The Idea of Travel

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Re: The Idea of Travel

Post by ClockWise »

Survived all the nostalgia of visiting my old stomping grounds. Heading to Tokyo tomorrow morning.

(Am writing from a hostel inwhich I am the only guest... and there is no staff on-site. Spooky.)
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Detroit is even worse than you've heard. I've never been in such a place. A real wasteland.
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Out of curiosity: When you say Detroit, do you mean the metro area or just the city?
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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I'm afraid I don't really know the difference. Probably... just the city? I saw... the downtown area, the Yorba Hotel (!!), many burned out houses, the train station where the Robocop statue is supposed to be (is it gone now?). And a man being beaten to within an inch of his life AS I STEPPED OFF THE BUS (I scurried into the terminal and an ambulance came and took the poor bugger away).
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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I never got around to reporting it in this thread, but I've been living in Paraguay for the last few months. If anyone is interested, here's what I wrote on another forum when someone asked what it's like. This was composed after just a short time in the country:

"My partner (female) and I spent many years living and traveling in Asia so I guess I compare South America to THAT a bit more than I ought to, but here's some observations:

1. Visiting Paraguay is still something like "falling off the map," like Pico Iyer described it in his mid-90s book. Not a lot of visitors here, not a lot of the usual things to see, and I am lead to believe that the country is empty empty empty outside of the capital.

2. The capital here has its charm. It has a crumbling centre, one large slum and a quite affluent suburban zone. There are a few fine restaurants and (I've been told) a few decent clubs and bars. We live in the centre. A highlight are Sunday afternoon walks. The place is shut up completely at that time; all the shops and restaurants are closed, the streets are free of pedestrians and cars. Last weekend we spied only a group of people getting ballroom dancing (or something) lessons in a public square, and a group of public service minded teenagers repainting crosswalks. Going only by the scene on weekends, one would think this is town of a few thousand, rather than 1.5 million.

3. I do some ESL tutoring by the hour. My partner works a job with a western firm. There is a bit of ESL work, but it is low paying. This isn't a place for work, but people from the west DO like to retire here because one can get permanent residence without having a job just by being patient and doing the requisite paperwork.

4. It's a cheap place to live. Our two bedroom apt. costs about three hundred dollars a month. We endlessly compare prices to our time in China before coming here. And some things are even cheaper than they were in China and a list is forming: Argentinian wine, olives, papaya, bread, cheese. Everything is cheaper (much cheaper) than North America of course.

5. Starting this coming weekend we are going to start exploring the country side. Just for weekend overnight things 'cause we have to work... but we're excited about it. The enjoyableness of that will be a big factor in how we like the country overall."
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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And to Uruguay from July 7 to 15. Very excited! We'll see: Montevideo, Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento.
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Great,

Let us know how it was!

Best,
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Meanwhile, shit is crazy here in Paraguay:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/ ... T620120622

The president has been impeached, and is expected to be removed from office today, while 20 000 small hold farmers from the countryside are coming to the capital to set up camp and support him. The main camp was supposed to be in a park literally across the street from my apartment, but the numbers are so big that they've moved to the lawns of the gov't building and nearby parks... about five or six blocks from where we are.

Was expecting something to happen overnight, and was too distracted to sleep well: I kept looking out the window to see the action. But there was none, though this morning I looked out and saw a bunch of police with machine guns directing traffic.

So it goes.

It all resembles what happened in Thailand a few years ago. The populist president was given the boot and his angry supporters from the countryside flooded into Bangkok and took over the airport and some shopping malls.
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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All that political stuff blew over. No big deal. Who would have thought?

Meanwhile, here's the (way too long) summary of our recent trip to Uruguay:

1.

We got off to a rough start - we went to the airport here in Asuncion only to find out that our flight was canceled! The guy working the counter didn't exactly know what was happening since HQ wasn't answering his calls, but he was sure that Pluna Air wasn't going to be flying again. Ever. I thought that only happened to other people. However, we did get passage on another airline to Buenos Aires. That's in a whole different country... but is close enough.

