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February 2007 Archives

February 4, 2007

it's all about the oasis

after spending several days in lima for a wedding and then the resulting "ok, TOMORROW we're going to make plans and move on...", i finally made it out of lima and down to the oasis of huacachina.

i'd never heard of huacachina in my life before, but i was assured by several other backpackers that i'd met in peru that it was an excellent place to stay and burn away a few days. i was definitely not disappointed.

the main hostel in town, the "casa de arena dos", offers mediocre accommodation at not-so-great prices, but is quite social and has the best backpacker party scene. since i was travelling with a friend and we wanted something more relaxed, for only a few dollars more per night we checked into the nearby and EXCELLENT "El Huacachinero". beautiful accommodations with clean rooms and modern decor, a beautiful swimming pool, and back gates that led out directly onto the sand dunes (with sandboards sitting around for the using), several exotic parrots in residence, good food and bar, and a great mix of young, mellow independent travellers, this was one of the best places i'd found to stay on my trip.

we ended up spending a week here, taking dune buggy rides (if you're staying at El Huacachinero, book through them to get an extra discount on the room rate), swimming, exploring the somewhat-run-down town of Huacachina (its like a MUCH more benign version of the salton sea in some ways.... definitely not running at full peak, but still a pleasant place to visit in the middle of the desert). my one piece of advice would be to make all onward travel arrangements BEFORE arriving here -- you'll want to avoid the nearby town of Ica (which has no travel agents, and a few ATMs for that critical cash fix) as much as possible, as it is a real bringdown after chilling out at Huacachina.

next stop, nazca lines!

February 10, 2007

hanging out in iquique

after visiting the Nazca Lines several days ago, i managed to fall intensely sick with a simultaneous bad cold and eye infection (probably from my contact lenses). after trying to work through the local pharmacy, who managed to give me some cold medications that really screwed up my stomach without doing much of anything positive for me, i finally looked up the correct methods for eye infection treatment on the internet (it's a bad sign when google and wikipedia are your most available sources of medical advice), and bought the correct prescription medication at the pharmacy with a dosage schedule derived from the manufacturer's drug information sheet.

i then hopped on a 14-hour bus ride south to Tacna, which is Peru's closest border town with Chile. from there I took a 2-3 hour ride on a "collectivo" taxi, which turned out to be a giant old Chevrolet lined with a plush red interior and 4 other passengers across the Peru/Chile border, and arrived in the Chilean town of Arica.

after the run-downness of the town of Nazca, Arica was a wonderful change. prosperous town, nice pedestrian mall, lots of services, and (most importantly to me), plenty of friendly optometrists with good facilities to get the eye infection thing straightened out with. after a few days recovering from everything, i hopped on another bus further down the Chilean coast to Iquique.

Iquique had been recommended to me by another backpacker as a great place to stop at, but i haven't found the real soul of it yet. it's been a ok place to spend a few days between here and Santiago (i'm heading down there to connect up with my flight to Rio on the 13th for Carnival!), but i wouldn't really recommend it unless you're either with someone else or are very fluent in Spanish, as this place is definitely off of the backpacker circuit. it's nice just to be somewhere and mesh with locals, but with my primitive spanish skills, communication isn't that great. (note to self: DEFINITELY spend time taking spanish lessons before returning to Latin America).

tomorrow afternoon i hop on my 24-hour bus ride down to Santiago on Tur Bus (luckily i was able to get a seat on their "Cama" service, so at least i'll have a plush ride, albeit an extremely long one), and then get about 18 hours there before taking off for Rio.

in case you're wondering why i've been plunging so quickly south from Peru, i've been doing this in order to make it down to Santiago for the Rio flight. as a result, this has been one of the only times on the trip that i've really felt "stressed" to make it somewhere at a certain time. of course, this is the price of trying to attend a very popular event like Carnival in Rio, which requires all my other plans to bend around it in order to make it happen. and rushing like this when you're really sick is definitely not a lot of fun either.

i'm sure it will be worth it, but i definitely feel like i haven't been able to give Chile nearly enough attention on this trip. i would definitely plan to spend more time in Chile and in different areas next time i come here.

