2015-06-10 South America

8 Countries in 27 Days:

27 Days of Experiences:

Visited 8 countries, 1 trip to an Argentinian black market, 1 jungle, 1 beach

Challenged myself to travel with only 25 lbs of luggage with 3 pairs of underwear

Lost one passport (and then found it, minus about $200 thanks to my taxi driver)

Wonders of the World visited: hiked 26 miles hiked to Machu Picchu and watched 2 boats cross the Panama Canal

Traveled on 12 airplanes, 2 boats, 1 train

Caught 1 cold, 1 day of altitude sickness, 6 fly bites

Jumped off 2 boats

Swam through 1 under sea tunnel, 2 times in the Amazon river

Watched 5 shows in English, tango

Met 31 new friends

Hit 1 apple with a blowgun

Sampled 2 steak chevito’s, 1 Starbuck’s Chai, 1 Copa Libra, 4 Pisco Sour’s, lots of Malbec wine, 6 yucca bread tortillas

Enjoyed 5 days straight without WiFi or turning on my computer

Tried 3 new foods tried (one being guiene pig)

Learned to speak about 15 phrases in Spanish

Saw 5 endangered species, 2 scorpions, 1 crocodile, 3 tarantulas, 2 sharks

Explored 1 volcano explored, 1 hour at 14,000 feet

1 major breakthrough after 2 arguments

Tossed 4 moldy pieces of clothes that wouldn’t dry after the rainforest

Need to deliver 2 letters from Post Office Bay to a few strangers in California

2015-07-06 Panama

Panama Canal

9am to 7pm Layover


When booking my trip, I made sure that I would have a long enough layover so that I could see the Panama Canal – a “Wonder of the Modern World.”

What happens when your driver doesn’t show

After reading a number of posts on Trip Advisor I found an option for a Panama City day trip that would take me to the Canal and a number of other spots. The trip cost was $190 and thought it was a little excessive. After doing some more digging I saw an individual mentioned who you could email direct to setup a trip for $15 per hour. He quoted me a rate of $85 for the day. After having some second thoughts about whether I just contracted with someone to kidnap me, maybe it was fate but I couldn’t find him at the airport and approached the tourism desk. Because I checked my bad to my final destination, Los Angeles, I was traveling light and found a tour for $30 plus $15 to visit the Canal. While this tour was only about 3 hours, it was far cheaper and still allowed for me to have lunch at Margarita Ville (I know, but it was the only thing really available) and get some free drinks in the Copa Airport lounge and check email prior to leaving for the US.

Panama Canal

After making friends and enjoying the trek into the city, Lyle and I arrived at the Canal just in time to catch a short 10 minute 3D film on the canal. Seemed strange to go through such lengths for an educational video, but it was nice to see something in English after watching A LOT of Spanish dubbed movies. After the movie we ere just in time to watch the last two boats of the day pass through the canal.

Not only was the Canal a huge success, but they are expanding it. What I still don’t understand is why France failed at the construction, why we were able to finish it, and why after we paid for the construction and then gave it back to the Panamanian people. It seems to me that America tends to go around helping the world, but at what cost?


50% Less Rain


Apparently Panama is experiencing 50% less rain than last year so it was nice to see a huge storm. Good timing for sitting in the lounge and enjoying a glass of wine.

2015-07-02 Rainforest

Everything Is Going To Get Wet

2.5 Hours By Bus Plus 2 Hours By Boat From the Airport


Jamu Lodge




Swimming in the Amazon

Jumping Off Things


In the Rainforest it Apparently Rains… A lot



Continuing Local Traditions

I Hit The Apple

Most of the Amazon Will Kill or Injure You





New Friends

Next Leg

Panama

2015-06-26 Galapagos

Check-in

Enchanted Isles

I just spent 5 days in the enchanted isles. Mac was right that it all depends on your attitude whether you are going to have a great or terrible time. My situation included me traveling alone but with 15 other strangers. A family of five was extremely outgoing and adopted me early on.



Meeting new people can make an experience

And a special thanks to the family that included me and make me feel so welcome.

