Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 21: 6/25/11....Sunset on the Andes

      Well, if you look at the post date of this one, you'll see it took me almost a month to wrap up this blog. It's 'cause I'm now traversing the USA and rarely in one place long enough to post. But here goes!
     The last day of the trip (other than the flight home which was completely uneventful.) The day was pretty much a perfect cap of the whole trip. Not boring, but not hectic - just mellow and yet full of Peru-ness.
     Good old Mario. He's the main driver for the hotel, and dropped me off and picked me up from town every day of my stay in Cuzco. My plan for this last day was to drive (be driven) through the Sacred Valley, which is a set of towns and ruins from Cuzco to Macchu Pichu. The hotel guys told me that a personal driver was the way to go for this. Very alien to me. But it turned out Mario was available, so I felt really good about it, because he's really cool. We couldn't communicate hardly at all, but it worked out fine. He was amused by me saying "beautiful" all the time, so he started saying it, too.
     The first stop was not expected by me, but I guess Mario knew I'd like it somehow. It was an animal rescue. It didn't sound all that interesting at first, but they had a lot of uniquely South American critters. My favorite of all was a very ugly dog that was held sacred by the Incas. He looked like a nuclear mutant but he was just as sweet as any other dog. I stayed at the shelter too long, but I ended up getting a bunch of souvenirs to bring home as well as for myself. They were extremely grateful about the amount of money I spent there, even though it wasn't much to me. They appreciated that I did all my shopping there because the profits would go to the hideous dog. Awww.... ain't I a great guy? Yes, I am.
      We stopped here and there for some more ruins - some that were very cool and would have excited me more if I hadn't seen so many that week already - but what I enjoyed much more was just seeing the small towns and the daily life of people.
     We grabbed lunch in a small restaurant in one of the larger, more touristy towns. I remember a whole lot of flies. But also a "beautiful" ceiling of orange flowers on the back porch where we ate. One thing was odd: when Mario was talking to the waitress / hostess, he suddenly turned into a much more serious and macho person, treating her very imperiously. Odd.
     Afterwards, there was an uncomfortable moment when it came to paying for lunch. I was like, "Well, I hired him for the day - but to drive. Does that mean lunch is included? Or is he going to pay for himself? What sort of Peruvian protocol is involved here?" I ended up paying, and in the end I realized I was worrying over like 5 bucks.
      Soon after I started seeing The Mountain. It was just a snow capped Andes mountain that stood out because of it's interesting shape. I don't think there was much more significance to it than that, but I found my attention being drawn to it over and over. I think I was just eager to see more of the Andes than I had. Really I hadn't seen much at all. I would have seen more if I'd gone to El Calafate, and I guess I was slightly let down that I hadn't seen all the craggy snowy mountains I'd imagined. Cuzco is high in elevation, but for some reason the area has now snow on the mountains. Just dry, I guess.
     Early in the visit, I had been cynically positive that all the native Peruvian dress was strictly for the Gringos. But towards the end of this last day, driving in the boonies, I definitely saw that it was legit. People do dress that way on a daily basis - which is very cool to me. There was a moment when a herd of sheep and llamas was being driven along the road and parted in front of our stopped car, surrounding us from all sides, driven by a shepherd in traditional dress. It was one of those foreignly exoticky moments that really made the day special for me.
    There were a couple final stops on the ruin tour. One was a site that I thought was the salt mine we were going to see, but turned out not to be. I'm still not sure what it was, but it looked cool. And then there was the actual salt mine. It was very cool, but it was too late in the day to explore it in detail. That was all right, because it looked great from the top of the mine valley, but probably not as interesting from down in the midst of it.
    "Cuzco?" "Cuzco". We were ready to go "home". As we went, my eyes said their final goodbyes to The Mountain. The Mountain disappearing over the edge of the Sacred Valley was a bittersweet but perfect way to say farewell to South America. (For now!) The rest was all footnote. That Mountain fading away is what I consider to be the end.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 20: 6/24/11...Macchu Macchu Ma-an

    I'm not going to try to describe seeing Macchu Pichu, because it's one of those things that would take a gifted poet to try to transcribe it into words. It was another of those feelings of being confronted with something way beyond the context of your normal experiences. So I'll just stick to the usual script.

     I really wanted to get up for the early buses so I could be up top before sunrise. I was pretty pleased with myself that I was able to wake up at 4 to get in line, which was already long by 430. I didn't need to be right up front, because the real rush was for people wanting to climb this other part of MP, which only allows the first 400 people per day. It involves very thin paths hugging the side of a cliff, so I wasn't worried about missing out. Uh, I mean, RATS! I REEAALLY wish I would have been one of the chosen 400! UGH! I can't BELIEVE I didn't get to do that. I totally would have. BUMMER.
     Having medically put my digestive system into pharmaceutical lockdown, I was ready for the bus ride up with little fear of jumping off the bus and violating Inca holy grounds. The ride up was pretty amazing. We started off in the dark, but as the bus grinded up the snaking road the light began to brighten by barely perceptible increments and the mountains materialized into view. When we reached the top, the sun was still down but it was just bright enough to see everything.

     Thankfully, the top is not Disneyland at all. There's a small lodge, a bathroom, a restaurant, snack area, and that's about it. That's all you see when you get there, so it's not like you see all that marring your view of MP; you don't actually see MP until you go through the ticket area and around a bend. Once inside there's no modern structures or anything. So the whole thing is preserved wonderfully. If not for all the other idiots, it's pristine.

     Before I got in, there was a really funny yet awkward event. First of all, thank Apollo that this woman was not American. WHEW. This woman - who I never even looked at in order to avoid any possible involvement - started YELLING as they started letting people in. I'll try to recall exactly what I heard. Keep in mind I only heard her voice and not any authorities.


     This lady was pretty upset about her spirit drum. Spirit drum?? Spirit drum. All I could think was: Ok, this sounds pretty hippy / new age-y. Isn't that all about, like, vibes, dude? Like, good, like, vibes, dude? I was wondering: How many bangs on the spirit drums would it take to negate all the bummer vibes she was disrupting our auras and silver threads with? Also: to what Tradition does her spirit drum belong? How does she know that the Incas would be mellow with her spirit drum? How would she like it if an Inca God barged into her Womyn's Earth Mother Tantric Yoga Drum Circle and started demanding still beating hearts out of respect for His belief system? "I WANT TO SEE THE RULE WHERE I CAN'T TEAR HEARTS OUT OF THESE WOMYN!"

    Sorry - I'm actually making fun of people who are annoying but not as annoying as other people who I haven't given equal time to. It's the drum lady's fault for making a fuss and earning a place in my memoirs here.  She wasn't the last irritating person I'd meet this day. But the sheer awesomeness of MP continually wiped such things away effortlessly. So vibes were reset to groovy.

    When it was my turn to get in a reasonable question was posed to me: Where's your ticket? Um. In the hand of the person I'm about to give money to? RRT. Wrong. You don't have a ticket? (Gate people display variations on disbelief, confusion, "it's going to be a long day" faces....)  Me: NNNNDDDUUUUH(breath)UUUUHHH?????
      Turns out you have to buy a ticket BEFORE the bus. What the hell? At DISNEYLAND they would make sure you had a ticket in addition to your bus ticket before they even LET you on the bus! There would be signs with helpful cartoon characters pointing. Wait. Why wouldn't they just lump the bus and MP ticket into one package? It's not like there's more than one stop on the bus. "Just a bus ticket please. No, no MP ticket. I'm just going up to see if there's an Old Navy up there or not."

     It's hard for me to believe that I'm the only one in recorded memory to have made this mistake, but they acted like I was. I was asked to step into an office that looked like any other office but in my state of mind looked vaguely police-ish. There was a guy who was friendly, which of course made me nervous. He acted like he was trying to solve a very difficult puzzle. He pointed to an empty desk and said the person would should be sitting there could help me. I'm, no joke, watching and listening very carefully for a cue that I should start some of that shadowy "bribing" stuff you hear about on TV. It sure felt like an elaborate setup for that. I was panicking - no so much about having to bribe, but about the etiquette. How does one bribe? What is the protocol?

     He seemed to find a solution. He asked for my passport and some cash. SURE. Is this how it goes? He came back and explained that he could give the money and my passport info to the person who wasn't sitting behind the desk later. I was waiting for the big *WINK* but in the end I got the feeling that everything was legit after all! Maybe after the drum lady they just didn't want any more hassle.

    If you've seen Willie Wonka (Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp) and you remember the people all coming in and seeing the chocolate river and Oompa Loompas for the first time, set to the "Pure Imagination" song, then that will give you some idea of turning the corner to see Macchu Pichu. As I said, it's too impressive to relate 100%, but I'll bet the kids in the chocolate factory would understand.
     Sunrise was outstanding. I just sat there watching the colors and light transform the mountains and MP. I was able to get some pictures before people got into every nook and cranny. I was glad there were no spirit drums going off. I bet she would have chanted, too.

     Once again, I just wanted to experience the place rather than take the guided tour and find out facts. So that's what I did. I tried to avoid crowds, but there was a section at the top that I had to check out. This was the location where the Inca astronomers would mark the solstices with a sort of sundial. It was too bad that this was just 3 days after the actual solstice. But when I thought about it, it must have been a freak show with a whole bus load of drum ladies. Maybe that would have been entertaining in itself, though.

