Memories of Manila

(written back in Big Sur but I’ve only had the chance to post now…)

Since I’ve got the luxury of free time today, I’ll do some catch-up blogging. Where I’ve left off: we were just leaving Taipei for some beach time in the Philippines. It’s over a year ago now that we were at this point in our trip (First of all, MIND BLOWN. Second of all, ack, I have soooo much catching up to do!).

As I’d mentioned in my last post on the topic, we’d decided to stop in the Philippines for a bit of easy down time after two jam-packed months of shuttling all over expansive, intriguing China.

The easiest way to gain access to this archipelago was via its capital city, Manila. We’d heard other travelers’ advice and opinions about the place, which were pretty much, get out as fast as you can and the place is a cesspool (actually, more colorful language than “cesspool” was used in this case, but I’m trying to keep this blog rated PG).

Our guidebook didn’t disagree with this perception, but did a decent job tempering city’s negative aspects:

This is the sort of city you leave, fellow travellers tell us, immediately after arranging your ferry ticket out. To a degree, Manila’s earned its rough-around-the-edges reputation. After all, this incredibly huge metropolis is home to well over 11 million souls, with scores of hungry transplants from the provinces arriving each day. In other words, this is exactly the sort of place in which there’s bound to be a good bit of chaos…

For a city that’s not known as a major tourist draw, Manila sure has a lot to see. Because of its hugeness and its traffic, you’ll likely never see it all. As you explore, you’ll get an appreciation for a city that has been at the pinnacle of Asia – and almost at the nadir as well. And you’ll get a feel for the soup of cultural influences that combine to make Manila the free-wheeling metropolis it is today. Much of what’s best to see isn’t always at a traditional sight , but rather can be found in the life of the varied neighborhoods.

…If you’re a traveller who likes to get a feel for the pulse of a place just before the rest of the world storm in, it’s quite likely that Manila may just be the sort of town you’ve been looking for.

(Lonely Planet Philippines)

We are not such savvy travellers that I would claim we managed to read Manila’s pulse, but we did decide to spend a couple days exploring the city before heading to the country’s idyllic beaches. Even though we were happy to have a break from exploring culture and history after all that we’d taken in in China, I’m still SO glad that we gave Manila a chance.

Yes, it’s rough. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s grungy. Yes, I saw more human feces on the streets of the city than I saw on the whole rest of the trip (heartbreakingly, it seemed there were more homeless in Manila than in any other than in any other metropolis we’ve visited on the trip).

But there was a lot more to Manila than its roughness. May of the sights we visited were beautiful and fascinating and nowhere else in the Philippines were we more readily able to tap into the sense of this complex country’s history and culture.

First impressions

Exiting the airport, my first impression was that we were someplace VERY different from the rest of Asia.

The air was warm and muggy but with a different feel to it than the tropical countries we’d visited in Southeast Asia. Our cab driver spoke English easily as we navigated through the traffic of, to my American eyes, well-known makes of cars and trucks to our hotel. Somehow everything felt nearly familiar to me, even as we entered our Spanish colonial style hotel. If I relaxed my senses, I could just about convince myself that our short flight from Taipei had landed us somewhere in the Caribbean, Mexico or Florida somewhere. This was a surreal feeling to have, knowing full well that we were still in Asia and not at all that far away from countries that had felt very exotic and foreign to me during our months of exploration.

The strange sensation of familiarity – and how at odds this put Manila to all the other places we’d visited in Asia – made me eager to see more of the city. All things considered, we managed to get around a decent amount in our limited time there.

Bits and pieces of Manila

We stayed in historic Intramuros, the walled neighborhood in Manila that was once the strong point of the Spanish colonists, where today one can still feel the echo of the conquistadors’ presence in the style of architecture; in fact “many of the buildings still have Spanish-tile street names” (LP Philippines).

We wandered a bit, exploring aspects of Manila as diverse as its rough but interesting Muslim quarter to it’s massive, overly air-conditioned and pristine western-style shopping malls. I hope the photos below can help give a sense of the diversity found within the city…

Photo impressions of Manila

DSC_0955The church of Saint Augustin in Intramurous
The oldest stone church in the Philippines. Completed in 1607, the structure has survived quite its fair share of disaster – from earthquakes to invasions by the British and the Japanes and the Spanish-American war in 1898.

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Beautiful massive doors and Spanish architecture in Intramuros.

