The Mobile Lawyer

has been moved to new address

Sorry for inconvenience...

The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: March 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

trip to the boat

OK -- quick blog about how I got to where I am in the last couple days. Partly to show how incredibly lucky I am (hope I don´t curse that) and more to show how cool people are out in the world.

My boat to Africa was set to leave a port called Sao Francisco del Sur on the 31st. I had worked out all the details with the shipping company (lots of back and forth details, more later) over a period of weeks and they told me to call the local shipping agent a couple days before the boat left to figure out the time to meet the boat and agent at the port.

So I went to a little, little, little town in Uruguay called Cabo Polonio for about three days with some new friends I met. Pictures up when I get to South Africa. The place is not in the guidebooks. About 70-80 permanent residents. No electricity to speak of, except for the one store in town, a nicer hotel that I didn´t stay at, and the occasional generator. If you want seculusion and relaxation -- this is the spot for you. Obviously, no internet. So no way for me to get email.

No problem. I left on the 27th. I was planning on a quick, but long, trip to the waterfalls on the Argentina/Brazil border, then over to the port and catch my boat. Bus from the little town (not the town, which there are no roads to, but the bus stop is literally people standing by the side of the road - where big sand dune trucks take you to and from the highway to the village), left around 4 or 5 p.m. I was going to the border town between Uruguay and Brazil about 2 hours away, place called Chuy. Then hopefully catch an overnight bus to Porto Alegre in Brazil and then a 12 hour bus to the falls. Get there around the evening of the 28th. Hit the falls on the 29th. Bus to the port on the 30th. Easy.

Got to Chuy around 7:30 p.m. or so. There was a bus leaving for Porto Alegre at 11 p.m. Perfect. Stopped to check my email. Email from the shipping company. The ship I was taking was earlyto the port. Two days early, to be exact. It was arriving some time on the 29th. What mode of transport is ever early??

Had to obviously ditch my plans for the falls. Also realized that I had forgotten half of my electronic gear at the hostel in Cabo Polonio. And my jeans and more importantly, my belt. I´ve lost about 3 inches in my waist on this trip. My khakis barely, barely stay over my hip bone without a belt. Obviously no time to go back and get that stuff either.

Email Chance in Buenos Aires and ask him to sort out the stuff with the hostel owner. Figure out a way to get the stuff to him and have him ship it over to South Africa. As usual, he´s a rockstar and replies immediately and says he is on it. Check mark for that small issue.

Bigger issue -- how the hell do I catch my boat? I email the shipping company, but it is late Friday night in the U.K., where they are based. Try to email the local shipping agent from the info that I´d been given, but the email address was wrong. Damn.

OK, had a bus ticket to Brazil and from there an entire full day to get to the port. On the map and the guidebook, it looked possible. Finished up at the internet cafe, walked over to buy my bus ticket. It was about 10 p.m. Bus station was locked up, but some American standing there said he was on the 11 p.m. bus I wanted and the ticket agents would open at 10:30. I had read in the guidebook earlier that you needed to get your exit visa stamp from Uruguay about 3 kilometers south of town. I had already done that, so I was set. I went around the corner for a late sandwich to hold me over for the night.

I got back and bought my ticket at about 10:45. The ticket agent asked for my passport. I handed it over. She asked about my Brazil visa. I had gotten it a week earlier in Montevideo (blog later -- first time I had to get a visa in advance of the border). I pointed out my exit stamp from Uruguay and my paid visa into Brazil. She motioned and I eventually got the point -- I didn´t have an entry stamp into Brazil. But up to now, every time I had taken a bus over the border, the bus stopped, we all got out, and got stamped there. Apparently, not at this border crossing. I needed to go into Brazil beforeI had my visa stamped, get it stamped there, and come back and then board the bus. She said she could not let me on the bus without the stamp. She also said that to get the stamp, I had to have a ticket into Brazil, so she sold me the bus ticket for the bus leaving in 10 minutes and pointed to the cabs out front.

I got into the cab, pointed to my passport, and said ´Brazil visa,´ímmigration,´and made stamping marks in it. I also through out a bunch of ´rapidos´to make sure he understood we had to haul ass. He got the point. I got in and we started off. About 5 minutes later we jetted right past what I assumed was the Brazil border stop. I frantically pointed at it as we went by, and for about 5 minutes after, and tried to get him to understand I had to get stamped and get back by 11 p.m. In Spanish/Portuguese and more with sign language, he got the point across -- that station was closed and we had to go 20 more kilometers to get to the next one.

Well I´m fucked. And not remotely in the good way. Plus, I am now steaming.

I figure that the ticket agent knew I´d never get back for the 11 p.m. bus and she just made me buy a $25 dollar ticket for nothing. I was wondering if we´d make it back before the bus stop closed again. I recalled there might have been a bus leaving for Florinopolis (in Brazil, even further up the coast, towards my final destination) at 1:30 a.m., but I had asked another agent about that bus earlier and wasn´t sure it ran on this particular night. Could I catch any bus tonight? Could I trade in this ticket?