     I'm going to have to compartmentalize the thoughts that came next into another post, because it's going to be a sizable rant. For now, let's just say I became enraged by the people sharing this place with me. First was the wacky photo posing, then the mouth breathing lardasses waddling up to snap a lovely cell phone photo for their Facebook page. But then (ringtone) no. (ringtone) NO. (ringtone) "Hello?" NOYOUDONOTTALKONYOURGODDAMNFUCKINGCELLPHONEONMACCHUPICHUYOUSTUPIDFUCK!!!!

     MP is a great place to "accidentally" knock someone over a cliff. I was very, very, tempted. I had to go and take a time out in a less popular part of this once sacred place. It took me a while to recover from that episode. You see why I hate people?

     Thank Odin there were llamas. After some further explorations, I found llamas! I'm not exactly sure why they were there or under whose authority. They were tagged, so they belonged to someone. But they were free to roam on the grassy terraces and munch away. Like cows, they had no interest in anything but eating, so I was able to get really close for pictures and groping. People were impressed with my bravery, but I was willing to suffer spit and poop for the sake of experience.

    After that the plan was lunch and rest. I had arrived at first light, and I intended to stay until closing. So I wanted to sit out the sunniest part of the day - especially in light of (hah) my sun poisoning.

    Since I had chosen to blindly follow paths and passages rather than follow a guide, I really didn't know what I was getting into when I got back on my feet and started walking in an interesting direction. Soon, though, I saw that I was on a path that led to some sort of lookout above MP. I kept going.

    Pretty soon I realized that the path I was on was not that less scary than the one I had passed on early in the morning. It was: cliff / 4 foot wide path / whoknowshowfar drop. I was WAY out of my comfort zone. I was hugging the wall and fighting a losing battle against looking down. It went on and on for well over an hour, going higher, higher, higher. Finally I reached the top and I felt like I had slain a dragon. I couldn't believe that I had made it up such a frightening (for me, anyway) path.

    So I had struggled against a mighty fear of heights, lack of depth perception in my eyes, altitude sickness, etc., to reach this exalted goal. But then at the top there was this adventure group whipping out champagne. The guide was this "dude" type who seemed to be living in a Travel Channel episode. "I know this moment must seem awesome after what we've all been through for the last 4 days, dudes! Ya DID it! WWOOOO!!!" Me: yaay. i rode a bus.

     On the way back down, which was not that much easier or less terrifying, I met a very tired dog. Another hiker guide nearby told me he had seen her in the area a lot recently. Hikers would feed her and she would just jog up and down the trail looking for handouts. I sat down and pet her for a little bit and promised if she went back to MP with me I'd get her a hamburger. She actually did follow me most of the way down, but I don't know where she went towards the end. I was kinda glad because the hamburger stand was closed. If it wasn't for all the travel obstacles I really think I would have taken her home. It felt like fate was trying to make something happen there.

      It was time to go, the last bus was heading out. Despite spending a whole day there, I would have liked a little more time. But it was a really great experience which I'll never forget.

      Down went the buses, choo choo went the train, back in the seat to head back towards Cusco. Before the train pulled away, though, another fracas. A woman's voice, but hard to pick up what she was saying. All I remember is "YOU DO NOT FUCK WITH PEOPLE LIKE THIS!" and the word "TRAIN!"

     On the ride back I spoke with a woman from Prague who was very nice. She didn't know who Jan Svankmajer is. (He's a surrealist animator from Prague.) We talked politics, and she let me know, asking politely for my pardon, that most people in the Czech Republic think Americans are, well, kind of stupid. Hey! Only 95%!

     After the train, there was another hair-whitening taxi ride, and I was dropped off at the main plaza in Cusco. Amazingly, I was able to see the tail end of some of the Inti Raymi festival! This is the Inca festival for the Winter solstice. What I got to see was this strange sort of musical / vocal / dance event where several groups, all with their own costumes and banners, would try to outplay each other. They had their own theme, and it was sort of a mix between a battle of the bands and an endurance contest. I couldn't tell who the referees were to decide the winner. But gradually the "defeated" groups would leave the square until there was only one standing. I didn't agree with the outcome.

    I saw some suspicious looking characters in the crowd and realized what a perfect pick pocket occasion this was. So I moved along. There was even a guy who collapsed. I don't know if it was a pick pocket diversion technique, but I hope not.

    Well, that pretty much sums up an amazing day!   

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 19: 6/23/11...Let's Talk Poo

   Ugh. What was it? Altitude sickness? Nasty pizza eaten by the fist full? Sun poisoning? Dehydration? New Peru Doo-doo Flu? I don't know. Any of those, or any combination, or an Inca curse for disturbing their outpost. I was unwell.
   Regardless, this was a day to recover from the previous one. I did have to move on if I wanted to see Machu Picchu the next day, so sucking it up was called for.

   A bus ride was my first adventure. Driving in Peru is really insane and chaotic. But it's a little fun, too. It's entertaining to see the risks the drivers take - as long as you ignore the fact that your life is at stake. There are a lot of speed bumps in the roads around Cusco, and I was compelled to sit in the very back, where the bumps were way more severe.

    The bus ride ended in Ollantaytambo, which was a quaint touristy town. I really liked it a lot, and sort of wished I had chosen to stay the night there in my original plans. If I go back, then I will. There were a lot of adventure travel types there for rafting and other activities. But the main attraction is the fact that the train leaves from there to Machu Picchu.

    I had lots of time to kill before the train, but I was so ill and tired that I couldn't bring myself to climb into the ruins. I figured I'd have to choose between these ruins, which did look pretty cool, and Machu Picchu. I just didn't have the strength left to do both. So I just relaxed, unless I had to use a bano, which was very frequently.

    Peru is a bad place to have a troubled digestive system. One thing that I feel totally grossed out by here (and sometimes in Argentina, too) is that you're expected to put your poo-ey paper in a trash can instead of flushing it. Ick. Do I really want to open a trash can that quite a few people have deposited their..... No, I do not. Also, you normally have to pay for this privilege. So my difficulties were further complicated by all this.

   After dark it was train time. I searched anxiously for a rest room on the train as it pulled in and prepared to take us on board. Thankfully there was one, and I called dibs on that seat. (Not really, because I don't know Spanish for "dibs".

   The train was uneventful. After we disembarked, I found the guy who was sent to take me to the hotel. He pointed at Machu Picchu, which I didn't see at first. But then I could see a barely visible outline high above me, along with a few light spots. I just said "whoa". I was seriously in awe, even though I had only caught a preview.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 18: 6/22/11...seck-see WOO-mahn?

     Prepare for the most epic day of the trip. So much to remember. To start with, this is the day where I was at the highest altitude of my life (with my feet on the ground). 12,800 feet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be at that height again.

     Cusco is surrounded by Inca Ruins. There are a set of 4 connected by a road that goes right up one of the mountains that surround the city. So that was the plan for the day – to get dropped off at the top and walk down past each of them. It’s about a 45 minute drive up, and the taxi cost me all of 5 bucks!

     The top ruin, Tambomachay, seemed to be pretty interesting, but small. It was in a nice location with running streams and amazing views. There were some paths leading away from the paved areas. Some of them said “Don’t Enter” (I supposed) but some didn’t. None of the paths looked official, but the fact that some were marked as forbidden and some weren’t made me curious. So I started off on one.
     Let me say – usually I follow laws and rules pretty obediently. I also don’t really consider myself a risk taker at all. But something about a path – especially one that appears to not be well-traveled, drags me forward and around the bend. It’s a vice that I’m not sorry I have. But if someone wanted to kill me, a mysterious path and a trap would be all that it takes.
     Over the first hill, after looking back to see if anyone was pointing and about to say “Hey!”, I saw an Inca ruin built into the cliff wall in the distance. Now it was a done deal, and I set out.

     I kept telling myself that if there’s a path, someone must walk on it regularly, and there’s no sign saying not to take it, then it’s all cool. But really I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing this.

     For the most part the path stayed pretty easy to follow. It was only about a foot wide or so, and hugged some steep sections of the hillside. There was tons of llama poop – so I started to wonder – is this path used and or created by people? Or just a track that llamas like to follow? But every once in a while I’d see a human shoe print in the dust to keep me confident enough.

     There were squared-off sections of land but nothing planted in them. But it didn’t take me long to see that the ruins I wanted to get to were on the opposite side of a valley and stream. So I started to look, in vain, for a path that would head down to the stream and hopefully a bridge.

     I started hitting some dead ends, and some paths that faded off, as well as those that seemed to go up instead of down. During one of these retracing of my steps, I heard: “baa-aa-aa”. I looked ahead and saw a shepherd dressed in Inca clothing with a herd of sheep, on this thin path about half a mile away and heading towards me.

     A terrible spectrum of dooms opened up before my mind: I would soon be dodging gun shots after being mistaken for a poacher. / The guy would go get the cops. / The llamas would drive me off the mountain. / I would drive the llamas off the mountain and I’d owe him a llama herd. / It was his land and I was trespassing and I’d have to marry his ugliest daughter. I looked despondently at the still distant ruins and turned tail, crouching as I double-timed it back down the path.

     I just couldn’t give it up, though. There had to be some way across the stream to the ruin which was now on my way back but tantalizingly across the stream. I saw something similar to a bridge but couldn’t see how to get down to the path below that went to it and across to the other side. So I decided to head cross country to it.

     There was just some grassy slope to go down. No big deal. Except SLIP. Didn’t realize it was wet. Some mud is just “Eww, my shoe’s dirty” and some mud is “Here we go down the mountain in brown butter!” This was the 2nd kind. I was just hurtling down on my ass with no hope of stopping until I just did. Well, I was closer to the stream, but now not fit to be seen in public. And also covered in evidence of my unsanctioned explorations.

