09 March 2004 - Cataratas Iguazu
Wow! The waterfalls at Iguazu are unbelievable. It is like Niagara Falls multiplied by about thirty. Incredible. I am, unfortunately, not a talented enough writer to do the falls justice. So I won't try. I'm not even sure the pictures show it well.. but I think the videos do. Hopefully I can get them loaded up.
I walked around for about 6 hours on these great raised metal walkways they have through the jungle. I also did a very cool boat ride, where they actually ride up underneath several of the falls, the coolest being the second biggest. Then you haul ass down the river through rapids, with the boats twin 200hp outboards spun up.. Very cool. And refreshing too, as it is bloody hot up here in the jungle. Anyway, had a great day, now I am resting.
08 March 2004 - Leaving Buenos Aires
I stuck around Buenos Aires for a few more days. Tried to see Andreas, one of Emily's friends, but he was busy during the week. Poor bastard has to work and stuff. I did catch up with Anita, and she showed me some of the nice green areas of Buenos Aires. And I finally packed up and left on Thursday, but by the time I collected my laundry, went to the bank, checked my email, and paid the hotel and garage, it was about 1pm. Nonetheless, I made it to my desired destination, Parque Nacional El Palmer, on the banks of the Rio Uruguay. Beautiful spot, many birds, and a great campsite with a restaurant, saving me the trouble of cooking with my teapot.
The next morning I got a cracking start, 9:30am. Now, that might not sound early, but as I rolled out of the campsite I was the only one awake. I turned north and started putting on miles, then pulled off into the town of Colonia for coffee and internet. It ended up taking quite a long time to figure out where the center of town was, and even more to find my way out. I finally found a main road and stopped for gas and air at a YPF station, which was the national gas company, and is now the largest gas company, once they privatized the industry. The guys there starting chatting to me, which is usual, but then they busted out a YPF baseball hat and a camera, and gave me the hat and asked if they could get a picture with me. Sure, as long as I can get a photo as well. So we took a few photos, they wished me well, and pointed me in the direction of the main highway.
Which is where the day turned sour for a while. Nothing gets my goat more than corrupt cops.. and I found some. I was pulled over in a regular checkpoint, where they were letting all the locals through and holding any foreigners. While I was there they pulled over two other vehicles, one car from Chile and one from Paraguay. Anyway, they said that I didn't have my lights on and would have to pay a $130 ticket. It was hot and I was pissed off, so I was not very pleasant, and was fairly argumentative. They then said they could, of course, forget about the ticket if I gave them about $40.. I told them no. And back and forth we went. After a bout 45 minutes, I was threatening to take photos of them and call my embassy. That didn't work so well. Finally, after saying all I had on me was about $5, I decided I had had enough, coughed up another $15, and got the hell out of there for $20. It just really pisses me off, especially in such a great and (generally) civilized country such as Argentina. I had been riding high on Argentina for weeks, and this was a major buzz kill.
So off I went, continuing on the main highway. I eventually turned off and headed to the town of Mercedes, where I stopped for a late lunch and gas again. And here I met two other gas station attendants, this time women. One was the cutest girl I've ever seen working a gas pump (which in reality, isn't saying much I suppose). They saw all of my rambling scribbles on my tank, and set off for a marker, and signed my tank. I, of course, snapped a quick photo. They were disappointed I was not going to stay in their town, but Mercedes is a bit of a dump.. so off I went.
I turned off the pavement and hit the dirt section, which on the map looked about 60 miles. Well, not quite, it was closer to 100.. and the road was bad. Dry now, it had recently been extremely muddy, and had deep hard ruts, with occasional sand traps.. The road went almost dead straight, heading to Ibera, another Parque Nacional. Ibera is a wetlands, surrounded by cattle ranches, interspersed with lakes and rivers. There are millions of birds, alligators, giant rodents, and all sorts of creatures. Once I got close to the town, the road turned entirely to sand, with ruts and very deep spots. The GS does not like sand, especially when loaded as heavily as it is, so this was a bit tough on me.. plus it was bloody hot, with no shade, and I had been riding for 300 miles at this point. Anyway, I finally pulled into town, and stopped at the first place to stay I found. Turns out the place was fairly expensive.. but supposedly everything there is not cheap, as it is so remote. But, because it was expensive, it was awesome.
