Thursday, March 05, 2009

So what?

So I've spent the better part of a year and a half abroad. I'm working again in Omaha, waiting tables at a cool Italian place near my parents' house. What do I have to show for the last 18 months? Plenty

--I visited five countries: New Zealand, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Argentina, Uruguay and Panama

--I developed a taste for foods that I would never have touched just a few years ago.

--I made friends from all over the world, more than 50 countries. I still keep in touch with many of them.

--I have learned to not sweat the small stuff. I could have gotten quite distraught when I lost my wallet, shoes or camera case, but focusing on all I had going for me was better use of my time.

--Going into my trip, I was pretty self sufficient (don't you have to be to embark on a solo trip abroad?). But traveling, especially in China, has taken that to a whole new level.

--Building off the last item, I've really had to put my problem-solving skills to work. How do you get to a place, about which you only know its name, without any information about it and no one whom you can fluently speak to about it?

--I've seen some beautiful sights, including a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites: Iguazu Falls and Glaciers National Park in Argentina; Northwest Yunnan Province, the Great Wall, terra-cotta warriors and many others in China; Fiordland and Tongariro Park in New Zealand; the historic old city of Panama City. All amazing.

These are just a few of the things that have made this adventure totally worthwhile for me.

I have been giving a lot of thought lately about what I've enjoyed most during my time away. I hope to share my favorite moments and experiences here soon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Panama Canal

The canal was cool, though I only was able to see the last two boats of the morning. It would have been several hours before anything else passed through this set of locks (one of three sets in the 80-km canal).

From panama

From panama

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What an interesting week it´s been. I am now back in Panama City, after spending the last several days along the northern coast of the country. This post stands between me watching the latest episode of LOST, so it´s gonna be short. Sorry.

Brandon and Ashley very kindly let me stay with them for four nights in their three-bedroom house in Playa Chiquita. I haven't seen them since their wedding in June, 2007, so it was great to visit them.

Their village is a two-mile walk from the nearest bus stop, unless you´re lucky enough to catch a ride (didn´t on the way, but managed one leaving). The walk includes fording a river that´s about a foot or so deep. We spent half the walk in the dark, eager to get back that evening, rather than spend the night in a neighboring town.

The village is quite small...about 50 people. There are more now that school is out for the ¨summer¨ (non-rainy season). And even though it´s supposedly the non-rainy season, we got lots of rain. Unfortunately, I didn´t enjoy a nice day until after I left their town. The wind was fierce: it nearly tore part of a neighbor's roof off one night. We also lost electricity for about 48 hours. I came back on just in time--our ipods were dead and their laptop didn´t have enough power for us to watch any DVDs. We spent much of the time playing cards, Scrabble and the like.

The entrance of the village

From panama

Part of the town.

From panama

Their house

From panama

We attempted to see a major cultural event on Saturday night in a neighboring town. Congo dancing is very big this time of year, in anticipation of Carnaval. That night was particularly big, as they were crowning the local Carnaval queen. But it got going so late that we gave up and went to bed. Disappointed.

I spent the last two nights on Isla Grande, just off the coast. This island is a popular day trip for locals to go to the beach. It's fairly minimally equipped, with just a handful of restaurants and lodgings. It was nice to relax, read and enjoy some very nice weather, save a few showers.

From panama

Anyway, I´m back in Panama City now and have one night here (and a half, i guess--I leave at 3 am thursday morning). I´ll check out a bit of the town and see the locks tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting home and freezing my ass off. OK, the last part´s a lie. But it will be good to see everyone again. I will post some recapping-type stuff soon and probably some unpublished photos as well. Adios!

Monday, February 02, 2009

One last stop

I arrived this evening in Panama City, a seven-hour flight from Buenos Aires. Aside from about five minutes of pretty violent turbulence, it was a pleasant trip. My high school friend Brandon and his wife, Ashley, are here on a two-year post with the Peace Corps. They're stationed in a beach town north of the capital, so I will be doing a lot of bumming around the next week. And of course, I'll hit up the famous canal. Won't be any updates until I leave, I think, because they don't have Internet access in town. But I'll be sure to give a good update next week. More then.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Que malo tiempo!

Weather once again ruined my carefully (haphazardly) made plans. I stayed in Montevideo two days longer than I intended, which left me only one day for beachgoing. That particular day was mostly spent inside, avoiding the unrelentless rain and 30 mph winds. Oh joy.

