Sunday, May 29, 2016

The World's Most "Spiritual" Place- Patagonia, Argentina

Video: what makes a location spiritual? Make life a meditation

Spiritual friends often ascribe physical places (houses, mountain-tops, Gettysburg, etc.) as having an energy, sometimes "negative," other times the location's vibration is deemed a blessing; generally dependent on its history. Occasionally they'll tell me an area we're traveling to is situated upon a naturally occurring energy line/meridian of the earth, and assure me that the planetary pulse here is palpable to those sensitive enough to feel it.
view of the Bariloche area from atop a mountain 
I won't pretend to understand the logic behind their beliefs, but having been in the presence of a saint/ true yogi/ enlightened man (in India) and been deeply moved and affected by his presence, I am open to the fact that even if something doesn't make intellectual sense to me, or lacks immediate sensory proof, does not preclude its existence. After-all, though I'm unable to register the sound, does my puppy not respond to a dog whistle? Won't radioactive material affect me physically, even if I feel and see nothing when it's near?
birds eye view of Patagonia
birds eye view of Patagonia
snowman in Patogonia, Bariloche
close to where the ski-lift dropped us off. Heading up to the ridge
So for me, the jury is still out as to whether a location can store, like a battery, psychic or ethereal energy, or whether negative or positive frequencies dissipate the moment an event finishes, like unused electricity.
Or is human perception of energetic frequency based mostly on manipulation of the mind?

How many people would be able to walk into a clean bright house without prior knowledge that a some horrific event took place there a week ago, and tell you the space was negatively charged? Similarly, if you primed most people with false information of a tragedy taking place, I'm willing to bet a high percentage of them would report feeling, to put it in scientific terms, the "heebie-jeebies."
beauty in Patogonia, Bariloche
wow, just wow

ridge view of Patagonia
a view from the ridge

It seems to me that if there is a Oneness of all things, a singular energy from which all matter originates; as human beings our lives are analogous to a drop of water which momentarily escapes the surface of a vast and deep sea, and for a blip in relative time yells, "Look at me!" while floating above for 50, 80, 100 years, before merging once again with the greater ocean of energy.
If this is the case, if everything is one, how then can a location have a greater level of spirituality than another?
Bariloche- cycling around the lakes
Bariloche- cycling around the lakes
Allow me to explain in relative human terms, rather than cosmically as I discuss above:
For me, when I speak of spiritual places, they are areas of such astounding natural beauty that the mind gets inundated with so much "awe," that our continual and habitual thought processes short-circuit. For these brief periods of time, as it ceases activity, we have no mind, and as the cloud of thought which obfuscates our internal light dissipates, the naturally bubbling energy, the presence within everyone, that which continually governs our body- causing our heart to beat, our lungs to breathe, our cells to divide, that which was present long before we were born, runs through us today, and will be here for eons after our physical form dissolves ... As we become aware of the true energy that we are born of, a lightness, a sense of dynamic love overtakes us, and our bodies feel completely alive and electrified (at least this my experience.)
ascending Mount Tronodar on the Chilean/ Argentinian border 
And to me, this is the meaning of spirituality; to connect with and explore the depths of our being. There are an infinite number of paths to get there, (we can turn any moment into a meditation) but I truly believe for a majority of people, any location of such mind blowing natural beauty makes it more likely that a gap in thought will occur, and enables us to dive into the vast ocean of energy from which our lives sprung.
Patagonia, Argentina is one these heavenly locations, and for this reason, I nominate it as: The World's Most "Spiritual" Place.
the fall colors of Patogonia
the fall colors of Patagonia

carved by glaciers like a razor blade
carved by glaciers like a razor blade- on a hike in Patagonia

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Look, Taste, + Feel of Buenos Aires, Argentina

a fountain in a Palermo park
Buenos Aires, with her gigantic open green spaces and beautiful architecture, reminds one more of a European capital than any South American city; most of which are best viewed by the blind.

