Tag Archives: outdoors

El finale: Home is where you hang your head and sigh

Okay. I have been told — and I fully realize — that I may be lingering far too long in the land of steak, wine, and dulce de leche. It’s a little self-indulgent, perhaps, and I get it! I totally do. While this armchair travel experience has been both hilariously entertaining and culturally educational for my readers, you are eager to get back to our dear homeland, where the grass is asphalt and the steak is hot dogs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Still amn’t. But I need to face facts and admit that we’ve actually been back in New York for the past month and a half, and no matter how hard I shut my eyes and hope against hope, the Fine Living Network isn’t calling to ask me to do an extended, intensive investigation of Argentina’s Ten Most Flamboyant and Revoltingly Luxurious Hotels.

As my grandmother used to say, here we are, so that’s where we’ll be. But before we got here, we were there: among the only hotel guests of a sprawling vineyard and resort in San Rafael, in the Mendoza (read: wine) region of Argentina. Our last three days of honeymoon bliss read like one of those ridiculous Celebrity Cruise lines commercials: we indulged in an outdoor cooking class with the hotel’s chef, I received an olive oil massage out on a patio overlooking the pool, we were given a complementary, 3-hour private wine-tasting class, and oh yeah, we had our own golf cart with which to freely explore the sprawling farm and untamed brush.

Pretty darn pretty

It was pretty perfect, in all, though the experience wasn’t without some valuable life lessons. For instance, while it may seem like too good an opportunity to pass up, one oughtn’t eat two consecutive meals featuring provoleta, chorizo, and half a bottle of wine (among other things). For if one does, one will wind up with a wretched case of “food poisoning” the day one is forced to wait 3 hours in a tiny airport and then make the 12-hour journey back to New York. And by food poisoning, I mean self-inflicted overdose, much like what would happen to a dog if you left the entire bag of kibble within reach. On the bright side, sun poisoning + food poisoning = honeymoon bingo! I win!

These plates represent the number of chorizo-topped grilled cheese blobs I consumed in a 12-hour period.

I also learned that after a 3-hour wine tasting, if one chooses to then consume half a bottle of rose poolside, one probably ought to wait a little while before jumping in and “swimming.” Didn’t my mother and camp counselors warn me about this when I was little? As it turns out, wine + pool = something of a mess, and I think I wound up consuming an equal amount of chlorinated water as I did alcohol. It was super fun, mostly because I didn’t actually drown to death!

You can't tell, but in all likelihood this book is actually upside-down.

Those sterling nuggets (ew) of wisdom aside, there was one exercise we just couldn’t master. We’d heard about how late people eat dinner in Argentina. And we tried to assimilate, tried to adjust our internal clocks and do as they did. But no matter how much effort we put into making late reservations, no matter how many times we were sure we’d gotten it right, we just kept winding up alone in restaurants. Fancy restaurants, trendy restaurants, wildly popular restaurants. We were always, always completely alone. We just could not figure it out. We’d show up at 10pm and leave at 11:30, never seeing another diner. We’d show up at 10:45pm and leave after midnight, and maybe catch a glimpse of an honest-to-god Argentinean couple sauntering in with a bright-eyed toddler in tow. At first, it was kind of nice. Two newlyweds, oblivious to others around us, absorbed in each other and our food and wine. No obnoxious table-neighbors drowning out our conversation, no competition for the water guy. But after the first couple of evenings like that, we both realized how awkward and uncomfortable it felt to be sitting in a big, empty establishment, with one guy waiting on us and the rest of the waiters milling around. Or worse, all of them serving us at once — sometimes we’d have a bread guy, a wine pourer, a water-glass-filler AND a crumber, all in addition to our server. Occasionally, there would be another family or couple seated, and we would perk up. Perhaps we’d cracked the code and been tacitly welcomed into the Forbidden City! But inevitably, within minutes their loud, American voices would reverberate across the room, serving as a sharp and shameful reminder of our lame tourist status, broadcasting our loserdom in our own heads. We are those travelers who really like to think we’re cooler and smarter and more sophisticated than your average Ugly American. I mean, we’re worldly, we’re from New York, we dig the restaurant scene, we’ve even been known to hang out at a hip bar or two. But throughout the entire country of Argentina, we may as well have been clipping coupons out of The Pennysaver for the early bird special. As silly as it sounds, it was humbling, but more than that it was just sort of frustrating. It was like all the Argentinians had conspired together to stay hidden until we were safely on the way back to our hotel. If only I’d looked in that urn by the bathroom.

