Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hola from surfing heaven!

I am currently in Montañita, Ecuador, a charming surfing town. I have been here for 3 days now, and surfed for two. I was in Salinas with the girls, and stayed there for a week after the girls left trying to get my health back. I got a nasty case of food poisoning and basically spent 4 days in my hotel room, thank god the girls helped me get a great hotel room with cable tv, otherwise I would have died! So I just watched tv all day long and ordered soup from room service, it was nice, except for the feeling awful part!

But after that I was ok, and I was able to enjoy the beach and sun. I even met Paivi (another student that was with us in Argentina) in Salinas by coincidence. I also managed to try out wakeboarding, which was fun and I also went scuba diving, which was so great, since it had been like 5 years since I had been scuba diving.

I am really enjoying my time here in Montañita and learning how to surf has been so much fun. Surfing is hard but fun, and I definitely have many bruises to prove it. The waves have been good for a beginner like me and the people have been really nice. This town is just so relaxed and easy going, I don´t want to leave, but eventually I will have to....but for now I will enjoy as much as I can. Also at the moment I am travelling alone, which has been different, and I have been able to practice my Spanish, I have hardly spoken anything else.

Back to enjoying the beach, sun and surf....

Chau, H

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Location: Guayaquil, Ecuador, Airport
Travelers: Tiina & Anni

We are just waiting for our flight to get to Costa Rica. The last few days we spent on the coast of Ecuador near Guayaquil, in a place called Salinas. Unfortunatelly Heini had some bad food and her traveling to other beach resorts in Ecuador had to be postponed for a while. Knock on wood, cause I have had no bad experiences with food so far during the 6 months.

Two more countries to go, or 3 actually, if the US counts. My traveling for the next two weeks will be Costa Rica; one week, Mexico; 6 days, the US; flying through LA and NY. Of all the countries visited so far (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador) I really must say that Ecuador has been the worst experience so far. The people here are so completely clueless and slow, (a.k.a. jäässä!!!) that it's a miracle we're still alive. And, this is by far the most expencive country we've been to. Since the official currency here is the American Dollar, everything is at least double price to Argentina. Thank god we didn't stay here for longer...

It's almost boarding time now. Two more weeks and I'll be home. Looking forward to get some milk, ruispalat and battery. Things that I have missed soooo bad during the last 6 months. See you soon!


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Feliz Navidad!!!!

We are currently spending our Christmas in Lima, Peru with the family friends of Tiina. There are four of us here, Heini, Tiina, Anni and Kaarlo. We all met up in Lake Titicaca in Peru about a week ago. Before that Kaarlo and I (Heini) were in Bolivia and Tiina and Anni were in Chile.

Lets go back a bit to about a few weeks ago. On Wednesday December 13th, Kaarlo and I met in Salta in northern Argentina. From there we took a night bus to the border of Argentina and Bolivia. We got to the border in the morning on thursday and the process over to the border of Bolivia was interesting. We had to walk across town, cross a bridge, go through Argentinian immigrations and then Bolivian immigrations, where we had to photocopy our passports for some weird reason, and then we got our passports stamped and entered Bolivia.

The border town on Bolivias side is Villazon, which is at 3440m above sea level. We smartly decided to walk uphill, with boys following us with carts waiting for us to crumble. We managed about 5 blocks before collapsing and agreeing to let the boys help us (and ended up accidentally paying them more than needed since we didn't know any better). Altitude definitely affects ones body, especially if you exert yourself on the first day. After walking uphill we suffered for like 6 hours of headaches, lightheadedness and dizziness, not so much fun. Its weird how at that altitude you just can not seem to get enough air. We only stayed in Villazon for a few hours because there was nothing there. We took a 19hr train to Oruro, up north, which costs us 18 euros each. The train was not as bad as we thought it would be, and they actually showed movies on the train, they were in Spanish, but had English subtitles.

