Category Archives: Travel mishaps

West: A Farewell to Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

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Uncouth ways of getting from A to B characterized our travels around Pinar del Río, Cuba’s westernmost province, from the very moment we left Baracoa… which is, incidentally, in Cuba’s easternmost province. Or, more accurately, from about two hours after we left Baracoa, at which point the bus came to a halt on the top of an idyllic mountain pass.  The driver got on and off the bus several times, finally to conclude, in a succinct announcement to the passengers, “Estamos rotos.” We are broken. Talk about an existential interruption to an otherwise relaxing travel day!

Over the next half-hour or so the lingering effects of the bus’ air-conditioning began to give way to the piercing Cuban sun, and one by one we all got off the bus. Like the cast of Lost, our isolation brought out the best in us (this was the point, after all, where Sara started penning the first Cuban installment of our trusty blog) and the worst in us (like the Italian guys who immediately stripped down to their briefs and got unpleasantly day-drunk off their souvenir rum). Regardless, though, we all let out a cheer when, six hours later, the second bus out of Baracoa came into sight. Though it carried passengers of its own, it was still able to accommodate us all, even if some of us (read: one of us in particular) had to sit on the floor. (In all honesty, once I abandoned all sense of decorum and just lay down in the aisle I was actually incredibly comfortable!)

Josh and the art of having incredibly appropriate reading material for the occasion:
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All of this to say that by the time we arrived in Viñales thirty-five hours later, we were quite excited for some alternative modes of transport. And Viñales delivered. What followed was, in the spirit of WestJet travel writing, ‘three perfect days’ of exploring this otherworldly paradise on horseback, bicycles, and cattle-trucks.

Day 1: Horseback

While the cycling culture of Viñales is what initially drew us there, it soon became apparent (though not entirely clear why) that certain trails on the map were not for biking. Instead, the local wisdom seemed to advise that horses were the best bet. Seeing as horses tend to be just as common on Cuban roads as cars (or bikes…or bicitaxis…or motorcycles with sidecars), we decided to go for it. Our very knowledgable casa hostess hooked us up with a friendly father and son, both named Eduardo, who took us out on a very comprehensive tour of the Viñales countryside. It immediately became clear why they had frowned at our idea of cycling these trails:

Viñales is one of those bizarre microclimates that gets a daily 4:00 pm thunderstorm.  As such, paths like this one are perpetually running red with iron-rich muck.
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Our faithful steeds for the day and our guide, Eddy Jr. (On the right. Obviously.) Eddy is 11 years old and more skilled working with horses than we could ever dream of ourselves. We also enjoyed swimming with him later in a beautiful lily-pad-clad lake as he challenged us to races and handstand competitions.

Father and son watch us as we descend into one of the many caves that hide in the forest.

Our trek took us to a family coffee farm, much larger than the one we had stumbled upon in the Sierra Maestras. One of the (incredibly exuberant) employees gave us a detailed tutorial on the sorting, splitting, and roasting processes. He became a recurring character in our journey when he popped up that evening as the MC at a dance club across the street from our casa.
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Sara trots past a secadora, the giant huts used to dry tobacco leaves.
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Inside the secadora, tobacco leaves dry for months after having been sorted according to where they had been on the plant (top = more sunlight and older leaves = stronger flavour, but burn much faster. The balance of top-versus-bottom leaves is what creates the exceptional smoothness and even burning quality of hand-rolled cigars). 90% of the farm’s tobacco leaves will be sold to the government to become Cuba’s signature export, while 10% remain here, hand-rolled with no filler added, to make some of the smoothest and strongest cigars in the world.
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Throughout the day (and in a few of the pictures above), we could see the legendary mogotes in the distance, giant limestone monoliths that look as though they were dropped out of the sky. I wondered if it was possible to get closer to these, to actually walk right up to the point where they rise abruptly out of an otherwise Manitobanly-flat prairie. The next day would answer my question.