The Palermo area contains vast, well kept parks featuring small lakes, towering sculptures, rose gardens, huge old trees, and as much space as you dream of for outdoor dance classes, rollerblading, running, and cycling alike.
The nearby Japanese gardens, zoo, and casino are additions denizens of Baires consider themselves fortunate to have. (well, perhaps not the casino)
I pedal a bicycle past the parks and embassies down Avenida del Libertador, a street as wide as most oceans but taking longer to cross.
the beautiful parks of Palermo

obelisk, Buenos Aires (BA)
I stop and gaze obligatorily at the Obelisk, an Argentinian national monument, whose phallic shape was once covered by a giant pink condom to commemorate World AIDS day in 2005.

the National Theater- architecture reminds me of the Swedish Royal palace
Casa Rosado

The buildings in the city's center are quite pleasing to the eye, and smaller parks continue to populate the avenues as I veer off to search for Casa Rosado, the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina.
Nearby, tourists crowd around to watch the changing of the guard, and veterans stage a small rally so that their contributions (and minimal monthly benefits) are not forgotten.
changing of the guard

monuments + nice architecture of Buenos Aires

I ride through a green light, a car screeches it's brakes, skidding to a stop, nearly plowing into me, in an what was no doubt an effort to help the Portenyos (denizens of Baires) keep their long-held crown as the world's most asshole drivers. Rest assured they're in no danger of losing their grip on the title any time soon. 

Prices in Argentina, and specifically Buenos Aires, are far higher than the rest of South America. Aside of rent, the city is almost on par with Los Angeles. Most people here struggle to make ends meet, and with corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle combined with high inflation, it's no wonder there is so much political unrest. No one, not even the wealthy, have any faith in the system. 
a gay restaurant in San Telmo . What gave it away Rich?
The one uniting factor is soccer, the nation's passion. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, "futbol" plays on TV. If not a game from Argentina, then Europe, or even Asia. Cafes and restaurants caught showing something else instantly lose their business licenses.
the streets of San Telmo
I stop by an expansive outdoor weekend market in San Telmo which covering several blocks, vendors and artisans hawking their wares hoping to attract, well, tourists like me. I become entranced with a sculpture of a tree branch, a hummingbird and butterfly adorning the wooden flowers. I purchase the exquisite piece for $100, without a word's negotiation.

The streets are alive, from outdoor asado (barbecue) restaurants which are of excellent value for the carnivores here, to outdoor dancing, both tango and rave.
No matter how dark or late it might seem, the truth is, it's still early. Argentinians normally start their weekends with a dinner at 10 or 11 PM and regularly stay out until dawn. They think I'm kidding when I tell them the last movies of the day start playing at 8 PM in Santa Barbara.
"Movies start at 1:30 AM here all the time," comes back the retort ... Good thing high quality coffee is sold on every corner.
So, yes, Buenos Aires is definitely worth the visit, with tons to see and do, streets alive with energy, and plenty of places to simply relax and watch the world go by. It's also far safer than most South American cities; provided you stay off the roads.
A taste of Argentine culture- the streets of Buenos Aires

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Soccer- the Religion of Argentina; the Pope's Team- Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro

Argentina is a pretty permissive society. You can trade spouses, convert to a new religion, go Caitlin Jenner with your sexual orientation, even join ISIS and all of Buenos Aires will still welcome you into their homes with open arms. 
But dare betray your fellow fans by switching allegiances to another soccer team and you will be burned at the stake as a heretic. They take place in a central city plaza- five last year. 

Needless to say I was excited to take part in the passion of South America (I brought a book of matches) and with an invite from my friend Bebeto, I'm quickly being whisked towards the stadium of Club Atletico San Lorenzo which is located in one of the worst slums of Baires, an area annexed by immigrants from South America's poorest countries (Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay.)
"Villa"- Argentinian word for "slum," near San Lorenzo stadium. Newer cars are of fans 

Their illegally built shanty towns are unlikely to be featured in the next issue of Architectural Digest. On game day, the presence of law enforcement is required to safely park and navigate the neighborhood. The area referred to as "1-11-14," on the opposite side of the stadium, police deem too dangerous to enter themselves.