DSC_0958Manila graffiti

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The Manila Cathedral

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Fire truck

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At Fort Santiago. Aside from its general historic significance, the fort holds a significant place in the Filipino psyche as it was where Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was imprisoned prior to his execution by firing squad at the age of 35. A quick overview from Wikipedia:

He was a proponent of achieving Philippine self-government peacefully through institutional reform rather than through violent revolution, and would only support “violent means” as a last resort. Rizal believed that the only justification for national liberation and self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people, saying “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” The general consensus among Rizal scholars is that his execution by the Spanish government ignited the Philippine Revolution.

For more on Rizal, please click here. 

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Filipinos walking Rizal’s steps towards where he was executed

DSC_0986DSC_0991Manila

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Pedicab driver taking a nap between jobs

DSC_1000I loved the Jeepneys!

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Reading the paper as a bus rolls by

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Outdoor market 

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Walking to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The bridge we’d just crossed was clearly a place to sleep for a lot of homeless people, with many corners having obviously been turned into outdoor bathrooms. Not the most pleasant walk…

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Selling flower garlands outside the Basilica

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Devotion at the Black Nazarene

DSC_0044In Manila’s Muslim quarter

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Homeless; possibly trash pickers since the child was in a dumpster

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Manila

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A homeless man surveys golfers inside the Club Intramuros golf course

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Indoor skating rink at one of Manila’s insanely huge, western-style malls

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Getting ready for Christmas

Santiago street art – wow!

It’s been a busy week or so. The Navimag Ferry dropped us off in Puerto Montt. From there, we did a little side trip to the island of Chiloé (more on our time there in another post).

We did a bit of sight-seeing while there, but we also got down to work, sketching out the upcoming weeks of travel and then filling in the details – researching, checking out reviews, finding out about transportation, booking hotels and tours. Somehow I always manage to forget just how much work the planning part of this trip takes. The work always pays off though, and I’m really excited for the next stops on our roster… Watch this space. 🙂

In the mean time, we left Chiloé, and we’ve been in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, for a few days now.

I didn’t know what to expect from Santiago. Prior to getting here I really didn’t have any mental image or feeling about the place. People we met while traveling had told us that it didn’t have Buenos Aires’ sophistication or edge, but while it might be missing the wow factor, it is a very “livable” city.

We won’t spend nearly as much time here as we did in BA, but Santiago’s making a really good first impression on me. It’s certainly feeling quieter than BA, but it’s got its own certain magic.

For one, I didn’t expect the city to have so much incredible street art. It has a very different feel from BA’s graffiti. Buenos Aires’ street art is amazing – I don’t want to take anything away from that – but the stuff we’ve seen in Santiago feels warmer and more whimsical and it seems to be just about everywhere. I am definitely a girl with a soft spot for whimsy, and I can’t help but fall for a city that embraces art with open arms the way Santiago seems to. If I have time at some point, I’ll have to do some research to find out a bit about the street art scene here (i.e. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the things we’ve seen are actually commissioned murals, but I really have no idea).

In the mean time though, I gotta share just SOME of the graffiti/murals we’ve seen around the city. Check out the gorgeousness below! 🙂

Here and now plus a bit of BA graffiti

Taking a break from the China catch up for some current events…

It’s our last weekend in Buenos Aires. We’re leaving the city on Friday, for our final destination in Argentina: Ushuaia. I’m really excited for our little foray into Patagonia, and in the mean time I am enjoying the heck out of what’s left of our time in Buenos Aires. We’re having a lovely weekend here with gorgeous spring-like weather and I’m soaking in as much sun and warmth as I can before we plunge into winter: the current temperature in Ushuaia is 3 degrees Celcius, 37 degrees Farenheit. The sun is rising around 10 in the morning these days and there’s a 60% chance of snow tonight. Brr! 🙂

I’m also trying to savor as much as I can in general. We still have a lot of travel ahead of us, but the truth of the matter is that the end of our big trip is starting to loom on the horizon. It’s still months off, but when you’ve been traveling for over a year and a half, a few months (or what ever it will end up being – dates are NOT set in stone) will naturally feel like a significantly smaller portion of time.

At the moment, our utterly amorphous future is a fun place for my mind to wander. Happily, some of the earlier pressures of feeling like I have to “figure it all out” have eased. I’m actually doing a decent job these days of trusting that the future will work out. As a result, daydreaming about what might be is a fun exercise only and in the mean time I’m actually enjoying and showing up for the present in the way I often desire, but seldom manage to. I’m not entirely sure what’s shifted but I’m sure the yoga helps, I imagine the finite timing of the rest of the trip is a factor as well, and I’ll put the rest down to grace. For which I am grateful.