My roommate Aaron

Since I was traveling alone Aaron shared my cabin. I remember on the bus ride to our boat Annie, Aaron’s Mom, said “he is a pretty cool kid.” Over the few days I spent with him he is way ahead of his years for an eighteen year old and I have to agree with his Mom 100%.

At dinner one night we were talking about movies. Somehow we stumbled upon the topic of Fight Club and how it is one of my favorite movies. Just by happen stance Aaron had it (the only actually) movie on his computer. It is hard to deny missing television as a means of vegging after a long day and it became a routine to watch 15 minutes or so a day before one of us (usually me) fell asleep.


Tyler: “The things you own end up owning you…”

I am more a fan of doing than observing






After a while I noticed that I like doing rather than observing. If I can jump off of something, or be a part of something unique, I am much happier. Towards the end of the trip I tried to take less pictures and try and be more present.

Not sleeping is part of the experience

Deadliest Catch has been a favorite show for years and they try their best to capture the power of the sea. Since this was a live aboard boat for 5 days and we navigated each night to different parts of the Galapagos we got to experience some pretty wicked waves. Some cabins furniture even fell over.

Getting up early also is normal

San Cristobal Island

Punta Suárez/Gardner Bay (Española Island) / Gardner Bay (Española Island)

Punta Cormorant / Post Office Bay and Devil’s Crown – Floreana Island

Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island / Bartolome Island

Turtle Cove / Baltra

Sleep became a luxury as well as sleeping in. Back in the US I tend to crawl put of bed around 7. Here 5 to 530 has become the norm.

Continuing the Tradition at Post Office Bay


Be yourself

Traveling is a great opportunity to allow you to try things out and see what sticks. I think the people that I have enjoyed meeting embraced the unfamiliar but did it with a sense of self. We are people with quirks and those are the things that bring us together.

“I always make a choice”

I asked Carlos if his travel was by choice. He said, I always make a choice. I truly believe that he does what he wants to do and I will take that back with me.

Google Translate

This will get you in the ball park but not close enough to get what you need sometimes. Before getting on the boat I made time to visit the farmacia and tried my best to get cold medicine. Thankfully I showed what I bought to Carlos and he quickly exchanged it for something that was more like day quil. For my next trip I need to bring just a few items that are just in case. I would like to cut then out completely but having one dose at least allows the time to find what is needed.

Someone needs to create a low-tech solution for sharing

Can you believe that the only way to share email addresses was by taking a photo? We were at sea for 4 days without WiFi, and it appears that most of the uses of smart phones imply that a connection will ALWAYS be available. It also assumes that everyone will take their own pictures. What if you want to travel without a phone (dare I say that)? The only solution is to exchange emails and hope that people send you some photos. So, there needs to be a solution where someone with an app can push and pull photos or content to other people WITHOUT the other person needing the app. Pushing seems to work, but so far pulling doesn’t. With WiFi direct, if you could share a folder like a Media hub hard drive, that should solve it.

Next Leg

Rainforest

2015-06-24 Quito, Ecuador

Quito


Quito became home base for a few days in between the galapagos and the rain forest. While there was a lot to see and do here I mostly used this as opportunity to reconnect to the US and check and respond to email.

As I return to a major city from being away for 5 days I really done miss having wifi. Of course it will be nice to viber with my mom so I can see how the pups are doing. But I don’t feel like I am missing anything of value in gmail.

I have also found a few really good restaurants and unfortunately because I am in a more touristy district fell victim to a tourist trap called Cafe Metro. The second night I found an amazing steak restaurant called Restaurant El Padrino that cost a fraction of the rest. Remi was an immigrant from Venezuela and I was the only one in the place at around 7pm. I know you are supposed to eat late but I just don’t have the stamina for it lately. It was both odd and nice to have the place to myself. The other day I caught a lunch special at Manelos Chucherias.

Finding items to buy for the trip has also been a bit of a challenge.

Missing My Dogs

I couldn’t help but miss my dogs. The last major traveling I have done was back in 2001 and Internet in Europe barely functioned. If it did, it was a dollar a minute, and I could rack up some serious bills. Now, we have Facebook, Viber, etc. Streaming video makes it so we are never disconnected (if you can get a connection) and from time to time I could check-in and watch my dogs roughhousing.

