Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tango, tigers and tears...

Howdy from our last day in South America!

We have been in Buenos Aires since this past Monday and have been enjoying our final week in South America. On Wednesday we went to a professional soccer game. A team called La Boca (thought to be one of the best in Argentina) played against a team named Arsenal (unfortunately not the one from England, that would have been too good to be true). It was amazing! The fans were unlike any other fans that I have ever seen. Even A & M. Soccer is their passion. It is what they love and live for. Fortunately Boca won 3-1 with some incredible goals and the stadium literally shook. We really enjoyed this unique experience.

On Thursday we were able to have a private one on one Tango lesson at the hotel that we stayed at. A professional tango instructor came to our shared living room as we moved things aside and were able to learn a little bit of this legendary Argentinian dance. The move with your arms straight out and going from one corner of the room to the other is apparently only done in Hollywood, not in Buenos Aires. It was fun and Eric was a good sport. The evening before some Australian and New Zealand friends and we went to a tango club with a live orchestra. This gathering of locals meeting to dance was called a "milango" and there were practically no tourists. One of the best and cheapest ways to see the real stuff.

The next to last day we headed out of the city limits to a town an hour and a half away called Lujuan. Once there we found the Lujan Zoo which was started in 1994 by a very wealthy man. It is more of a safari like petting zoo. We were able to get in cages with tigers, monkeys, baby lions and adult lions but we decided not to push our luck to much with them as they didn't seem to be in the friendliest mood. I rode a camel, we both went for a ride on an elephant and finally got to see a tucan! It was great! We have some incredible pictures of this visit that would never happen in the states. Too much liablity.

So the past 3 and a half months are finally coming to an end. It has been an incredible journey of inspirational monuments, mesmerizing sunsets and stunning vistas. It really does make you think just how blessed we are to be able to live in a world with such natural beauty. The experience of this trip is just that... an experience. One of many that is yet to come. But as the saying goes, "Carpe Diem!" Seize the day! I feel that is exactly what Eric and I have done. We have lived in the moment and for the moment. Each and every one. The good the bad and the beautiful.

We are heading back to the states on a plane tonight at 9 and will arrive in Austin tomorrow. We will be home for a month or so and then head back out again for a road trip from Mid September to Mid November out west through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. We will hopefully be seeing many of you during our travels. Thank you for letting us into your lives if only through pictures and words. We have appreciated your love and well wishes throughout the year. We are both very blessed to have friends and family that support us in the way that you do.

Erika and Eric

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dreams and Icons

As we continued our way south through Brazil and into Argentina the last couple weeks, I have spent a lot of time wondering about famous places. We have seen many in South America but recently in Brazil it seems to have had more of an impact. Most likely the approaching end of our trip has made me look back at all the places we have been. Nostalgic already? No, something more than that.

Throughout most of our lives we read books, magazines, watch tv, or see a movie that describes a far off place in an exotic country. Sometimes that place is a marvel of nature with immense beauty. Other times, it is a pocket of humanity and its infrastructure, somehow dropped into a dramatic setting with awesome vistas. Either way, these places take on a life of their own in our imaginations and dreams. Maybe we do actually visit and see them for our own eyes and experience their power and beauty. Often, though, it seems that they just stay a dream... to be enjoyed only thru the glossy travel section of the paper. And, it is funny how those glossy pictures transform these icons and natural wonders. We put ourselves into these perfectly staged pictures, with their vivid blue skies, empty beaches, and helicopter like perspectives. And in the picture, nobody is there. At least we view the picture as if we are the only one there, not having to sharethe beauty with anyone. The place exists just for us to enjoy.

And then we are there. But, the place is crowded with people, the sky mostly cloudy, and the perspective we had expected unattainable unless we can fly... a bit dissapointing? Hardly. Humbling is a better term. I realize that the place I had for my whole life imagined myself at, through just a simple photo, was real and I was actually there. Yes, people, cars, boats, noise, clouds, rain, flies, and peddlers are there, but the reality is... that I AM there. Looking out over Rio de Janiero, floating down the Amazon River, sitting on a rock outcrop over Machu Picchu, or getting naseaus in a plane over the Nazca Lines... I am THERE! Amazing and humbling. Brazil helped drive that home. Heading downstream on the Amazon River in a boat full of locals (some drunk) and hammocks helped me realize that. Getting pickpocketed in Belem, riding on a bus for 36 hours straight, getting stung by hornets and bitten by a pirahna in the jungle, and eating a sweetslice of watermelon on a beautiful beach while small waves swept up around us to the rocks helped me realize that. Those experiences were not promised by the photos. The reality is not in the photo, it comes from going to that special place, seeing it, and experiencing it for yourself. And that is perfect, because in pictures, Christ the Redeemer looks huge towering over Rio, but in person, He is quite slim and not as big as you think.