I might write more about all three of those things later on, but in the mean time I want to share about the graffiti tour we went on in Buenos Aires yesterday.

(In fact if my photo card reader wasn’t playing up, I’d share a post-appropriate a picture here that we took of some simple but philosophical graffiti in Salta that said “Usted está aqui y ahora”. In English “You are here and now.” Good to remember. :-))

BA street art!

I’ve been a casual fan of graffiti ever since I wrote an article on it for the sadly now defunct magazine Inside Switzerland. It’s impossible not to notice the graffiti in Argentina in general and specifically in Buenos Aires. It’s a strong and significant part of the country’s art scene as well as it’s political discourse. Plenty has been written on the subject by people much more informed than me. Here are just a few articles if you want a bit more background:

http://maisonneuve.org/blog/2012/03/27/political-legacy-argentinas-graffiti/

http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/street-art-in-buenos-aires-so-much-more-than-graffiti/

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=7697519&page=1#.T-dIJu2RSfQ

Some of the main points of note about graffiti here – it’s not illegal unless the owner of the property that’s painted on files a written complaint. Graffiti tends towards either the political or the lighthearted – it does not carry a heavy association with crime or vandalism here as it does in some other countries. Politicians actually hire people to paint their names or campaign slogans on buildings or walls. This of course isn’t real graffiti, and many artists focus a lot of their efforts on spreading political commentary of their own on the streets. But a lot of street art is truly art for art’s sake alone. Whimsical and colorful creations can be seen all over the place, and some of the pieces have actually been commissioned by neighborhoods who want to brighten their little corner of BA.

We took a tour yesterday with Graffiti Mundo, a small company that does a lot to support street artists in BA (they’ve just this week opened at a gallery in London and are currently working on a documentary and book). It was a lovely, sunny day to be exploring nooks and crannies of the city, many of them unknown to us. We finished up at the gallery run by the artists (with a handy bar attached), where we got to watch one of the members of the collective bs.as.stncl working on a new piece that is motivated by the current political/financial situation in Argentina – the same thing the protest during our first week here was about. It’s a picture of a mousetrap with US dollars as bait. I’m hoping we’ll see it up on a few walls before we leave the city. 🙂

Here are some pics, from the tour and from other days wandering around BA:

Maradona is everywhere of course. Here he is in La Boca.

La Boca

Graffiti about La Boca in La Boca

Tags in San Telmo

“No Bailarás” – “No dancing”. San Telmo

Murals in Palermo

“La ciudad es de todos” – “The city belongs to everyone”

One of my favorites. 🙂 In San Telmo

Murals in San Telmo

A mural about the forced disappearances during the military junta in the 1970s and 80s

Street art by rundontwalk

Stencil detail

Penguin! 😀

Our tour took us to see a different kind of street art. The artist Marino Santa María has transformed his street with brightly colored tile murals on his and his neighbor’s homes. The artist just happened to be hanging out when we showed up – this is him with our lovely tour guide Cecilia. Barracas.

Street art by bs.as.stncl

New interpretations of Argentinian figures: a gaucho with a double guitar, a rare photo of Che Guevara and a strung out Maradona feature in this piece. I love the detail of the gaucho’s shadow on the sidewalk below.

Elephant stencils

I love this whimsical piece, with grates transformed into boxy bicycle wheels.

A memorial to a friend. Palermo.

Mural. Palermo.

Back at Graffiti Mundo’s studio/bar

An insanely intricate bit of stencil work!

Back in BA and other bits and pieces

Hello, hello! We just got back from a brilliant little three-stop tour in the northern half of Argentina. Now we are back in Buenos Aires for another week or so before it’s time to head off again.

It was great to get a break from the city. The majestic nature and fresh air of the places we visited just stunned me and got me feeling really grounded after the past weeks of city life. It’s a whole different side of the country and I’m glad that we’ll have the chance to see and experience a bit more of Argentina’s natural landscapes before we move on to our next country (Chile!).

On the flip side, it was also a really nice feeling to return to Buenos Aires yesterday. We arrived to a wonderfully sun-shiny afternoon, and that, plus returning to our familiar neighborhood and apartment with all our stuff (we only took small packs on our mini-trip) made for a lovely “welcome home”.

