I’ve been in Colorado for six weeks and it’s been a delight. I’ve badly needed some time to decompress and not feel pressured to make flight reservations, bus reservations, hotel reservations, Airbnb reservations, and all the other necessary detritus that are involved with major travel. My brain was tired.
Of course, being in Denver doesn’t mean I’ve been able to completely shut down my brain cells. I’ve been running around quite a bit replacing all my electronics, replacing all my clothing, going to medical checkups, dental checkups, etc. I’m almost done with that part of my stay here – almost.
Seeing friends and family takes time too, but it’s great – of course. A few days ago I started a conversation with a cleaning lady in my building; in Spanish. She’s from El Salvador. I told her I had just been there and that it was a lovely place with kind people. Everyone loves to hear good reviews of their home 🙂
That conversation almost made me miss being on the road in Latin America – almost. I’m not quite ready to go back, but I will be back on the road.
It’s so sweet being back in civilization. I’m staying at an Airbnb in The Coloradan, the newest condo building in the heart of Union Station, Denver. I finally have easy access to numerous coffee shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, parks, walking paths and many transportation options.
I had hoped I’d find something like this somewhere – anywhere in Latin America. I visited many capital cities filled with millions of people, but nothing – absolutely nothing was even half as good as what I have here in Denver. I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off me. I’m going to really enjoy soaking this all in. I have so many restaurants to visit here.
I’ve been looking forward to this for some time. I need to replace my backpack (I gave the old one to a construction worker who was thrilled to have a Tumi), my hoodie (gave it to a homeless guy), my laptop (it’s on order – with an Arabic keyboard), my iPhone (done), my reading glasses and my prescription sunglasses. In two days I have a medical checkup AND I’ve been working out every day in my building’s gym which is brilliant! I can finally work out, eat and diet properly.
So nice!!! Denver’s so sweet – except when it’s below zero. I’m already planning for that. I have this condo until 1 October. After that I think I may go to Florida, or maybe Mexico City. I’m not sure.
One thing that is for sure is that when I do hit the road again, I’ll be much better prepared with all new travel gear.
After two weeks in Sosua, I spent two weeks in Puerto Plata. Sosua is a bit cramped and crowded. You can’t really go for much of a walk there. It was… just okay.
Puerto Plata is different in that it has large beaches and it isn’t as crowded. The downside to Puerto Plata is that large hotels and all-inclusive resorts dominate the area. I stayed at Blue Jacktar with some family. It was nice, but there are no grocery stores in the area and the restaurants in and around the resorts charge ridiculous prices for food and drink. Two weeks here for five people was expensive.
Cabarete, a ways down the coast, isn’t very comfortable either. The beach is great and it’s a party atmosphere, but walking down the strip of the small town is difficult as the sidewalks are narrow and the street is very busy with vehicular traffic.
The D.R. is nice, but not that nice. A short visit is best.
A highlight of our time in Puerto Plata was a trip to the border with Haiti and crossing over to see what’s there. My family was hesitant to visit Haiti, but it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them and they loved it.
On the seventh day in Sosúa, I was finally able to go for a five-kilometer walk along Sosúa Beach. I’m over my illness, but not quite 100% yet. I need to take it easy for a few days.
Photos don’t do this place justice. Sosúa is a combination of overwhelming natural charm combined with small businesses crowding out the beauty with blaring noise, pungent foods, and irritating hawkers wanting to sell you anything you’re looking for.
I won’t channel Obi-Wan Kenobi by saying,”You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”, but you can find the dregs of humanity here if that’s what you’re looking for. Just try to ignore the hucksters, the street drugs, and the smiles of the very young ladies. See beyond the over abundance of beach chairs and parasols blocking the ocean view. The Dominican Republic is well worth a visit.
It was too much to ask for. You can’t expect to take a journey through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic over the course of an entire year without getting sick at least once.
I felt more or less fine when I arrived in Santiago, Dominican Republic. My driver was waiting for me with a sign and we were off for the little over an hour drive to Sosúa. My driver was from Winnipeg, so I sat in the front and got to speak English for the first time in almost a year. That was fun.