     There was nothing to do but sludge ahead. I was on the other side, though, and closing in on my goal. The shepherd behind was nowhere to be seen, so I supposed that I was OK. But then I see llamas coming from the other direction! It was like a special force of livestock was tightening up a perimeter around me in a cruel game of cat and mouse.

     I decided I would try to lay low, holding my tripod which – it suddenly occurred to me – might look like a gun from a distance. But very quickly there was a pissed off border collie flying up the hill right at me, barking and yapping and growling at me. It stopped a few yards away and looked down the hill, still barking as he did. I followed his gaze, and he was looking down at his masters, who were on the opposite hill and taking no apparent notice of me.

     The dog was basically keeping between me and the livestock – so I believed that as long as I stood still, and the shepherds didn’t sic the dog on me, I would be OK. He was a pretty well trained dog after all! Once the herd passed, he rejoined them, and I moved cautiously on. But after a couple minutes, I realized I’d left my tripod back there. I went back to get it and the dog started after me again. But the herd was far enough away that he didn’t feel the need to come back the whole way, I guess.

     Finally, covered in mud from the waist down, my secret mission exposed by a border collie, I came upon the Inca hideout. There wasn’t a whole lot to it at all. But it was ancient, and I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I was. So I felt pretty good about the whole thing. Mostly because I was the only foreigner in sight. No other tourists had dared to embark on this quest – comfortable on their air conditioned buses and having brochures read to them by guides – brochures which probably didn’t include my private Inca fort. My muddy butt was a badge of honor!

     It was pretty simple to get back to the “official” part of the ruin site. Luckily, the way I came back allowed me to skip past the guard station in the front, so I didn’t have to catch any hassle from The Man. Another good thing about it was that I got to see the main ruin from a different angle, and I could see the jealous faces of the bus riders. “Hey! Howcum HE gets to be on that side?”

     I also was able to walk through a regular-people village. It was a little impoverished but not really that bad. They seemed to find me a little out of place.

     I sat down to have some water and granola bars, and was visited by a timid and hungry dog. I shared my granola bars with him and we had a good chat.

     Along came a Swedish or German woman who appeared to have her own personal Peruvian guy. I couldn’t tell if he was her guide or just someone she hired to carry her stuff around. She was the first of many to ask about my pants and to have a laugh about it. She had pants worth discussing as well, but the man/mule might have also been hired to repel unwanted attention.

     Right down the street was the second ruin site, called Pukapukara. I really am usually curious about the history of these sites, but the fact that I couldn’t read the signs and wouldn’t get any info without a guide sort of freed me up to use my imagination. I could pretend I was an explorer who stumbled upon these ruins with no previous knowledge available to explain them.

Some of the young girls had some questions for me:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     After exploring a bit, it was time to walk down the mountain toward ruin 3, Sacsaywaman. I was soon joined by a really friendly local guy, and we tried to converse despite the language difference. The gist of it was this:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     I stopped at the side of the road to get a water from a lady with a stand. After buying the bottle I said:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     Finally I met someone who wasn’t quite as interested in my pants. Walking down the mountain, I pass this kid – about ten or eleven – lying in the grass and singing something. It was hard to tell if he was hiding behind a bush or just using it for shade. As I neared, he rolled up. I was just intending to say hi and move on, but he started talking to me. He gestured toward Cusco and said a word that sounded like Cusco, but I don’t think it was “Cusco”. But I said “Mm hm. Cusco”. He tried again. No comprende. No habla. Then he says, “You like seck-see WOO-mahn?” WHAT?

     Like I said, this kid is like ten or eleven, just lying in the grass by the side of the road near a farm house. I wasn’t prepared for a PIMP! He asked again and I said, no, gracias. Then he said “You want horse?” and gestured to some horses tied up nearby. Still surprised, I was thinking, “I hope he’s not suggesting…..” I just backed away slowly and kept on moving downhill.

     While I was still processing all that, I passed this teenage guy who was definitely hiding behind a bush, lying on his stomach. I turned to say “Hola”. He just kept on glaring off into space and didn’t say anything or look my way. I had a definite feeling that I had just escaped something being set up between the teen and the kid. For the next half mile I kept doing quick spin moves to catch anyone trying to follow me.

     With Tambomachay and Pukapukara being right next to each other, Sacsaywaman sure seemed like a long long way. I finally reached the sign for it and followed the road it pointed to. It didn’t seem like there was much traffic, and I found out soon enough that the road had collapsed from flooding or something a while back. So this particular route was closed to cars and tour buses and only open to horses and to cool guys hiking down the mountain.

     I was also able to get more of a feel of local Peruvian life by walking through the small neighborhood that the road cut through. I got to Sacsaywaman, which is one of the biggest Inca sites in the Cusco region. It was pretty darn impressive. When I paid to get in, a brief discussion with the guard resulted in:

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     I spent a long time at Sacsaywaman taking pictures and admiring the construction of the place. Again, not really knowing what the significance of anything was, I tried to guess at what grisly things went on there. I don’t believe in such things, but I did imagine I could feel a terrible energy coming from the place.

     It was around this point that I started to realize that I was getting sun burnt pretty bad. I also was dehydrated and exhausted. So I laid down in the shade of a wall and closed my eyes for a while. People thought it was weird, but at least they couldn’t comment on my pants.

     I explored the site more before it closed, and then started down towards Cusco. The main road continued the way I’d gone, but I came across a cobblestone walkway instead. Before getting there, though, I had to pass through a gauntlet of frenzied salesladies trying to nail their last sale. I’m pretty sure I could have haggled them down to: “Just take the piece of crap so I don’t have to haul the damn thing down the mountain and back up for the thousandth time.”

     Down the path was a little kid who spread his arms and signaled for me to take his picture. I said no but he insisted. Damn. I fell for that stupid trap. Some of the capitalists down here wait for you or lure you into taking their picture and then tell you that you have to pay them. The kid seemed to be alone so I didn’t think it would happen, but right away Mom appears with her hand out. Fortunately, I was totally out of money so she had to settle for a few pennies.

“My pants? Yes. Slipped in the mud. Slid down the hill. Yup, it’s pretty funny.”

     By the time I reached town it was dark enough so that people couldn’t see my pants quite as much. As I trudged down the thin cobblestone streets, I heard – for the 2nd time that day - “You like seck-see WOO-mahn?”

     No – not the same kid. A little older. But what the hell? Yes, I am in the market for a girlfriend – the free version, though.

     Back in the main square, commerce was still flourishing. I think I figured out a defense mechanism against aggressive trinket saleswomen. I’m going to bring a few trinkets of my own – like tiny statues of liberty – and offer to trade for whatever they’re selling. Then just make absurd requests for better trades. I also need some cheap art prints to offer to the many eager artists. Probably something that an artist should know but a con man wouldn’t – like Georgia O’Keefe, or someone.

     After returning to the hotel, I ordered some pizza. A box featuring Ron Jeremy’s face on it soon arrived and destroyed my digestive system.

     After eating, I started to have to deal with some serious sun poisoning. Chills along with fevery feeling, nausea along with thirst, etc. It really sucked. But it was such a good and adventurous day that I couldn’t let it end on a sour note.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 17: 6/21/11...Capitalism on Acid

    This was a pretty great day. Some minor irritants, but overall super duper.

    Morning was a delightful breakfast with many delicious items to eat and drink, all of which you can partake at your leisure whilst watching dogs fuck in the park outside. Seriously - the stray dogs - about a dozen - did lots of other interesting things, too. There were some serious political maneuverings around this one popular female. A big guy was frantically fending off rivals as I sipped my orange juice. I continued to ponder the whole dog thing. Is South America one pan-continental dog park?

     My plan was to just acclimate gradually to avoid the dreaded altitude sickness and wander around and hopefully visit a couple museums. I didn't make it to any museums, though, because the whole center of town was taken over by a parade that lasted all day and into the night!

    This was sensory overload to be sure. I think most people have seen the colorful Inca costumes in various books and shows and such. But being submerged in a mob of people with a wide variety of costumes - in every crazy color mixed in every crazy way - is an experience. In my mind's eye I just see a kaleidoscope. Whistles. Colors. Drums. Colors. Horns. Colors. Funny hats.

    All I did was walk, walk, walk, and take lots of pictures and videos. Man - Colonia wants to show off cobblestones? Cusco's got cobblestones BETWEEN cobblestones! I bet if you pried up a cobblestone, there would be MORE cobblestones underneath! Centuries of cobblestones laid upon cobblestones in great cobblestoney layers. Cobble cobble cobble.

     I don't know how I didn't get altitude sickness. I started out walking slow and breathing deep, but after a while just hit my stride. Cusco pretty much climbs the side of a mountain at roughly 35 degrees, so after climbing that most of the day my Peru-flag donut guilt was far behind.

    Cusco is overall really pretty - twisty (cobbled) narrow roads with great views, overall yellowy painted walls, those curvy brick tile roofs, and here and there highly saturated blue doors and windows. It seems pretty clean and is described as safe. And it seems like the roaming dogs are cuter here!

    The only blot on the day were all the people trying to sell me stuff. Lots of little old ladies in extremely colorful clothes trying to get me to buy extremely colorful whatevers. It seemed like one out of every ten people wanted me to buy something. And some were pretty aggressive. NO! I don't want to buy any of your rainbows!!

Day 16: 6/20/11...Inca Mosh Pit!!!