We got to Oruro on Friday December 15th in one piece, and we were the only foreigners at the train station...very amusing. We were still suffering from the altitude, as we found out later when we had to climb three flights of stairs to our hotel room and were out of breath completely. It was like we had ran a marathon. We decided to splurge and stay at a better hostel/hotel, called Hostal Hidalgo. We got a room for ourselves, with a private bathroom and a tv for 7 euros each. It was nice to relax after the 19hr train trip, just watching tv (thank god for cable). We had an interesting lunch and dinner in Oruro. Lunch costs us a total of 1 euro altogether, and it included a salad, soup, hot dish of rice and meat, dessert and soda. It was really good for that price. For dinner we went to a lamb restaurant where the owner regretfully told us that they were out of lamb heads, and only had legs. Lucky for him we were not in the mood for heads after seeing them being eaten at the next table (for example a father gave his baby girl an eyeball to chew on...yummy) But the lamb was excellent, it came with potatoes, corn and these black potatoes they have in Bolivia, that were actually good. The whole meal including soup and drinks was 3.5 euros altogether. The cuisine in Bolivia is nothing too special, but for those prices incredibly good!

We left Oruro on Saturday December 16th via bus to La Paz. We hadn't bought tickets, all we did was go to the bus station and listen to guys yelling out destinations and jumped on one of the busses to La Paz, which costs us 1.5 euros each, a 3hr trip. The bus was in suprisingly good condition, didn't have any chickens or other animals inside, and it was actually a real bus! We snacked on Salteñas on the way, which are these salty dough pastries filled with rice, corn, tomato, spicy sauce...soooo yummy!

We got to La Paz safely and the first view of the city was incredible! La Paz is situated in a valley, with tall buildings in the middle and houses built on the slopes. The valley is uneven so there is a lot of up and downs, making it tough to walk around, especially since La Paz is at 3660m. But the city is amazing, so different and exactly how one would picture a south american big city, filled with cars, people, and hustle and bustle. We explored the city and bought a lot of souvenirs (I bought a llama/alpaca poncho for 4 euros, in Finland it would be like 100 euros and Kaarlo bought a local guitar called Charrango for 45 euros, which would be a few 100 in Finland). The great thing about people in Bolivia is that they dress in traditional costumes, well only the women do. Women wear these bright colored dresses that come down to below the knee, with bright tops, have their hair in braids, and wear top hats. They usually carry things on their backs in a cloth, either food but mostly kids. Men tend to just wear normal clothes. But its really great to see it, and that they still adhere to traditions, and majority of the people in Bolivia are of indigenous descent.

In La Paz we really splurged and stayed at a 3 star hotel, we had a great room, tv, minibar and roomservice (which of course we had to use). The hotel was Columbus Palace Hotel and costs us 15 euros each, but it was worth it, especially the buffet breakfast that was included. It was nice to stay in a real hotel, luxury! We ate Bolivian food in La Paz, which included chicken, pork, potatoes, and quinoa (a special type of rice/grain that only grows at this altitude and so good). We did order pizza from roomservice cuz we just had to, and it was one of the best pizzas ever! On Sunday December 17th we decided to head toward Lake Titicaca, but before that we went to this hill in the middle of the city where you could see the city 360 degrees, amazing! In La Paz it was the same thing with the busses, went to the station, heard them yell Copacobana and got on a bus. This time the bus was smaller and our stuff was tied to the roof, but no chickens yet. The trip costs us 1.5 euros and lasted 3 hrs.

We got to Copacabana which is on Bolivias side of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is at 3800m and is half on Bolivias side and half of Perus side. We stayed at a 2 star hotel in Copacabana, called Hotel Ambassador, which was not so great and costs us 4 euros per person. The room was ok, had 2 good beds, but we constantly had flies, the water stopped working, we either had boiling hot water in the shower or freezing cold, and our tv was something from the 50's with 2 black and white channels. But at least we had our own room!

On Monday December 18th we decided to visit Isla del Sol (the birthplace of the sun and the world according to ancient inka and other religions). It was great to see the island, saw some ruins, a sacrificial table, and hiked for 2 hrs. Lets just say that even though we were sorta used to the altitude, it was still tough to walk uphill at over 3800m. We also managed to burn our faces pretty badly, since the sun is a bit stronger....not fun. The weather in Bolivia changes, one moment it will be cloudy and rainy and then it will be sunny. In La Paz we were lucky, the weather was nice but got cold at night. It rained in Copacabana since it is the rainy season, but as soon as we got on the boat to go to Isla del Sol it was sunshine all day. (Perhaps its because Isla del Sol means Sun Island, I guess it never rains or gets cloudy). But it was really cold in Copacabana at night, due to the altitude. I ate the best fish in Copacabana called Trucha, (taimen in Finnish), so yummy and a specialty here!