That was four days ago. That night I started to feel awful. Luckily the first thing I did that first night was to go to a grocery store and buy milk and bran cereal. I wasn’t going to be leaving my condo rental for a few days.
Mild vertigo became severe vertigo. Mild stomach cramps became severe stomach cramps. My bones ached and my muscles ached. My head throbbed. After 48 hours in the Dominican Republic I hit bottom. Diarrhea had dehydrated my system and many times I had to rush to the toilet to empty my stomach and continue with dry heaves.
I felt like I should just live in the bathroom. I started to question my decision not to seek medical help.
On the worst night I woke up around daybreak (I thought it was daybreak, but it was only 11:00 p.m. – I was out of it). I slowly rolled out of bed and shuffled to the toilet, which in this condo is at the other end of the apartment – not attached to the bedroom. Damn!
I had to carefully place each step. I was bent over in half staring at the floor as I scuttled ever so slowly to the bathroom. I didn’t know which I needed first, to throw up or clean out my bowels for the umpteenth time.
I was lucid enough that I flushed before assuming the praying position in front of the toilet. The dry heaves commenced. There was nothing in my stomach except for some amazingly green bile. It was really, really green. I’ve seen the standard green-shaded mucous, but this was very different. Once my body was done with that, I flushed and couldn’t wait to wash my hands and arms and shuffle slowly back to bed.
I think the Gods were smirking at my plan.
I got to the sink and turned on the water. I reached for the soap and realized my upper body was not quite centered above my feet. I started to fall backward. I kept shuffling my feet quickly in reverse to try to recover. I bounced off the shower stall and that sent me hurtling towards the bathroom door. The door was already open, so I flew right out the bathroom door at top speed and slammed into the wall opposite the bathroom.
Then, as Howard Cosell once said, “Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!”
I hit the opposing wall hard and that forced me back towards the bathroom again, but a little off target. I face-planted on the hard tile floor. Initially, I tried to move, but my gas tank was empty. I attempted to roll over, but couldn’t even manage that. I thought, “these cold tiles feel good”, and they did. I lay there for about an hour. I almost went back to sleep, but decided I wanted to maintain some kind of personal dignity and make it back to bed. It wasn’t easy, but the hour rest on the floor had put something back in my tank. I ever so slowly got up on my hands and knees (doggie) and then managed to get my feet under me. I went back into the bathroom, where the water was still running in the sink and happily washed my hands. It took some doing, but I managed to get back to bed.
I’ve been in Sosúa for four days and I haven’t done or seen anything. Today I was able to walk three blocks to a cafe to get coffee in a “to-go” cup and I bought the security guys at my complex some donuts. But, that was it. Three blocks there, three blocks back. I hate to make a post without photos. I’m right on the water here and it’s unbelievably beautiful. I made a trip of a few steps for a photo of a false smile and the waterfront. I’m looking forward to some day enjoying my trip here. I’m going back to bed.
I had fun in South America, but I was also happy to get out of South America. It feels good to be heading north. After a long flight from Paraguay, I decided to do a quick four-day-rest-up in a hotel set back in the jungle along the canal. It was very nice. Two days before my next flight to the Dominican Republic, I started to feel a sore throat. More on that in my next post.
Getting out of Brazil and getting into Paraguay was a bit more stressful than I expected. After taking an Uber to Sao Paulo (GRU) Airport, I went to check-in where they asked me for my yellow fever card.
Yellow fever card?
As I planned this part of my trip, I hadn’t seen anything anywhere mentioning proof of a yellow fever inoculation. Crap!
At that moment I thought they wouldn’t let me board. Apparently Sao Paulo is having problems with the disease and Paraguay wants to protect itself against it. I explained I’d only been in Brazil for two days and only in downtown Sao Paulo. They shrugged their shoulders and discussed it between themselves for a few minutes and decided I was probably okay to fly.
