Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Elizabeth + David's Journal Nov. 19

After our dinner in Barajas and a quick return trip to the Iberia lounge for some alcoholic coffee and desert, we went downstairs to the boarding area for our 12:30a flight to Johannesburg. Shortly before midnight they began boarding with a group of about 10 teenagers. The gate agents proceeded to chat loudly among themselves, apparently unsure of what they needed to be doing. It took upwards of 20 minutes to get this first group of 10 people boarded. Convinced the process would now move more smoothly, we were stunned to see that all passengers were causing some sort of labor-intensive process for the gate agents. When it was our turn to board, they crossed out our carefully selected seat assignments and gave Elizabeth and me different rows. After Elizabeth told them in no uncertain terms that this was completely unacceptable, they moved us to new seats and we went down to catch our bus. Only once we were on the plane was the mystery revealed: they were reassigning seats manually because they had switched from a plane with 350 seats to one with only 200. The boarding process sped up some time later when they gave up on seat assignments completely, and we were on our way about an hour late.

We arrived in South Africa in the afternoon, and went directly to the hotel to sleep. After a visit to the American Indian-themed restaurant for some tasty burgers, we read up on our travel arrangements for our safari, which starts tomorrow. (!)

This will likely be the last update for at least a few days, as Victoria Falls is the only candidate on our safari for having internet access.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Elizabeth + David's Journal Nov. 18

We got out of Buenos Aires on time, which apparently was an exceptional happening where Iberia is concerned. The flight was uneventful, aside from the loud and obnoxious passengers around us, including the man sitting behind David who managed to bounce him about 6 inches out of his chair every time he stood up.

We arrived in Madrid in the middle of the day, and showered and slept at the Iberia lounge for most of the day. After catching up on our sleep, we hopped on the subway to Barajas, a nearby town, for some dinner. After wandering through the entire town, we settled on the Burgueria Cafeteria (and not just because their menu had a picture of the squid ink paella Elizabeth was craving). The place was packed with locals, but strangely only at the bar -- whereas every other restaurant we saw was just plain empty. We're pretty sure they don't eat in Barajas.

We can now officially check off the "Europe" box for continents visited on this trip, as well as the "Winter" box, as David's fingers were numb by the time we returned to the airport.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 17

Today is our last day in South America. Tonight we leave for Madrid, where we have a 10-hour layover, then depart for Johannesburg, arriving on the 19th. After that, we have a day in Johannesburg before leaving on our safari in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. We´ve liked South America (and I´d like to return to visit Patagonia sometime), but we´re very excited about the safari. It will last 10 days, so our next update may not be until around December 1st. I´m sure I´ll have a lot to say by then!

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 16

Today we took a full-day tour to a "fiesta gaucho." It included a bus ride to a ranch in the pampas, a horseback ride, a carriage ride, a museum visit, lunch, a tango, folk music, and cowboy show, and a horse show. We found the tour sorely lacking of authenticity. The ranch was made just for tourists, and accommodated about 500 of us all at once. David aptly dubbed it "assemby-line tourism." We were in and out of the horseback ride, carriage ride, and museum in about 10 minutes each, and lunch was a fairly bland BBQ menu in an enormous banquet hall. Still, we learned a little bit about the cowboys of yore, and liked watching the ring-catching tricks in the horse show.

We had planned a parilla (mixed barbecue) dinner and tango show for tonight, but we were too full for the dinner and were afraid the tango show would again be too touristy. So we just walked the area around Calle Florida for the evening.

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 15


We took it easy today, running errands like visiting the tourist office to plan the rest of our stay, updating our blogs and uploading photos. We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe on the Avenida 9 de Julio, where I had a glass of wine, a garden salad with chicken, a coffee, and cookies for about $5. We also walked around Retiro, just peoplewatching and window shopping the afternoon away. We had a simple pizza dinner near the hotel, and went to bed early.

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 14


Buenos Aires is certainly larger and more intimidating than Santiago. From our 22nd floor corner suite at the Sheraton (we lucked out because the hotel was full), scattered skyscrapers stretched as far as we could see, and the traffic looked notably more chaotic. We decided to catch up on email in the morning, and take a city bus tour in the afternoon to get our bearings.

