Querido Mexico…

22 07 2009

I haven’t been anywhere in a while…and though I know I’ve eaten some great meals recently, I’ve neglected to take any photographs.  I’m in the mood to write, though, so what to do?  Dig up an old, yet-unrecorded trip, of course.  Two and a half years ago Chris and I spent a few days in Mexico City and had a wonderful time.  I’ve been a little saddened by the news about Mexico recently, and sometimes wonder if I’d be up for this same trip again, at least right now.  While most of the violence I read about is taking place along the border, I have also read about brazen instances of violence in the resort towns as well as Mexico City.  I wish this were not the case, because I had such a great time, never felt unsafe (at least not too unsafe), and Mexico City and I have unfinished business.

We arrived in Mexico City around 4pm on a Friday, 30 November 2007.  We hired a taxi from the airport (I had done a great deal of research on taxis — we only used Super Sitio or Servitaxis) and began the long, slow drive into the city.  I had read that the traffic in Mexico City was bad, and even with an expectation that it would be bad, I was amazed at just how bad it was.  It took us so long to get to our hotel — the Hotel Camino Real in the Polanco — that we only had time to run in, throw down our stuff, then walk briskly to the National Museum of Anthropology.  It was almost 6 by the time we finally got there.  The posted hours for the museum said that it would be open until 7; however, around 6:30 guards started walking around turning out lights and rounding everyone up.  Unfortunately, this left us with no choice but to run around trying to see as much as we could see in very little time.  I wish we could have spent hours there!  The collection of artifacts is amazing and I’m sure its so much more impressive when you can take the time to read about everything.









Once we were officially kicked out, we walked back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner and stopped to take a look — it was a pretty cool-looking hotel.  The design was quite minimalist and modern.  Here are a few snapshots:



Fountain out front that changed water patterns

Fountain out front that changed water patterns

Standard bedroom

Standard bedroom

Loved the modern bathroom

Loved the modern bathroom

That night, we walked to La Fonda del Recuerdo for dinner.  The walk was somewhat long, but I enjoyed the stroll.  I don’t recall what we ate, but I do recall that we enjoyed ourselves and many tequilas y sangritas.  We both developed quite a taste for the Don Julio Reposado with a sangrita — so tasty.  The restaurant had a very festive atmosphere with jarochos performing traditional music, lots of tables full of happy people, and the odd (to me) roving people trying to sell you flowers and other items.  I’m still not sure what the deal was with the person who came to the table with a bird cage with little tiny birds in it…  After dinner we walked back in the chilly night air — this felt very good after a heavy meal and a few tequilas.  I have read that we should have taken a cab to and from the restaurant, but I enjoyed the walk and never felt unsafe.

The next morning we woke up super early and took a taxi to the bus station where we managed to get on a local bus out to Teotihuacan.  My ability to speak Spanish came in very handy here, although it was still a bit confusing and I was never 100% certain we were doing it right until we actually arrived at our destination about an hour later.  We were the only people on the bus going to Teotihuacan, so that also had me slightly worried that we were on the wrong bus…but, it all worked out.  The strangest thing happened on the way, though.  The sun was barely beginning to rise as we headed down the highway when suddenly the bus driver pulled maybe a foot or two to the side of the road (not out of the road — just barely to the side) and stopped…and got off.  People started looking around to see what was going on but no one seemed to know….all the while cars are just flying around us.  After a few minutes the driver got back on and we continued on our way.  Not really sure about that…this was one point on the trip where my imagination started running a bit wild.  But I guess he just needed to make a pit stop…or something.

When we got to Teotihuacan it was not yet open, so we had to stand around outside the (open) gates (I tried to walk in and was promptly sent back out).  Once it opened we headed in and started exploring — we were practically the only people there for a while.  It was simply beautiful.  The stairs up to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun were a challenge — the steps were tall and narrow — but the view from up top was profound.  The park abounds with interesting visual perspectives.  Here are some of my favorite shots from the day:









After wandering around this amazing ancient archaeological site for a few hours we caught a bus back to the city.  The bus ride back was cool — since we were on a local bus, we made several stops in little towns along the way and I felt like I got a greater sense of what the towns are actually like. 

Once we made it back to the hotel we hopped on the subway and headed down to the Centro Artesanal crafts market to do some Christmas shopping.  First order of business, however, was lunch.  There were several stands serving all sorts of foods near the entrance to the market, and after walking through once we settled on a fairly crowded taco stand where we got perhaps our favorite meal of the trip.  We ordered a few varieties of tacos — I wasn’t always sure of the meats, so I just pointed to what looked good (and it was, indeed, good).  Our favorite taco, we agreed, was the taco chile relleno — delicious queso-filled chiles rellenos that the woman working the stand tossed back onto the hot grill, cut in half, and stuffed into delectable corn tortillas.  This was exactly what we were looking for — fantastic street food.

After lunch we headed into the market and found all kinds of goodies to bring home and give our family members for Christmas…everything from cheesy magnets to lucha libre t-shirts (vamos, Mil Máscaras!) to a beautiful mirror set in tin and more.  Chris bought me a gorgeous hand-carved and painted wooden platter for my birthday.  Since we had learned in Turkey that I absolutely HATE negotiating, we had a system — I identified the goods and Chris worked for the best price.

Next we headed to Chapultepec Park and strolled about for a couple of hours.  The people-watching was great and the park is really beautiful.  I’m a big fan of urban parks and Chapultepec goes down on my list of one of the best.  I managed not to take very many photos for some reason…but here are a few.




That night I asked our hotel for a dinner recommendation and they sent us to La Hacienda de los Morales.  In retrospect, I’m a little disappointed in our dinner experience that night.  The building was beautiful but the atmosphere was a bit too fancy and it was not cheap.  I don’t mind paying more for food if it blows me away, but the food was just fine.  I wish we had found a local gem.  I would have preferred something a little more adventurous, more fun.  As this was our last dinner in Mexico City, I’m left feeling a bit unsatisfied.  This is the first of my unfinished business with Mexico City.

The next day, Sunday, we again woke up early and headed to the Zócalo  — a day I which I had been anticipating all weekend.  I could not wait to stroll the massive plaza and see the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Templo Mayor, and especially the National Palace to see the Diego Rivera murals.  When we arrived at the Zócalo, this is what we saw:


Christmas had arrived…as had a massive ice skating rink filling the entire plaza, making it virtually impossible for me to get any perspective on the vastness of the square!  Sure, it was fun watching kids and grown-ups alike skate around and the decorations were very festive, but Chris had been telling me how cool the plaza is, how many different things I might see…and instead all I could see through the bleachers set up all around was an ice skating rink, and forget about getting a good perspective on the cathedral or the palace.  Oh well — it’s still beautiful and I’m thrilled to be here, and as it was a Sunday morning it was cool watching people heading in for mass.  I did manage to get a few shots that turned out okay:







Our final stop for the day before we had to begin our return journey to the airport was to be the Palacio Nacional and the murals.  Although we had confirmed (through various written publications…) it would be open, when I approached the guard to go inside the told me it was closed today — no one could go in.  I fruitlessly tried to explain how I was flying home later that day and how I had come specifically on this day to see the murals — I’m not sure what I thought would happen, as if he’d say, oh, okay, well come on in for a special tour…  Needless to say, we did not get to go inside.  So, I had learned a few important lessons on this trip.  The first lesson is that posted hours in Mexico City are more like guidelines (I’m also thinking back to the Anthropology Museum).  The second lesson is that if it’s really important to see something, don’t save it for the very end of the trip!

