Saturday, February 14, 2004

Buenos Aires, Argentina-Madrid, Spain--Days 14/15

I’ve made it to Madrid and its been a long two days! Yesterday (the 13th) me plane left at 2:45 in the afternoon which was great, since this gave me enough time to pack, mail some things and then check out and get to the airport without really rushing. There were a lot of tennis players everywhere, so maybe that explains the tight security and the bus last night. I also decided to take a hotel car over to the airport, instead of going through another B.A. taxi driver experience again!

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to peruse the duty-free shops. My plane was a direct flight from B.A. to Madrid and was just under eleven hours long. It was very turbulent at times and I had a hard time falling asleep. In fact, I’m not sure that I really slept at all! I also wasn’t able to see the movies and chose the pasta for dinner, which was really bad and very unsatisfying! All in all, it wasn’t that great of a plane ride but at least we made it on time.

The plane landed in Madrid and the sun had yet to rise, which was actually kind of good because I knew that I could go straight to bed when I got to my hotel. I was picked up and taken to my hotel which is in the center of Madrid. The man working at the desk was most unhelpful and gave me grief for trying to check in early. He eventually checked me in and when I got to my room I realized that he had given me a smoking room (ugh). I was so exhausted and didn’t want to have to deal with the man downstairs so I decided to sleep for a bit and then change rooms when I woke up. Around 1 o’clock I woke up and immediately grabbed my stuff and went downstairs to change rooms. The man at the desk was a lot nicer than the other man and gave me a new room, but apparently my floor is going to be closed tomorrow (for whatever reason I don’t know) and so I’m going to be upgraded to a new room, which will also be non-smoking.

I got ready and set out on a walk around to see what Madrid was like. I was really surprised by how clean and bright everything is and really impressed by everything. I began walking down a main shopping street and then meandered through a few small ones. People from Madrid are much more into fashion that I would ever have originally guessed and I felt very out of place with my hiking boots and fleece jacket. I was also amused by how much the mullet is rocked here, in all forms and different types of hair. Pretty funny to me, tre chic to them.

Anyways, I found a place for lunch and found the service to reeeeaaaalllllly slllllooooooowww. Unbearably slow. Like I had to remind the waiter that I was actually eating slow. I ordered the special Valentine’s Day meal (which reminded me that it was Valentine’s Day) which meant that I got three courses, all of which took an extraordinarily long time getting to me. Maybe it was because I was so hungry and tired that it became annoying, but the cream of the cake was when the waiter didn’t give me back my change of 10 Euros and insisted that I gave him the right amount in the first place. Oh no, I reminded him, and he gave me my change.

That all took about three hrs and after walking a few more blocks I headed back to my hotel to take a nap. I know, a lot of sleeping, but with the time difference and lack of sleep on the plane I was really tired. I woke up around 8 o’clock and repeated my afternoon walk (going in the other direction this time from my hotel) and found a small dinner at a cafeteria place and the came back to my hotel to attempt to connect to the internet but with no use.

Now its time for bed and the Madrid zoo tomorrow!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Buenos Aires, Argentina--Day 13

Today started off with a nice walk down to the Plaza del Mayo in the Microcentro area of Buenos Aires. I found a nice place to eat breakfast and then walked over to the Casa Rosa (like the white house only pink!) which is the presidential palace of Argentina. The Plaza is very beautiful however I found most of the statues blazoned with graffiti, which is unfortunate. From here I decided to take a bus over to the area of Buenos Aires called La Boca, which is an area with very colorful houses and shops and where the tango thrives (at least for the tourists!). I hopped on what I thought was the right bus heading towards La Boca. Only after a short while did I realize that I was on the wrong bus. La Boca is very near the Plaza del Mayo (but too far to walk) and after 20 minutes on the bus, I realized that I had hopped on the right bus all right, but going in the wrong direction. I decided that it didn’t really matter and enjoyed the rest of my bus ride to the other end of Buenos Aires, opposite of where I was supposed to be. The bus passed several places that I was at yesterday and if I would only have taken the bus before I would have not have walked so far yesterday. It was really nice to ride the bus but I think that the driver was wondering what I was doing since I never go off.

We ended up at the bus station in Belgrano and after a few disorientating moments, I was able to locate where I was on my map and figured out how to catch the #64 bus back to the Plaza del Mayo and then onto La Boca. All in all, this took about an hour and a half to do the entire route back and forth and I finally ended up in La Boca around one o’clock.