The 3-hour bus tour gave us a very good overview, visiting Retiro, Recoleta, Palermo, San Nicolas, San Telmo, La Boca, and Puerto Madero. Our favorite stop was the Recoleta Cemetery, with its narrow aisles between opulent tombs and spooky, dilapidated areas with cobwebs, caved-in ceilings, and views into piles of coffins in basements. The worst stop was probably La Boca, the neighborhood where the tango was born. It has houses painted in vibrant colors, murals, and lots of energy, but it´s all for tourists nowadays, and we couldn´t walk 20 feet without a souvenir hawker approaching us.

Along the way, we liked some of the public art, like the huge flower sculpture made of airplane parts that opens in the morning and closes at night in the Plaza Naciones Unides, the mix of elaborate old architecture and swanky new lofts, the many parks, and the monument to Argentina´s independence. Some unintentional attractions were the most intriguing though: abandoned, burnt-out cars and rusty boats in the non-tourist area of La Boca, and a street protest near City Hall. Our tour guide didn´t explain it to us, but we later learned that the mayor had just been impeached because the public held him accountable for a deadly nightclub fire. The protest was peaceful, but hundreds of police officers lined the street just in case.

By stange coincidence, one of David´s suitemates from college was in town, so we had dinner with him, his wife, and his sister at a restaurant that served huge slabs of beef. About ten different mini-salads came with each entree, plus a bunch of condiments and sides like roasted garlic cloves, applesauce, squash, and potatoes. The price of an entree at this fairly fancy restaurant? About $8. We went to sleep so full that I dreamed about food all night.

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 13


On our last day in Santiago, we took a long walk west along the river to the Mercado Central, a bustling seafood marked, for lunch. We ordered a grilled octopus appetizer and a "chef´s special" seafood soup. The octopus was good, but the soup was a little hard to stomach. We got about two pounds each of mixed shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, fish, sea urchin, octopus, and lots of unidentifiable stringy stuff, almost unseasoned in a light clam broth. We struggled through all the fishy flavors and resolved to mask the aftertaste with gelato.

We had to rush back to our hotel to leave enough time to make good on our gelato promise and catch the shuttle to the airport, but I still found time to buy a llama finger puppet along the way. We flew to Argentina in the evening and arrived at our Buenos Aires hotel near bedtime.

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 12


Today we breakfasted at a gelateria and ventured out into the suburbs to visit Chile´s largest winery, Viña Concha y Toro. We were nervous about navigating the public bus system since our travel guide had warned tourists of its potential to confuse tourists, but everything went smoothly, and the bus driver kindly announced our stop for us. It wasn´t the most luxurious transportation, but the price was unbeatable - about 75 cents for a ride over an hour long.

The winery is on the old Concha y Toro family estate, with a late 19th-century mansion and beautiful gardens. The business operated in some modern Italianate buildings that reminded me of Napa wineries. After walking the grounds, we got to taste two wines, a 2004 Castillo de Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1989 Don Melchor. We also got a sneak peak at the devil that lives in the cellar, a legend intending to scare off superstitious local wine thieves. Our biggest source of amusement was an old man on the tour whose pushy and annoying behaviors made him the laughingstock of the group. He came of well though - he managed to steal three extra tastes of the more expensive wine.

We stopped at a shopping mall on our way back to Santiago. It was huge, pristine, upscale, and incredibly crowded. Christmas decorations were already up, and it felt strange to see them in the 80+-degree weather.

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 11


Today we took an epic walking tour. We started at the Universidad de Chile, southwest from our hotel, then strolled through Paris y Londres, a tiny neighborhood with cobblestone streets and European architecture. Our lunch break was at McDonald´s, which we do exactly once per country. (Curacao was boring - just like the US save for the fact that about half the adults there ordred Happy Meals.) Here, we found the burgers to be dissapointingly similar despite interesting names, e.g. McNifica. Like most cafes in Chile, it had a good dessert menu, though, including a much broader array of sundaes and even churros.

