Monthly Archives: April 2006

I Have A Visa!

April 27, 2006
Day 211

I had to go back to the Paraguayan consulate three times today. The first time, I learned that my visa application had been accepted and I paid my fee. I was told to come back in an hour to pick up my passport, which I did, but it still wasn't ready. Finally, on the third try, I had it. Each time I went to the consulate, I had to push through hordes of people waiting to get nationalized. It was a pain in the ass, but at least it's over.

This afternoon, I made my plans to get out of Buenos Aires. I went to the bus station with hopes of leaving for Iguazu Falls tonight. However, I learned that because it takes 18 hours to get there by bus, the buses all left in the afternoon or early evening. I was hoping to leave at night. I ended up buying a ticket for early tomorrow afternoon and going back to my hostel to check back in.

However, in the time it took for me to go to the bus station and back, the hostel had filled up. I walked over to the hostel where I had stayed before, and met up again with Kathleen from my cruise. Tomorrow, she will fly back home to the US.

The hostel has free tango lessons every Thursday, and I was finally able to partake. A bunch of us took turns learning an 8-step dance for an hour. It didn't seem too hard, but then I found out that we only learned one tango dance out of about fifty that exist.

Everyone was excited after the lesson to be learning the tango, so we decided to go to a "Milonga," a place where actual tango dancing occurs. When we got there, the tango lessons were just ending, but they were starting salsa lessons, so we stuck around. Everyone at the club had various levels of experience dancing the salsa, and everyone in my group had zero, so it wasn't too intimidating. I think I stepped on about 100 feet, but it was still fun.

Paraguay Might Work

April 26, 2006
Day 210

With thoughts of Brazil way behind me, I began to focus my efforts on Paraguay today. The consulate had a huge line again just like yesterday. This time, I went to the front where a police officer was directing people who were trying to enter. Eventually, I was able to push my way past everyone else and tell the cop that I was there to get a visa. He directed me inside to a much shorter line.

I had to fill out a form stating that I wasn't going to look for work in Paraguay, but no return ticket was required. I'll have to pay $65, which seems like a lot of money just to enter a country where I'll be spending my tourist dollars anyway, but at least it's cheaper and easier than Brazil. I had to leave my passport at the consulate until tomorrow, though. At least it's looking like I'll be able to go to a new country soon.

Next Country: Paraguay

April 25, 2006
Day 209

The first order of the day for me was to make one last attempt at obtaining a Brazilian visa. I went back to the consulate when they opened at 10:00 and stood in a long line, patiently awaiting my chance to explain myself. When I got to the front of the line over 30 minutes later, I found out that my efforts were fruitless, for multiple reasons.

"You have to fill out your information in the computer first, then wait in this line," said the consulate employee. I wondered why the guy at the entrance told me to stand in line first, but as it turned out, that was the good news. When I started to walk away, the lady gave me the bad news: "Then I'll need your passport, one photo, your ticket to enter and leave Brazil, and $100 cash.

"But I don't have my ticket yet."

"Aren't you flying there?"

"No, I plan on taking a bus to Iguazu, then continue overland to the north. I'll probably exit Brazil in three months or so, but I'm not sure when yet."

"If you're not flying, you'll need a bus ticket into and out of the country."

"Didn't you hear me? I don't know when I'm leaving the country yet, or even where I'll be leaving from. It's called backpacking."

"Until you have the ticket, you can't go to Brazil."

I was too pissed off to say or do anything that might help my situation, so I left. I've been to 17 different foreign countries and have never been treated like this before. Still, I can't really be mad at Brazil.

There were no visa requirements for Americans to enter Brazil until about five years ago when the US government started charging Brazilians $100 to visit. The US government has long been notorious for treating all visitors like suspects in a crime, and Brazil has simply had enough and decided to to the same to Americans. It's really frustrating for me because I'm caught in the middle of two conflicting government bureaucracies, and I'm just a backpacker who wants to travel somewhere new. I guess I can cross Brazil off my list of destinations.

