Friday, July 31, 2009

Shocking

Zoop. Zap. Zing. Christie and I had to learn the hard way how to do our laundry. By getting shocked. Repeatedly.


I began to dread doing the wash (more than normal that is), because every time we'd reach inside the machine to pull out an article of clothing or to open or close the lid, we'd get shocked. Zoop. Zap. Zing. And it wasn't a little zoop zap zing either. The electric current was rather jolting, especially fishing out a large load of laundry. Christie tried to wear oven mitts. I tried to wrap a towel around my hands, but we could still feel the shock.

And then we learned the secret. Shoes. You have to wear shoes while using the washing machine to ground yourself!

Who would've figured? Washing machines are just not the same in the US. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Concordia, Argentina

The bus pulls over on the side of the highway. I scramble down to the driver's booth to ask him where we are, and he responds, Concordia. Oh yes, this is where I need to be. But where is the bus terminal, I ask? Oh, it's right down the road, just walk that way a little. He gets out of the bus, takes my suitcase out of the cargo-hold, climbs back on the bus, and drives away. I look around me. Nothing. 6:30 AM. Thick fog obscuring the view any more than 5 meters away. So I start walking; he said the bus station was nearby.


40 minutes later. Still foggy. Still cold. Still walking along highway with my heavy backpack and pink suitcase with wheels, only the wheels don't work because the ground beside the highway is sand. Hence I am dragging my suitcase and small mountain of sand behind me. I haven't showered in over 24 hours. Trucks honk their horns as they speed by. A lone girl in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing in sight but an industrial park. I have no idea where I am. There is no bus terminal nearby. What was that driver talking about? There are no taxis to hail. My cellphone is not functional, my minutes expired almost a week ago and I didn't plan on getting a new card until returning to Uruguay.

I feel rather exasperated, so I flag down a motorcyclist on the highway. When he stops I asked him how to get to the bus station and he said, oh yes, just walk along this road and turn at the white cross...yaddah, yaddah. Then he gives me the kicker, the bus station is only 10K away. 10K? That's 6.2 miles! There is no way on earth I can walk that far with my all my luggage at 7 something in the morning in the fog along a busy highway. I break down. I start crying hysterically. I just want to be back in Salto, somewhere familiar.

Despite the frantic tears streaming down my face, I continue to walk forward. Standing alongside the road is not going to get me any closer to the bus station. Eventually I come to a guard station for the industrial park and I ask at the security desk how to get to the bus station again. He basically tells me the same thing as the motorcyclist. I continue onward.

Soon a white truck stops. The man inside pops open the door and motions for me to get in. I look at him. I look at his truck. I look at the tan carpet seats. He doesn't look creepy. He looks like he works in the industrial park--wearing a blue flannel shirt, jeans with dirt stains on them. I don't know what else to do. I throw my suitcase in and I climb in afterward. I hope I don't regret this later.


The man tells me that he saw me when he made a delivery and and then when he was on his way back he saw me again. He has three daughters and he felt bad for me, because I had been walking for a long time and then I stopped at the security gate, so he knew something was wrong. He asks where I am headed, and drives me to the bus station. I learn about his entire family and about a boy who drowned in a lake nearby in the past week. How sad.

This man is a good man. I am so thankful. My first hitch-hiking experience (if you can call it that) turned out well in the end, and once again I am reassured that there are more good people in the world than bad.

I am just happy I am still alive. Traveling success. On a more positive note...the first time I went to Concordia with a professor from the CERP I enjoyed the town much more than the second time when I was all alone and lost. People say things are cheaper in Argentina and cross the boarder to buy stuff.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Honduras: No Al Golpe de Estado

What do the rest of the Americans think of the Honduran coup d'etat that overtook the government almost a month ago? It's bad. It's bad for Honduras. It's bad for the region. It's bad for democracy. I stumbled upon a rally outside the central building of the Universidad de la Republica today where Uruguayans gathered together to protest the forcible removal of president Manuel Zelaya. Uruguay has a reputation for having one of the most stable democracies in Latin America, so it is only natural they would display a zero tolerance policy for military political takeovers which happened to have left a dark shadow on its own history less than 3 decades ago.