We actually got to BA at about the same time we planned to get to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. At the airport, we concocted a plan to spend the night in a hostel and take a fast ferry to Uruguay the next morning. The boat would actually deposit us at the last city on of intended itinerary... a rather convenient coincidence. Anyhow, we spent a vast number of hours at the airport trying to: find accommodation in BA, communicate with the airline regarding our flight home, figure out the schedule of the boat and call hotels to change our reservations. We actually visited BOTH Buenos Aires airports to do all of that. Needless to say, we were pretty tired out by the end of the night (but we did accomplish all of that stuff... bully to us for being experienced travelers... and for being together, as I think it all might have been too overwhelming had one of us been trying to do all of it alone).

2.

That accommodation in BA was excellent... a charming hostel with very welcoming staff. And the next morning a most wonderful, wonderful free breakfast. It was so nice that we stayed in until it was time to leave for the port. We got a ticket at the counter on a fast boat to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay and away we went. We were in Colonia del Sacramento by noon.

We were able to adjust our reservations for Colonia from the BA airport, but only for the second night. For the first night we had to hunt around for a cheapish hostel, which we eventually found. It was unremarkable. We spent the afternoon walking about Colonia's UNESCO-cited old city. Lots of circa 1700s and 1800s buildings. Sort of touristy, but pleasant enough in this, the low-season. There are a few quirky little museums on hand. I got a kick out the "tile museum." It's just... a bunch of tiles. And there's one in Montevideo, too. Odd.

On the second day we moved into a room at an excellent bed and breakfast/hostel. That one proved to be the best accommodations of our whole trip. It has really charming, attractively made-up rooms. We used the well-equipped kitchen to cook up a couple of meals... pasta for dinner and one large omelet for breakfast (to go with the cereal and home-made bread made on-site by the owners). This would be a bit of a theme this time 'round. Uruguay is an expensive place, so we got back to our roots somewhat: cheap dorm room sleeping and big meals self made in the early mornings and late evenings. The meals, in particular, made a lot of sense... tastier and more affordable than restaurant fare. Not that restaurants are terribly expensive in Uruguay; I think that pasta for me, fish for xxxx and a half-litre of wine cost about 25 bucks.

Towards the end of the day, at the advice of a lady at the tourism information office, we took a walk of about 5 km along the beach leading out of town to an abandoned resort from the 1920s. Barely used, now there remains the shell of a swanky old hotel, a bull fighting ring (!!) and (still in operation) a horse racing track. All quite striking at sunset. We did the walk back through an urban area than runs parallel to the beach.

3.

Next to Montevideo by bus. Montevideo's main draw is its own old town. But while Colonia's is made of of quaint, small homes, the capital's is made up of large European-style buildings. Big big big. It has a great number of quirky little museums. We particularly enjoyed the Museo del Carnaval. It collects a bunch of neat costumes and masks worn over the years. Apparently Montevideo has a Carnaval almost as cool as the big one in Brazil.

On day two in Montevideo we figured out the local bus system and were able to take a long bus (about one hour) to a park/zoo in a rural part of the city. The zoo wasn't really the point of the trip... the point was just to get into the rural parts of the city. The ride out was illuminating. While Montevideo is very shiny and prosperous, the ride took us through some of the slummier parts of the city. The unequal distribution of wealth is quite striking.

The zoo was more of a farm sort of thing.... lots of llamas and mountain goats and emu and horses and sheep and that sort of thing. Again, the low-season made it rather empty (and also free), so we were able to enjoy some quiet strolling. Nearby was some pretty wetland areas, something Uruguay is noted for.

That evening we visited a spot called Baar Fun Fun. That peculiarly named place is a venue for live Tango music (and sometimes performances of dance) that has been in operation since 1896. The staff there are often described as the "caretakers of Uruguayan culture." I think that our visit was the highlight of our trip. The music performed was remarkable, and the venue itself exudes history. Despite its fame, it is rather small and intimate place with seating for no more than 50 or 60 visitors. We had to get someone local to call ahead and reserve us a table. We visited on a Wednesday night when the crowds are smallest. The performers seemed to know quite a few of the people in attendance, which gave the night a friendly, casual, local feel. The place acts as a museum of sorts just by existing... and was worth visiting just for that... but the music was very very good. Powerful stuff. But fun and happy. We had the best seats in the house. How about that?

