Six boring days in Uruguay

If you have the option to go to Chile, Argentina or Uruguay, immediately cross Uruguay off the list…

It is okay here… nothing particularly bad about the place.

But it is too small and too quiet for my taste.

The only thing I can say I have really enjoyed is the food. The food is pretty much the same as in Argentina… lots of parilla! i don’t know the exact definition of parilla, but if I had to guess, it is probably something like “a giant fire with every imaginable form of meat cooked over it”. And the wine here is pretty good too… Uruguay wines are a bit harsher than Argentina, but it goes well with the parilla!

As I noted in my earlier entry, something about Uruguayans was peculiar. I still find that… as an example, a lot of Uruguayans all walk around with a big (and I mean big, like bigger than you have ever seen) thermos… but this isn’t all. They also have a very large, antique looking goblet, and a big metal straw coming out of it. Apparently it is some sort of hot tea they are drinking, even in 30c weather, and this tea is apparently so good that it is worth lugging around 5 pounds worth of gear just to have it at hand!

I didn’t bother even trying to try the tea, because I was scared that if I liked it as much as they did, then I’d have to get the whole setup… and walking through airport metal detectors will all that gear would just be too big of a hassle, not to mention the recent, ridiculous ‘rule’ of not taking liquids on airplanes.

Montevideo is VERY quiet and has very little nightlife… there is an interesting part of town called Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) which has a lot of old buildings and some restaurants and pubs, but it is pretty quiet.

I also went to Punta del Este. I have heard lots of hype that this place is the “St. Tropez” of South America. Well, I have never been to St. Tropez, but if it is like Punta del Este, I don’t want to go there.

The nightlife is bad in Punta del Este… it is mostly well-to-do south american families that go there… and it is REALLY expensive and hard to even find a hotel. I finally got one and it was a crappy old house and cost $300/night! And it was in a place called La Barra, about 10km from downtown Punta del Este and there is NO taxis anywhere there and only one mini-bus that would come sporadically… nearly anytime I wanted to go anywhere, it would entail a minimum 3-5 mile walk!!!!! Good for exercise, but bad for my mood, especially when, whenever I got somewhere, it wasn’t that great.

The casino at the Conrad Hotel in Punta has a decent poker room though, and has a lot of older, bad players who are really easy to play… I won a fair amount but, AS I USUALLY DO, got too cocky and ended up giving back quite a bit near the end, trying to be way trickier than I needed to be against this crowd.

So, tomorrow I leave for Rio de Janeiro… I am looking forward to it as I have always wanted to go to Brazil and through a number of mishaps, have never quite made it (I once made it to the Rio airport though, only to be put back on my plane to Buenos Aires because I did not have a visa). Actually, there is still a chance I may still not make it as I am supposed to get my visa tomorrow at the Brazil Embassy before I go… so, as with anything bureaucratic, anything could still happen there…

I will spend about a week in Brazil and then go up to Mexico for about a week or maybe more… then I may go to Vancouver to handle some business. I may start up a public gold mining company… but nothing for sure yet…

Until next time, Adios!

from Chile to Uruguay

I spent a few days just trying to figure out my schedule. A few things popped up that I really wanted to do, but they required me really having to plan things out to fit them all in… it was a strange feeling to actually plan and something that did not feel right at all.

But I did it nonetheless. The big thing that I was excited about, that made me change most of my plans, was that a friend of mine who has apparently become ridiculously rich, emailed me and told me he is cruising through Mexico right now on his $4 million luxury yacht. The boat is ridiculous, and just to show how over the top it is, it actually has a hot tub on the fly deck!!

He is currently in Puerto Vallarta and told me over the next 2 weeks he is cruising down through Ixtapa, Acapulco and then down to Huatulco… those are three of my absolute favorite places in Mexico and I miss them a lot!

So, when he offered for me to come up and cruise with him, I jumped at the chance.

