Motherland visit 2012 – segunda parte

After a great time at my brother’s wedding, our trip was turned into a road trip to Chile with my parents.
I had been looking forward to this for multiple reasons, one of them being that I hadn’t been to Chile myself in over a decade, and I wanted to see how things were looking nowadays. It was also going to be nice to go to the beach, sight-see and eating out. However, the by-far biggest reason that I was excited was to share an experience with Kelly that meant a lot to me: sharing a piece of my childhood.

My parents used to take my two brothers and I to Chile for vacations. We’d all 5 get in our car (a Renault sedan) and hit the road early in the morning so that we’d be settled into a rental near the water by sunset, where we’d make home for a week and go to the beach and have an overall kick-ass summer vacation.

Kelly got to see a preview of what this trip was like as far as scenery when we headed up to Uspallata, but that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And since I hadn’t done the trip in a while either, I was almost as taken aback as her when we were deep into the Andes with its towering peaks, dramatic shadows and sharp turns in narrow roads.
After collecting a Chilean stamp on our passport, Kelly was introduced to the signature of the part of the way from Mendoza to Chile: 28 hairpin turns in a row to go down a very steep tall mountain. As a handicap, South-Americans like to throw old cargo trucks into the mix. The views are breathtaking, in both senses of the word.

Caracoles de Chile
Caracoles de Chile

We headed right into Santiago, Chile’s capital, where my cousin Laura lives. Her and her fiance put us up for the night, and we had a great time chatting and visiting their fancy and modern apartment.
On Monday, Laura and Nicolas had to go to work, so my parents and us were tourists in Santiago for the day. We walked around downtown, went to the seafood market and had a deliciously fresh lunch, took the subway to get across town, and “climbed” to the top of Santa Lucia Hill to get a panoramic view of the city. The view from the top is pretty cool, but Santiago is so damn smoggy that a better picture is that of the hill itself.

Cerro Santa Lucía
Cerro Santa Lucía

In the afternoon, we headed north towards Reñaca. I explained to Kelly that when I was a teenager most “cool” people from my landlocked motherland of Mendoza migrated here for the summer and it was hard to find a Chilean vacationing there. But this was the very end of summer, and it was not busy at all! We practically had the whole town to ourselves, which meant we didn’t have to wait to get into somewhere and it the only sound at night was that very soothing one of the waves crashing.

We woke up from our rental condo to a gorgeous view of the Pacific. Fresh ocean air meant we could see for miles, and far to the left (so, the South) we could spot our day-trip destination of Valparaiso.

View from condo in Reñaca
View from condo in Reñaca

In sharp contrast to the cosmopolitan modernity of Santiago, we marveled at Valparaiso’s super old buildings and its humble working-class denizens. There’s a maze of one-way narrow cobblestone streets, with even thinner sidewalks; there’s a slight smell of ocean, fish and salt… everywhere. There are people hustling you to hit up their lunch spot or to take boat tour around the area and maybe even fish something. But since we were only there for the day, we only had room to do one thing, so we did the best thing one could do in this world-heritage site: Get on a cable car/elevator and walk around the brightly-colored buildings that line the whole city.

Valparaiso street fish market
Valparaiso street fish market
Valparaiso landscape
Valparaiso landscape

Taking pictures in here was fun. There are great color combinations, very artful graffiti and it almost feels like being in a movie set.
Photographically speaking, I took one picture that I feel very lucky to have captured. To me, it conveys a lot about this particular experience: it’s busy and chaotic, bright but strikingly pretty, and results in a happy feeling after realizing you’ve spent a few seconds wondering the backstory to at least a couple of things depicted. I think one of these days I’ll make a print of it, that’s how much I like it:

Corner in Valparaiso
Corner in Valparaiso

We also visited Viña del Mar and Concón (where we got to eat at a place where Anthony Bourdain and his show went!), spent time on the beach and even dipped into the Southern Pacific’s waters, ate typical Chilean dishes and bought a souvenir or two.

The biggest thing I appreciate of these few days in Chile is to have spent it with my other half and my parents, all together and having fun. This quick getaway meant a lot to me because I got to revive and relive memories from my youth, and on top of that make new ones of these very happy days that I got to spend with the 3 people I love the most in the world, in a beautiful place.