La Boca was a neat little area and I browsed a few street market shops and ate lunch at a café just to the outside of all of the touristy streets. I found La Boca to be extremely touristy with the whole area comprising of tourist shops and restaurants. The most important part of La Boca, however, is the tango. I was able to find some postcards with tango dancers on them, but since it was not the weekend, I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to see any live tango. So I succumbed to paying to see a lunch tango show at a local restaurant (basically tango dancers tango while you eat!). Even though I had already eaten, I decided to get some fruit and actually found the tango show really enjoyable (despite it being, again, very touristy). After watching a few dances I headed back into the street where I found a few couples who were dancing the tango for tips. These dancers seemed more elegant than the showy ones in the restaurant. I watched them for a while and then hopped on a bus back to the Plaza.

Back at the Plaza I was just in time to witness the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo march around the plaza. They do this every Thursday at 3:30 pm to “campaign for a full account of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ of 1976-83“ (as stated by my Lonely Planet guidebook). It was all very moving to see this happen, but again the amount of tourists was overbearing for me. It was almost like a media frenzy with photographers everywhere trying to get good shots of the women marching. I decided to sit on the grass on the side and watch it all happen instead of joining all the other American tourists (although I did take a couple of pictures). Anyways, this went on for about a half and hour and when it was done I hopped onto the Subway back to a shopping area of Buenos Aires to pick up a few things and then went back to the hotel.

At the hotel I went for a swim and got ready to go eat dinner. I went downstairs into the lobby and not only were there a lot of people around, but when I tried to go out the doors I was ushered over to a side door. I looked out and saw a HUGE bus with the main doors blocked off by barriers just outside of them, creating a walkway (with a red carpet btw) from the bus to the hotel door (if I went out these doors I would have had to get on the bus!). There were police around lots of fans waiting and so I think that there is some sort of celebrity or something staying at my hotel! I decided not to try to figure it out because I was really hungry and so I walked back to the Plaza del Mayo area and walked around for a bit into an area that I had missed earlier today and then ate dinner at one of the few restaurants that I had passed.

I made it back to the hotel (only after getting slightly lost for a bit) and now am packing up my things for my departure for Madrid tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Buenos Aires, Argentina--Day 12

Last night was the best night’s sleep that I have gotten my whole trip! I woke up this morning ready to hit the world, or at least go back to the Temaiken Animal Park. I got up and dressed and made it to the lobby by 9 o’clock. Perfect, this would give me an hour to get to the zoo, which was plenty on time since it opens at 10 o’clock. I would be the first in line! Surely the hippos would be out of the water! I got a taxi from the suave concierge and later than sooner it came to pick me up. This time it was a young guy who was really excited to see me get into his car. Hmmm….We sped off towards the zoo. And when I mean speed, I don’t’ think I can explain the amount of FEAR that I was feeling in this taxi. Never before have I been so scared for my life than in this taxi. Now I know that you are supposed to get out if you feel scared, but by the time I realized what situation I was in we had already whizzed by everything and was buzzing along on the freeway at an incredible speed. I’ve never seen anybody cut people off so close, and pass people at such a close distance, and follow them at such a close distance for that matter. To make matters worse, he got lost. He was convinced that we were going to “Ruta 52” which is a LOT different to “Ruta 25”. Its like 30 more miles or something! Anyways, we sped through several toll booths asking where the zoo was and just when he thought we were on the right track, we were wrong. He was good enough to stop the ticket clock and so I just had to pay the “pre-lost” price. Finally, about an hour and a half later, we made it to the zoo. (Yesterday it took a half and hour btw). Anyways, I was fine with getting out but unfortunately because the zoo is so very far away from everything, I had to have this same taxi take me back to the hotel. I dreaded asking him to do so but he was more than happy and I think ended up waiting for me in the parking lot while I was in the zoo.

I went straight to Bibi and Chiku and was the only person to arrive. I talked with a zookeeper and discussed the two hippos who were, of course, sleeping on the bottom of the pond. They were again really funny, with Chiku blowing bubbles out of her nose at an incredible rate. My hopes that they would be on land were crushed as I spent several more hours watching the two sleep. Groups of people would come and go and it was interesting watching people trying to find the hippos, since you couldn’t see them unless you bent down and looked through the glass to see them. Many people would glance for a few seconds and then walk on to the next animal, but the ones that stayed and actually found the hippos were really impressed with their size (que enorme!) and would stay and watch the hippos sleep for a bit before moving on. It was kind of nice watching these people get really excited about the hippos, as if they had been the first to discover the hippos in general. Since people would stay for roughly 4 or 5 minutes, I would witness this new excitement in those intervals as well. Lots of pointing, shouting and clapping, laughing and jumping up and down (honestly, especially for the little ones who couldn’t see the hippos).