    Travel days suck. I'm always thinking, "I'll get there at x-o'clock, that'll give me plenty of time to do stuff!" But after rolling up out of a blissful airport slumber with world travelers shifting their eyes from the departure screen above you with a quick glance your way and then back, the day's probably not going to be all that productive.
    I did the zombie shuffle around the concourse and made my way to the ticket counter to check in and free myself of my suitcase-slash-pillow. Then I sort of broke my no-American-food rule by getting some Dunkin' Donuts. Although, as I explained to myself, technically an airport is some sort of non-national free zone, right? To make it more exotic and non-yankee, I got a donut that was colored patriotically like the Peruvian flag - red/white/red. If only every flag were so delicious - peace would flow through the Earth like creamy filling into my fat mouth!

    You know how on TV when people come out of a courthouse and the reporters swarm over and throw microphones in the people's faces and shout a bunch of questions? That's how it seemed when I arrived at the Cusco airport later that morning. taxi?taxi?train?macchupichu?taxi?macchupichu?taxi?taxi?... AAAAAHHH!!! I could not get my bearings at all. The gauntlet of "helpful folks" were pavlovianilly conditioned to have a confused face of a tourist trigger them into a mercantile frenzy. What made it worse was I didn't even know what I was looking for. I literally had no post-airplane plan, besides getting to the hotel in some vague way. So I kept wandering back and forth in baffled pirouettes trying to escape the swarm of unbeatable offers and to get a second to think.

     Eventually some lady exerted a psychic power that no one else had and drew me into her web. Of course she was extremely helpful. HELPFUL. Her goal was to get me to commit to her Macchu Pichu package travel deal. But she settled for me taking her business card and having me take a cab that her buddy drove. As I got in the cab, uncertain how I was going to get screwed precisely, I realized that I am a NOOB at traveling. I know how to ignore city bums, but the tourist piranha are a new adversary.

    Thankfully I got to the hotel fine without being extorted or worse. In hindsight I wondered - what if I was in a more dangerous country? It seemed so easy for that lady to shepherd me into her friend's cab. What if the goal was more than cab fare - like being taken hostage? That does happen in places, where they'll ransom you to your family. I don't think ever in Cusco - but it's something I need to consider carefully before visiting more sketchy places.

     The hotel is great - thank you again, Tripadvisor.com - and I pretty much said "Hola" and started snoring simultaneously, and slept most of the day.

      At night, I got up and decided to go get some dinner. One huge perk of this hotel (The Torre Dorada) is that they'll drive you to and from the town center any time you want. So they recommended a restaurant and off we went.

      The main square was closed to traffic because of some event that I still don't know what it was. But the car dropped me off along with this other guy who was going to lead me to the restaurant. This little old guy could move! I kept thinking that I was glad that he wasn't TRYING to lose me. He kept looking back to check that I was there. At one point he gestured to the middle of the square and said "This is where they fight." What? It was too loud and he was moving to fast for me to ask him to explain. I assumed he must mean a ceremonial fight as part of the mysterious event we were in the middle of. But?

     As we went, the crowd got thicker and thicker. It was dark out but everything was lit by the Mysterious Event. Fireworks were going off. People were cheering about something. All the crowd was looking somewhere off to my right but I couldn't follow their eyes without losing the little guy bobbing and weaving in front of me. Gradually we went from dodging people, to brushing against them, to pushing through them, to being completely engulfed in a crush of people.
     People were squished together and forces coming from all angles. Faces started to look worried. I definitely started to worry. There was a good possibility that a tragedy was about to happen, as I felt the crowd pushing me away from my legs. We had got caught in a log jam, where some people were trying to push into the center of the square toward the Mysterious Event, and others, like me and the little guy who I'd lost by now, were trying to cross that stream. There were a few surges where the tide was taking me way off course.

     I looked at all the faces crushing me and being crushed. Incas! I'm going to be trampled by Incas! (Sorry, that just sounded funny to me.) But really, I felt very lucky compared to everyone else that I was pretty tall. I was glad they were Incas and not Vikings.

     I think it was my relative height that allowed my guide to find me as we were spat out of the Inca soup. He got me to the restaurant and pointed to where we had started, across the square engorged by the Still Mysterious Event. "Pickup. Over there." And then he magically blended back into the mosh pit.

     Dinner was awesome, and when they called the hotel for me to arrange my rescue, cooler heads prevailed and they got me straight from the restaurant, away from the Mysterious Event I never knew anything about but almost paid for WITH MY LIFE. (dun dun dunnnnnn)

Day 15: 6/19/11...Sit Still, Woman!!!

     My final (partial) day in Buenos Aires.  My plan was to leave for the airport at 3.

     I took pictures of the hotel and me with my two most well-known Lolettes – Daniela and Laura. Then I blogged, and ended up being really late for packing. I pretty much slammed what I could in the suitcase and the rest ended up temporarily in a bunch of plastic bags.

     Pretty boring after that. Customs, security, etc. Sat next to an incredibly irritating woman. I’m prepared to feel bad, because she may have had some mental/neurological disturbance, but she also might have just been annoying. Basically she could not sit still for one full minute. Constantly fidgeting, moving her scarf on her left leg, grunting and moving it to her right leg, grunting and moving it back to her neck, etc. She kept tying and untying her hair and it was constantly brushing me. Her husband looked on in what look liked despondence.

     Thank Gilgamesh for anxiety pills. I used to be such a total wreck on planes, with no possibility of sleeping. But now I’m completely at ease. The turbulence was awful (I figured it would be because of the Andes) and despite that and Ms. Antsinpants I actually caught a z here and there.

     Which was good, because - and I planned on this - I didn't get a whole lot more sleep camping out in the Lima airport. After more customs, I got my suitcase and tried to check in to my morning flight to Cusco, but the airline counter was closed. The rest of the night/morning/? was a sort of blur. I found out where all the young'uns were crashing, and joined them.

     The thing about the Lima airport, though, is it's a 24 hour airport that doesn't really slow down at all. Most airports I've seen are done by 11pm. So my choice of sleeping spot - directly below a "departures" monitor, was not the most private location. But I was so zonked on Dramamine and anti-anxiety medicine that somehow I slept.

    First class all the way!

Day 14: 6/18/11...MMMEEEAATT

    A slow day after the strenuous Colonia trek. It was also still overcast and drizzly, so I was in no hurry to get out.

    Breakfast was very interesting – the Americans invaded! I met some fellow travelers, all of whom were great, and all of us from 4 contiguous states – NY, CT, RI, and MA. We talked a long time about language, travels, and all sorts of other things. Andy from NY by way of CA, and Pam and Joe from RI. Andy had just delivered Cars 2 for Disney in his luggage to Argentina, and Pam worked for an international educational company – which sounded very interesting. By the time we all were done with breakfast, it was getting pretty late.

     I got out to the last museum that I was really interested in, the Sivori Museum – named after Senor Sivori, a painter of great renown. It was located within this sort of Central Park-ish area, with lots and lots of joggers working off their pastries, bikers, and a pond with geese.
The museum was really great! I liked it quite a bit. The main exhibit was a woman who had a very long history of work and many different styles over the years. The artist was there herself, just sort of chilling in her seat. So I thought she was just a museum guard until I saw a selection of newspaper articles about her with her picture. I tried to suggest how much I liked her stuff and she could tell.  But I wasn’t able to communicate to her that they had hung one of her pictures upside down.

    Once again the gift shop was a swing and a miss – nothing for my demographic and price range. Just lots of books I couldn’t read and bookmarks to buy for them. Plus bric-a-brac. (I just wanted to use that phrase and I rarely get the chance.)

    My next stop was that crazy festival, but as I was getting there a huge thunderstorm got in the way. So no luck. Volcanoes and thunderstorms breakin’ my stride. I shudder to think what awaits me in Peru.
I caught a cab and it was a really fun experience. This guy was a ye olde Argentinian and he had tango music cranked up and was singing along in that same semi-operatic voice that was on the CD. Very dramatic with over-wrought emotions and macho drama. It was especially funny combined with his own particular style of insane cab driving.

    He dropped me at the meat restaurant that the Lollettes had recommended as a very local and good place. The Americans had occupied here, too! They waved me over and we had a great meal, conversation, and wine. I finally got the really good steak Argentina promised me! Being experienced travelers, they told me it’s very common to make friends like this abroad. Probably because you have so many experiences and suggestions to share, as well as the relief of the common language. (I almost said “common tongue” but that sounds fetish-like. But also yet another good band name. “Friday only at the Metrodome, Common Tongue featuring special guests, Big Brown Possums. Weeeee weedlyweedlyweedly weeeeeyyump.”)

    That’s about it for my last Buenos Aires evening. A great ending to a great visit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 13: 6/17/11...Uru-long-guay from home

      Let me say, I love geography. I have more atlases than most libraries or book stores have. All of them put together in a box would easily outweigh an obese middle school child. So it's a little out of character for me that if you gave me a text-less map and told me to write "Paraguay" and "Uruguay" in the proper spaces, I'd have to think long and hard about it. At least "Guyana" and "Ghana" are on different continents!

      So who knew I would learn the difference the best way possible - by actually visiting one of them? My detour from Patagonia today led me to Colonia, Uruguay, which was suggested to me by the Lolettes.

      Colonia is an hour long boat trip from BA, in Uruguay. It's, like you might gather from the name, a colonial-looking town. One cool thing is that it means crossing another international border, so I can officially say I stayed a day (but not a night) in yet another country! It counts - it's on my passport.