My next idea for places to go was Paraguay. Unfortunately, I need a visa to go there, too. On my way back from the Brazilian consulate, I stopped at the Paraguayan consulate. I decided that it probably wouldn't be worthwhile waiting there considering the line of at least 500 people stretching two city blocks. Back at the hostel, I learned that the line is there because this week, the Argentine government has agreed to legalize all Paraguayans who are currently in the country. Wow, this is my lucky day! It was already too late to try to go back to the consulate, but tomorrow I plan to try to skip ahead of that massive line on the grounds that I'm actually trying to go into Paraguay, not leave it permanently.

I'm Not Welcome In Brazil

April 24, 2006
Day 208

As soon as I got up this morning, I called the Brazilian embassy to ask about buying a visa. I got a recording that said they were only open from 2-5, so I had to wait a few hours. At 2:00, I walked to the embassy, but was told I just needed to go "across the street." That "street" happened to be 9 de julio, the widest street in the world! After walking further than a football field, including the end zones, I was on the other side.

When I got to the visa place, I was told that they were only open from 10-1 for Americans. Another day wasted. On top of that, I still had another worry: return tickets. Somebody told me a long time ago that Brazil requires you to have a ticket into and out of the country in order to buy a visa. I guess they do this to make sure foreigners will leave before they run out of money and become a burden to society. Of course I don't have such a ticket because I'm a backpacker. I'm going to take a bus to Brazil, stay there for an unknown period of time, and take another bus out of the country, from a location that I do not yet know. I could see myself staying in Brazil for two weeks or two months depending on how I like it. I've been traveling like this my entire trip without any problems so far.

Nobody who was at the visa place knew whether I actually needed a return ticket, but I was given another phone number to call. This time I reached an actual person, and was told that I did indeed need to purchase such a ticket. I explained my situation to the lady on the other end, but she was unable to provide me with a solution.

The best idea I could come up with was to try and buy a cheap round-trip ticket between two places on the Argentina-Brazil border. I wouldn't be able to use the ticket, but if it only was going to cost $5 or so, I'd go for it. With renewed vigor, I went to Retiro, the gigantic bus station of Buenos Aires, to try to purchase such a ticket. The ticket booths in Retiro are organized by geographic region, and the "foreign countries" region started somewhere around booth 180. I looked up and saw that I was at booth 1. It was a long walk.

I asked for tickets at five different companies that sold tickets to Brazil, but none of them would sell tickets from anywhere but Buenos Aires. The cheapest I could find was a round-trip ticket to Foz do Iguazu for $80, a ticket that I wouldn't even use. There's no way I'm going to pay $80 in addition to the $100 I already have to pay just to enter the country. I'd rather take my tourist dollars elsewhere if I'm not welcome in Brazil.

Tomorrow my plan is to explain my situation to somebody at the visa place to try and convince them that I won't stay in their country indefinitely. If that doesn't work, I'll have to skip Brazil and go to Paraguay instead. Of course, I could run into the same problem buying a visa for there, too. Isn't bureaucracy fun?

Late Nights In Buenos Aires

April 23, 2006
Day 207

The party last night was late, but not very significant otherwise. It was pretty funny when people kept asking me how long I've been in Buenos Aires and I would say, "2 hours." Before I knew it, it was 8:00 and time for me to get to sleep, but I was still really far from my hostel.

Someone told me that all I had to do was go left five blocks, then left again two more blocks to get to the nearest stop for bus 140. I didn't have a map, so I just had to walk and hope that the bus would come. When I got to the intersection that was described to me, I found a bus stop, but didn't see any signs for bus 140. Still, the sign that was up was damaged, so the part that said 140 could have easily been broken off, if it in fact existed.

A few other buses came and went, but there was no sign of mine. Normally, I would ask somebody if I was at the right stop, but at 8:00 on a Sunday morning, Buenos Aires is a ghost town. Not one person came within my view while I was waiting. Finally, I decided to walk another block to see if the stop happened to be there. As soon as I got to the next block, bus 140 flew past me and didn't stop because I wasn't at the official bus stop. I had to wait for the next bus, but at least I knew I was at the right place. 15 minutes later, I was on my way home.