On Reñaca beach with parents

Juan & Heidi’s wedding

We traveled to my motherland for the very special occasion of my younger brother’s wedding. We lucked out in finding a good deal on LAN airlines, which took us all the way from Los Angeles to Mendoza, with a pit stop in Lima (Peru) and a plane change in Santiago of Chile.

On Thursday April 5th, at the humble Mendoza airport, my parents were waiting for us. We had a schedule to follow, so after many hugs and kisses, we were headed out to Hotel Uspallata, up in the Andes. This is where the wedding was taking place on Saturday, and where we would stay until Sunday.

Road up the hill - taken from the car!It was wonderful to head up into the imposing Andes. I wanted to stop everywhere to take pictures, but I decided to instead relax and take in the view without a viewfinder in the way.

Continue reading “Juan & Heidi’s wedding”

Eurotrip recap: Berlin

Our last stop in the itinerary took us to Berlin, Germany.

Easily, this quickly became a favorite new place that I’d love to go to again. Kelly’s also a fan of die Deutschen, having been there before and feeling an affinity to it above other countries (she bet on them in the past World Cup when they played beat Argentina).
Plenty of beer was drank from huge mugs and the food was unpretentiously awesome; we didn’t look for fancy dinners, we instead feasted on huge traditional and old fashioned German treats such as currywurst and Shnitzel. One very entertaining and economical (aka: free) thing to do in Germany is to try to speak German without having ever spoken a word of it before. To spice it up, you could even try reading some of those crazy long words out loud to a local, with bonus points if you can pull it off with a straight face.

I felt that Berlin was the most “homely” city we visited of all. Somehow, despite the language barrier, it’s easy to feel part of the city after just a few days of being there. The welcoming vibe might have to do with their absolute lack of open container laws, and everyone having a beer at any time of day, whether it’s someone sipping from a cold one in a business suit on the subway during the morning commute or just a dude crossing the street downtown. It’s almost like Burning Man!

The biggest highlight of the trip was seeing my friend Dinah, who I hadn’t seen since the end of our AFS exchange program in July of 2000. Her and her boyfriend, Basti, drove all the way from Hanover just to hang out with us for a couple of days!

Seeing Dinah was great. We were young kids back in 2000, and although we’ve both obviously grown and matured, we both felt like each other hadn’t changed much. It’s like the old cliché says: “We picked it up just where we left it off”. Kelly and Dinah quickly established a connection sharing experiences and thoughts about teaching. I had no problems getting to know Basti, who is a pretty goofy but brilliant guy who evidently makes Dinah very happy. We were pretty well set for an extended international double-date.

Our first full day in Berlin, we took a tour through the folks from Fat Tire Bike Tours. Dinah and Basti didn’t really know much about Berlin, so they came along for the ride too. We went on a nice and long visit through most of the common sights, learned some fun facts about Berlin, got to have lunch at a beer garden, even got rained on for a bit. Most of the pictures from the trip (which are here, by the way) are from the bike tour.
Having gotten most of the touristy stuff with a cool bike tour, the rest of our time was spent hanging out without many plans. As it happens to be, this is something I really enjoy doing somewhere new: wandering and  discovering, to experience firsthand things that you can’t learn from a tour. This is how we ended up stumbling into cute little colonial-like villages tucked away in the middle of the city and somehow walking over 20 blocks downtown without finding an open bar. Turns out, aimless strolling on Berlin’s uncrowded streets provides a great opportunity to talk, learn some fun German words and turn the whole thing into a very unique and memorable night out.

Dinah and Basti promised that Hanover was much cooler than Berlin. Our parting words included “see you soon”, so it’s safe to say that sooner or later, I’ll be stepping on Germany again.

Eurotrip recap: Amsterdam

The train ride in had been a bit stressful, but Amsterdam quickly helped us put that in the back of our heads. When we got off the train, it was a nice day out; the sun was shining, there was only a gentle breeze and the temperature was just right. Looking around, we saw mostly people our age. Even better: there wasn’t a toddler or little kid in sight. Catching a more mindful breath of air, we remembered why.