I got to worry about that for a few hours. When I arrived in Paraguay I noticed the three immigration booths were plastered with large signs warning of yellow fever from Sao Paulo. They advised that everyone arriving from Sao Paulo must have proof of a yellow fever inoculation. After paying my $160.00 special entry fee for U.S. citizens, I was in line waiting for my turn and crapping my pants thinking there was no way they were letting me in the country 🙁
I tried to be extra pleasant as I greeted the immigrations officer. He asked me the normal questions of my address in Paraguay, how long I was staying, what is my profession, etcetera. Then he stamped my passport and welcomed me to Paraguay.
I had arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport and there he was waiting for me with my name on a sign.
I got up early for my flight departing Montevideo.
Unfortunately, I would have to fly first to Porto Alegre, Brazil, connect to another plane and fly on to São Paulo, Brazil. I knew this day would suck and it fully met with my expectations.
As I was leaving my Airbnb in Montevideo, I realized I had far too many Uruguayan coins. You don’t need to travel with coins – get rid of them. I had a huge fist full of shining silver and copper. I shoved them in my pocket thinking I needed to find someone begging for coins. As I walked out of the building, my Uber driver was waiting right in front of me. Immediately, a homeless man approached me asking for coins. I dug in my pocket and pulled out the mass I wanted to get rid of. He couldn’t believe I was handing him so much. He screamed, “Me muero!” (I’m dying!) He was very grateful. I don’t know how much it was. Maybe ten bucks?
Having a good knowledge of Portuguese was going to be a huge help in my travels today. Sadly, I only know about three words in the language – so, no help at all 🙁
The day started out well. The Montevideo airport has a posh restaurant where you can relax, have a well-prepared, tasty meal and some beer. Pricey – but good. “Patria” restaurant is on the third floor before you go through security. I got to the airport four hours before departure. I planned to eat and relax.
The flight to Porto Alegre was short and easy. On the flight I had filled out a customs form, but nobody ever asked me for it once I landed in Brazil. I only noticed much later I still had it. Come on people! Get it together.
Once I landed in Porto Alegre, it was a little crazy. Absolutely nobody spoke a word of English or Spanish. Even the two guys at the airport information desk only spoke Portuguese. Are you kidding me??? Staff at an information desk at an international airport don’t speak any Spanish or any English? That’s ridiculous. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s a good opinion)
I just showed the guys the boarding pass for my next flight. They kind of grimaced, started to say something, and then stopped. They knew I wouldn’t understand. So, one guy made a gesture with his finger which indicated I should follow him. We walked all the way to the end of the terminal and stepped outside. He pointed to some buildings that were off in the distance on the opposite side of the parking area. He said quite a bit in Portuguese that I’m sure would have been very helpful, but I didn’t understand any of it, and he sent me on my way. Hmmm.
So, I started walking. I exited the airport parking lot. Exited the airport completely and kept walking. I entered an industrial area without sidewalks that was looking dodgy. I thought, “This cannot be right”. I kept walking until the dirt path turned to mud and then crossed to the other side of the street to keep my shoes from getting muddy. After another 15 minutes I thought this just could not be the right way. I almost turned back, but didn’t. I walked into another parking lot and saw in the distance another terminal building. A very small building. Hmmm.
I walked into the building and it was PACKED with sweaty, humid, Brazilian humanity. Pandemonium reigned. There were a lot of announcements on the loudspeaker system, none of which meant anything to me, people were trying to converse over the announcements, talking loudly on phones, and I could barely make my way through the crowd. I kept looking for something that indicated where my flight might be. A sign pointed “up” to departures, so I went up the stairs. Upstairs it was only airport administration. Dead end. Back down the stairs and keep walking. I found security and went through. It would have been better to have stayed on the other side. After security was another mass of humanity, blaring announcements in Portuguese (not complaining – it’s perfectly fine for Brazilians), no where to move, nowhere to sit, it’s hot, I’m sweating, and 90 minutes before my flight. Ugh 🙁
A sardine stuck in a departure “lounge”.
I suffered through the next hour and a half. Finally, the announcement board showed my flight, the gate number, and it was boarding. Yay!
I got in a long line and when I got to the guy who takes tickets, he said a bunch of stuff to me in Portuguese. Yay! More Portuguese! 🙂
I said with a smile, “English?”