Day 2: Bicycles

Our obviously-very-well-connected casa hostess somehow made two bicycles appear the next morning, pointing us down the street which would eventually turn into a highway that wound through the mogotes. We got out onto the open road and felt the familiar exhilaration of highway cycling, except that instead of the grain elevator-dotted cornfields of southern Manitoba we were surrounded by mogote-dotted tobacco fields.

Tinker Creek’s star cyclist brings her skills to Cuba.
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Yep, you can! (Walk right up to the base of a mogote and touch it, that is). Most mogotes aren’t this vibrantly coloured…this one bears the Mural de la Prehistoria, a gigantic work of art depicting the evolution of life on earth.
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Our reward for our early start was having the entire mural to ourselves to experiment with cycling selfies. And some brief respite from that piercing Cuban sun.
Mural y mogote
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As the heat was reaching its peak, we sought refuge in la Cueva del Indio, a magnificent cave that once served as a natural fortress for an entire indigenous people. Half of it is filled with water and requires a boat to navigate, giving it an eerie River Styx quality.
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Day 3: Cattle-truck

The one typical Cuban treasure that Viñales lacks is a beach, but there are plenty of taxis willing to drive you the 2ish hours to nearby Cayo Jutías for a fairly significant price. When we asked our casa hostess (who by this point was starting to seem less well-connected and more positively magical) if there was a less expensive way she said yes, and that she would arrange it for the next morning. We just had to be at the door by 8:00.

While there were no cattle on the truck, it certainly could have served that purpose. About 15 of us cozied up on the bench that ran along the inside edge, and Sara was given the noble task of pulling the door shut as it swung open on every bump.
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Sara and I enjoy the Cuban tradition of bringing a drink with you into the ocean.
Jutías drinks!

Who needs a resort when, as you lie on the deserted end of a remote beach, a friendly fisherman approaches you and asks if you’d like to buy the lobster he just caught? We went out for a quick pre-lunch dip, and five minutes later heard him shout to us, “I have your lobster! I’ll just leave it on your towel!”
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The aforementioned 4:00pm daily thunderstorm, combined with some washed-up driftwood, provided a perfectly ominous photo-op.
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While our days were filled with nature at its most gorgeous, our nights were filled with fascinating people, like our hostess’ husband Eddy (yes, there are apparently a LOT of Eduardos in this part of the world!) who worked at the local cigar shop, and two lovely German travellers with whom we spent the evenings eating, dancing, debating the complexities of Cuban politics, and sharing stories from the days’ adventures. ¡Muchas gracias a todos de ustedes para compartir estos dias lindisimos con nosotros!

Eddy instructs us on the finer points of cigar-smoking. “Don’t use the lighter, it’s too direct. Light this stick of cedar paper, and then rotate it gently.” “Ah, like roasting a marshmallow,” I say. He doesn’t respond. I should have known…marshmallows are quite an enigma in Latin America. (But seriously, it’s like roasting a marshmallow.)
 

Our Deutsche travel buddies, Steffi and Marta, inspired us with their own travel stories and the incredible work they do back in Germany, before a game of Dutch Blitz that lasted well past midnight.
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¡Hasta próximo, Viñales!

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There’s (yet another) adventure…

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When I received the email from my exchange coordinator informing me that my accommodations had been changed from a private student apartment to living with a host family, I felt like things were finally falling into place for this trip. As evidenced by our adventures through Europe, I have found that the absolute best way to travel is to plan your travels around people, rather than places. Therefore, getting to live with a family during my time in Mexico promised to make this opportunity into something even more amazing than I had originally thought!

Happy FB news

But before getting acquainted with my new Mexican family, I first had to actually make it to Mexico… resulting, like all good trips should, in a travel adventure!

