Tag Archives: travel writing

2 Days Til Cuba

30 Dec

I’ve been quiet lately on the blog, but there really hasn’t been too much going on. After finishing my last final I had was able to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak at Georgetown University, went for a tour of the State Department, and then headed home to Boston/Sharon for a few days. I spent a day and a half in the city at my friend’s place, first catching up with my old friend Jamie from Ecuador (an American) who I hadn’t seen in over two and a half years. She’s also from the Boston area and was home for the holidays, even though she still lives in Ecuador while getting her Master’s.

Later, my friend Sebastian, a Paraguayan who is studying at American University, came to Boston to spend Christmas. He spent the night with my friends and I as we went out to a couple of bars, and the following morning we gave him a quick tour of Boston on a cold day. Luckily my buddy Fish knows the city like the back of his hand and gave a great tour, including New England Clam Chowder. My time in Boston was short lived and I flew back on Christmas, returning to Washington with a nasty cold. I whiled away three days in my apartment alone trying to recuperate and enjoying my only real week of vacation before leaving for Cuba. Yesterday was the only real day that I got out for a bit to do something, going down to the National Portrait Gallery Smithsonian. I’ve wanted to go there for a while, but as often happens when I go to a museum, I lost patience and wandered through quickly.

When there are too many exhibits and people I don’t like being in a museum. That explains why I was in and out of the Louvre in 30 minutes. I saw three big pieces and got out. In just two days I’ll be leaving Washington to head down to Miami, and the following morning we’ll be leaving as a group to go to Havana, Cuba. I’m still debating whether or not I want to bring my lap top, and it will probably be a game time decision. I’ve been told that our hotel will have Wi-Fi, but I’m skeptical of the connection speed, especially if 14 other people there are trying to use the Internet at the same time. I don’t want to come home to 200 emails, but I also don’t want to be so connected that I’m online all day long. Part of the joy of traveling is disconnecting.

Check back in just in case to see if I’m blogging from Cuba or if not, I’ll be back in two weeks and will have stories, photos and probably videos as well (though my ability to edit videos together when I get back is cut short by the beginning of the semester and my internship at the Organization of American States).

Still Searching for a Sense of Reality

3 Aug

From the first day back in my hometown of Sharon, MA I had the sense of being in a ghost town. It’s not that the businesses have packed up and left, probably thanks to the fact that there’s hardly any industry here to begin with. It’s not because all of the boys are overseas fighting and only the elderly are left. But rather, there seems to be a hollow edge to the same streets that I walked and rode my bike on as a youth, and later drove up and down as a teenager. They are the same tree-lined tertiary roads where you’re likely to pass a family of deer or even the occasional wild turkey, safe from criminal activity or pollution. Yet things don’t feel the way they used to.

This is the part of the story where the buzz has started to wear off. The rush of coming home and seeing old friends while simultaneously running up and down the east coast has kept me busy. Fortunately this resulted in a prolonged happiness to be back in the United States, and even though I am in between work and study, my hands have been far from idle. There’s a lot to take care of after returning home three years later. In the last couple of days things have started to slow down. Returning from Washington with an apartment seemingly wrapped up, I continue to search for a job and see old friends, yet I’ve had spare time set in, allowing me to think and dwell on certain things.

I want to remember as many things as possible, and focus on the little details. The parquet floors of Buenos Aires, the random pine tree forest high up in the Andes between Quito and Cuenca, cropping up between the thick clouds, so close you could touch it. Once I start thinking about that stuff, I start to feel the emptiness where my deflated dream has started it’s backwards retreat. I’ve already lived out my lifelong goal, well before the age of 25, and now it’s back to the real world. Or is it?