The sign posted on the building reads "Honduras Resist. No to the Coup D'etat" I think we all want to know two things. Why is this mess still going on? And when will it end?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wild Things

I want to share with you a few of the really cool wild things I saw when I visted the Iguazu Falls a few weeks ago. First up we have the cute (maybe not-so-cute) coati that looks like a part raccoon, part opossum mix in my opinion.



I was minding my own business walking along a path near the waterfalls when I decided to munch on a banana. I peel my banana, take a big bite, and all of the sudden, in the flash of second, I am surrounded by coatis. They wanted some delicious banana and jumped up on the railing right next to where I was walking. I thought they were going to bite me. Eek.


Three guys from Europe also saw the coati and were scared too. Every time the coati crawled closer they took big steps backward all together. Haha. I couldn't help but laugh. City boys.


There were some pretty flashy neon orange mushrooms on a log in the woods.


Some gorgeous butterflies.


Lots of butterflies.


Lizards sunning themselves on rocks, trees, and trails.


And pretty birds. Bird watchers would be in bird-watching heaven.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Uruguay Knows How to Tango

This week the director of Fulbright Uruguay invited us over to her house for dinner and entertainment. We got the opportunity to eat delicious Uruguayan food and see beautiful tango dancing once again.


I uploaded a short video for you to see the some of tango show we got to see.

video
At one point Christie turned to me and asked, "Do you think they're in love?" I have no idea, but I responded yes, because, sigh, isn't that what the romantic inside all of wants to believe?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Florida, Uruguay

Today we visited Florida, a calm town of about 45,000 in the interior of the country. I really enjoyed meeting some great teachers, authorities, and future teachers.


We received a warm welcome at the CERP (Centro Regional de Profesores) where we also gave a presentation about the United States and took questions afterwards. I was impressed with the questions, I must say. Perhaps the best one asked was what would be the most important advice I could give to teachers based on my experience. I told them relating to your students and having an obvious passion for what you are teaching is the key to being an effective teacher. I really believe that too, and strive to live by those two principles myself!


The city of Florida is important to Uruguayan history because it is where the nation's independence was declared in 1825--hence the origin of the Oriental Republic's Declaration of Independence. There is plaza commemorating this site in the main plaza beside the historic cathedral overlooking the city. The country town atmosphere abounds in Florida, and I really really liked the people I met there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fellow Fulbrighter Run In

Did I mention that I happened to run into another Fulbrighter at the Iguazu Falls while I was there? It just so happened we were on the same trail at the same time on an island. Freaky. Stephen was kind enough to send me this photo we took with the Argentine flag. Awesome photo no? It has to be one of my favorites.


Later that evening we had dinner together--mmm spinach cannelones. A good day it was indeed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Constitution Day

For all of my readers in Uruguay--Happy Jura de la Constitución Day!

In researching why on earth electricians aren't working today, I learned that today is a holiday. Wow. Yay. Another holiday! Only this one falls on a Saturday so I don't really get off work. But nontheless, whoo, more reason to celebrate. July 18th marks the anniversary of the approval of the first national constitution of Uruguay in 1830.

And as such, I now understand why the main street running through Montevideo is called, you guessed it, 18 de Julio. It commemorates the passing of the constitution. And, even more brillantly, the street is not far from a plaza called Plaza de la Constitución. Ohhhhh, now it all makes sense.

On a side note, the reason why we needed an electrician is because our electricity went out last night. No lights. No heat. No internet. No telephone. No hot water. No nada. Apparently, if we are not found of darkness and silence, we can't have the electric space heater plugged in the same time we want to nuke something in the microwave. Thankfully we have a nice neighbor who knows a thing or two about fixing electrical problems.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Foz do Iguaçu

The Brazil side of the falls was perhaps not as large as the Argentine side, but the vistas were just as breath-taking. Foz do Iguacu is known for being the more panoramic side.
Unfortunately, I picked a rainy day to cross the border. A rainy Sunday to be more exact. And of course on Sundays the buses only run once every hour and lo and behold the bus dropped us off at the immigration office and drove away. Thanks for waiting for us. Thanks. It was just me, a girl from Ireland, and a guy from England waiting in the rain for the next bus that would come in hour to go to the bus station to catch another bus that would leave in another hour. Great. We eventually decided to all chip in for a taxi that would take us right to the falls. That was a smart decision that we probably should have made 20 minutes earlier.