It’s going to be a busy week – on the to-do list are yoga and Spanish classes, getting to see as much of BA as we can fit in while we’re still here, and loads of prep for the next leg of our travels. Plus as much blogging as I can manage. 🙂

I’m heading to yoga soon but before I go here are some random bits and pieces…

Dancing in the streets

Our last night in Buenos Aires before we headed on our trip was just awesome. Among other things, we got to watch people dancing traditional folk dances at a square in the neighborhood in San Telmo.

The video doesn’t pick up the amazing vibe that was present; people were having such a good time, dancing with passion and without any self-consciousness and the music and movement gave me goose bumps to witness. We hung out for nearly an hour watching, getting explanations from a lovely, friendly porteño who would have danced tango with me if I had only had half a clue (he said he was an intermediate dancer – after “only” four years of practice – and that he was good enough to lead someone who knows a bit but alas, I haven’t learned ANY tango – yet… 😉 ). This dance isn’t tango, but one of the traditional dances from the countryside. Check it out!

Shopping and Spanish 

One day after yoga I took myself shopping. I’d been eyeing a scarf in a shop window on the way to the studio for two weeks and I finally worked up the nerve to go buy it. I also ended up picking up a few other things from another awesome boutique in our neighborhood.

Clothes shopping probably doesn’t seem that noteworthy, but it was exciting for me because 1) I managed to communicate in Spanish on my own for the first time! (usually Roman is with me and he does the talking for the both of us since he’s got a couple years worth of study on me) and 2) I love the fashion here in Argentina!

The second shop, where I got all the clothes, was a great, small, affordable boutique that carries pieces from Buenos Aires designers. (in case you are in BA and want to check it out – it’s called Ofhelia, at Sánchez de Bustamante 2007)

Here’s what I picked up.

The scarf that started it all…

Comfy maxi skirts!

Although the porteña seem to be dressing in somber colors for the winter, I definitely seemed to go for warm, summery hues.

I did pick up something less tropical and more practical as well – take a look at my new silly hat. It may make me look like a smurf (so says Roman), but I know I won’t care how I look so long as I’m warm during out next adventure – we’ve decided to take the plunge into full on winter and next week we’ll be heading to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world! I’m super excited about it!! 😀

And here are a few teaser photos from the past week – Iguazu, Salta and surrounding areas, Mendoza and the Andes! And now, I’m off to yoga! 🙂

What a difference a week makes

And glorious sunshine, and a good amount of yoga!

Last time I posted, I was feeling pretty downtrodden by our first seven days here in Buenos Aires. Happily, the weather took a turn for the better this past Tuesday, and my mood, along with the city itself, is much lighter as a result. All the locals we’ve chatted with seem to have been similarly depressed by the rain; typically Fall in BA is much more like this past week – crisp, sunny, invigorating. Since the weather has improved, I’ve been loving the cool morning walks to Spanish class and the play of autumn sunshine across the wonderful mix of architecture old and new, and I’m starting to discover why and how people get enchanted by this city.

Here are some random impressions and experiences from the past week.

–       I talked in my last post about the fashion sensibilities of the young porteñas in the city. I’ve noticed too that the older generation – 60 and above – tend to dress with an awful lot of panache and I adore seeing the elegant older women in refined, well-tailored fall colors, the men with small moustaches, stylish blazers and dashing neckerchiefs wandering around the streets of our neighborhood.

–       I don’t want to jinx things, but I seem to be developing a knack for avoiding the dog poop (caca de perro) on sidewalks. Knock on wood – I haven’t stepped on any since arriving and I’m even starting to get a kick out of what Roman and I are terming the “dog trains” that trundle along the sidewalks here. Imagine a single dog walker as the spoke in a wheel made up of at least ten leashed dogs, from pocket dogs to great big labs and everything in-between. Now picture this moving down the street at a good clip, and the millipede effect of all those legs trotting along at once. Quite a sight, and there are tons of them, in our neighborhood at least.

–       BA is great for trees! I love, love, love how many streets are covered by an arching canopy of branches that reach up and over from opposite sidewalks to touch hands high above the traffic. Especially gorgeous when sunshine filters through the branches. Photos to follow one of these days… In the mean time, here’s a whole blog devoted to the subject: http://losarbolesdebuenosaires.blogspot.com.ar/2009/03/tipa-trees.html

–       There are some not-so-good smells in the city for sure (reference the previous dog poop item) but there are good smells too. Our little corner almost always smells like the fragrant smoke from a barbeque, which makes me hungry. Need to find out which restaurant this smell is coming from. 🙂 I love passing by the little cave-like meet-cheese-and-wine shops and getting a whiff of the evocative, musty, cloistered smell that wafts out of the open door.

