Sunday, June 24, 2007

A break from blogging

It's been more than a year of blogging, which also means more than a year of living out of my backpack, travelling and moving around. Blogging was easy as a result and the idea was to maintain some kind of a travel diary, and keep some friends updated about which part of the world I'm in and what I'm up to.

I'm back in Paris for 2 months, and don't have any major travel plans for the future (except a short trip to Spain in 2 weeks, and possibly a few days in London next month). I'm not sure what's next after Paris, but hopefully something will work out before I have to leave.

So, I'm taking a break from this blog for a while. I'll update it once I figure out some slightly more long term plans. I'm in Paris till the middle of August, so if anyone's interested in visiting let me know.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer in Paris

So I finally moved into my new studio, and after more than a year, I have a bank account (this time with money in it), address and office in the same city. I also have internet at home, a landline, a cellphone and clothes in a closet and not a backpack, so I feel like I've returned to civilisation. It's only for 2 months though, and sometime in mid-August I'll be back on the road again.

It's officially summer now, and on June 21st each year there's a huge celebration all over Paris. Musicians and bands are allowed to perform on the streets and in parks. I went out yesterday with some friends, and I've never seen Paris so crowded. Getting around on the subway was impossible and more than half the time, we had to keep tabs on who to meet, where to go and what to listen to. After a few hours of all this, we'd probably listened to about 5 minutes of a performance. The solution was easy - head to a bar and drink a beer.

It was funny to observe Paris yesterday. When I was here last time, it was winter, so there wasn't too much happening on the streets. Yesterday, the streets were packed and a lot of food and alcohol was being sold outdoors. Seeing people lose their inhibitions and celebrate all over the city was nice. The streets and sidewalks were filthy as a result, and there was a big police presence everywhere. It almost felt like Lapa.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back in Paris

Got back after a long flight and had to change 3 trains from the airport to get to B&M's flat. They're away for the weekend, so I have their flat to myself and after a long time being able to watch TV, surf, eat and drink at the same time felt like heaven.

Was very knocked out after the journey and crashed out on their couch around 5 in the evening and woke up expecting it to be pitch dark. Didn't realise that at this time of the year it's daylight till well past 10pm. Felt like an insomniac for the first 24 hours of getting back. It is nice to be in Paris for the summer though. Everything looks nice and cheerful.

Went househunting this weekend, and will move into my place in the 19th arrondissment on Monday, and hopefully get into some kind of routine. Have to start looking seriously for a real job now, so blogging will be a bit slow.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Leaving Buenos Aires

Every traveller I´d met in South America has always raved about Buenos Aires. I´d decided to keep it for the end of my South America trip, and I wasn´t disappointed. The bus journey was pretty short (14 hrs) compared to some of the others I´ve done over the last few months, so I reached BA quite refreshed. I´d found the flyer of a hostel in Mendoza and showed up at the place. Since it´s low season, the hostel was almost empty and I had a whole dorm room to myself for the 5 days I was there. It was basically an old mansion converted into a hostel, and since it was located in San Telmo (the historic part) it had a nice homely feel to it, unlike most hostels.

As cities go, Buenos Aires was the other extreme of Rio. My first impression of BA was that I was back in Paris. The centre of the city feels just like a big European city, and it´s littered with cafes and bookshops. It was a bit gloomy and cold for the last few days out here, so browsing bookshops and sitting in cafes was a nice way to spend time. Outside the centre of the city, BA felt like Paris littered with graffitti. It was quite a shock initially, but after a few days the grunginess of the other neighbourhoods, the graffitti and the gloomy weather seemed to fit quite well.

Culturally, Brazil and Argentina seem to be so far apart. Argentinians are quite notorious in South America for being snooty, and while I didn´t find them snooty, it did feel much closer to Europe than South America. Buenos Aires is full of all kinds of bookshops (unlike most places I´ve been to in this continent), cafes which could have been taken out of Europe, and people who seem very conscious about dressing reasonably formally.

After a couple of days of walking around aimlessly, and just sightseeing, I ran out of steam. It helped that in the hostel I came across an interesting bunch of people. They weren´t the typical backpackers I´ve been meeting regularly. There were 4 of us, and all of us had some non-travelling reason to be in South America and it was interesting hanging out with them. A Turkish psychology professor in Sao Paolo, a Canadian musician who´d spent 2 months in Olinda learning percussion and an Australian film-maker looking for work in Buenos Aires. None of us was interested in any more sightseeing. The Aussie film-maker had spent a year in BA, so he knew a lot about things going on. According to him, Buenos Aires is one of the most avant garde places for film and theatre these days. Ended up going to some very interesting places - a small art gallery opening, a latin jazz concert and an alternative tango club set up in an abandoned garage. There was no real agenda and we were all keen on exploring the cultural side of Buenos Aires. 5 days felt like we´d just scratched the surface.

So finally, after more than 3 months I'm leaving South America. I'm flying straight to Paris, and should be there for 2-3 months. Am at the airport right now, waiting to catch the flight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Mendoza's known as the land of sun and wine. It's also at the base of the Andes, which makes it a great place for a tourist who wants to go hiking, do adventure sports and drink wine. It's low season, so all the hostels are almost empty, and all the trekking agencies littered around the centre of the town have a few bored people sitting around.