What exactly is the “real world” to me anymore? Not some TV show on MTV, no way. It’s not a traditional summer vacation that a student would enjoy, with three months of work and play. In coming back to this ghost town, I’ve learned that my vision of reality is totally skewed and messed up, but worse still, I now have no vision of reality. At least for the moment. You see, most of my friends have moved out of the suburbs and into the city of Boston, and those who haven’t soon will. While summers used to mean hanging out at someone’s house, playing poker or drinking some beers while watching a movie, I now have little to do during the week. I drive around and check to see if I’ll recognize the driver or car, but I wince when realizing that no one will be around who I know. Even people younger than me from high school have graduated and moved on. I’m an old timer out of my element. This town is no place for someone in their mid-twenties.

While in summers past the middle of the day could be filled with the possibility of seeing a friend drive by, I now know that I’ll be here alone and there will be so surprise visitors. My reality used to be school, summer, work, etc. At first my job in Buenos Aires didn’t seem real–it was just something I was doing to live in Argentina. Then it became my reality and my only purpose for being there. That’s over now. But the real world is only what you make of it in front of you. Though I considered it a different part of my life, the last 3 years were my reality, and now this place is not my home, nor is it where I belong. It’s a comfortable setting and being surrounded by family is refreshing, but I clearly can’t spend much time here before I move on again. I’ve outgrown this role.

I went abroad and though I pictured coming home to the same place, it is no longer what I imagined. The neighborhood has grown up and left, and accordingly so, new people have come in to pick up the slack. No longer in my reality of Latin America, and not yet in my new reality of Washington DC, I’m simply floating along on vacation. It’s like a decompression chamber before starting the next journey, which will no doubt be as complex as the last one, but for different reasons. Little by little I see myself starring a little longer and thinking a little deeper, remembering those who I’ve left behind and wishing it wasn’t so. Where will they be when I have the ability to see them again, and when will that happen? It will never satisfy me to speak of them in the past tense, and I suppose that’s one of the many curses of being a returned expatriot.

Up in Maine

22 Jul

Lake Webb, in Weld, Maine

There’s a place up in Maine that I know. It’s a small dirt road of “camps” on the shores of a clear and fresh water lake, with hills surrounding it, and in the summer time it seems like a green handkerchief over the face of the earth. Driving up from Massachusetts you quickly pass by New Hampshire on I-95, and if you’re like many Massholes, you probably stop off at one of the giant liquor stores off the highway. But be forewarned–in New Hampshire they don’t sell beer at the liquor stores. You have to buy the beer at convenient stores or supermarkets. Makes no sense, right?

Continuing up the highway you quickly get to the border, and after crossing a bridge enter the State of Maine. It’s a fitting way to enter, considering the state is sprinkled with rivers, lakes, trees, mills, vacationers…In fact, look at the Maine license plates and it says it all, “Vacationland“. Whether or not it’s a bit extreme of a claim, the northern New England property certainly has plenty of stretches in which you can get lost and hide yourself away, forgetting about the stresses of the city and just floating back into the way things “used to be.” This is a unique charm which drew a few of my old college buddies up there recently.

My friend Travis is originally from Rumford, Maine, which he told me is now one of the biggest places in the country for collecting unemployment. His family owns some property with a beachfront “camp”, or cabin on the shores of Lake Webb, so he reserved the camp for a week and invited a few of the guys up for fun and relaxation. I arrived there first, and getting off of I-95 I had to continue on progressively smaller and smaller roads until eventually reaching the end of the line at the lake house. This all reminded me of something out of an early Hemingway story with a main character Nick Adams. It was about 12:30 pm and the sun was high, so after a quick lunch we picked up his younger cousin Alex who lives about 45 minutes away and went to check out some swimming holes. In Maine, a 45 minute drive isn’t much at all, and along the way we passed by the paper mill which has been going through harder times through mis-management, though still seems to employ half the town and surrounding area.