Damn it. I think I have been screwed by everyone. And when I asked the cabbie how much, when I got in the cab, he said 400 pesos -- about $20 dollars. At the time, I figured ´what the hell´, get me my stamp and I won´t mind getting totally and completely ripped off. Now I was pissed about the bus ticket, the cab fare, and that I might miss my boat. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

The cabbie got me up to the town where the police/immigration station was open by about 11:15. I went in, got stamped and came back out to the cab. He then started driving off, but not the same way we came. About 2 minutes later, he pulls up to a bus station in the town in Brazil. He then tells me that the bus that left 20 minutes ago from Uruguay would be at this station in about 10 minutes. I could catch the bus here with my ticket and be on my merry way.

There are about 2 cabbies in 10 that I think are the greatest people in the world (and about 5 in 10 that should rot in hell). I think I must have told this dude ´mucho gracias´ about a dozen times. I handed him a 1,000 peso note for my 400 peso bill. He said he didn´t have change. I pulled out the smaller bills and coins I had and told him I only had 360 pesos. And he took it.

Great cabbie andone of the South American change moments. My trip to the boat was looking up.

So, the overnight bus got to Porto Alegre at about 6 a.m. I needed to get a bus about 10-12 hours up the coast to Sao Francisco that night (the 28th), so that if the boat was leaving early the next morning (the 29th, per the email), I would be there and ready to go. One of the frustrating things about buses in Central and South America are that there are usually about 6-10 bus companies and only some of them go to certain locations. And I was in Brazil. New language: Portuguese. Similar to Spanish, but I was beyond clueless.

I pulled out the email about where I needed to go and starting going down the bus ticket line. They kept pointing to other companies. I asked at about four of five of them and finally got to the one that I was fairly certain was right. I asked him about the bus to Sao Francisco and he pointed and said to go to the agent in the stand immediately next to him. I went there. That guy pointed back to the person I just came from. I went back and got pointed back to the other guy.

It was ´Who´s on First,´ but in language I didn´t speak. I saw a bus outside bording people - the sign in the front of the bus said ´Curitiba.´ That was reasonably close to where I needed to be, after consulting my map. I went back to one of the ticket guys that kept pointing me off next door, pointed at that bus, said ´Curitiba?´, got a nod, and bought a ticket. Curitiba was a big city, over a million. I figured that I would get in at about 5 p.m. or so and be able to catch a bus to Sao Francisco that night. It looked like about 150 kilometers between the two. I also figured that I would get into Curitiba early enough to call the local shipping agent and confirm the time the boat was leaving. Maybe I wouldn´t have to rush down, if the boat was leaving late on the 29th.

The bus was supposed to take 11 hours by the guidebook. It took more like 14 hours. I got in around 8 p.m. I found the internet cafe at the bus station and checked my email, hoping for an email back from the shipping people in the U.K. that I´d emailed asking for follow-up. It was Saturday. No email. I used Skype to call the number I had for the shipping agent in Sao Francisco (after getting help navagating the menu, which was in Portuguese, by another helpful bystander).

The number I had wasn´t working. I went downstairs to check on buses to Sao Francisco. No buses that night. The first one left at 6:30 a.m. and got in around 9 a.m. or so. Rent a car? Hitchhike?

I went back up to the internet cafe and re-read the email. The boat was ´now due to arrive on the 29th.´ There had to be some amount of time to load and unload, right? I also checked the boat schedule again, after this port, they had two more stops in Brazil. If I missed it the next day, I was absolutely sure I could catch it in Rio de Janeiro before it was to leave there three days from then. Totally and completely sure.

I decided to trust to fate, buy the bus ticket for the next day, get a few hours sleep (I hadn´t slept more than about four hours total in the last two days) and see what happened.

Got up, took the bus, got into Sao Francisco around 9 a.m. or so. Took a cab to the port. The guy at the enterance to the port didn´t speak English, but I showed him the email with the name of my boat. He seemed to say that the boat was there and let me in, pointed down past some of the huge stacks of cargo containers waiting to be put on freighters and said ´go up there a ways and look to the left.´ I assumed. I walked down there on a complete travel high -- I´d navigated the shoals and made my boat. Cool.

Two freighters getting loaded. My ship, the MOL Wish, was not one of them. Hmmmmmm. Now I figured I had missed it. One of the guys loading one of the two freighters spoke English. I showed him the email, he immediately nodded and said that the MOL Wish wasn´t due in port until 4 p.m. Golden. I had made it. I asked him where the local shipping agent was in town and he gave me directions that I didn´t understand, but it was a fairly small town and I had hours to find him. No worries.

I walked back towards town, looking for an internet spot to check email from the shipping agent in the U.K. (hopefully) and also to verify the address of the local person I was supposed to contact. Its a Sunday, which means that about everything is closed. I asked a guy on the street about an internet cafe and he pointed off down one street and said there was one down there. I walked in the direction I thought he indicated for a couple hundred yards, as he was stopped at a train crossing to let a train pass by. I saw him back up from the crossing and come towards me. He honked, pulled over, and told me I was going the wrong way. He told me to hop in -- I did, and he drove me to the internet cafe.