We stayed at the Eden Hotel, which was pretty fantastic as a centric starting point to go around Amsterdam. Everything was close, and the glorious buffet breakfast gave us plenty of energy to walk to all sorts of places. There was one minor annoyance, that affected Kelly much more than me; our room was the first room on the very first floor, so we were close to the elevator and its engine room. A high-pitched screeching noise seeped the walls and into our room non-stop. However, the noise didn’t vary on volume or tone. That might make you wonder why I’m sharing this strange detail, but we spent many hours talking about how to fade a sound into the background of the curtain of noises that feed into our ears. While on the subject, we somehow deviated into spiritual chat about bodies being vessels of our true selves, and all sorts of really deep stuff that there’s no way I’m blogging about them. What’s important is that some of my favorite moments of our entire trip took place in our hotel room in Amsterdam; reinforcing my beliefs that it’s not where or why that matters most, but who.

On the note of being shmoopy and romantic, I must say that I found Amsterdam much more romantic than Paris -the City of Love. You know, having been to both those places now, I don’t feel entitled to saying snobby things like this, but I think it’s worth explaining. In Paris, the fear of a gypsy stealing your soul, the masses of people everywhere, the shitty traffic and the sheer smell of piss everywhere,  make it a bit difficult to feel all the love. We certainly tried, having candle-light dinners and making out smooching at the Eiffel Tower for hours.
Amsterdam’s vibe of “be and let be” was much more conducive to romance for us. Walking everywhere hand in hand or hugged together wasnot a problem; there weren’t dozens of people trying to rush past you. We felt like sitting by a canal and let our feet dangle together; no one gave us a dirty look, tried to sell us a souvenir or came to sit right next to along with fifty other people crammed in a river bank. Not even! It was easy to feel like it was just the two of us.

We rode bikes and it was great. Although it was with a tour company, it was probably for the best. There are so many bike paths that you could get lost without a guide! Mike’s countryside bike tour was a ton of fun. We went from being downtown and an actual part of bike traffic (they really are everywhere!) to the countryside in less than 20 minutes. Suddenly, farms, lakes and windmills are all you can see. The tour took 4 hours, and it taught us a bit about Amsterdam, Holland and The Netherlands (not the same thing!), cheese (a cheese farm was the lunch stop of the tour) and those crazy and fun-loving dutch people.

We did go by the red light district. A quick walk-by of De Wallen gave us enough to talk about back home: the professionals are definitely better looking than any we’d ever seen before in real life and we saw a satisfied customer paying and saying goodbye.

Out of all cities, Amsterdam was my favorite. It felt like a little big city, with tons of things to see and do. There is a lot of interesting and entertaining history to it. There are weirdos around, lots of them. It’s easy to get around, but big enough that you need a map to know how to get somewhere. We liked that talking to the locals was super easy, because everyone spoke perfect English.http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicoyogui/6028392590/in/set-72157627398685778/ But what I liked the most had to do with the same topic as our hotel room chats: noise. Or rather, the lack of it. Partly because most people are on super comfortable and silent bicycles, and because the few cars that there are, are not ridiculous SUVs, being in the middle of the city felt nothing like it to our ears. Such a nice feeling, being able to talk to the person next to you without having to yell or get a mouthful of smog.

To summarize: I’d go back to Amsterdam. One thing’s for sure: don’t take your kids there, I wouldn’t!

 

All our pictures are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicoyogui/sets/72157627398685778

Eurotrip recap: Paris

Time for part deux of our report, when we boarded a train in London, somehow traveled in a Chunnel (in a Tunnel under the Channel) and ended up in France.
There were several little tunnels on the way, so we weren’t sure about when exactly we had made into France. We didn’t see any signs, there wasn’t a greeting played and we certainly didn’t smell baguettes or armpits -yet. Clever enough to figure it out, we knew we were in the old Gaul when we saw that cars were driving on the right-hand side of the road.

After the first few footsteps in Gare du Nord, I knew our vacation’s time for adventure had come. Trying to hide my “holy shit, I don’t remember any French” face, I guided us to where all the taxis were hovering. I flagged one down, and the first words that came out of my mouth were not perfect French. Far from that, they weren’t even in broken French! It probably would have been excusable if I’d gave it a shot in Spanish/French, but nope. I might as well have been wearing a Hawaiian short sleeve button-up shirt, because this was me:  “Excuse me, Do you speak English?”.
Luckily, the cabbie said “Yes” and we managed to get to our hotel, giggling the whole way there because we just had a small preview of what our next 3 days were going to be like.

