In Awe of Iguazu

With my aunts and my uncle reluctantly returning to the bitter polar vortex going on in Chicago, it was now just me and my parents. And we did the opposite. We headed to the jungle in the very north eastern tip of Argentina to see Iguazu Falls. I was so excited to show them my Argentina, and it was especially cool to start out with a place that was new for all of us. Iguazu Falls are at the tri-border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, although most of the falls are in Argentina. There are supposedly 275 drops (not sure how that is determined) with the height reaching up to 269 feet.

There are all sorts of facts comparing Iguazu to other famous waterfalls, but no impressive facts can substitute for a day directly in the company and awe of these spectacular falls. It felt so good to be back in the jungle, hearing too many sounds of birds and insects to count, smelling the sweet fresh air, surrounded by so much life and green that you almost feel you are glowing green yourself. The jungle consumes you like that. IMG_0535

Iguazu is one of those sites where you have to just accept the crowds and understand that they are there in such abundance because the site is just that impressive. So we came up with our game plan for following the trails and walkways to soak in the falls from every angle. We headed on the higher trail, which took us to a platform directly over one end of the falls. From this angle we could see the water flowing gently, but swiftly to the cliffs edge and then powerfully plunging over where it appeared the earth had just stopped. Some flowed more gently and then there was one section of the falls that was the beast. Water did not flow or pour over the cliffs there, but seemed to simultaneously erupt and consume everything in its path. There was the massive force of water, but looking closely it seemed that there were fireworks of water, a million waterfalls within one giant one. Hawks swooped overhead and I couldn’t help but think what a fortunate, fantastical location these birds and trees were born into.

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We took a small boat out onto an island where we could hike to more of a landscape view of the waterfalls. There were brave lizards along the path and crossing it, and the raccoon-cat looking hybrid coatis that were all over the place, tails up in the air, noses stuck in the ground hunting for food. I think we may have thought they were cute had we not already seen signs with gory gaping wounds from coati attacks, should you try to feed them. Every now and then a butterfly would flutter along side us, sometimes occasionally landing or posing for a picture. From this view, you could feel the mist grace our faces.

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This was just a tease for what we’d do next. We got on another boat that took us to different sections of the falls, including into a waterfall itself. That was so intense. Like what a good water ride at a theme park tries to do when it imitates nature, but could never quite match. The water just pounded us and everyone was cheering and giggling and whooping so loud in a screaming match with the roar of water. We also went to the bottom of the falls that were spread out like a great theatre curtain waiting for the big show. Although I can’t imagine a more spectacular show; this was my favorite part…camera tucked away for a bit, looking up from the very bottom of the biggest, broadest waterfalls that I’ve ever seen, feeling like paradise is a secret, magical place for nature to show off in all its glory and I am physically in it.

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Foodie Argentina

With Spanish checked off the list on Night 1, I wanted to show my aunts and uncle what I love about Argentina, the chilled out lifestyle with good food and wine. We had a day of wandering the super hip, bohemian, muraled port city of Valparaiso in Chile, and then headed to Mendoza, the perfect city to wine and dine. Wine, dine, pool, repeat. No problemo.

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We spent a day in Valle de Uco, the darling of Mendocino wine country. Due to its more remote location at the base of the mountains, there’s the extra punch of flavor and complexity that you get from the grapes who bear the higher altitude. We started out at Salentein, a larger vineyard with a dramatic aesthetic to its wine cellar (pictured below). I had been writing for The Vines of Mendoza blog, and wanted to share this experience with them. And so we moved on to a long, lazy lunch at Siete Fuegos, the new Francis Mallmann restaurant at The Vines. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. It was a special and ‘elevated’ experience, pun intended.

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Our paths were wonderfully crossing for one night with my dear friend Trinity from California and her husband Jeff and quite possibly the happiest baby ever, their 1 year old Ivory. I planned ahead for our laughter/volume level and reserved us the table in the wine cellar room at one of my favorite restaurants. We had the room to ourselves and could conveniently get up to choose another bottle of wine from the racks of the “wine list” at our leisure. Which we did. Frequently. The party continued back at our hotel where we gathered to play guitar, sing, and drink more wine. Who knew we were so naturally Argentine!

