When I tell people I studied abroad, usually someone says that it’s so cool that I’ll be able to couch surf around the world and visit all of the friends I’ve made. Free accommodation is definitely a perk of visiting international friends, but I’ve realized that visiting a friend and traveling with them is such a different experience than visiting a country and touring on your own. Even though you might miss out on some of the historical facts and trivia provided by the youth hostels’ free tours, you get to go to the really interesting places that may not be included on those tours. Having a friend as your tour guide gives you the chance to live like a local, which is an incredibly unique experience, no matter how short the trip may be. During my last week abroad, I visited my friend Leor at her home in Switzerland and those four days were some of my favorites of the semester.
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Our last program trip was an adventure. Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of the rafting and ziplining that bookended our trip, both on or over Río Sarapiqui.
We started off with a tour of a chocolate farm, where staff showed us how to make chocolate the same way it has been done for hundreds of years by indigenous Native Americans of Central America.
Our night hike around Hacienda Pozo Azul, where we saw, among other things, mating red-eye tree frogs, is probably where I got my best photos of the wildlife of Costa Rica.
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is like a different country than the western half. More beaches, of course, but beautiful in a different way. The culture is spectacularly Rastafarian and carefree, and all of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where I stayed for a weekend, is filled with surfers and bikers.
I also made a trip to Bribri, an indigenous reserve that included waterfalls and an indigenous reserve.
Finally, I went snorkeling at Punta Uva (“Point Grape”) to explore some of the best coral reefs in Costa Rica.
Right before we left, a view of River Sixaola and, just beyond, Panama.
This past weekend was a holiday weekend, so I trekked down to Bariloche, at the tip of Patagonia. As the town was originally settled by the Swiss, Bariloche is known for its (delicious) chocolate, lakes, and skiing. Needless to say I was pretty pumped. When my friend I got to the terminal, we had two problems because we were clearly travel noobs: a) we couldn’t tell which platform our bus was supposed to arrive, and b) we ended up missing our bus. I was more enraged at this than our friend and demanded an explanation from the travel agent. Frustrating thing: turns out that our bus was actually in front of us the entire time, but just had the final destination listed because it was making several other stops (such as Bariloche). We felt stupid and annoyed, but luckily, we were able to purchase tickets for that night for half price. *sigh*
The bus ride itself was horrendous. I’m not sure how I survived. Since we bought last minute tickets, we were on the bus (and lower level) that stopped literally every ten minutes. GAAAAAH. Which meant that each time I somehow got my seat to recline comfortably, one of the bus drivers would open the door and yell something, thereby interrupting my sleep and letting the cold in. Dios. On the way up it was slightly better: we were on the full cama (fully reclining seat) at the upper level, and those two things actually make a huge difference! The only few times I woke up were because we were being served food (dinner with wine and a movie, classy), and the bus only made two stops, which was obviously more bearable.
We were extremely relieved to finally arrive in Bariloche. The hostel we stayed at was really homey and the owners made us feel like we were included in a big happy family. (sidenote: the JAM is to die for during breakfast) The first night, we had an asado where we met other lodgers and went out to explore the nightlife. One word for that night: TEENAGERS. So many of them! Apparently Bariloche is the place to go after graduation/during breaks in high school, so while we were at bars and boliches, we felt OLD. -____-
The next day, we went kayaking in the lake by Cerro Ventana. The view was absolutely breathtaking and while I was rowing, it was really difficult not to be distracted by the scenery. We rowed for two hours and while I felt bad that I was holding up my friend and the guide (it was my first time!), I was too cold and in too much pain to try any harder, haha.
My arms were in pain when we hiked up Cerro Companario the day after (I have no upper body strength!). It was the steepest 30 minute hike I ever walked but the view from up top was breath taking and unbelievable. From the top of Cerro Companario, you can see all 7 lakes! Each lake glistened pale shades of blue and turquoise, changing under the sunlight. It was truly nature at its finest.