To keep a longer story shorter, I basically had to decide on whether to go up to Mexico in early Feb and then return to South America after that to go to Carnival etc…. or to just go to places like Uruguay and Brazil now, then go to Mexico, then after that head home (Bangkok).

After some consideration I decided to try to fit in as much of Chile, Uruguay and Brazil as I can in the next two weeks, then go up to Mexico, then begin to make my way home from there (maybe through LA, Hawaii and Guam… or maybe through LA, Vancouver then Japan)…

So, I then decided I should get moving… After 3 nights in Vina del Mar I headed East to Montevideo, Uruguay.

Montevideo is a very interesting place. I don’t quite know how to describe it. Sometimes it feels like you are in Spain.. sometimes it feels similar to a place like Vancouver (their seawall, actually riverwall, area looks a lot like Vancouver’s west end – see picture here), sometimes it feels like Argentina, and sometimes it feels like Mexico.

Although it is almost on the same latitude as Vina del Mar, you can feel the heat and humidity much more here in Montevideo than in VDM. This is due to the fact that the Pacific Ocean tends to be much colder than the Atlantic surrounding South America (you can see this difference graphically on this image of global ocean water temperatures). As you can see, the Atlantic has warm water almost down to the bottom of South America, whereas the Pacific barely has warm water at all until all the way up near the equator.

I don’t quite know how to put my finger on it yet, after only 24 hours, but the people here seem a bit odd.

You can definitely sense a lot of more old-world style and tradition here, exemplified by a fair amount of horse drawn carts in the city. And unlike most major cities, these aren’t cheesy tourist attractions, these are commercial vehicles, hauling stuff from one place to the next.

Also of interest, the city is a port town which appears to be on the ocean but in actuality, it is essentially on the end of a giant river, called Rio de la Plata, which is a remarkable 136 miles wide by the time it joins with the Atlantic Ocean, creating a huge, silty estuary.

As well, the taxis here have a bit of a stupid way of doing things. When you get in they start the meter. The numbers start going up, as like with all taxis, and the number even has a ‘$’ in front of it, which to me would indicate that this is the cost of the trip. After my first trip, a 30 minute drive from the airport to my hotel, the meter was at $300 (which, in pesos, would be equivalent to $15 USD), but then he points to a chart and says that the cost is $500 pesos (or $25 USD). It turns out, after taking numerous taxi rides now, that the meter is keeping track of time and then you have to look at the chart to figure out the cost. The average cost appears to be about 2 times the amount of time.. why they don’t just make the meter thing keep track of money it costs, i don’t know!

Adding to my general sense of confusion, no one seems to agree on the time here. My airline said we arrived at 5:45pm but on the airplane itself, it said Uruguay local time of arrival was 4:45pm. When I got to the hotel room I googled the time here and almost every internet site said 7pm but the clock in the room and most of the channels on tv said 8pm. I don’t know what the deal is, or why no one seems to actually agree on the time here, but I just called down to the reception to verify the time and they gave me a time which, if I punch it into my computers time zone, correlates to the region denoted as “Mid-Atlantic time zone”. I believe the time zone I am currently on is also the current time in Rio de Janeiro… probably Uruguay is on daylight savings while other countries in the area aren’t, or vice versa, but someone forgot to tell the rest of the world that they are…

Anyway, whatever time it is, I am only here for 2 nights and then am going to Punte Del Este, a 2 hour bus ride to the East. From what I hear, Punta Del Este should be quite different. It is known as the St. Tropez of South America and is apparently where all of South America’s rich and famous holiday in the summer time.

Gauging from hotel prices, I’d have to say that looks to be the case. I had a hard time even finding a hotel, but finally found one, a 4 star hotel for over $300 USD/night!