When we didn’t have anyone joining us for dinner, we made friends with the chef himself. After a day wandering around the parks, plazas, and cafes of Mendoza we went to Siete Cocinas, a restaurant in town that immediately feels like home when someone answers the door and guides you to whichever room your table is in. We did a tasting menu of the 7 regions of Argentina, highlighting that you can have exquisite food from each region without having beef. For example, even the pallet cleanser was divine…a frutos de bosque sorbet that tasted like each of my taste buds was a culinary magnifying glass for the essence of the berry.

Perhaps this would’ve been another night to have our own private room though. A massive storm moved in, overflowing the deep gutters that resembled moats throughout Mendoza in a matter of minutes. Luckily we had already befriended Chef Pablo, who I can only assume found us highly entertaining, as he kept us happy with spontaneously mixed cocktails and dessert wine on the house. Games were played, we watched cars fly by sending walls of water up, giggled like kids and extended invitations for the Chef to visit us in the States. We’ve been feeling so inspired by the generosity and friendliness we were experiencing everywhere.

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In the spirit of continuing our shared experiences, we came back from a day in the mountains to meet another dear friend of mine, Carmen la artista, who I met as she was painting beautiful murals and I was working on my writing. We had a happy hour picnic in the hotel with the food and wine we had forgotten to take into the mountains with us. From there we were headed out to dinner and ran into John, a friend who we had met on the plane from Santiago and then continued to run into at the winery and again in our hotel. So this motley crew headed to dinner together. John is opening a winery here in Mendoza, and already oversees two wineries in Oregon and Napa, so we got a free lesson in wine tasting and our very own sommelier at the table. We toasted to all of us living our passions and serendipitous friendships.

From here we moved on to Buenos Aires and waited for my parents to arrive. Eager to invite them immediately into this culinary ride we were on, we had dinner plans for a closed door restaurant that night, Colectivo Felix. My friend Nick had lived in Buenos Aires with the chef of this unique restaurant that is run out of someone’s home. We were invited into the garden to have a fresh herbal twist on the caipirinha cocktail and meet the other guests. We then moved into the small courtyard for the rest of the meal, which had candlelit tables and white lights sparkling, colorful flags flying above. Vegetables and herbs grown right there from the garden we had just come from highlighted the unique flavor twists and seafood. It was so fresh and delicious. All of this eating was wonderful, but it was time to shake a tail feather.

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We spent the day wandering through the San Telmo market, one of my favorite ways to spend a day…taking in all of the art and craftsmanship, stopping at cafes, enjoying the buskers. Of course we had to head to la Boca too, not only to see the colorful houses, but also to take in some tango, as we’d be trying it ourselves later that night. I convinced my family to head to La Catedral for a tango lesson and as I took photos of them being led through the warm-up exercises, arms in the air, hips moving side to side, I was so happy and proud of how fully they embraced the entire culture. And it turns out we’ve got some talent! Well, maybe I shouldn’t include myself in that, but by the end of the night, they could genuinely say that they can tango. Considering the first exercise involved learning how to walk, I was so impressed to see them glide across the floor, trying out different moves in time to the mysterious and dramatic tango music.

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Settling into Mendoza

It was tempting to keep traveling north and explore more of Peru, but I had a feeling pulling me south back to Argentina. It occurred to me that although the adventures I have had this year have blown my mind, the feeling was fleeting. It was fleeting because I hadn’t yet created the life to support being able to do this sort of long term travel/ wandering. The goal was never just to travel, although wow…how amazing that has been. The goal was and is to create a new life entirely around my essence, passions, and values. With exploring other cultures being one of my great passions, it made sense to start this journey by traveling. Really simple actually: I love this, so I’m going to do more of this and see what happens. (click links to read my article and other blog that talk about these things a bit more)

I knew that doing this alone was important too, but wasn’t exactly sure why. What I’ve learned is that traveling alone has really let me leave a lot behind; job, commitments, familiar crutches and time suckers. What has come with me are fears, habits, and who I am as a person, how I process things and make decisions, what I feel. So traveling solita exposes me to unknowns and I learn to listen to myself, process things myself and really to just be myself in the truest sense.  Sometimes it is lonely and sometimes it is such a gift and opens up all sorts of opportunities.