      Speaking of passports, I've been very lucky with customs to have had no big problems. I've certainly been inviting them - bumping around and turning in circles like a lost child. There's been a lot more of :"Bidapadoboonocheepabootanoy?" "mmmmm....huh?" (mild exasperation on their part) "Monafeepaboonagahnomeypaloogaweebalagamoh?" "nnnnooo"? (full on exasperation on their part) "Moy. Ganabadoopa. Moy. MOY?" "AHHH MOY!" "SI!" "moy?" (face palm, point that way) "perdon, perdon, perdon, perdon"....

      So I'm lucky that I haven't done something totally illegal or at least fine-inducing so far. This is a big city, and they've been amazingly patient with me. Or else they're used to confused foreigners and step around us like dog crap on the sidewalk. I shudder to think what it's like for people visiting New York.

      The boat was fine - although the windows were tinted and you couldn't go "on deck" so you would have been easily able to convince me that we flew or went under water or through a wormhole, and I would have said, "Really? Cool!" Mostly I slept because it was super early.

       It sucks that I can't generalize more and say that I got a sense of Uruguay during my day. It would be like visiting Savannah and saying you got a sense of what the USA was. But it was a unique experience anyway. Of course when a bus tour was offered I turned it down and just picked a direction and started walking. And walking. I'm pretty sure of the ten or so hours I was there, I was walking for about eight. I didn't find a whole lot else to do!

       My general impression was that I couldn't figure out if Colonia was on the way up or on the way down. A lot of buildings were literally falling down, (one of the actual attractions was to go see this stadium that's collapsing) and yet there was still construction going on. Maybe they've achieved some strange high-speed equilibrium of con- and de- struction. I got the impression that the housing bubble had struck hard here. One very important thing was that this is off season. And by off I mean OFF. That seems to be pretty extreme in seaside summer escape locales. If it's not beach weather, then everything STOPS. Obviously I knew it wasn't going to be Miami Beach, but it was pretty dead. The attraction was supposed to be the typical picturesque cobblestones, olde timey architecture, fountains, etc. But as I said, I marched off into Real Colonia, Uruguay instead.

     I've been thinking a lot about standards of living on this trip, trying to figure out the places I've visited by those terms. Mostly this has been selfish - worrying about crime, worrying about politeness about being from the US, dreading the guilt of being around poverty and being approached by beggars, trying to learn how to feel about the social justice within the countries and viz-a-viz the US. All sorts of fuzzy things mostly centered around me. So I'm always wondering exactly how skewed my expectations about standards of living are. Obviously, coming from the USA, at the top of the universe and possibly history of standard of living, my views are by definition out of whack with the rest of humanity. But by how much? And for good or bad? Should I expect that everyone should be able to be able to live like me  (grrr - if they just WORKED HARDER - grrr) or am I just living in a freak bubble? (I'm assuming the latter.) These are questions I really care about, so it's great that I'm immersed in them.

       So Colonia was quite a bit poorer than BA. Probably for being a small town, of course. It's still nothing like third world at all. In fact not that much different than lots of small American towns in the sticks. The things that struck me were: more graffiti, again lots of roaming dogs, and lots of scooters. The scooters were those that might possibly be called motorcycles but also sounded like lawn mowers, you know? They easily outnumbered cars by ten to one. The whole time it was like being at a motocross race. Because they went as fast as possible. Another odd thing is that in the US motorcycles have that "rebel" or "wild" connotation, but here it was old ladies on motorbikes. It also took me a while to notice that I didn't see one traffic light in the entire 8 hours of walking. One more auto-related observation slash question: At what point do you get to have license plates with smaller segments than just the whole country? Here it's just "Argentina" and "Uruguay" instead of "Florida", "Texas", etc.

       I think the roaming dogs thing is what really feels alien to me. If I see a roaming dog in the US I respond with fear - "rabies!", "don't bite me!" and "call the cops!" even though nobody loves dogs more than I do. I also feel outrage toward the owners of the dog and loathe them for their irresponsibility. "He'll get hit by a car! Get in fights! Kill a child!" So from roaming dogs - at least one in sight at every moment - surrounding me is where I think I'm getting the "not first world" vibe from. It represents chaos and lawlessness somehow. I also have the typical American inappropriate anthropomorphizing of dogs in me. So I'm always projecting fear and danger feelings to and from the dogs.

       So it was a huge relief when I got to pet a couple of dogs for at least a half hour straight. I had to get up too early that morning for my daily "Breakfast... Thanksgiving-Style" and didn't get my morning coffee. I felt the dreaded migraine starting to come on and needed emergency caffeine. I had walked way out of the tourist area and didn't see anything open for miles. Lots of shuttered up beach restaurants, etc. So I came upon a remote tourist outpost with nobody around. Just the tourist shop owner, who then pointed me over to (I suppose) her husband talking with a friend in an otherwise abandoned patio bar. He was able to get me some coffee. And I petted the fur off of his two dogs. In my American view of the dog lifestyle around here, I went under the assumption that nobody ever pet their dogs and I was the Dog Petting Messiah come to bestow my boons upon the downtrodden canines. They sure did seem to like it! I'm pretty sure it was a full hour of sipping coffee, cooing to and petting dogs. Just me and them and the happy old guy. It made my day, at least.

        I was kind of hoping that the dogs would want to leave with me and the old guy would have to get on his knees and plead with them to return, but they were loyal as dogs can be. Anyway, they wouldn't have gotten along with the four - count 'em - four guard dogs at my next visit. This was the museum which had a name that did not suggest pirates at all but was in fact a pirate museum. (Not all 4 guard dogs were for the museum - at least two were for these really old cars rusting away behind the place.)

       I consider it a crime against human culture that I was not allowed to take pictures at this place. I got some of the outside, but that was only a hint of what booty lay within. I would say that this was basically like a haunted house put together by a boy scout troop, except that it was too elaborate and huge to be funded by a bake sale. First of all, all of the life-size figures, regardless of who they were supposed to be, looked kind of like if you took the Muppet drummer Animal, yanked out almost all of his hair, and then cooked and dried him like head hunter's shrunken head collection. One of them had a toucan (not a parrot) sewn to the shoulder which had fallen over. But it was one of those stuffed animals which is really just a pillow vaguely shaped like a toucan with a toucan picture printed on it.

       Most of the exhibits were a weird mix - there would be this really professionally done model ship but with blown up photo copies out of books taped up on the wall. Over the loudspeakers they were playing Pirates of the Carribean. Not the soundtrack, just a battle scene from the movie but with the picture off. And in Spanish. So Johnny Depp would yell "FFUUUEEGGOOOO!!!!" There were a bunch of the movie posters around, too. For some odd reason there was a section devoted to the Graf Spee, a German warship which sunk nearby in WW2, but I don't believe anyone in that crew said "arrr" a lot.

       One thing that occurred to me about halfway through, though, is that the former Spanish empire was actually the VICTIM of most of the guys "portrayed" in the museum. Especially Sir Francis Drake, who handed the Spanish their Armada back to them in a match box. But that didn't seem to bother the proprietors or their clientele. Maybe the pirates didn't get this far south to matter much. Or else time heals all peg legs.

       So it was a crazy-in-a-hokey-but-fun-way type of a place, and I enjoyed it. Particularly because it seemed so out of place and so unvisited. My traveling way off the beaten path was duly rewarded with a singular and mysterious event. I only saw one other couple of guys coming to visit, but they didn't even choose to go in. Just me. I wanted to get a souvenir, but again - nothing. They need souvenir development down here.

       The day was dimming, so I felt the need to see the touristy stuff before too late. I still had quite a bit of walking to do to get back. I came across another grocery store - which again I felt put me more in touch with local life. No escaping Coke, though. Even though it's the exotic "Coke Light" instead of "Diet Coke" again. Two kids on horses rode by me in a this-is-not-recreational type way. I can't be sure if a horse is more or less of a status symbol than a scooter here.

       I got to the cobblestones, and they were nice. It's not fair, though, because I currently live in one of the biggest "check out our cobblestones" cities in the whole US and A. Savannah poops cobblestones bigger than all of metro Colonia. Some of the architecture was more Spanish colonial than Savannah's Victorian. But - get this - Savannah has Spanish MOSS. Which Colonia does NOT have. USA! USA! USA!

      The point is that I'd kinda seen it, it was way off season, and I did not have a hand-holding partner like everyone else around. But it was actually a good thing that it was gray, windy, and chilly - because that made it more appropriate as opposed to the day weakly attempting to be nice-ish. Go big or go home. It also gave me an excuse to order some really good hot chocolate.

      I also drank too much Uruguayan beer by my standards - which are different than those found here - so by the time I got back to the boat I was tired and into Cranky Pants Land. I really really wanted to sleep, but I had two big problems. Couple in front, and couple in back.

       Couple in front. Young couple. Googly noises. I could only see the tops of their heads and the guy's not-quite moustache in the crack between the seats, but all I could think of was that they were LICKING each other. AGGRESSIVELY. I'm glad I had taken Dramamine, because barf. It was like: "IIIII'mmmm gonnnna LICK U!" "EWW!" "III'mmm gonna lick U!!" "EEEUUWWW!!!"" "Let me lick U!" "OK! tee hee" (lick) "EEEWWW!!!" "Now I lick U." "EEWW tee hee NOO!!" "Yes?" "No!" "Yes?" "OK" (lick) "EEEWWW" (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick)....

      Couple in back. It was just their voices. The guy was way louder and sounded macho in a forced "I'm the man" kind of way. Something about their conversational rhythm drove me up the bulkhead.