We stayed at the Hotel Eiffel Capitol Paris, a pretty modest little place that made up for its lack of modern amenities by its service, charm and above all: location. We were three blocks away from the Eiffel Tower, which we went and saw right after we put our suitcases away. And we saw it again, and again and again.

Time for the list!

  • Unlike England, Paris was difficult to get around in. Sure, it was partly because everything seems to be named the same: Take two spoonfuls of maple syrup, hold your breath, and all the subway stops end up sounding the same.
    In addition to the language barrier, the subway is not entirely a subway. There is a combination of underground trams, above-ground trains and inter-city long-distance trains that make it worthwhile to double-check what train you’re getting on. Fortunately, we didn’t end up taking a train to anywhere we didn’t want to go, but we did sit on a train that didn’t move for 5 minutes until an inspector came by to politely ask us to disembark, since we had arrived to the end of the line for the day, since the rest of the route was under construction.
  • Paris was the place where we wanted to be for our first anniversary of married life. In fact, that’s why we planned our trip! The other cities, all the other stuff… that’s just filler. Really awesome, memorable filler.
  • The Eiffel tower is great. We did many things around it, as it meant something for Kelly and I before we even got there (and now it means even more).
    We took the elevator to the very top (reservations are the way to go!, we waited 5 minutes with a dozen people unlike the poor fools that were in line for hours with hundreds of others), took pictures and marveled at how vast and humongous Paris is.
    On one evening, we decided to go have an dinner appetizer on the fields by the tower and wait until the sun set and the tower is lit up.
    Waiting for the sunset...
    It turns out that this is a very popular thing to do, even amongst Parisians. Right next to us was a group of about six young adults that were not only obviously locals, but painfully superior in their partying ways: They had coolers full of hard alcohol, mixers, champagne, wine and beer. Oh, wait, they’re locals, so don’t forget to include the cigarettes that they all smoke like it’s the age before knowing that they’re cancer sticks. Anyway, these guys were pretty loud and fun to watch. We debated befriending them, but we had enough for ourselves with our modest plate of cured meats and a little wine bottle.
  • Besides the Eiffel Tower reservations, we didn’t have much planned. We figured we’d play it by ear, and that’s how we ended up going to the Louvre on the day that it was closed. Oh well, we still got to walk around a lot.
  • Since the subway was more trouble than it seemed to be worth to us, we ended up walking around a lot. This yielded a much richer experience in my opinion, there’s no way we would have walked by what seemed like an abandoned public showers underground plaza – and was now being used instead as a gigantic urinal that you could smell from a block away.
  • One of the most picturesque walks we did was from the top of the Avenue des Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Walking past famous shops, seeing people ranging from dressed up model wannabes to the stereotypical fat tourist, being almost run over by someone on a Vespa or trying to take a picture without a huge tour bus in it, we could have spent all day just hanging out there and not getting bored.
  • Eating in Paris was pretty fun. Most of the fun comes from not knowing what something on the menu means and ordering it anyway by pointing a finger to it.
    However, most restaurants cater pretty well to foreigners, despite the preconception that the French will treat you like a second class human if you don’t parler le français. Once you understand that in Europe, waiters are laid back and you have to be assertive, the whole feeling of “service sucks” goes out the window. I have no complaints about the way we were treated, au contraire.
    While on the subject of food, I do have to say: The French know how to make fries, but they don’t know how to eat them. Mayonnaise is not complimentary at all!
  • The gypsies are present in Paris, but they share their annoying ways with trinket salesmen with some sort of African origin. The gypsies hustle with their petitions just like in London, but the African tchotchke slingers are all over the place with tiny Eiffel Towers, magnets, t-shirts and whatever else one could imagine would be a good souvenir. They are all ready to take off in a split second, with all their goods on a blanket that transforms into a bag with a draw string.
    We saw this in action a lot by the Eiffel Tower, where the way of the black market (ouch, no pun intended) is to whistle when a cop is near. Suddenly, you see a bunch of thin and dark-skinned men running in one direction, and they’re all smiling and laughing because they know they could run two marathons before a pansy cop in full uniform would catch them.