Vacationland

Our first swimming hole was a river below an 18-20 foot cliff, and though there were rocks leading down to the water, it was obvious that there was only one way down. People come from all over for this thrill, and I watched Travis and Alex jump in before standing on the edge. With my heart rate jumping up sharply and that feeling in the stomach you get just before you do something stupid, leaped off the edge. Twisting my legs together to ease the impact, I made a bent pencil splash and ducked down into the deep river. Up top again I gasped for air as the adrenaline had taken me breathless, and I could feel the water in the back of my nostrils and throat. My jaw hurt slightly but I wasn’t hurt too badly–not like the first time I jumped off a cliff at about 14 years old. It was only 13 or so feet up, but there’s that extra second you expect it to take and just like this time, I looked out just as I splashed the water and BOOM–bruised my ribs.

Alex and Travis climbed up on the other side to jump from even higher up at 30 feet, but I simply watched as other people crowded the hole. We all jumped the smaller cliff again and then waded over to a waterfall where ice cold streams pushed us away. Our next destination was set–Three Pools, where we could find more waterfalls. Back in the car and down the road we went until finding more cars parked on the side of the road by a lone house. We jumped off the smaller cliffs and then made our way over to the rapids which quickly blew me back. This was going to take some work.

The other guys are bigger than me and were able to make it up the rocks and through the rapids on their own, but on my first attempt I was holding on to the rocks for dear life before losing my strength and getting swept away into the current of the river. It was nothing too serious, but I needed to stand on a rock with my muscles trembling before I could attempt it again. Up ahead I could hear the rush from the waterfall and hear the other guys screaming in joy. Somehow I got the strength together and swam back to the rocks. The rapids were flowing over me but I swore under my breath and told myself that I would not miss this one, that I would get over it. Slowly I got over the rocks and positioned myself to get steady footing, and slowly I climbed over to the guys who had already written me off as gone.

No night in Maine is complete without a fire

With their help I was guided to the waterfall where we hid under the rush, deafened by the noise and blinded by the splashback, but the adrenaline kept us going, and together we agreed how amazing the experience was. Later that night we sat around watching the Red Sox game and then made a campfire in the yard, burning well into the night as we sat around with drinks in hand and talking about whatever. The moon was high, it was crisp and clear, and on the lake we could hear bullfrogs and what sounded like coyotes. This was definitely Maine, and anything uncommon about this scene wasn’t present for the locals. Vacationland is damn right.

An Expat’s Welcome Home

14 Jul

In the excitement of coming home and seeing old friends, eating familiar food and sleeping in the same bed as before, I’ve been spared the terrors of reverse culture shock, though I’m sure that will only hold off for another few days. It’s a novelty to be home, yet experience tells me that soon enough the honeymoon period will be over. A few days ago I was living in the beating heart of the huge city of Buenos Aires, and now I find myself in the suburbs–practically the countryside–where no one is around during the day and even later on you only occasionally cross a car or other person on the road.

I’m back to sitting on my back porch where I can look at the green trees waving in the wind and hear nothing but a wind chime and birds chirping. I’ve gotten in two long runs without having to worry about walking in dog shit or a crazy driver plowing into me, and best of all, I have evaded the natural order by going from winter to summer. My friends and family are eager to see me and I likewise feel in need of their presence, so all things considered, there’s nothing to complain about except for feeling a void where the joy I had in Buenos Aires used to be. And that will always be there.

One of the first Hemingway stories that I really grew to love was “A Soldier’s Welcome Home,” about a returned dough boy from World War I named Krebs. Krebs would lay in bed late in the morning reading the paper, eat breakfast and take a walk around, but with no direction or real purpose. He was lost in his own emotions and difficulties in dealing with what he saw and did during the war. No one else understood, and if he met someone who did, it was almost too awkward to talk about it amongst themselves. He eventually came to the decision that he could no longer stay at home and would have to move on.

I had a strange relation to this character after coming back from Ecuador, but my fears were assuaged in knowing that I was soon going back to South America and wouldn’t have to deal with it for too long. I assumed that I would feel the same way coming back now, after two more years in Latin America, but for now I feel okay. In any case, I’ve been so busy for these last two days and will continue to be busy for at least a couple more weeks that I won’t have much time to sit around and think about it all. There are plans to be made, trips to be taken, friends to see, and miles to go before I can take a siesta.