When I got there, I still had plenty of time before the boat arrived. Since it was a Sunday, I assumed the shipping agent probably wouldn´t get to his office until a couple hours before the ship arrived, so I checked email and killed a half hour reading the news. Then I got up and asked the owner of the internet store, Mohammad, who spoke very good English, if he knew where the shipping agent´s office was.

He said the office was close by, but it was closed because it was Sunday. He asked why I was asking about it and I told him I was catching a ship that afternoon. He got the ship´s information and the name of the agent´s company and said he knew the agent, Fabio, but he didn´t have his cell number. He told me to hold on, while he tried to track it down. He then made a couple calls, got the cell number for Fabio, called him for me and put me on the phone with him.

Fabio just came by Mohammad´s place about an hour ago to pick up my passport to take it to Brazil immigration. I´m sitting here waiting for him to come back and trying to figure out how much I should tip Mohammad on top of my internet bill (he waved me away earlier and told me I didn´t owe him anything).

There are plenty of times I love being on the road. And the people are usually at the top of the list of reasons why. It has been a really good, though long and tiring, two days to get here.

Can´t wait to see my ship in another hour or so. And get some sleep.

Offline for about 11 days or so. And then get ready for lots and lots and lots of content. Do me a favor -- tell a few of your friends -- I still need more eyeballs ;)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Perhaps the mental hangover from playing poorly in a poker tourny has slowed down my blogging. Don't know why, but here are some notes on Uruguay.

I took the ferry from Buenos Aires over to Montevideo and then hopped on a bus for the two hour trip to Punta del Esta. Punta del Esta is referred to as Buenos Aires' beach suburb. Its thought of as sort of the French Rivera of South America.

And its a pretty nice place, all in all. Certainly one of the more upscale places I've visited in South America. For example, all of the taxis are beige E Class Mercedes and the drivers wear suits -- and also charge a heck of a lot more than anywhere else down here I've been to yet. The stores in town are have designer labels that even I can recognize. . .with the accompanying high prices. The beaches surround the town and extend up the coast both ways from town. The town itself is on a peninsula and no matter where you are in town, you are no more than 3 blocks away from a beach. I can see why its a popular spot with the well-to-do in South America.

The less said about the poker tourny the better. It was a good event. I played very well for about eight hours, building my chip stack from the initial 10,000 chips to about 48,000 or so. There were about 200 entries into the event and with about 60 people to go, I had one of my typical blow-ups. The person to my right was a newer player that had recently been brought to our table. He made a raise in the cut-off position and I called his raise from the button. Both blinds folded. The flop came down K-4-6 with three different suits. He made a small bet, I made a complete and total bluff raise (I had 9-10 suited). He called my raise. I should have clearly realized at the point that I was totally lost and he wasn´t going anywhere. I didn´t and then bluffed again on the turn and the river, losing about 3/4s of my chips on a stupid naked bluff. I was out about a half-hour later in 60th place or so. O well. I should have learned that particular lesson long ago, but I guess relearning it will be good for me, eventually.

After getting knocked out, I wandered around upstairs looking for a live poker game. Problem is -- no one plays live, cash game poker at these things. After they get knocked out, all the kids huddle up in the lobby, pull out their laptops and proceed to play 4-6 tables of online poker. The only live poker they play is in the tournament. I did manage to run into two really cool women from NYC that were in town for a couple days, Erika and Lauren. Both were high-ups at competing fashion magazines. I got a good craps lesson from the guy that was flirting with Lauren and got the low-down on how the magazine world works at the same time from Erika. And lost a couple hundred playing craps in the meantime. . .

Other thoughts about Uruguay. I haven´t seen a place with this many bookstores in a long, long time. Just wandering around Montevideo, the capital, I´d bet that I saw 20-25 bookstores and even more small magazine stalls on the streets. Of course, I had to feed my book addiction. And feeding that beast in Latin America is damn expensive. They apparently love their books here -- and show it in the prices.

PDAs -- public displays of affection. This is also apparently the norm in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. I couldn´t count how many couples I saw in full make out sessions in the plazas and just stopped on the sidewalks. Friendly and affectionate people, by the looks of it.

Montevideo is also a town on a peninsula, sticking out into the ocean. There are about a million people that live here, but you´d never be able to tell on a weekend. The town basically shuts down for Saturday and Sunday. You can find some places to eat and drink, but that is about all that is open downtown. Its like a ghost town on the weekend - nothing open and no one, I mean no one, on the streets. Eerie a bit actually. The town itself is pretty cool and laid back. Lots of fully grown trees planted everywhere in cut-outs from the sidewalks, which is a great thing in an urban setting. Mostly 2-3 story residental buildings all over the place. In that regard, it reminded me a good bit of Washington D.C., except with a more European flavor of architecture. I really love the rounded corners on the buildings here and in Buenos Aires.