On Tuesday December 19th, we decided to head to Puno, Peru a city next to Lake Titicaca on Peru's side, because we had agreed to meet Anni and Tiina there. We took a bus from Copacabana to Puno, took 3-4hrs, and costs us a bit more at 3 euros each. The bus was good and filled with tourists, we hadn't seen many before that (except in La Paz). We got to Puno safely and found the girls at the hostel we had booked called Inka's Rest. The hostel was really nice, we had this apartment to ourselves with 2 bedrooms, dining table, living room with a tv, kitchen and bathroom. Tiina and Anni were feeling awful after travelling 48 hrs from Santiago de Chile, and suffering from the high altitude. So we just hung out at the hostel, watched tv, ordered pizza. The owners were so nice and helped us out with so many things and completely took care of us.

On Wednesday December 20th, we decided to visit some of the islands in Lake Titicaca. We took a tourist boat (not fun, but no other choice) and spent the whole day sightseeing. First we saw Islas Flotantes or Floating Islands, which are literally islands that float on water, made out of reeds. They were really interesting to see and the people living there were really nice. It was such a different life that they lead, and it was amazing to see a part of it. We also visited another island called Isla Taquile, which was a regular big island but had a group of people with their own culture and language. We had to walk up this huge hill to the top of the island, which was ok for Kaarlo and me since we were semi used to the altitude, but horrible for the girls who were suffering. It really does affect you. The culture on the island was really interesting, the men and women and even children all wore traditional dress. Men had straight pants with shirts, a colorful belt and a hat that looked like a Santa or Elves hat. The hats were all red if a man was married and half red/white if single. The women wore colorful skirts, and shirts, either in yellow or white for single and any other color for married, and a black shawl over their heads to protect them from the sun. The whole community was really interesting to see upclose. We also had lunch on the island, ate some quinoa soup (so good) and fish with potatoes and rice. The one funny thing about Peru is that most dishes come with meat and rice and french fries (or other potatoes). They mix them in dishes here, not too bad but just different. After a whole day exploring the islands, we were all tired, which meant another evening of watching tv and eating pizza. So worth it! We decided to head toward the famous Machu Picchu the next day, but we'll save that for another blog.

Kaarlo and I had a great time exploring Bolivia and we will definitely go back, because it truly is an undiscovered treasure. Most travelers don't go there, but they should because there is something special and different about the country. Now we are exploring Peru together, which we will tell you about later as also post pictures later, can't do that at the moment. After we might go to Ecuador, Costa Rica or something....we will let you know. But so far, it has been amazing to see so many things.

Happy holidays

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Current location: Santiago de Chile
Travelling with: Anni

So, we have now changed location as our school ended. Chile was the first country we came to after Argentina and we'venow spent here 4 days in a very lovely house of a friend of Anni's. But more about that later.

On our way here we stopped in the beautiful wine city Mndoza, rightnextto the Andes in the west. There we of course had to visit some vinyards.

Anni in a bodega

We also went to a "water park" near Mendoza for a day. Unfortunatelly there was a thunderstorm that day but it lasted only a little while. It was kind of like a big perk with lots of warm pools and litle beaches. Very relaxing.

View of the park

After that we continued with the bus to Santiago de Chile. It was supposed to be 6 hours but due to a national holiday there were hundreds of people in the boarder, so the trip ended up being 9 hours. As we got here, Tomas (Anni's friend) and his father were there to pick us up from the bus station. As some of you might have heard, the former dictator of Chile, Pinochet, died 4 days ago. The very day we came here. So, there were a lot of people rioting on the streets burning stuff. Therefore we have not been able to see the center of the city yet. The situation has cooled down already but still during the night we are told not to go to the center.

People lining to the Mililtary academy where they had Pinochet's body.