On the way back, a new worry crossed my mind: Last night I was told that I could only stay at the hostel for one night. That night had come and gone, and checkout time was rapidly approaching. That meant that if the hostel was still sold out, I would have to pack up my stuff and look for a new hostel in a state of exhaustion after not having touched the bed I paid for. Luckily, somebody canceled a reservation and I was allowed to stay put for another night. I finally crashed at 9:00.

When I got up, I started to think about where to go next. After being in Argentina for about three months, it was time to do something new. North was the only logical direction, but that presented a whole new set of problems: visas. Americans need to buy visas for both Paraguay and Brazil, the next two countries I want to visit. I need to go to the embassies of those countries to buy the necessary visas, but of course everything is closed on Sundays. I'll try to get that taken care of tomorrow.

Time To Get Out Of Here

April 22, 2006
Day 206

Getting the hell out of Uruguay.

Leaving Uruguay.

Today ended my short stint in Uruguay as I headed back to Buenos Aires. First I had to take a bus to Colonia, then a ferry back to Tigre in Argentina, then another bus to Buenos Aires. Just like the trip into Uruguay, it was long and boring. I did get to see a nice sunset from the boat, though.

I got into town at 10:00 PM with hopes of going to a Couchsurfing party that was going to start in a few hours. I was able to find a hostel that had space somewhat near where I got dropped off, although I was told that it was booked out already for tomorrow night. I threw my stuff in my room, bought some liquor for the party, and got the party's location off the Internet. Everything seemed to be working out as planned.

Back at the hostel, I asked how to get to the party, which was on Tronador St. I knew there was trouble when the guy working at the desk didn't know where that street was. It turned out that it was far from the center of town. In fact it wasn't even on my map of the city. The hostel employee did some research for me, though, and told me that I could take the subway there. All I had to do was ride to the end of the line and walk about 13 blocks. It sounded easy enough to me, so I walked toward the nearest subway stop confident that I'd find the party without any trouble, despite the fact that I didn't have a map of its location.

When I approached the staircase leading to the subway, I noticed that it was rather dark. Then I noticed the locked gate at the entrance. I thought it was strange that the hostel employee would send me off to the subway if it was closed, so I figured maybe just the one station wasn't operational. (I later found out that the guy didn't realize I wanted to go there at night. Hmmm, it was Saturday night, I had a bottle of liquor in my hand, I told him I was going to a party, and handed him the address of its location. Yeah, I guess I could've meant that I was going to a party tomorrow afternoon. I'll try to be more specific next time.) Not knowing what to do, I walked six blocks to the next station, but it was closed too. I looked at the giant map of the city posted outside the subway station, found Tronador St, and estimated that it was at least 70 blocks from my present location. That's way too far to walk, even for me. A taxi was out of the question, too, because I didn't have enough small bills with me and it's impossible to pay for a taxi with a 100 peso bill, unless you feel like telling the driver to keep the change. I could have asked a local which bus to take, but they usually only know the routes of the buses that they take regularly to and from their homes, so it was unlikely that I could find anyone who could help. I appeared to be totally screwed.

Suddenly, I got an idea. I walked a few blocks to Cordoba St, a main street that cuts through town and has lots of bus stops. I got on the first bus I saw and told the driver that I was going to Tronador. As expected, he shook his finger at me. "This bus doesn't go there, you need to take bus 140." He then proceeded to drop me off at a stop for bus 140 free of charge. I patted myself on the back for finding out how to get there in a roundabout way. Maybe I'll use that technique every time I don't know where I'm going from now on.

The bus dropped me off on Tronador a few blocks from the party. The neighborhood looked incredible with mansions, nice cars, and private security galore. It suddenly became almost certain that nobody other than a bus driver would have known which bus to take to get there. Rich people generally don't ride city buses, after all. I walked into the party at 12:30 AM, just as it was getting going.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Punta del Este

April 21, 2006
Day 205

Picture of beach of Punta del Este.