I spent the next day doing a guided trek through Gaucho country, as well as one of the psuedo wetlands jungles. After that, I sat at the pool, had lunch, then headed out for a private boat trip through the laguna... Saw all sorts of amazing creatures; alligators, herons, tons of birds, and these huge rodent creatures that live half the time in the water. They are like giant 125 pound rats (so next time you New Yorkers complain, think of how much worse it could be). Right scary when you think about it. Supposedly though, they are good eating. I passed.
The morning I got up, and after the very friendly hotel manager Estrella signed my bags, I headed off. I had to ride the same road out, as the other way was worse, and impossible in rain, and it looked like it might rain. So I put my head down the started piling on miles, all the time watching the clouds gather and seeing rain in the distance. My luck held until about 10 miles from my intended destination.. then it started pouring. Had it not been raining, I probably would have bypassed my intended destination, as it was a bit of a dump. But what the hell, only one night there anyways.
This morning I woke up to head to Iguazu. The rain had stopped, and it looked like a decent day. But soon, I began to see more and more clouds and rain in the distance. I once again managed to avoid the hard rain, catching only a little drizzle here and there.. But as I got within about 30 miles of Iguazu, the sky opened. Worst rain I have ever ridden in. It was coming down so hard most vehicles had pulled over... but I had no shelter, so I soldiered on. My bike sputtered a bit as it sucked in some water, the intersections were lakes, but still no shelter. Finally, after about half an hour, the hard rain stopped, and I had only a light drizzle as I pulled into town. I checked into a hotel, hung my clothes up to dry, and here I sit, watching it rain. Hopefully this system will clear out, as I would like a nice day to see the waterfalls..
01 March 2004 - Return to Buenos Aires
So, Mason and I made it back, and I immediately fell sick for a few days. Evidently I'm too old to stay up most of the night for four or five days, constantly in huge crowds, and not get sick. So I spent the better part of last Thursday and Friday in my room, watching bad sitcoms on the Sony channel.
Saturday I started to feel better, and was out and about it a bit more. Saturday night Mason and I were invited to the house of a girl he met in Brazil. She was having a bbq so off we went, in the car and driver she had sent for us. Turns out Martina (like everyone under about 30 down here) lives with her parents. Course, her house was in a gated community in San Isidro, the very wealthy suburb of Buenos Aires. We showed up at this beautiful huge stone house, were shown the poolside back patio by her beautiful and very young looking mother, and joined a group of about twenty 19-year-old girls drinking wine and eating asado. It was rather surreal, as 19-year-olds are really very young. As Mason described them succinctly in one word... giggly. They were mostly beautiful (as the norm seems to be down here), but both Mason and I kept thinking that the mom was probably a more appropriate dinner companion for us.. But, what the hell, when in Rome... We ended up at an awful club late night.. it was an 80s club, which was funny, as both Mason and I knew all the songs, had been around when they had come out.. while most of the girls were not even born when the songs were released. I finally got annoyed with the awful dj, who kept abruptly cutting the songs, and bailed. It was an amusing night though...
Yesterday Mason and I headed to our favorite spot, the plaza in San Telmo, right down the street from us. A few beers in the evening, overlooking a patio with dozens of tango dancers, and then off to our favorite parilla. This place rocks. The best food, super cheap, with a bunch of nice guys working there. We had our usual.. white beans, sweet bell peppers and eggplant, all marinated in olive oil and herbs and spices.. blood sausage, regular sausage, grilled provolone cheese with oregano, two bife de chorizo (a slightly different cut of a porterhouse), and finally flan with whipped cream and dulce de leche, which is the local version of a caramel-like sauce. And all washed down with a local wine with local grapes, Malbec, which they evidently do not export. All good. After dinner we went to let Mason say goodbye to the crew, and as it was late, they were done, and invited us for a beer. So we chatted for a while with all the guys that work there, who we have gotten to know as we have been there half a dozen times or so..
This morning Mason ran around taking care of a few last minute things, then headed off to the airport. He is on is way to Africa! As for me, I will hang around here for a few more days, see some friends, then get back on the bike and head north.
25 February 2004 - Carnival in Rio
Wow. I am a bit tired. Carnival was crazy, tiring, fun, scary, beautiful, wet and hot. A great experience, but not necessarily one I would recommend for everyone.