February 12, 2007

life maintenance in santiago

when i emerged today into the afternoon light of the Santiago Bus Station from my 24-hour Tur Bus ride across the country from Iquique, I didn't have much of an idea what to expect.

my wonderful friend jimena from san francisco, who is chilean, had connected me up via email with her friend alberto in santiago. he in turn had offered to let me stay at his place in santiago while i was in town, and offered to pick me up from a santiago metro station and show me around town.

so i gave alberto a quick call from a payphone at the bus station to let him know i'd arrived (the phone gave me a whopping 30 seconds to talk for the equivalent of US$0.20 -- south american telecom monopolies have placed insanely high prices of landline-to-cell calls) followed the e-mailed instructions and entered the metro station that conveniently connected directly into the bus station, riding santiago's gleaming-new metro line across the city. (it's really one of the nicest metro systems in the world -- clean, well-signed, and just plain easy and fun to use. i couldn't help but remember my misadventures trying to navigate moscow's monolithic metro system by comparison!).

at the appointed metro stop, alberto came down the stairs to meet me, so we loaded my backpackers into the trunk of his new alfa romeo, and headed across town to pick up some empanadas from the second-best place to get empanadas in town (the best place in town was unfortunately closed that day), and headed over to his apartment for lunch (accompanying the empanadas with some delicious roast chicken and and a chance for me to take a much-needed shower after my infinite bus ride.

and being back at his place with broadband internet access and a computer meant a chance to do my digital lifestyle maintenance: uploading my latest pictures to flickr, downloading all my pictures off of the memory card to burn to a DVD, downloading the latest Lost episodes (along with some new South Park and Office episodes, and a new unabridged audiobook) to my iPod, deleting a bunch of songs i don't listen to off of my iPod to make room for the new stuff, catching up on my email, and writing this blog post.

since my eye infection from before still hadn't cleared up (or indeed been fully diagnosed by an eye doctor), alberto set me up with an appointment with an eye doctor friend of his, and before i knew i was consulting with the doctor, receiving a thorough exam of both eyes, and a confirmed diagnosis of the problem (conjunctivitis, but nothing more serious than that, which was good). he corrected the treatment i was taking (the eye drops weren't really that good a choice), put me on some new drops, even giving me a free sample of the antibiotic drops themselves (saving me a LOT on the cost of the drops), and before i knew it i was out on the street with my new prescription and treatment plan. chile definitely works on the friend/network system... and i was definitely the beneficiary of this.

and now i'm back at alberto's place having coffee and sandwiches with him and a girl he knows at 10pm before we go out for actual dinner later tonight, followed by drinks, only to return home at some ungodly hour (which will be very early by chilean standards, since this IS a monday night during a major holiday month), and then i sleep for a few hours and get up at 8am to hop on my 1-way flight to Rio for Carnival!

February 17, 2007

switching off of bloglines

when i'm doing one of my internet cafe check-ins, reading my email and updating my blog (along with uploading the latest pictures to flickr and downloading any new Lost episodes), if i have any time to burn i usually read my latest RSS feeds on Bloglines.

however... bloglines has gotten pretty stodgy lately for me. no new features have emerged that have significantly improved my experience with their product, i hate having to log into a 3rd site beyond yahoo and google every time i go to an internet cafe computer, and so i finally started checking out my feed-reading alternatives from yahoo and google.

first off, i tried out the new Yahoo! Mail beta with built-in Yahoo! Messenger (VERY handy for those cafes that won't let me install the Yahoo! Messenger application... i'm very grateful that they added this feature) and RSS feed reader. after i added all of my favorite feeds into it, i gave it a try. it's really convenient having my RSS feeds and email in one place, but the lack of ability to organize my RSS feeds, and the plane-jane appearance of the RSS feed content in the reader didn't get me very excited. but still, better than bloglines. so that was nice.

secondly, i tried google reader. the last time i tried this product right after it came out, i thought it was one of the worst products that google has ever shipped. it felt clunky and awkward, and just not a very fun user experience. it actually felt like made reading RSS feeds LESS efficient than just going to the websites themselves and reading their content. so i abandoned it and never tried it since that first initial exploration.

when i went back to use google reader this time, i was shocked at how much it had improved. it's an elegantly designed web application with a lot of thought given to just making it simple and easy to organize my feeds, and really dedicating itself to presenting the content i want to see in the best possible way. when i checked out the google reader team's blog, it's very clear that they're strongly committed to continuing to add lots of cool features to this product.

