Friday, January 20, 2012

"When I'm sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead"

I may come off a little as bragging, but you can just deal with :-). I'm also not really thinking about grammar, you can deal with that too :-D.

It's amusing to watch TV an see places I like to go, and have been to. Currently House hunters Int'l is on. I just watched a family looking in Hong Kong for a new apartment. Now it's a Norwegian who's moved from the arctic to Cairns, Australia. I really need to research this whole immigration thing, or get a new job. She's apparently a worker in a travel agency. Guess there's a shortage of those in Oz. And to the HK families... why would you not pick the 65th floor apartment with the view of the airport. That's a dream home... well, for an aerosexual.

A lot of things I've seen, or even read, and brought back travel memories. The sandstorm in the Latest Mission Impossible seemed a bit unrealistic. But free climbing to the 116th floor of the Burj Khalifa is totally plausible. Another weird coincidence is a book I'm reading. I bought it for the trip to South America, and it's about a sort of mercenary type woman who's asked by friend to retrieve his daughter from a cult. It's the sequel to a book I read on my month long sojourn to Asia last year.

The surprise though, I opened it up on the plane heading south and chapter one begins with "Buenos Aires, Argentina". Interesting. I'm almost through it now, but it was interesting to read a thriller set in the city that you're simultaneously visiting. When the author describes an area or street or landmark and you were just at said place that morning.... well afternoon since I tend to sleep in.

That's one of the beauties of travel. You can more easily picture locations described, or can understand the culture described. It doesn't have to be exotic, but it's good to get out and see the world... and meet new people at random from strange places. Then of course you should go visit these strange places, so not to seem rude to your new friends. It's a vicious cycle, but an awesome one.

In other news, I'm still slugging it out with BofA on the condo. After I walked away from their demand for an increase in price, they came back lower. My last and final offer is in, with a small demand for immediate action, no more 3 month waits. So, we'll see. I think they're sufficently convinced I'm not bluffing and will walk away, and they can start anew continuing to hold on to a property at a loss for a few months. The again, they are a bank who gave loans to people with no way to pay them back...

That's about it, I suppose i should get ready for the work, then a weekend. I'm hoping for some inspriation to clean and declutter my apt. Laters.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Don't Cry for me Argentina

Like everyone didn't know that would be used as the subject line for this one.

I've been trying to figure out to write something about the last few weeks, stretching back to Christmas. It's been a busy whirlwind of a time of highs and lows, and not just in elevation and latitudes.

December was ridiculous busy. Between trying to purchase a new home, the peak rush at work, and the general Christmas time chaos that seems to ensue no matter how much preparation is involved. After three six day work weeks, I took off for ATL for a quick weekend and holiday gathering at the Lewii residence, followed by a quick trip back to SDF for some OT and final push to Christmas eve and the road trip back home. I can't relay how satisfying the 10 hours of sleep at night was, or how good the bacon mom cooked Christmas day tasted. After the family time, It was off to visit with friends and deliver more gifts, and then the long drive back to Louisville. Arriving just in time for a short nap and go back to work. At least that week ended with a vacation.

New Years eve found me looking at two weeks off with only a vague idea of going somewhere. I spent NYE in Atlanta with friends, and apparently walked out in the middle of a rap video shoot on Peachtree St. How women wear such tight clothes I don't get, or how they don't feel exposed. Then again, that might be the plan. But NYE was fun and filled with festive behavior, and pizza obtained from a random delivery guy in an elevator. What sort of hotel doesn't have 24 hour room service on New Years ? Answer: the Atlanta Hilton. (Which was also filled with Auburn fans and players for the game formerly known as the Peach Bowl).

So, the first of the year rolled in pretty well, but I was still indecisive about the rest of my vacation schedule. The South America expedition I had planned was faltering under the unexpected costs. For some reason, I expected it to be way cheaper there. I was wrong. Prices on some things were cheap, sure. But other costs were mounting higher than I wanted to spend (with the impending home purchase). First to be cut was the beach weekend in Uruguay (seriously, $40 a night for a hostel bunk?). Locating accommodation in Buenos Aires was also coming in slightly higher than budgeted. I was almost the point of just calling it quits, until flipping through channels I landed right in the middle of "Don't Cry for me Argentina". I took that as a sign, finished packing my bag, and got some sleep. The next morning, thanx to the generosity of the Lewii, I used a buddy pass for the first time and headed off. Yes, flying in jeans and drinking like the general public... it's a new thing. I even had to ask the ticket counter agent for help checking in. The last time I used a nonrev ticket on Delta I was wearing a suit and tie (required) and had a paper ticket.

The quick flight to Atlanta was the usual nonevent. Then I had a few hours of airport appreciation time that was made much nicer by visits from Charity and JoHnathan. After a couple beers, I boarded a 767 heading south... eventually, after they spent an hour trying to get the movie system to work (it came on over Miami). At least I was in a business class seat :-).

