Articles by tomandkels

You are currently browsing tomandkels’s articles.

We left Uruguay promising to return to it’s chilled out old-school vibe and headed into Argentina with plans to meet up with our friends (and partners on drivetheamericas.com) to get a little conversation and drink a little red wine.  We hightailed it over the bleak pampas, passing flashes of pink flamingos, to the wonderfully sunny and charming Mendoza.

Wine Tour Mendoza

Since we were in wine country we felt that to really experience it we should take advantage of the nearby wineries.  Boarding a bus for about an hour and half took us to Maipu and right to Mr. Hugo’s bike rentals.  We pedaled through the spring day, stopping in at a few wineries to sample the wares.  But I think the highlight of our little afternoon jaunt was the last stop – a small shop, A la Antigua, which had every sort of homemade delicacy imaginable: olives, dulce de leche, chocolates, preserves and liqueurs from Scotch to Absinthe.  Osvaldo, our giggly and rather round host, invited us to try a little of everything all of which were ridiculously good, so good that we all left with backpacks a little heavier than when we came.

Concha y ToroAfter enjoying a week of Mendoza’s sunny days and great wine we decided it was time to head to Chile in search of waves.  But, before we could hit up the surf we felt it was only proper to pay our respects to Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine exporter and creator of one of our most favourite joyful finds.  After a night of free camping (people are really too generous) we arrived at the crack of 10am to take a tour and a tasting at the humongous bodega.

Wine SnobsOur tour guide, who had a very odd accent (think William Shatner’s Captain Kirk with a British accent), told us a little about the winery as we wandered around the estate, the Concha y Toro cellar and the infamous El Casillero de Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar).  Señor Concha y Toro found that wines were going missing so he created a bit of a legend that the wines were protected by the devil himself thereby keeping frightened thieves out of his private collection.  The tour includes two tastings of the medium brand wines and your own Concha y Toro wineglass…all in all a pretty good time.
The end

One thing we noticed right away in Uruguay were people carrying strange leather cups and thermoses: on the beach, walking around the city, the campground, the hot springs, drinking it in their cars… maté was literally everywhere.

Maté actually refers to a small gourd some of which can be elaborately decorated, wrapped in leather, embellished with silver or inset into cows hooves.  The tea is referred to as yerba.  This tea is sipped through a metal tube called a bombilla which acts as both a straw and a sieve, the whole ensemble is completed with a thermos which is usually carried tucked in the crook of the elbow.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun we decided to wander around Montevideo and try to find ourselves a maté and bombilla set that we both liked. Tom picked his up first (only after we saw every mate dealer in the whole old city) and I found mine in a small Saturday market and bought it direct from a man who handmade them…making Tom rather jealous.

There are a million rules about how to prepare and drink maté…but it all depends on who you talk to and since Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay all partake in the yerba ritual you could hear a lot of different stories—but from what we have read and seen Uruguayans are the most serious maté drinkers, consuming twice as much maté per capita than their Argentine amigos

Preparing Maté – Uruguayan style
We had the lovely owners of Punto Berro Hostel in Montevideo give us a lesson on how to prepare and drink maté, this is our summarized version:

How to make mate from Kels M on Vimeo.

Maté Etiquette
Maté is serious business here in Latin America.  It is more than just ‘drinking tea’ it is a centuries old ritual that is deeply ingrained in the culture and if you’re invited to share a maté you really shouldn’t refuse as sharing mate is seen as extending friendship.  Another steadfast and important rule is to leave the bombilla alone, don’t fuss with it or do anything crazy like pull it out or stir it around, once it is set it stays there until the maté ritual is finished.

Mate Flavour
As for the flavour, well I think this maybe  one of those things you learn to like.  It sort of like green tea only a whole lot stronger and at times bitter though every Uruguayan we met was sure that we would learn to love it.  We started out on one which was rather potent and have since backtracked to Abuelita (little grandmother) to slowly work towards proper appreciation.

Maracuya Tic Tacs

 

I can eat a whole box of these in about five minutes flat. Tom tells me I have to savour the flavour by sucking instead of chewing but tic tac etiquette be damned.

These tasty Passionfruit flavoured Tic Tacs can be found in both Colombia (maracuya) and Brazil (maracuja), they have a soury-sweet flavour that makes them instantly addictive and they also claim to have vitamin C so they are undoubtedly good for you.  These treats are great to have kicking around when you are on the road with nothing to eat… having more than one box helps… I buy five at a time.

 

Thanks to our friends Austin and Kelly, over at Travellious, for their list of road trip essentials. Happy Road Tripping!

The open road

Usually all you need for a road trip is a car, a couple of friends, and a direction.  But sometimes your trips are a little more planned out,  you’ve got time to think about what you want to bring along.  When you’ve got that time, make sure you’ve got the goods you need to have fun, find your way there, and get there in one piece.

The Intangibles

1. A good navigator
Someone in the car needs to know how to read a map and/or have a good sense of direction.  I inherently trust my girlfriend Kelly to figure out where we need to go; without her, I’d probably take twice as long to get there.