We next went to the Pre-Colombian Art Museum, which was a mistake given the fact that we were full of fast food and ready for a siesta. There was a good weaving display, but only in Spanish; some 7,000-year-old mummies; and paintings and pottery from a confusing array of cultures spanning all of Central and South America and many thousands of years. We walked through briskly and found ourselves outdoors again within an hour.

Our next stop was Cerro Santa Lucia, a well-cultivated forested hill with a castle and a number of winding staircases to scenic overlooks. We took pictures from the top and enjoyed the shaded paths. But we were still drowsy, so we stopped for coffee and fruit juice at a sidewalk cafe, where I took an inadvertent nap in my chair. I woke up thoroughly when we walked through the crush of clothes shoppers in the Bellavista neighborhood next.

Our last destination for the day was Cerro San Cristobal, the high hill overlooking the city and topped with a church and huge statue of the Virgin Mary. We took the funicular up, and though this was our third stop of the day with a scenic view of the city from above, we weren´t bored. This was the highest vantage point by far, there was a cooling breeze, and the snow-capped Andes were clearly visible despite the smog. We took a gondola, or teleferico, across the park and down the other side, then walked back to our hotel along residential streets. We were so tired, we decided to skip dinner. Besides, we found surprise free champagne and truffles in our hotel room, and dinner would have paled in comparison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pictures!

Finally got the first batch of pictures uploaded -- gallery links in the sidebar.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Santiago

Unlike Curacao, Elizabeth and I had no idea what to expect in Santiago. What we found was a very modern, liveable city.. It had a good subway system, but was also very walkable, with miles of parks lining the major east-west thoroughfare. From a tourist perspective, we didn´t find much -- we mainly wandered around neighborhoods, went to progressively higher places to look out over the city, and took one trip out of town to a winery (on public transportation!) I´m at a crippled computer in an internet cafe at the moment, so I can´t upload photos -- will do that soon.

In case you´re reading in order, you should go back in time to read Elizabeth´s journal entries.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 10

Santiago was a very pleasant surprise. I had read that it was one of the most polluted cities in the worldl, and that it had few tourist attractions. Both may be true, but it seems like a very liveable city.

We arrived at 9am to a shiny modern airport. The information desk was a pleasant contrast to Curacao, and we walked away from it with a very good city map, recommended walking tours and instructions for booking a winery tour. We took a quick, cheap, and clean shuttle to our hotel, dropped off our laundry at a laundromat almost next door, and retired to our room, a suite, for a long nap.
In the afternoon, we walked along the riverside park that runs the length of Santiago East-West and passed the cafes and bars of Providencia. Chilean cafes are a dream to me - lots of fresh fruit juice, coffee, and sweets, and tasty sandwiches and salads too, all at reasonable prices, and with nice patio seating. I had a raspberry juice that was absolutely delicious.

I loved the long, green park, the spring weather, the pedestrian-friendly avenues, the clean streets and buildings, and the way that grown-ups here unabashedly order multicolored, multi-scoop gelato concoctions on a regular basis. Yes, there was smog - laid out like a blanket beginning 50 miles away from Santiago - but there was really nothing else to complain about. It´s a beautiful city.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 9

Our one goal for today was to do laundry before catching our flight, but we didn´t accomplish it. First we slept in. Then we had a breakfast feast that we had bought the night before at the grocery store - melba toast, unidentifiable cheese, caramel coffee cake, coffee, and assorted foreign soft drinks. By the time we left the hotel it was noon. We then proceeded to get lost several times while approaching the laundromat, then found that it was full-service and the woman there didn´t speak English. (This was somewhat of a shock, since we had become accustomed to people jabbering fluently in Dutch, English, Spanish, or Papiementu, whichever language their audience preferred.) We eventually found two other laundromats, but by that time it was too late, so we whiled away the time before our flight writing postcards at a waterfront cafe. Hopefully we´ll find a laundry in Santiago - I´m on my last outfit.

We made a symbolic goodbye to Curacao and the tropical island life by leaving our snorkeling flippers behind at the airport.