Josh and I rolled into Fargo around midnight, giving us plenty of time to hit up Buffalo Wild Wings before crashing into bed with the alarm set for 4AM in order to catch my 6AM flight out of Fargo. After an unreal goodbye with mi Josué in the airport, I was attempting to nap on the plane when I was suddenly awoken by cries of, “He’s collapsed! Somebody help! There is a medical emergency!”

An elderly gentleman had collapsed in the aisle of the plane right behind me, and the flight attendants came running with oxygen. They then made that announcement I truly thought occurred only in movies, “Is there any medical personnel aboard the aircraft?” I underwent a brief panicked ethical dilemma trying to figure out if I was responsible to try to do something if there was nobody else on board, but thankfully a very capable-looking doctor came bustling down the aisle of the plane. The attendants informed the plane that the pilot was on standby waiting for confirmation from the doctor about whether an emergency landing would be required. After a very confusing many minutes, the announcement was made that an emergency landing would not be required, but upon landing in Atlanta, paramedics still immediately boarded our plane and escorted the gentleman off.

After all that excitement, I was thankful for my long and relaxing layover in Atlanta, where I ate some very salty and fried things for breakfast before boarding my flight to Mexico City. Now, generally airports don’t fluster me, not even renowned massively huge airports like D.F. What flustered me was seeing that I had exactly one hour to both clear Customs and make my connecting flight to Tuxtla… and what panicked me was walking off the plane and into what I originally thought was the ground floor arena for a sold-out U2 concert, but was actually the “line” for Customs.

I stood in this line (read: at the back of a massive room filled with a massive amount of people, with the tiny Customs officials barely visible at the far other end) and anxiously chewed my nails to bits until finally asking the gentleman next to me if this was the only “line” to be in. I got the feeling that he had been stewing over things for awhile, because he immediately launched into a tirade against inefficient Mexican airport authorities who make tax-paying residents still stand in this line because they aren’t officially Mexican citizens, even though citizens barely ever fly so having a separate line for them is a horrific waste of resources… and then told me to try just getting into the Diplomats line. I had literally nothing to lose but a possible flight connection, so into the Diplomats line I went, behind a gaggle of Aerolíneas Mexicanas flight personnel and many dignified señoras in wheelchairs.

And I confess: upon arriving at the front of the line and being sternly confronted by the Customs official, who demanded to know what I thought I was doing in this line without proper paperwork, I shamelessly took full advantage of my confused-single-white-girl status and stammered many things about flights and information given to me and -insert pleading eyes here- … and was impatiently waved through Customs with time to spare.

(You get the idea)

Except for the small fact that my flight to Tuxtla was not listed on a single departure board. The first airport personnel I asked about my flight gave me a disgusted look and told me I was already at the gate (FYI, when I asked her this, I was definitely standing in front of a bank machine). The second person I asked pointed me towards the opposite end of the airport and said it would be posted there. Upon speed-walking the 20 minutes to the other end of the airport, the third person I asked informed me that obviously, it was Gate E2… which happened to be back where I had started from. Although, since my flight was still not on any Departures board, I consider it sheer magic that this person at least knew what I was talking about.

If at this point I wasn’t yet sufficiently aware of the fact that I was in truly in Mexico, I boarded the plane to Tuxtla only to have the man in front of me turn on his iPod speakers to blast the entire plane with marimba music. When the smiling flight attendant asked if he had headphones, he replied, “Well, I do… but then nobody else would be able to hear it!”

Bienvenidos a Mexico… the fun has just begun!

Bienvenidos a Chiapas!

There’s an adventure…

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When we last left our hero (hereafter referred to as Joshua Tree), he was adrift in a sea of permafrost and Cree pysanky, slowly making his way back home. Our heroine (hereafter referred to as Sara) now rejoins the scene, emerging from the mire of second year Nursing exams and her final weeks as a health interviewer. After nearly three months apart due to Josh’s Northern adventures, we were reunited in a flurry of unpacking, repacking, saying hello to friends, saying goodbye to friends, and preparing to do what saratree does best: travel!