–       I am loving our Spanish classes! I’m the only beginner student at our school at the moment (it’s low season), so I’ve been having one-on-one sessions with my teacher and I’m amazed how much ground we’ve covered in just one week. We’re at Vamos Spanish, in case you’re interested, and Roman’s been really happy with his intermediate class too. Friendly, highly competent staff, good value for money, nice location – based on our first week we can definitely recommend this place. 🙂

–       We got to experience a protest! We were at home one night when I thought I heard some weird noises coming from the apartments next door. I went onto the balcony to check it out, and the racket only escalated. Cars honked, pedestrians clapped, and people all over the neighborhood stood on their balconies and leaned out their windows, hitting pots and pans, whistling and blowing on vuvuzelas. We were baffled but intrigued and delighted. Take a listen and maybe you can see why we were initially confused: Palermo 31 May. The event went on for about an hour, and we found out when we went for drinks with our “landlady” (the woman we are renting from on Airb’n’b. She’s a total sweetheart) later that night that it was a protest against the government. Here’s a bit more info about it if you’re interested. There was a second round the next night, and I have to say it’s been pretty amazing to see so many people participating in something like this.

–       I’ve found a yoga studio. It’s in the neighborhood, is teenie-tiny but cute, is staffed by Americans and the classes are all in English. Bad for my Spanish practice maybe but oh so good for my state of mind and my out-of-shape body. I’ve been going just about every other day and as per usual, a regular practice just makes everything better. Thank goodness for yoga. Another definite recommendations: http://www.happysunyoga.com/

And, just for good measure, here’s a few photos to visually whet your whistle for Beunos Aires. 🙂

In the touristy but still awesome section of La Boca

In Boca

Around San Telmo

This guy’s got it going on!

Southern hemisphere updates and fashion reports

Written yesterday but posted today since we had no internet till now…

It’s Saturday, which means that we’ve been here in Buenos Aires for a whole week now. It’s warmed up a couple of degrees since we arrived, or I’m getting used to the colder temperatures, but I’m still missing the sun – I think it’s showed its face for a total of about three hours since we’ve gotten here. Here’s hoping our second week in BA will be a bit brighter!

Weather aside, it’s been a slow start here in Argentina. We had done the research and figured out a route through Australia before we left the States. Our time in Oz was so busy that we hadn’t gotten around to investigating more than an apartment, Spanish school options and the ticket to Argentina before we were boarding the plane to BA. This week we’ve been total homebodies, hanging out in the apartment because of all the rain or to catch up on admin and research or to wait around for someone to show up and get the internet going or fix the washing machine.

So it hasn’t been the most fun week, but it’s been productive and I’m excited for some of its prospective yields. Our internet seems to work about 30% of the time now which is an improvement over 0% (apparently this is the norm around here), and the washing machine seems to be on track, although our handy man warned us not to leave it on when we’re not around in case it floods or sets the place on fire. Awesome.

Spanish classes start bright and early this Monday. I’ve found and started going to a yoga studio not too far from the apartment where the teachers are all American and mercifully teach in English. I’m investigating tango classes. Roman has gotten us set up with sim cards with 3G for our phone (about as reliable as the internet in our apartment). And we’ve sussed out a wish list of exciting places we want to visit here in Argentina and have even got some ideas for where to head next. So things are looking up!

The plan for the rest of the weekend, now that we’ve been so productive, is to start checking out some of the more touristy/famous spots here in BA (weather permitting). We haven’t seen all that much of the city yet, but we have started to know our way around our neighborhood, which is a nice feeling.

Where we live

We’re staying in Palermo, an upper-middle class neighborhood which is meant to be one of the nicest places in the city to live.

There are two parks not far from our flat and plenty of grocery stores, little produce shops and kiosks within walking distance. There are a couple of massive shopping centers close by too; these seem to get the most pedestrian traffic of the area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line for coffee so consistently long as the one at the Starbucks at Alto Palermo. We’ve discovered two streets within walking distance that are lined with some really enticing restaurants, wine, cheese & meat shops and boutiques. I’ve been happily cooking in my cute little kitchen this past week, but I’m looking forward to start trying out some of the local eateries – once I have a bit of Spanish vocab under my belt so I have half a clue what I’m ordering. The clothes shops in the area are definitely going to be a problem for me. 🙂 I need to keep reminding myself that we are on a budget!

Fall fashion and more

Obviously we haven’t been here long enough for me to know very much of anything about the porteños (what BA-ers call themselves), but I’ve still enjoyed the people watching in our neighborhood immensely.