Some Good Press

31 May

Yesterday Travel Guy (aka this blog) was named one of the Top 20 Travel Blogs in South America by South America Tourist. I’m honored to be considered among the list and would like to thank all of my supporters who read this blog and share the stories with their friends.

At the same time, a nice interview with Dan and Fer from BA Cast came out which you can find from the Expanish blog. We’re preparing for Season 2 as I said a few days ago, and this will hopefully get the word out a bit more!

Northwestern Argentina, in Video

25 May

Southwestern Bolivia, in Video, Part II

17 May

Ending the Vacation in Salta, Cafayate and Cachi

16 May

Salta

Salta is nicknamed “la linda,” or “the pretty” and it’s no surprise why. Completely different from Buenos Aires, it’s a small city with a colonial feel in the center, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a colonial gem, as other people marketing the area do. With an attractive center and main plaza (Plaza 9 de Julio), you can easily run through the main central streets in just an hour or so, including the pedestrian streets of Florida and Balcarce, which also houses the bar and club district up by the old train station.

So even though Salta is a small city, it serves as a good base for exploring the Province of Salta, which is the real attraction. A plan I had was to visit the town of Cafayate, which is northwest Argentina’s wine country, and then move on to the tiny village of Cachi where there wasn’t much to see, save for the incredible scenery and a chance to slow down and relax. Both towns lay on opposite ends of spectacular ravines and mountain passes, creating wonderful rides in which take 3-5 hours respectively because of all the twists and turns.

However, it’s nearly impossible to get to Cachi from Cafayate unless you have your own car or hire a private taxi, which is pretty expensive unless you can share the cost with other travelers. Thus, I headed to Cafayate to play the odds and see what I could do, waking up before dawn after one night in the city of Salta. The beginning part of the ride was nothing special—passing through vineyards and small towns where the bus stopped at nearly every corner, until we reached the Quebrada de las Conchas. This valley of red rocks and valleys had scenery like something out of Mars, with towering cliffs reaching over the road.

La Quebrada de las Conchas

Soon we were in Cafayate and after finding a cheap hostel, ran over to three consecutive wineries for some cheap or free samples and chowed down on some empanadas salteñas. The friendly woman selling them on the corner told me her story and warned me to go back to the U.S., saying Argentina was nice but just to visit. By 2 pm I was back at the hostel to start a tour of the Quebrada de las Conchas, and though the guide was just so-so, the scenery was excellent. We walked through some of the caves and into the giant, extinct waters falls now dubbed “Garganta del Diablo” and “El Anfiteatro”, which is a place where music is performed every year.

The next day it was back to Salta, after realizing that there was no way I could get to Cachi, and the following day I geared up for a tour of Cachi and the Calchaquíes Valley. With a full day in a small bus filled with mostly older Argentines, we headed up the Cuesta del Obispo, a narrow mountain pass with over 150 switchbacks. I was looking forward to this ride for a long time, but to be honest, after everything I’d seen on the two week trip, it wasn’t the most dramatic. However, it’s still an amazing ride and I recognize that I’d been spoiled in Bolivia, so the trip is still a must.

Along the ride we stopped for lunch in Payogasta, a little hamlet with a view of the Nevado de Cachi, the snow capped mountain with the same name of the village. Once in town, we had an hour to walk around on our own, though after 10 minutes I’d covered the entire area three times. Ending the two week adventure to southwestern Bolivia and northwestern Argentina was laid back and smooth, just as it should have been after constant movement and trekking. My body was tired and my mind full of what I’d seen, but everything had gone off smoothly, and I couldn’t have asked for more. It was now a question of returning to Buenos Aires and finishing strongly with the two months remaining in my time here.

El Nevado de Cachi