Our quick trip to Mexico City was wonderful, but I know it was just a taste of what the city has to offer.  As I mentioned above, we have some unfinished business.  I want more time at the museum.  I want to see the Zócalo on a regular day.  I want to find better dinner spots.  And I want to see the murals!  Even with this unfinished business, though, I was instantly attracted to the sights, the colors, the sounds, the general festive and animated feeling I noticed everywhere we went.  Plus, it’s always a blast for me to travel somewhere where I can speak the language.  I know I’ll be back.

From Yachats to Olympia

23 06 2009

Chris and I just got back from another trip out to the Pacific Northwest, and yet again I am convinced this is the most naturally beautiful part of the country.  We hopped on a plane out of Austin on a Thursday evening, and after a five or six hour delay in Denver due to massive thunderstorms (allowing us to watch Game 4 of the NBA Finals), we arrived in Seattle around 2:30 in the morning.  Luckily, I had booked us a room at the Hilton Airport and Conference Center on Priceline (for a grand total of $58!) so we caught the shuttle to the hotel and crashed.  Around 9 the next morning my brother called and said he’d be there to pick us up shortly to begin our adventure down to the Central Oregon Coast.

No great adventure can start without full bellies, so we decided to stop first for breakfast in Olympia at an old favorite — McMenamin’s Spar Cafe.  My brother and I split an order of the biscuits and gravy, and I had an over-easy egg and hashbrowns on the side.  Who would have thought I could get one of the best biscuits and gravy I’ve had outside of Texas…let alone in the Pacific Northwest?  It was delicious.  The thick, dense biscuits were covered in a hearty sausage gravy and topped with crumbled bacon and green onions.  Upon first seeing the plate my brother and I both thought there was no way SPLITTING this dish would fill us up…but how wrong we were.  It was delicious and filling.  Chris got the chicken fried steak and eggs with hashbrowns.  The crispy fried steak was covered in the same delicious gravy and, according to Chris, fantastic.  Again, who would expect delicious chicken fried steak and eggs outside of Texas?  I tried a bite — it was indeed delicious.

After breakfast we made a pit stop at the local camping/outdoors store in Olympia for camp fuel and a few bag dinners, stopped by my brother’s place to load up his stuff, and then we headed down I-5 toward Oregon.  We cut over to Highway 101 through Corvallis, Oregon on 20.  At Newport, we stopped by a grocery store for a few more provisions then headed south on 101 until we made it to the Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park.  They had one walk-in campsite left so we decided to take it.  Although the campsites were somewhat close together, the campground was beautiful, and there were so many big trees and slight elevation changes within the campground itself it didn’t feel too terribly crowded.  I also liked how the drive-in campsites were completely separate from the walk-in sites.  We dropped our stuff at the site, threw a wine bottle and

cork screw in a day pack, and walked over to the beach to take in the sunset on the Pacific.


We walked all the way down the coast to some rocks covered with birds, then headed back and found a nice little spot to sit and enjoy the sunset with a little red wine.




It was lovely.  When the sun was almost gone we decided to head back to set up camp.  We munched on chips and salsa as we got a nice fire going in the fire pit, then whipped up some bean and cheese burritos for dinner.  That really hit the spot.

That night I had maybe one of the best nights of sleep while camping ever.  Whether it was the sound of the waves on the coast all night, the softness of the ground in the campsite, the perfect cool temperature, the popping and crackling of the slowly-dying fire, the sound of the light drizzle on the tent in the early morning hours, or the fact that I was really tired from a long day of travel, I don’t know…but it was wonderful.  I woke up refreshed and ready to go.  However, the early morning drizzle turned into a bit more of a heavy drizzle, so we opted to hop in the car and head up to Yachats to look for a good cup of coffee…and find one we did.

We happened to stop into this wonderful coffee shop and bakery called The Green Salmon — great coffee and perhaps even better baked goods.  I was only going to get coffee, but after sampling Matt’s maple croissant, I had to order something too.  I got a cinnamon croissant and it was flaky (but did not just explode into crumbs when you bit into it), buttery, cinnomony, and delicious.  After coffee we headed back to camp and set out on the hike to the Heceda Head Lighthouse.  The hike starts out in the forest just down from the entrance to the park.  This part of the hike is easy and absolutely gorgeous.



We encountered tons of salamanders in the path and found them quite difficult to see (they either looked like the ground or like sticks on the ground) — that, coupled with the fact that they moved incredibly slowly, kept us on our toes as we tried our best not to step on any.  After a few miles the trail crossed 101 and started into the woods on the other side of the road.  We quickly started going up and found ourselves high above the beach.


A little bit further, and we were at the lighthouse.



We spent at least an hour exploring the beach and the tide pools below the lighthouse.







I had never seen starfish or anemones outside of an aquarium…so cool!

On our way back, we took the Hobbit Trail fork to the beach (the fork is on the beach-side of 101 along the Heceda Head Lighthouse Trail).  The entire hike was around 6 miles and except for portions near the lighthouse, is easy.  The entire hike is incredibly beautiful.  As always happens with me in the Pacific Northwest, I am struck by the green, by the amount of life everywhere…not to mention seeing spruce, firs, ferns, moss, rocks, and sandy beach all in one place.  Amazing.

After the hike we had perhaps our one big food miss of the trip — the greasy eggs.  The plan was to have our late breakfast of tacos back at the campsite, so we cooked up some bacon on our little single burner, and this is where I made my big mistake.  I should have known better.  Even as I type this, I’m getting a little bit sick to my stomach.  For some unknown reason, I decided we did not need to pour out any of the bacon grease before cooking the eggs…so we just dumped 6 eggs into the grease and started cooking.  I can still see those eggs, floating in the grease…Matt had the great idea that we just add six more eggs, and maybe then there would not be so much grease.  So we added more eggs and cooked away.  They eventually firmed up and we mixed back in the bacon and added cheese, threw the mixture in tortillas and topped with salsa…but one bite and, as Matt put it, it felt like you put a thick coating of chap stick on.  Yuck.  But of course we ate them.  And then felt kind of gross for a while…

Once we finally felt like we could move around somewhat, we decided this would be a good opportunity to get in the car and see what we could see along 101.  I had read about the Sea Lion Caves (world’s largest sea lion cave, woo hoo!)  so we drove a few miles south and found the crowded parking lot, looked around at the cheesy signs, and decided to skip it.  Instead, we headed up to Devil’s Churn for a while and then Strawberry Hill.  Both spots were beautiful, and did not cost $11 per person.