Here’s the thing of it: Matt and I loved being on vacation together. We hardly fought, we typically wanted to do all the same things, got hungry around the same time, even our sleep cycles managed to sync up. But even traveling as a team, as closely knit as they come, being in a foreign country can feel very lonely. And when it seems like everyone is somewhere you will never find, it only heightens your sense of being an outsider. I’m aware that many people would pay for the privilege of emptying out a beautiful restaurant. But if I’m out in the world, I want the other residents to show their faces and be there with me.

So that brings us, inexorably, to the island of Manhattan. I’m back to spending my days elbow to elbow with far too many people. They cram onto the subway platforms, angling for a straight shot at the doors with no intention of letting people out of the car first; they dodge and weave aggressively around one another on the sidewalks; they groan and sigh loudly when a tourist takes too long making a decision at Cosi; they’re rude to customer service professionals and fiercely territorial at restaurants and bars. They’re loud, mean, impatient, entitled, and competitive, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

I guess it’s sort of nice to be home, jerks.

Fine Living Network, I work cheap.

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Luna de miel part dos: how do you solve a problem like a standard car?

I fear I’m already a bad blogger. I’ve never been a natural when it comes to consistency, discipline, and non-laziness. There are just only so many hours in the day, and so very many episodes of “Law & Order” on television. Speaking of, am I the only one who suffers from panicky, paranoid fantasies/waking nightmares as a result of that show? Please tell me I’m not.

Back to the H-moon recap.

As much as we loved our stay in Buenos Aires, we were excited to get out of the hot, sticky city in favor of Patagonia’s mountains, lakes, and fresh country air — a rare treat for us. And by “treat,” I mean only so long as I wasn’t faced with any insect-related issues while enjoying this so-called “fresh air.” No really, we were psyched, and remained so until we were handed the keys to our rental car at the Bariloche airport. At this point, Matt’s face clouded over, a nervous, half-hearted smile lingering on his lips and dread settling deep behind his eyes. Of course, all the cars in Argentina are manual, and of course, poor Matty hadn’t driven a stick shift since he was 19 years old and working construction for the summer. I remained chipper and in high spirits, filled with confidence in my husband’s ability to handle this challenge with swift grace and aplomb. This based solely on the fact that he is not Jewish and is generally capable of things my family members are not: fixing things around the house, ironing, successfully putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea. As I’m sure many of you would have assumed (not you, Mom), these skills do not necessarily translate.

We piled our stuff into the tiny car, started it up, lurched backwards and immediately stalled out in the middle of the arrivals lane. Much honking, much waving, and finally when we had allowed every single car in the vicinity to pass us, we started up again. The car heaved and sputtered forward, and we were off! Unfortunately, we were soon met with a parking lot attendant, at which point we slowed to a stop and promptly stalled. After a few painfully choking false starts and many grateful gestures to the people lined up behind us (hey, tourists are allowed to be idiots at the airport, right?), we were off! Again. We began to build speed, and while the momentum put Matt at ease, I became increasingly nervous and shrill. “Cuidado! A la derecha! Please slow down slowdownslow downslowdown!” After the first two stalls, my confidence went out our hatchback’s manual windows, and I kept envisioning us missing a curve and driving directly into the ice blue lake that stretched alongside the highway. It was actually smooth sailing until we reached the center of town. We prayed every time we passed an intersection, pleading with God to arrange things so that we wouldn’t have to stop the car until we reached our hotel, 20 km away. No such luck for an interfaith couple. We came to a reluctant pause at a traffic light, and the car…didn’t stall! We held our breath and silently willed it to keep running. And then, as the light went from red to yellow to green, and Matt carefully lifted his foot to the gas, we heard the familiar wheeze, felt the dreaded shudder, and stalled to a standstill. Except that this time, when he tried to restart, we started to roll backwards. Into a line of waiting cars. He pulled the handbrake, took a deep breath and tried again. And again, we rolled back. He tried over and over, a line of cars a mile back leaning on their horns, people on the sidewalk and at their windowsills staring at us. Matt was sweating. My heart was pounding and it was all I could do to keep reassuring him and encouraging him to pretend that there weren’t at least a few hundred angry Argentinians behind us. More wheezing, violent, shuddering sighs from our car’s tortured engine, and then out of nowhere…