the end result of all this? i'll never use bloglines again, at least until they do a major redesign of their product. and even then, the hassle of having to log into Yet Another Site is another hit against them. i'll start using yahoo! mail more for light feed reading and the HTML version of yahoo! messenger. and i'll start using google reader every time i go online to check my RSS feeds. if you're using bloglines now, definitely give google reader a try!

settling into rio de janeiro

its all caipirinhas, late nights (and later mornings), and exploration here in Rio de Janeiro.

i arrived in the fairly run-down rio international airport after my two flights from chile, wondering if customs still photographed and fingerprinted visitors from the USA in reciprocity for the USA doing the same thing to Brazilian visitors. luckily this wasn't the case anymore, and i quickly passed through immigration to enter the country.

despite the fact that i'm staying in 13-bed dormitory room for a week and a half (and paying US$60 per night for 7 of those days because its Carnival), the people in my dorm are remarkably quiet at night and snore-free, which means i can ACTUALLY GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP for a change. my hostel (aptly named Walk On The Beach Hostel) is only a few blocks off the beach in Copacabana, is run by a really friendly bunch of people, and most of the people staying at the hostel are a good bunch of people.

the first few days in rio i spent doing my usual settling-in routine for a new country: exchanging the money from the last country, withdrawing enough money from an ATM to cover me for several days, buying a SIM card for my phone so i can make calls locally (i choose the Oi network for their nifty little orange blob logo), taking my laundry to the local laundromat, and dealing with any other pressing issues (which for me meant getting a haircut. haircuts overseas are always fun for me because i insist on getting my hair cut where the locals go, which means minimal communication at best, and lots of questions as we go, but i usually end up with a pretty good haircut when it's all done).

crime is definitely an issue here -- i've already had people try to pick my pocket several times in the last few days, including a quite sketchy attempt this morning by two favela kids to actually stop me in the street and grab my arm out of my pocket where i was hanging onto my (nearly empty) wallet. i got out of it without losing anything, but it's definitely a sign of the amount of opportunistic crime in rio. but i'm preparing to have my pockets picked at some point - i don't carry more than enough money than i need for the day with me, but it does mean that i won't have that many photos of rio, since carrying my camera around with me entails a fairly high risk that someone will steal it (especially when going out at night). one of the girls in our hostel has already had her camera stolen by a pickpocket, so it's not uncommon that these things happen, especially with all the chaos of carnival. from what i've been told, the key is just to not bring anything of value with you when out on the streets, keep your hands on what you do have to avoid pickpockets, and if you get threatened with a weapon, give them whatever they ask for.

after that it's been pretty much nonstop parties with the good people of rio and the other folks staying in my hostel. you can definitely feel the pressure for carnival building up, even in just the 3 days that i've been here for. today the streets were thronged with the first people selling masks and costumes for carnival, and trucks blasting out samba music are rolling down the streets. last night we were up until dawn partying in the streets of Rio, and i'm sure tonight will be more of the same. and carnival hasn't even started yet!

February 20, 2007

exhausted and happy at carnival

i wish i had some witty and insightful thoughts to give you in today's blog entry, but what few brain cells are actually alive and functioning today (i just stumbled out of bed at 3pm) are in desparate need of a hamburger and a "bomba tropical" juice drink at the local juice bar. after that i'll spend time on the beach until it starts getting dark, and then meet up back at the hostel with my friends to figure out which parties we're going to tonight, the last night of the carnival festivities.

parties run hard, long, and late here in rio for carnival. besides the two nights of parades in the sambadrome, there are the blocos (what essentially end up as block parties), with vendors selling ice-cold cans of skol and antarctica beer and freshly-made caipirinhas to the many brazilians dancing and socializing in the streets.

i can't emphasize the delightful debauchery that i've been enjoying for the last week. thanks to the urging of my good friend marshall (who in turn was urged by aaron), i made a last-minute plan to come out here to rio and attend carnival while i was in south america. this has been one of the best decisions of the trip. the people staying at my hostel have been fun people to head out on the town with, the parties have been absolutely nuts, the brazilians are extremely friendly (and the women here are some of the most beautiful in the world), and i've basically been having one of the best times of my life.

but all good things must come to an end, and so tonight is the last night of the carnival parties, and the regular day-to-day life of rio will begin again tomorrow (albeit with a whopping hangover). and so tonight my hostelmates and i will head out to stay out until all hours -- there are more balls tonight, no doubt there will be more street partiers, and i'm sure that at least half of us will be contendly watching the sunrise on copacabana beach once more tomorrow morning.