For dinner that night we did our bag meals (even though we had scrapped our backpacking plans, the backpacking dinners came in handy) by another great fire then enjoyed good old-fashioned smores.  Then we enjoyed burning marshmellows for a while…

After another great night of sleep, we packed up and headed back to the Green Salmon in Yachats for more great coffee and pastries, then kept on going until we got to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  I love aquariums, and this one was very impressive.  First, they had otters, perhaps my favorite animal.  Look at this fat and happy guy!  Second, the indoor deep sea life display was awesome.  Most of the tanks had beautiful blown glass pieces that, together with some creative lighting, made for some impressive displays.  On top of that, so many of these creatures were just so beautiful and interesting…  I was also able to touch (pet?) starfish, baby sharks, rays, and anemone (that was perhaps the strangest to feel — they stick to you).  The shark display was also really cool — sharks along with the bizarre-looking flounder and other big fish swim all around you.







Once we’d seen the entire aquarium (at a very reasonable $13.25 with a AAA discount, I might add), we got back on the road and stopped for lunch In Corvallis at American Dream Pizza.  While Chris’s and my pizza was only so-so (when you order by the slice it seems like they just throw some toppings on top of cheese pizza), Matt’s calzone looked pretty tasty.  I was also impressed by the photos of President Obama eating there on a campaign stop, and the roof-top table was a great spot in this cute town.  The weather was gorgeous — sunny but cool.  I bet Oregon State is a fun place to go to school…

We made it back to Olympia around 6 or so, got cleaned up, then walked over to Fish Tales for dinner.  Fish Tales is  a casual pub-style place with great beer and good food.  I had the fish and chips, Chris had oysters and chips, and Matt had the portabella mushroom burger.  Matt and I both enjoyed a couple of pints.

The next day, we headed back to our favorite spot — McMenamin’s — for breakfast.  This time I had the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, green onions, and cream cheese.  Chris opted for the biscuits and gravy.  Matt went with a standard eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and toast breakfast.  As usual, the meal was terrific.

After breakfast we hit the road for our next hike — the Hama Hama Trail in the Olympic National Forest (I’ve also seen Hamma Hamma and I’m not sure which one is right…perhaps the both are?).  It took us about an hour or two to get to the trailhead off of 101 on the Olympic Peninsula.  This hike was intense, but the reward was well worth it.  The trail starts out at a gentle but steady incline for maybe a mile, and then the serious incline starts.  It was probably two or more miles of up, and up, and up…I had to stop and catch my breath and let the burning in my legs die down a bit quite a few times!  There were even a few challenging spots over streams, alongside drop-offs, and up rocks (one where you had to use a rope — very fun!).  Near the top we started encountering patches of snow — much less snow than two weeks earlier, according to my brother (who, incidentally, has seen a bear both times he’d been out on this trail before — both in the past month — while I was a little anxious about a bear encounter, and it certainly seemed likely along this secluded trail, I have to say I’m disappointed now that we didn’t see one).  At the top of the mountains we arrived at Angel Lake, and while I’m trying not to sound like a broken record, I can’t help it — it was beautiful.  Waterfalls all around us, patches of snow on the ground and all over the higher peaks, a serene lake high above the trailhead…just breathtaking.







The hike down was almost as challenging as the hike up — perhaps not as tiring on the hamstrings and glutes, but I nearly went down on loose rocks a few times (okay, I did go down once, but it was a quick down and bounce right back up), and after a while my legs felt like pure wobbly jello.  It was much easier to descend with my knees slightly bent the whole time so as to bob up and down as little as possible, but that was quite a workout.  It was, however, much quicker than the hike up and it seemed like we were down in no time.

On our drive back, we stopped at a burger place right on 101 in Hoodsport.  I can’t remember the name, but it’s a tiny little town and it was right off of 101 with lots of outdoor seating.  The burger hit the spot and the crinkle cut fries took me back to my childhood.

After this late lunch/early dinner, my brother drove us all the way back to our hotel by the Seattle Airport and Chris and I settled in for some relaxing before our day of travel the following day.  The Hilton by the airport has a nice outdoor pool and hot tub — perfect for our tired legs.  The next day we made it home with no real delays — our flight had to hold outside of Denver due to more thunderstorms, but we had such a long layover it made no difference to us (other than cause me slight anxiety).  We made it home by midnight and thus another trip to the beautiful Pacific Northwest came to a close.


4 03 2009

No matter how many times I visit the Pacific Northwest, I just do not get tired of it.  We have been to Seattle 5, 6, maybe 7 times?  We’ve been to Portland once and Vancouver, B.C., once as well.  Chris and I are both in love with the natural beauty, with how green it is, with the sense of life (meaning, living things…in Austin, for example, I can think of one day in the past 200 or so when it actually rained and the plants do not seem very alive), with the high consumption rate of good coffee and seafood, with the healthy and outdoorsy lifestyle, with the overall vibe…  The one thing we don’t agree on is moving here.  Chris would love to live in Seattle or somewhere nearby, but I also love Austin and the ability to live near my family, so we’re staying put…for now.

That being said, a member of my family now lives in the area.  My brother moved to Olympia about a year ago, so last April Chris and I figured it was yet another good excuse to return to the Pacific Northwest.  As usual, we had a wonderful time.  We arrived around 9 or so in the evening on a Thursday, rented a car, and found our hotel — the Ace Hotel on 1st Street, a block off Bell Street.  Cool, minimal place.  Our room was decorated with various commie propaganda.  It was a small room, but I’ve never understood why anyone would want a big room unless they planned on spending all of their time in the room…and we certainly did not.  It had everything we needed, including bathrobes for the walks to the shared bathrooms, a sink, a small flat-screen TV mounted on the wall, and even a mini Kama Sutra in the nightstand.  It was an interesting place!



The location could not be beat (except for when we wanted to sleep…more on that later).  After dropping off our stuff, we walked across the street and up the block a bit to Belltown Pizza.  This place was great.  By this point it was probably after 10, but they serve dinner late.  We sat in a cozy, tall booth along the windows and shared a medium Four Seasons pizza (portabella, tomato, black olive, artichoke, garlic and prosciutto) and a bottle of a Washington cabernet (can’t recall the name) and it hit the spot.  Delicious.  We walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night…or at least tried.  It was at this point we learned of the downside to our particular room — it was on the front of the hotel right above a bar, so it was really noisy.  Eh, what are you going to do?

The next morning (Friday) we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast in the basement of the hotel (granola, yogurt, fruit, toast, coffee and juice) and then walked over to Olympic Sculpture Park to visit Wake, a sculpture by one of both Chris’s and my favorite sculptors, Richard Serra.  Though it was a bit cold and rainy and I wiped out crossing the street (it was lovely…stepped on a slippery manhole cover…couldn’t manage to get my hands out of my pockets…I think I rolled around briefly like a helpless baby in front of the stopped cars) we spent a good hour or two wandering around the park.










And, the obligatory picture of ourselves…


On our way back to our hotel, we passed a beautiful little garden I couldn’t resist…everywhere I look, something is growing!







Gorgeous.  We decided to head over to Macrina Bakery and Cafe for coffee and another bite.  This place was outstanding.  I wanted to order one of everything filling the glass cases…I can’t even remember what I finally settled on.  Only that it was great.  We sat for a while drinking coffee, reading the paper, and making contact with my brother.  He had not yet visited Seattle but was on his way in to find us.  He managed to find a place to leave his car and met up with us at Macrina for one more coffee before heading out.