Landing in BA, i got the first surprise of the trip. As an American, there's a $140 fee to pay to get in. Yup, that's awesome. Apparently that's the fee we charge Argentines to enter the US. But now I'm good for 10 years... unfortunately my passport expires next year. Oh well. Grabbed my bag and walked out hoping the hostel shuttle hadn't left. It had, and lo another 2 hours or airport appreciation time till the next one.

There's something about long haul flying that makes me want to shower immediately upon arrival. Could be the close proximity to others, the recirculated air, or just the general feeling of funk after wearing the same clothes for close to 24 hours. But, after the waiting for the shuttle, I found out I couldn't check in for a few more hours. So, I stashed my pack and went off to explore.

I had chosen the HI Florida, and in my old age I sprung for a private room. The hostel was located in the Microcentro, pretty much right downtown on Calle Florida, a pedestrian shopping street. Stores lined both sides, with full on shopping malls, while street vendors sold wares off blankets in the middle of the street. I walked down to a cafe and had a cafe con leche, which became my drink of choice for the next few days. The first impression of Buenos Aires was it was like some one transplanted a European city, but let it run down a bit. Lots of graffiti, lots of just general grittiness. But not the third world level of grittiness. After a quick bite and coffee, and soemwondering, I amde my way back to check in... and crash for the afternoon. THe other thing about long haul air travel, I always want a nap when I get there. I woke up later, took a cool shower (the aircon wasn't up to Dubai or Thailand levels of coolness), and set off to find dinner.

I thought steak was in order and there was a "reasonably" priced Parilla nearby in the San Telmo neighborhood according to Lonely Planet. It was delicious. A fillet the size of my head, and a bottle of wine for about $30. (I didn't intend to order a whole bottle, I thought the price was by the glass.... a pleasant surprise).

After dinner, I continued to check out San Telmo. This is an older part of town, and it shows its age. I couldn't tell if some buildings were abandoned or they were just going for that abandoned look . The stone streets eventually opened up to the Plaza Dorrego, where (at 11pm) a bluesy band was busting out some Jimi Hendrix covers. After settling at a table in the plaza, I ordered a concoction that was similar to Sangria but made with white wine. So the pitcher of white wine with bananas, apples, kiwis, and strawberries floating about hit the spot.

The next day was more aimless wandering about. I ended up at the Cemetario de La Ricoleta. The rows and rows of tombs are pretty awesome to see. Old colonial families, the founders of Argentina, and of course Eva Peron rest there in some pretty ornate tombs. Unfortunately, I didn't charge my camera battery, so the only pictures from the day are form the iPhone.
That night I headed to a Tango show in San Telmo. The show was very entertaining, and I was almost inspired to try and learn the dance. Best can tell is there was a lot of random kicking involved. I was coaxed into learning a short lesson from the dancers by a friendly family of South Africans. It's like people everywhere know I can't say no to a pretty blonde. The steps weren't too terribly tough, maybe I can do this tango thing after all. Obviously not on the show level. And bonus, I have a new friend to show me around Cape Town when I get down there.

The next day I ventured down to el Caminito in La Boca. This area was the original settlement, and like San Telmo, was abandoned by the well to do during a malaria outbreak. After falling into poor shape, this paticular street was revitalized by some artist types, to the point that the building are art now in their own rights. The streets are lined with people selling stuff and cafes (or resto-bars) with their own tango shows going. There i met a Brazilian couple (Rodrigo and Julia) and a Scottish couple visiting. Many Quilmes later, I'm planning to visit Brazil for World Cup with a new friend as a guide.

And that is why I like traveling. You meet some really interesting people and make new friends in far off places. That rocks.

Sunday I learned something else about Buenos Aires, the "Subte" or subway, doesn't always work on Sundays. Oh well, in an attempt to broaden my cultural base, I stopped by the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (or MALBA) to check out some modern art. FOr the most part, I don't get it. But i can admire pretty colors or creative drawing. ANd of course, an multi-floor tangled bench.

After MALBA, I walked through Palermo, a large neighborhood northwest of downtown. The neighborhood reminds me a lot of well to do urban neighborhoods in most cities. Nice houses, upscale boutiques, lots of resto-bars and cafes sprawling out onto sidewalks. After a pint at Sullivan's Irish pub, I checked out the stalls at the Plaza Serrano. Lots of random goods, and a cold Stella at a sidewalk cafe made a nice afternoon. I found a bar, Sugar, showing football. And populated by loud Bengals fans. (American of course). I will say that Sugar has the award for best service I found. Generally wait staff there doesn't run about checking and rechecking like most US establishments. Here, the girl was never still.