Lastly, matte tea. I haven´t tried it yet, because the reviews I´ve even got from the locals that drink it hasn´t been that favorable. I suppose I should try it in the next couple of days though. They fill up these cups (below) with the crushed matte tea leaves. And by fill it up, I mean fill it up. The entire cup is totally full of leaves. Then they pour in some hot water (you see hundreds of people carrying these cups and a thermos of hot water everywhere walking the streets), mix it up with a special spoon that also functions as a straw and drink it through the spoon. Seeing everyone walk around with these a cup and a thermos is an interesting sight.


Never be surprised

There was a news story a few months ago talking about the possibility of soon getting wireless internet access on airline flights. Apparently the technology to do that is already out there. The stories concentrated on the airlines concern that people might sit on the plane and download or watch porn, so that other passengers would have to be subjected to seeing it.

I laughed the story off. Who would sit in a public place and watch porn? It just seemed like a ridiculous concern.

Then I got up this morning to have a cup of coffee and check the internet on my laptop in my hostel in Montevideo, Uruguay. I plugged my computer into one of the plugs in the reception area, where the three public computers are located.

And the guy two computers over from me is watching -- Sorry, I had to get a good enough look to see the exact website, just so I could write about it.

Well, the sound was off. Maybe he thought he was being discreet in that way.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Andrew Lloyd Webber

OK, earlier I referenced how much I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber and some people emailed me and wanted the story. Here is my brief explanation.

I have seen a number of his musicals over the years. Some live shows (on Broadway, at the Kennedy Center and in touring productions), some of the movie versions of his productions. I've disliked them all. Been bored stiff every time by his stuff.

It is someone peculiar for me because I have seen musicals that I like. Loved a comedic musical with Greg Brady, of all people, as the lead in D.C. once. I also absolutely love the opera, so its not as if I dislike the whole 'singing on stage' thing.

But I just having liked a single one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals.

The absolute nail in the coffin for me was when my father, my brother, and some other people, including one of my best friends in the world, Doug Muzzy and I went to Scotland about 10 years ago to play golf for a week or so. At the end of that trip, my father, Doug, Doug's father, and I went to London for a couple extra days to play a few more rounds down there. Doug and his father are big musical fans and his dad bought four tickets to see 'Phantom of the Opera.'

'Phantom of the Opera.' On the stage it was originally performed. Not the entire original cast, but a good portion of them. You would figure this set up for an excellent evening's entertainment.

O contre, mon ami.

Although my dislike for all things Webber had been established by then (and Doug was quite amused, knowing this about me, that his father had gotten tickets for all of us), I steeled myself to approach it with an open mind. We put on the best clothes that we'd brought for the trip, got into a taxi and went off to the theater.

As the cab pulled up to drop us off -- to the right, the marquee on the right had the big sign for 'Phantom of the Opera' -- and at the theater immediately across the street.

'The Odd Couple starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau.'

Its hard to explain how annoyed I was. When would you ever get a chance to see those two in that play? Turns out. . . not much. They were both dead about 2-3 years later.

Head hung low, I went in to 'Phantom of the Opera.' And hated it. Like all Andrew Lloyd Weber productions, the actual production part of it was incredible. Beautiful staging. When the Phantom was rowing through the misty subterranean river? Gorgeous. But its the same damn song over and over and over -- "Phantommmm of the Operaaaa."

Arrrrggggg. Matthau and Lemon right across the street. Damn it.

Labels: ,


For those readers that are not friends of mine on Facebook -- I'm posting up most of the pictures of my trip on picasa web. This is the address:

I haven't done captions on this site -- am doing it on Facebook.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lazy Lawyer

OK -- its been 10 days. Need to get off my ass and write some more. Off today to try to get a visa to get into Brazil. Then might try to get some sun on my white body. BUT, am going to write soon.

Now here is the upcoming question. My boat for South Africa leaves in ten days. The trip is supposed to be 10-11 days overall. Obviously no internet (thank God for me -- forced withdrawal). So, hopefully I will be writing a ton.

Any requests? Any topics people want me to opine on from the road? Anything you want to know about the trip in particular? All suggestions welcomed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I've hit a few casinos in Central and South America, mostly looking for a good poker game. There was an excellent game in Panama City that I played in for two nights while I was there. The players, mostly locals, were incredibly wild. Incredibly wild is usually a good recipe for winning, if you are willing to be patient.

Th first night, I ended up doing fairly well, but lost some of my winnings at the end of the night when I started playing a little too loosely (to wild). In a game with players throwing money left and right, its usually best just to play a nice and conservative game and wait for them to put their money in the pot when their hand is way behind yours. I got up $500 or so dollars that night, but ended up only winning a couple hundred. Dumb play on my part.