Our visit to France went pretty smoothly, except for the very last hours. We boarded our train to our next destination, settled into our seats and we were away! Relaxing and looking forward to the rest of our trip, we weren’t expecting the bucket of ice-cold water that was coming our way.
The train captain came by asking for tickets, we handed him our passes. He told us that there was a problem, and that we hadn’t gotten our pass validated right before boarding, and we were going to have to pay a fine of €150 because we were missing a stamp. He gave us a shake of his head, literally asked us: “Have you not read the tickets’ instructions?”, told us to get our stuff together and that he’d be back to see what could be done.
Freaking out because that was a lot of money, we read and re-read the train pass booklets. He was right, we apparently needed to check-in before we used the pass on Continental Europe (this train pass didn’t count for the Chunnel trip, but was our transportation for everything else). It would have taken us less than 5 minutes to get it validated, but we were already miles away from Paris.
After about 10 minutes of panic, Captain MeanPants showed up again. He told us that he’d decided to waive the fine and proceeded to stamp our passes without much problem. Although relieved that we didn’t have to spend a ton of money to cover up for a small oversight, we couldn’t help but wonder why he had to be so rude about it all. Sure, we could have paid attention to every single word on the tickets, but if he had the power and ability to make it all work out with a simple little stamp, we only had one conclusion to draw from this experience: he was a dick because he could, and also, because he’s French.

We certainly look back into our time in Paris with much fondness, despite the small hiccups. The many wonderful memories will definitely outlast the bitter time on the train. Even so, we have even gotten to the point where we can laugh about it all, and that’s when you know that not even a snotty train captain can ruin traveling with your better half.

Oh yeah, the pictures are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicoyogui/sets/72157627273975309/

Eurotrip recap: England.

 Better late than never! Our trip to Europe this past summer was tons of fun. It’s embarrassing that it’s taken me this long to write about it. So anyway, here it goes. Part one of four is about England, as you might have already figured out.

London:

  • We stayed at the Waterloo Novotel. It was a very nice hotel, just a couple of blocks away from the subway (aka, the Tube) and also from the Parliament. The only bad thing about the hotel was that they didn’t include breakfast. I don’t think pegging the hotel for the rude Italian tourists would be fair, so I’ll leave that for later.
  • England was definitely the easiest city to get around in that we visited. Perhaps this was because the maps we got were well designed, clear and understandable. Perhaps it had to do with everything being in English, and the lack of a language barrier. It definitely helped that the Tube was straight forward and not a spaghetti-like mess of lines and stops.
  • It only rained once on us! We were expecting to experience the famous London crappy weather, but we saw the sunshine more than half the time we were there. However, when it did rain, it was pretty awesome, and we walked around under an umbrella in the early evening as we tried to find a place to eat. The day after the rainy night, there were puddles everywhere.
  • For anyone traveling to London for more than a couple of days, look into the London Pass. We had one, and it helped us figure out what we wanted to see, and there are plenty of discounts in there that in the end, the Pass ends up paying for itself. We even got a free canal trip out of it, which saved us time and gave us a unique view that we probably wouldn’t have sprung for if we had to pay for it.
  • There are tons of tourists everywhere! Specially with the “nice” weather, walking around the major attractions (the Big Ben, for example) was pretty hectic. People pile up trying to get a picture, gypsies bring on the hustle and try to get you to sign a petition of some sort(which I think is a distraction to get into your pockets, bags and purses). On one hand, it’s a pretty colorful experience because there are people from all over the world, but it can be a bit stressful if you’re not ready for it. Luckily, we didn’t have any bad experiences (or got robbed by a gypsy).
  • On one day, we walked several miles and tried squeezing in as many sights as we could. Our feet got pretty tired early in the day, but we kept on keeping on.
  • An early morning, we took a trip to Abbey Road, which turned out to be lots of fun and costing us a trip on the subway and nothing else. We crossed Abbey Road on the same intersection as the famous Beatles album cover, and got tons of pictures.
    Kelly told her mom that we’d be there, and since it was early morning, it was only about 10pm in Reno. Kelly’s mom happened to be looking at the Abbey Road webcam, and saw us goofing off live over the internet! She says that she could hear us laughing and yelling “Go over there!” and counting down for pictures and the like. Good times!
  • As many will tell you, the most forgettable thing about London is the food. Our best meal was at an Indian restaurant! We did experience “pub food” at a very friendly little joint near the hotel.
    If I had to talk about our culinary experience in England, it’d be pretty simple to explain: Fish & Chips, Indian food and above all: beer.