Luckily we live in another neighbourhood more to the north. And what a house this is. The family includes mom and dad, Tomas and his twin brother Simon, big brother Ian, a cousin wholives upstairs and a random amount of cats. There is also the maid Marcela who is basically the mom of the house. Don't get me wrong, she's probably 25 years old and really nice, but she's the one who does everything here! We are so getting used to this service. She cleans up the whole house every day, changes our sheets, brings us clean towels, cooks our meals and brings them to the table ready made on the table, and basically does everything!
The house is great; 3 floors, a pool, and the family also has 4 cars. We're kind of thinking that they might be a little bit rich.... The TV upstairs kind of explains it all:

The first thing we did here was that we went to a nearby shopping mall to look for some guide books that we have been meaning to buy. Didn't find the book, but something better instead:

Moccha frappuchino with mint, by Starbucks. Gotta love this country...

Tomas and some of his friends took us to a summer place by the lake about an hour away from here. They say it's a great place for wind surfing and such, but this time we were just chilling out in the beautiful place.

The buildings of the area.

Me by the lake (oh yeah, I dyed my hair veeery dark...It feels weird...)

So that's about everything from this trip. We were yesterday at some guys house watching the final of the South American soccer cup. Chile lost... But we had a lot of fun anyway. King's cup was a great success once again.

From here our journey continues towards Peru in a few days where we'll meet up with Heini and Kaarlo. If I have a chance, I'll let you know what's going on there.

Merry Christmas everyone!!


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hey everyone,

Our time here in BsAs is coming to an end...Yesterday we the last day that we were all together in Buenos Aires for the last time, and we definitely celebrated it well. Because coincidentally it was also Finland's Independence day, and we had received invitations to the Embassy's Independence day party, which of course we were all excited to attend.

But first we had our Chau Finlandia party (going away) a week ago on Saturday. We needed to have a party to say bye to everyone and celebrate our time here. We ended up having it our place, and we had so much alcohol left over from other parties that we needed to get rid of it. So in Finnish fashion we made punch (booli) with frozen strawberries. We also served some Salmari shots to people, which was fun! And we had some jello shots, since in Finland its kind of hard to make them but here they have jello! The party was fun, and went on at our place until like 3am.
Our fridge filled with jello shots...

The group and our USA culture course teacher Griselda, who came to our party. She was such a great teacher and so much fun!

Boys and Anni taking some jello shots...

Tiina and Anni left today for Chile, travelling through Mendoza (city in the west of Argentina, filled with wine). I will be leaving on Monday for Bolivia travelling through Salta (city in the north that we visited a few months ago). We finished our classes here and actually managed to pass all of them!!!! We are so happy to have passed them, we were kind of worried about not passing history and the thought of returning to Mikkeli for 3 weeks wasn't exactly enticing, but no worries, we managed to pass and with good grades! On a scale from 1-10 (10 the best) we got a 7 for History (hardest course ever with a not so understanding teacher, Tiina did her exam while being horribly sick because she didn't have a choice), a 9 in Hotel Management and a 10 in our USA culture course!!!! Yay for us!

Anyhow, so now our time here is over and we are ready to conquer the rest of Latin America. We are travelling from Argentina all the way up north to Mexico (well not all of us). Tiina and Anni now headed to Chile and I will be heading to Bolivia. We will all meet in Peru and travel from there together to Ecuador. In Ecuador we will decided where to go, probably to Panama and Costa Rica and then Anni and Tiina head for Mexico to catch their flights and I return to Argentina. We shall see and try to write about our trip as often as we can.

But on to the events of last night. We had received invitations to the party, and we got all dressed up (buying fancy outfits) and arrived at a huge house, that turned out to be the ambassadors house. The ambassador is a Finnish lady who has lived here for quite some time. The property was amazing, a huge house, huge yard, swimming pool. (why couldn't we live there during our exchange?) The party was great, there were a lot of people from Finland and Argentina. There was great service, good cocktail food and drinks of course. We even got karjalanpiirakat and graavi lohi!!!! It has been awhile, and they both tasted soooo good. Anyhow, we were there for like 4 hours or so, just enjoying the atmosphere. Also the band that was playing was the band of one of our friends here, Sergio, the only band that plays nordic music. Sergio is so funny, we met him during the first week of classes here and he spoke some Finnish to us...what a shock! In addition Kaarlo sang a Finnish song with the band, which was awesome! After the cocktail party we headed to the center and went to Plaza Serrano, this area with a bunch of bars. There were a bunch of us Finnish people just hanging out and having fun for the last night together in Buenos Aires. Definitely had a great time celebrating our last night and Finland's Independence Day!