A bit of backstory: Almost as soon as we arrived home from Argentina, we started plotting our next grand voyage. While we have loved setting up our little apartment in Osborne Village and working towards ‘real’ jobs, we have also loved realizing how essential travel has become to our life and worldview.

In true Josh & Sara fashion, it wasn’t enough to merely plan a 3 1/2 month backpacking trip across Europe. No, in the week before we left, we also had to finish exams, go to Ottawa, finish practicum, drive 13 hours home from Gillam, celebrate Josh’s graduation with his Bachelor of Education, pack up our apartment, and, in the hour before leaving for the airport, record a CD to give to our European hosts.

And then the fun really began! I’m sure so many of you heard us bragging about how perfect our Winnipeg-Chicago-Munich-Naples flights were. “At such reasonable times of day! With such comfortable amounts of layover time!” Saratree Travel Rule #1: When travel plans seem too good to be true, they probably are. We tearfully hugged my mom goodbye at the Winnipeg airport and proceeded to stand in line.

And then we stood in line.

Yep, an hour later, still just standing in line.

When we finally got to the front of the line, we were told cryptically by the most helpful United staff that the flight to Chicago was delayed.

“Why?” we asked.

No answer from helpful Ms. United.

“How long a delay?” we questioned.

Ms. United remained mysteriously silent.

“Will we miss our connecting flight?” we queried.

Ms. United was mute.

We sat in Winnipeg for 3 hours, with no United staff even present at the gate.

Finally, at 8 pm, when we should have been finishing our chocolate malts at Johnny Rockets in the Chicago airport, we finally boarded our first plane.

The flight attendant, while still unapologetic and uninformative, was at least concerned about us missing our connecting flight, so made an announcement to the rest of the passengers that there were “two customers on board who needed to meet their family in Munich” (?? I’m not really sure where she got this information, but it won us sympathy, so we let it slide!) so to please let us off first.

Our poor family in Munich must still be waiting for us, because we missed that flight (although we literally ran through the airport to try and catch it, which was exciting!) We ended up in a Chicago hotel for the night, with $7 each for dinner (United apparently missed the memo regarding inflation).

Which brings us to Saratree Travel Rule #2: Mishaps are always adventures, just sometimes cleverly disguised 🙂

Enjoying local beers with our $7 vouchers:
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Not enjoying the irony of the hotel restaurant’s advertising:
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The adventure continued when our flight out of Chicago was delayed yet again (we’ve still got some angry emails to send!). We insisted, we cajoled, we got out our firm voices, we even broke out in Spanish. In the end, we were put on stand-by and made it on a flight to Washington, which got us to Munich in time to finally catch a flight to Naples, only 24 hours later than planned!

Except that our bags forgot to catch the flight.

Our bags eventually made it (only 60 hours in the same clothes, not too bad!) But what this ridiculous beginning to our trip proved yet again is that no matter how chaotic life gets, no matter how stressful or uncertain situations may be, the most important thing is to have someone you can count on by your side. Whether you’re in Italy, in Winnipeg, across the pond, or down the road, I hope this summer is a time of discovering new friendships and strengthening existing ones. We’ll keep you posted on how that’s going for us over here!

Arrivederci, amici… 🙂

Granjas #5 – 5 1/2: Just your average, everyday WWOOF farm (yeah, right!)

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Finally back home in Argentina, we arrived at what was supposed to be our fifth farm after several email exchanges and one very successful confirmation phone call with the host (using telephones in this country is like doing a rubiks cube blindfolded, so trust me, this was a significant accomplishment!) However, when we arrived, we were greeted by a girl only a little older than ourselves who looked at us as if we’d just arrived from another planet. Apparently, her compañero (our supposed host) had left to who-knows-where for a week without telling her that two Canadians were coming to stay (so much for all that great communication, sigh), and she had two baby girls to take care of as well. She was friendly, but it was pretty clear she was in no state to have visitors (she said this directly, but the fact that she and her children were all running around in various states of undress implied it as well). It was late, so we set up our tent in the middle of a bush, waited out a mad thunderstorm, and took off the next morning.