Liverpool:

  • We took a day trip to Liverpool because we wanted to do the Magical Mystery Tour. Kelly is a huge Beatles fan and looked forward to this for a long time. I like them too, but I pale in comparison to Kelly’s knowledge of their history and music.
  • The trip started by taking a train from London to Liverpool. It was my first time on a train, ever!
  • From the Liverpool train station, we walked all the way to the Beatles Story museum. It’s a self-guided audio tour that takes a good hour or more to go through. I learned lots of new Beatles trivia, got to hear some music from before the band was official and enjoy my wife being a happy fangirl.
  • After the museum, we got on with the actual tour.  The bus was pretty goofy, very old fashioned and smelled like cabbage. Ok, maybe it didn’t smell like cabbage, but it wasn’t a fresh smell either.

    The bus took us around to many places in Liverpool, like the houses were each of the Beatles were born or raised. Everytime we went to a place that had a song named after it, they played the song through the bus; for example: “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields”. Pretty fun!
    We’d stop at most of the places and take pictures. A total act of herding tourists, but we enjoyed playing our part and we absolutely got out, took pictures and looked around with big eyes taking it all in.
  • The tour guide on the bus definitely made this worthwhile. We had to look him up after we got home, so we’re not 100% sure about his name being Neil Brannan. Anyway, he was funny, witty and shared a lot of cool stories about the Beatles. He was even in the movie “In His Life: The John Lennon Story“. Here’s a YouTube clip I found of him giving out the tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZFAk8lqrSQ. If you’re going to Liverpool, do this!
  • Liverpool was a perfect one-day trip. We got in, we did everything we wanted to do and we even had time to spare to hang out downtown. We debated going to Stonehenge and having a day trip for that as well, but it just didn’t happen. No regrets though, Liverpool was definitely worth it and a very cherished memory.

All of the pictures from England are on Flickr, so go there to see a bit of what we saw. Here’s a link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicoyogui/sets/72157627396790814/

In Paris

We are in France!!
The Internet kiosk at the hotel isn’t cheap, but I can get online using my iPhone from our room, on a random wifi network. Not the best for typing… So, this will be short:
I can now see why Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America.
My French is horrible, but I think we’ll manage with it, English and Spanish.
Lastly: today is July 24th, and a year ago I married a wonderful person. I’m very grateful to have her, and to be so lucky to be able to celebrate our anniversary in such a magnificent way.

Vacation time!

Tomorrow morning, we head out on a little trip to celebrate our 1st year of married life.
In a nutshell, here’s the itinerary:

  • Leave Reno at 3AM (in about 6 hours!). Destination: San Francisco. By car.
  • Leave San Francisco at noonish. Destination: Heathrow, London, England.
  • England – Paris via the fancy Eurostar.
  • Paris to Amsterdam in some sort of high-speed train.
  • Amsterdam to Berlin.
  • Berlin to San Francisco.
  • Drive from San Francisco and get home.

We’re so excited! Bags are packed, camera batteries are ready, and our passports and plane/train tickets are lined up.
We don’t have any idea of when we’ll be getting online again, but if I can, I might try to push a picture or a small update up to here… otherwise, look for a trip report sometime in August!

Au revoir,

Trip report: Honeymoon in Fiji

Our honeymoon in Fiji was everything that a dream honeymoon includes: warm weather, sunshine, the beach, warm water, friendly people and lots of fruity drinks.

The main lasting impression about Fiji in itself that I can share is that the people there are wonderful. From the moment we stepped in the Nadi airport, we were greeted by genuine smiles (saying Bula!).
We were at the very end of the customs line, so we were one of the last people from our flight to get out to the transportation area, where a van was supposed to pick us up to take us to our hotel for the night. But since we were holding up the van with a few people, the van left us behind… and one of the manager from Rosie Holidays took us, and was totally cool about it.

But anyway, more to the what-when-where of the trip report, as it should be!

The first night we landed into Nadi after dark, so we couldn’t go to our resort because it was on another island, and they don’t navigate to small islands at night. So we were taken to a hotel in the mainland, Sofitel. We didn’t really get to enjoy it much, because we were so tired from traveling that we pretty much ate, went to sleep, woke up, ate, and left.