The town, Punta del Diablo, was interesting though. Its single paved road is just the one that leads away. Everything else is dirt and sand. The lifestyle is so lazy, I got impatient (this coming from someone who´s done as little as possible for the last two months). No one is in a hurry and no one likes to work. People are happy to live in povery as long as they can smoke pot and surf.

Anyway, back in Buenos Aires. Rainy here today as well. But the weekend is supposed to be sunny, so it should be a nice ending to my time down here. Looking very much forward to my pitstop, which begins Monday. I should be enjoying some nice beach time in the next week and a half.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What´s left

I will be back in Omaha in 16 days: Feb. 12. There´s still a lot to do between now and then.

I´m heading along the Uruguayan coast to the east today. Gonna stay on the beach. Friday, it´s back to Buenos Aires for one last weekend. I plan to enjoy a beautiful steak one last time.

The on Monday... Well, once again, I´m not at liberty to say. I have one last country to visit before I make it back stateside. I have a good reason for going there as well; not so random as Argentina from China. I´ll let you know that it is in the Americas. It´s somewhere I´ve never been. And it´s meant to be quite the up-and-coming destination.

It´s not Costa Rica.

You´ll find out soon enough, anyway.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Truth be told, I´m looking forward to going back to the States. Time and again, I´ve been told how jealous people are of my travels. It´s been a blast. However, I´m jealous of them, too. Things like a private bedroom, decent knives and good friendships are hard to go without for so long.

I´ve spent all but two months of the last 17 sleeping in shared spaces. It gets hard. It´s nice to be able to throw your clothes and stuff around--stuffing it back into a backpack day after day becomes tiresome. And of course there´s the snoring, late-night returns by drunk bar hoppers, early morning departers who couldn´t bother to pack the night before and countless other annoyances. Just last night, some dude threatened to kick my ass because I insisted he turn off the light at god knows what hour of the morning. Unreal.

Hostel kitchens run the gammut. Some are absolutely abysmal, with handleless pans and knives that haven´t been sharpened since they were purchased 10 years ago. Some are quite good, with multiple stovetops and all variety of cooking implements (the one where I lived in Wellington was fantastic). I like to cook my own food, but usually I can´t be bothered. It´s a hassle. You have to hope someone left some oil or oregano, or you need to buy these type of ingredients, which you´ll leave or have to carry with you. Ultimately, this leads to really bad eating habits. The number of times I ate noodle soup in China and empanadas in Argentina would make a nutritionist cringe.

And finally, the social life on the road. For a long time, it was cool to meet people from all over the world. I´ve met folks from all range of nations. Ireland, Iran and India. Australia, Argentina and Austria. Iceland, South Africa, Estonia, Singapore, Indonesia, Colombia, Italy. The list goes on into the 40s or 50s, I´m sure. But these "friendships" are temporary and superficial. They´re more like drinking buddies than friends. And every day, it´s the same conversation, with new people: Where you from? How long are you traveling for? Where have you been so far? You don´t even ask eachother´s names until about three beers in, and you won´t remember it. This daily ritual has taken its toll on me. I don´t give a shit where you´ve been in South America. And of course, there´s all the stupid storytelling and oneupsmanship:

"And then to get from Lima to Cuzco, we had to take a 10-hour bus ride, but the bus broke down so it ended up taking 12."

"Oh yea? well, I took a 50-hour bus ride in Bolivia, and we had to get out and push the bus the last 10 kilometers."

Just whip em out guys; I´ll go get the ruler.

Once in awhile though, you´ll stay in a place for a bit longer and some other folks will too. You get past the superficial chat and get to know eachother. I have made some good friends on this trip, whom I keep in touch with on Facebook. But generally, it´s the same day after day after day.

It´s been fun. It´s been enlightening. It´s been challenging. But it´s been a long time, and I´m ready to bring some consistency to my life once again.

But hopefully not in a cubicle.


It´s always fun to go to a new country. Passport stamp, new money, different culture. Uruguay isn´t terribly different from Argentina though, in many respects. Food´s quite similar. Language also is similar. It´s small, though. Buenos Aires has a bigger population than the whole country. Montevideo is cool. Very European, like Buenos Aires. A bit worn down. Some beautiful architecture:

From Argentina

I don´t know why they put that godawful antenna on top, though. And for every nice building like that, there is one of these eyesores:

From Argentina

I have two more nights here in Montevideo, then I will check out a few other spots in the country, probably along the coast.

And how about a random photo? In Montevideo, and in a few Argentine cities, the recycling program looks like this:

From Argentina

The city´s poor patrol the streets, digging through trash in search of bottles, cardboard and other goodies to cash in for $$.