Fortunately we had contacted another farm in the Mendoza area as well, so we sent them an SOS email and they replied (quite miraculously!!!), that same day, welcoming us with open arms. And so we hopped a bus that would take us to Tunuyan, Mendoza and found our new home at the end of a dirt road lined with beautiful weeping willows. We approached with well-warranted apprehension, but as soon as we entered we were shocked by the one thing we absolutely never expected…

It was… normal.

No high sabbath folk dancing, no anarchist protests, no army of other WWOOFers descending on our tent. Not that these are BAD things…it was just a very pleasant surprise to be greeted by a goofy dad, a brusque but sweet mom, and four high school/college age kids who are happy to share their lives with us but still fight about things like chores and who used whose bike last and messed with the gears.

In other words, a really normal family farm.

¡Bienvenidos a La Stalla!
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Bathroom facilities (nothing like a frigid shower outside to wake you up!)
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And so, we have spent two weeks tilling soil, building structures for various viney-type plants to crawl up, watching sheep get antibiotic injections, spreading manure, clearing brush (it was originally called “weeding pea plants,” but see pictures below to see why this description is more accurate), and feeding baby bunnies, who are adorable, even though we all know they’re only going to be eaten. All the while we listen to the hilarious antics of the dad, Luis, who has an elaborate story going in his head about this mennonite from Canada who lives in a colony wearing a little black hat and making cheese all day along with his vampire wife (something about Sara’s job testing blood in a laboratory was the inspiration behind this). It’s very entertaining.

The field: before clearing
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The field: after clearing
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Caña construction with our French WWOOFer friends
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Lunch with the fam and fellow WWOOFers in La Stalla’s galleria
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Laura’s incredible pizza al horno (aka clay oven pizza)
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A brief tour of the animals we got to know:

We thought we’d seen all the baby animals Argentina had to offer…until the pig surprised us by giving birth while we were weeding!
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Momma pig trying to sleep (I’m sure all you mothers out there can sympathize…)
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Baby bunnies (aka dinner – but let’s not think of that!!)
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Chicho: The sheep who thought he was a puppy
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Fido & Mimi decide to make Josh into a dog-person
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This farm and family are so entertaining, in fact, that we actually decided to stay for an extra week, which means that, after six months, we will finally be in the right place at the right time for one of Argentina’s many festivals.

And good timing too: Vendimia, Mendoza’s wine festival, is one of the country’s biggest and best. According to the family, there are apparently parades all weekend in which the festival beauty queens, elected from each region of Argentina, ride on elaborate floats wearing prom dresses and tossing everything from wine bottles to watermelons out to all the cheering people lining the streets.

But more to come on that later, assuming we haven’t been knocked out by flying watermelons…

It just wouldn’t be a long-term voyage in South America without…

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…a purse theft!

Of course, this wasn’t exactly what Sara was thinking when she realized it was no longer in the bag on her lap where it was supposed to be, nor was it what I was thinking as I waited impatiently with our bags in the bus depot while Sara ran back to see if there was any possibility it had been left in the hostel. It wasn’t, in fact, until we had two armed officers solemnly stuff our backpacks into their armoured van and cart us off to the police station to give a report, looking to all the curious spectators like we were about to be deported, that we realized we were having an essential foreign travel experience.

Our plans underwent a few changes at this point. Practically speaking, this happened at a time of epic inconvenience: we had been literally on our way to the bus depot to leave Chile when all of a sudden Sara was passportless and unable to cross any borders, and it happened to be a Saturday night, and the office that would give her a duplicate of her Chilean visa would not be open until Monday morning. BUT this just meant that we had another couple days to enjoy in beautiful Valparaiso, and that is what we did. We got a midnight ride in the armoured car, driven by a couple of 18-year-old junior officers who definitely thought this was all a big fun adventure, back to our beloved Doña Elena, who greeted us in her usual warm-but-stern manner.