We decided to walk around Pike Place Market for a while — always fun to see.  We went to Matt’s in the Market for an outstanding lunch with great views of the sound.  Matt and I both got the lamb burger on a brioche bun with goat cheese, grilled onions, bacon, and an herb aioli and a pint.  Chris had the ahi tuna sandwich.  The food was fantastic and I think we were lucky to come in when we did and get a table…it got busy fast and a reservation appeared to be essential (even for lunch).  

After lunch we decided to go check out the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas, an avant-garde steel and glass building.  What a great example of forward-thinking city planning and a fun place to wander…






After winding our way down from the top of the library, we met up with another friend who had recently moved to Seattle and decided to go check out a few more sights before dinner.  We drove up to the Experience Music Project but decided not to go in…instead, we checked out the cool artwork outside…


We headed back to our friend’s house with the most amazing view of the the skyline and sound (I think we stared out his living room window for at least an hour) then headed back in to town for dinner at a place he recommend called Quinn’s Pub, a “gastropub” located at 10th and Pike on Capitol Hill.  WOW, was dinner good.

Our group of four shared two rounds of “small plates” and everything was fantastic. T he roasted marrow bones were to die for…rich, delicious flavor…as was the seared foie gras.  The rabbit pate with fresh mustard was amazing, the oxtails and gnocchi divine, and the “duck, duck, mousse” plate was just outstanding.  Even the frites with melted gruyere were delicious. Our waitstaff was wonderful and the atmosphere was fun and casual.  The bread pudding at the end was a great close to a fantastic meal (I never thought about putting macademia nuts in bread pudding…so lovely).  I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed experiencing all of the new, delicious tastes on our well-prepared plates.  We got there early on the recommendation of our friend and were seated immediately– otherwise, it looks like there might be a wait at dinner time. I’d say it’s well worth it though…

The next day after a bit more random wandering, Chris and I had lunch at Wild Ginger, an old favorite.  We ate here (or there — it used to be in a different location) on our very first trip to Seattle several years ago, and make it a habit to eat there once every time we return.  I think Chris even orders the same thing — the Tuna Manada.  I tried a few different satays — the scallop, boar, and shrimp.  Each one came with a little rice cake and had its own sauce.  Each one was delicious (though I think the scallop was my favorite).  I also had the braised baby bok choy and one or two of their specialty cocktails — and both were fabulous. 

After lunch we relaxed a bit, drank some coffee, then wandered around the Pioneer Square area until we found a sports bar where we could catch two Final Four matchups — Memphis/UCLA and Kansas/North Carolina…the battle of the Number 1 seeds!  We enjoyed bloody mary’s and munched on bar food…the bar was a really random mix of rocker types, biker types, and then the occasional drunk guy who would run up to the life-size screen shouting, all excited, as if he was trying to actually get into the game or make a call or something.  Later that night, we went to the Showbox SoDo and caught a fantastic FANTASTIC show by the Black Keys.  Love the band, and the setting was good — small enough to really feel the music.  I’m still amazed by how large of a sound those two guys can put out.  I actually bought a t-shirt (but Chris made me get a large so he could wear it too…and really only he wears it).  I never buy concert t-shirts. 

On Sunday we headed out to Olympia to stay with my brother.  After we got to his apartment and drank a little more coffee (surprise!), he drove us out to the Olympic National Park for a hike.  He took us on the Duckabush River Trail.  It was so beautiful.  We hiked in about 6 or 7 miles to a vista, had lunch, then headed back.  The natural beauty of the park was breathtaking…everywhere I looked something was growing.  The rushing stream was gorgeous, and in the distance you could see snow-capped peaks.  There were still patches of snow on the ground.  The hike was only difficult toward the end when the switchbacks started, and even that did not last long.  This has to go down as one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.  Here are a few shots along the way…












Our drive back home looked like this…


Once we got back to Olympia, we showered and headed into town for dinner.  We ended up at a place called Mc Menamins and it was perfect.  Great low-key laid-back atmosphere, good beer, I had a burger with blue cheese and seasoned fries…hit the spot.  We ended the night watching a movie back at my brother’s place with some ice cream we picked up at the grocery store…it was a perfect day.

The next morning we had to wake up early and head back to the Sea-Tac airport.  We drove through a little drive-up espresso shack — why do they not have these in Austin?!  Fully caffeinated, we headed for the Interstate, and I have a tip for you here — fill your car up with gas well before getting anywhere near the airport, because if you think there is gas nearby, you may not find any.  I didn’t.  That was expensive.

As you can see, in a few short days we managed to pack in a ton of great food, great music, great hikes, sports, sculptures, tons of walking, hanging out with my brother who I don’t get to see nearly often enough…it felt like we were actually there for a week.  It was wonderful, and I’m already ready to go back.

Testing the Top Ten Hikes — East Texas, here we come.

9 02 2009

Chris recently came across an old issue of Texas Monthly magazine that featured an article on the “Top Ten Hikes in Texas.”  Never ones to shy away from ranking our favorite restaurants in a given city, our “top five” albums we’d take with us to a deserted island, or anything else capable of being ranked and, of course, debated, we decided that one of our goals for 2009 would be to do each of these hikes and see what we thought.  After reviewing the list, we decided the Kirby Trail in the Big Thicket National Preserve would be a good one to start with, due mainly to the fact that if we waited until it got any warmer, the mosquitoes would likely be so thick out there they may in fact carry us away.  So, in late January 2009, we loaded up the mule (our Forester) and drove east.

We left Austin around 6:30 or so on a Saturday morning and headed toward Houston, passing straight through along I-10 to where the refineries start popping up all around, on into Beaumont, then turned north along 69 toward Kountze, Texas.  Before this day I had never heard of Kountze, though I am told I have family from the Woodville area, another 30 or so miles to the north.  We arrived in Kountze around 10:30 and, after stopping to fill up with gas, headed straight for the Big Thicket National Preserve.

We stopped first at the visitor’s center — a nice building full of information about the preserve, books and souvenirs, clean restrooms, and friendly staff.  We talked with a ranger about the best places to camp, and he directed us to an area off the Sandhill Loop (part of the trail system in the preserve).  There are no campsites in the preserve, so you just have to go in and register for a back country permit and then head out.  While Chris read about the park, I enjoyed the calm and cool weather from the rocking chairs on the front porch.


A nice touch.

We then got back into the car and drove another half mile or so down the road to the Kirby Trail trailhead and prepared for the 2.5 mile hike.  The hike is an easy loop that takes you through a dense forest of hardwoods and pines and a fascinating environment of Baldcypress swamps and baygalls.  The trailhead is easy to spot…


Parts of the trail are like boardwalks over swampy ground.


This is a Southern Magnolia…I’ve never seen Magnolia trees grow so tall and straight up like these.


This is a Loblolly Pine, another of the common trees in the preserve.


Here are a couple of shots of the baygalls we walked past…


The little stumps poking out of the water are called knees, and are thought to help anchor the Cypress trees.


We also encountered trees growing in all kinds of shapes and sizes, such as a rhinoceros.


Or these…



After we finished the loop, we decided to head back to Kountze for some lunch before heading out with all of our gear.  We went to Caroline’s Quality Bar-b-q, and it was a delight.  The little building is right on 69 and has exactly three tables inside. 