Since the famous Llao Llao Hotel Resort was around the corner, we had to stop by, of course. This clip is of the lake near the hotel.
And for dinner, we had to pick up some chocolates. You’re only in Bariloche once, right? 😀
As much as I loved meeting new people, spending time playing Bananagrams and passing around fernet with other lodgers (we met other IFSA-ers from Buenos Aires!), my complaint for Bariloche is that it’s very commercialized and caters toward tourists. There were times when I felt that there was nothing to do but buy and eat chocolate. And one of the differences between Mendoza and Bariloche is that everything there is much more expensive. Plus, it’s so easy to continuously buy chocolate! 😀 Apart from the prices, tourism, and the loooong bus ride, I’m really happy I got to explore the lakes district. I can’t capture or explain the view in words. You’ll have to go there for yourself!
If I have more time, I think I’ll head down to El Calafate to see glaciers. Or maybe see Tronador in Bariloche, as it’s snowcapped all year round, and has both glaciers and volcanoes! Enjoy this quick clip of the lakes!
Last night I went to a pub I found recommended online called “The Turf Tavern.” The Google map said I walked by it every day, which was odd, because I had never seen it before. But the online reviews were current, so I knew it existed. With my beer money jangling cheerfully in my pocket, I made my way down to the far end of New College, where the pub was supposed to be located. Sure enough, I saw something I had never seen before: there was a small alley between New College and the building beside it, just big enough for one person to walk through comfortably. I went through the alley, which opened into a raised beer garden. Raucous Brits were putting back golden pints and steak and ale pie, their cheeks ruddy from the cold. Taking off my scarf, I made my way towards the hobbit hole of a bar towards the back of the garden. This wasn’t too hard: I wasn’t drunk yet, so the metal kegs that littered the path were fairly easy to avoid.
I had to duck as I entered the cozy and quintessential little pub, my head almost brushing the exposed wooden beams. I’m not tall, either: 5’7 on a good day. But the bar was low enough, and showcased a wide variety of regional specials. To avoid sounding like a snob, I won’t tell you that I brew my own beer, or that I run Duke’s underground Beer of the Week club; I’ll also leave out the fact that the best beer I had last year was Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, a tar black, creamy, well-roasted beer with a great flavor that hits after the swallow and the worst beer I had was a Robust Porter by the Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that tasted like cold, dark coffee. Instead, I’ll just tell you that I know a thing or two about beers. So when the bartender told me that she had just opened a keg of beer with hints of both chocolate and vanilla, I was naturally skeptical.
“Impossible,” I said, and she raised her eyebrows, and I realized that there were about seven people behind me so I handed her three pounds and she gave me the beer. I walked through another series of small alleyways out back, where there was another beer garden, so I could examine my prize.
It was dark, that much was obvious, and smelled of caramel. A small rub between the fingers revealed a low viscosity; disappointing, as I like my dark beers to be a little bit thicker, but not unredeemable. Another sniff- caramel on the nose, but wait, there’s the vanilla this time, faint but present. Perhaps…? No, it was too much. No one has ever successfully pulled off the chocolate/vanilla combination.
Sadly, this beer didn’t either. It was good, certainly, but below expectation. Although the scent held promise, the taste didn’t live up to the hype: the chocolatey head quickly gave way to a cold, limp, watery tang. I felt like crying. I didn’t, of course, because you’re not supposed to do that when you’re sitting by yourself in public, but I felt like it. And then, as if to apologize for its mediocrity, the beer told me to look up. Not literally, I don’t think, but the message was as clear as if it had been. I was pretty sure I wasn’t drunk after only a few sips, but there is no other explanation for it other than divine intervention, and that’s just ridiculous.
“Look up,” said the beer, and I did. Above me was a poster, with a picture of… Bill Clinton? I read the caption: “according to local legend, this is where a young Rhodes scholar by the name of Bill Clinton had supposedly ‘not inhaled.'” And that’s where I was sitting. Right there where Bill Clinton had his first puff. I felt… powerful. I felt like ordering another beer.