The rough waters of Punta del Este.

It was nice and sunny today, so I decided to go to Punta del Este as planned. My day started off really nicely when I was on a city bus on my way to the bus station in Montevideo. A guy got on the bus with a guitar. There's nothing unusual about that in itself, I guess. In fact, it's hard to ride on a city bus for more than two minutes without somebody trying to sell you something. However, this guy played really well and I actually enjoyed his music. After two songs, he paid his fare with the money he collected from the people on the bus and got off. It's an interesting way to go about life: Play music to make enough money for whatever it is that you need at the time, then carry the guitar around with you until you need money again.

After an inconsequential bus ride out of town, I arrived in Punta del Este. I decided that I wanted to see the beach that the upper class of Uruguay and Argentina vacations in. The center of town was somewhat windy, but as I got closer to the beach, the wind began picking up. When I was almost there, I got hit in the face with flying sand. I could barely even walk close enough to see the shore there was so much debris flying around. The water was really rough and not one sole was brave enough to attempt swimming. I questioned why anyone would ever want to go to such a place. Of course it's fall here, so maybe the weather is more pleasant during the summer.

I got some tourism information at the beach, but everything was shutting down soon. All I had time to do was take another city bus to see "The Hand," a permanent art exhibit in part of the beach of a hand reaching up through the sand. It is probably the most famous landmark in all of Uruguay, and I was impressed by the simple-yet-unique concept of it.

Later in the night, I took a bus back to Montevideo. I'm definitely ready to get out of Uruguay now. Maybe it's because I'm traveling alone, but Montevideo seems dangerous to me. There's a lot more beggars in the streets here than in Argentina, and they are much more aggressive than any I've ever encountered. For example, on the way to a bus stop tonight, three teenagers asked me for a cigarette. I told them that I don't smoke, and they moved on. But two minutes later they returned demanding that I give them money. I told them no, but they persisted. It took about ten stern "no's" to get them to leave me alone. I happily paid the guy with the guitar this morning because he entertained me, but I'll never willingly pay people like the ones I encountered tonight. What have they done to earn my money?

The photo album for this entry is here.

Rainy Day

April 20, 2006
Day 204

Today I wanted to head off to Punta del Este, a beach resort a few hours from Montevideo. On my way to the bus station, however, it started to drizzle. Drizzle turned into rain, which turned into a torrential downpour. By the time I got to the bus station, I was soaking wet and the rain didn't show any sign of letting up, so I didn't think it would be worthwhile to go anywhere today. Instead, I ended up surfing the web for a long time and taking it easy. I'll try for Punta del Este again tomorrow.

A View Of The City

April 19, 2006
Day 203

Picture of statue.

A Egyptian statue tribute.

This morning I went to the tourism office to find out what to do in Montevideo. When I was here during my cruise, I basically just walked up and down the shore for a few hours, so today I wanted to do some more touristic things. I was given a nice map of the city and shown a few museums to check out. I also found out that there was a building somewhere in town with a panoramic view of the whole area.

The first museum I went to had a collection of ancient art. There were lots of Egyptian burial masks and mummies, Greek statues, clothed Roman statues, and even a few relics from the ancient cultures of the Americas. I was really impressed at first by the scope and importance of the artifacts on display. However, I later found out that most of what I saw were mere replicas. The caption for almost every exhibit said something like "Replica of a Greek statue. The original is on display at the Louvre, of course." Still, I think the mummy was original, and seeing the rest of the stuff sparked an interest in seeing the originals, at least the ones I haven't seen yet.

This afternoon, I figured out where the building with the view was. Asking locals for directions to such a thing is always frustrating because they have never actually been to the place themselves. I would state everything I knew about the place: "It's a big, modern, blue building somewhere in the city that has an observation deck," but I would get nothing but puzzled looks. Eventually, I asked someone who seemed to know what I was talking about and pointed me in the general direction of the building.

