed and watered.

Grilling up a feast

Grilling up a feast

We browsed around the tents, picked up some souvenier shirts, and checked out the country booths to see their various info packets.

Driver for Argentina

Driver for Argentina

Some action started kicking up at the main stage, so we made our way over, and watched as a few of the “celebrity” vehicles and crews were introduced.

Last years champ; this years favorite

Last years champ; this years favorite

Christina fought for an autograph from Robby Gordon, who we had never heard of, but he was getting mobbed by the crowd, so she thought she’d better play along. Later, we saw a fan with a Argentine flag decorated by many signatures pursuing another driver, who turned out to be Nasser, driver of last year’s winning car. She got his mark on her flag, and we got a few nice photos.

Tina trying out the hardware

Tina trying out the hardware

Me behind Dakar flag

Me behind Dakar flag

Support truck

Support truck

Parade route

Parade route

We began to make our way back towards home, walking along Ave Peralta Ramos which winds along the waterfront, and which was the parade route for cars making their way to Plaza Colón. We had an hour or so before they were scheduled to begin driving from Dakar Village to the Plaza, so we stopped at a restaurant along the way which offered a nice view over the street. After lunch we continued walking, stopping periodically to take photos of bikes and quads, cheering on the passing drivers along with the rest of the crowd. It took about two hours to walk all the way back home, pausing periodically as we did, and we were happy to finally take some shelter from the sun, since we had not brought any sunscreen with us, and had spent a lot longer outside than we had expected to.

New Years Dinner

New Years Dinner

This same evening being New Years Eve, we had a nice long afternoon nap before heading back out for a late dinner. The priority in this part of the world certainly does not seem to be capitalizing on the holiday, however, and we were hard pressed to find a restaurant. Most were closed, and those that were open had been claimed by those with enough foresight to book ahead. Adding to the stress, the Dakar parade was concluding with a procession of support trucks – massive, rugged vehicles, all equipped with incredibly loud air-horns, so it sounded like we were in the midst of a herd of stampeding elephants. Eventually we found a spot, and enjoyed a very nice meal until just a few minutes before midnight. The table behind ours held Team Kazakhstan, so naturally I wanted a photo with them, but Christina didn’t want to create a scene.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

During dinner we had the chance to play “translator” with another team whose Spanish was even worse than our own. It gave us a chance to show off our vocabulary, and I think that we helped make them understood. Just before midnight we dashed out and ran over to the beach to see the fireworks madness and ring in the New Year with a kiss. While it was very cool, I have to say that our New Year at Boracay in the Philippines is still my favorite. By the time the fireworks had died down the crowds began to disperse, either going home to bed (like us) or going out to party (which seemed like the more popular option).

After this first very busy couple of days we settled into a routine for the remainder of our week in Mar del Plata, which I will cover in somewhat less detail. Our hotel provided a very nice buffet breakfast, a glance at which explained why so many Argentinians (older ones in particular) tend to carry a “few” extra pounds. We enjoyed the medialunas (mini croissants, lightly glazed), slices of cheese and wedges of watermelon, but in general did notpartake heavily of the assorted other cakes, cookies, tarts, and other dessert-like offerings with which our neighbors filled their plates.

Catedral Mar del Plata

Catedral Mar del Plata

After breakfast we headed out to walk about town, usually taking a route through San Martin, a pedestrian strip filled with cafes and shops, then walk along the waterfront to check out the beaches. We’ll end up at a restaurant or cafe, or press on further in to town along one of the trendy streets – favorites being Güemes and Avenieda Alem. These two streets are very much like larger and better equipped versions of our familiar Kensington Road in Calgary, and provide a lot to look at. I don’t think we missed an afternoon siesta during our whole week, then went out in the evening again for dinner.

