December 20, 2005

Into the nothingness of Patagonia

If someone had told me that I would be excited to hop on a bus to go over 1500 miles of gravel and dirt road in South America, I would have told them they were insane.

But of course, I actually was very excited to take a bus down the famous Ruta 40, to experience what Patagonia really was like, instead of flying over it.

Patagonia is an enormous region that encompasses pretty much the entire southern half of Chile and Argentina, and unlike the images that I had of soaring mountains and spectacular wildilife, was mostly flat and empty. The Andes gave way to shorter rolling hills, dry and shrubby patches of grass, some sheep, and not a single thing else.

The tour which would take us did not start off well. To make a long and annoying story short, the bus was delayed 8 hours, leaving at 3 pm instead of 6:30 am. Forty minutes after we started, I made the bus stop on the side of the highway, and ran off with a roll of tissue paper to a convenient bush. (Travel tip…do not eat meat stews that may have been sitting around for a while). But that aside, the ride was uneventful.

The most remarkable thing about Patagonia was the sky….I have never seen so much of it. It wasn´t blocked by anything, not a building, not a mountain, not electricity lines, not even disturbed by other cars. The cloud formations were so strange…given the high winds, they took shapes like paint smeared on a palette, thin and stretched, rather than white and fluffy. Because we were going far south, it didn´t get dark until midnight, sustaining a sort of twilight glow for hours after the sun went down.

My overwhelming impression of Patagonia was that of wind and of isolation. It felt lonely as no place I´ve been yet has. I could not imagine living there, and indeed, Argentina had to entice people to move there by giving huge parcels of land to anyone who would go. There were towns every 300 miles or so, each with populations under 2500. There are definetly more sheep than people. We dined on whatever food they had in the gas stations (ham and cheese sandwiches, empanadas), and shared dorm rooms with our friends Barbara and Ronald in hotels so crappy I don’t even want to relive by writing about it. We made our way further and further south until we reached El Calafate 72 hours later.

With little sleep and terrible lodgings, it was a real pleasure to be off the bus. Though I admit that bus travel was not as bad as it sounds…even though in the US I would never elect to take a bus for more than 4 hours (Boston to NY). I got to read, do some spanish lessons, and listen to music while watching the unchanging terrain whiz by. It was the free time that I never could find while at home. Wish I had my photos to organize into photo albums…

October 12, 2005

Feliz Dia de la Madre!?

Adding to the feeling of being in a time warp (I usually have no idea what day of the week it is anymore), it will be Mother’s Day this Sunday October 16th here in Argentina. It also happens to be my mother´s birthday, which in the US, is nowhere near Mother´s Day.

We are in Mendoza, Argentina, the capital of wine country, as well as the center of excellent hiking near South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua at 22,000 ft. The Andes are spectacular – on our flight, we could see the snow covered mountain peaks jut up through the cloud layer (Taken from the airplane window).

Also, it is Spring here, since we are in the southern hemisphere. People are just emerging from Winter. This is particularly weird, becuase I know it is October at home, the time of apple picking and brisk mornings. To add to my confusion, we just came from Panama and the Caribbean, where it is still a sweltering 90 degrees with 95% humidity.

In the the tropics, it was all spaghetti strap tank tops and flip flops. Here, people are walking around in wool coats, closed toe shoes and scarves. Wherever I am, it seems, I look somewhat odd, as I try to make my 5 shirts/3 bottoms work for every occasion.

I broke down yesterday and bought a pair of jeans, the single most versatile piece of clothing known to humankind. I hadn´t brought any with me, because all of the guidebooks commented that jeans were heavy, took up a lot of space in the pack, and took a long time to dry.

Screw that. I looovve my jeans. So, I am feeling a bit more normal now walking down the street, blending in a bit better with the populace.

I am constantly reminding myself that it is spring, and that it will become summer here. Flowers are in bloom, snow is melting in the mountains, and it is October.

October=April. I´ll get it soon enough. :)

September 7, 2005

Anxiety is…French class??

The last few weeks have been a blur of selling stuff, packing, throwing out things, shipping boxes, packing, etc. I am so tired of it all I am not going to bore myself any more by blogging on it. It’s been especially hard to say goodbye to friends and family.

We have made it to Houston, and today, I gave up my Massachusetts driver’s license and officially will have a Texas license…very odd. Of all the places I thought I would ever live, Texas seemed as likely as Nebraska or Utah…don’t ask. Anyhow, we were afraid that the Houston DMV would be packed due to all the evacuees from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, but it seemed to be as efficient as most DMVs…which means we still had an hour and a half wait.

I had an anxiety dream the other night. I was in high school, and sitting in one of those chairs with the desk attached. I was very clearly in French class. There was a guy on my left, and someone on my right, and they were telling me that I couldn’t graduate if I took a year off to travel. I remeber starting to panic, and flipping the pages of my notebook in front of me, and making plans to talk to the teacher and negotiate some sort of deal, yet knowing it was futile. I was also frantically trying to conjugate some verbs, but it’s been so long that that knowledge seems to have slipped out of my subconscious too. At this point, I must have been waking up, because I remember saying to myself, “Wait a minute. I’ve already graduated from high school.”, and then became fully awake because it seemed so ludicrous that of all places I could be stressed in (lab meeting, job interview, dentist, etc), I would dream myself in French class.

