Friday, May 30, 2008

Que Onda Mexico?

As promised, I'm going to get caught up with everything before we get buried like we did in Argentina.

So, right now, we're in San Cristobal. Tomorrow night we take a night bus (our first in Mexico) to Oaxaca, where we'll spend the next six weeks.

Before we left Argentina, I had one final order of business to attend to: I was starting to look like a damn hippie, and I needed to correct the situation with a haircut and a shave. I keep letting my beard grow out while we travel because if I shave it all the way off, my skin gets irritated. And I hadn't cut my hair since the unfortunate near Bic job that the Thai lady gave me back on Khao San Road.

So I got an Argentine mullet.

All right, it's not really a mullet, but it's just a bit longer in the back than I usually find acceptable. Oh well. At least I don't look like an extra from Dazed and Confused anymore.

Our flight from Buenos Aires to Mexico City was pretty awful, but here's the reason it was all worth it: My first taste of tacos in Mexico. Even though these were just from some crappy stand at the airport, they were awesome.

We spent one night in Cancun, checked out the beach, found that it sucked unless you were paying $$$$ to stay at an all-inclusive, and quickly decided to head to Isla Mujeres.

Here's what we found there:

The beach at Isla Mujeres is spectacular.

Truly, it rivals even the best beaches we found in Thailand.

The only downside is that here we paid $40 per night for our room. In Thailand we probably averaged under $20.

The food, of course, was terrific. I've been craving Mexican food for so long (I've never gone this long without it before), I think I ate 19 tacos in the first two days.

These were particularly delicious. Asada, Pollo and Camarones.

This was a quesadilla, which was deep-fried and not all that good. I'm posting the picture because it's the first time I've ever ordered food that came with a plate emblazoned with a pithy, accurate review of the food it was holding. Unimpressive.

Ceviche. So good.

I was really close to buying the "Who cares asshole" T-shirt.

This dude scampered out of nowhere and scared the crap out of us. They're harmless, though. That is, if you consider flying, acid-spitting death lizards harmless.

I'm kidding, they really are harmless (I think).

This was a nice beachside snack: roasted pumpkin seeds with fresh lime, salt and chili. Really excellent, we will try to recreate this at home as an appetizer.

Just another ridiculous sunset.

Finally, a country that plays basketball! Manu Ginobili aside, it was near impossible to find a court, let alone a court with players, in Argentina. In Mexico they're everywhere. I gave these 4'1" 9 year-olds the schooling of their lifetime.

Nice dinner on Isla Mujeres with the largest portion of guacamole ever. That bowl was heaping when it arrived.

Our next stop: Isla Holbox (pronounced "holbosh"). It's less touristy and more mellow than Isla Mujeres, but strangely more expensive.

Food wasn't as good either, but we did find a place with pretty sharp margaritas.

And the hottest sauce known to man. The guy asked me if I wanted "salsa picante," and when I said yes, this is what he brought. WOW. After dinner he told me how it's made. Basically you puree habanero peppers with olive oil, salt and garlic.

Apparently a lot of the structures on the island were destroyed by a hurricane within the last decade, but you'd hardly know it. There were lots of colorful buildings with this kind of faded cool character.

People in Mexico drink a LOT of soda. They consume more Coke than any other country in the world per capita.

It's my dog in a box!

Next stop: Tulum. The beaches here are a lot like those at the Oregon coast: wide, with strong waves. The only difference is that it's 90+ degrees here so you can actually swim.

Although the conditions aren't quite as ideal as they are at Isla Mujeres, the setting is still postcard perfect.

There are also ancient Mayan ruins overlooking part of the beach.

Those Mayans really had the best real estate of all the indigenous peoples.

That's it for now. We're not completely caught up, but we're getting there. I should have plenty of free time in Oaxaca, so you can expect more within the week.

Until then, adios!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Final Argentina Post

Picking right up...

With the coca tea in our systems, we rallied the rest of the drive back to Salta and managed to get the car fueled and returned in time to grab lunch and buy tickets to Tucuman and, eventually, Iguazu.

Before we knew it, we were on an Andesmar bus with full Cama seats! We had tried to purchase Cama seats on our first overnight bus ride to Puerto Madryn, and did in fact pay Cama prices, but when the bus arrived, it only had Semi-Cama available. Since then, it had been all Semi-Cama, all the time. Too bad our first Cama ride was only going to be 5 hours long.

We arrived in Tucuman and grabbed a taxi to our hostel. There's a story there, but you'll have to wait for the book for this one. At our hostel, they were out of bedsheets for our private room, so we got a partial refund and moved to an empty dorm. The next day, at around noon, we got on another bus for Iguazu, perhaps our seventh or eighth 20-hour bus ride of the trip.

I was clean shaven at the start of the bus ride.

When we arrived in Iguazu the following afternoon the weather was cloudy and we were exhausted, so we decided to save the falls for the next day. We drank tons of Quilmes with an international crew of travelers at our hostel, then went out for asada. We made it home relatively early... one or two of the guys (including a funny Australian guy who spoke immaculate Spanish and knew all the Buenos Aires-specific slang) didn't get back until 4 or 5am.

We sort of partnered up with a German couple, grabbed a bus to the falls and headed straight for the Garganta Del Diablo. If you've been paying attention, you'll remember that that was also the name of the rock formation we visited up near Salta.

Approaching the largest single waterfall at Iguazu... you can see the mist rising all the way out of the crater from the force of impact on the rocks below.

There were still pieces remaining from an old, busted catwalk, next to the one we were walking on. This was reassuring.

Our first views of the edge.

Some facts about Iguazu from wikipedia:

- The waterfall system consists of 275 falls along 2.7 kilometers.

- The peak surface area of water falling over Iguazu is 1.3 million square feet. By comparison, Niagara is about 600,000 square feet.

- At one point a person can stand and be surrounded by 260 degrees of waterfalls.

So here it is, the Garganta del Diablo. A huge freaking wall of water.

I think this sign warns about kayaking over the side.

Trying to take in the whole thing at once. If you stare directly at it you almost get dizzy. It feels like something that big shouldn't be moving like that.

The German couple we toured the falls with.

The falls aren't the only attraction. The park around Iguazu is known for a great variety of flora and fauna as well.


And then there are these guys, the "coaties." They're kind of anteater-ish beaver/raccoon/cat things that prowl the park in search of tourists dumb enough to feed them.

They don't have to look far.

Thanks to the abundant supply of food, these guys are everywhere and totally fearless.

This poor lady dropped her bag for one second and the coaties were all over it. Luckily some old man knew to make a scary cat sound which frightened them all away.

Later her son was taunting one of the coaties with a piece of food and it started climbing all over his legs and up his torso, giving him a nasty scratch in the process. Hope you didn't get rabies, kid.

Back to the falls. After the Garganta, we did both the upper and lower loop hikes. It's difficult to capture the range of waterfalls, but we tried our best. Just imagine waterfalls as far as the eye can see.

Looking down on the lower catwalk from the upper one.

One of the larger falls (other than the Garganta). Check out the people on the platform about halfway down for scale.

After a full day at the falls, we bused back to town, grabbed a quick dinner and boarded our last 20-hour bus ride in Argentina.

The face of victory:

And with this post, we're almost caught up. We spent a handful of days in Buenos Aires, mostly repairing the damage Aerolineas Argentinas caused to our itinerary, and now we're in Mexico. Mexico updates to come in short order.