Caroline took our order at the cash register and we could immediately feel that great East Texas hospitality.  I ordered the three meat plate (brisket, pork ribs, and chicken) and Chris just got the brisket plate.  We sat down at the only empty table and within a few minutes, a different woman brought out two plates and asked which was which…after setting down the brisket plate in front of Chris she looked at me with a bit of disdain and said, “You gonna eat all this?”  I looked at my plate and noticed it was piled high with brisket and ribs (no chicken) and said, I’m gonna try!  She came right back with another plate and said “and who had the chicken?”  I raised my hand and she gave me another look…”you really gonna eat this?”  It was a LOT of meat, plus beans and potato salad.  I really wanted a good sampling of the barbecue, though, so I felt I HAD to order three meats (I had actually tried to get the sausage too, but they were all out).  I knew I had my work cut out for me.  The brisket was my favorite — they smoke their brisket for thirteen hours, and the flavor was deep.  I could cut it with my plastic fork.  They serve their barbecue with a thick, slightly sweet sauce that I enjoyed, though Chris prefers a vinegary sauce to dip the meat in, if any sauce at all.  The ribs were incredibly tender — meat fell right off the bone.  The chicken (I requested dark meat) was juicy and delicious.  I also thought the sides were fantastic (made eating all of the meat all the more difficult).  The beans had a nice sweetness to them, and the potato salad was light and fresh.  Needless to say, though I tried my hardest, I could not finish.  Caroline brought me a box for my leftovers (while there was no way I’d be able to take my leftovers on an overnight hike, I simply could not leave them on the table).  Here are my leftovers (and really, I ate a LOT!  the portions are really big!!).


After lunch we headed back out to the Kirby Trail, but this time loaded up our packs and instead of looping back around, took a left at a bridge and continued on toward the Sandhill Loop.







We took the Sandhill Loop and started wandering off the trail somewhere around the first or second “L” looking for a good spot to set up our tent.


Chris marked the campsite on his GPS device…



Happy with our choice, I set up our tent and we relaxed with some wine (yes, I backpacked with wine) and enjoyed the weather for a bit.  Dinner came from a bag…a Mountain House vegetable lasagna.  To be honest, we were quite pleased with dinner…it really was not bad at all, and nothing beats a hot dinner when it’s chilly outside.  Once the sun went down completely it got even colder, so we decided to turn in early.  Really early (I’m not even sure if it was 8pm yet).  We stared at the stars from the tent for a bit, then eventually drifted off to sleep.  By 2am, Chris was wide awake.  I suppose we had basically gotten a full night of sleep.  He woke me up and told me he was going to get out, make some coffee, and sit outside for a while.  I was not ready to get up (it was still cold and dark) so I stayed in the tent. 

I heard him rustling around a bit, then I noticed what seemed like a bright flickering light through the tent.  That did not seem right to me, so I called out to Chris and asked if everything was okay.  His response was simple:  “No…I think you should probably get out here.”  I jumped out of my sleeping bag, out of the tent, and into my boots and saw a fire!  Apparently, we had a bit of a burner malfunction, and when he tried to ignite the burner flames shot out of the entire canister (even though it worked just fine for dinner).  The burner fell over on its side as he jumped back to avoid burning his arm, and the fire spread to the leaves, pine needles, sticks, etc., all around…and quickly!  We tried dousing it with what little water we had left but that did nothing.  We threw a pot down on the burner but it did nothing to stop the flames.  I was really surprised at how quickly the fire spread and for a few seconds seriously feared we had started a forest fire (though, to be honest, it was probably only a few feet)!  Chris, thinking quickly, grabbed a big stick and cleared a perimeter around the fire so that it could not spread any further, and it finally began to burn out.  We stood and watched as the flames from the canister got smaller and smaller and smaller.  Once it was out, we looked at each other, then at our watches (it was 2:45 am).  It was the middle of the night, but we were wide awake…out of water…so no coffee…we decided to hike back.  Luckily it was not too difficult finding the trail again, and once on the trail it was an easy hike back.  We were back at the car around 3:15 or so, and back home by 7:45 in the morning.  This really was not how we had envisioned the camping trip to go, but it was still fun and we later got quite a few laughs out of the “incident.” 

Now, back to the top ten list.  The best thing about this hike and the preserve in general was the environment.  The mix of trees and swamp was pretty cool — I’ve never seen anything like it.  The hike itself was very easy, though, and there weren’t any grand vistas.  My biggest complaint, however, was that it did not seem remote enough.  Throughout the night we both woke up off and on due to the sounds of dogs barking, gun shots, and other unidentifiable noises.  We also seemed to be right underneath a flight path.  Civilization felt too close.  The only wildlife we spotted were birds and squirrels.  At night we only heard crickets and deer snorting.  It is, however, a beautiful part of the state, a part I had never seen, and a reminder that the Texas landscape includes so many different environments.  That in and of itself is pretty cool, and one of the reasons I love living here.

First Stop Lisbon…

7 01 2009

On August 29, 2006, Chris and I set out for our three and half week trek across Europe.  We started in Lisbon and ended up in Istanbul.  Each stop along the way deserves its own entry (and one entry detailing everything would be way too long).  So, I will start at the beginning — Lisbon.

We left Austin on August 29th at 7am, had a long layover in Minneapolis, another layover in Amsterdam, and by 2:30 local time (whatever that may have meant to our bodies) on August 30th we checked into the Hotel Residencial Florescente in Lisbon, right off Rossio Square.  The room is small, but perfect.  Like we often do to start our travels, we went outside and started walking.  First, we headed towards the Praço do Comercio.



Then we walked through the hills of the Alfama and surrounding neighborhoods.  




The cobblestone streets and tiled buildings are gorgeous.  I immediately love it here.





And, a common theme reveals itself for the first time…olá! gato!


That night for dinner we decided to walk around and see what we could find…we were too tired and hungry to do much research.  We ended up at a place called Solmar, not too far from the hotel (Rua das Portas de Santo Ant-o 106, Baixa).  I had bread soup with prawns and an egg cracked on top.  It was delicious and hearty.  Chris had salty barbecued codfish.  Yum.  The wine tasted great — a dry Portuguese white called Planalto.  Afterwards, we stopped in to Cafe Nicola right on Rossio Square where I discover how much I love porto branco (white port).  Chris ordered an espresso and a custard tart.  Tired and full, we head back to the hotel and completely crash.

August 31, 2006 – Day two in Lisbon

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel — rolls, jam, yogurt, and coffee.  After breakfast we walked up to the Parque Eduardo VII and went into the Estufa Fria (Cold House) and the hot house — big greenhouses of different climates full of plants and narrow pathways for exploring.  This is part of Parque Eduardo VII…


And this is a really tall cactus inside the hot house.



It was really beautiful.

After wandering around the rest of the park, we headed back to the hotel to checkout.  We needed to catch a train that night, so we left our luggage at the hotel and headed back out.  Our first stop was to the train station to make a reservation on an overnight car to Madrid.  After successfully securing our reservation (I think — I never really know if things are going to work until we actually arrive!) we had lunch in the Baixa — ham and cheese on a roll with an orange Fanta…so tasty on hot days! 