The bus info came from a tourism information office. And so did our knowledge of the park. And while I knew about Baar Fun Fun, it was the lady there who made our table reservation. That's something that comes from xxxxx... the idea of just going to the information office and asking a ton of questions. That's not something I ever really did on my own. Which is silly, because that's what they are there for.

4.

And then to Punta del Este. Just a 90 minute bus ride away. The bus and boat rides on this trip were no sweat at all, considering what we've done in the past. Did feel a tad sea sick on that first boat ride, though.

Punta del Este is a busy resort town. Lots of beaches and night clubs and that sort of thing. But again, because of the low season it was dead during our visit. We arrived rather late in the day so spent just a bit of time our first night walking through the unattractive urban part of the town. Lots of closed up shops, restaurants and bars. It was very cold that night so while we stayed out as late as we could, we were back at the hostel around nine thirty or so.

The hostel in Punta was part of a chain, so a bit clinical and lacking in character but the corporate-ness did make for very clean facilities and well-bleached linens (that's a good thing). I think you might have actually liked the place. In addition to the dorms they also have private en suite rooms. Very bright and colorful, all. Combined with a generous breakfast spread (with coffee of course) and relaxed commons areas.

Anyways... day two in Punta was another busy one. Our main destination was a place called Casa Pueblo. That's a sprawling estate about 20 km outside of town. Designed by Carlos Paez Vilario, Urugauy's most famous artist, it's an odd but attractive gallery/home/living sculpture. It's a place that keeps getting bigger and bigger. The first room was built out of tin cans. The second was built using wood that washed up on the beach. Rooms were built whenever visitors popped by (including Pablo Picasso). At some point, it was all sort of covered with... I dunno... lime or concrete or something. Tough to describe, but here's an image search that might illuminate: https://www.google.ca/search?q=casa+pue ... s&tbm=isch

It's up on a cliff along the beach (everything is along the beach... it goes on and on and on). After our visit we found a curious little flight of stone steps that lead down to the beach and headed down. The intention was to walk the 20 k back to town, catching the sunset along the way. We met an older guy (60ish) at the bottom of the steps who said "Aha! You found the steps! Are you here the see the secret cave?" He told us of (and showed us) a cave under the cliff used for dancing back in the old days. It contained a little "swimming pool" which was always perfectly clean since it was emptied and refilled each day as the tide ebbed in and out. He used to catch fish with his friends back then and spend a few days camping out on the beach. His visit that night was with one of his grandchildren. Very cool.

He told us to stay in the light and be careful ("Uruguay is changing!") and we headed back to the centre of town. The walk was pleasant, though that many hours on sand can be tough on the ankles. The sunset was very pretty. Interestingly, we stumbled upon a few dead penguins washed up on shore. We're in THAT part of the world!

5.

And then we began the long trip back to Buenos Aires and home.

One more night in Montevideo. One perk of staying at a chain hostel is that there are little package deals with the other branches. We managed to snag a free night in the capital as as reward for pre-booking the two nights in Punta del Este. Did a bit of strolling around the near empty historic centre of Montevideo (Montevideo, like Asuncion, is dead dead dead on early weekend evenings) and headed over to Baar Fun Fun for a show. Not as nice the second time 'round, but I'm glad we went. The Saturday night show was crowded. The music was just as good, but the atmosphere was less inviting. It did serve to highlight the specialness of the show we saw earlier in the trip.

Next morning on the bus to Colonia. Then on the boat to Buenos Aires. And after a couple of hours of checking out the nighttime sites, we took a cab to the airport. Our flight to Asuncion left at around 2:30 AM.
Last edited by ClockWise on Fri Jul 20, 2012 2:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Here's a few travel notes from Easter Island and Santiago. I've search-and-replaced my girlfriend's name with "batgirl." Privacy, you see:

(forgive the bad line breaks. I copied this from my email.)

---

Arrived in Chile alone (Batgirl had two more days of work) on the14th.
Spent a couple of days wandering about Santiago before Batgirl and I
met at the airport for our flight to Easter Island. I'll start this
summary at that point. It must be said that the flight to Easter
Island wasn't a great way to begin. It was a relatively painless six
hours, but LAN Airlines messed up and sold tickets for a plane with a
different seat configuration than the plane that was actually used.
The solution to this slip-up was to just make the seating general
admission. Everyone rushed on board. There were no announcements, so
we didn't actually know what was going on until I tried to kick
someone out of my seat. Batgirl and I didn't get the nice bulkhead
seats we'd reserved eight months earlier, but at least we were able to
sit together... one row up from the toilet. Many passengers weren't
able to sit with their loved-ones spent the flight fuming about it.
One English lady really let the head steward have it... with her very
upper-crust accent. Right beside us. For an hour. Hmm.