Curacao


Well, Curacao was pretty much as expected. Gorgeous beaches, (some of which were totally deserted,) awesome snorkeling, interesting wildlife, and general laziness. A great start to our whirlwind trip. More news later, when I'm not at an Admiral's Club with a 15 minute time limit. =)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 8

We celebrated our last full day in Curacao with yet another snorkeling expedition. This time, we used the phone book as our guide and picked Playa Lagun, a beach where we had watched kids diving off boulders a few days ago. Aside from a man who seemed to live or work there, the beach was deserted this time, and the rocks along the edge of the cliffs there hosted the most varied marine life we had seen yet. We chased squid and watched them change color, found a tiny squid that shot ink at us, and found a giant (2-foot?) blowfish lurking under a rock. We swam through schools of tiny fish, followed a group of purple angelfish, and even saw a lobster hiding in the coral. We were so entertained that we were surprised three hours had passed when we finally emerged from the water.

We celebrated our last night in Curacao with a dinner at Hook´s Hut, a restaurant with tables on the beach. While we were waiting for our entrees, we watched lights moving under the water, then had the surreal experience of seeing four night scuba divers rise out of the water right in front of us to visit the dive shop next door. The food was good, especially the big bleu cheese chunks in the salad and the mayonnaise on the french fries. And the beachside atmosphere, with kerosene table lamps and live music, couldn´t have been better. It was an immensely satisfying day.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 7

We took advantage of the better weather today by strolling the streets of Willemstad, shopping, buying tropical smoothies, and, of course, snorkeling. This time we headed to a full-service beach, Jan Thiel Baai. As usual, we got lost along the way, and our scenic detour took us past Caracas Baai, with a beautiful fort overlooking the ocean, and the only fancy houses we had seen on the island. Jan Thiel Bay was crowded with about a hundred people. We had a pamphlet that listed it as beeing both good for families and suitable for topless sunbathing, and though we found that combination funny, we saw some of both.

Despite the crowds, we saw great fish almost as soon as we got in the water. As soon as I put my mask in, I saw two large flounders shuffling along the bottom, with eyes bulging out their top sides. We later saw a bat ray there in the shallows too. When we chased the ray, it shot off into the distance in a flutter.

Next we went north to Playa Porto Marie on the recommendation of a dive shop employee. It had a beachside bar, plenty of lounge chairs, and two ¨snorkeling trails.¨ We found better sea life when we left the trails to explore the rocks at the beach´s edge, and stayed there until sunset.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 6

Today was a rainy Sunday. We decided to go to Willemstad to look for something to do, but all the businesses were closed. We ended up at the Kura Hulanda Museum, the only attraction that we could find with Sunday hours listed in any of our tourist pamhlets, and with a decipherable location. We were almost the only people there, popping in and out of the tiny exhibit houses showcasing topics from ancient Near Eastern texts to evolution, to local dollmaking. There was little information on Curacao, but an interesting account of the West Indies Company and the history of slavery. The slavery exhibits were complemented by essays describing black American history, but they were very poorly written and light on hard facts. Still, the museum was good overall, and the rain had stopped by the time we were done with it.

After the museum, we snorkeled from the hotel beach and watched the sunset from the beachside pool.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 5

Our goal for day 2 was to use our newfound aquarium knowledge to identify fish while snorkeling. By this time, we had a few different lists of good dive and snorkel sites, and Playa Kalki at the west end of the island was in all of them, so we decided to visit it first.

The water was so crystal clear that I sometimes lost the sensation that I was submerged and felt the urge to pull my mask off. And there was only one other couple on the beach. Fish life abounded right by the shore, but the best was further out, among some healthy, multicolored coral stands that sloped into the depths of the ocean. Snorkeling here was better than Mexico and the Cook Islands, and the fish life was a little better than Moorea too. I dived until my ears ached, and we picked out a polka dotted boxfish that almost let me kiss it as our favorite specimen.
Near Playa Kalki we also saw our first Curacao bird, brilliant yellow with a loud cry, and dozens of lizards that rushed off the road as we approached. The lizards ranged in size from a few inches to about a foot and a half, with white polka dots on their backs and brown bodies with long greenish tails. They seemed to be everywhere. It rained while we were snorkeling here, but we were so preoccupied with the fish that we hardly noticed.