a little side note: before i left to go to rio for carnival, i'd heard a story the carnival in rio wasn't a "real" brazilian carnival anymore because many cariocas (residents of rio de janeiro) didn't stay in town for the actual week of carnival, preferring instead to go to nearby beach towns to celebrate carnival. however, some brazilian friends have told me that in recent years the beach towns have gotten far too full, so cariocas are again remaining in rio for carnival. from my point of view, i saw far more locals than tourists here during carnival.

uh-oh... one of my friends at the hostel has just brought me my first beer of the day (a can of antarctica, my favorite brazilian beer). this means it's time to wrap up this blog entry! hope you're all having a great Fat Tuesday wherever you are -- i know i am!

February 26, 2007

it's almost time

Are we ever gonna get back to California
Are we ever gonna get back to California again?
Are we ever gonna get back to California
Are we ever gonna get back to California again?

say hi to your mom, "the showdown in goattown", from their album "Discosadness"

it's been just about a year on the road since this long journey began, and so far i've made it through six continents (only antarctica remains), 39 countries, and walked a hell of a lot of miles in my Pumas.

and it's been one of the best experiences (and years) of my life.

but i'm feeling that it's time for a change... no more living out of a backpack every day, dealing with dormmates loudly bursting in at 5am, dealing with a new language every few weeks, and all the rest of it. (on the flip side, that means not waking up every morning to a day of nearly-guaranteed new experiences.)

so i have one last grand adventure ahead of me on this trip, namely my visit to Antarctica, and then a gradual path northwards via Argentina and Guatemala over the next 6 weeks or so as i head back to a warm, welcoming bed in Los Angeles. and from there? after resting up, it's time to start travelling across the united states as i figure out what i'm going to do next and where i'm going to live!

this has all been laid out in my trip's itinerary for some time, but while i've been approaching the pre-planned trip end date (April 12), i've also recently started feeling quite strongly that it's almost time to head home and start living a life in one city again. it's a good feeling... like something inside me is waking up and realizing it's almost time to begin migrating north at last towards Home.

antarctica is a GO

i arrived here in ushuaia ("the city at the end of the world!") yesterday morning at 7:30am, bleary-eyed from my 5:30am flight from buenos aires and the sleepless night i had walking around the streets (and restaurants) of the city killing time until i was ready to head to the airport. good thing i waited in the city of buenos aires, because buenos aires airport has very little to offer the bored traveller at 2am. (i'd arrived in BA from rio at around 8pm, so i had about 8 hours to kill before my connecting flight to ushuaia).

after stumbling out the front door of my hostel (the aptly named FreeStyle hostel, which is suprisingly well-kept for a hostel and a great place to stay) yesterday afternoon after a brief nap, it turns out that located exactly across the street from the front door of the hostel was the travel agent recommended to me a month ago by some backpackers who had booked their trip to antarctica through them (they give you free rental of all the extra weatherproof gear you need to get in antarctica, which is a great savings).

since i'd been determined to not pre-plan my antarctic journey, and just show up in ushuaia and try to hop on a discounted last-minute fare for a ship leaving soon, i was a little nervous about whether or not i'd actually make it on a ship. but travelling solo means that i don't have to answer to anyone else when things don't work out, and i love just winging it and seeing what happens.

so i headed inside of the travel agency and after a brief chat, i left with a list of 5 ships with available berths going on tours of Antarctica within the next week that i could book through them. after lots of diligent online research, i finally ended up deciding to go with a ship run by the antarctic firm that had been recommended to me already by several people -- Quark Expeditions. i'm headed out on March 2nd on the Lyubov Orlova (my favorite feature: "There is a well stocked bar on board, staffed by a professional bartender, in the late morning, afternoon and evening.") for a 12-day trip down to the Antarctic Peninsula. i just picked up the confirmation papers and pre-trip documentation today, so it is definitely on!

i have no idea what i'll do for the next several days here while i wait to leave for antarctica -- but since there are a ton of nature-related things to do around here, i'm sure i won't be left without anything to do. and MAN, am i ever excited to visit the seventh (and final) continent of our planet and my trip.

About February 2007

This page contains all entries posted to gone living in February 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2007 is the previous archive.

March 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.