Crowded beach madness

Crowded beach madness

Within the scope of this routine we enjoyed our stay tremendously, and vastly preferred our week in Mar del Plata to the week we spent in the Recoletta area of Buenos Aires. We never did have a real beach day in MdP, owing to the multitudes thronging the sand. Until I finally went down for a look first-hand it was only an assumption that there was any sand down there at all. The ground couldn’t be seen through the forest of umbrellas, and permanently encamped rows of rentable beach tents made the area further from the water look like a military camp. A huge number of people were in the water splashing and playing games and just standing around, and a separate crowd of surfers was trying their luck, but every wave caught seemed like an invitation to disaster with so many bodies in the way.

One thing we noticed about the city, even from the first cab ride down to Dakar Village, was the number of ski-lodge-style stone and wood houses. I was amazed to see so many neat homes seemingly transplanted from some country setting into the middle of a big city. I took a lot of photos of cool looking houses and buildings, but will just post a couple.

Cool house 1

Cool house 1

Golf club house

Golf club house

Cool house 2

Cool house 2

Our week flew by, and we’re now heading back north to the capitol, where we will spend our last couple of days in Argentina before departing for the Dominican Republic, our last destination. As we approach this penultimate milestone in our trip I am becoming both apprehensive about returning to real life, and excited to return home. I never (and I mean never) thought that I would look forward to going back to work, but have come to realize that there are some parts of work that I enjoy very much. Both of us miss our friends and family and can’t wait to see everyone again!

Dec 29 11

Colonia, UY

by dan.kronstal

Many things about Uruguay have been better than expected. The view from the bus isn’t really one of them. The scenery here looks pretty much just like southern Alberta, with a few more trees, so doesn’t match up with some of our past rides.

Our host was kind enough to offer us a ride to our bus station, four or five kilometers out of town, where we caught the COT bus to Montevideo. I read, Christina slept, and five hours later we arrived. Once again, we saw no more of town than the bus terminal, and just grabbed some McDonalds (yes, again) in the station before the connecting two-hour ride to Colonia.

Streets of Colonia

Streets of Colonia

We checked in to our hostel here and headed out immediately to find a bite of dinner, though it was early, since we had eaten nothing but our fast food en-route. Colonia is a small place, but very nicely appointed, with cobbled streets, gentle slopes, a scenic promenade along the waterfront, and a very charming little Old Town district with historic landmarks and buildings.

Old town door

Old town door

While eating we amused ourselves by watching the staff at the next establishment (much less busy than our chosen venue) dancing to their loud latin music and attempting to drag passersby into the fun. The sunset was enjoyable, and we strolled along the waterfront looking at the old homes and shops until dusk. On the way back to the hostel we encountered a group of drummers, accompanied by dancers and a crowd of spectators, marching around the central square.

Classic Car Flowerpot

Classic Car Flowerpot

In the morning we had breakfast at the hostel, then set out for more exploration around Old Town. First order, however, was procuring our ferry tickets for the next day, which involved a few trips back and forth between the port and our room, but was eventually accomplished.

More Classic Cars

More Classic Cars

We had a pretty thorough look around Colonia, and decided that it is a very nice compromise between the small towns of South America and the polished, historical refinement of Europe. We enjoyed seeing the vintage vehicles, so common in both Argentina and Uruguay, and the ample supply of coffee shops, cafes, and heladerías (ice cream shops).

Cultural Center

Cultural Center

At the Paseo del Sol, a combination cultural center, artisan market, and restaurant strip, we explored yet more cobbled streets and alleys.

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

Just one day to spend here felt like it left some of the sights un-seen, but still was enough to get a good taste of the core. We had lunch on the promenade at a spot we had noticed last evening, and I greatly enjoyed my dish, called “chivito”, which was a stack of meat (steak, ham, cheese, egg, and bacon) piled on a mound of fries.

Ñoquis (Gnocchi) Day

Ñoquis (Gnocchi) Day

In the evening our dinner was Ñoquis (Uruguayan for gnocchi), a national tradition for the 29th of each month. This tradition recalls the old days of poverty, when citizens would be out of money at the end of the month, and resort to eating Ñoquis, since it was the cheapest thing around. We didn’t find it to be overly cheap, but it was fun to partake anyway. We ate at the restaurant with the dancing staff from the previous evening, though they weren’t quite as “footloose” on this occasion. The food was good, but I don’t think that Ñoquis will ever by a favorite for me.