I will likely be in Uruguay until Monday when I hope to get my Brazilian visa and then will likely be off to Rio de Janeiro for about a week, prior to my second attempt at boating down the Pacific Coast… hopefully this time with better results! After telling my mom that I was going to do it again she only had one question, does his boat have a surfboard on it? :)

Tax in Chile – sidenote

I forgot to mention before, when I first got to Chile there is a sign that says if you are Canadian, American or Australian, that you have to pay a tax. The tax is $135 USD if you are Canadian, $100 USD if you are American and $50 if you are Australian.

They call this a reciprocal tax… I guess these are the amounts that those countries charge Chileanos when they go to those countries, so they charge you that when you come to their country.

Apparently once you have this tax stamp in your passport it is good for the life of the passport, so you only have to pay it that one time.

Kinda irritating… but I can see why they do it… My irritation is with the Canadian government for charging Chileanos to visit Canada… ridiculous.

Santiago y Vina del Mar

It’s funny, when I was in Melbourne, there were a few nights where we went out for dinner around 9 or 9:30… literally every restaurant we went to was closed! And once we finally found something, the waiter would remark, “Wooow, late dinner huh!”.

It’s also funny, when I asked at the hotel reception in Melbourne if there were any “good areas to go to for some food and drinks” the response was, “of course!!!! This is Melbourne!!!”. Then we’d go to the few different spots he recommended, the restaurants would be already closed and the few lounges/clubs/pubs would be virtually empty. (as a side comment – Melbourne people remind me a lot of Vancouver people… they all seem so proud of their city and think it is so amazing… yes both cities are very nice and livable and not bad places at all, but you get the distinct impression that none of these people have ever been to ANY other city in the world)

Sooooo, it is so good to be in Latin America for many reasons and one of them is, Latin America lives on my schedule. After being in Australia for nearly a month, on my first night out in Santiago I purposely went out earlier than I normally would, at 9 for dinner (an excellent huge steak with a fantastic seasoning on the side called Argentine Mustard… if you are going to open a steak restaurant you gotta get this!), just because I had been conditioned to Australian style. I found that most places weren’t that busy, but that was because I was way too early! By the time I finished my meal the place was starting to get busy.

Then, because I had started too early, I ended up at fairly empty nightclubs because, again, no one had even started to show up yet. I went to a few places but this one was pretty good, called Kmasu Club (kmasu.com)… it was about 75% women, 25% men… what a flip flop from Manstralia.

But, I had a better night in Santiago on a Thursday night than I had in all my time in Australia over the last month x 10… actually, you can basically times it by infinity, because my level of enjoyment of Australia’s nightlife was zilch.

Anyway, enough ragging on Australia… I stayed a few days in Santiago but it became clear that almost everyone in Santiago spent the summer at the beach, so today I hopped on a 1.5 hour bus ride to Vina Del Mar.

My initial expectations were that this was a small beach town, but upon arriving I realized my expectations were incorrect. This town almost feels like a city… it is quite large with lots of businesses, hotels, shopping etc. Upon googlizing it, I found the population here is 300,000+ and I’ll bet that goes up significantly in the summer.

I am staying at the Sheraton as I couldn’t find many hotels with availability… I am paying a lot here but wow, it is a beautiful location. My room is above the rocks over the ocean with floor to ceiling windows. All I can hear is the pounding surf.

There is a large casino in town here… so, as per my M.O., I’ll likely head out this evening and play some poker, hoping to pay for my stay at the expense of other players and then will head out tonight to see what Saturday night is like here. Hmmm, now that I think of it, this is basically what I do almost everywhere… how did I become a perma-travelling homeless semi-pro poker player, stock trading international playboy? Ah well, for now, I like it.