From about six blocks away, I could tell that I was on the right path. Although the building was only about thirty stories tall, it dwarfed everything else around it. In this city, it's not only A modern building; it's THE modern building. It was shaped like a sail, had several other smaller buildings and an amphitheater attached to it, and lots of people in business suits working in it. When I walked in, I was pointed to an elevator that took me to the top floor. The view of the city was nice, although I wasn't thoroughly impressed. To me, Montevideo is yet another big South American city. The model of the complex, lightning rods, and nearby structures like the old train station were nice to see, though.

While at the viewpoint, I was told that the building was used for telecommunications in Montevideo and that there was a museum in the complex that I should check out. After going back to the ground, I walked over to the museum. It had lots of key figures in the telecom industry like Morse and Bell. There were also phones from various times and places including some "Zach Morris" cell phones from the early 1990's. I was impressed by the whole setup.

Tonight I went to a restaurant to try some Uruguayan steak. I ran into the same problem I frequently had hit in Argentina: How to order my steak to be cooked. In the US, we have a 5-point system for cooking steaks (well, medium-well, medium, medium-rare, and rare), but in Argentina and Uruguay, there are only 3 levels (I'm not sure because I've never asked for "well," "a punto" or medium, and "jugoso" or juicy). I like my steaks a little rare, but not so rare that they could get up and walk right off my plate. Unfortunately, there's no way to order such a thing here. I've found that they usually overcook steaks here, so in the past, when I have ordered a steak rare, it's come back medium, which works for me. Not so this time. I got a two-inch-thick cut of beef that was bright red in the middle. It couldn't have been on the grill for more than two minutes. I thought about sending it back, but I convinced myself that it probably wasn't so bad. Having a liter of beer in front of me helped to wash it down, but I think from now on I'll stick with the medium setting with my orders. I'm assuming that charcoal tastes better than salmonella.

The photo albums for this entry is here.

Finally In Uruguay

April 18, 2006
Day 202

The day of going to Uruguay had finally come. I had to get up really early this morning to start out my trip with a bus ride to Tigre. I know, you're thinking, "Not there again!" but that's just where the ferry left from. The bus dropped me off, I went through a laughable backpack search at the Customs office where the officer put his hand in one of the pockets for five seconds before declaring my backpack "fully searched."

The ride across the channel to Uruguay was on a catamaran that seated about 100 passengers. It probably wasn't even half full, so I guess it was just a fluke that yesterday's ferry was sold out. The ride was uneventful for me because I slept the whole way.

After getting off the ferry, I had to go through Customs again in Uruguay. My backpack got "searched" again. This time, the guy unzipped my sleeping bag compartment, saw that I had some clothes stuffed in front of my sleeping bag, and closed it. Wow, that was tough. I got a 90-day tourist visa in my passport and wondered if, in the history of Uruguay, any tourists had actually used more than 14 of those 90 alloted days to visit the country.

I was in Uruguay, but I still had to get to Montevideo. The last leg of the trip was done on a bus. It was really hot on the bus, so I passed out as soon as I sat down. Between bouts of unconsciousness, I saw that there wasn't anything to see except a bunch of fields and a random house here and there. At one point when I looked around, I seriously couldn't see one person who was awake on the entire bus. In case you're wondering, the driver was partitioned from the rest of the bus, so I assume he was awake.

When I got to Montevideo, the first thing that I noticed was that seven hours had passed since I left Buenos Aires this morning. I wasn't expecting it to take nearly that long. I guess that's what made the company I went with the cheaper one. I opted to stay in a hotel as it would cost half as much as a hostel here. Apparently, there aren't a lot of hostels to choose from, so capitalism has driven the prices up. I walked around town a bit but didn't get to see much before the day ended.

The one thing I did notice was that people here take mate consumption to a whole new level. Mate is popular in Argentina, but it's mainly a social thing done in parks and peoples' homes. However, in Uruguay, almost everyone seems to carry their own thermos and mate container with them wherever they go. They even sip it while walking down the street by themselves! It must be the official national addiction of Uruguay.