After lunch we set out for the Torre de Belem.  We managed to find our way out there on the tram, which seemed like a bit of a feat due to the fact that I found Portuguese quite difficult!  The Torre de Belem is a fortified tower built in the early 16th century to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s expedition.


This is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) that celebrates the Portuguese who took part in the Age of Discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries.


We walked from the Tower to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and Church of Santa Maria – a magnificent monastery that was built in the 1500s to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s successful voyage.  His tomb is just inside the entrance.  It is beautiful.





Next, we walked around the Cultural Center of Belem and then hopped back on the tram.  On our way back, however, the tram suddenly stopped and a voice came over the loud speaker…saying something in Portuguese, of course.  Once the statement was finished, Chris and I looked around and noticed everyone started sighing, picking up their stuff, and getting off.  This is a bit disconcerting when you have no idea what the voice just said!  But, we follow suit and get off…then see that there has been a car accident right on the tram tracks and the driver of one of the cars does not look to be in good shape.  We will not be getting back by tram.  We see people heading to a bus, so we again follow and happen to find someone who speaks English and tells us which bus to get on to get back to where we need to be.  Phew!  Once back in the vicinity of our hotel, we head to Cafe Nicola and sit at a table out front.  I order another porto branco, write in my journal, and people-watch.  This has been a whirlwind glimpse at Lisbon — enough for me to know I must come back and spend more time.  But, alas, we have a lot of ground to cover in the 3 1/2 weeks we have for the trip.  We leave for Madrid tonight.

Buenos Aires Empanada Quest

4 01 2009

After reading several articles on empanadas in Buenos Aires, and looking at the city map trying to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to make our way around town, we selected seven spots to try.  The rainy weather and Chris’s fever made our quest a bit of a challenge, though, and we had to cut out a few stops.  Here are the results or our abbreviated (but still so tasty) empanada quest.  Overall, we both agreed that we liked fried better than baked, though one spot we tried had a deliciously light and flaky baked empanada.  As far as fillings go, we liked almost anything…as it turns out, savory filled pastries are delicious.  Some were a bit more delicious than the others, though…

1.  La Americana — 3 1/2 stars.  We had one criolla frita (meat, eggs, unpitted olives) and one verdura frita (creamy spinach, though Chris thought it could have been creamier).  Great texture, good flavor.  This is the self-proclaimed “reina de las empanadas” located at Bartolome Mitre and Congreso.

2.  Minga (from the other night) — 4 stars (beef and olives, fried).  Located on Costa Rica in the Palermo.

3.  La Querencia — 4 stars.  We had one carne (meat is chopped, not ground, with onions — great flavor) and one “del tambo” (7 different cheeses, including blue cheese…gooey goodness).  These were on the small side though…  This place is on Junin at Juncal in the Recoleta neighborhood.

4.  El Sanjuanino — 3 1/2 stars.  We had the carne picante (spciy meat, green olives, peppers, oninols — we loved that spicy really was spicy) and one neopolitano (mozzarella, tomato, basil).  These were baked instead of fried — best baked crust yet.  Very flaky.  On Posadas in Recoleta.

South America – Summer 2008 – Part Two

4 01 2009

June 14, 2008

We have been in Buenos Aires since late Wednesday night.  We just made our connection in Santiago (yes, we ran) and arrived in Buenos Aires around midnight.  We had arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to our hotel and we managed to find him without too much trouble.  After the 30 minute or so drive from the airport we arrived at the Hotel Costa Rica in the Palermo neighborhood.  The hotel is growing on us, although the room is tiny (Chris’s first observation was that it was “like a jail cell”) and the shared bathroom doors (outside across the cold terrace) do not close all the way.  It is very cute…a little hip and trendy in its minimal style.  The neighborhood is great, and the owner (originally from Paris) and staff are extremely helpful and very friendly.  

This is the bar in the lobby.

hotel costa rica lobby

This is just outside the door of our first room (top floor).


We spent Thursday morning walking around.  We started out at the Plaza de Mayo.

plaza de mayo 1

signs in plaza de mayo

…walked around the Casa Rosada…

casa rosada

…the Basilica de San Francisco…


…and the Cabildo.


We took a cab over to la Boca (a neighborhood in the south eastern part of town and the home of the Boca Juniors) and had lunch at El Obrero.  This is my first meal in Buenos Aires so, of course, I have a steak and papas fritas.  Chris had pasta with tomato sauce.  We had a bottle of Malbec (the first of many this trip).  Photographs of Diego Meradona and Boca players cover almost every inch of the walls.  The old men that bring us our food and wine are great — in fact, I only described generally what Chris was thinking he’d like to eat and he assured me he’s bring something delicious. 

After lunch we walk around the Puerto Madero.  This is a very different looking part of town — it is new and modern — very urban — right along the Rio de la Plata.  This is a photo of the Puente de la Mujer (“Woman’s Bridge”) connecting the east and west docks of the Puerto Madero.

puerto madero

boat in puerto madero

boats in puerto madero 

For dinner Thursday night, we head to La Cabrera in the Palermo.  This place was wonderful.  Although the wait was long and cold (about 1.5 hours outside) they gave us champagne and soup while we waited, chatting, on a bench, watching people stroll by.  Once we were seated, the madness began.  We started with the chorizo criollo and chimichurri– two links of delicious grilled sausage served with a fabulous, tangy chimichurri.  Chris ordered the ojo de bife(also the first of many on this trip).  It was huge.  It had to be at least 36 ounces…it was two inches thick and as big as your face, cooked medium rare.  It was so extremely good…and served with about 25 little bowls of sides (which Chris barely touched he was so full, yet bent on eating as much of the steak as possible).  The steak was actually served on its own side table.  I ordered raviolis stuffed with ham and cheese in a tomato sauce.  And, of course, we shared a bottle of Malbec.  Neither of us could really remember ever being so full.  We strolled very slowly home through the cold.

This is the meat on its little table.

ojo de bife


And some of the sides with a glimpse at my raviolis…


This was just the beginning of our meat, pasta, and Malbec journey…

On Friday we tried to go to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, but there were no seats on Buquebus — the ferry that takes you across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay — any time this whole week.  So, we finally found Colonia Express, the “other” carrier (after walking all over the port area at least twice before realizing that was not where it was, then all over downtown looking for the “office”) and are going on Monday.  We had empanadas for lunch and then retired for a nap (yay!).  That night, we ate pizza with cheese and anchovies in the San Telmo neighborhood and saw a tango show at El Viejo Almacen.  I was very impressed with the dancing, even though it was touristy.  This night it was filled with mostly Portuguese travelers.  We shared a small table right off the stage with an old man from Costa Rica who was traveling by himself…and I felt so bad for him when he kept trying to take photos but his camera wouldn’t work…just kept making that film-rewinding sound.  