As a general comment on Chile so far, I’d have to say, this may be the nicest country I’ve been to yet in South America. I’d never given Chile too much thought and didn’t know a heck of a lot about it, but is it ever nice here… Santiago is modern and European feeling… the drive to the beach was through beautiful winding hills and vineyards… things aren’t cheap but not overly expensive either… and everyone has been very friendly and even when I stumble and fumble with my spanish almost everyone has immediately began talking to me in English without hesitation, making it very easy to get around and figure things out. I would highly recommend Chile as a place to check out in the summer time (ie. Nov-Mar). The only thing I don’t like about it, so far, is that it is very difficult to get any cheap flights here… most international flights are through their national airline, LAN, and are very expensive. My one-way flight from New Zealand to Chile was one of the most expensive flights I’ve ever been on at around $1,800 USD! Plus, Chile is really not very close to anywhere… but other than the travel considerations, it is well worth it once you get here. If someone took you here and dropped you off and asked you where you were, most people would assume it is Spain… it is very nice here.

As for my schedule, it is becoming a bit more lucid. I’ll likely stay around here for another week or so and then possibly go to Lima for a few days, then up to Ixtapa or Acapulco to meet a friend on his yacht, then sail down to Huatulco… from there I’ll likely fly down to Argentina to see some business deals with another friend, then maybe to Brasil by end of February… but, ya never know, I follow the flow.

Auckland… and then on to Chile!

After Melbourne I sent Jane back to Bangkok and headed East… to Auckland, New Zealand.

NZ is way far East… their time zone is GMT +12… and since Vancouver is GMT -8, that meant that I was only 3 hours behind Vancouver time in NZ… so when it was 3pm in NZ, it was 6pm in Vancouver… however, that isn’t exactly true, because in actuality, I was 21 hours AHEAD of Vancouver as my 3pm was on a Wednesday while Vancouver’s 6pm was on a Tuesday…

Anyway, the reason I know so much about the intricacies of time is because I was pretty bored in Auckland! New Zealand is only home to 4 million people to begin with, and there are estimates that at any given time, nearly half of them are travelling outside of NZ, which leaves it prettttttty quiet… Auckland has about 1 million people.

I also had an expectation that since it is summer there now that it would be quite hot…. nope. I was cold most of my stay as it was windy, sometimes rainy and the highs were in the teens. But apparently even that isn’t too bad because after I spent my one night out in Auckland on totally, eerily empty streets, I was cold and couldn’t find a cab. When I got in the cab, he had all the windows rolled down and said to me, “Beautiful evening”… my response was “really???”.

I stayed at the Sky City complex which is home to a casino, hotels and numerous other attractions, including their Sky City Tower which stands out on the downtown horizon as it is nearly twice as tall as any other building in Auckland. I had an excellent meal at a place called Rocco on a main street called Ponsonby if you are ever in the area.

All in all it was a very nice town… mostly full of backpacking type people… but far, far too cold, desolate and boring for my personal tastes.

So, that’s why I hopped on an 11 hour plane ride and went straight to Santiago, Chile!

I have just arrived here, and within minutes I felt much better… great vibe, beautiful modern, european-like city and a perfect sunny, 29c day.

I am SO tired though, so will leave my Chile update for another date.

But I will leave you with the following observation: All of the more ‘westernized’ nations such as US, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and to lesser extents France, Italy etc are ATROCIOUS in my opinion. Terrible vibes. I usually have at least one or two guys try to pick fights with me in any of those cities.. to which, when I push back, they run away… pathetic… and the girls all have major attitudes… no one seems happy… everything is usually quite expensive in relation to other spots… the service in general is terrible… I can’t think of worse countries anywhere in the world than those.

You will never again catch me in ANY of those countries for stays of longer than a few days per year, and only out of necessity and certainly not out of desire.

Unless something dramatic happens, I foresee 90% of my time being spent cycling between Asia (Thailand and China mainly) and Latin America (Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Brasil mainly).

Those two regions are the only places left on earth, that I am aware of, that still have a good vibe, excellent lifestyle, vibrant energy, good service and reasonable prices.

Of course, everyone is different, and if all you care about is being close to the ocean to go kyaking and being close to the mountains to go snowboarding, then obviously places like Canada, New Zealand etc. are fine places if that is what you desire.

But for someone of my interests, Asia and Latin Am are the spots!