Now, we knew the most pressing matter in such cases is to cancel one’s credit cards as soon as possible, but Chile is a strange country in that literally NONE of their phones can make international calls. Not landlines, not cellphones, not even the police chief’s office phone (apparently international crime hasn’t yet made it to Valparaiso). The only option was to use a telecabina, a sort of privately owned payphone, but these are only open during business hours. So, at the crack of dawn we got up and found one that happened to be open and, very fortunately, were able to cancel all cards without a hassle.

The rest of the day was spent wandering the vibrant streets of Valpo once more, buying churros from little old men and watching still more sunsets over the Pacific ocean. All in all, not a bad way to be stranded in a foreign country.
(Note from Sara: Melnyk clan, you are going to love this – we found an ENTIRE STREET lined with nothing but secondhand shops. I had to keep reminding myself that I would have to carry whatever I bought in my backpack!)

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Secondhand paradise…
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The next day, however, we got down to business (it was Monday, after all). We got Sara’s duplicate Chilean visa without a hitch and caught a bus to Santiago, the capital, where we were to apply for a new passport from the Canadian embassy. The embassy was exciting, with all the marble floors and high-tech security you’d expect, but not as exciting as the mad marathon we then had to run to get Sara to the photographer six blocks away so she could have her new photos taken and be back to the embassy before it closed at 5:30 (Needless to say, of all the haggard passport photos in the world, hers may have the most legit excuse).
(Another note from Sara: While my white hoodie is getting so wretched it won’t make it back to Canada, how lovely that it is now immortalized in my passport picture!! :P)

That evening, however, was the reason why this crazy travel mishap will forever hold a dear place in our hearts. After leaving the embassy and eating a much-needed dinner in Santiago’s business district, we set off to find somewhere to stay for the night. We had an address of a hostel, which was supposedly surrounded by a dozen other hostels in case there wasn’t room. When we got off the last metro of the night and emerged into what seemed to be not the best area of town, however, no one we spoke to had ever heard of it. All we found was a sign that said ‘hostel’ on a building that, we were told, had been condemned after an earthquake a few years ago. We wandered, following terrible instructions after terrible instructions, until we literally collapsed under the weight of our backpacks. We sat despondently on the side of the road, both of us at our wit’s end.

And that’s when the friendliest couple in the world appeared. “We know this is strange, and if you’re not comfortable with it we understand, but if you need a place to stay we have an extra room in our apartment,” said the respectable man in his early 30s, his cheerful-looking compañera smiling welcomingly at us. Now, we know that accepting invitations from total strangers in a foreign city is a pretty major traveling faux-pas, especially after having your purse stolen three days before, but after 2.5 hours of taking sketchy directions from even sketchier people, these guys were hard to resist. We followed them home and were eagerly welcomed into a shockingly normal little apartment, and told to relax on an already-made bed in the spare room.

Turns out our amazing new hosts were on their first day of summer holidays and were heading out on vacation the next day, and yet still somehow found time to offer ridiculously generous help to a couple of total strangers. They told us they had seen us sitting for awhile, and were worried about us because the area was dangerous after midnight (which it now was). They then invited us to join them for tea, which turned into a sampling of Chileno wines, lessons in local slang, and just an all around fun evening (read: night. We didn’t get to bed until almost 4am) with what seemed to be friends we had known for years. And as if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we had a breakfast of scrambled eggs (absolutely unheard-of in South America!) while our new friends found hostels for us and escorted us there themselves, giving us their cell phone number in case we had any other troubles. Needless to say, we were incredibly moved by this huge, absolutely random act of kindness. Muchisimas gracias, Claudio y Pepa!