     "BAH-bum-bum" "be be be" "bum bum BAH?" "be be be" "BAH-bum-bum" "be be be" "bum-BAH-bum!" "be be".  That would have been bad enough - if not for the OPEN -EN -en...... MOUTH -OUTH -outh....... CHEWING -ING -ing.......

      OH, MIGHTY GRAF SPEE.....Will you not rise from your watery crypt and fire one final torpedo at this ship of fools?


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 12: 6/16/11...Hombres Be Hatin' On My Tripod

        The mighty icebergs of Patagonia grind their way through the gray sub-arctic wasteland, momentarily dusted with ash spewed from the boiling bowels of the Earth, on their epochal flow toward their infinite mother - the ever-waiting icy sea. Or at least that's what I THINK is going on since I'm still here in BUENOS AIRES.

      Actually, don't cry for me, Argentina (you KNEW that was inevitable.) I'm still having a very good time. Before I knew that El Calafate was out, I was in a pretty big rush to see everything I wanted here. Now I'm going at a much easier pace.

        I got up and out really late, having had a little difficulty sleeping with all the "what if" and "maybe but"s doing donuts in the lawn of my dreams. After breakfast it was determined that it really was a done deal - no icebergs. Everything canceled. I actually felt OK because there was a finality to it. Unlike the poor folks who were here for a whole extra week trying daily to get home through Mother Nature's fart.

       So I hoofed it on down to the cemetery and just wandered around taking pictures that I was liking. I'm hoping they're good enough that high school goth bands will want to buy them for their CD covers or websites or phone backgrounds or whatever. Is Marilyn Manson still touring? Some of these could make for awesome bootleg t-shirts.

       I had done a good hour and a half when one of the guards was walking by and tried to teach me the Spanish words for "no" and "tripods". What is up with TRIPODS? Why does everyone get so weirded out about me using a tripod? It's like "Hey - you can take all the pictures you want, as long as they're BLURRY." I'm actually thinking about getting some crutches when I go take pictures and see if that works. Screw you man, I AM a tripod! (I wish).

        Next, I went to a thing which is another reason I'm OK with having to stay here. There's this "emerging culture" event going on this weekend which I was thinking would be extremely cool to go to but I had already planned on El Calafate.

        I don't even know what it is, exactly. All the info is in Spanish, but the gist of it is a bunch of cutting edge art, music, and even animation among other things. So it was starting this evening. They were still setting up a lot of it but some stuff was ready to go.

       I've said it before, but being immersed in a completely unfamiliar culture and being unable to communicate with anyone for most of the time is an anxious, sometimes maddening, but really rewarding and mind-expanding experience. It's kind of sad that I've spent about half my life without experiencing that, because it really is opening up my world a little more. This is what traveling is meant to do in my opinion. I'm so glad I'm not on a tourist bus with a lot of other Americans looking through the glass as if it's a tv and being guided by the hand through a scripted and guaranteed comfortable experience. It's not like I'm pushing the envelope or anything, but I feel like by being on my own I'm getting more out of it.

        So going to this event was all that, but up a few levels because there was so much going on all around me. This was not a museum environment where I only needed a handful of gestures and Spanish words to get by. It's all slanted toward the whippersnappers, so the energy level was hyperkinetic, and chaos reigned. People setting stuff up, hanging pictures, talking on walkie talkies wearing hard hats, TV news cameras swinging around, "federal police" dudes looking nervous and tense, all sprinkled with important-looking signs I couldn't read.

      There were a few times I could duck into some art exhibits, which were pretty good. One that was a total surprise and extremely good was of the photographer Robert Doisneau. He's Frawnsh. You've probably seen one of his of this couple kissing in a busy street. My Ex had a big poster of it. So it was strange to see it as one of about fifty of his photographs without special focus on it. This guy really had a gift for capturing people's emotional responses to things going on around them. Really good.

       Back outside, it turned out that the music part of this festival is really huge. They had the typical professional outdoor stage with a jumbotron in the back. Very top-notch don't you know. Then the band came on and it was like one of those Beatles responses. Lots of girls screaming. The audience knew all of the words and sang along. Of course I had no idea who the band was or any of the songs, which made the weirdness notch up one more level. I was really expecting the "emerging" music to be like robot music with bad rapping in the corners of the galleries, not a six thousand person concert. Well, at least this thing will be a big deal and hopefully the stuff coming this weekend will be top-drawer.

       I didn't stay for all of it, since I'm starting to get annoyed at hearing the phrase "me corazon" over and over. Not to say that American music isn't guilty of saying "love" too much, of course. It's just when that's the only phrase you understand, it calls attention to itself. (At least "corazon" has way more rhyming options than "love".)

    Now it's time to sleep on my crutches idea. It's so crazy it just, might, work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 11: 6/15/11...What an Ash Hole

       Damn. I thought I would be safe. But it looks like I'm not going to get to Patagonia because of the volcano. I really have no idea about any of the flight situation - it changes from hour to hour. According to plan, I should be packed tonight and at the airport at 5am. But my flight just disappeared from the system altogether. Now the fun of trying to get refunds begins.

      I'm bummed that I may not get to see the glaciers, but I'm seriously not going to get down about it. Time to make lemonade. It's still looking good for me to get to Cuzco on Sunday because it's to the north. I'll ride a llama there if I have to.

      Being in limbo sucks, though, because they might still try to get me to go and stay for one night so they don't have to give me a refund. I don't know, sounds possible. The hotel ladies, whom I will now dub the Lolletes for convenience.) have been unbelievable. They spent all day on the phone and internet on my behalf while I dillied and dallied. They are really amazing. It must be because I say "gracias" every 45 seconds.

      So now what? Well, there are still things for me to see and do. The Lollettes also mentioned some side trips I could take. So we'll see - things are still fluxing.

      Today was rainy, so I didn't feel gung ho about getting out early. Plus I've seen almost all the museums I wanted, with a few exceptions. So since it was gloomy I decided it would be a great day to go take pictures in the Recoleta cemetery. (Where Evita is decomposing.) I originally didn't care about going, but everyone hyped it up so I went. It was pretty damn cool, and I think I got some good photos. Sadly I ran out of time, so I'll probably go back again to take more pictures tomorrow.

      Strangely, that's about all I accomplished today. I'm wondering if I went into a brief coma because that can't be everything. No toilet naps... Maybe Evita lured me into her crypt and forced me watch the movie with Madonna?

      I took a picture of the big obelisk, and the outside of the big opera house. Visited a very cool one-room gallery of art owned by the bank upstairs. A lot of walking and wandering and a couple wrong turns. I tried another steak but it still wasn't a wow. I'll have to ask the Lollettes where to go.

     Despite everything, though, it was still an enjoyable day.

Day 10: 6/14/11...Expensive Gum

      Today was the day. The day to visit the much feared Boca barrio. They build it up to be this dystopian forbidden zone - with one small island of tourist safety - that descends into demonic anarchy at the moment the sun sets. The young-woman-whose-name-I-keep-forgetting backed all that up. "Promise me you will only walk down this street and no other ones. Don't take your camera. Don't wear a backpack. Take a taxi - and only this type of taxi - there and back." All of that made me genuinely concerned, but there were two museums, dammit!

      Of all days, this was the one where I needed more cash. I always take out the maximum amount because every time I use the ATM's they charge over 4 dollars! So here I am with a wad of cash going into Gotham City. So I disperse the cash into several pockets in case one gets picked, and I came up with a genius plan: I stuck 200 pesos in a gum wrapper in my box o' gum! Now I just need to remember not to throw it out or offer anyone a piece.

      The first museum was the Quinquella Martin museum. He was an artist who painted these very dramatic scenes of the Boca ship yards around the turn of the last century. I liked his stuff quite a bit. It was also a museum about him, not just his art, and the building was his actual house. So you could see where he pooped after he painted. There were some sculptures on the roof which were strangely unattended to - with cobwebs and bird poop - and some not even named with titles or artists. It would have been creepy except they were out in the sun rather than underlit in a basement.

      There were other local artists on display. One was pretty good; he somehow made very drab concrete buildings look interesting and almost beautiful. What sucked though is the ultimate bane of museums - school groups. Pearls before swine. Very LOUD swine. When will there be virtual reality so brats can go on cyber field trips instead of shattering the windows with their piercing squeals in the booming cavernous halls of museums across the world?

       Next was the PROA museum a few doors down. It was featuring Louise Bourgeois. She does way more than this, but her most visible piece is the enormous spider sculpture that they always put outside the museum she's in. I know I've been under this spider in Toronto, but there may have been another city also. Possibly London? Seattle?

      Her stuff is really interesting and disturbing. A lot of it is about this set of issues with her mother. So lots of boobies! Seriously, though - it's all very Freudian, at least at first glance. She works in all kinds of media from yarn to bronze to pencil. Very cool.

       Between museums I tried to visit this one street that's famous for the buildings painted in bright ship's paint in very saturated primary colors, along with cobblestone streets. But man, this was like evil Disneyland - the most ferocious tourist trap I've ever seen. I was only there for about 5 minutes and had 3 different people offer to take pictures with me. There were stereotypical tango couples on every corner - like almost overlapping. The stores were all full of tourist souvenirs et cetera et cetera et cetera. I got the hell out of there very quickly. I hardly even saw the colorful buildings.

      All this was even weirder because after you bought any tourist crap, if you walked a block away in any direction, someone was probably waiting to throw you to the ground and take it back along with your change and camera full of tango photos. The souvenirs are probably on this constant cycle of being sold, then stolen, then sold back to the stores to be bought again by the next chump. Funk dat.

