February 21–27, 2016

South America, Uruguay, Montevideo

Small talk in the supermarket’s checkout queue. Simone is approached by a local and asked where she is from: “In Austria, people know about Uruguay?” – “Yes, they do.” – “Why?”

We were certainly happy to be among the few tourists who did visit. Montevideo is a laid-back, friendly, modern Latin American city, though without too much accent on Latino, to be honest.

In the charming little old town, the Mercado del Puerto is a mecca for meat lovers, with one barbecue stand next to another. There we had our first encounter with the delicious medio y medio, a mix of sparkling wine and sweet white wine. The perfect Tuesday afternoon drink!

And, of course, the beach with its beachfront walk, the Ramblas, was something we enjoyed very much after having been “city-borne” for quite some time. (Although BA and Montevideo both lie on the Río de la Plata, the brownish water on BA’s side doesn’t really invite to take a swim.)

We were desperately looking for Jeff the Diseased Lung, but eventually learned that his billboard was removed a while ago. Nonetheless: #JeffWeCan!

Jan found the perfect substitute for his beloved Kebab (which had been hard to come by in Chicago anyway) and Italian Beef (very hard to ignore in Chicago): Chivito! That’s a typical Uruguayan (cough fast food cough) dish that you can have either as a sandwich (en pan batta or tortuga) or on a plate (al plato, on a load of fries). It’s made of thin slices of beef, a fried egg, lettuce, pickles, cheese, mayonnaise and other optional ingredients. Jan had chivitos from the chivito place in our street three days in a row. One time, he even (successfully) bribed the staff to postpone their lunch break (well, the indispensable four-hour siesta). That’s how good it was. Especially when enjoyed at the nearby beach.

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February 20, 2016

South America, Uruguay, Colonia

Guess what: We’re back on the road (or on waterways, depends on where we’re headed)! Two great months in BA went by really fast and the remaining two months of our big trip through the Americas will be more adventurous, exciting and fast-paced again, leading us first to Uruguay, back to the North and Northwest of Argentina, to Chile and finally to Patagonia.

Buenos Aires in the far distance across the Río de la Plata.Buenos Aires in the far distance across the Río de la Plata.

Across the Río de la Plata, a one-hour ferry ride away, is Colonia del Sacramento, a charming small city in charming small Uruguay. Originally founded by the Portuguese, it is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay and boasts buildings of Spanish, Portuguese and post-colonial styles and cobblestone streets.

The old town casco viejo had the perfect size to stroll around for an afternoon. At the wharf, we chatted with some Swedes who sailed all the way from Sweden to Brazil (stopping in Portugal and Cabo Verde) in only 25 days.

However, the beer van (a remodeled Volkswagen RV with craft beer taps sticking out of the side window) parked at a central place in Colonia’s old town was more our kind of vehicle.

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San Telmo and La Boca are two barrios in the South of Buenos Aires known for their colorful character.

Every Sunday San Telmo transforms into an open-air market busy with people selling arts & crafts, mate cups, books, etc. You can see musicians and tango dancers perform on Plaza Dorrego. And they make great choripan at ad-hoc barbecues.

Overall, La Boca is a rather shady neighborhood, except for one street (Caminito) that features colorful and decorated shanties. Great for people-spotting, too!

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Buenos Aires

December 29, 2015 – February 20, 2016

South America, Argentina, Buenos Aires

We’ve now spent almost seven weeks in Buenos Aires, enjoying it a lot so far! After two months of traveling, first on the U.S. West Coast and then in Central America, our plan was to take it easy for a while: rent a nice AirBnB and return to our usual work and life routine.

What do we do all day?

We usually start another beautiful, warm summer day with a breakfast on the balcony. We take advantage of the variety of fresh and ripe fruits you get for a couple of pesos at almost every corner. Believe it or not, Simone even traded her daily cup of morning coffee for mate, a bitter but for Argentinians indispensable kind of tea that you sip through a bombilla (a metal straw with a filter in the lower end to separate the mate infusion from the leaves). In parks, on street benches, in buses you see people carrying the distinctly shaped mate cup and a thermos flask of various sizes and sipping calmly the drink of, admittedly, rather acquired taste.