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Alas, the tale is almost told. The only hitch left was for our friendly embassy lady to contact four references to confirm Sara’s existence/lack of criminal activity. These could NOT include relatives, and we had to know their work and home phone numbers, as well as their home address off-hand there in the embassy. We managed to scrounge up four friends for whom we knew this information, but unfortunately they were all students and therefore not home during embassy hours. The next day was therefore spent frantically searching Canada411, Facebook, and old emails for ANYONE who might be accessible during the daytime. (We kicked ourselves for getting married at this point, since even ‘grandma-in-law’ is apparently too close a relative to use. Sigh…)

And so, after many hours of searching (and two hours of staying late at the office for our heroic embassy lady), we managed to snag a friend from camp (although the embassy lady at first could only get ahold of her mom, who apparently talked so glowingly of their friendship that our embassy contact was ready to just use the mom as a reference), an old coworker, and Pastor Matt, whom we said, for lack of more accurate information, lived in the church. The fourth, however, is still a mystery to us, so wherever you are, if you received a phone call from the Canadian embassy in Santiago, we thank you dearly!
Yet more notes from Sara: Seriously, THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH. Once we’re home, I will spoil you with dulce de leche!! 🙂

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En route to the end of the world…

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When we last left you, dear reader, we were making our way gradually southward to the town of Ushuaia, which marks the southernmost point of human civilization. After 31 hours in three different buses (a trip which included spectacular views of the sheep-speckled Patagonia countryside, eight hours straight of medieval fantasy movies, and six hours standing in line at Chilean customs*), we arrived in Ushuaia and made our way in the dark to our campsite, which was also the winter season ski hill.

Grazing sheep dashing out of the way of our bus:
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Tierra del Fuego: “Land of Fire”
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We were in the process of setting up our tent when the campsite manager rushed outside and insisted we spend the night in the Refugio (“refuge” aka very rustic ski lodge), because it was too cold and too rainy outside. It was neither, but he was so sincere he was hard to resist. So, we spent the night on the floor of the refugio along with Pablo, the Catholic-Hindu Uruguayan who ate cereal out of a cut-in-half milk carton with a spoon he had borrowed from us, and was planning to camp just as soon as he bought a tent.

We spent the next few days exploring the town at the end of the world, and found that Ushuaia is a town where one doesn’t walk – one climbs. Built on the mountainside, Ushuaia is made up of vertical streets and cars parked at impossible angles, street signs bearing not only street names but geographical coordinates, an ocean harbor opening expectantly to the Beagle Canal, and, of course, the earmark of human civilization: many many MANY kitschy gift shops!

Looking towards the harbour:
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We planned to hike to the local natural wonder, the Glacier Martial. Armed with many maps and instructions from the campsite manager on how to complete the “three hour hike” to the glacier, we set off to find the trail that was supposedly clearly marked as soon as we reached the top of the ski hill. At the top, we found a marked trail, but after several hours of walking through ankle-deep mud (bear in mind that all the snow has just melted here, and it rained every day we were there!), it soon became clear that the trail was in fact heading in the opposite direction that we wanted to go. We were faced with a choice: turn back and repeat our chilly, muddy trek with nothing to show for it; or press on with the promise of a taxi ride home from the glacier (if we could manage to find it before dark).

The rainbow at the top of the ski hill (our campsite was right at the bottom!)
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Happy springtime! The trail of mud and freshly-melted snow:
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We pressed on. With only an hour of daylight left, we suddenly saw our first sign of civilization all afternoon: the tea house at the foot of the glacier mountain! A friendly taxi driver at the base of the mountain assured us that yes, this was the way to the glacier, but it was still a three-hour round trip from where we were! Crushed, we stood on the darkening mountainside, trying to decide what to do. Did we make the mature, responsible decision to take the taxi back to our campsite and attempt the hike again the next day, when we would be assured enough daylight to make it there and back? Or, did we press on like lunatics into the unknown, up a mountain and back again, possibly in the dark?