      Then time to flag a taxi - a "radio taxi" and not the rogue predatory ones I was warned about. Everything was closing and my anxiety started seeing unfriendly people closing in like starving wolves. I escaped before being devoured and went to my next stop - the Borges Cultural Center.

      Borges is a writer who is near and dear to the Argentine heart. I recently became a fan of his after being introduced by an mp3 lecture about fantasy/sci-fi literature. He doesn't really fit those genres at all, but his stuff is really weird. Oh yeah, I just realized I talked about him along with his buddy Xul. Well, I like him enough to mention him twice.

      So I was excited to visit this place named after him with the word "cultural" in the name. When I got there, though, I didn't know what to think. It was next to - or maybe included - a mall. There was a non-mall part but also a mall part. Before really getting into the former, I went to the latter to get some grub. They had a food court, and I got something which seemed Argentinian. I had plenty of American fast food options - Burger King, McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, but I've made a point of not having anything American while here.

       One thing about the mall: the music. They were playing a Wilco song, which I thought was very odd. Most Americans don't even know who Wilco is, and here I am hearing it over the PA in a Buenos Aires mall. In fact, I've heard much much more American music down here than anything else. A lot from the 80's. This and the fast food is slightly depressing - the mall might as well have been in Little Rock Arkansas except for some different names on the stores.

       Nobody spoke English in the non-mall part, so I had no idea what was going on. I just sort of wandered around through galleries with not-so-good art with nobody else there including guards. I walked around while a bunch of people were hurriedly setting up a new exhibition (at almost 9pm) and nobody seemed to mind - including guards. At one point I went up some stairs and walked in on a bunch of ballet dancers getting ready for something. I went right back down in case I saw someone getting dressed which would probably result in me going to a secret jail.

      The so-so art galleries were on the top level of the mall. There were four sections connected by a middle section. So between them you could see people shopping at iPhone kiosks or buying intimate apparel. Very surreal and not what I was hoping for.

       After that, since it was directly out the door, I walked down "Florida Street" which was basically a street that had been closed off to become an open-air souvenir mall. The stuff for sale was EXACTLY the same stuff I saw on Tango Street. Overall, this was definitely the rich part of town. So much different than no-man's-land Boca. I'm pretty sure I witnessed the furthest extremes of Buenos Aires this day. Well, that IS what I was looking for - a decent representation of a cross section of the city.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 9: 6/13/11...Remember the Meow-lamo

      The young ladies who run this hotel are really amazing. They speak great English, don't let you leave breakfast until your belly button pops out, and have tons of suggestions and helpful advice about the city. Every time I ask for something they get all excited like "Hooray! More we can do!" But offering to pick up my laundry from the laundry lady place? Wow! You don't get that shit at the Holiday Inn...

       Museums are usually closed on Mondays, but I was not deterred. I found a couple that were open. But what the hell is up with that? Was there some UN resolution that all museums close on Mondays? Because it's been the same anywhere I've been - here, US, Canada, London. Maybe it's a religious thing.

       Anyway, it was a beautiful day so there were a couple parks to visit first. (It's hilarious, though, how unraveled everyone is with the "cold" weather. For me it's barely sweater weather, but people here are bundled up like it's winter solstice in Red Square.) On the way back to MALBA where I had unfinished business to attend to, there was the Botanical Gardens, which were pretty nice.

        It was there that I saw the first cats I'd seen since coming to Argentina. Then I realized how many dogs I'd seen just wandering around, and I figured that this gated park is probably the only place cats can catch a break in the whole city. The cats are besieged like at the Alamo. AWESOME. I guess I know why the Portenos put up with the checkerboard of poop on the sidewalks. It's a tradeoff for not having cats around!

      Other than cats, the only other thing I didn't like about the Botanical Gardens was that I couldn't find my way out! It wasn't just me this time - I came across some other people also trying to escape from Al-cat-traz. (Like that?) It turns out that they were Americans! So I got to speak like an adult instead of a man-child for a couple minutes. Some small-world evidence exploded in our faces: after the where-are-you-froms, they told me their daughter was coming to SCAD! Pretty crazy.

      Then came the Japanese Garden, which was mighty nifty. When I paid to go in, though, I had the usual math panic. "$8 to walk across a red bridge? Oh, wait - that equals 2 real dollars. OK." The garden: It was nice and I liked it.

      So back to MALBA to finish up. More cool art. Something happened, though: My sleep's been really off as well as my eating. I'm shifting to Porteno hours - staying up late, eating dinner at 9, etc. Plus the massive breakfasts and resulting skipping of lunch. So in the museum I suddenly got pass-out tired. I felt like if I couldn't close my eyes for a couple minutes I would collapse. But where to sleep? Can't just find a bench or curl up on the floor. I have to write this down for posterity. I took a nap in a bathroom stall. Yes, that's right. I actually dozed off for a few minutes on the toilet. After planning to do so. And not drunk, just really tired. I'm pretty sure I was awoken by someone peering in - probably to see if he should call a doctor.

        Then all was well! From sleeping on a toilet to absorbing high culture in a matter of moments. The MALBA was really great, though. They had a Frida and a Diego (not hanging next to each other, significantly) and a cartoon featuring a guy having babies emerge from his skin, try to perform oral sex on him, only stopping after the guy eats them back into his body. Or did I dream that during my crapper nap?

      I finished early enough to see the only other museum defying the World Court mandated Monday closure - the Metropolitan Art Museum. This was a weird place - kindof a mini-mansion that almost seemed still lived in with art all over. It seemed like a lot of it was up for auction, and there were a few rich-looking folks definitely sizing the paintings up as purchases rather than just stuff to look at.

      That's about it, other than a good dinner featuring Argentine steak. I still want to have another steak, though, because failure to communicate resulted in medium-well instead of medium-rare. It's funny, because my craving for steak was only amplified and not remotely deterred by an anti-beef art exhibit at MALBA. The artist tried hard, with prints and sculptures made of dried cow blood, gigantic blocks of cow fat with words imprinted, and checkerboards made of said fat and slabs of cow flesh entombed in plexiglass. To be honest, I think I was determined to eat steak as my own counter-protest. Your move, art lady!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 8: 6/12/11...Elmo Delmo Telmo

      Oh boy! Shopping! Today is the weekly day for the San Telmo market. I don't ever get excited about that sort of thing, but I was on a mission for souvenirs to bring back to the folks back home. I ended up spending much much too much money. Mostly because I found an artist whose work I really liked a lot. I ended up spending all of my ATM limit for the day, which was troubling.

      About the title for today's post: Stephen Malkmus has a song called "Elmo Delmo" and every single time I look at a Buenos Aires map and see "San Telmo" I hear that song. And I've seen Buenos Aires maps pretty much continuously for the last few days. So being in that part of town was making me a little nuts. The good part about spending all my pesos was that I didn't stay at the market long.

      I'm pretty sure I saw a guy get robbed right in front of me. It looked like the old "lean in with the shoulder, hit victim like it's an accident, pick pocket while gruffly apologizing" trick. I can't be sure, but I've been on the lookout for it. They also do the grab and motorcycle away thing, and I've been told the slice-the-backpack tango happens a bunch, too.

       I've been absurdly paranoid about crime - and it's sort of a moderate downer. The only thing I'm really stressed over is my camera. So far, so good - and I think I'm fairly savvy about it. But it's so easy to get lost and end up in a scary area. SPEAKING of which....

       After the fair I got completely lost trying to find the Modern Art museum. It was a marathon hike anyway, but it was all for naught. I went to where the guidebook said it should be, and nothing. I ended up asking directions at a hotel and the guy sent me all across town on a goose chase. By the time I gave up, I was approaching the Boca neighborhood, which people speak of in hushed whispers and shifty eyes. It's like the whole neighborhood is a snake pit or something. Keeeep awaaaayyyy... And here I am with my camera and hundreds of dollars in art under my arm.

       So I hit the subway to get back to a safer area. Then I continued my search - but somehow - I have no idea how - I ended up back in that exact same spot. It was like a crime vortex had sucked me into its gravitational field and was toying with me before sucking me into its maw.

       I went down into the same subway station and decided on a whole new plan. My initiative and doubling back tricked the vortex and I lived to not be robbed another day. The new plan was some of the Palermo area museums.

       First was a Folk Art museum. It was pretty cool - but small - but free! All sorts of stuff from "naive" art to skilled craftspeople. Mostly objects as opposed to paintings. The lady there was super nice.

       Time was running out for museums - although they generally stay open later than in the US - usually 8 or 9pm. I ended up at MALBA, a museum for Latin American art (pretty much any country south of the US.) This is a real deal museum with nice design and multiple floors, like most big city art museums. Sadly I ran out of time before I could get halfway.

        After that a good dinner, and another hour of walking around with my horrible map, searching for street signs which did not seem to exist. Oh yeah, and playing hopscotch around the poop.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 7: 6/11/11...There Is No Dana Only Xul

      MUSEUM NINJA!! That's me. Three museums in one day. KA-POW!! If you need proof of this amazing feat: my feet. I'll send you a picture of my feet which, in Whoville they say, like the Grinch's heart, grew three sizes that day.

       First boss level was the Xul Solar museum. This dude was a FREAK. So of course I LOVED it. Basically he's this guy who went to Europe and shmoozed with the big shot artists, and then went back to Buenos Aires and took it in his own crazy direction. If you've heard of Theosophy, then 'nuff said.