Anyhow, one week and I’ll be in Panama! Yikes! A few more things to round out the gear list and we will actually be on the road. Hope to have some more time to post a few more random thoughts.

August 11, 2005

Packing up is hard to do…

I will try very hard to record more in my blog than I have been.

Recently I read over my handwritten notes on my trip to China in ‘97 with my parents, and thought to myself, “Wow, this is really cool. I’m glad I wrote all this down!”, when on the very next page it went blank. The irony – I started cursing myself.

I am going a little nuts as I am simultaneously trying to:

  • pack and shop for a round the world trip without ending up carrying a house on my back
  • pack and shop for a 7 day hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro, with climates ranging from rain forest to artic tundra
  • get my husband to do the above
  • spend time with family and friends before we go
  • pack up all of our stuff for a move to Texas, and find unsuspecting friends and family to offload stuff on
  • sell everything else on Craigs List, eBay, and a yard sale

I am disproportionately proud of finally giving up and donating my wedding dress. I found a great charity that takes the proceeds from dress sales and helps terminal breast cancer patients. My normal pragmatic side (You’re never going to wear it again, your future daugter/daughter in law won’t want it either) was defeated for 6 years by my sentimental side. It was weirdly comforting and nostalgic just to know it was taking up space in my closet. Jonathan has been telling me this is silly – but I guess for guys, they rent a tux, then get rid of it by the end of the weekend.

Off to make more lists of stuff to do…

August 4, 2005

Guilt trip

“For a person who is unemployed, you sure never write in your blog or email”.

That was the message on my IM that appeared on my desktop last week from my friend Sandra. Ok, you’ve got me. Nothing like a little guilt to make me update my blog.

Unemployment not withstanding, I am ridiculously busy planning all the little things that go along with a long trip. The gear list is amazingly long, and the cool travel clothes/gadgets are so tempting, that I’m afraid I’ll end up with a 80 pound pack. At the same time I am trying really hard to organize/sell/get rid of everything we own. Friends and family members have been blitzed with questions like “Do you need any furniture? Anything at all? How about an palm plant?” So far, I only have solid committments from people to take an ice cream maker, and the make-your-own-beer kit.

Yesterday I got the first in a series of three shots to protect against rabies and Japanese encephalitis – ouch, both in terms of the shot, and in terms of the full cost of the immunizations, as my annoying HMO health insurance doesn’t provide any coverage. Still, beats having rabies or hepatitis or tyhphoid or whatever in a strange land! It amazes me that travel doctors actually ever go anywhere, knowing what they know.

I can not believe that I will be leaving Boston in 23 days. Things are starting to take on a nostalgic feeling – this will be the last time I have a micro sundae at Toscanini’s, or drive down Mem drive or listen to the rustle of the wind through elm trees. I am trying to eat as much watermelon, farm fresh corn and my mom’s cooking as I can. Summer in Boston is seductive enough to make me *almost* forget the misery of the winters.

May 22, 2005

Crunchy cookie, good omen

Fortune Cookie

A few nights ago Jonathan and I ventured to try a small hole in the wall Chinese take out place (I am usually vehemently against such take out places, as I have been both raised as a Chinese food snob and also due to hearing the stories my father told about such mom and pop places working as a chef). Alas, I was tired, had a throbbing headache and it was close by. The meal was pretty mediocre, but the fortune I got from the fortune cookie (pictured above) more than made up for it.

I really do feel like I am being given the chance to participate in a grand adventure. The one year round the world trip is an opportunity most people I know would love to take. Left to my own devices, I doubt I would do it. Actually, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t!

The people I’ve told about my trip so far have fallen into two camps – those that are ecstatic and excited for me, and those that just don’t get it. At all. I am somewhere in the middle – I’m excited to be sharing this trip with my husband, and seeing new things, though at the same time I’m a little apprehensive – though for the life of me I can’t say these fears are at all rational. The chances of my contracting some bizzare and rare disease is still probably pretty low, even if traveling in less developed areas. I’m sad to be leaving my work – I’ve really enjoyed my postdoc, and I feel like I am leaving some good opportunities and great colleagues behind.

At my wise and advanced age of 30, I’m beginning to see life as a collection of experiences. And I’m looking forward to this next year – I can’t wait to see how I’ll learn from my experiences.

May 4, 2005

Feeling super geeky

Just entered some destinations using the very cool Wiki tool on our travel planning site. This allows us to have all the notes and info for a trip perfectly organized and accessible to us both at all times…very handy.

Have to give it to my wonderful husband. (and no, he is not reading this over my shoulder) :)

April 25, 2005

Bloglines

Bloglines is a really handy way to read anything with a RSS feed, like my blog.