Up we went! Up the incline, across a rickety bridge, through a gnarled forest completely frozen over with snow, down an ice bridge and over a stream, arriving finally at… a lot more mountains.

Josh trekking the ice bridge:
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We stood looking around in utter bewilderment. We had followed all the directions perfectly, we had passed all the landmarks, and according to the map, the glacier should have been in front of us. But unless we were really missing something, there was no glacier to be found.

Freezing cold and at a total loss, we decided to take a breather at the benches by a little information placard. And there I read the following:

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In other words, we had made it to the glacier. We just missed it by 10 000 years.

The Glacier Martial:
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All was not a total loss! The trip up had given us beautiful views of the mountains, and had only taken half the time we thought it would (we were realizing at this point that Ushuaians have absolutely no sense of time), so the teahouse was still open for another thirty minutes. Fueled by our desire for hot chocolate, we sped down the mountain, arriving with one minute to spare – just enough time to call a cab and order two hot chocolates to go!

All in all, a successful day.

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*A note on Chilean customs: Any travel to Ushuaia requires, for some inexplicable reason, a two-hour drive on a stretch of Chilean highway. In other words, one needs to exit Argentina (passports checked, all bags scanned, many customs forms filled out, all passengers interrogated). Next, a half-hour drive through no-man’s land. Then, enter Chile (repeat all steps as above). Two hour drive through Chile. Exit Chile (repeat steps as above). Re-enter Argentina (repeat steps once again).
Total time in Chile: 2 hours.
Total time in customs lines: 6 hours.
Word of advice? Do not bring apples, no matter what the Chilean Minister of Agriculture may tell you.

On the road, somewhere between Flint and Detroit

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Five weeks ago, I walked down an aisle made of all the people I love most in the world towards the man who means the world to me.

August 13, 2011

My other best friend :)

The wedding party... who made it a party!

Off to find an adventure...

Three weeks ago, that man (hereafter known as Joshua) and I were knee-deep in boxes as we packed up my apartment, trying to find places to store all our furniture and worldly possessions for the next 8 months (while still keeping all our travel gear accessible, of course!). Last week, our average bedtime started at 4:30 AM and ended at 8:00 AM, as we crammed every moment full of packing and gear-shopping and goodbye parties, while trying out our new tent by camping in my mom’s front yard.

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Mom and Sean road-tripped with us to Grand Forks to catch our Greyhound bus, which was serendipitously an hour late, giving us more time to sit together in random coffee shops by the bus depot. 🙂

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After 23 hours of Greyhound bus fun (the depot in Kalamazoo* has excellent breakfasts, by the way), we arrived in Alma, MI to spend a few days with Josh’s mom and co. before flying away to Argentina.

However, nothing Josh and I do could be so simple as that! Today, Sheryle drove Josh and I to Saginaw to catch our flight to Chicago, which would connect to Washington, DC, then Buenos Aires (BA), Argentina. But, upon arriving in Saginaw, we were informed that all flights in and out of Chicago were delayed due to rain, and by the time we waited for our flight to Chicago, we would miss our flight to Washington. Despair!

Thankfully, we underestimated the determination of our United Airlines agent. After pulling on his lucky baseball cap, he proceeded to plot out every possibility to get us back on track. I think our favourite option was when he found a flight that would take us up to Toronto and then back down to Texas… He then looked at us worriedly and asked, “I’ll have to check if you have the proper visas to get into Canada.” (I don’t think they get too many Canadians flying out of Saginaw! :P)

Anyways, I am writing this from a McDonalds parking lot en route to Detroit, because our miracle worker found us a United flight from Detroit that would bring us into Washington in time to catch our original flight to Buenos Aires! We are off and running… Wish us luck!

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*For the sake of all you bus-cuisine aficionados out there, the best breakfasts are actually in Milwaukee… Kalamazoo has very little by way of food, but sounds way cooler.