What is huge... what is the reality... is the craggy, steep mountain He is on, the beautiful city around Him, and the hordes of tourists spreading their arms on the steps in front for the same goofy picture. But you don´t have to believe me, just see it for yourself.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

We return to Argentina

So yes, we are finally back in Argentina. We only have one week left on our 3 and a half month adventure and wanted to catch you up on the past few weeks. They have been relaxing, awe-inspiring, and breathtaking. Beaches in Northern Brazil, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil and Argentina. We have been taking buses to all of these destinations... some okay and some that I had to say more than one prayer while we were in it. But we are doing great and enjoying the final days that we have in South America. So, the past 3 weeks...

When I last wrote we were leaving Salvador, Brazil to find some beaches. Did we find them? Absolutely. The pictures say it all. We took a bus north first to a town called Praia de Forte where the beach wasn´t that great but it was a beautiful town and had a turtle reserve. That is the picture of me touching a very slippery stingray and then the picture of a Hawksbill turtle, one of 5 different species of turtles in Brazil. Not as good as the turtle lady in South Padre Island but hey we were in Brazil! After Praia de Forte (praia means beach by the way in Portuguese) we headed south to Ilhues, Itacare, and Transcoso. The beaches were fabulous with lots of good waves that Eric body surfed and I did my best to bodysurf. The currents were very strong. But eating fresh pineapples and watermelon on a tropical beach all made for a very relaxing and refreshing time.

After the beach scene we headed farther south on a bus for 18 hours overnight to Rio de Janeiro. Again with almost no sleep on the bus, as in the other postings that I have written, we arrived in Rio at 11:30 am a week ago this past Thursday. We headed for our hostel in Ipanema called "The Girl from Ipanmea," (does the name ring any musical bells?) and our dorm room for 3 nights. We shared a room with 2 Aussies, one Brazilian, and 2 Americans (both from California). Seven of us in all, 3 of the seven (including Eric) in a triple decker. The guy in the top triple fell out one night... more on that from Eric. Thankfully Eric nor I did any falling. The hostel was nice enough on a sort of alley way with about 4 different hostels and residences and it felt like Sesame Street. We met people from all over the world and enjoyed Rio immensely. We went to both Ipanema and Copacabana beach, bodysurfed once more. We went to Station 9 (a post on that beach) where the song "Girl from Ipanema" was supposedly written and lay in the sun with all of the other Brazilians and tourists from around the world.

We also, along with half of Rio, headed up to see Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain, which means "hunchback". We took a bus and then a tram to get there. We have many more pictures of this icon but have only posted 2 of them. The view of Rio from above was stunning and you certainly feel something special standing in the presence of a 30 meter tall Christ. A definite must see should you ever visit Brazil. Another day was spent in downtown Rio and we walked around to see some (if only from the outside) historical buildings like the Municipal Theater, lots of museums, and the Imperial Palace. We went inside the Candelaria Church from 1775 which combines a Baroque façade with a Neoclassical and Neo-Renaissance inner decoration. And we visited the MOMA, Museum of Modern Arts, with a few very interesting exhibits. We both enjoyed Rio de Janeiro and all that it had to offer.

After Rio, we got on another bus for an almost 24 hour ride to Foz do Iguacu. Still in Brazil we were now at the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. We stayed in Foz for a couple nights and visited one of the most amazing falls the world has to offer... Iguazu, the largest (by volume of water) in the world. We hiked about a mile to get to some stunning views of the falls. This is another one-of-a-kind places (like Machu Picchu) that you really have to see to believe. The inspiration that I felt at the falls is something that I will never forget. The next day we crossed the border into Argentina to see the falls from that side. Two-thirds of the falls are in Argentinian territory. Although I believe the view of almost the entire falls is better from Brazil, the power that you feel while standing at the mouth of the Garganta del Diablo is unreal in Argentina. That is one of the pictures that is posted where Eric and I look superimposed. But it´s real! We spent 2 days at the park hiking trails, admiring the rainforest, animals, colorful birds, and lots of pretty butterflies.

We head back to Texas a week from today and will be happy to share our many pictures and stories with those of you who would like to see and hear them. We take a 17 hour bus ride today to Buenos Aires on a bus with a, wait for it..."Supercama!" Also called "Tetto Letto", whatever that means, must be Italian for "Supercama!" What it really means is that instead of the near zero sleep that we´ve been getting on the other bus rides we will have a big chair that reclines into a bed! Along with wine and champagne! Heaven, I´m in heaven...

We will send another update from Buenos Aires before we leave detailing our final week in South America. We hope that you are all well and will be home before you know it!