Then, either Jan or Simone go to Spanish class with Mónica. Jan works on his basic Spanish while Simone just needed to pay somebody whom she can talk Spanish to.

From noon on it’s usually work, which we occasionally interrupt for a small merienda in the afternoon (a very popular sweet afternoon snack typically consisting of café con leche and medialunas—tiny delicious croissants).

If you want to learn more about Argentine food (from a foreigner’s perspective), read Argentina on Two Steaks a Day:

The classic beginner’s mistake in Argentina is to neglect the first steak of the day. You will be tempted to just peck at it or even skip it altogether, rationalizing that you need to save yourself for the much larger steak later that night. But this is a false economy, like refusing to drink water in the early parts of a marathon.

Can’t add much to that. The steaks here are great.

Nightlife in BA starts notoriously late. Restaurants get crowded by 9pm, bars by 11pm and clubs around 3am. To be honest, we hardly ever made it that far (late). Going out in Palermo is amazing, though! Half a barrio full of street bars and restaurants, unpretentious, relaxed people (porteños) and everything within walking distance from our place.

The Paris (and Barcelona, and Italy) of the South

BA is somehow the perfect mix between Barcelona, Paris and Italy. With its obvious Italian heritage (that doesn’t only manifest itself in pizza and pasta and the more melodious intonation of Spanish), its ample cut-off street corners boasting corner cafés and restaurants, its Baron Haussmann-esque boulevards and many small fruterías, shops, kioscos, countless bars and confiterías and busy street life, we immediately fell in love with Buenos Aires.

Although we visited the places and sights our guide book recommended—such as the Obelisco, la Casa Rosada, San Telmo, the Recoleta cemetery—the city’s main attraction lies in wandering through the nice barrios of Palermo and Recoleta.

It’s especially nice when you walk those barrios with friends. Thanks for visiting, Maria & Anna and Lisa, Anna & Babsi!

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Panama City

December 26–28, 2015

Central America, Panama, Panama City

We didn’t expect too much from another Central American capital city (after Managua and San José, and also due to travel guides not praising Panama City too much). But we forgot all of that when we arrived at our AirBnB room in the charming Casco Viejo neighborhood. The apartment was overlooking Plaza Bolivar, one of the nicest places in the city. From the sundeck we also had a nice view of Panama City’s modern skyline.

Our host Andreas from Rome was having his family over (including dachshund Jacobo)—really nice people. Simone bonded with them over a great cup of espresso (no milk, no sugar, just like the Italians).

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal.Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal.

Of course we had to take the tigerduck to one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Panama Canal. We went to see the Miraflores Locks, where we had to wait a little bit since there were no ships passing through between 11am (when the last ship moves up from the Pacific towards the Atlantic side) and 3pm (when the first ship moves down in the opposite direction). It’s quite fascinating how huge ships can steer through the narrow locks with only 10 cm room on each side. Other than that, there’s an overpriced restaurant and some other rogues.

The bus ride to the airport led us through the areas of the city that you probably don’t want to stay in (lots of charmless highrise buildings).

And this concludes the Central America portion of our trip. Argentina, here we come!

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December 22–26, 2015

Central America, Panama, Boquete

We wanted to do something special for Christmas, so we did an overnight hike on Volcán Barú. With an elevation of 3,474 meters, it’s the tallest mountain in Panama.

Our guide David of Boquete Mountain Safari picked us up at noon on December 23rd, together with co-hiker Nadine. The first few hundred meters we went by jeep, and then we hiked for around four hours. You could go the whole way up by jeep, but that would feel too much like cheating, and you would probably get sea-sick on that bumpy “road”.