Anyways, when it was time to go (and meet my fate?) I went back to the entrance and met my taxi man who was excitedly talking on the phone in a phone booth near the entrance. I almost didn’t recognize him and was about to walk right past. He saw me and began to shout excitedly at me, hung up, and then showed me where the taxi was. We sped off. This time I knew that the ride would be shorter because he actually knew how to get back. Thankfully it was, however it was funny because the driver was REALLY concerned about how I was feeling (estas aburrido?--translation: bored. Estas enojado?--translation: mad). Was he worried that I was mad at him for getting us lost? So I had to explain to the driver that no, I wasn’t mad at him, I was just hot and tired and hungry, etc. etc. and so that made him feel better. I was struck by the driver (not literally thank God) and how here was this person that I would only know for like four hours of my life and how concerned he became.

We made it back to the hotel safely and I said goodbye to the driver (if you go to Buenos Aires, be careful!) and back to the hotel to process and organize the pictures. Afterwards I decided to take more advice and head over to the Recoleta Cemetery, which is where not only Eva Peron is buried, but also a lot of Buenos Aires’ rich dead people. By the time I made it there (it took about an hour on the subway and to walk) it was about 5 o’clock which was perfect lighting because there were neat shadows being cast on all of the angels, crosses and statues. You walk in and there are tombs among tombs but they are absolutely HUGE and ordinate and stunning. Each one is made from marble or stone with elaborate doors and statues guarding the tombs. Most of the tombs were actual rooms in which it appeared that one could go in a sit down or pray with their dead family members. Several of the tombs had windows and doors that were broken so that you could actually look right at the coffins with virtually nothing in the way between it and you. Very eerie.

I was walking around taking it all in when I realized that I hadn’t seen anyone else in a long time. Turns out there was a reason, and this reason was that the cemetery had closed at 6 o’clock, and it was 6:30. Whoops. A guard found me and escorted me out. There was a small street market next to the cemetery which I walked through and then I began to walk back to (what I thought was) the direction of my hotel, stopping in a few shops on my way to find something to eat. I found something to eat after a very long walk, but I wasn’t very close to my hotel. It was ok though cause I was really hungry. I ordered the special beef, which turned out to be a really huge steak and tried to talk with the waiter about how I would get back to my hotel. After going around in circles in our conversation, we finally agreed that I had to take a taxi back to my hotel because the subway was now closed. I finished my dinner and was assured that I would find a nice taxi outside the restaurant. Sure enough, I did. In fact, it was the nicest taxi that I’ve been in so far (air conditioning…oh la la!) and the nice driver took my back to my hotel.

The only other minor mishap that I encountered today was that my hotel safe wouldn’t open so I had to call security to come open it. Two very interesting men came up and used a funny digital device that they plugged into the safe to open it. I was really happy because that wouldn’t have been a good thing to find it not working properly the day I am supposed to leave!

One more day in Buenos Aires and then its off to Madrid!!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Sao Paulo, Brazil-Buenos Aires, Argentina--Day 11

Today I flew from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires. This meant that I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 5 am to catch my taxi down to the airport for 5:30, to make my plane for 7:45 am. I got up (setting two alarms but luckily my softer one woke me up first and I was able to turn of the loud one) and made it down to the lobby at 5:30 and my taxi driver was standing there waiting for me. It was the same driver that brought me from the airport and I was both surprised that he was there but relieved at how efficient the taxis have been so far. All of them have been eager to take me places and have offered to pick me up, which is good--at least I hope it won’t get me into any trouble! Anyways, I made it to the airport before the sun was up and checked in. At check in desk the man who was working there made me check my luggage, against my complaints. He said that anything over 6 kilos had to be checked…mine was 20! Whoops. So I had my laptop and camera with me, so off went my bag and of course I had this funny feeling…

Anyways, my load was drastically lightened which was actually something I could get used to and I made it to my gate and waited for my plane. There were lots of people walking around holding these plastic boarding passes for my flight, and I started to wonder if I needed one. Turns out they were for people who had been on the flight before which was a British Airways flight from London to Sao Paulo, and then on to Buenos Aires. So everyone was speaking English! Well, most of them anyways and it was funny hearing all of these British accents along with English and being in Brazil. I guess after 5 days of Portuguese it took me by surprise.

My plane flight from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires was really great. Honestly, everyone should take British Airways because not only do you get food on most flights, but you get lots of leg room and a movie! Even though my flight was only two hours, I still got to watch (most of) Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World--pretty good, but even better for me considering I thought I wouldn’t get to watch one!