The second night I stuck much more to the proper plan. I only played about two and a half hours. One local guy came in both nights I played. Both nights he did exactly the same thing -- bought in for $500 (pretty high for this particular game, most people bought in for $200-300). He then quickly made a series of higher and higher bluff bets shortly after sitting down and usually lost the hands. Both nights he lost his $500 inside of one hour.

That's the kind of guy you want at your table. I usually refer to that type of player as "an ATM." Mmmmmmmmm. Tasty.

So in any case, on night two, I won a couple big hands where I flopped a huge hand and someone (in one hand, two people) made absurdly large bets trying to buy the pots. I pushed all in on both hands and took down some nice money. After two and half hours, I was up a little over $500 and decided to head back to Luna's Castle, have a few celebration beers and get a good night's sleep.

I thought Panama was going to be a good start to a series of Latin American poker games, but up to now, I haven't found a casino with a game running yet. I've been to some casinos in Chile and Argentina, but the only poker I have run across is the video variety and one tournament that had already started by the time I arrived there, in Bariloche.

I did get to play for the first time with those big, plaque poker chips that you see in movies from the fancy European casinos. The ones that are 5,000 or 10,000 Euros.

Of course, I was in Chile, and the plaques were just 10,000 Chilean pesos, but I still felt very James Bondish as I played a little craps, roulette and blackjack. Once again, feeling rich in a country where you can buy 600 pesos for a dollar.

Craps was quite lame. You weren't allowed to back up your bets by taking the odds. There were no odds bets, just the basics, which obviously skews things quite favorably for the house. I actually had one of the longest rolls at a craps table in my gambling life -- probably 20-25 minutes or so. At a normal table, I probably would have won $500-600, just making $5 bets backed up with $10-15 in odds bets. Here, I ended up winning less than $100. Roulette is a horrible game to play, but for whatever reason, I actually have won more money than I've lost over time playing it. Here was no different, as I won a little bit.

And then there is blackjack. I hate blackjack. I am almost positive that I have ended up one time in my entire life of playing (and yes, I play the basic strategy correctly, so there is no sense in the fact that I'm down in about 17 or the 18 or so times I've played). I find the game incredibly boring -- and it doesn't help that I consistently lose at it. I rarely play and I really need to make that rarely a never.

How much do I hate blackjack?? This reference will only make sense to those that know me well, but for them, it should be vivid.

I hate blackjack more than I hate the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes. I hate blackjack that much.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

good programers out there

I know nothing about HTML code.

Anyone have simple instructions for changing my photo, so that it fits properly in the frame?


Monday, March 9, 2009

South American Coasts

In the course of my adult life, I’ve driven around most of the United States. In fact, I’ve driven through 45 of the lower 48 states – missing Vermont, North Dakota, and Arizona. How the hell I’ve missed Arizona is beyond me.

The U.S. is incredibly beautiful. I love almost all of it, from the beaches and keys in Florida, up the Carolina lowlands, through Appalachia, the big cities on the eastern coast, the shorelines of Maine, the heartland (and yes, I also love driving through Kansas and Iowa and their flat farm fields stretching as far as the eye can see), the Black Hills and the Badlands, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, Highway 1 all the way down the Pacific coast, California, the inland deserts, the colors of southeast Utah. Almost all of it is incredible in my book.

West Texas and Oklahoma being notable exceptions. I thought I had seen most combinations of natural scenery before my trip.

But one thing I was unprepared for on this trip was the scenery in vast stretches of Peru and Chile – huge deserts that run right up to the ocean. In the States, almost all of the land that I’ve been in bordering both oceans is green and alive. Being from where I am, it just seems natural – up against large bodies of water, there is going to be lots of rainfall and lots of life.

Ocean. Water. Evaporation. Rainfall. Life.

That isn’t the case for massive portions of the western side of South America. Hour after hour our bus ate up the miles from the Ecuador/Peru border down to Lima. And there wasn’t a bit of life to be seen. Ocean on the right. Desolation on the left. It was like the beach started where you would expect it to, but then just kept on going inland. As far as the eye could see.

The bus would stop every six to eight hours to allow us to get off, stretch out a bit and get some food from little way stations on the road. It was so odd to me that you could smell the water – that unmistakable scent of the ocean – but at the same time you could smell the life that water represents, there was no life around you.

It felt so alien.

The same was true in northern Chile. Four. Six. Ten. Twelve hours went by as the bus drove down the straight-as-a-string highway. In the morning, the bus attendant closed the shades on the left side of the bus, facing east, to shade us from the sun. After noon, he opened the left and closed the right. And hour after hour after hour, all you could see was desert and ocean.

The Atacama desert in Peru is one of the driest in the world. The annual rainfall averages 1 millimeter. There is evidence to suggest there was absolutely no rainfall from 1570 to 1971. That's over four centuries. Wowser.