All the hassle was definitely worth it. I ended up meeting a really cool person who had lived in Pennsylvania for some years and now works as a insurance investigator in Brazil. He was really interesting to talk to, and I think he wanted to practice his English so we ended up getting coffee, which led to a little tour of the city, which led to a scrumptious dinner at a soup buffet. I have found Brazilians to be very friendly people.


And Brazilian landscapes? Can't beat those.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Puerto Iguazu


The Iguazu falls were all I could have imagined them to be. Spectacular. I ended up spending more time there than I expected because I really enjoyed myself in the Puerto Iguazu.


The entrance fee to the park is a bit steep for foreigners, 60 pesos or about $20, but it was worth every penny. There are many trails you take to explore the falls, local wildlife, and nature.


On the Argentine side of the falls there are trails, the upper and lower circuits, the Macuco trail, a boat ride to San Martin Island, and a train ride to the "Devil's Throat." You really have to see it all and you can't really fit that all into one day. You need at least two at a minimum just at the falls, just on the Argentine side.


If I had to pick my favorite part, it would probably have to be the Garganta del Diablo (picture above) which was a train ride followed by a trek on catwalks over the river to see the largest part of the falls up close. Word of advice? Bring a rain coat and plastic bag for your camera whether it is raining or not. You'll thank me later.

Monday, July 13, 2009

San Ignacio Jesuit Ruins

A beautiful little town in the middle of nowhere really, San Ignacio is.
San Ignacio Miní was one of the many missions founded in 1632 by the Jesuits in the Americas during the Spanish colonial period near present-day San Ignacio valley, some 60km south of Posadas, Misiones Province, Argentina.


The bus pulled up to a church smooshed between a few houses and a casino accross the street. The bus driver yelled out “San Ignacio” and I disembarked from the coach. The bus pulled away and I remained standing alongside the red dirt road with my suitcase in tow. Ok. So this is an adventure, right? Fortunately, someone pointed me in the direction of the ruins I was in search of.


The town is mostly a sleepy little village except for maybe four blocks around the entrance to the ruins where it turns into a big tourist trap. Every sign in addressed to Senior Tourist. Stop here. Eat dinner for 35 pesos. Buy these precious stones. Etc.


The ruins were intriguing. The remaining architecture was impressive. Definitely worth the visit. I would go back and spend more time there if I could. Horacio Quiroga's house is also in San Ignacio on the other side of town from the ruins.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Posadas

Posadas is a small town in northeastern Argentina, capital of the Misiones province.


I arrived in there after a 10 hours bus ride from Concordia. I asked at the bus terminal information center what the city had to offer me, but the woman inside didn't seem too enthused. She did fortunately pointed me in the direction of a hostel, or the general area of one at least. I left the bus terminal to catch a city bus, but unfortunately caught the wrong one. I asked the bus driver when I should get off and he said, oh no, this bus doesn’t go there as he proceeded to pull over to the side of the road to let me off. So I took my wheely suitcase and wheeled it right back where I came from. Then I found the right bus, found the hostel, and left to explore the city of Posadas.


The downtown is very cute. There are many shops and plazas for people to enjoy. The siesta however closes everything down for 3 hours in the middle of the day so I could not find a supermarket to buy food. After wandering everywhere over the city I found a bustling market place where I bought some much needed fruit. Then I spent the day walking up at down the coast where everybody seems to come to jog, walk, play drums, makeout, dance, and spend their time. I ate the best empanadas I have ever had in my life at a little hole in the wall, which is really saying a lot since empanadas are a major staple of South American quisine. The city of Posadas has a great view of the Paraná River.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Goodbye Salto

Saying goodbye to students, teachers, mentors, and friends in Salto was very challenging. I will miss everyone very much.

The students at Escuela 1 gave me hundreds (no exaggeration) of letters. They were so adorable. I also got millions of hugs and kisses, thanks yous and I love yous. Salto will always be a second home.



After leaving Salto I traveled for a week and then moved to my new apartment in Montevideo. I will blog about my travels and new place in the city in the days to follow.