After an hour-long boat ride in the Captain’s lounge, we arrived at our destination: Tokoriki Island Resort. Our boat was too big to come near shore, so the resort from the island sent a small boat to pick us up. About 12 people fit in the boat, with our luggage and all. Getting out of the boat, my feet landed on the beach, where I got my feet both in the soft sand and the warm water at once. I probably smiled from ear to ear.

The next thing that happened was the welcoming. While our paperwork was checked, a fresh fruit beverage was handed to us, and the manager Ramsey gave us a welcome speech. The end of the speech consisted of him and most of the staff within earshot singing to us. Check out this video, which even though is not us, shows you just how happy everyone that is greeted in such a way looks. We sure were!

From there, we were shown to our room. Ramsey himself (who I found very appropriately named akin to Ramses, because he is huge and imposing) showed us in, and told us “Welcome home”.
Tokoriki room #7
The decorations in our cabin bure had fresh flowers as decorations everywhere, but what they did to our bed took the cake. Kelly was speechless, and we were both feeling indeed very welcome, and at home as well. The magic had started.

Our daily activities consisted of sleeping in, enjoying our delicious meals from the very tasty resort kitchen (which is a VERY good thing if you’re going to an island that doesn’t have anything but a hotel on it!), sunbathing by the pool or on the beach, taking pictures and enjoying each other.

One of the most unique things we did was visiting Yanuya village, where most of the resort staff live and commute to and from by boat every day. We took a small boat with a few other people and a couple of “guides”, who were actually young men who live there and do work at the resort.
We were shown around the village, had a Kava ceremony with the Chief, checked out the women’s art market and visited the school.
Most people would say that Fiji is the 3rd world. This island only has electricity from 6 to 9pm, most houses consist of  metal sheets nailed together to form a one-box room, there barely is phone service and you can’t even think of using the internet. But they seem so happy.
We saw three toddlers playing together, with a plastic yellow toy bucket full of sand and dirt. It was so simple and just plain awesome. That kind of thing really makes you think and wonder about some of the things that we see everyday in the “first” world and we accept to be the norm.

This all ties in with how nice Fijians are. They’re well aware of how much they depend on tourism, but I don’t think that’s all there’s to it. Take for example tipping, which is not expected nor demanded; people are nice to you not because they’re trying to get some extra coin out of you. Also, even when we saw them talking in Fijian amongst each other, there was always laughter, smiles and a jovial tone. I might have a skewed point of view, but I’m comfortable in saying that Fijians are easily some of the nicest people on this planet. Whatever they’re doing as a culture, seems to put a lot of value on respect and friendliness, and many other cultures could stand to learn from this one.

On a more personal level, my favorite thing about our entire honeymoon was spending it with my wife. It seems obvious, but it’s also important. The moments leading up to our wedding were busy, and we didn’t get to enjoy each other as much. Having two weeks to ourselves, where we spent every minute next to each other, was the perfect way to start our marriage. We shared many memories, and we’ll always be able to look back on when we got married and remember the dreamy honeymoon before any of the busyness of the actual wedding.

We took lots of pictures, but there are some particular special ones there. We took pictures at sunset, every night. I’d set the camera on a tripod, place Kelly somewhere on the frame, get all photo-nerdy with aperture and exposure settings, set a 10 second timer and run to get in the picture. We would do this at least a handful of times, to make sure we got at least one good picture for every night we spent in our little paradise island.

Looking at those pictures makes me happy. I’m a lucky person, and the pictures remind me of it. I’m very lucky and very grateful of being able to experience a place like Fiji, with its wonderful people, incredible landscapes and warm weather. But above all, I realize that I’m the luckiest (and most grateful) when I think that I’m sharing all this with a wife that surpasses any dream I could have.

First sunset in Fiji

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Oh, one last thing which is just a funny anecdote: When we were leaving Fiji, on the boat ride to the airport, something strange happened. A song that we heard at a most random time in our trip to Argentina came on the radio: Gangster’s Paradise, by Coolio. We looked at each other in disbelief, and agreed that from now on, we’re bound to hear this obscure hit from our youth when we’re abroad, traveling together. Which we hope is often, and plentiful.