He got a troubled look on his face. He didn’t speak much English, but it was good enough. “No here”. He pointed, “There”.
I was really confused. This gate had my flight number on it. I double-checked the boarding pass and the announcement board. Yep, this should be it. Okay, fine. I walked over and got into another long line of about 30 people. When the line was down to only four people in front of me, people started really getting angry and screaming at each other. Apparently, those four who had waited a long time in this line were being told they also had to go to another line. They were not happy. They were indignant. They wanted to let the ticket-taker know how outraged they were! 🙂
After they got done yelling at each other and decided it was better to get on the correct airplane than to waste time assaulting someone with insults, I stepped up and handed the dude my ticket and passport. I wondered what excitement awaited me.
He looked at me, “Portuguese”?
I said, “No…español?”
He said, “No…English?”
Yes, by the gods, yes! “English – yes!”
His English was amazing. “Okay, just cross the way here and follow the yellow line”.
And we’re walking…
A couple of hours later, we landed in Sao Paulo. I’ve never been on an airplane that flew between skyscrapers on landing, but there’s a first for everything. What an amazing landing.
I got off the plane and started looking for the taxi desk that I’d read about before setting off this morning. As I was walking towards the airport exit I noticed signs everywhere advertising Uber. Uber signs on the walls, Uber signs on the airport columns, Uber signs on the floor tiles. There was even a colored line on the ground labeled “Uber This Way” that you were supposed to follow. What the hell is this? I’ve never seen anything like this before. In all of Latin America Uber has been either in a legally gray area or simply outlawed. Here it was wall art.
Okay, I’m game. I turned on my phone and tried the Uber app. In some countries it works, in others not. Here it seemed to be fine. I scheduled a pickup and the app told me to go to a particular Uber pickup area. I showed some airport guys what my phone was saying and they pointed for me. I walked out to the street and my driver was waiting and ready to take me to Radisson Blu. Sweet!
It was well after sundown, I hadn’t eaten since lunch in Uruguay (I don’t eat airline food) and I was a bit peckish. I decided to shower before dinner. After showering I was really tired. It was only 8:30 at night and I hadn’t eaten, but there was a chocolate on my pillow. I ate it and went to bed. Ten hours later I woke up.
Financial transactions in Buenos Aires are odd. If you use a credit card, cashiers don’t seem to like it. Once they realize you’ve given them a credit card, they ask if you could please use your debit card instead. I always say I don’t carry one (although I do). Using a debit card for minor transactions seems dodgy to me.
They’ve always accepted the credit card. If they were to refuse, I’d be happy to walk out. The process of running a credit card takes forever and the line of people builds up behind you. I think the financial crisis in Argentina is affecting the country in bad ways.
U.S. dollars reign supreme here. People will LOVE you if you pay in dollars. I never have. I feel it’s much better to pay in local currency. I have heard that as soon as people get paid here, they exchange every peso into dollars if they can. That way they keep what little savings they have. Saving pesos over time is a losing proposition.
It’s extremely difficult to find an ATM that’s in working condition here. Many of them simply don’t function at all. When you do find one that works, nine out of ten will not function with your foreign debit card. When you do finally find one that works and accepts your card, it will only give you about forty bucks. Woohoo! $40.00! Now I can really party! 🙂
To be fair, $40.00 really does go far here. I almost forgot, the ATMs that do function for me always ask if I want pesos or U.S. dollars. That’s weird. But again, people here love having their cash in greenbacks, not pesos. In areas where there is a lot of retail shopping going on, every five paces you find someone screaming, “Dólares! Cambio!” These are money changers. If people have pesos, they might consider going to these guys to get dollars asap.
I tip quite a bit in my travels, even if there isn’t an obvious tip jar; Starbucks, Subway, doormen, laundry attendants, whatever. Everybody gets a tip. Today the Chinese lady at the laundry service was completely confused when I tipped her 100 pesos ($2.21). She tried to give it back. I refused. A girl who made my sandwich at Subway really lit up when I handed her a tip. She acted like it had never happened before. Maybe it hadn’t.
I always tip. You never know when it might come back to help you some day 🙂