Here are my artsy shots of the dancers.

tango 1

tango 2

tango 3

tango 4


Today (Saturday) we walked all over the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, the grounds surrounding the zoo, the Parque Tres de Febrero, and more.  The Jardin Botanico may be my favorite — it is filled with cats.  I am, of course, obliged to shoot a few of them.  This is what cats look like in Argentina.

cats 1

cats 2

cats 3

They are very friendly.

cats 4

Just a couple of shots from the gardens…

gardens 1

gardens 2

June 15, 2008

Yesterday we wandered through the Recoleta Cemetery.  It’s like a neighborhood of tombs for families made from marble, granite, stone…inside some you could see coffins sitting on shelves.  In others you could see stairways leading deep underground.  Many of them had fresh flowers and treasured items inside, along with chairs for family visits.  Really very beautiful…and a little on the creepy side.

outside the recoleta

recoleta 1

recoleta 2

recoleta 3

The cats in the cemetery are a little scruffier and dirtier than those in the garden…fitting for a cemetery cat, don’t you think?

recoleta cat 2

And then I HAD to photograph this one…it was really cold and windy but this guy found a nice patch of sun.

recoleta cat 1

After wandering about the Recoleta Cemetery for a while, we walked through the arts and crafts market nearby.  It was really cool, but Chris has learned yet again that I am just not a shopper, at least not when it comes to haggling.  Haggling is not my forte.

After perusing the stalls for a while, we then walked around the Teatro Colon which was closed due to renovations.  The building is beautiful, though, and we read that it is one of the world’s best opera houses.  After snacking on a few empanadas and a Cerveza Quilmes, we headed back to the hotel for…that’s right…a nap before dinner.

That evening we walked around the Palermo before dinner, then headed over to the Puerto Madero to try out a restaurant on the recommendation of a friend.  There was a massive demonstration taking place in the Plaza de Mayo related to new taxes imposed on farmers and ranchers – and the farmers imposed another strike, though this time they agreed to continue shipments of milk and perishable foods.  A national day of protest is also in the works.  Things seemed a bit chaotic as we tried to make our way in a cab across town, and the taxi driver had the radio turned up loud listening to the news…he kept saying something to me about la situacion del pais (though at the time I was not exactly clear on just what was the situation of the country!).  At this point, we are starting to understand why throughout the day we kept seeing people emerging from buildings banging on pots, pans, anything that could make noise, really…and how cars seemed to be honking a lot more than normal.

Though we did not eat at the recommended restaurant (it was really expensive, and the thing we loved most about eating in Buenos Aires was the ability to eat a huge, fantastic meal and spend very little) we found a nearby spot that was fine, and had a lovely view across the port.  We found another place afterwards for coffee and dessert (and every TV had live coverage of the Plaza de Mayo, the president’s husband, or farmers) and made it back to our hotel with no problems.  Wednesday, however (the national day of protest) we are to fly back to Buenos Aires from Puerto Iguazu.  What might that mean?

Today we walked around the antiques and arts and crafts market in the San Telmo.

san telmo 1

san telmo 2

San Telmo is a very lively neighborhood…lots of people walking around.  Of course, I hardly bought anything.  This evening we’re going to try to watch a big futbol match — Argentina v. Ecuador.

June 18, 2008

Today is Wednesday.

On Sunday we found a great spot to watch the Argentina v. Ecuador match — we found a restaurant near the Recoleta cemetery (Cafe Monaco or something like that) and they didn’t mind if we sat there all day for all of the big matches, and they had a big screen set up right in the dining room.  First, we saw Brasil lose to Paraguay (a couple of girls at the table next to us were from Paraguay and they were so excited at the big win) and then we watched Argentina v. Ecuador, which ended in a 1-1 draw (Argentina scored the tying goal very late in the game…within the last 5 minutes, I think).  It was very fun.  And we ate a lot.  We first ordered a huge salad, then empanadas, then a big plate with various meats and cheeses, enjoyed a bottle of Malbec, then two caipirinhas, and cafes con leche y alfajores to end the evening. 

The next day – Monday – we took the Colonia Express ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  We had to get up really early (really early meaning we were walking around looking for coffee at 7am — and we couldn’t find any).  We even decided we’d break down and walk over to the McCafe, but it was not even open yet!  We finally found a cafe with a gruff old proprietor, had a quick cup, then set off to find a taxi to take us to the port.

The boat ride took about an hour and several people got sick — the attendants starting handing out little bags to sick people.  I managed to hold it together with a lot of concentration and staring out at the sky.  Colonia was very cute with its colorful buildings and cobblestone streets.

colonia 1

colonia 2

The historic section of Colonia del Sacramento is a World Heritage Site, built by the Portuguese in the 17th century.

colonia 3

colonia 4

However, this day it was also extremely cold and extremely windy. 

colonia 5

We walked all over and felt as if we’d seen the “sights” (at least according to our guidebook) and that took about an hour.  At this point it was about 9 or 10 in the morning.  Restaurants are not yet open and we did not see any coffee shops.  So, we just kept walking around trying to avoid the two dogs that kept following us and barking loudly (it got old), trying to keep warm.  Chris learned a trick from Bear Grylls about keeping keeping warm.

colonia 6

The little museums in the town just did not really sound that interesting to us.  A musem of documents?  A museum of tile?  I actually wanted to go to the museum of tile thinking I’d see tiled walls or pieces of walls…but I peeked inside and saw a few individual tiles in glass cases.  Okay, if I were a tile nut this might be interesting to me.  Or if it were free maybe I’d go in to get a warm.  Not so much.

So, we kept wandering until the restaurants opened for lunch.  We managed to spend about two hours at la Pulperia de los Faroles.  Chris had a big warm rice bowl with seafood and saffron.  I had a creamy tomato soup followed by raviolis with pesto.  We shared a bottle of red from Uruguay then coffees.  After lunch, we still had a few hours to kill before the ferry would take us back to Buenos Aires, so we walked further into the town to see what that was all about.  We found an internet cafe and decided to stop in.  This is where we learned that Tim Russert had died.  I’m still so very sad about that.

We got back to Buenos Aires around 6, cleaned up, then tried to find a place for dinner — the restaurant we were looking for was no longer there (we were somewhere in the Palermo) but the place in its stead – Miranda – was pretty good.  Chris loved it.  We got a huge salad with grilled vegetables, a plate of cintas (homemade fettuccine) with cream and mushrooms, and another ojo de bife.  And Malbec.

Yesterday (June 17th) we got up even earlier than the day before to catch a flight on Aerolineas Argentinas to Puerto Iguazu.  We sat on the plane on the runway for an hour before taking off.  As usual, Chris slept while I just sat there getting annoyed at the man sitting next to me who kep shifting in his seat and sighing loudly.  We finally took off and the flight was fine.  Once we got to Puerto Iguazu, we met our driver who took us the 13 or so km to the hotel — Posada la Sorgente.

We dropped our stuff off in the hotel and headed straight to the bus station to catch the local bus to Iguazu National Park.  Though the bus station was very confusing for some reason, I finally secured us two bus tickets for about 8 pesos round trip per person. 