When the plane landed the air stewardess came on the intercom and made a special announcement. She said for the following passengers to please contact the representative outside of the aircraft. She listed three names, something like Smith, Jones and Henderson and then got off of the intercom. I thought phew, at least my name didn’t get called. Then she came back on “oh, and passenger Galbraith.”

Great. I bet my luggage was lost into the luggage oblivion. I’m only going to be here three days!! This can’t be happening to me now!! I wasn’t even going to check my luggage!

Anyways, I was redirected several times to different people to ask about my luggage. Finally I made it through immigration and was able to find the British Airways “Lost Luggage” center. They were actually very helpful and said that my luggage was already on its way, and that it would be here in an hour and a half and delivered to my hotel. Ok so this wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. I filled out some paperwork and crossed my fingers that my luggage would arrive (soon!).

After this unpleasant distraction, I met my taxi for the hotel. We went outside and it was HOT. Really hot. Like over 100 degrees hot. I started to sweat immediately and couldn’t believe how hot it was. It was an immediate reminder of a Tucson summer day--those days when you just want to be inside because it is too hot outside! Anyways, the hotel was about an hour away so I was able to watch the view from the taxi and take things in.

We arrived at the hotel and I checked in, giving myself just enough time to get things sorted out in the room and then went downstairs and headed to the Temaiken Animal Park near Buenos Aires.

Abiding by the advice of my lovely friends Anna and Barb, I got the hotel concierge to hail me a taxi. I hadn’t realized it when I walked in the first time how extraordinarily good looking all of the men working at the concierge desk were. I found myself getting extremely flustered when asking for my taxi which of course made my Spanish incomprehensive (not to say that it wasn‘t already!). But they would just smile and speak back to me in perfect English.

My taxi driver was a nice man who hadn’t been out to the Animal Park before so we didn’t really get lost, just had to ask directions a couple of times at various toll booths that we came to. About 45 minutes later we made it and he promised to pick me up again so we arranged a time and I set off.

This animal park is a really nice area. Apparently it is brand new so everything is really up to date and just a nice place. But hot. I wasn’t able to change into my sandals or skirt that I’ve brought, so I went through the zoo with not only pants and heavy shoes on, but with no hat and no sunscreen. Ok, I will stop complaining about the heat now! That’s the last of it.

I found the hippos after some confusion (the signs for the Mesopotamia section looked a lot like a hippo!) and found the two (Bibi and Chiku are their names) sleeping in the water. They were so funny! It was the first time that I’ve seen hippos underwater. There was a really nice viewing area at the hippo enclosure so you could see the hippos both above and below the water. They would roll around a little and come up to breath and they just looked so funny sleeping underwater.

Luckily the enclosure was in the shade and had plenty of places to sit, so I “set up camp” and watched these two for the next five hours (besides an ice cream and souvenir shop run of course). They didn’t do all that much except sleep and occasionally swim around a little bit. They were also fed at one point which was nice since that meant that their heads were out of the water for a bit. They were really funny going around their pond underwater. They would swim really close to the glass and look at everyone looking at them. They scoped out everyone twice, but the rest of the time that I was watching them they were sleeping underwater. I also got a few looks because I was sitting there for so long. People would go and then come back to see the hippos again and I would still be sitting there in the same place. I pretended not to notice them talking about me, but I understand Spanish! J

It was eventually time for me to go and I headed out of the park and met my taxi driver. He took me back to the hotel and it was time for dinner. I decided to take the subway and after a few confusing bits made my way to Santa Fe Street which is a really big shopping street in Buenos Aires. I found myself in a mall and walked around for a bit (looking for sunglasses which I forgot!) and finally found some outside in a small shop. I had empanadas for dinner (thinking of you Barb!) at a really small side street type of place and then made my way back to my hotel via the subway again. I felt pretty good about finding my way around and am glad that Buenos Aires has a little bit more to do than Sao Paulo.

That brings me back to the hotel and I’ve decided that tomorrow I am going to head back to Temaiken again to see if Bibi and Chiku get out of the water sometime tomorrow!

Monday, February 09, 2004

Sao Paulo, Brazil--Day 10

Since today is Monday my choices of what to do with myself were limited. I couldn’t go to any of the historical museums listed in my guidebooks, or even the infamous snake house with over 400 snakes, because they are all closed on Mondays. So instead I woke up and hit the gym in the hotel for a bit (my new plan to try and exercise everyday) and did the elliptical machine until I thought my lungs were going to explode--which was at oh, 12 minutes. Since I had gone a mile, I justified my getting off of the machine (a mile is pretty good, right?) and then did some weights for a bit. I then went back to my room and got ready for the day.