We were expecting a rather uncomfortable, cold night in a tent, but thanks to a really friendly policeman (watching the transmitter station up there), we could stay with him in his warm cabin. In return, we cooked a nice dinner for the five of us.

Before sunset, despite quite a few clouds, we were lucky to get a glimpse of both the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean at the same time. That’s what makes this place unique! The tiger duck was happy, too.

On the next morning, we saw a few other hikers coming up who had walked through the night (and some taking the cheating option). Many of them left again too early to see the fog clear up. Don’t do that if you get the chance!

After making our way back down, it was time to skype with our families who had already started their Christmas celebrations. We missed them! Our Christmas dinner with our hosts Olaf and Hanni (two “downshifters” from Germany) wasn’t bad, either, but nothing compared to home, of course.

Breakfast on the 25th actually had a touch of home, thanks to the town’s German butcher and his Leberkäsesemmeln. This guy would make for great material for a Tarantino movie!

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As Janosch put it:

Oh, how beautiful Panama is!

And it was beautiful, indeed. We were lucky at the border (only a few minutes wait time—others said waited for hours) and the whole trip to the little island paradise of Bocas del Toro went very smoothly. Only note to ourselves: If the sea is rough, don’t take the outer seats of the last row in the boat (or enjoy getting soaked).

Crossing the border between Costa Rica and Panama.Crossing the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

We didn’t know that Bocas has its own microclimate. We had almost exclusively had nice weather so far, but apparently, Bocas was right in the middle of its rainy season. That was a good excuse to get some work done, and we also had great fun playing Monolopy with Gül and Sinan, a really nice German couple. When the sun came out for a few hours, we set off together on a boat trip to Red Frog Beach.

What do you do on a rainy afternoon? Buy some property!What do you do on a rainy afternoon? Buy some property!

Both Bubba’s House and the Bambuda Lodge had a really nice, laid-back vibe. Just the right preparation for our Christmas adventure…

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This time we didn’t choose the easy option, which would have been a direct 3-hour boat ride. Instead, we left at 8 in the morning, taking one boat and four different buses (for a third of the price). We arrived at 7 in the evening. A bed and a bathroom hardly ever felt that good before.

Hotel Novelty Playa is a bit out of town, but definitely worth staying there! Host Luis (from Albacete, Spain) is super-nice, the rooms (there are only three!) are gorgeous, and you’ll never want to leave that balcony.

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December 16–18, 2015

Central America, Costa Rica, Tortuguero

Getting to Tortuguero was a bus-bus-boat trip, partly on the “Caribbean Highway”, a wide water canal in the Eastern part of the Tortuguero National Park.

Equipped with flash lights and rubber boots, we did a night hike through the rain forest. Our guide Victor was fantastic in spotting animals which would otherwise have escaped our notice: tiny frogs, an enormous bull frog (who can swallow chicken and snakes as a whole!), obelisks, grasshoppers, lizards, termites and their nest, a woolly opossum, dangerous spiders and jumping tarantulas.

We almost didn’t manage to get our shot of the world’s most photographed frog, the red-eyed tree frog. It wasn’t until our way back to the village, when Victor spotted a tiny exemplary of one of the red-eyed tree frog’s varieties.

Fortunately, we didn’t dream of spiders that night. We were probably just too tired.

The next day started early: By 6:15 am, we were already sitting in a lancha with four other people and a guide and were exploring the wildlife of Tortuguero’s waterways. We saw huge iguanas, lizards, caimans and all kinds of birds including tucans and parrots.

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San José

December 13–16, 2015

Central America, Costa Rica, San José

Costa Rica’s capital feels like a mixture of a medium-sized US-American and a large Spanish city. Outlets, US chains, better, bigger and more expensive cars all contrasted sharply with what we were used to see in Nicaragua.

Not too thrilled about the city, we spent most of our time getting some work done in the comfortable patio of Casa 69.

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Jan Pöschko, Simone Kaiser

That’s us!