But as you can see, I think Madison didn’t even miss me since she looked pretty happy with Grandpa when.

Cable Car to Pichincha


“You Have Friends in Ecuador”

Colonia Quito Has Some Good Stories


Middle of the World



Getting a Trim

Next Leg

Galapagos

2015-06-16 Cusco, Peru and Hiking The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

June 16: International flight to Cusco

Stayed at the Casa Andina Private Collection

June 17: Free morning / PM City Tour nearby ruins

Started getting a headache and skipped lunch with the group so I could get some coca tea and Oxygen

Visited Sacsayhuaman

See the snake?

See the person looking right?

Visited Kenko

Getting to The Start of the Inca Trail

June 18: Full day Pisac and Ollantaytambos

Pisac

Ollantaytambo

In the Apu Veronica camp, near Km 892

Hiking the Inca Trail

June 19: Inca Trail

Camp Site

We thought they were joking about scorpions…

and tarantulas being in the camp

Our Camp Crew

Beginning the Trail

First stop was checking passports at the bridge

With 4 days ahead of us it was hard to ignore the train that takes an hour and forty-five minutes to Machu Picchu

River

Paucarcancha

Llactapata

Huayllabamba for Lunch

My tracks to base camp on day 1

June 20

Running shoes

It was hard to not feel unprepared when everyone in the group had hiking books or trail shoes. But, after trying 15 pairs of shoes that all made my feet hurt right before leaving for the airport I grabbed my dirty old runnign shoes. If porters can do it in sandals, even with the treads worn down there were a huge advantage.

Huayllabamba

My tracks to lunch on day 2

Lunch in Llullucchapampa

The Rest of the 6 hours uphill

Met Heather and Linda on the trail

Abra Warmiwañusca, or “Dead Woman’s Pass” (4,200m 13772 ft).

My tracks to Dead Woman’s Pass on day 2

My watch that lied

Translated: It’s fucking cold

My tracks to base camp on day 2

Campsite in the mystical Pacaymayo valley

Dinner meal by candle light

June 21 – Summer Solstice

Tahuantinsuyo

Abra Runkarukay (3,950 m or 12136 ft).

Snow covered peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba

Puyupatamarca, “Town above the Clouds” (3,680 m or 12033 ft).

Summer Solstice

Intipata

My tracks to base camp on day 3

Camp Site

Nothing was better than putting on sandals at the end of hiking 9 hours

June 22

Pumasillo, Salcantay, Humantay amongst many other majestic peaks are visible in the early morning

Goodbye to our Porters


Porters

Combined, all my gear weights about 25lbs, with my backpack probably being around 10lbs. There guys will leave after we leave, run past us with 60lbs each, and be setup by the time we arrive. Makes you feel really out of shape!

Ruins of Wiñay Wayna, “Forever Young”

Happy Father’s Day

Thank God Someone Explained How-to and How-no-to Use a Toliet

But it looks like they forget to tell you not to put the toliet paper in the bowl and instead in the trash can near it. In most places in South America toliet paper is optional so always keep some on you just in case.

First Hard Boiled Egg

My tracks to Machu Picchu on day 4

“Inti Punku” or “The Sun Gate”

After 4 days, 86,000 steps and 27 miles….

My complete track to Machu Picchu from day 1 to day 4

Machu Picchu

Bus to Aguas Calientes

Stayed at Hotel El Pueblo

June 23: Free morning to explore the ruins of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

5:30am

Found a spot and stared for about 2 hours

Town

This street dog had a sweet one-se

My food was undercooked and they didn’t understand what to do about it until I asked them to “please cook my chicked.”