Southern Argentina, Patagonia, was similar near the coast, but the distinction is that some life does exist. From Rio Gallegos south to Tierra del Fuego, about 1,000 kilometers, I looked out the window and just saw rolling hills covered with closely clumped tuffs of grass, none of which appeared to be more than about six to eight inches high. The color of everything out the window was between yellow and light brown, except for the occasional gray bush, some of which had a few green leaves. Hours would go by without a glimpse of a single tree.

It was barren, but not lifeless. Looking out the window, there wasn’t the mild feeling of despair that I got in the deserts on the western side – a feeling that I suppose arose from just the complete lack of anything that would indicate life was possible there. Here, you would occasionally see llamas grazing in the fields. I saw my first wild foxes running free just after making a stop at an immigration checkpoint. And the color was different – though not green, it still had the feeling of life in it.

I sat for a long time trying to think of what sort of terrain it reminded me of. It sort of reminded me of what I remember of South Dakota, but I’m sure that most of the land I saw up there was more cultivated than this. This land was 100% wild.

Eventually, the bus got to the Straights of Magellan and we had to take a ferry to cross into Tierra del Fuego (which is an island, unbeknownst to me before this trip). As the bus pulled to a stop, waiting on the ferry, I got out of the bus to walk around, with “Crisis? What Crisis?” playing on my iPod.

The wind was howling. As the ferry approached, you could see it fighting the fast current. The straights narrowed in this area and the water was visibly rushing towards the Atlantic. Although it was completely desolate, the cool temperature convinced me that I wasn’t taking a ferry across the River Styx.

It truly did feel like we were taking the ferry to the end of the world – Fin de Munde. Tierra del Fuego – the land of fire.

As the bus kept going south, we eventually starting going through some mountains, where there were lakes and trees and more signs of life.

I love trees. And water.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More Miscellaneous Travel Notes

• Generally, I’ve been pretty depressed by the state of coffee in South America. It is strange to me that there are excellent coffee growing regions all around – Brazil and Columbia in particular – but they still serve crap, instant coffee in so many places. When I took a coffee plantation tour in Panama, the tour guide referred to the low quality coffee beans drying on the ground (with stems, leaves and so on mixed in with them) as “Nescafe beans.”

I’m sick of Nescafe. Instant coffee sucks.

• While we are on the topic of coffee, I like just a small bit of cream or milk in mine. Just a small, little bit. The first few times I ordered coffee in Latin America, I saw “café con leche” on the menu. Leche is milk. I figured, “perfect, coffee with a little bit of milk or cream in it.” Ahhhh – not so much.

Coffee con leche is about a half and half mixture. About half milk and half coffee. And that’s a pretty horrible combination in my book. It reminded me somewhat of one of my roommates during freshman year of college, Dave Rubin.

We drank a lot of coffee that year. I suppose we thought that a few cups of coffee in the morning was some sort of sign of us finally becoming adults. One day I was doing the dishes and washed out a couple coffee mugs that Dave had used – and there was about a half inch of sugar at the bottom. I’d never noticed before, but he poured a ton of sugar in with every cup. “Would you like a little coffee with your sugar” became the roommates’ refrain to him every time he poured a cup.

He’d fit in well down here. They seem to like everything served sweet here. I’ve thrown away more than a half a dozen cups of coffee because they came to my table with sugar already in them.

By the way, if you want to order just plain, black coffee, its “café negro.”

• Sidenote story from freshman year in college. Before I went away to school, I only wanted three things from living away from home: (1) a liquor cabinet, (2) a kitchen, so I could cook for a dinner date -- and assumably impress the hell out of some woman -- and (3) the ability to stay up all night without answering to anyone.

Number 3 was a success. Too frequently. Number 1 existed, but was stocked with such horrible liquor that my father refused an offer of a drink the first time he visited. I don’t think I had a single date my freshman year of college, so number 2 was a bit of a failure. I did get to witness Dave screw up making a grilled cheese sandwich though – that was amusing.

• I love smoking cigars. Back at home, my cigar habit was getting to be somewhere in the five to ten cigar a week range. I really got to like a Nicaraguan cigar called Padron. They were smooth smokes and very reasonably priced – I could get a box of 25 of them for under $100.

As we all know, you can’t buy Cuban cigars legally in the U.S, because of the really stupid embargo on all things Cuban that has far outlived it usefulness, except in courting Cuban-American voters in Florida.

So I’ve been cigar shopping in a few places in Central and South America and the reverse problem appears to me here – you can ONLY buy Cuban cigars down here. And though I do love a nice Montecristo #2 occasionally, Cuban cigars are just way, way, way overpriced. I’m used to paying $3-4 for a cigar, not $12-18 per cigar.

So as a strange result of being in places where you can buy Cuban cigars . . . I am smoking very infrequently. I wouldn’t have figured on that.

• I’d say far less than half the time at the places I’m eating dinner there is salt and pepper on the table. That’s probably a good thing for me – I’m one of those people that habitually salts and peppers my food before even tasting it. As a cook, I know that is stupid, but I can’t seem to stop. In addition, especially in Central America, when they bring out salt and pepper – its salt . . . and then hot sauce not dry pepper, as we are used to.