After a couple of hours at Playa Kalki, we toured the beaches heading southward. Groot Knip was large and sandy, but crowded. Klein Knip was more secluded, and the snorkeling was good, but not as good as Playa Kalki. David saw an eel and a bunch of squid that I missed. We watched kids playing in the water at Playa Lagun and Playa Forti, took a picture of the sunset at Playa Santa Cruz, and then headed back to the hotel.

Still unable to locate any restaurants on the map, we asked the front desk for a recommendation. They were unhelpful, but a hotel guest directed us to a Thai-Indonesian-Mongolian place that turned out OK, though expensive like everything else here. We found it easily despite directions like, ¨Turn left on a street I don´t know the name of, turn onto a dirt road, wind around, go through a gate...¨ We ordered rijstaffel, an Indonesian variety plate. Service again was slow - David had to ask for water four times from two different waitresses. So we´re still working on being more laid back.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Elizabeth´s Journal Nov. 4


The island unveiled itself for us the next morning. We could see the ocean from the edge of our balcony, and the water shimmered blue from the two private beaches. The weather was windy, so we didn't swim, but peered off the edge of the cliffs and saw a school of pencilfish below. We took the car downtown to see the picturesque Willemstad - both Punda and Otrobanda - with its brightly painted buildings and narrow roads. We got more of a scenic tour than we had intended, though, since our map was missing lots of roads, and glossed over the shape of curves and intersections (traffic circle? light? fork?). Signage was similarly lacking.
We lunched in a French-style cafe where I had a carambola (starfruit) Sizzle, a soft drink that comes in a clear plastic can. Desperate for a better map, we then visited the tourist office, but it proved a disappointment. No books, no good street maps, no beach maps, and few brochures in English. (We were never able to find good tourist resources during our entire stay.)

Since the water was still choppy, we opted for a visit to the Seaquarium, a top tourist attraction, next. It was small and relatively run-down, but still a valuable resource for learning to identify fish. We watched shark, fish, and lobster feedings with just a few other tourists. The surprise highlight of the experience was when the docent invited us into the sting ray tank to help feed them. We waded in and found that the rays liked to swim through our legs, and had a soft, silky feel. When they ate, they lowered themselves onto the food and sucked it up gently. We both got a few unexpected pecks from flamingos too, when we weren't watching our backs and splashing them away.

After the aquarium, we returned to the hotel to watch a dance show and have dinner. The dances were what one might imagine of a Caribbean colony of a European country - an odd mixture of propriety and stiffness, with hip wiggling and pizazz. Dinner was remarkable only in the slowness of its service. I think we still need to adjust to "island time."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Elizabeth´s journal: Nov. 3

At around 5pm the night before David and I left, things were looking good. We hadn't packed yet, but we had finished our shopping and errands, and knew basically what we were going to bring. We both took breaks to have dinner with friends, and didn't really get started packing until 9. Surprise! Getting everything in order took longer than we expected, and somehow we didn't finish until about 2am. We got a couple of hours of sleep, and were sure we had forgotten something when we boarded our taxi for the airport at 5-something in the morning. But we remembered all the important things - passport, tickets, money and credit cards, camera, battery charger. After all, what more did we really need?

Our first day was spent in a sleepy transit haze. We first flew to Dallas, then San Juan, and spent the flights sleeping and watching the Fantastic Four. As we flew over the Caribbean Sea, we noticed dark spots in the turquoise water that looked like coral, or tiny islands. Eventually David realized that they were in fact just shadows of clouds. The head flight attendant to Puerto Rico charmed me with a corny patriotic speech and a mini-tour as we landed. We were there for only a couple of hours, but I was struck by the way that Puerto Ricans fluently switched back and forth between unaccented American English and seemingly perfect Spanish.
We arrived in Curacao after dark, rented our dinky Toyota Yaris hatchback, and made the drive to the Hilton without incident, despite the near-total lack of road signs. As we went to sleep, we wondered what this place would be like...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Archived India Pictures

They´re still available here..


Loyola Grounds outing




Strangers





TU Cricket Outing






Trip to Coorg






Elizabeth's visit to Bangalore






Trip to Brigade Road





All-hands Party




TU Candids II





Bangalore (through 8/5)




TU Candids





A day at the Ropes Course





Second week in Bangalore





First week in Bangalore