Once in the park, we took the train to the trailheads.  We had to wait a few minutes for the train…

iguazu 1

We did the lower circuit first.  Really, all I can say about the falls is that they are truly awesome.  It is an overused word, but it’s the right one.

iguazu 2

iguazu 3

You could take one of the catwalks over to the bottom of some of the falls.  It was amazing — the roar of the falls was deafening and you got soaked from all the spray.  It was almost like being in a downpour.  And no, I’m not trying to pose with this guy.  I have no idea who he is or why I chose to stand by him.

iguazu 4

Chris and a woman next to him seem to get pushed forward by the force of the falls.

iguazu 5

This is us after getting soaked by the falls.

iguazu 6

My one wildlife siting in the park — a coati


From the upper circuit we could take in the views from on top of the falls.  After the upper circuit, we took another little train to La Garganta — the biggest falls in the park.  These falls are breathtaking.  We take the catwalk from the trailhead to get to the top of the falls…

iguazu 7

…along the way I spot my favorite sign of the trip…

iguazu 7

…almost there…

iguazu 8

…and then we’re at the falls.  The mist rising from the crashing falls rises up to 500 feet and we are getting completely soaked.  It is actually difficult to see through all the spray.  Truly breathtaking.

iguazu 9

iguazu 10

We caught a very, very crowded local bus back to town, napped (of course), then went to dinner at El Quincho del Tio Amorado.  We ordered a bottle of Malbec, and I had a piece of morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, and a hunk of rib meat with a chunky and vinegar-y chimichurri, fries, and flan with coffee.  Chris had surubi fried in a butter and caper sauce and an apple pancake that tasted like candy, withcoffee.  The meat was the highlight of this meal.  The restaurant had a sort of courtyard in front you had to walk through to go inside, and you passed right by the enormous parilla covered with all sorts of cuts of meat.  Yum.  There was even entertainment at the restaurant — a singer with a pretty decent voice.  Chris clapped loudly for him after each song…which I guess led him to believe we’d be up for buying one of his CDs.  He came by during one of his breaks and talked with us for a while.  We did not buy a CD but we did enjoy talking with him and we told him how great his singing was.  At one point he asked me if I learned to speak Spanish by studying in Buenos AiresAwww….

Back at the hotel we were excited to be able to climb into bed with full bellies and catch Game 6 of the NBA finals.  We both fell asleep at halftime, but awoke in time to see the Celtics celebrating their victory over the Lakers.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, packed up, and laid around reading until we had to check out, then walked around the town.  No doubt, it seemed like a pretty crappy town.  But we did have a pretty decent lunch.  I had a chicken soup with corn dumplings and a tarta; Chris had something that reminded me of a Spanish tortilla with a fried root (yucca?) on top.  We both had fresh juice.  Afterwards, we headed back to the airport to find our flight cancelled (Aerolineas Argentinas strikes again!) but they moved us to a LAN flight that left five minutes later and was right on time.  I love LAN — they give you alfajores on the flight….  Once back, we caught a taxi at the airport (after I got into it with a shadow cab driver for telling us he’d take us to the hotel for 30 pesos…I don’t think so).  Our Radio taxi driver was great (and it cost 14 pesos)…he loved the NBA and we talked about the game last night.  He cracked us up when he started shaking his head in mock disappointment saying “pobre Kobe Bryant….” (he he he…indeed).  He also said “Kevin Garnett tiene manos calientes!!”  I had to agree.

Now we are back at the Hotel Costa Rica, in a “fancy” room with a real king bed (not two twins pushed together) and a bathroom in the room!  It’s one of those shower right there next to the toilet, everything gets wet, types, but it is so nice not to have to go outside…especially since the weather is turning colder, wetter, and windier.  Actually, we have really grown to love this hotel.  It feels like home now.  We’re going to try to catch the big Argentina v. Brasil futbol match tonight.  I keep seeing signs at restaurants saying they’ll have the game on…it’s kind of exciting!

June 20, 2008 — my last entry

We watched the Argentina v. Brasil match at this great little parilla in the Palermo called Minga.  We passed by it earlier in the evening and I went inside and reserved a table with a great view of the huge screen.  We had empanadas de carne and grilled sweetbreads with chimichurri and a mojito to start.  We had another ojo de bife, a broiled spinach and cheese dish, and a bottle of Malbec.  For dessert, we ordered the volcan de chocolate with a glass of a different Malbec our waiter said is his favorite to drink with chocolate.  The manager also sent us over the chocolate torta to enjoy as well.  Delicious.

The next day, Chris started coming down with a cold…I’m pretty sure he had a fever all day, but we still went ahead with the empanada quest we had planned the day before.  The rainy and cold weather were a bit of a pain, but we still had a good day.  We had dinner in the neighborhood (see what I mean about the Hotel Costa Rica feeling like home?) at Till.  We had passed by it at least twice every day but never stopped in until now.  It was great — I had fresh pasta and a fishbowl-sized glass of wine (this would normally be a good thing, but I am a slow drinker and Chris, who was still not feeling well, was in no mood to lounge over dinner unfortunately).

Friday, June 20th, is our last day in Buenos Aires.  Luckily, Chris is feeling much better.  We woke up and packed up and headed for breakfast at a cafe near the subte for Scalabrini Ortiz.  Very enjoyable, until parts of the ceiling started crumbling and falling all over our table and into our food due to the workers above (who just earlier were causing fire to shoot off the roof onto the heads of passers-by…which we found mildly amusing).  We moved to a different table and they just turned the chairs onto the table…I love South America.

After breakfast we walked to the Malba – contemporary (mostly) Latin American art…some of it very odd and mildly disturbing.  Lots of art that incorporated sounds, TVs, machines…all in a very cool building.  Then we went to the design museum in an old French revival-style mansion (name escapes me at the moment).  We got there a little too early and had to wait outside but we had company.

bs as

We ate lunch at a place in the Recoleta called Juana M.  It was great.  The entrance was located down some steps through a very nondescript door, but once inside, you find yourself in a huge (long), modern, industrial space with very cool decor.  It had a fantastic salad bar (this may have been our first salad in Buenos Aires) with too many great options to remember.  We shared another ojo de bife (how many does this make??) and the noquis con salsa rosa, red wine, and chocolate ice cream.  This was a great find, and the people were incredibly friendly.

After lunch, we walked back to the Hotel Costa Rica for the last time, gathered our stuff, and waited for the taxi to pick us up and take us to the airport…

waiting to leave

The taxi arrives, and I promptly leave my wrap in the hotel lobby…  Oh well.  The way I see it, I’ve left a piece of myself in Argentina.  And the black gloves…I left those in a taxi….

It’s total chaos at the airport.  Our flight is delayed, so we watched The Life Aquatic on Chris’s PSP in the gate area.  What a great movie…  After we finished the movie an airport security guy came over to us and told us to line up for a security check (even though we had already gone through security).  We’re are even a little dubious (is this guy official??).  However, he comes back and tells us again to line up, so we start walking in the direction he was pointing and find a huge line of people.  We join the line.  Then, our gate changed, so we all had to move to a different gate and line up yet again.  Once we make it to the front of the line, we have our bags searched and they ask us a bunch of questions…and then we’re held in a roped-off area (basically, they took a rope and strung it around a bunch of seats and told us to stay inside).  There’s a coke machine inside the roped-off area and I’m really thirsty, but when I go to buy a soda, this guy yells at me — NO!

I think our plane is set to take off in about 50 minutes…it’s after 11:30 at night, and we’re about to have to say goodbye to South America…for the time being.