Last Uruguayan sunset

Last Uruguayan sunset

Having slipped in an extra night’s stay just on a whim, we are very glad to have spent the time here. It is a very nice little city, and felt like a piece of Europe. Tomorrow we return to Argentina for a last visit, so for now we say “adiós” to Uruguay.

 

 

Dec 28 11

Punta del Diablo, UY

by christina.kronstal
The bus drop off

The bus drop off

Well, a week has come and gone here in the small beach village that is Punta del Diablo. It was exactly the type of place we wanted to spend the Christmas holidays at.

Punta del Diablo signage

Punta del Diablo signage

The village consists of dirt roads, lots of cabañas, one ATM (which won’t be turned on until the high-season starts in January) and a permanent population of 700 or so.

The ATM

The ATM

We were lucky enough to find an apartment to rent, because we heard that accommodations filled up pretty quickly here.

We had settled into a great rhythm of waking up late, having breakfast while we stared out towards the water, then going down to the beach for a couple of hours and then coming home to clean up & take a nap. We would then wake up at 7:00pm or so to start making dinner. Enjoying the simplicity of just ‘living’ made it so great to stay here; taking a break from the busy ongoings of travelling. This was also the longest stint we went without eating at a restaurant, where we cooked all our meals at home. Surprisingly, cooking our own meals has been one of the top five things we’re looking forward to when we return to Calgary.

Beach day

Beach day

Chilling under the shade

Chilling under the shade

Dan coming in

Dan coming in

Fireworks

Fireworks

Dan checking out the fireworks

Which one? Choices..

Dan joining in the fun

Dan joining in the fun

Skyping iStock

Skyping iStock

During the Christmas weekend, we spent most of the time skyping with family back home. A nice little treat for me was when I had a short skype call with some of the folks at the iStockphoto office.

Beach book

Beach book

It’s pretty easy to get sentimental over the holidays, but at the same time, I haven’t stopped thinking of these folks throughout our trip. For Christmas Eve, we hung out at the beach, Dan surfing for a couple of hours, while I entertained myself with my ipod, a book that Matas had given me, and the sun – which for the first time ever, I came out with a bit of sunburn!

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

In the evening, we ‘rang in Christmas day’ with the locals and shot off some fireworks by the beach. Earlier that day I had conceded when Dan was eyeballing some of the rockets, and so we found ourselves in the evening shooting them out towards the water. The scene reminded me of Christmas/New Year’s in the Philippines.

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner

Christmas day was pretty much the same, with the exception of fireworks. The village was actually really quiet and good thing we bought all our food provisions the day before, because not a single store was open. So, we took to the beach and later on in the evening, we enjoyed our Christmas dinner: beef steak with fresh corn and mashed potatoes. No turkey dinner this year, because the apartment only had an electric stove top.

We will look back on this very special Christmas holiday with fond memories and are so grateful for the many things God has given us, including loving friends and family back home. We are now on our way to Colonia for a couple of days, which apparently is a good looking coastal town filled with old colonial buildings – our last stop in Uruguay.

Village view

Village view

 