I started getting into local fashion while we were in Asia. Clothing over there, especially for women, tends to be rather conservative by Western standards (notable exceptions – Bangkok, the Philippines and some Chinese tourists). In some of the places we traveled, I would have to think twice about bearing an elbow or kneecap as a woman. When we left Asia to come to the States, it was the middle of winter, so I spent the months there covered up too.

I actually experienced a bit of culture shock when we first arrived in Australia at the tail end of their summer. I loved how the easygoing atmosphere in Oz translated into what people wore. Women’s fashion is definitely not uniform there and it seems like most anything goes. Basically, wear what makes you happy. The one element that caught my eye was that there was a lot more skin than I was used to – after all that time in Asia and my winter in the States anyhow. Lots of low-cut dresses, shorts and t-shirts being worn even when it was cold out, and if we saw a teenage girl, chances were she’d be walking around in shorts so short that her bum was sticking out the bottom. No joke. Did my time in Asia turn me prudish, or is this too much? Or should I say too little?

What do you think? Too short?

Fashion, or at least autumn fashion, here in BA seems to be more conservative. I’m looking forward to see what it’s like in the rest of Argentina and BA, but the people in Palermo anyhow have a practical but stylish look about them. And as far as I’ve observed so far, there is definitely a bit of a uniform for the young women around here. Let me paint a picture of a typical porteña this season.

She’s got loads of long hair, which she lets tumble carelessly down her back or which she piles unceremoniously (sometimes asymmetrically) on her head. She wears little to no make up; same goes for jewelry. She favors somber colors – navy, grey, brown, olive, maroon, black, black, black, but almost always accentuates this palette with a splash of bright color – nails, shoes, a colorful top or most often a cheerful patterned scarf. She’s wearing jeans or leggings and either way her pants are definitely form fitting. Leggings are often in funky, geometric patterns. Her coat is dark and practical but not unstylish. On her feet she wears sturdy, flat-soled boots, chuck tailors or demurely colored galoshes (probably as a defense against the plentiful dog poop all over the sidewalks in BA. Not a bad idea!).

It’s a look I like – although I’m not sure my fashion sensibilities have recovered yet from China. Especially with my latest purchase. It’s cold down here, and in an effort to keep warm and to keep the aforementioned street dirt out of our apartment, we’ve been on the hunt for slippers since we arrived. I guess they’re not a popular purchase in Argentina, cause it’s taken us forever to find some. Wimp about the cold that I am, I went ahead and bought the very first – and in my defense only – pair that I could find. Now I have warm, but pretty ridiculous looking feet. So much for being a fashionista…

Possibly the most ridiculous slippers ever?

Homesick in BA

We land at Buenos Aires in a shroud of mist and thick, low-slung cloud cover. The streetlights are on by the time we leave the airport; night is drawing in. I struggle against the siren song of jet lag in the darkening back of the cab, trying to keep awake for my first glimpses of the city. Ragged, low buildings along the highway slowly give way to increasingly tall blocks. Eventually we are dipping off the highway, descending into the dark city herself. Roughness and beauty flash by the window in turn; I try to be intrigued but really I am just relieved when we pull up to our apartment building.

A quick exchange with our Airb’n’b host, a grocery run, and a hazy hour or two fighting the urge to nap make up enough of an evening for me. I collapse into sleep. I’m wide awake again around 3am local time. I sit in the living room, waiting for the dawn that takes an age to come. By the time the sun is up, I’m exhausted and realizing that I am feeling awfully homesick.

It doesn’t happen often, but I shouldn’t be surprised that I would feel this way sometimes. I don’t know if it’s the rainy weather, the stark contrast of Argentina (so far) to the exuberant welcome and sunshine, the pristine cities and stunning nature we experienced in Australia and New Zealand. Maybe it’s down to how much time we spent in the cozy homes of friends the past weeks back in Oz and NZ. Or how hard I fell for both these countries.

What ever it is, even though our rented flat is nice and I have nothing really to judge Buenos Aires by at this point, I find myself feeling awfully whiny, getting pissed about stupid stuff and longing for a familiar bed, familiar smells, things I can trust.

It’s ok though. Observing the weather as the plane touched down in BA, I thought to myself, no bother, we have time for good weather to come to us. We’ve rented the flat for five weeks, and we’ll be in Argentina at least that long. No rush.