2. A sense of adventure
Without the desire to have a little fun and do something different, a road trip is just a boring sea of blurred lines and livestock.  Go out and find something different to see, eat, or do.   Don’t be afraid of mistakes, sometimes the bad decisions make the best stories.

To Find Your Way

3. Maps & a Compass
Unless your navigator is omnipresent, they’re going to need some tools to do their job.  We like to have a broader map, as well as more detailed ones that allow for some off-highway travel.  Our new Google G1 phone has taken care of a lot of this for us.

Maintenance Necessities (Just In Case)

4. Jack, Tire Iron, Spare tire
A spare tire won’t cut it, you need the tools to put it on properly.  If you get a chance, practice using your jack so you don’t look clueless on the side of the road when bad luck strikes.

5. Gas Can
“Sure, we can make it a few more miles. There’s got to be a station around here somewhere…”  If you lose this bet with the fates, you’d be better off being able to get fuel back to your car without having to beg, borrow, or steal someone else’s.

6. Battery Jumper
Jumper cables will work, but what if nobody else is around?   I love having a portable jump starter battery in the trunk, you can jump your own car without having to wait for a good Samaritan to drive by.

Lifesavers

7. Water & Extra Food (more than snacks)
If you’re planning on going anywhere with adverse weather, or anywhere remote, having a stash of extra water and food can be a lifesaver.  If nothing else, just stash some candy bars and beef jerky in the trunk, along with a day or two supply of water.  If you’ve managed to make it to the end of your trip without needing it, you can celebrate with a junk-food binge.

8.  First Aid Kit
You never know what might happen on the road, so keeping a little first-aid kit can make a huge difference.  You don’t need to be prepared for amputations, but putting together a good kit for most minor injuries is a great idea.

Fun!

9. Ample Supply of Good Music
Now that you’re prepared for all the important, but boring, parts of a trip, you’ve got to make sure you’ll have some fun while you’re in the car.  A good selection of road-trip music is key; I personally love bringing along up-beat rock music, along with some pop music for singing along.  Hit the road and turn it up!

10. Cool Ass Sunglasses
Last, but certainly not least, you’ve got eyewear to consider.  I don’t care if you like trucker sunglasses, huge pink sunglasses, or thin wire framed glasses, you’ve got to have a pair that makes you look cool.  Don’t leave home without them.

We have been in Xela for a little over two weeks now and it has been rather interesting to meet and chat with the Guatemalans. They are a polite, friendly and hard-working people who are more than ready to explain their history or discuss politics if you ask. One thing that I have noticed in particular is that they have time for you, in fact, they will make time for you, and we found that they really do want to help you … no strings attached. If you need directions, a recommendation or anything else they are more than willing to help you out (which really helps since the highways don’t have signs).

We arrived late last Sunday night to our Spanish school and were dropped off at our homestay house. It would be a bit of an understatement to say we were a bit surprised at our new surroundings. It has made me appreciate how lucky we are at home and I suppose that as you get older (Ack!) your standards change a bit. What we were able to handle at 21 has changed a little bit. Things that seem to be completely standard in Xela are a lack of hot water and power outages at all times of the week. Somehow (we really cannot figure it out) water is heated in the shower in this crazy contraption:

All things considered I do think Guatemala is on its way to becoming a stable nation. After a horrible civil war from 1960 – 1996, where over 200, 000 Guatemalans were killed, a million left homeless and thousands just disappeared, Guatemalans are trying very hard to change the world’s view about themselves and their nation. They are making the effort to move away from the violence, which swallowed up the country for much too long. My Spanish teacher told me yesterday that at the age of 10 he had watched two televised executions, one by firing squad and the other by lethal injection. Stunned I asked him if he thought that seeing this type of violence as a child had any long term affects, he shrugged and replied, “Yes, but everyone would tune in to see them.” This only solidified that fact that those of us in the western world cannot really understand the atrocities these people, and many others, have been exposed to in the past century.

All of this aside, things do seem to be looking up here. Education and literacy are extremely important and many young people are expecting to attend university to find work. The indigenous people are much more integrated into society that those of Mexico and there are serious discrimination laws in effect. Should you ask anyone in Guatemala what group they belong to the only response you will get is,” Soy Guatemalteco.” (I am Guatemalan).



Of course, there are still lots of violent activities and child kidnapping seems to be huge issue here (we watched an anti violence and kidnapping protest in the main square). And everyone, both tourist, ex-pat and national alike will tell you to avoid Guatemala City. From what we have heard it sounds extremely dangerous.
On the lighter side we visited Fuentes Georginas, beautiful hot springs, about 35 minutes outside of Xela. After a very cold week both inside the classroom and at our home stay we were overjoyed to jump into the scalding waters and warm up. Interestingly enough most of the visitors to the springs were cold-looking tourists.

Tasty rum and cheap!


We have a couple more weeks of one-on-one Spanish at ICA for 5 hours a day. And when we are not conjugating verbs we are planning to hunt down San Simon, a famous Mayan hero, check out a finca (coffee plantation) and take a trip to the beautiful Lago Atitlan.

« Older entries