Dec 21 11

Piriápolis, UY

by dan.kronstal

After about 27 hours on the road – most of that actually in one bus or another – we arrived in Piriápolis, making this our longest “travel day” yet on the trip. Our bus departed from Puerto Iguazú at 5:45PM, and took us overnight to arrive at Concordia at 6:30AM. This sounded like a pretty good itinerary on paper, but there were a couple of problems. This ride was not nearly so comfortable as our previous overnight bus. The food wasn’t nearly as good, the seats were toward the middle of the vehicle instead of in the front row, and the “in-flight” entertainment was broken. The second issue was our arrival location, which was beneath an overpass in the middle of the highway and nowhere near town. Christina and I disembarked along with half a dozen other backpackers, and none of us was quite sure what to do. We attempted to flag down a few passing buses loaded with what looked like work crews from town, but they were all heading away from Concordia and we were getting mixed information (from those who bothered to shout out the window at us) regarding whether we could expect local buses or taxis to make an appearance. We started walking in to town as a group, but Christina and I turned around to either wait for a bus or taxi, or to take our chances hitchhiking as a couple rather than as part of a large group. I had a fantasy about us leaning up against our packs in the back of a dirty gaucho truck and riding all the way across Uruguay to the coast. In the end what we got was a compromise, when we flagged down one of the crew buses, returning to town empty.

Christina engaged the driver in an exchange that went something like:

Christina: “Concordia?” [smile]
Driver: “Si…” [points down the road in the direction of town]
Christina: “Concordia?” [smile, point at us then at him]
Driver: “No”
Christina: “Concordia? Yo? Usted?” [smile, point at us then at him]
Driver: “No”
Christina: “Concordia? Por favor?” [smile]
Driver: “… si.” [smile]

Hitchhiking on a bus

Hitchhiking on a bus

And we were on our way!

Our "good samaritan"

Our "good samaritan"

We understood from the driver that he wasn’t actually taking us in to town, but would get us close enough to make our own way. As we approached the group of other backpackers, still on the hoof, we asked him to let them board as well, and he pulled over. A short drive later (but probably at least a few hours by foot) he deposited our group at the side of the road near the first traffic light in Concordia, with instructions on which local bus would get us to the terminal.

Christina and I, along with a couple of German fellows took bus #2 bound for the terminal, and the rest of the group parted ways with us on bus #7 headed in to Concordia city center. Our two companions had much better Spanish skills than we did, which was very helpful. My plan had been to attempt to reach the coast without going through Montevideo (the main transport hub), but at the ticketing office the old guy acting as agent was clear enough for even my limited vocabulary. “Mas eficiente, mas práctico” while pointing at the highlighted route through Montevideo; “Mas mas deniero, mucho tiempo” goes for the rest of the country.

Five hours later we were in Montevideo, scarfing down some McDonalds before our next departure to Piriápolis. Our arrival was dark (because it was 9:30pm) and rainy. We had no accomodations lined up, but the cheapest thing in town also happened to be the closest to the station, and on a day like this that was all we needed to know. We checked in to the spartan yet servicable Hostel Piriápolis, and immediately hit the sack.

Piriápolis beach

Piriápolis beach

The morning came overcast and gloomy, but we were cheered to find our friends, Matas, Holly, and Anna, all from Eco Yoga Park, having breakfast in the dining lounge. It was not a complete surprise, since we had been in some contact with them and knew that they were staying here, but expected or not, they still made for a very welcome sight.

Local fisherman

Local fisherman

We spent the day walking around town with them and swapping tales of our adventures in the week or so since we had last parted.

Grocery shopping

Grocery shopping

In the evening we cooked dinner together – spaghetti with a home-made sauce recipe out of the folks’ book, and bruschetta.

Cooking with the gang

Cooking with the gang

The food and company were both great; we sat around chatting for a few hours, and put away nearly a bottle of wine each before bed.

Our next day was a bit more promising, weather-wise. Around lunch it started to finally clear up, and showed us a very nice afternoon. Christina and I took advantage, and walked through town again, stopping this time at La Goleta, a restaurant along the boardwalk, for a lunch of pizza and sangria.

Lazy monday at the beach

Lazy monday at the beach

Digestion was aided by some time on the beach, which has very nice white sand, but no waves to speak of. Our group (plus Oz, a friend of theirs met in Peru, and recently arrived at our hostel) shared another evening meal, this time of fajitas, with an attempt at home made salsa, with some success, though I would prefer more caliente.