      Otherwise, Theosophy was this hodge-podge weirdo buffet from around the late 1800's to about WW2. (Going on memory.) It was back when everything Eastern was still very exotic and alien. So it was this Western mix of pretty much every spiritual and underground religious hocus pocus that they could grab onto thrown into a Cuisinart and chugged like Kool Aid. Seances and contacting the "other realm" and spirit guides was a major ingredient. So Xul was one of those folks.

       The funny thing is, I've come across Theosophy before when I stumbled on another semi-outsider artist that I ended up liking very much - Nicholas Roerich. And I've been to his one-man museum in NYC. Come to think of it, it had that same vibe to it - kinda unknown and hard to find, with a staff who seems like they might be more than just employees but mmaaayybe relatives or devotees? When the guard unlocked the door for me, the lady at the desk said "You are here to see the museum?" I'm thinking: "Is there some other reason to come here that I should know about?" But I didn't know the secret handshake.

        Another connection between me and Xul was that he was good friends and a collaborator of Jorge Borges, Argentina's most famous writer. I'm a really big fan of his work. I haven't heard that he was into Theosophy, but it wouldn't surprise me. Xul illustrated some of his books.

       So the art - very cool! Really weird. Basically Xul is one of those guys who has no boundaries between life and art. Pretty much everything he's interested in gets glommed onto his visual language. He made his own language - literally - (literally?) - actually more than one. He even made his own "improved" piano with different notes and rainbow keys. So his art ends up looking like this religious art from an alien planet. (Just like Roerich's). If you know what to look for, you can see all the occult threads in the weave, but it's all synthesized in an individual weirdness. It also looks somewhat like "outsider" or "naive" art, or the stuff that you see sometimes that schizophrenics make. Lots of eyes rendered straight on, faces where there shouldn't be, text incorporated into the painting, rays and beams of light, etc.

       I wanted to buy some sort of souvenir but there was nothing at all good. Which is amazing because if Xul was still in charge I'm sure the selection would be way more interesting than buttons and very bad prints. What about a Xul cape? Xul ocarinas that actually make trombone sounds? Xul billiard balls? A Xul umbrella? (I'd definitely buy that one.)

       Second boss level was MNBA, which is the national version of the Fortabat: all Argentinian. This time the quality was wwaaaaayyyy better. However, I still had that seen-this-before feeling. You name just about any world-known artist of the past 150 years, and they were faithfully "homaged" here. Even Mondrian. How can you possibly think that you could do paintings similar to Mondrian and still display anything original? It's just squares and 3 friggin' colors!! Maybe it's the same in lots of countries? There's probably tons of it in the US, but we also have a lot of the real deal. Once the 70's rolled around, though, there was some more original and pretty cool stuff.

       What I really liked about the MNBA, though, was their section on pre-Colombian art. I've seen a lot of that type of stuff in other museums in NYC and London and other places, but this was different than anything I'd seen before. The pottery and figures were very unique. I never get mildly interested in textiles, but what they had here was pretty amazing. It was like lace - much much more refined and delicate than anything I'd seen before. Plus they had this cool tree made out of yarn that had dead birds hanging off it. Very Goth.

       Final boss level was Palais de Glace, which was a place for contemporary art. It was pretty good overall. More video and installation stuff than paintings and photos.

       Over the course of the day I had the thought that comes up a lot of times when I'm looking at art - and that is "what is the perspective of women when they look at all the images of nude women"? Is it demeaning? Honestly for me women are just beautiful, so I can see the appeal of lots of art about that. And I'm not calling for even one more image of a naked dude. I just wonder about the view from "the other side". I also see the problem of looking at women as objects. It's a problem that torments me night and day as a matter of fact.

       So it was really interesting to see a video of a women lying on her apartment couch in the classic odalisque pose of the hand over the hoo-ha but otherwise nekked, staring directly into the camera. But blinking and with everyday ambient noise, and with a troubled look on her face. It really amplified the thoughts I'd already been a-ponderin'. She was attractive but thankfully not smokin' hot or I would have totally missed the point. OINK.

       After that I took a picture of the huge metal flower that is an icon of Buenos Aires. And then I walked for a couple hours in every direction except the right one. How many times will I be betrayed by the idea that getting lost can be adventurous? I need to have a compass surgically welded onto my wrist bones.

       At least I was lost in a decent area, right? Well, it's a common misunderstanding that bums just fall down and snooze or rattle containers of change in totally random and evenly distributed parts of cities. In reality they know exactly where to look miserable. If you really wanted sleep, would you track down the busiest street in town? I wouldn't.

       So I'm walking down a street of very fancy hotels, and I see a guy falling on his ass against a wall half a block ahead. Time to tightrope on the curb! says I. I get perpendicular to him and SMASH - a wine bottle explodes half a stride in front of my feet. Thankfully there was no chance in hell that there would be an atom of wine left in it to sully my threads.

       So what is the correct response in such a pickle? Well, my internal conversation with him went like this: "That may work down here, buddy, but I've worked and walked in NOO.......YAWK.........CITY. You don't get eye contact without a deadly weapon." I just kept my stride and trucked down the promenade without missing a beat. As I did, he's like "Ay. AY. Amigo!" Oh sure, that's how I make all my friends! Ducking shards of glass! Did he expect a fist full of pesos for NOT hitting me? He should have aimed for the middle of the tres gringos.

       Well, by the time I got back to the hotel I was sorry he hadn't sheared my feet off. Thankfully I only have two blisters. Sadly they used to be called feet. AY   yay   YAY...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 6: 6/10/11...Shnoz America

        So I've been studying Argentinian women...purely scientifically, of course...and it suddenly occurred to me what is lacking in most of the women in Savannah and other southern places I've lived. And that is...a relatively large nose. There is a large Italian undercurrent gurgling below the surface here in Buenos Aires due to a large migration at some point in the past. Thus ample nostrils abound. Some Roman Imperial genetic response in my brain stem has fired up some neurons that were atrophying in the presence of supposedly cute Anglo Saxon button noses. Perhaps it is a necessity for me that a woman should, like me, have a significant amount of peripheral vision obstructed by her own nasal structure. I must study this phenomenon further. Perhaps government funding is to be had.

          Anyway, in place of a breakfast buffet at this hotel, they have women (with noses of approvable size) pouring on the pastries and toast. I'm at the point where breakfast is pretty much my only real meal of the day. So much for my year's worth of dieting. Their names are Daniela and Laura. There are others, but I see them only rarely because of my schedule. They are so incredibly AWESOME!

         It was a pretty busy day. I spent the morning plotting the places I want to visit while I'm here - something I could have done before I left if not for WORK. tchuh. For today I chose the Fortabat Museum of Art. It's a place created by a Ms. Fortabat, a super rich Porteno (local term for a BA citizen). The host here described her partially by stretching her face with her hands. She's one of those women who's hired an army of surgeons to stab at Father Time with their solid gold scalpels.

         I have very little knowledge of South American or Argentinian history, but from what I understand there's a pattern of the wealthy elite being represented by authoritarian right-wing regimes who (possibly with Uncle Sam a-hootin' and a-hollerin' on the sidelines) staged coups whenever the riff-raff started waving red flags. So, in my admittedly ignorant mind, I wonder about someone who's been rich for decades in Argentina. Who knows - I could be completely wrong. But I've seen movies.

         On to the museum. Well, usually I'm pretty charitable about things like this, but this was not my favorite art museum. First of all, there were a couple too many commissioned portraits of Ms. Fortabat and her yunguns - even one by Andy Warhol. Isn't having your name on the side of the building sufficient?

         But more importantly, the bulk of the art was hmm. A lot of it was derivative. Most of the time I was like "Wow! Is that a Pic-- No, it's a Pedro SomeJuan." "Is that a Van G-- No, it's a Hector Nuevoheardof." Not to say that fame equals quality, but it felt like bait and switch. By looking at the dates, it seemed like all the art styles were about 15 years behind the originals.

       The thing is, this is a sort of patriotic art museum, showcasing primarily Argentinian artists. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm sure there are plenty of great artists in Argentinian history, but are there enough to fill a museum without scraping the bottom of the barrel? I've seen this exact same thing in Canada a few times. I guess there's a value in seeing art through the lens of the place you're in, but I had to start looking at it specifically that way after a while: I'm looking through the paintings to see something about Argentina rather than appreciating the paintings for themselves. Maybe that's something.

      HowEVer, there were a few things that made the whole visit totally worthwhile. First, a couple of Dali sketches that were enjoyably weird. Then a Rodin sculpture. A Turner, a Chagall (who I really like). But best of all a very famous painting by Brueghel! He's one of my favorite artists, and I recently read a book about him that had this painting in it. It might even have been on the cover. This was a big one, too. Ya gotta love a big Brueghel. The bigger the Brueghel the better. Just that one painting made it all worth the trip.

        Post-museum I walked along the waterfront that's getting gentrified, complete with Starbucks, Hooters, and TGIFridays. I was glad to have time to check off another of my points of interest - one of them olde-timey boats. This was a famous ship that was mostly used for training and visits, but it was still cool. Everything was in Spanish, but I could still look down the gun barrels and torpedoes and go "pyeewwshhh". They had a picture of president Taft visiting on deck. I was able to make out the Spanish enough to read how they rolled all the ship's cannon to the opposite side in his honor.

      Well, time to attend to my dehydration from Ms. Fortabat's stingy lack of water fountains. Maybe that's how she got rich - hoarding potable water from the masses. Bitch.