Train to Ollantaytambo

Dinner in Ollantaytambo

“Las Mulas” wine after our train broke down for 2 hours and we had to change our plans

Overnight: Casa Andina Private Collection

June 24: Flight to Quito

Packing For The Trip

For Cusco

  • 1 pair of nice clothes for before and after the trek
  • Get tip money for the guides
  • Patagonia backpack (I think I would have preferred to take a backpack and a small rolling suitcase) – Buy from REI
  • 1 lock for bag you leave behind – Buy from Amazon

For the Trek

Have with you at all times:

  • Toilet paper (grab this from camp before and after each day)
  • Chapstick – Buy from Amazon
  • Sunscreen – Buy from Amazon
  • Plastic bags
  • Cell phone to take picture
  • Bandaid
  • Supplements
  • Passport
  • Lock for duffel – Buy from REI
  • Credit Card
  • Sun Hat (I used a hat from Sunday Afternoons but would have loved one of these Buy from REI
  • Currency and wallet
  • Pen
  • Small Travel Umbrella
  • Sunglasses – Buy from Amazon
  • Dry bag that I had from an old Oakley Bag (a trash bag would have also worked)

Hiking the Trail

  • [Bought in Cusco] Sunscreen (wish I would have had the deodorant kind Karen and Andy had)
  • [Bought in Cusco] Sun hat with wide brim (bought in Cusco)
  • [Bought in Cusco] Water
  • Have some Peruvian Sols ready to pay for bathrooms or things that you forgot since there are no ATMs
  • Trash bag (better than a rain cover for a pack)
  • Cell phone holder that strapped to backpack (would have been great to have a external pocked that strapped to my belt)
  • 2 carabiners (I had two and probably could have used one more. These came in handy for all sorts of reasons).
  • Cell Phone for taking pictures (no WiFi – people did ask)
  • Backpack (I used a 20 L Travel backpack from Amazon – worked great until a tear formed) – Buy from Amazon
  • REI travel duffel (worked great until a tear formed) – Buy from Amazon
  • Duct tape (solved the tear problem) – Buy from Amazon
  • Buff to keep the sun off my neck – Buy from Amazon
  • 2 pairs of underwear from Old Navy (wash 1 each night) – Buy from Old Navy
  • 2 water bottles (I only used 1) – Buy from Amazon
  • Travel belt – Buy from Amazon
  • [Borrowed] Mosquito Repellent
  • Baby wipes
  • Poncho (got on clearance from REI)
  • Deodorant (ran out of my travel size on the last day)
  • Camping towel (I had a small size and it worked ok. At times I wish I brought my large sized one) – Buy from Amazon
  • Soap bar (we were given hot water each day and I brought this from a hotel)
  • New Balance Running shoes (I chose this instead of hiking shoes at the last minute)
  • 2 Moreno wool medium weight socks – Buy from Cabela’s
  • 3 sock liners – Buy from Cabela’s
  • 1 Patagonia long sleeved SPF 45 hiking shirt (I picked the grey one but this started to get really dirty – would suggest a black or dark red) – Buy from Patagonia
  • 2 Black Champion dry fit shirts to go under the Patagonia shirt – Buy from Target
  • 1 Smart Wool Shirt – Buy from Smart Wool
  • Gloves (these were the liners and were a bit of a pain because I had to take them off to take a picture) – Buy from Amazon These would have worked better.
  • Bungee cords for strapping wet items that I washed the night before to my pack

For Aguas Calientes

  • 1 pair of nice clothes to change into

For Return to Cusco

  • 1 pair of clean underwear to sleep in

For Phone

  • Chargeall battery for laptop (make sure to at least bring a 20,000 version to last the week)
  • My Tracks App
  • Phrase Book
  • Google Translate
  • Trip Advisor App
  • VPN software for phone and laptop
  • 21 Day Meditation Challenge
  • SD Card and SD/USB Adapter
  • SD card for pictures
  • Universal usb cable – Buy from Amazon
  • Cord Turtle for headphones – Buy from The Container Store
  • Corded headphones from my iPhone

Food

  • [Borrowed] Trail Mix
  • Supplements
  • Protein bars

At night on the trail (1 pair of clothes for night (underwear, socks, pants, shirt)