Mason and I arrived in the airport in Rio, after sleeping for about 4 hours after the Molotov show, hopping in a cab, and heading to the airport. The flight to Rio was uneventful, but that soon changed. When we got off the airplane we immediately hit the line for customs. Turns out we would be in that line for close to two hours before we were through. It was insane. We then mucked about the airport, trying to find an ATM that would work for us, then called a friend of a friend of Mason's, Carlson, who lives in Rio. He had found us a hotel, so we headed there. But the prices for four nights was about $500, which was way too much.. I could stay at the place I stay at in Buenos Aires for almost 4 months on that.. as opposed to 4 nights. So Mason and I set off, trudging around Copacabana and Ipanema, looking for a cheaper hotel. We talked to every hotel we saw, and they were all either full or the same price. We called ten more hotels in other neighborhoods, but to no avail. So we accepted the price, and checked into a very nice hotel at the same rate.. We were tired, sweaty, and I had developed a bad headache. Mason headed out that night to catch up with Carlson, as I lay in the hotel room and felt my head throb. As it turned out, I didn't miss much, as Saturday night is gay night at Carnival, so the parades were not really my thing... better to rest up at the hotel.
The next day Mason and I got up and headed out to see some sights. We went to Copacabana beach, then called Carlson, who invited us over to his apartment. We went over, checked out Carlson's new photography book on Rio (Carlson is an ex-fashion model and current fashion photographer, but he also takes pictures of daily life in Rio). So, the three of us then headed off to Ipanema beach. We went for a swim, then got engulfed in a passing parade of revelers. The basic Carnival parade is a big truck with a loud sound system, and a whole bunch of people. And just as important as the sound, there are hundreds of people selling ice cold beer everywhere. You literally cannot walk for more than about six feet without bumping into one. They also have some guys with Red Label and Red Bull, walking around with trays and cups and ice, waving the bottle of Red Label. We hung around the parade for a while, then decided to head back to the hotel to clean up and rest before dinner. On the way back to our hotel, Mason and I bumped into yet another parade.. moving slowly right past our hotel.
We met some friends of Carlson's for dinner, then went to this huge outdoor party, with a main music stage up against a dramatic railroad bridge backdrop. The music was good, the atmosphere festive, and again, beer vendors everywhere. We partied all night, and finally made it home in the wee hours.
The next day, Mason and I messed about in Ipanema, went to a great natural food restaurant, and finally went out for a drink. We ended up at this horrible 'Irish' pub. It was overcrowded, the waitresses were rude, and the pints were $6. We left after one pint, and it furthered my resolve to never go to Irish bars abroad. Anyway, we left there and hopped a cab to the Sambadromo.
The Sambadromo is essentially a stadium built around a street. It holds tens of thousands, and huge samba schools perform every night of Carnival. The schools have tons of dancers, floats, drummers, etc. etc, all in fantastic costumes and whatnot. However, neither Mason nor I wanted to pay the $50 plus to get a ticket, so we talked to Carlson who let us know you could go to the staging area for free and see the costumes, listen to them warm up, and basically get the experience for free. We had heard it was fairly dangerous from about 3 or 4 different people, but we are big and stupid, so off we went.
We started walking down the main street, me taking still pictures with my camera, Mason taking video with his Sony digital video camera. We were walking along with several groups of dancers, one of whom might just have been the one that got away for me. So pretty, such a big smile for the camera.. They were all very nice. I took a picture of Mason with two of the other dancers, and a few minutes later they waved us over and told us that they had heard a few people talking about our cameras.. We were being cased. So Mason took off running up the street, I followed at a slower pace. When I got to a crowded section, I received the typical 'distraction' move, which at carnival is shaving cream type stuff, sprayed all over the back of my head. Unfortunately for the would-be thief, I didn't fall for it, and as he reached into my left front pocket (which had nothing in it), I grabbed his shirt and hauled him back as he tried to run away. Luckily for him, I was holding him with my left hand and my camera with my right, so I couldn't hit him. And if I put my camera in my pocket to beat the poor teenager, one of his buddies would have stolen it. So I dragged him about a bit, made sure everyone around knew what was going on, and let him go to catch up with Mason.