The next morning, I checked out of the hostel and moved over to the BA Hilton. This was the last night I planned to stay in Argentina, so I checked into the hotel we use for our crews. I got into my room, dropped the gear (dirty backpacker checks into a 4 star hotel, all eyes on him), cranked up the A/C, and headed over to the Buquebus terminal for a ferry to Uruguay. You know, since I'm there I might as well get another stamp in the passport, a big half page size stamp. Not sure why Uruguay feels the need to do that.

Anyways, the afternoon was spent checking out Colonia del Sacramento, the oldest city in Uruguay and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town had a very pirate town feel, and again lots of cafes shops. AFter the afternoon of wandering, eating (rice with scallops, shrimp, and calamari... yum!), and drinking.. I was back on a boat..AND... it was going fast! After going back to the hotel, (where disappointingly my room was not meat locker cold), I left a note for my outbound crew basically saying don't forget me, and headed back to San Telmo for my last giant steak. And it was good.

After dinner, I passed by a British themed pub, and had an epiphany. This is how I'm going to decorate my "mancave" should I ever have one. It had the feel of an old "Explorers Club" with old maps, and scenes from around the world, wood paneling, and big overstuffed leather chairs and couches. I really dug it. I also discovered that it's harder than you can imagine to get a foreign brewed beer. You can get Stella, or Warstiener, or Budwieser, but they're all brewed in Argentina. There were taps for Guinness and Kilkenny and others, but not used.

The last day, I slept in late in preparation for the all night flight to Bogota. After a walk around Puerto Madero, and nearly passing out in the heat (104F), I met my crew and headed off to the airport. The spoiling part about flying home like this is some one meets you at the terminal door, and walks you past the lines of immigration to the front of the security line. Otherwise, we'd have to be there 4 hours earlier. We left BA on time, only to have to turn around and come back for a mechanical problem. Was repaired, and off to Sao Paulo we went, and then on to Bogota.

This trip was very unorganized and kind of seat of the pants. The things I had planned to do months ago just fell by the wayside, and for the most part I just ended walking and finding things of interest near me. Not a bad way to see a place. It fit the bill for a warm weather destination in January, though I prefer a beach. And I think the Southeast Asia prices have spoiled me. And I managed to check off continent number 5, Africa is next.

Coming back to Louisville, real life kicked me when I got off the plane. Cold and rainy, my first two text messages were a reminder of a dentist appointment and a message that my condo offer was rejected by BofA (the mortgage holding bank) and they wanted more money. So, they can go find themselves a new buyer. And the house hunt starts all over again. I ended the vacation with another trip down to Atlanta, to deliver schwag and see the recently repatriated TanJoe Roberts. As always, the Lewii graciously put me up (Grace ain't just her name :-).

Tonight I go back to work, I'm thrilled... or not. It's schedule bid time for the next work year coming up, and I'm fairly sure I'm not gonna like my options. Here's hope for winning the lottery before then :-).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Breathing in Bogota

Bogota, Colombia

Didn't spend much time here, but my little foray out today was amusing. Once again, the was a conversation with a taxi driver where I think we both got about 50% of the gist. I did learn that he likes café con leche better than negró and while he thinks the women here are beautiful (they are) he thinks those in Cali are even hotter (not his words).

The Lonely Planet says the country has made drastic improvements as far as crime and random kidnappings of foreign nationals over the last few years. And while I briefly thought about a trip to the main plaza, sleep and lunch by the hotel seemed a better idea. I did manage to venture around two different malls while here, and other than the difference in pricing and language, I could have been in at US mall.

The drive around didn't seem too harrowing really, the area seemed very suburban and middle class. That being said, private security seems to be the largest job sector here. The large mall across from the hotel , Unicentro, had multiple guards at each entrance to the parking lots with handheld metal detectors. I only saw them stop one person and I'm not sure why. After getting past the gates, there's another layer, albeit less numerous, of guards at the actual doors. And of course, roaming patrols inside. Seems like the utmost in safe shopping experiences are expected.

The hotel has similar measures in place, with dogs and men with mirrors checking every vehicle going into the parking deck. Once inside, the lobby is patrolled by three (that I saw) guards with the small earbuds, as if El Presidente was expected to arrive at any moment. Ironically, this isnt the most draconian security I've seen at a hotel, that goes to the Kuwait Hilton or the JW Marriott there, the latter complete with a Hummer mounted machine gun at the driveway entrance.

Still, Bogota may get a repeat visit someday. I've gotten past the lightheadness of the altitude (8600 feet above sea level) and have seem to have lost the dizziness. I think it may have been the beers I had with lunch that helped. That stuff is a miracle drug. There is a restaurant/sports bar next door simply named BEER. They have a wall that was wallpapered simply with different coasters from different brands. I found some inspiration in that idea and may replicate it someday.

I didn't feel threatened at any point personally, no more than any other city in the world. So, that's about it from Bogota. It's about time to head back to the airport for the last legs to MIA and then SDF. I'll post some stuff about the rest of the South America Excursion when I get home. Until then, hasta!