We walk to the nearby athletic fields for the pre-game asado- Argentinian barbecue, similar to American tailgating. Everyone here has known each other for years, often decades, lifelong fans. Of course they're lifelong fans, there really isn't another viable option; you think I was kidding about what they do to traitors?
How much pride do soccer fans take in their allegiances? Bebeto's father has paid a $200 yearly fee for his youngest son's membership card since birth, and the boy at age 3 is still not old enough to safely attend games.
Wait? It's just a sporting event. What's the risk in bringing a toddler? hahahahahaha ... Let me fill you in.
  • Opposing teams have been pepper sprayed from the stands. 
  • There used to be a designated section of the stadium for rival fans, but they often found ways to "bleed" into the home team crowd, resulting in huge brawls which filled the local hospitals. Today opposing fans have been Banned from attending each other's games nationwide ... It was ultimately cheaper to give up those ticket sales. 
  • Avalanches- literally fans celebrating a goal by doing a sort of vertical "wave" falling onto people in the row in front of them, a game of vertically plunging human dominos has created a morbid tradition- when the home team scores, its fans die. 
  • There is a real home-field advantage as referees who make a call the fanatics find disagreeable are sometimes killed. They'll think twice before awarding a penalty kick to the visitors. (True Fact: Soccer refs in South America are ineligible to purchase life insurance policies.)
So you'll forgive Bebeto's father for merely bringing the likeness of his son via his membership card photo to the game.
you can watch an avalanche (seconds 7-16 only)

But back to the asado; multiple chorizo (sausage) sandwiches are fired from a canon into my open hand. Mountains of meat here, nearly impossible to be a vegetarian in Argentina. The fans are friendly and welcoming, which be might partly due to the the free flowing Fernette (alcohol) and Coca-Cola mixed-drink, arriving via shared, giant plastic cups.
One of the drunken leaders (in both senses) winks at me, pours a generous amount of extra Fernette into the make-shift glass, stirring its contents with his what could politely be described as a "grimy"finger, then hands me the cup ... I bring it to my lips, pretending to take a sip not only in an effort to maintain rapport, but also to avoid catching typhoid.
Every few minutes the fans break out into impromptu, minute long cheers for their beloved team, a team they will support until they die.
the pre-game asado- FC San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo stadium
Eventually game time arrives, and people pour into the stadium under police super-vision. There are different sections, the youth section, where the fans jump up and down, vociferously cheering the entire game. Once you save enough money you can upgrade your tickets to our section where you must merely stand until the final whistle blows.
Our opponents are the Hurricanes, a team which was recently upgraded from the inferior "B" division, to Argentina's premier league. During warm-ups good natured and supportive fans of FC San Lorenzo remind the opposition of their humble beginnings, derisively chanting "Vos sos de la B! Vos sos de la B! Vos sos de la B!" (you are from the B!)
watch/ listen to fans taunting the visiting team- "Vos sos de la B!"

San Lorenzo stadium
Of course, what's the point in going to a sporting event without betting on it? Being the genius I am, a foolproof plan is at hand. You see, FC San Lorenzo is The Pope's team, having grown up in the area he's a lifelong fan; the head of Catholic Church is not exempt from the fate of a heretic.
My thinking- how is it possible to lose when God is on your side? As a man of action, I immediately bet the budget allotted for my trip.
All I can say is, I doubled my money to $200! Not that I should have won, frankly the "B" team outplayed San Lorenzo, but their shots barely missed their mark and twice caromed off the posts (God's work,) and San Lorenzo capitalized on one its few opportunities, and on this rare occurrence in an otherwise boring sport, the entire stadium erupted in a CraZy celebration. 
watch the fans' passion for the game, plus game highlights

And what a great time was had experiencing what I consider a cultural event singular to this area of the world. Say what you want about South America, with it's corrupt politicians, high inflation, uncertainty, and spouses with often wandering eyes, I will tell you true and monogamous love exists here; and its between fans and their soccer team.
Go San Lorenzo! Fan for life!
Bebeto, Martina, me- great time

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Argentina's #1 Host, AirBnb (in Bariloche)- Why You Should Use AirBnb

So most travelers often roll their eyes looking at hotel prices online, wishing they could save some of that money to spend on fun vacation activities. And we sit in front of our computers/ phones, debating budgets, and likely we've heard of AirBnb, and wonder if we should try it out, but maybe it seems like a hassle or perhaps we're just scared by the prospect of trying something new.