Arrived on the island in the afternoon and set about trying to find a
place to stay. Found a man at one of the airport kiosks with a hotel
on a quiet side-street across from the island hospital (a nice bonus).
We'd heard that Easter Island is an expensive place to travel, but it
really wasn't: after a bit of bargaining, we ended up with a room with
a private bath for a little less than 40 dollars. His "Hotel Uka" was
rather nice: decent rooms with a nice little public kitchen and an
old dog named "Mama" because she has a habit of nursing any stray
animals (any species) brought to her. A kitten, most recently. Goats,
in the past. The kitchen was nice to have since restaurants on the
island ARE terribly terribly expensive. Before flying out I filled my
backpack with food from the mainland. And other than a 50 dollar
admission ticket for two major archeological sites there are
blissfully few places to spend money. Loved that.

There are two main loops around the island for walking and biking: a
north coast/inland loop and a much longer road that goes along the
southern coast before connecting with the highway (yes, highway) that
intersects the whole island. That's the closest you can get to
circumnavigating the island... a large chunk of the northern coast has
no road. Our first full day on the island we did our best to tackle
the northern loop by foot. Quite pretty: you leave town (there is one
town on the island, Hanga Roa) and see some of the most often
photographed and familiar-looking Moai going along the water for some
hours before turning inland. The inland road seems to go on forever.
Not quite as attractive, as coastal Easter Island has been deforested
for a few centuries. Lots of scrubby land and no trees for shade.
And, Lord, it's hot on Easter Island. We walked for about eight hours
before tiring. Fortunately, a car slowed down and we were waved over
for a lift. The occupants - grandfather (driving), daughter, grandson
(islanders, all) - weren't really going in our direction, but there'
no need to rush to one's destination in Easter Island ("No... don't
worry, Senor. This is Easter Island!") I wasn't really able to
figure out how the grandfather's connection to Canada was, but he had
a certain affection. When finding out my nationality he rushed to ask
"Sabe Winterlude?" "Um... sure... yeah... in Ottawa..." "ME GUSTA
WINTERLUDE!" But when he learned that Batgirl was from Korea: "No me
gusta..." "Hmmm..." Not sure where the dislike came from, but there ya
go. Not all countries are equally loved, I suppose...

Next day we rented a few bikes to tackle the road along the southern
coast. Really, really wonderful. The road is sometimes a dirt trail,
sometimes really rocky and occasionally paved. We followed it along
the rocky coast for about seven or eight hours. It passes by about a
dozen Moai sites. The Moai are in various states... some standing up
like you expect, others have tumbled down and are broken apart, We
had been expecting something like Ankor Watt (which we also did on
bikes) - very crowded and touristed. Still worth visiting... but
terribly crowded. But for most of our ride we had the island and the
sites to ourselves. A jeep with tourists might have passed us every
90 minutes. Another biker perhaps once an hour. Sometimes there were
stray horses. Cows. Even at Ahu Hanga Tetenga (the lineup of 15 Moai
that you probably have seen pictures of) we were able to sit on the
grass for an hour and enjoy the view all alone.

Ah, this comes to me: A pair of stray dogs that followed us for a
few hours but left us whenever we passed by horses... these dogs
seemed on a mission to actually herd all of the island's horses. No
kidding... if we passed a number of horses they ran off and yapped at
them until they bunched up tightly. And then moved on. Freelance
herders.

Anyhow, the ride went on and on. We were pretty darn tired by the end
of it. The scrapbook in front of me says that the total was 45
kilometers and 10 hours, but in my memory it was twice that distance
and took the whole day. We actually turned down a few offers of rides
along the last stretch ("throw your bikes in the back") because it was
SOMETHING I HAD TO FINISH ON MY OWN.