The ambassadors house...

At the independence day party

The four of us, Kaarlo, Anni, Tiina, Heini looking all fancy...

The band with Kaarlo singing...

The Finnish after-party group, us and some other Finnish people that live here...


P.S Tiina and I have dyed our hairs darker....hehe, a fun change. I dyed mine because I wanted a change and then realized that travelling is a lot safer because we won't attract as much attention not being blond. Then Tiina dyed her hair as well, cause we figured it really is better for us. But we both like our new looks =)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hi there!

Just thought I might tell about our courses now that they are over. Just to let you know how super efficient the people are here... This is mostly related to our lovely history teacher Hilario of course...

Sooo, we had 3 courses here, 2 in spanish in 1 in english. The spanish ones were Gestion Hotelera (Hotel Management) and Historia de Argentina del siglo XX (Argentinean history in the 20th century), and the englsih one was USA: from the melting pot to the multicultural mosaic.

The hotel and the usa courses were great! Paniego, who was our teacher in the hotel course was super helping with us! We could do everything in english that we wanted, exams, projects etc.. He also explained some stuff to us in english and gave us all of his personal notes after classes. Otherwise he was really nice with everyone (except for the 2 "cool" girls shethrew out of class about 3-4 times) and everybody liked him. We made some friends in that class. One was the Edu sitting in front of us who always tried explaining terms to us with his non existing english, one was the guy with the beard who randomly helped us with stuff and one was Julle (yes, has a connection to a certain Julle from Mikkeli.... And no, his real name is not Julle....) who's life intention seamed to be major sekoilu.

The professor in the usa course, Griselda, was also awsome!!! She is a woman who can't hold one thought for more than a minute. Kind of reminds us of a mix of Josianne and the mother from My big fat greek wedding. She was so interested in the Finnish culture and always was asking for our opinions about stuff. We even had a presentation about Finland, just some random what-so-ever stuff about everything in Finland starting from sauna culture ending to our school's parties. We made some great friends in that class! Everybody was super friendly with us and we've been going partying with some of them during the 5 months. There was also the assistant of the teacher, Sergio, who is a major Scandinavian fan, speaks finnish, loves Nightwish (hence the long black hair...) and was totally turhan fileissä when some finnish people came to his class.

The third class, History, then again was a different story.... Hilario is definitely something else. During the looooooong course we hardly understood anything he said. Less did we understand of his notes on the whiteboard. We made no friends what so ever, except for the exchange students from our lovely neighbor country Sweden, aka. the Hurrit; Reza and Ulf Gunolf(greatest name on the planet!!). The exams were completely impossible (questions in spanish of course, wecould write in english though) but somehow me and Heini got a 7 from the first exam. I just did my second exam yesterday and now we are just waiting for our grades to see if we have to go do the finals. Inboth exams we have just been making up a completely new history for this country. I mean, seriously.. Can anyone remember about 40 presidents in one century and everything they did!?!?

But, now it's all over. We are definitely gonna miss our school, especially the lovely girls from the cafeteria who remember exactly what each of us want in the morning.
All good must come to an end.

Today and tomorrow we have some farewell parties with the exchange students. If we still have time we can post some pictures from the parties.

Just for the end, here's a picture of the history white board. Niiicceeee!!!!


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hola again!

More travelling stories. This time it was me and Anni who went to experience the marvellous bus system of Argentina. Or in this case, Brazil.

Last weekend we took some time off from studying, well, wouldn't have studied anyway, and headed for the beautiful waterfalls of Iguazu in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil. We decided to go to the Brazilian side to get stamps on our passport of course, and also cause the tickets were cheaper than those to the Argentinean side. Of course we didn't realize that the bus staff would also be speaking only Portuguese. Which still is not really one of either of our's languages... We by the way diagnosed that portuguese sounds like a combination of spanish, german, dutch, danish, hebrew and russian. You go try making some sense of that then...

Well, the bus was basically ok... NOT! It was semi-cama, meaning a little better than the traditional Express Bus in Finland, but not the luxurious business class seats. And, the very weird Brazilian bus staff had some obsession in keeping the temperature super low, about 19 degrees (which is freeeeezing, FYI). We had so much fun following the monitor on the bus that told the temperature. We also got the awsome, allready experienced straight-out-of-a-car's-trunk- meals. The same cold steak and cold rice with a random bun desert. Yummy.