First things first, I did a Fed-Ex run to send off my photos via cd to Mr. Cohen then walked around for a bit trying to find a place to eat lunch. I ended up somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where so I decided to take a taxi to the “Parque do Ibirapuera” which is “Sao Paulo’s answer to New York’s Central Park” according to my Lonely Planet guidebook. So the taxi dropped me off and for the next four hours I read my new books and changed locations several times trying to fight off bees that thought I was interesting (or at least they thought that my Gatorade was interesting). Finally I found some peace under a tree and was able to read for a bit and then watch some people playing soccer and bicycling and then go back to my book. It was a great way to spend the afternoon. My guide book that I was reading from of course made me want to hop on a plane to Rio de Janiero and soak up some sun on the Ipanema beach, but since I am leaving tomorrow it seemed not like a good idea. Spending this afternoon at the park proved to be equally as nice.

Around 5 o’clock I got a taxi back to my hotel and then went on a short walk around, picking up some postcards and stopping to eat dinner (even though it was only six or so by this time) and I sat eating my unfashionably early dinner writing postcards. Once I finished I headed back to the hotel in hopes of getting a good view of the sunset from the roof (with no luck- the roof was closed) and had to settle with the view from my room, which isn’t bad considering that I’m on the 29th floor.

My plane leaves early tomorrow and my taxi is picking me up at 5:30am so its an early night for me.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Sao Paulo, Brazil--Day 9

Today got off to a late start. I got up and ended up doing work until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and the got ready and decided to go find an electronics store in Sao Paulo to pick up some cds onto which I could record the hippo photographs. So I went downstairs, inquired at the front desk and soon was in a taxi headed for a store nearby.

When I got to the store, it didn’t really look like a store, just a big sign and an escalator going down. So I followed the crowd down the escalator and was pleasantly surprised to fine that the store sold both computer equipment and books. So while I picked up some cds, I was also able to find a large selection of travel guides and books in English. Thank goodness. I didn’t have room to pack either of these and so I was able to get a few guides and two books to read for my upcoming plane rides.

I spent about two hours in the store, eating lunch at the café inside. I then walked around a few blocks near the store and then finally got a taxi back to the hotel. The weather outside was just gorgeous and I had a nice time walking down a new part of Sao Paulo. Back at the hotel I read for a while outside near the pool and then by this time it was 7:30 pm so I went back downstairs to find a place to eat for dinner.

The woman at the hotel desk directed me to a “churrascaria” and said that I would really enjoy it. She made a phone call and about ten minutes later a van came to pick me up and take me to the restaurant.

When I arrived, I was immediately greeted by several people, all of which were men except for one woman who was dressed in this bright blue flowing dress. All of the men were wearing sort of traditional outfits that (for lack of better description) kind of looked like pirates. Anyways, I was ushered to my seat and found myself surrounded by men, one taking off my coat, one pulling out my chair, one taking away the extra place settings, and one asking me what I wanted to drink and explaining the menu to me. On my table was a circular card with one side colored red and the other green. I was told to turn the card over when I didn’t want anymore meat. There was also a sort of brochure that was pointing out the best parts of cow to eat. Hmmm…sounded easy enough! The man pointed me in the direction of the self serve buffet. I went and got some food and as I sat back down I was immediately surrounded by men again, but this time they were all carrying different types of meat. Every minute or so a waiter would come and offer me different types of meat (this was definitely not a vegetarian place!) and even though my plate was totally full, they just kept coming. Never have I had to turn away so many men at once (I could get used to this!) but finally I turned my card over to the red side. I thought it was funny how easily I could attract attention solely with my little card--if only it was that easy in real life! J

In no time I was completely full, and was presented with dessert (who could resist?) and handed a very strong alcoholic drink (of which I thought was included in the meal- however soon afterwards a waiter came up and apologized for sending the drink to the wrong table). I paid and was immediately helped to put on my jacket and to get out of the door. It was raining outside and I grabbed a taxi and headed back to the hotel. As you can see, not much of an eventful day but it was really nice to find the book/computer store. Finding something to read and the travel guides was really a highlight because I’ve found that I would rather read something than watch American Idol re-runs!

Tomorrow its my last day in Sao Paulo and then its off to Buenos Aires, Argentina! Unfortunately all of the museums are CLOSED on Mondays (of course, just my luck) and so I’ll have to figure out something to do tomorrow. Until then…

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.