I spent about 5 days and it was quite blissful. Spend one day driving up to the Andes, come back, drink wine and sleep. Spend the next day lazing around in the cafes and parks, and plan another trip. Wake up the next day and go rappeling, trekking and find a small village with cheap wine. Spend the next day reading and catching up on email and news. Wake up the next day, rent bikes and join 45- other people biking through the wineries and getting drunk slowly. Come back, get on the night bus to Buenos Aires and sleep easily thanks to all the wine.

Mendoza's a great place to visit. It's beautiful, cheap and has lots of stuff to do. The net connection here is too slow to upload pictures onto blogger. Click here for all of them. And click here for some videos (more to be uploaded once I've got a faster web connection).

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A minor crisis

The bus journey wasn't too bad even though it was 36 hours. I'd charged my ipod with some new music, found a nice book and watching movies on board with the Argentinian countryside unfold with nice music was quite blissful. I found a nice hostel very easily, and they organised all kinds of outdoor activities as well. Decided to share a small van with some other people, and we spent the day driving past wineries, up the Andes, past Aconcagua (the highest peak in South America) and up to the Chilean border. It was quite cold, so when we got back it seemed a perfect time to open a bottle of local wine, and chat with the other people next to a fireplace in the wine room of the hostel.

Checked my email and noticed an email from my bank account in Boston. Turned out that someone in Rio had stolen my debit card information, and withdrawn some money. I didn't have much money left in that account, and in spite of travelling for so many months had stayed within my budget. I have money in my Paris account, but can't use it till I'm there physically, but I'd calculated that I had enough to last me till I catch my flight from Buenos Aires to Paris next week. Whoever stole money from account, left me with 25$ - which is not enough for a week even though Argentina is quite cheap.

I realised the only option was to call the bank, but that meant heading out in the cold, buying a phone card and then using the phone in the main reception area. It wasn't the ideal place to call from, as it was quite noisy. I had to talk very loudly, and my voice carried through the wineroom where everyone was sitting. I was put on hold a couple of times, but finally shouted that this is an emergency - being stuck in a small town in Argentina with 25$ in my account - and got some attention.

They decided the best thing to do was to cancel the card and mail me a new card to where I was. That wasn't the best thing as I'm travelling and don't have an address, and somehow don't trust them to send me a card within a few days all the way to this part of Argentina. They asked about a mailing address in the US, and when I would be back, and I paused. I don't have an address anywhere right now, and have no plans of returning to the US. My brother's address was the obvious choice, but he moved recently and I couldn't find his address, so I decided the best thing was to call them tomorrow with all the details. They went ahead and cancelled the card anyway to make sure whoever stole the information can't use it again.

So, I'm stuck in Argentina, with almost no money, and no debit card. In situations like this, there are solutions - Western Union. Since London is 5 hours ahead, I emailed a friend in London and realised he'd get my email first thing in the morning. I realised that he'd be the first to read my email (people from India can't send money via Western Union outside India). Sure enough, I woke up this morning and he'd sent the money instantly. Picked it up from the Western Union outlet and suddenly felt rich.

Shit happens to me all the time, and somehow this one didn't leave me too worried. I know the money will get credited (it's not a huge amount anyway). Anyway, after all my shouting on the phone last night, I realised there wasn't much else I could do except wait so I just returned to the group, picked up my glass of wine and started chatting with them. They looked more stressed than me, and this morning kept asking me if things had worked out.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I ended up missing the bus from Rio to Foz Iguazu, and spent an extra day in Rio. There´s a long story behind it, but I spent some time the next day in a mental health institute in Rio. It was a bizarre experience (I didn´t go for treatment), but the last week had been quite crazy, so being surrounded by lunatics was quite fitting.

The bus to Iguazu took about 24 hours, and after 3 months of travelling in South America, it felt normal. The roads are well paved, the buses have a lot of leg room, and I enjoyed the scenery. Met a couple of other backpackers on the bus and shared a taxi with them to a hostel. The hostel was cheap, but resembled a resort and was almost completely empty. It´s low season right now in this part of Brazil (and Argentina), so I spent the rest of the day lazing around in the hostel. The hostel had a mini-van which took people to the waterfalls, and I signed up for it. The better of the falls are on the Argentinian side, and I realised that I was on a single entry visa. My Brazil visa was going to expire in another 2 days, so I decided to enter Argentina through the national park.

It turned out be very painless. The van driver took care of all the passport stamps for the group, so I entered Argentina without encountering a single immigration official. Spent the rest of the day at the national park around the waterfalls. The falls separate Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and are very, very impressive. There are quite a few trails (completely paved), and since it´s low season, things were very quiet. Took a lot of pictures, but they didn´t do justice to the falls due to the scale. It was quite mesmerising to watch the volume of water falling, and the vapours rising.

Will upload pictures once I reach Mendoza. Am near the bus terminal right now, waiting for the bus. It´s going to the longest bus ride I´ve done - 36 hours. But from what I´ve heard, buses in Argentina are very comfortable and almost luxurious. More once I reach Mendoza.