Well, after 18 or so hours we arrived to Brazil (Anni was completely pissed of cause she didn't get a stamp on her passport!!!) we took a taxi to our hostel, Paudimar. Brazil is e-x-p-e-n-c-i-v-e! The cab ride cost us 30 smth Reales, aka. 55 pesos, aka. almost 15€! I haven't spent more than 5€ in BA to a taxi once!! Seriously... The hostel was really cool. It was basically in the middle of nowhere, close to the national park with the falls, so we didn't really go to the city at all. There was a bar, restaurant and pool in the hostel to entertain us. Especial entertainment could be found from the long lost Smirnoff Ice bottles found from the hostel bar. This kind of luxury can't be found in Argentina, you know?

The first day we went there we went to the Brazilian side of the falls for a few hours just to do some trekking and see the falls from that side. Really impressive I must say! The place is pretty much in the jungle so everything is really beautiful. Here are some pictures of the Brazilian side:

A lot of small falls

Some bigger falls

Us in front of some Brazilian falls (and why is one of my hands amputeted.....???)

A nice little racoon hanging around the trekking paths

On the first night we were really tired and after quite a suspicios dinner at the hostel we decided to go to sleep. After one set of Smirnoff Ice's of course.

For the second day we booked a ride to the Argentinean side of the falls from the hostel. Now here's how to NOT act in these situations: The ride left at 8.30 on sunday morning, so we had the alarm on at 7.45. Plenty of time. Right? Well, what we realized two minutes after the alarm went off was that this is Brazil, not Argentina, meaning that they don't have the same time. Right..... So actually it was 8.45 and our ride was gone 15 minutes ago. All we could think was that thank god we didn't pay for it yet. This guy came knocking on our door asking if we were supposed to go to the falls today, and we of course replied that yes, but that our alarm was on the wrong time. Then, to our surprise, he said that the ride is still waiting, can we be quick? What?!?!? So,we jumped out of bed and asked if 5 minutes was too much. He said it was, so we were ready in 3. And so without washing our teeth, putting on contacts, or eating breakfast we left for this 9 hour trip. We were quite a sight in the mini bus with our sleepy looks. But we made it!

The Argentinean side was a lot bigger than the Brazilian side of the parque so we spend the entire time walking around seeing all the different falls. In the middle of the walking we took a boat ride to go under one! We were completely soaked after that obviously, which was actually good cause it was burning hot that day. We also did some swimming from an island in the middle of the falls. Overall, the whole place was totally worth seeing!!

A lot of water falls

Us in front of the falls

Devil's throat, which was HUUUUGEEEE as is everything in Brazil. Except that this one is in Argentina. Anyways...

View from the Devil's throat to the Brazilian side

One of the boats with which we also took the ride

Sight from the boat to the fall that would soon make us completely soaking wet

That one on the left down is the fall under which we went to

We also saw some cool new animals:

The lovely Tucaan bird (well, Tukaani anyways in Finnish...)

Big ass lizard. It actually looks bigger on the picture than it actually was.. Maybe 30-40cm tall. Or smth like that.

Little monkey!!! We saw a couple but they were really not loving the camera a lot, hence very bad pictures..

Crocodile! Actually this one was a baby croco, only something a bit over 0,5 m, no big ones were on sight...

That night we decided to destroy the rest of the Smirnoff Ice stock the hostel had in it's bar (which was like 5 bottles.... blaaaah) and made some new friends with some Swedish guys and a British guy. Turned out they were coming to BA too on the same bus with us, so we had some company too on the way home. The ride to the bus station took a while, about an hour with 3 busses but after the one waaay to expensive taxi ride we decided that it would be worth it.

Theway home was pretty bad. The bus was still cold, (fortunately our newBritish friend had a sleeping bag we could borrow) we had to study history, and I got sick with something that caused really high fever, which turned out to be some kind of virus (still recovering). On tuesday morning we landed back to dear old BA.

And that was our trip to see the Iguazu falls. So wanna go again...

6 days left in BA.... Where did all the time go.... See you all soon!