Thursday, November 28, 2013

Iceland: Hut, Hut, Hike!

America and Iceland define “intermediate” in decidedly different ways.  Here, when applied to a physical activity, “intermediate” suggests you may need to stand up.  There, it means “in all likelihood, you’ll die.”  So should you visit Iceland and go on an “intermediate hike,” as Maggie and I so unsuspectingly did, I offer you this guide that you might learn from our mistakes and perhaps live to tell the tale.

Pro Tip 1: Pick an honest guide.  To determine if a guide is honest, refer to their suggested packing list, and identify how many times the word “waterproof” appears.  For Iceland Mountain Guides, it was five, which put them just on the verge of veracity.  (Sun protection, on the other hand, was “optional.”  And highly optimistic.)  Once you have obtained your hiking attire, test it out by putting it on and throwing yourself into a swimming pool.  This simulates the experience that Icelanders call “going outside.”

Friday, November 1, 2013

Iceland: There's No Business Like Snow Business

Iceland is called Iceland for a reason.  10% of the country consists of glaciers, and the other 90% is snowy volcanos with little regard for European air space.  According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, “Iceland is actually green land, and Greenland is ice land,” but don’t listen.  They’re attempting to lure you to their country without sufficient winter wear so they can sell you very expensive coats.

In fact, Iceland’s entire publicity machine is geared toward making the country sound comfy/cozy, as opposed to freezing/oh-my-god-it’s-coldy.  On Icelandair, the planes have cute names (“Grab√≥k, the Friendly Volcano”), and the seats’ bibs announce “The most incredible thing about Iceland is…” and end in a variety of predicates, including “The prime minister is listed in the phone book” or “We have no army, navy, or air force [but don’t tell Germany].”  Only when you land in Iceland and promptly lose all feeling in your toes, do you realize that something more perfidious may be afoot.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Final Peril of Argentina: The Arts

The arts are huge in Argentina.  Even in times of fiscal crisis, the government generously endows its concert halls, and the results sing for themselves.  For example, the Teatro Colon looks like a train station and, given the six-hour operas performed there, is only slightly less entertaining than one.

Wherever you walk in Buenos Aires—and I do suggest that you walk—art and culture thrust themselves upon you.  Outside the Recoleta Cemetery, tango dancers dance, bodybuilders flex, and jewelers hawk their wares.  A few blocks away, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes provides free admission to those in search of expressionism, or you can stroll around the Floralis Generica, a giant metal flower in the United Nations Plaza.  The flower’s purpose is unclear, but given its location, one assumes it hates America.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Second Peril of Argentina: Transportation

In Buenos Aires, the bus system operates under the philosophy of “eh, you wouldn’t understand; just take a cab.”  Lonely Planet washes its hands of explication, and even if you know your bus stop, number, and route, there’s a 15% chance it will take you to your destination, and an 85% chance it will take you to La Boca where you will be stabbed.

If you’re lucky enough to travel by private bus, after a 15-minute welcome video which explains the concept and execution of seatbelts for those who have never seen seat nor belt, they play New Year’s Eve and Pirates of the Caribbean 4 until walking or death seems preferable.

To avoid buses entirely, when I daytripped to Colonia, Uruguay, I traveled by boat.  Now, I’ve ridden boats before.  I sailed through icebergs in Alaska, back when there were icebergs, and I’ve visited Staten Island four times, which makes me either rugged or insane.  However, the Colonia Express was different.  It was...bouncy.

The Three Perils of Argentina

a decade ago, with my Cub Scout training not yet forgotten, I was a prepared traveler.  Before backpacking through Italy, I took a year of Italian, seven of Latin, and could easily differentiate between composers and pastas, Pu- and fettuccini.  However, as I’ve approached thirty, my preparations have dilapidated in direct proportion to my hairline.  Where once I spent weeks poring over Lonely Planet and crafting every aspect of my trip, now I think of a place from a musical, buy a plane ticket, and hope it all works out.

Which brings me to Argentina.

As I boarded the plane to Buenos Aires, my understanding of Argentine history was as follows: indigenous people (Incans?) lived there until conquistadors did their thing; said thing included churches, tango huts, and the Ezeiza International Airport; eventually, Patti LuPone was elected first lady, which really pissed off Mandy Patinkin, until she was replaced by Madonna in a midterm election.  There’s also steak.

Clearly, this history is incomplete—Elaine Page predated Patti LuPone—but I figured I would learn more along the way.  And learn I did, though my education covered a topic far more pernicious than history:

The Three Perils of Argentina.