So with my goal in mind and embracing this unique opportunity of the ultimate alone time, the travel aspect started to feel like it was fleeting. I felt like it was time to settle for a bit and focus on writing, reflecting on what I’ve learned and to decide what is next for me in this journey. Mendoza had always been in my mind as a great city for living and I traveled for a week by land to make my way back to the land of Malbec.

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I took a pit stop in San Pedro de Atacama, a very picturesque desert in Northern Chile with many a volcano gracing the horizon. The vast emptiness of the landscape resonated with the emotions that I was feeling…I thought it had been scary traveling alone at times, but as soon as I headed south to “officially” start living my new life, every fear and doubt bubbled into my chest. I felt so anxious, I missed seeing new landscapes even before I arrived in Mendoza. I took these thoughts by bike out to a laguna for the day. That night I met a writer, a girl starting a fair trade business with her sister and a guy who is creating a documentary on healing in the Amazon…sooo, basically my life. Point for synchronicity!

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When the bus came into Mendoza I remembered what an oasis it is, the green tree canopies shading every street in this dry desert town. I walked through the familiar streets and welcomed this city as my new home as I passed flower stands calming my fears with thoughts of buying a fresh bouquet to make my apartment my own. It is spring here now and the whole city smells like a flower. It’s incredible.

Now all I have to do is find an apartment. Who knew what a cultural experience this could be? For weeks I told anybody and everybody that I was looking for an apartment. The usual response was something along the lines of “ok great, I’ll let people know.” “Thank you, but can’t you just tell me a website I can go to? I want to find a place this week.” Now that I’ve been through the experience I can see why people laughed when I said this. A lot of people live at home until they are married, even into their thirties. People tend to stay in places for a long time with a typical lease being 2 years and requiring someone to vouch for you. There are websites as it turns out, but most things happen by word of mouth.

So I started trying to do things to meet people and put myself out there. I started going to a language exchange group to practice Spanish and share English. I met with the Vines of Mendoza, a company through which you can buy a vineyard and make your very own Mendocino wines. (I’m allowed a shameless plug in my own blog, no? I’m now writing for The Vines blog about the wine experience and culture of Mendoza). I met up with friends that I made at the hostel while I was here in April and May. After a week on buses and the most intense neck cramp, I treated myself to a massage and a local woman at the spa offered me a room in her home, although she didn’t have water or electricity somehow. So all of this helped me get acquainted and involved in Mendoza as a home and eventually I did find a place for a month and immdiately bought some flowers. Oh the luxury of my own space!!!

At first I was so excited, all I did was stay in and write and cook and watch movies in Spanish to keep practicing. I found that being in nature isn’t just a hobby or occasionally fun, but something that is critical to my happiness. So I took a weekend trip to Uspallata, a mountain town where I was able to watch the sun set over a river and the full moon rise with my new Mendocina friend who had gone horseback riding and hiking with me that day.

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Part of me felt intimidated and tired of always going out on my own and always trying to meet people. And yet, when I stayed holed up in my apartment in the city I missed interactions and the impromtu invite or conversation. So I said yes to an invitation to go to a wine tasting event for the day. And I sought out events in Mendoza and was able to find a polo tournament and talk some friends into going who brought more friends and suddenly we had the most wonderful day in the sun, tasting champagne and watching the horses and riders compete against a gorgeous mountain backdrop.

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Stay tuned for more stories of my life here (there are many now) and also for my book. I finally started writing it and as you can imagine, am feeling quite inspired by the adventures I’ve had this year.