As a frequent traveler, let me explain why it's a no brainer for me, by relating to you my experience in Bariloche, Argentina.

I look at hotel prices online, and although there are some cheaper options, most decent places are $100 and up. Although the simplicity of a hotel can be appealing, whenever I consider that option, I realize that the one thing that I'm immediately going to be missing out on is the personal touch I receive from the various AirBnb hosts I've had.

So, comparing online, I find an AirBnb that looks very promising, my host's profile stating he's a nature lover and mountaineer. Knowing our similar interests, intuitively I imagine I'm going to get great recommendations on how to spend my time in the area. Plus, at the moment it's $33 a night ($44 on weekends) for an entire two story, two bedroom house which is a part of the duplex. Waaaayyyy more space than a hotel room, and the host has great reviews, so I book the place.
this is the view from atop the mountain the first ski-lift my host took me to
I arrive, with my host Adrian waiting outside on the street for me. He waves as my taxi drives by, we pull over.  His warmth is immediately palpable. We ascend a few stairs, to the duplex he and his wife own.
My name is on a welcome sign atop the table, which I find a warm, nice touch. After an early morning flight, and the usual rigmarole of travel, I'm hungry and thirsty. Ice water and a homemade plum pie sits beside the sign.
After giving me some time to decompress, he comes and makes suggestions as to where I should go for the afternoon as I definitely have enough daylight to go somewhere to enjoy my beautiful surroundings.
Lo and behold I need a bus card to get around. Guess what, my hosts have graviously supplied me one with 30 pesos on it, enough for a few rides. Adrain walks me to the bus station, and gets on the bus with me, making sure I get off at the right stop, then he literally guides me a kilometer down the road to the ski-lift, pointing out various points of local interest.
He leaves me to enjoy the scenery on my own, and checks on me via WhatsApp, to make sure I've returned home safely.
The next day he takes me on a hike, spending most of the of the afternoon with me. We go up the Catedral ski-lift, the mountain enveloped in snow. We climb up past a warning sign to the top of the ridge, witnessing a spectacular view I wouldn't have know otherwise existed if not for my host. He films me, as I deliver a message of seizing the day, and fulfilling our dreams without delay.
video from the hike and view which Adrian took me on

The next day, he spends hours arranging a hike for me, arranging for a fellow guide to take me up famed Mount Tronador. When he says he would have come with me if he had the time, I completely believe him. He loans me gloves, a warm hat, a sleeping bag, a backpack, and not surprisingly far more to insure a safe and great trip up the mountain.
another view 
When I return, I stay a couple more days with my hosts.
Adrian, of course continued to go out of his way to insure I had the best time possible. It's the personal touch that most AirBnb hosts (who are often travelers as well) attempt to make for their guests, as they understand that saving you time by and allowing you to access their local tie-ins (friends to meet, restaurant recommendations, short-cuts, hidden gems etc.) is key, not only for you, but for them and their reviews which in turn gets them recurring business. It truly is a virtuous loop.
Finally after 7 days of exploring beautiful Patagonia (originally I thought only 3 days would I stay) it as time to go.
Adrian shared the cab with me into town, and as the bus was leaving, and I didn't have time to go to the ATM, he pulled a 100 pesos out of his pocket and handed it to me to make sure I'd have some spending money before I got to Chile. (it sounds crazy, but it's a 100% true)

Look, Adrian and his wife were Beyond Generous with their time and resources. I have never had an experience which quite matched it, but most AirBnb hosts go out of their way to insure you have fabulous time.  I really don't know how much more I would recommend AirBnb, it's both a superior overall experience to a hotel, and far cheaper.
And if you luck out and have hosts as incredible as Adrian and his wife, then be absolutely grateful that a service like AirBnb exists, which makes it possible to meet such awesome people.
Happy travels!
here's Adrian as we ready to jump the fence- such a cool guy!

If you want to book with Adrian and his wife and are already a member of AirBnb and are headed to Bariloche Book with Adrian here

If you are new to AirBnb click here to sign-up and receive a free $20 travel credit towards your first stay

can Patagonia get any prettier?