I caught up with Mason, warned him, and we were then in the street with a float coming by. The whole crowd, dancers, locals, me and Mason, and the pickpocket team, were all crushed aside, between a fence and the float. I got sprayed more, and now that I had caught one guy, I definitely had become a target. I had my camera in one hand and covered my wallet with the other, as literally two and three hands reached into different pockets at the same time. I turned to one guy, who I had identified as the leader... and laughed in his face, not six inches from mine, as he groped my empty back pocket. It was hilarious for me, but only made him angrier. The float went by, and everyone moved out into the street again.. we continued to walk down the street, taking pictures, videos, and having fun.. The pickpockets continued to follow us, and at one point Mason tapped the leader on the shoulder, and did the two fingers in the eye motion, saying, we see you, sucker. At the end of the road, adrenaline pumping, we hopped in a cab and got out of there..
It was amazing, the dancers were beautiful, the costumes were incredible, and most of the people very nice. I am very glad I went, and had tons of fun. I was also on a huge adrenaline high after our little confrontations with the street gang. Sure, looking back I was probably not wide to laugh in the guy's face as he tried to pickpocket me.. all that served was to aggravate him more.. But I reckoned, it seems correctly, that pickpockets and small time robbers would not try to get violent with me.
We took a cab back to the hotel, dumped our cameras, and headed out to meet Carlson. He was at a nightclub, Brazilian stylie.. Live bands playing Samba music. We got in after a bit of a wait, and hung out inside till the bands ended. It is truly an amazing experience, as everyone in the whole place was dancing. People talking at the bar were dancing just as much as people on the dance floor. It was a great experience, truly Brazilian.
The next day we got up, met Carlson, and headed to the same natural food restaurant.. We then headed up to Santa Teresa, a very old neighborhood on a hill in Rio. There was another big slow moving parade going on there... and the old cobblestone streets were packed. It was another cool experience, as there were very few tourists here. We met up with some of Carlson's friends, and hung out with them and their kids for a while.. then it became adult time, and the kids and parents went home. We met up with another friend of Carlson's (The boy knows everyone. Sure, there are seven million people living in Rio, but I think he knows at least 20% of them). As the outdoor parade ended, we headed down the hill as the rain picked up.. It had been sprinkling, but it was now pouring. After stopping for a late dinner, we ended up a hip hop club with a horrible dj and worse sound system. But the atmosphere was fun, and we stayed for a while until I couldn't take it anymore...
So that was Carnival. Don't come if you don't know someone who lives here. The tourist stuff is expensive and cheesy, but the local stuff is fun.. and not advertised, people just hear by word of mouth. And don't, I repeat don't, go to the Sambadromo staging area with anything of value.. They will take it.
20 February 2004
So, the last several days have been taken up by mucking about Buenos Aires. Mason had met Emily, a smart young American girl, who is traveling the world on a Watson Fellowship studying bees.. She was staying at our hotel, so the three of us hung out a bit. She had also met a few Argentines in the west, so Mason and I tagged along to have dinner with them. Yesterday, Mason, Emily, myself, and Anita, an Argentine, took the two bikes out to Tigre, a small town about 30 miles from Buenos Aires, set on a network of canals.. It was nice, but unfortunately (as seems to happen in BA) we got a late start, and could not spend much time there as Mason had to get back to meet his shipper, Emily was flying out to New Zealand, and Mason and I were heading to see Molotov. Buenos Aires is a great town, but there seems to be some kind of weird time warp, as big chunks of days and weeks disappear into the vapor..
Molotov. They rock. The show was awesome. I highly recommend everyone go check them out, but do it in a Spanish speaking country, or maybe California. The energy was unbelievable, and the young fans were going wild the whole time. Before Molotov came on, and when they left the stage before an encore, loud stadium like chanting erupted throughout the crowd. I have no idea what they were saying, but everyone (except us) was screaming the chant. The pit was thousands of people strong, all pogo-ing up and down in perfect unison. Of course, the kids knew the words to all the songs, joining in during the chorus.. And the band was on fire. They are very diverse, playing different kinds of music, and even having, on different songs, three of the four members playing drums. They all sing lead vocals at one time or another, they are funny, and they were creative. The brought out dancers (from a nightclub I was at last week) for one song, brought up to the stage many of the girls from the pit on another, and generally were feeding off the audience. Anyway, check them out if you can. It was a great show. Rock on.
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