I have many options on the weeks/months ahead, including Brazil for carnival and possibly going up to Mexico to go cruising on a buddy of mines ultra-multi-million dollar yacht… so, should be a fun, interesting few weeks/months ahead in my latino home away from home (asia).

Adios.

Reflections, Updates, New Year’s and 2007 and Australia

Nothing too new or exciting to report, but thought I would spew some Berwithoughts out into the ether for your contemptuous and/or piteous viewing pleasure.

Firstly, for the record, if you are the kind of person like me who enjoys beautiful locales, unique experiences, fine dining, beautiful girls, good vibes and idyllic pleasures, you need to seriously consider putting Boracay, during the week between Xmas and New Years on your to-do list.

Upon ending my second consecutive xmas in Boracay I have even more praise for the place. While it is quite an adventure to get there, leaving you almost frazzled, upon arrival it is no less than paradise. The difficulty in getting there is rewarded, however, by the fact that there are very, very few rude, horrendous, loud colored wearing, big gulp drinking westerners there… there are a few, but much less than most places of the type… this is likely to change over time, so as with most places of this type, get there soon before THEY all find out about it and begin arriving in organized tours.

While it is paradise, it is not however all that far removed from real Philippino life… You could spend the entire time there on the beach, where absolutely everything, from restaurants to hotels to bars/clubs are located, and never even wear shoes or sandals the entire time… it is eminently peaceful… soul-healing… perfect. However, even going 100 meters behind the hotels and buildings leads to an entirely different world. Within meters is dirty, poor, loud Philippines. Which, kinda makes it really neat. As an example, after strolling the perfect white sand beach, looking at the stars and relaxing one evening, I decided to be lazy and walk behind the buildings to the main road to catch a ‘trike’ (a motorcycle taxi with a side car where anyone over 5’5â€? has to basically get into a fetal position to fit into). On the short 1 mile ride back to my hotel we passed numerous cock fighting venues, streets filled with people, metal garbage cans on fire etc! It makes for quite the juxtaposition.

I have changed my mind on Boracay as being a potential beach bar location though… For the time being, for reasons you probably are not too interested in here, I think I will pass on it… but if I am in the region anytime around xmas-new year’s I will always have Boracay circled on my always tentative calendar.

Okay, enough about Boracay.

After Boracay Jane and I went to Manila for a few days. Nothing too big to report there, other than I finished 3rd out of 60 in a poker tourney there which was nice.

NEW YEAR’S

As most of you are aware, I hate most human traditions and holidays. But New Years is not too bad. However, I like to call New Year’s “Amateur night� because alllllll the people who never go out much, who never drink, all seem to go out on that night and make fools of themselves.

This is thankfully much less so in Asia and Latin America so I tend to venture out more when I am in those areas as opposed to really terrible places such as Canada, USA, Australia etc…

While many people really look forward to New Year’s and make “big plans�, this is never my style… so almost always, New Year’s is never planned for me and almost always it turns out to be one of the worst nights of the week, much less year for me…

As example, I spent New Year’s 2005 (or was it 2004?) at a bus stop in Ixtapa, Mexico with Ceebz, where we went to a 7-11 and at least bought a can of beer to cheers each other. Much to our amusement and interest, we found out that night that Mexicans don’t celebrate New Year’s like the rest of North America. Ceebz and I went from club to club around 11:30pm to find that they all were still closed and had no intention of opening until their normal opening time well after midnight… leading to our bus stop celebration.

For the millennia new year’s, Elsie almost killed me as I told her around 10pm that I just wanted to “go to bed� in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico… she dragged me out and we had a somewhat okay time after a few tequila shots, and then ended up walking about 10km’s back to our hotel as every taxi was full.