Misc Items

  • Gloves that work with a touchscreen
  • Business Cards
  • RFID wallet for passport
  • Pen
  • Bestek Universal adapter and converter – Buy from Amazon
  • Laundry detergent – Buy from Amazon
  • Travel Toothbrush – Get from Target
  • 2 travel-sized oothpastes (my travel size ran out and ended up sharing this from other people)
  • Compression socks –
  • Altitude Rx 120 Capsules – Buy from Amazon

Things I could have left at home

  • 1 Patagonia Better Sweater – Buy from REI
  • Zero Lemon battery. 20,000 units seemed to last charging my camera each day
  • For the Sauna: 1 quicksilver hybrid shorts/swimsuit (could have used my hiking pants instead)

Tips

  • Buy anything large or expensive from REI. They have an amazing 365 return policy even if an item is used.
  • You will sweat alot. If you plan for this then you can have baselayers that you can wash and keep your outer layers clean.

Next Leg

Quito

2015-06-15 Lima, Peru

Lima

Last time when I was in Thailand I ended up buying a second ticket because I didn’t want to be in Thailand without seeing the country since I was flying through the country. This time I found a flight that would allow me to see Lima for a day. Landing around 9:30pm I finally got to the hotel around 10:30pm and that meant that I had half of the following day available before needing to be at the airport.

This was the first time that I hired my own hotel transfer and driver. The transfers were about $30 earch to and from the hotel (which was organized by the hotel for me by emailing them ahead of time). Since I had some free time and didn’t need to leave Lima until the afternoon I asked them if they knew of someone who would also show me around the city. The same driver was willing to take me around for $15 per hour.

Lesson learned: make the most of the time in a city instead of sitting in the airport or just passing through.

June 15: Arrive

June 16: Day Trip

My Driver Hotel Coco

El Parque del Amor Or Love Park, Miraflores

Huaca Huallamarca

Oldest Hotel in Lima (Now featuring a KFC)

Collecting Social Security

Cathedral and Catacolmbs

Next Leg

Cusco

2015-06-13 Uruguay

Get up early


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We caught the 8:30a ferry. Unfortunately the buquebus.com company didn’t take Argentina Pesos and we had to use our credit card. So, that mean the fare went from around $90 to $121. They do ask you to get there a bit early, which gave us time to sit and have a coffee and get through immigration.

Colonia

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Apparently Colonia only has 27,000 people and everyone loves living there. Carlos from our lunch restaurant mentioned that it reminded him of California in the 50s.

Take the bus tour

We were going to try and make our own way, but since the bus tour was only $25 it was hard to say no. Not only did it include a 1.5 hour bus tour, but also a walking tour. Later we could have lunch or jump on other buses for free if we wanted to revisit something we had seen.

Brown water

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On the Playa Ferrando one review that I read said the water looked like “poo.” Yes the water is brown but that is because of the iron in the water and not because of pollution.

Downtown Colonia

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Prostitution is still legal

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Lighthouse (Faro de Colonia del Sacramento)

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Cathedral (Convento de San Francisco)

Eat at Casa Grande

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Again looking at another menu we had no idea what to order. So, we asked “what is the favorite of the region.” Here it was Chevito which is magic for a carnivore: eggs, bacon, fries, steak, etc.
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Next Leg

Lima

2015-06-10 Buenos Aires, Argentina

Less Direct Usually Qualifies For The “Business Saver” Rate

Can you believe that I was able to fly business class for the majority of my flights. I don’t like direct flights anywhere because it gives me the opportunity to layover in another county on my bucket list without paying to travel there. Con: longer flights. Pro: sleeping pods.

Always have a backup plan

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I arrived at 7:30am and my check-in for Pacheco de Melo 2095 8C wasn’t until 2pm. I got a message from my traveling buddy Kathy that I couldn’t check-in early so I found a hotel down the street called Lion D’or. Their check-in was a bit earlier, 12, and luckily they had a room available for 360 pesos (roughly 28.91 black market rate / $40 official rate).
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The Water Goes the Other Way

Go to the oldest coffee shop in the world

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I was advised Angel who works at one of my favorite pizza place Mob Town to go to Cafe Tortoni. Established in 1858. Pure history.

