Saturday, April 14, 2012

9 Days, 3 Countries, 6 Cities

In the past 9 days Sam and I have moved around so much it's hard to remember where we were when and what day it is today. I actually had to look at the calendar to see where we have been since our last post, but to sum it up we've been in six cities in three different countries; taken three 6-hour or more busrides, 1 plane ride, a colectivo (a shared cab), and more cab rides than I can remember; and seen two professional futbol teams. Whew!

That's me climbing into a concrete casket that used to make white wine.

This leg of the journey begins in Mendoza, Argentina, which is the wine region of the country. The area, as we learned on our walking tour of the city, used to be a desert, but you would never guess that now. The city is full of trees and greenery that were brought in from around the country. There is a huge park, lots of shaded plazas, and off in the distance you can see the Andes mountains. 

It is a beautiful city full of cafes and cute little shops, most of which were unfortunately closed during our stay since it was the Easter weekend. We were also there during the start of Passover, and were able to attend a seder at the home of the local rabbi. True to Argentine customs, the seder didn't start until 9:30 and went until about 1:30 am (Sam and I were practically falling asleep at the table by the end), but aside from the translations being in Spanish it was exactly like a seder at home--even the prayer books were the same. After spending so much time being in countries with different customs, it was comforting to attend something so familiar.

Our time in Mendoza was also spent taking a great biking tour in the town of Maipu (the name still doesn't cease to stir up some giggles). Many of the vineyards are actually located there, and we enjoyed the day sampling different wines & olive oils, meeting new people, and eating a delicious lunch at one of the only truly organic wineries in the country.

Organic vineyard where we ate lunch
On Easter Sunday we took a 6-hour busride back to Santiago. As you may recall in an earlier post we had basically done this route before, but let me tell you, it is quite different during the day when you can actually see outside because the winds are windy, not to mention there aren't any guardrails. Traveling around South America by bus is not for the faint of heart:

Plus we had to go through Chilean customs again, which takes a lot longer than going through Argentine customs since there is an absurdly long list of items that you are not allowed to bring into the country, including, but not limited to fruits & veggies, meats, dairy products, honey, and some handicrafts, depending on the materials (one poor guy had to give up a little handmade clay house that had little wooden logs in front of it).

Thankfully we passed through with no problems, and before we knew it we were back in Santiago for a couple days before heading north to Peru. Initially our plan had been to fly from Santiago to Lima, but despite the countries being right next to each other the flights are prohibitively expensive. Instead, we opted to take a the less expensive and scenic (and also more complicated)  route. On Tuesday morning we woke up at 5:00 am to catch our 7:30 flight to the northern most part of Chile, to the town of Arica. From there we had to fend of the taxi cab drivers in favor of the less expensive van to the international bus station. While waiting for the van to depart, we saw the entire Chilean national futbol team (professional team sighting #2 of the trip) who had just arrived at the airport. Pretty cool, even if we didn't know anything about them. 

A glimpse of the Chilean team
At the bus station we found a colectivo going to Peru. We were a tad nervous about being ripped off, as we had read stories in travel forums of drivers not letting you cross until you paid them $100 for a "visa" (which we don't need to get into Peru--yay, no more reciprocity fees for the rest of the trip!). Thankfully we crossed the border with no problem--it was actually very well organized, simple, and super quick. And we gained two hours in the day, since for some reason, despite being directly north of Chile, Peru is two hours behind.

We then arrived Tacna, Peru, our final destination for the day. We treated ourselves to a gourmet lunch, which was one of the best meals of the trip, and much cheaper than the equivalent would have cost at home. FYI, Peruvian food is AWESOME. As much as we loved eating tons of grilled meat in Buenos Aires, as Sam mentioned in the post about the Argentine Experience, Argentines like their food rather bland, whereas the Peruvians like a lot of  flavor (and apparently a lot of salt as we learned in our Peruvian cooking class, but more on that in a bit). Anyway, after a full day of travel we were looking forward to crashing early. Unfortunately there was a crowd of Peruvian futbol fans forming right underneath our window, cheering very loudly for their team, as the big game against Chile was the following evening. The next day we found out why they were partying there--the Peruvian national team was staying at the same hotel as us, and we saw a few of the players at breakfast (professional team sighting #3).

That afternoon we continued our trek north (no rest for the weary) to the city of Arequipa. We were super excited to be taking the trip with Cruz del Sur, one of the nicest bus lines in Peru. Sam is dying to write a post about that, but let me just say that overall buses in South America put those in the U.S. to shame. Arequipa is the jumping off point for Colca Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon, but sadly we did not have enough time to trek out there as we had to get to Cusco by today for our next volunteer adventure. However, on Thursday we took an awesome cooking class, called the Peruvian Cooking Experience. We started with a trip to the local market, where we  learned about the local custom of drinking frog juice if you have mental health problems (and got to see some little dried up frogs hanging). 

Afterwards we learned how to make two local dishes: Causa de Atun, a tower of mashed potatoes (the secret is to mash them with your hands and to put in a TON of salt) with layers of salad (tomato, onion, and tuna) and avocado in between; and Lomo Salteado, wish is a stir fry of beef and veggies on a bed of rice and french fries on top. Both dishes were super tasty and we look forward to cooking them again when we return home. 

Plating my cause de atun

After that was a visit to the Cathedral, which had to be rebuilt several times due to earthquakes and a fire. 

Yesterday was a day of relaxing in the city before our overnight bus to Cusco, where we arrived a few hours ago. We're only passing through for now, because tomorrow it's off to the jungle, where we will be volunteering next week in a biological reserve/research station!

More Pictures:

2012.4 Mendoza, Chile
2012.4 Tacna, Peru
2012.4 Arequipa, Peru

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