Christina had been in negotiation with a person in Punta del Diablo, a very small village further north, for the rental of a suite, and we headed off the next morning. We skipped the scanty breakfast served at the hostel to make a last minute ATM run, since Punta del Diablo is so small that it’s single ATM runs only during the highest of high season, and is notoriously short of bills. This town was recommended to us by some folks we had met at Eco, and in my readings online it sounded like a perfect little beach/surf spot to spent a week or two.

Us and Matas (1/3 of our American trio)

Us and Matas (1/3 of our American trio)

After a quick “goodbye” to our friends, well mostly Matas, who was up early, we packed up our gear and walked to the bus terminal. Somewhat amusingly, the bus we boarded did a full lap around town, and actually stopped right in front of our hostel, before heading north to Pan de Azucar, a nearby town where we would make a connection. There we bought a ticket for the next ride to Punta del Diablo, and waited the hour before departure on the sidewalk, since there wasn’t so much as a coffee shop to pass the time. Finally our bus pulled up and we boarded, taking what were apparently the last two seats.

It was a four hour ride, and gave us lots of time to reflect on Uruguay, which has been more affluent and friendly than expected. We will be spending our first “warm” Christmas here, in a tiny village, and will need to really try to imagine the festive season that we are used to.

Dec 16 11

Iguazú Falls, AR

by christina.kronstal
Beautiful Iguazú Falls

Beautiful Iguazú Falls

After a 17 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, we rolled into Puerto Iguazú, just after 12pm the following day. We were hoping to meet up with Holly, Matas and Anna, our American friends from Eco Yoga Park, but they had arrived a day earlier and were already on their way to Uruguay. At any rate, we walked the streets of the small town and situated ourselves at a restaurant called “Angelo Cafe”, which completely took us by surprise and we had THE BEST Argentinian Bife de chirozo. It was grilled and seasoned so perfectly, that it didn’t need any sides to accompany it. We did, however, also have ravioli-like pasta pockets filled with mozzarella and walnuts, with roquefort sauce, which was just as divine. Since we mainly came here to visit the falls, we knew that the following day was going to be a busy one – so we called it an early night and watched a movie and fell asleep.

Train Ride

Train Ride

We woke up bright and early at 6:30am and got ready. It was easy enough to find the local bus to El Parque Nacional Iguazú. We were told to wait at platform 11 at the main bus terminal, but it was also easily identifiable by the long queue of tourists.

Paseo Garganta del Diablo

Paseo Garganta del Diablo

We were packed to the gills and I spent the 20 minute ride on Dan’s lap.  When we arrived at the park gates, we decided to first hit up the trail leading to Garganta del Diablo.

Taking in the view

Taking in the view

A toy train ride from the “Cataratas Station” to the “Gargantas Station”, included in the price of admission, allowed us to take a scenic and easy route to the beginning of the trail. The trail was more like a metal walkway over Rio Iguazú Superior, that eventually took us to the mouth of Garganta del Diablo. The scene really took by breath away. I had to consider this one of the many ‘blessing counts’, which I have dubbed and have been jotting down in my travel journal:

Looking at Brazil

Looking at Brazil

“I am standing at the mouth of Garganta del Diablo, of Iguazú Falls – staring at a natural wonder of the world, my feet on Argentinian soil, and my eyes gazing towards Brazil. The mist, with which flocks of birds dart in and out of, is a refreshing break from the blazing sun and my ears are filled with the thunderous power of the falls.”

From the upper trail

From the upper trail

Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but continuously repeat in my head, today’s blessing count. After Garganta del Diablo, we then took the train back down to the “Cataratas Station”, where there were two other trails. The first trail we took was the “Circuito Superior Upper Trail”, which gave us several lookouts over the edge of the falls.

From the lower trail

From the lower trail

Then we took the longer “Circuito Interior Lower Trail”, that gave us spectacular panoramic views of the falls. We just couldn’t stop photographing!

Isla San Martin

Isla San Martin

Along the way, we also ran into some of the local wildlife, spiders, butterflies, iguanas, exotic birds and lots of coatis. We never knew what a coati was until we arrived at the park and were warned not to feed them. They were all over the trails and they look like raccoons, but with the long snouts of an anteater.