• I mentioned in a previous blog about all the countries that the U.S. has either invaded or attempted to overthrow their government. There is a strange dichotomy, in my mind, of countries we screwed with and their choices of currency. Two countries stand out. We messed with Nicaragua famously for years, with the Contra War. Strangely enough, they have pegged their currency to the U.S. Dollar. Although they have a local currency, the Cordoba, its value is set against the U.S. Dollar – as our currency goes up or down in value, so exactly does the Cordoba. And although we invaded Panama a few decades ago and took out Noriega, their currency is the U.S. Dollar. The greenback is alive and well in the land of the canal.

If I was running these countries (and Daniel Ortega just go elected President of Nicaragua a couple years back – he of the Sandinista revolution and the target of the Contra War for all those years), I don’t know if I’d be happy having my country’s financial status tied so directly to the country that has screwed with us.

• Keeping with the theme of money, it is really, really nice to go to the ATM machine in some of these countries. In Chile, for example, one U.S. Dollar is worth about 600 Chilean pesos. This doesn’t mean much in terms of how much things actually cost (Chile is actually pretty expensive, compared to a lot of other places down here), but what is great is getting the receipt from the ATM machine showing your balance in pesos.

I’m a multi-millionaire in Chile, baby. Feels sooooo good.

• And on the topic of currency, did you ever wonder where all the Sacagawea dollars went to??

Ecuador. Ecuador is another country that uses the U.S. Dollar as its currency. But when you get change there, you often get the one dollar Sacagawea coins back. The first time I got one back, I did a double-take when I looked at it. They were issued in the U.S. in 2000 and 2001. I feel confident in saying that I’ve never seen a single one in circulation back home. I saw dozens of them in Ecuador.

I wonder if they just loaded up big cargo planes with all of those coins and sent them down to Quito. “Here you go boys. We aren’t using these things. Go crazy.”

• And lastly on the subject of change – NO ONE has change in South America. It is truly amazing how many times, when I hand over a 20 or 50 or 100 peso note, the person in the store asks if I have exact change for what I’m buying.

One night in Quito, Ecuador, I went out to a bar with three of the girls I was traveling with for a week or so. The bar was fairly crowded – I’d say there were 50 or so people in there, drinking and dancing. I went up to the bar to buy a beer. The beer was $3. I handed him a $10 bill and he shook his head and said “I can’t change that.”

It was a TEN dollar bill. In a bar, for God’s sake. A fairly crowded bar at about 10 p.m. How the hell can you run a business and not have two one dollar bills and one five dollar bill in the cash register?

Yesterday, in Bariloche, Argentina (a very popular tourist town with no shortage of money around) I went to a store to buy a windbreaker. The store was a big one on the main commercial street in town. In fact, the store was a North Face store. The jacket I bought was $72 pesos. I gave her a hundred peso note. She asked me if I had two more pesos, so she could just give me $30 pesos in change. I checked my pockets and told her I didn’t have any small change.

She asked me to wait. Went to the back room for about 5 minutes, obviously in search of change and ended up coming back out and just handing me the $30 pesos in change. It wasn’t really a big deal in the scheme of things, but this store gave up $2 pesos. . . just because they didn’t have change in the cash register.

Labels: , ,

travel times update

to continue with my random facts about the trip, I've tried to compile some of the transportation facts on the trip. I'm keeping a lot better log of this now, but some of the Central America numbers may be slightly off -- I didn't think about keeping track back there. I tried to reconstruct them with my guidebook last night. Here goes, so far.

Time spent in various modes of transportation so far (not including stuff like walking around town and such -- this is getting from point A to point B):

bus = 329 hours
boat = 48 hours
hiking = 7 hours
donkey = 2 1/2 hours
train = 15 hours

And I think its likely that my South American tattoo is going to be a little one of each of those under my world map. I think.

Total transport hours = 401 1/2 hours = 16.73 days.

bus rides of ten or more hours = 12

chicken bus rides = only 1, but it was a good one.

cool people met on buses that are now Facebook friends = tons. I wish I'd kept track. I'm going to guess 20 or so.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Latin American customs

I'm sure this, like others, will be added to later, but I have to make a few comments on a Latin American ritual that I find interesting (we will come back to honking in a longer blog).


I've never been in a culture that has issued so many receipts.

Today I went to buy some moisturizing lotion. Strange thing about not showering every day -- your skin seems to get pissed off when you DO shower -- and you itch for a really hard 30-45 minutes or so afterwords. Who knew that the French were so smart for just avoiding the whole thing? Or is it just the deodorant thing??

In any case, so I go into the the Farmacia to find some lotion. I attempt to tell the lady at the counter what I need. She looks at me like I am from Mars. I am.

I wander about. At one point, I open up a container of something I think might must be what I want. I squirt a small bit out on my hand to make sure its not shampoo or hair conditioner and the clerk lady, who apparently has been following the frightening guy from Mars, taps me on the shoulder and says something to the effect of "no samples." Even I got the gist of that hand signal.