So we went to Argentina

After a rather uneventful series of flights, we landed in Mendoza. We walked off the plane (using airstairs) and into the airport, where a small welcoming party patiently awaited for us.

Fresh off the plane, and only a few hours later, my dad prepared a monumental asado to usher us into Argentina. Not only that, but we were joined by both my parents, both brothers and their girlfriends, my grandparents and my aunt. It was quite the committee, and even though I expected it, I think it took Kelly by surprise.

That was only a preview of what the next two weeks would be: an incomparable gastronomical journey, where we ingested food in both great quantity and quality. We had a little bit of everything, but I can’t miss the chance to mention some of my (and now Kelly’s!) favorites: milanesas, empanadas, alfajores and lots of delicious wine.

We visited a lot of people and places, and my mom had planned things for most days, which kept us plenty busy. I’m pretty sure Kelly met 90% of the family, all the way up to my grandmother’s sisters.
It was also gratifying to be able to show Kelly where I grew up. I showed her the schools I went to (and the one that inspired my tattoo), the streets I played in, the buses that I rode around and the places where I used to go.

There were a few memorable events that took place, which I will just itemize for brevity’s sake:

  • We spent 4 days in a small apartment in downtown Mendoza. The place was very cold, but having to heat it up with precarious gas heaters was only a fraction of the weirdness.
    It was located right above a parking garage, which got unbearably loud as the business day started at 6am. Car alarms, traffic and people being loud woke us up, and would only let us be half-asleep until we gave up and got up half tired, and full cranky.
  • On the first night in Mendoza, and in the apartment, Kelly was woken up at 2 in the morning by a very peculiar sound. There was someone driving down the street, with his music on full blast. Apparently, the car stopped at a red light. And the song that he was having all of the city listen to at this time of night was no other than Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise.
    When she told me this the next day, the song was stuck in my head for at least two entire days. Thankfully, we found it hilarious.
  • We visited a couple of the finest wineries in Mendoza: Fournier and Salentein. We learned about the wine-making process, we sampled lots of delicious wines, and had a wonderful time with the family.
  • On Saturday night, Kelly was brushing her teeth when a hose under the sink busted. Water was spraying everywhere, and the only solution was to shut off the main water line. This meant that we couldn’t flush the toilet or shower.
  • On Sunday morning, we woke up and packed our stuff, and moved to a very nice hotel for the rest of our stay. Life was much better 6 stories away from downtown traffic, and with much better heating. As an added bonus, we also had internet access and my iPhone came in very handy to catch up and keep in touch with home.
  • Hanging out with some of my old friends was just like time had never passed. We met, we talked, we had fun and we said goodbye in a “I’ll see you tomorrow” kind of vibe.

We spent the last 3 days in the country in Buenos Aires. The weather was perfect for walking around, and we did a lot of that: from the Congress to San Telmo (the Tango district), with stops at the Obelisk and the Pink House. We saw lots of things, and chose to walk because it’s better to be able to hear and breathe a city than to see it pass you by if you chose to ride a taxi from one destination to the other. And it’s also a lot nicer to walk when you have someone’s hand to hold in yours.

One of the reasons why we went to Buenos Aires was to check out a soccer game. And that we did. We stood in a long line, with lots of shady characters, and bought tickets from the nicest scalper in the world. Some teenage punk tried to spit at Kelly as we walked past the security line, and we didn’t really know if we were in the right line… but it all worked out, and we made it inside Boca Juniors‘ stadium. Despite Boca losing the match, we had a great time soaking in the fans’ passion, the songs, the fireworks and the entire experience. We even had a choripán from a street vendor on the way out!

We also spent a day walking around the more centric part of Buenos Aires, and we walked up and down Florida Avenue. We had lunch at my favorite restaurant, Los Inmortales. Oh, and I got a Rhodochrosite ring for Kelly, to mark the occasion of our unforgettable trip to my motherland.

You’re probably wondering where all the pictures are. It was hard for me to chose which pictures to include in my post, since there’s a lot of good ones. Instead, you get to look at all of them by clicking the link:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicoyogui/sets/72157620641833613/

And that’s that. Well, not really. There’s a lot to it, but I can’t do it justice without writing something akin to an essay. I can sum it all up by saying that it’s always great to see my family and friends, to be home and eat the stuff I grew up eating. But it’s even better to be able to do it in company of the love of my life.