There’s plenty of time for my homesickness to work itself out, and to gently, without expectation, to get to know this place. There’s no rule that I have to love a place right away, or ever if it comes to that. It doesn’t mean I have to make my initial reaction into a big deal. Mind over matter – just be patient Jenny and see what there is to see. Sometimes doing the thing just involves hanging in there. And no expectations.

We take our first exploratory walk around the neighborhood later that day. Getting out of the apartment, despite the gloomy weather, is a step in the right direction for my head space.

Lonely Planet describes BA as “somehow strangely familiar, but unlike any other city in the world.” There are elements that evoke bits and pieces of other cities to be sure.

The traffic sounds – squeaking breaks, honking horns, wailing sirens – and the ravines of one-way streets below canyons of looming buildings call to mind New York. At moments as we walk through the streets, I’ll catch glimpses of Europe – Paris or Madrid – hologram like, superimposed on the scenes in front of me. The park we pass through is full of tropical trees and smells like a zoo. (Full disclosure: it smells like animal poo). This and the trash on the street bring to mind some of the Asian metropolises we visited. The rough and tumble corrugated iron houses we passed on the way from the airport make me think of India, of Manila.

It’s a new sensation on this big trip of ours too to look the like locals. At this point I’m used to either being in an English-speaking country or sticking out like the obvious tourist. I find myself feeling a bit shy where in Australia and New Zealand I would talk to anyone (cause they would talk to us, easily, openly, effortlessly) – and hoping that Spanish classes will give me a chance to interact with more than an awkward smile. Although Roman (who already knows some Spanish) says that the people here talk SO fast.

It’s also a new experience on this trip to do such a big geographical and cultural jump so fast. We worked our way so slowly through the different shades of Asia; each new flavor providing context for our subsequent destination. And now here we are, from one day to the next, in South America for the first time ever, and my mind is kind of sort of blown.

I’m curious how all these different parts will congeal over the next weeks to form in my mind this new (for me) city in this new country on this new continent. How I will feel about it at the end of our time versus these first jet-lagged days.

Today, after another too-short night of sleep, we woke to the din of heavy rains washing through the soundscape of morning traffic. Even though the weather has only gotten gloomier, my heart is lighter today. The apartment is getting more familiar and it feels nice to have an idea of where we might try and pick up a few things we need when we go for a walk later today. Let’s see if we can’t make this little corner of the world into a home, even if it’s just temporary.

Current events: recharging and recalibration

Hello from Hong Kong!

So I nearly but didn’t quite finish blogging about Cambodia while we were in Hanoi, and now we’ve even left Vietnam. We’re here for two weeks as a bit of a break (a break from “being on vacation”? I know, I know… 😉 ).

By the end of Vietnam, I (possibly we – Vietnam was definitely not top of Roman’s list of destinations either) felt like I was full up. As though there wasn’t room enough in my brain for any new input. I’d walk past scenes, thinking, I can see why this is beautiful or interesting or would make a good picture, but there wasn’t any motivation to try to capture what I was witnessing.

I also couldn’t imagine eating another spring roll and I’d had enough of the dull-as-dirt mockery of bread that is the part of the standard hotel breakfast (I’m not into eggs and the pho at the last place we stayed smelled like a bathroom. :-P). I was fed up with smokey cafes and even when our hotels were decent, I started having fantasies about our old bed in our old apartment in Zürich – comfortable, clean, familiar. Smelling like home.

Don’t worry, I’m not ready to quit this trip. It’s just come time for a recharge.

Time to catch our breath after all the places we’ve been and things we’ve seen over the past months. Time to check in with our goals, our travel wish list, our budget. Time also for a bit of comfort and nurturing.

So here we are in Hong Kong.

WORLD-away-from-southeast-Asia Hong Kong, with its truly global mix of denizens, its international retail scene (hello H&M – probably the only international clothes shop within my price range here 😉 ), its amazing neighborhood markets, its fascinating, smelly chinese medicine shops, its belching, steamy-exhaust-producing double-decker buses and it’s clattering, antique-feeling double-decker trams, its red and white taxis, its ever-dripping, ever-humming air conditioners, its hilly streets, its lounging cats, its well-obeyed pedestrian traffic signals, its towering metallic-colored sky scrapers glittering in the golden afternoon sun.

It’s feeling great being in an honest-to-God city again after so long. I love that sensation of feeling so little – not in terms of significance but of being dwarfed by all that architecture, like an ant in a man-made garden.