I went ahead and bought it -- I'd figured that I'd sullied it (damn -- another great British word), so it was the least could do to buy it and make it an honest container of some mass-produced item.

I am nothing if not a romantic at heart.

So I take the deflowered container up to the counter. Motion that I want to pay for it. She rings it up. Hands me a receipt. Points across the room to another person behind another counter and makes it apparent that I need to pay over there (since I am waiving money in her face and she is making "shooing" motions at me).

I went over and paid at the other counter.

This wasn't the first time that I had to get a receipt in one location and pay in another. Its happened a half-dozen times or so. And the need to give you a receipt is amazing down here. Today I paid for my hostel room. Two nights. I think it was $30 dollars U.S. or so. She quoted me the price. I paid exact change in cash. She motioned and made me wait -- and went and got the receipt.

I'm trying to remember the last transaction I've had without a receipt. Internet cafe -- $2. Receipt. A couple empanadas for lunch? Receipt.

And its not just the people behind counters printing off receipts for you. I've had a dozen people motion and ask me to wait, while they do up a hand done receipt for the $4 item I've just bought. I've thrown out the "no problemo." The hand motion that should mean "no receipt needed." I've done all I can do -- but I can't avoid the receipt.

The odd thing is that Latin America is sort of also know for its corruption. A little "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" culture. Know somebody -- get something done. And so on. But everywhere you go -- they want to write a receipt - and therefore be able to be tracked for tax purposes. On the opposite side of the same scale, I offered to pay for hotel rooms a few times with credit cards and the clerk has looked at me like I'm an idiot and said "there is an extra 5% charge for a credit card." This could be the money that the credit card company tacks on, but I think it is just as likely its the tax they have to pay on verified stays in their place (sales tax).

But then again, they'll write me up a receipt for my cash payment in a heartbeat.

I'm coming back to this part of the world. I want to learn to speak Spanish well. I also want to understand. I like these folks. I just am confused. A lot.


Road lists

Today should be a writing day, so I think I'll have some more content up today, including a long, long blog about the sailboat trip in Panama. Perhaps. Damn, its long.

So I thought I'd knock out a short on this morning. Here are a few lists of things I've done so far on the road.

Countries visited: 11

Counties visited that the U.S. had not invaded, assassinated a leader or tried to overthrow the government: 3, I think. Someone can correct me here. I have Costa Rica, Peru and Argentina. But my history may be off.

Least favorite country so far: Costa Rica

Most favorite country so far: Hard to say. Columbia. Nicaragua. Chile. Gotta say that most of them have been great.

Best place visited: Manchupiccu. Truly does live up to the hype. If you haven't been yet -- it really must be the next place you visit. Do not go during our summer -- overrun with tourists. Take the chance at a visit during their rainy season with less people around.

Things lost: 10. One ATM card. Two pairs of sunglasses. Two bottles of shampoo (annoying, I leave them in the showers). One watch. One pair of socks. One SPOT device (lost yesterday on a bus, but also found yesterday, supposed to be delivered back to me today). One pen. And one towel.

Books read: 12. Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign by Pico Iyer (fantastic -- one of the best travel writers out there -- go get it). House for Mr. Biswas by Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipal (so-so). Butterfly and the Diving Bell by Jean-Dominique Bauby (quick read and interesting). What am I Doing Here? by Bruce Chatwin (again, fabulous -- go get anything he's written -- I really, really need to find Patagonia while I am here). Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (best 20th century author to not win the Nobel Prize -- but not one of my favorite books of his). Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins (what an incredible pompous twit -- can't write at all -- found it on the sailboat and read it -- interesting story, but he is a horrid writer. . .and likely a horrid person). The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (kudos to Veronica for giving it to me -- great little read). On the Road by Jack Kerouac (interesting -- has it been made into a movie? If not. . . I may have another script to write). Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (I promised myself some big reading -- half way through -- its a read and set down for another book read -- WILL finish). And last but not least, one of my new favorite authors. I don't read much fiction, but I'll be pouring through about a dozen of his books when I get back -- Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru. Incredibly good stuff. And just stared Paulo Coelho's Eleven Minutes: A Novel (his stuff is a very quick read, I'll finish this one in the next day or so. Loved The Alchemist and really haven't liked any of this other stuff, until this one.)

Times sick: zero. Knock on wood.

Strangest food so far: fried grasshoppers.

Favorite food so far: no shocker -- ceviche.

Favorite beer so far (most countries have their own beer monopolies -- limited choice, but on the good side, different every time you cross a border): Panama's Balboa. 2nd place probably was Salva Vida in Honduras, partly because I think the name is great ("Lifesaver" -- how good is THAT for a name of alcohol??)

Interesting for my Texas friends:

Flag of Chile --

Flag of Texas --

Chile adopted its flag (commonly known as "the Lone Star") in 1817.

Texas adopted its flag in 1838.

Just sayin'. . . . .