Drink a Malbec

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Take a walking tour

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“Say Whiskey”

Not only was the Buenos Aires Free Walking Tour a great tour but it was Free. How can that be? Well, they tell you that it is free and you can give them a donation if you like it. The smartest thing our tour guide did was give us a range of what a tour “like this” would normally cost. But, we can pay as much or as little as we like. There are a lot of activities that I come across and the price often disqualifies me from going. So, not only was it amazing and a wonderful way to get the lay of the land but we paid after out expectations were fulfilled.

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Ask where to eat

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Many places were recommended to us for steak (which apparently is the thing to eat). After walking for what seemed like days we finally stumbled upon one of our favorite places El Sanjuanino. A huge cut of meat was about $15, and was much better than some of the more tourist places that charge $100 per steak.

The other favorite of the trip was Los Pinos and their steak lunch special was only $9.

Change money on the black market

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As I mentioned above, trading in currency is extremely hard. I try and exchange some currency at the outgoing airport (the exchange rate was about 9 PESOS to $1 USD). Because the country is very unstable and we were told that inflation can be around 40% most locals change their money on the black market (12.45 PESOS to $1 USD). Our tour guide gave us a (vague) location and we headed there after lunch. The instructions were to 1) look for a landscape painting, 2) press a button, 3) wait, 4) go in when the buzzer rings. We happened to go right when the police were outside which made the experience extra exciting. We had so much fun that we had to go twice.

Go see tango

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http://tangoporteno.com.ar/

Check-in with home

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Vibe seems to be one of the easiest ways to communicate with people back home. You can text, call and video chat for free over WIFI. I remember 15 years ago when we had to pay $0.50 a minute and the internet was dial-up. How things have changed…

Hailing a taxi

If a sign says “libre” you are good to go. If it doesn’t say “Radio Taxi” it may not be an official taxi. But, even if it says Radio Taxi we were told to watch the meter to see if it was running extra fast. There are also premiums if you call ahead and have it arrive at your hotel or if you hail it directly from the port. Walking just a few feet saves you about 120 pesos (about $10).

Always lock suitcase

Somewhere in the trip my travel buddy and I both noticed that we lost a few hundred dollars. Safes are confusing, but when you are away from home, you are away from home. Your safety is your priority and I have learned that travel locks go along way for piece of mind.

Hold onto your passport

I lost my passport and later found out that it was returned by our taxi driver. After going through my bag I saw that my wallet was a little light in bills. A new passport would have been much more expensive than what the driver took, but now I know why he didn’t want a tip; he already took one.

Carry a map

Not knowing where you are going is really scary. I tried to remember directions to a market just four blocks away and felt very intimidated. Not only does it get dark in the “winter” season around 5pm and light around 8am, but when you don’t know where you are it just throws you off. We were staying at an apartment, but priority #1 when going to a new area should be grabbing one of those total tourist maps. Google Maps seems to work offline (learned that on day 5) and there are other apps if you add “offline” to the search.

Have the address written down in english as well as Spanish (since I was in Argentina)

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No one understood my “Spanish” accent, and just showing the address from my phone went a long way. I use Evernote religiously but sometimes it doesn’t cache a note for offline usage. Taking a screenshot seemed to solve that problem.

Phrase book

“Medio” is not “medium” when ordering a steak. But, when you use Google Translator that is exactly what you get. So, download a phrase book.

Ask

My travel buddy Kathy told me that “if you don’t ask the answer is always ‘no.’” Great advice. You never saw two more confused people than the pair of us when we were handed a Spanish menu; and without pictures. But, we finally asked for help and said “do you have one in English.” Each time we had no problems. If we ever did find one that wasn’t translated a waiter who could speak English game over.

The “best”

Everyone in Argentina seemed to and “ist” (or form of) to the end of everything. For example, “is this the best restaurant for steak?” The answer was of course “yes.” We were also told that the Argentinian people claimed that the avenue that runs down the center of the city is the “biggest.” Another “ist” that was just challenged by one in Brazil. What does this mean about the people? They have great pride in their city.

Act like a tourist (once)

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Yes I did the ultimate tourist activity; have a Starbucks.

Next Leg

Uruguay