It’s also a nice change not feeling like such a significant cog in a place’s economy. (In my head) I stand out here because I’m in my practical travel clothes and most westerners here seem to be in business get up or fashionistas. (This difference reminds me of how nice it is not to be in an office job any more and makes me happy!) It’s a very different feeling from being the obvious Western tourist and trying to keep my balance as I negotiate between doing my best to be culturally aware and spend my money responsibly and keeping zen after the 20th tuk tuk, cyclo or moto driver in half as many minutes asks us where we are going and then starts relentlessly chirping tourist spots at us that are all within walking distance…

We’re not doing anything touristy while we are here (not on purpose any way 🙂 ). We’ve rented a great little studio apartment (thank you airbnb!). It’s the cleanest, coziest place we’ve been since I don’t know how long and we’ve quickly settled in. Today, our second full day here, I caught myself referring to it as home. 🙂

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Comfy couch and a terrace!

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View from the couch – bed, storage, kitchen

Went grocery shopping the afternoon we arrived. The sensation of holding onions in my hands, to feel which ones I wanted to take home with me, was as comforting as a hug. The kitchen is basic but I’ve packed the fridge with produce and the pantries with staples and I am in pure heaven being able to cook again! Not to mention having full control of what I’m eating and being able to eat healthy. I also signed up at a gym that first day and have been twice already. I’ve found a yoga studio that I’ll be trying out tomorrow. Bliss, bliss, bliss.

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Tonight’s dinner – organic roasted veggies with feta over fusilli

It’s also time to get organized and ready for the next big destination – mainland China. This is a big one and the more I read about it the more excited I’m getting, so I really hope that these weeks will get me fully recharged so I have fresh energy for it.

God willing I’ll also catch up on the blog! I have a lot of cooking and yoga and China research I want to do, so the Vietnam posts may end up being a bit abbreviated… We’ll see how it all comes together. 🙂

On a random side note, my fascination with different currency continues. Hong Kong bills are big and bold, involving lions and strong colors and endorsed by the likes of HSBC (the bank’s logo is actually on the notes – that’s a first for me!). The 10 dollar note really stands out though. It looks like the color palette was lifted straight from Barbie and the Rocker’s wardrobe/stage set. (realize I am dating myself.) I totally love it, but I wonder if any men ever feel emasculated when they have to use it to pay for something?

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Where have I been?

Well, not blogging, clearly. I hope to remedy that though and back fill the events of the past couple of months before they slip through the fingers of my memory. After all, the point of this electronic journal is to help me capture those small details and fleeting impressions that time and each subsequent new country we visit will most likely begin to wear away.

So, what’s happened since my last entry? Details to come, but here is the basic overview.

After leaving the Spa, Roman and I had about two weeks’ down time in Chiang Mai, really enjoying the temporary home we had in the rented studio apartment. It was a great place to regroup after India.

Our next destination was Myanmar (Burma). We flew to Yangon (Rangoon) via Bangkok (fun to see the building that features in my former employer’s branding 🙂 ). We weren’t sure what to expect, but decided to stay for three weeks (the visa was only valid for 28 days). We ended up planning out a full itinerary from Yangon. With the help of our wonderful hostess at the Classique Inn hotel (more on that later – it’s probably my favorite hotel of the whole trip so far!), we managed to fit a lot into the time we had.

It was really a rich, wonderful, and wonderfully exhausting trip and I’m so glad that we decided to include Myanmar in our big trip. I have tons of pictures and details to record, but just to give an overview from a logistics point of view, here is where we traveled (click to open the image. Thanks to this site for the map).

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From Yangon, we flew back to Bangkok and that’s where we still are today.

I’m writing this from our hotel and the view out the window in front of me: the parking lot and lit up billboards of a largish shopping center housing a massive Tesco (not unlike a Walmart in the States), a Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds, among other things. A construction site where work is (actually and punctually) carried out daily. The terminal station of the Sky Train’s Sukhumvit Line, part of Bangkok’s relatively young public transport system that comes across as glitteringly clean, cool and slick compared to the subways and metros I’ve used in Western cities.

In a couple of day it’ll be six months that I’ve been on the road (!!!), and this view presents a pretty stark contrast to where we’ve been and what we’ve seen for most of the trip so far. Although I can’t say that I’ve been particularly missing things like Micky D’s and Starbucks, we seem to have rapidly and happily eased into the comfort and convenience of a modern and international city. 🙂 We plan to move on next week and I’m curious to see how the rest of Thailand will compare, but in the mean time, I will enjoy every iced latte, flashy shopping mall, air conditioned subway car and authentic western meal I encounter. 😉