Exotic bird

Exotic bird

Coati

Coati

Iguana

Iguana

More falls

More falls

All in all, we both felt it was worth the time and money to come up here.  It was a bit out of the way, and we didn’t realize how difficult it was to get bus connections directly from Iguazu to anywhere in Uruguay.  But alas, what is an adventure without a little bit of the unknown?  Next, our plan will be to get through to Uruguay using the border crossing between Concordia (AR) and Salto (URG).  Let’s hope that all goes smoothly!

Dec 13 11

Buenos Aires, AR… Again

by dan.kronstal
First meal back

First meal back

We arrived at Chill House, Buenos Aires, and were immediately greeted with a recommendation for a local restaurant. We tucked in straight away to a meal loaded with forbidden beer, red meat, onions, and garlic. It was fantastic. Having already seen quite a bit of the “touristy” side of the city we instead used the time to make our final flight plans with Qantas, and Skype with various members of the family. We had also took refuge in the air-conditioned comfort of a nearby cinema to watch ‘Ano Nuevo’ (“New Year’s Eve”), starring a huge cast of well-known actors, including the likes of Halle Barry, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfieffer.

San Telmo market

San Telmo market

On Sunday, we met for lunch with Diana, and Andy & Jo, with whom we visited for a while, reminiscing about our all-too-brief time together. After lunch Christina and I left along with Diana to check out the San Telmo market, taking in the various artisan stalls full of mate cups, leather goods, stone jewellery and carved out coins from all sorts of countries.

Posing with Mafalda

Posing with Mafalda

She had been earlier in the morning, but missed the statue of Mafalda, a famous Argentinian political cartoon character. We parted later that afternoon, taking the subway back to our hostel for a siesta.

Zelaya street art

Zelaya street art

The following day we did a walkabout around our neighbourhood, strolled the short cobblestone street of Zelaya and photographed some of the wall murals. We also had a peek at the Konex cultural center, which was conveniently 4 blocks away from our hostel and was where we were planning on meeting some of our friends to watch La Bomba, a drumming show. In the afternoon we picked up our laundry, which we had dropped off early in the morning; two loads had been washed, dried, and folded for 37 pesos. I thought it was a screaming deal.

La Bomba

La Bomba

In the evening we returned to Konex for the show, where we met Diana, PJ, Tiffany, and a couple of newer girls. Inside we got some drinks and watched the show.

The girls

The girls

It’s worth mentioning that while drinks were priced not that differently from bar-type drinks at home, the volume was greater by an order of magnitude.

now THAT is a drink!

now THAT is a drink!

My beer was nearly a litre and Christina’s rum & coke was about the same. The show was well attended, and very entertaining. There were enough drummers to keep the rhythms complex and lively, with features including a trumpet, and some bossa nova style vocals for some numbers. It didn’t go very late, however, and we left the girls at the gate where we departed for home and they went looking for an afterparty.

Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots

Tuesday we left town in the evening, after killing time during the day at the Abasto mall. We watched ‘El Gato con Botas 3D’, which was probably more entertaining in Spanish than it would be in English, since we picked out a few linguistic details that made jokes for us where none were intended. One last walk around the neighborhood was enough to put away the afternoon for us, and it was time to be off. We took a taxi to the bus station, and presented ourselves for the Cucero del Norte service bound for Iguazu.

View from the bus

View from the bus

The ride was surprisingly smooth, since our last long-distance bus benchmark was in India. We found that if the comfort of this service was to be placed somewhere between the bus in India and the 1st class train in Europe, it would probably be closer to the Europe side of things. Our seats were on the top floor, right at the front of the bus, giving us a grand view out of the forward window. I wouldn’t claim that it was a great night sleep, but with a smooth ride, several movies, a hot meal, and some deeply reclining seats, it was a much better ride than our Iberia Airlines flight to Buenos Aries from Madrid.