The car took off like a bat out of hell with an obscene screech! I flung back into the seat, let out a scream, and we shot out of the intersection and went careening down the street, hysterically laughing and nearly in tears with shock and relief. I’ll spare you the details of the next three or four identical experiences of varying levels of death-defiance, but suffice it to say that by the time we got to the hotel, Matt was trying to revise our plans to take a DRIVING tour of Bariloche and musing aloud as to how much a taxi would cost to bring us to dinner in the evenings.

You better believe we parked on a downhill

I’m happy to report that the driving got increasingly better over the course of our three days in Patagonia, though we didn’t escape a few more humiliating stall-outs and we definitely burned the clutch down to a nub (note: I have no idea what a clutch is or looks like, so in my mind it was a nub). In fact, we came to like our little 2-door carro. It could have fit in our apartment’s kitchen, which was great because we’re very comfortable with small spaces. Plus, I got a kick out of hand-cranking the windows down and belting out the score to “The Sound of Music,” since the Andes look a lot like the Alps and Bariloche is full of old Nazis, too. Before long, Matt relaxed and began to enjoy driving around, and I found that I hardly ever thought about death while we were in the car.

The hills are alive! Los Von Trappos, are you in there?

There are fish in here! Shortest photo opp ever.

Our days in Bariloche were appropriately outdoorsy. In addition to driving around and wading ankle-deep into fish-infested waters, we went white water rafting on the Manso River, which was my first time with the activity and I fell in love with it. The river was as clear blue as the Caribbean (though somewhat colder), we got to take our rafts to the Chilean border, and when it was all over they fed us beef and wine. The town of Bariloche was unfortunately pretty touristy, kind of like Germany at Epcot, but with fewer obese people and with more stray dogs. After holding out for a week, I finally broke down and pet a stray German Shepherd and allowed him to give my hand a little kissypoo. We named him Kevin, both after our recent favorite movie, Up, and inspired by a ridiculous poster we were reading as the whole unfortunate scene went down. Of course, Matt yelled at me and warned me of vague dangers, and after Kevin followed us a few blocks and then abandoned us for a tasty-looking puddle, I spent the rest of the evening convinced I’d contracted parvo (again) and fleas.

Turista, indeed.

"Lo nuevo de Kevin." Your guess is as good as mine, assuming your guess has something to do with a German Shepherd.

Here’s a fun fact: I neglected to mention that Matt and I both suffered from horrendous sunburn in Uruguay. Every time I looked at Matt I started to hum the theme to “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” By the time we got to Bariloche, his face had begun to peel off nicely, and we (I) considered attempting to preserve it in one piece. I, on the other hand, had been experiencing an insidious rash that traveled to a different scorched part of my body each day. It was sort of a fun game: Where in Nina’s bloodstream is the sun poisoning today? But the best was saved for the grand finale: the night we had the most beautiful dinner at our hotel, my ankle became so red and inflamed that it swelled up to the size of a can of pineapple juice. We were forced to take half a bottle of wine back up to our room where I could drink and elevate my foot at once. Of course, we maintained our priorities. It wouldn’t be a successful vacation if I didn’t contract at least one bizarre and humorously exaggerated affliction.

Oh, those romantic and lustful honeymoon nights.

Stay tuned for the next very special installment of “Luna de Miel” blogging!

Part Tres: In Which I Learn to Love Frogs

or

Wine Tasting and Swimming Pools: A Cautionary Tale