Email 1: Los Cinquos Centavosos

Hello Everyone!

Since I´m not feeling so creative yet, this email is going to be about the 5 senses of our trip so far, something cliche you might be able to find on AOL if you look hard enough. Enjoy!

After Santiago we headed to the coast of Chile and the geographically intimidating town of Valparaiso. It´s on the Pacific and, as Azure said, ¨it uses its waterfront about as well as Seattle does¨ with a shipping highway where beaches probably existed a generation ago. There´s a section of the city that´s gritty and bustling for about 7 or 8 blocks, then it sweeps dramatically up these steep hills that would be lush and green if there weren´t houses of all kinds crammed everywhere… we took a long walk up into these neighborhoods and saw a spectacular view of the city below, the ocean beyond and other neighborhoods crammed onto other hills.

We got a room in a lady´s house near the center of the city and one night made dinner for ourselves… I had this mind-blowing chicken stirfry planned, but the lady had no spices and we couldn´t find a frying pan, so we ended up semi-boiling-steaming our veggies and chicken in a pot and it came out tasting a lot like the cuisine we´d eaten in the town: great ingrediants prepared blandly.

Luckily for the taste part of our 5 centavos, Azure went and grabbed a 2$ bottle of Chilean red wine… and it was wonderful! I don´t know my wines much, I only know what I like and don´t like, but this wine was the perfect amount of sweet, ¨round¨ (if that can be a taste adjective) and fruity. I´d argue the best red wine I´ve ever had.

The next morning we hopped on a bus with a bunch of snacks and took off for an 8-hour bus ride to Mendoza, Argentina (where we are presently). I was a little apprehensive about covering such a large distance by bus rather than plane, but it was great: we got to SEE everything we were passing (as opposed to being on a plane), we got to see the transition from Pacific to mountains to plains. To start, we tore up these steep hair-pin turns going high into the Andes, then through a long tunnel into Argentina. Coming down there were breath-taking mountains that looked like they could have been one piece of rock jutting to the sky. They made no concessions to the size of the busses, people, trees or animals around. A reminder that this planet wasn´t made for us.

As it flattened out, we saw scattered ruins of old rock homes on fields near the river… I have no idea their purpose nor their age, but I´d like to imagine they´d been there for thousands of years.

When we finally reached Mendoza we found our Servas (UN homestay organization) host´s house. It´s in this flat little suburb under streets lined with beautiful green trees. The houses are all low (one storey/storie/story? It´s been too long since college) and connected in the front – there´s no gate to get to the back yard so nobody can break in. A very smart idea.

Anyway, you walk through the house and onto a little brick courtyard with a mosaic table in the center, the whole thing under a roof of grapevines . We were sitting back there talking to him and I suddenly smelled this amazing scent. I looked around and found it – a plant that looks a little like rhodedededendrons (did I spell that right?) with these white flowers that made my heart race. I went over and smelled them… sweet, tropical… and smelled them again, and again. I don´t know what the host thought of me just rolling into his courtyard and standing under the bush smelling flower after flower on the same plant, but I don´t care.

I´ve never thought of leaving Azure for a plant before, but now might be the time. Turns out it´s Jasmine (as far as I understood him). I´ve smelled the artificial jasmine scent before and it makes me sneeze.

We walked to the town plaza where people were all strolling, talking, hanging out, looking at handicrafts and listening to music for the evening. A bunch of enormous trees drop these little orange flowers, so the park has some parts that are a field of orange (no synonyms, sorry). I wanted to smell one of the little flowers, so I picked it up and there was a sharp pain: I could feel something going into my finger slowly, deeper, pushing in deliberately. I dropped the flower and looked: a dying bee was clinging to the petals and stung me in its last act. It really, really hurt. I can´t even remember the last time I was stung – maybe at Kelsey Creek 20 years ago?

After frantically sucking out the poison, Az and I sat down in the plaza´s ampitheater and listened, with a few hundred Argentinians of all ages, to a man play the guitar and sing. People clapped along, there were a few doing some beautiful dancing, waving scarves around. A lot of people sang along with the guy… they might have been traditional songs, I didn´t recognize them, so I recorded them on my MP3 player.

It was a beautiful evening to just sit there and listen to the buzz of the plaza while the sun set. My favorite part, I think, was watching a group of younger girls flirt with a group of older boys directly in front of us. The girls would ball up pieces of paper and throw them at the guys´ backs, then the guys would throw it back at them. One guy was kinda ignoring the girls because he was obviously too cool for them, but his friend was into it. Very cute.

Bonus Sixth Sense:
I had a dream the other night that it was snowing in Seattle so I went to the Seattle Times (I don´t know why I went to that conservative rag… usually I go to the liberal rag, the PI) and saw that it HAD, in fact, snowed the night before! I´m psychically linked to Seattle. Last night I dreamed I was naked in public, so I guess we´ll see where that takes us today.

Anyway, I´m sorry to read that LSU and Ohio State are playing in a farce of a championship game. I´m glad I´m out of the country or else my blood would be boiling about it.

Thank you to everyone who´s emailed! Take care,

Mike & Azure


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