A Shot to the Butt…

This Thursday, the 10th of March will mark one month since I’ve been here, which I can’t really believe myself.  So far, there’s only been one hospital visit—a little glitch in my stay, better known as a nasty foot infection.  A few weeks ago I had some pretty bad open blisters from walking around the city for so many days in sandals in this heat and it definitely got infected but then a huge rash appeared on the top half of my foot.  The next day I could not bend my toe from it being so swollen. I went straight to the pharmacy explaining everything and I walked away with some antibiotics and something to help with the swelling.  I got better within 3 days and the exotic rash turned from red to purple and finally disappeared.  Phew. 

1st infection: Pic does not do it justice...it's what's underneat that's pretty gnarly...

Fast forward to running in Uruguay along the paved beach walkways in the 80 something degree heat.  Blisters on each pinky toe.  The next morning a discomfort in each foot wakes me up and I can barely hobble to the pharmacy to ask for more meds.  The nice pharmacy ladies say they can try giving me more antibiotics, but I should go to the doctor.   Hours and hours waiting in a public hospital, waiting for a lady to round the corner and see how funny “Brewer” sounds being yelled in Spanish, since it sounds more like “Brow-Air”, and watching wounded soccer players and other city dwellers hobble out of a room with some make shift sling or hopping on one foot and grabbing a hold of the wall because they didn’t have crutches, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and left.  I called Sis, the organizer of our soccer team who has lived here for two years and is EMT trained.  She recommended a clinic where I wouldn’t have to wait and would pay about 15 dollars to be seen.  I finally made it and saw an Armenian/Argentine doctor who told me I needed stronger antibiotics and needed to rest and not do anything for an entire week because the foot is such a hard place to heal since it’s always sweating and always dirty.  What? Rest? But I am bike touring tomorrow!  She shot me a face of disappointment that I could barely make out in the dark office that was a hybrid of an old school house and convent.  She also wrapped up both my feet in a way that I could still hobble away in sandals, since 3 of my 5 toes on both feet were fighting infection and she wished me luck with my new fashion.  I always try and play down the fact that I am a foreigner here.  Having my feet both mummified in gauze did not really help my cause while riding the bus and stopping at the pharmacy…

I totally blend in here, from my hair to my toes.

I’d like to conclude this entry, knowing I’ve omitted some important details, with something that I think deserves to be printed online.  When I went to the pharmacy with my 3 prescriptions, 2 of which were for pills, and the other a shot of cortisone to help the swelling in my infected feet, the cute young pharmacist asked me if I wanted to buy the shot, “with or without pain” and laughed, waiting for my nervous facial expression to produce an answer.  Turns out, when you need a shot, it’s done at the pharmacy, and it’s given to you in a little room in the back of the pharmacy, and given to you right in the butt!  I asked, what about the arm, like we do at home? They said the butt is a much better place to give injections.  With my Frankenstein feet, and now a swollen ass, I had plenty of conversational topics to provide at an asado rooftop party on Friday night that Jenn, an American on my soccer team, and her Brazilian roommate were hosting to celebrate her roommates two year anniversary here in Argentina.  I don’t know what’s worse; having to explain the dirtiness of my feet to innocent strangers at a party, or to walk into the party and be introduced to a huge group of Argentines as Hanna and have them all look at me and say, “Ah! Hanna Montana!!!”


¡Ay, Qué Divino!

Everywhere you turn, at some overpriced furniture shop, café, at a crosswalk, walking on the beach, one cannot run from the ubiquitous expression of Punta Del Este (East Point), which is, “Ay, How Divine!”  What packs a little more punch in its pompousness, in my (humble) opinion is the way it’s said:  “Ay, How Di-viiiiiiiiiiiine” (try it perhaps with a British accent—does it sound like something you’d say after taking a sip of some after dinner palate cleanser in a posh beachside bar?)  Bienvenidos a Punta del Este, Uruguay.  From the moment I arrived, I thought I was back in St. Tropez in 2009, visiting Reidar and his family, but instead found myself on the other side of the equator and globe, along the Atlantic Coast with some Europeans, but mostly Argentines who inundate the beaches for their summer vacations.

Here I thought I was the creative one, dubbing Punta Del Este the St. Tropez of South America, until I found a magazine article with the same exact introduction.  It’s an infinite stretch of coastline on a peninsula, so no matter which road you take from the center of town you’ve got gorgeous beaches offering something for every type of beach-goer.  Fishermen? Surfers? Nudists? Minimalists? Ivana Trumps? Kid friendly?  I think that’s what I most enjoyed about experiencing a fabulous 4 day stay in Uruguay with Javier, his brother Eugenio, his girlfriend Bernardita, and their son Felipe, was that there really is something for everyone in Punta del Este. If you want to go to be seen, there’s plenty of that. If you want to be the only one for miles on a beach with sand dunes and no life guard, you’ll find it there too. 

Arriving and heading for the City Center

La Playa Gruta: heaven

 Because I am a foreigner, it is extra expensive for me to take the 2 hour ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and then a quick 2 hr drive to the beach from the Uruguayan capital. We’re talking 300 U.S Dollars, plus the expense to bring Javier’s car on the ferry, so we did the 7.5 hour drive instead.  With me serving up Yerba Mate for the entire car ride, and with Marcos, a friend we were bringing to his family’s house in Punta del Este playing on the guitar in the backseat, we passed the hours and somehow made it through a little glitch we had at border control over proof of car insurance (slipping cash to border patrol) and we pulled into Marco’s incredible, brand new, house in the quiet, undeveloped stretch of Punta Del Este at around 11:30 at night with his dad, Gorge and Gorge’s girlfriend Celia waiting to serve us a phenomenal asado.  Needless to say, Javier and I pulled into the apartment where Eugenio was staying at around 2:30 am.