And this year kept to script, as Jane and I were very surprised to see the streets of Manila almost completely empty, which isn’t too surprising given that Manila’s nightlife is one of the quietest and worst in all of Asia… but I was expecting at least something. We ended up at a Hard Rock café around 11:30pm, which was half empty… then we went to two other bars… one was really funny, at least to me… as I enjoy unusual situations. There was a terrible band in one, and only about 15 people in it… most of whom were a family, along with all their kids… with the usual new year’s noise makers. The band was atrocious and in between songs there was nearly a minute of total silence, except for the feedback from the microphone and the kids almost on cue, at the most quietest and awkward moments, half-blowing into a noisemaker, adding to the dismality of it all… only topped off by the bar playing advertisements for its “amazing new year’s party! Join us on new year’s for an unforgettable night of memories!�… ahhh, I loved that.

However, around 11:45 I could see Jane was a bit sad. Girls seem to like things like New Year’s and “making it special�, so I actually put in a bit of effort and asked a few people where, possibly, could be a place that had at least a few people and music… we found it in Port Bonifacio at an okay club called Embassy and arrived just in time to “ring in the new year� before heading home. Well, actually, I ended up taking Jane back to the hotel and then ended up in P Burgos Street (anyone who knows Manila knows what I am talking about) and actually had a pretty fun night after that.

Movinnnnnnng on….

I then went to Sydney… on my way to Melbourne to play in a big poker tourney… no I am not a poker pro or anything now… just something I enjoy and am getting quite good at as a pastime.

As for Australia, I have two comments.

One, wow are things expensive here now. The massive inflation engineered by most central banks and governments in the world, combined with an unusually high Australian dollar (relative to other currencies, not gold) mean that a bottle of water at 7-11 will cost about $2 USD, the bottle of water in my hotel room is $6.50 USD and the steak on the menu at the restaurant last night was over $50 USD.

And two, I think Australia actually competes with Canada for worst nightlife in the world. I was in Sydney for nearly a week and went out one night… it was brutally bad… Most Australians are direct descendants from England, home of some of the world’s ugliest people and it shows.

After Sydney I went somewhere I have never been before… Melbourne.

I just arrived here today and it seems really nice… almost Vancouver-like, but maybe even nicer… and it seems quieter… I was surprised to find out the population was 3.5 million+… after spending a night out, I was guestimating 1-1.5 million…

This is also the furthest south on the planet I have been to date. The two previous spots were Sydney and Buenos Aires. It is chilly at night here… very chilly. And it is the dead of summer here right now, so you can tell you are getting into some of the higher latitudes, although at 37 degrees it is far closer to the equator than Canada, so in the winter it actually doesn’t get very cold here, and rarely ever snows, so it is quite moderate. The weather can change very rapidly here though… some days were really cold but then the next day would be ghastly hot, then the next day windy and cool, etc.

Interesting Melbourne Factoid: Australian Rules Football is Australia’s most popular sport… there are 16 teams in the league but NINE of them are based out of Melbourne!!!?? Go Melbourne Roos! Go Melbourne Outbacks! Go Melbourne… ahh forget it.

I glanced at a map and considered maybe going further south to Hobart just for the sake of doing it. But my laziness may trump that.

As an aside, I am currently reading a book called “A Sense of the World�. It is about a blind guy named James Holman who, in the early 1800’s, traveled the world more extensively than ANYONE before him… and he did much of it alone. And, let me repeat, HE WAS BLIND!?!?

I am astonished to see that he has been almost everywhere I have been, and then some, all via horse and sailboat!!!?? AND BLIND!!!!

If the book has changed anything about me, at least now when a flight is delayed by 2 hours I stop myself before whining, realizing that James Holman would have taken 2 months, and contracted Malaria, to do the same 4 hour trip as I am doing.

As for the immediate future, I may stick around Australia another few days or a week or so, then likely New Zealand then over to Chile, Argentina and Brazil… but ya never know! Stay tooned.

In the meantime, here are some pics just to prove I am still alive:

Me in Boracay
Me golfing at Boracay Fairways Golf Course