Meanwhile: all these offers of help give one the impression that the
islanders have done really well with tourism. There are a lot of
places where that's not always the case. Tourism can bring in a lot
of wealth, but if it's not done in a sustainable way and more
importantly if the wealth is not shared in an equitable way among all
segments of the population, well... people can really get to resent
the foreigners. Certainly not the case in Easter Island. I like
that.

On the last full day Batgirl went for an early morning dive (lots to
see, but too cold) and I rested my sore body. In the early afternoon
we took a little walk (two hours each way) to the crater of Rano Kau.
A perfect way to finish up our visit to Easter Island. It's a very
large crater with an almost complete wall all the way around. The
only break in the wall is a large section that allows a clear view of
the ocean. A sort of Window. Perfect. Another highlight of our
visit to the crater was stopping under one of the few trees along the
path there for a long drink from the wine bottle we'd packed for the
trip there.

We left a bit of Easter Island undone. There are footpaths in the
hills. Quite pretty, I've been told. Next time, I guess.

I actually didn't want to go to Easter Island originally. Didn't want
to pay for the long flight and the high costs (turned out to not be
particularly high) on the island. But as I've said a few times in
earlier e-mails it really exceeded my expectations. The seaside
landscapes are striking. And although there are 300 people on the
daily flight the island seems rather empty and untouristed. Really...
I've no idea where all those people go. Perhaps they stay at some of
the nice resorts in town and see the sites only by minibus. But there
weren't many minibuses. Maybe they stay in town and only desire to
see the oft-photographed sunset at the Moai site on the beach there.
Maybe for South American travelers (most of the people on the plane)
Easter Island is more of a chill resort-type place. Especially for
repeat visitors. Maybe everyone just transits on to Tahiti (there
actually is a flight). Who knows? Who cares? I do recommend the
island. It's a good visit. Worth the airfare after all.

And back to Santiago a day later.

The Chilean capital is sort of like a better version of Montevideo. Or
sort of like a not-as-good version of Buenos Aires. It has some nice
museums and some nice restaurants. We went to the zoo, too. Like in
most South American capitals (but not Asuncion) life seems to centre
around several big public squares. The main one has art for sale,
street food, a charming number of "living art" style buskers. There
are Scotia Bank branches everywhere. Odd, that. It's the fifth
biggest bank in Chile. Crazy. And it's a city for walking. I guess
they all are. I liked it. Stayed at a typical "full service hostel."
Used to really like that sort of thing, but now I feel I have stayed
at two dozen just like it. Even the name seemed too familiar - Eco
Hostel Chile. Made the decision there to avoid that sort of thing for
the rest of the trip. It was a good call. Maybe we're done with
those forever. Who knows? Had to happen sometime. I really am
starting to get annoyed by young people. I'm crankier than I used to
be. Or maybe just older. In a forthcoming summary you'll read that
about half-way into the trip I actually did utter the sentence "Why
don't those damn hippies just quiet down?" So there's that...
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Hey ClockWise, are you actually in Canada now?
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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No... I'm in Paraguay right now. Arrived here from Argentina about an hour ago. :)
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Re: The Idea of Travel

Post by adespoton »

When you eventually run out of South/Central American countries, make sure to visit the west coast before you head back home :)
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Ah, but the west coast of WHERE?
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Paraguay, of course ;)
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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But it's landlocked!
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Re: The Idea of Travel

Post by adespoton »

ClockWise wrote:But it's landlocked!
Hence the wink... Anyway, make sure to come through YVR on your way back to Pearson... When you finish this round of adventure.

I figured the context from earlier in the thread was enough ;)
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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I know, I know you meant Vancouver! I visited Vancouver for the first time early last year. Flew in and then got a VIA RAIL pass and took the slow way home, stopping in Jasper and Winnipeg before plowing through to Ontario.

I really liked Vancouver, wish I could have spent more time. Maybe will spend more time next time I'm around!
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Re: The Idea of Travel

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Now I'm jealous; always wanted to take the VIA trip (well actually, the CN trip, but THAT's not going to happen anymore).
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Re: The Idea of Travel

Post by ClockWise »

Via's "canrailpass" is actually a really good deal (during the low season). Seven trips of unlimited length over three days, but since you can include a stop-over on each one, it's basically impossible to use up all seven.

I enjoyed that a lot last year.

To drive yourself crazy, you can go back and forth between Vancouver and Halifax non-stop for three weeks.
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