Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Vacation

From the moment I heard that I was assigned to Peace Corps Paraguay, I thought, great, I’ll be close to family. Over 40 years ago, my aunt married a Uruguayan and has lived in Montevideo ever since. It immediately occurred to me that if I could not be home with my immediate family for Christmas, at least I could be with my extended family. Since Montevideo and Buenos Aires are so close together, it also occurred to me that I could spend; New Year’s there and begin some of the travel that I hoped to accomplish in this region. I broached the idea of my trip with my aunt and she seemed as excited about it as I was. It occurred to me that a few of my friends would perhaps be interested in this trip – and travel is always more fun with friends, so I invited my two friends Julie and Karen.

I had been planning the trip for so long that it seemed unbelievable that the day would ever arrive that we would actually leave, but of course, the day did arrive. Julie and I traveled together and met Karen at the bus station. The cheapest way to travel between Asuncion and Montevideo is bus. The bus is one of the large double-decker buses that has a bathroom and offers movies. Those amenities didn’t really comfort us when thinking of the 20+ hours that we would have to spend en route though…

The time actually went by much faster than we could have hoped. My aunt was waiting for us at the bus terminal in Montevideo and our vacation was underway! My aunt lives close to the “beach.” I use beach in quotes because though it looks like the ocean it is really a river. Ocean or river, we walked along the beach in front of said body of water nearly every day. Some days the air was really brisk and we had to wear hoodies to keep warm. The sun was always warm, but none of us was really prepared for those brisk winds.

We celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my aunt and her children—my cousins who all have families of their own. Next up was a trip to Punta Del Este, a really amazingly beautiful beach town about 3 hours from Montevideo. One point resembles Greece with its jagged rocks and beautiful blue ocean. We parked the car and walked around a bit. We saw yachts from all over the world parked in the marina and delighted in the sea lions that hang out there hoping to get a bit of a treat from the local anglers. We took another look around by car and then got ready for a few hours of relaxation down on the beach. The water was freezing but Karen, Julie and I braved going in anyway. After a nice dinner, we were headed back to Montevideo. My aunt also took us to Colonia, to the “campo” – the farming area where my cousin lives and works and to the old historic part of Montevideo.

Despite filling our days with activities, we had plenty of time to rest. The days passed slowly but the week passed quickly. We treated my aunt to a nice dinner the night before we left and before we knew it, we were on a boat headed to Buenos Aires.

Our boat arrived late and by the time we checked into our hostel, it was after midnight. None of the directions we were given to find food led to us actually finding anything open though just as we were about to give up we did finally eat (well after 1AM). The next morning we set out to by our tickets for our trip back home, change money and do a little shopping. Errands duly completed, we concentrated on our next objective: finding plans for New Year’s Eve. Most of the area restaurants/bars were already fully booked and it turned out that venturing too far away from our hotel would mean not having transportation back as taxis, buses, and subways would not be functioning late. Just as we were going to give up, we found a place that still had openings (thank you Lonely Planet).

The place we spent our evening is called Querandi and was offering an amazing meal and tango show extravaganza. They offered us a pick-up service, which we happily accepted though it was only a few blocks away from our hostel. When we arrived, we noticed that staff members of the restaurant were dressed in 20’s era regalia.Then we were offered our own costumes of sorts – flapper style headbands with feathers in them, long black gloves and red feather boas.

It was fun to see that most of the guests present that evening (around 70 people) were all happily joining in the fun with their feathered hair bands, gloves, and boas. The menu for the evening offered a choice of three appetizers, main courses, and deserts (they offered me special options for the appetizer and main course as a vegetarian). Alcohol was also included in the price of the evening – meaning we could drink as much as we wanted of what we wanted. We drank (not in excess of course) champagne, beer and wine throughout the evening. The floorshow was also scattered throughout the evening with shorter numbers between the appetizer and main course and then a series of longer numbers after the desert was served. We were all offered more champagne to ring in the evening and all of the guests were also presented with a special bag of noisemakers and silly string. We all played happily with our gift bags and most of us were covered in a mixture of confetti and silly string.

The evening didn’t end there though. They started playing great dance tunes and my friends and I (and most other patrons) hit the dance floor. We danced the night away and soon my feet were giving out. I sat out for a bit when one of the wait staff handed me a bundle of papers – songs for karaoke. I shared the song list with my friends and we picked out a few to sing. By the time the night was over, we had hit the stage with four songs (two in Spanish by the singer Juanes and two in English, Girls Just Want to Have Fun and I Will Survive). When the few remaining guests (about 20 of us) had had enough, around 2:30AM, they called the van and we were all driven back to our hotels. The evening was a smashing success and was one of the best ways I’ve had to ring in a new year in a very long time.

The rest of our days in Buenos Aires were spent on walking tours with guides or just discovering the city on our own. We visited an old friend of mine from Switzerland and had fun touring her neighborhood (Palermo) and shopping in the gorgeous shopping mall located there. We also spent time in Recoleta at a very well known old cemetery and in Retiro seeing old palaces and plazas. We walked along the port in Puerto Madero and had an excellent dinner there as well. We visited the zoo and walked through a few of vast parks located throughout the city as well.

Just as in Montevideo, we did a lot but never felt as if we were trying to do too much. We relaxed on our last day and prepared ourselves for the 18-hour bus ride back to Asuncion.

Now we are all back and getting (or trying to get) back into the swing of things here. Fortunately, the weather has not been as hot as we had all feared and we’ve even gotten some rain (it always seems to cool things down a bit). The summers are often slow here, especially just after the holidays. Soon our lives will be filled with summer camp plans, new school-year projects and much much more. Stay tuned….