Our enternainment, Marcos, for the 7 hour car ride

Gorge, Javier's business partner, prepping our midnight asado!

Another memorable Asado paired with some sweet ocean breeze!

 The days passed on the beach, with breaks to sip Yerba Mate, explore old caves that used to be discotecas and bars, eat churros filled with Dulce de Leche, nap, eat dinner and the delicious, refreshing ice cream here, shower, notice new tan lines, and feel sleepy from doing nothing.  On our last night I told Eugenio, Javier, and Bernardita, that I’d like to take them out to dinner, after hosting us for 4 days of their vacation.  It felt so nice to be able to treat them to a dinner, until I went to pay with my credit card and the place didn’t accept credit cards.  Quick flash of red to the cheeks, mixed with a little sweating and a lot of “Perdón”, I had to let Eugenio pay in cash and I instead left a thank you note with some Uruguayan dollars stuffed inside for the rest of their week of vacation, as Javier and I left on Tuesday night at 2 am for a Wednesday morning arrival of 9 am in Buenos Aires, so he could go to work, and I could interview with the Bike tour Company. (Javier let me drive on the high way for an hour so he could rest, after I basically slept the entire night like a very bad co-pilot).

Felipe enjoying his first time in the ocean!

Tia Hanna y Felipe soaking up the sun and surf

Another typical day: the 3 muchachos taking a break from the sun

Sometimes it felt like you could be on the coast of Maine, until you look around and realize everyone is carrying a Mate bag and sipping Yerba

Our 2nd Asado at Gorge and Celia's house on their backyard terrace

A little twist of fate happened on that night we left Punta del Este and arrived in Argentina on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday night I found out I still don’t have work with Backroads in May, and it was another frustrating moment checking our online system to see if a location appeared next to my name as I logged in.  Negative.  Here’s to waiting until April 1st to see where I’ll be in June, with a strong possibility of Maine, which I would be thrilled to return to.  On Wednesday afternoon, groggy from a 8 hour car ride through the night, I showed up to my “interview” with Mirta, the head of the bike tours in Buenos Aires.  I say “interview” because it was more of her telling me about the job and me saying, “Where do I sign?” 

The work is very part time, very flexible, and even something that you can pick back up if I ever came back to Buenos Aires (hmmmm…don’t tempt me!).  What is difficult is the amount of new information I need to study for every stop we make in a 3.5 hr bike tour, for our 3 different tours we offer.  If that isn’t a lot, the routes can be a little dicey, going against traffic half the time, not being on bike lines all the time, fighting against car drivers in a culture that always believes they deserve to go first.  We have people from all over the world giving tours, but we always use Spanish amongst employees, and then usually the tours are in English.  I spent Friday and all of Saturday following two of our routes and tomorrow I will learn the last of our routes.   I’d still like to find something else to supplement this work, as it really might cover the expenses of buying fruit for a week, but I can’t complain with a job that keeps me outside, moving, and being with people.

Tomas, Andres and I, about to embark on the southern route of our bike tour

In front of the Rio Plata, the widest river in the world! Colonia, Uruguay is some 200 kms across the Delta

Netflicks, but with Humans

I am officially a member of the local DVD video store! Last night I wanted to rent “The Town” to show Javier a bit of Boston and Charlestown—and once I found out that he’s never seen Good Will Hunting, that’s definitely going to be the next one on the rental list. A classic!  He said he liked the Towne because it didn’t end like “all the other Yankee films”.  “What do you mean by, all the other Yankee films?”  He says, “Happily ever after in one of those big houses, big cars, ya know everything big.”  Talk about learning from another perspective.  Everything is “too easy” and “too big” in America…even down to the size of my tooth paste tube.

Back to my membership at the DVD store:  I paid the 3 dollars for the DVD and like anywhere, was told about how long I could keep the movie and then the nice man said something that I thought for sure I misunderstood.  “Qué? Repite. You mean you are going to deliver the DVD to my house the first time I rent it? But I live right down the street, I can just take it now, unless this is a rule or something?”  “Yes, the first DVD you rent, we deliver to your house, it’ll be there in 5 minutes. After that, you can rent the movies here or you can call and we will deliver it to your house.” (as a teenage boy in the back of the counter flickered a smile my way letting me know he was waiting to vrrooom vroom up his moto and deliver the dvd).  Sure enough, about 2 minutes after I walked in the door, sounded the buzzer with the 15 year old waiting at the door with my first DVD rental.  Netflicks for humans, what a concept! I just kept saying thank you over and over, not really knowing what to make of the whole thing.

Next week I have an interview with a bike tour company in Buenos Aires that gives daily tours around the city for about 3 hours each tour.  I went to give my resume to the director when I saw her on a tour last week and then I played soccer that night and told one of the girls on my team, Ana, how I had applied, and one thing led to another, with this small little world we live in, and she works there too.  It would be the perfect part time gig that would work with my schedule here, and to be outside on a bike: utopia!

Yesterday I spent most of my day in San Isidro, a nice suburb 20 minutes by train from my neighborhood of Belgrano. The equivalent in Boston would be like heading out to Belmont or Arlington.  Liz (my Camp cheff assistant, Backroads leader) did an exchange program here and her family in North Carolina continues to host kids from the school in San Isidro and vice versa in San Isidro for kids from Charlotte.  Liz put me in touch with her host mom, Maria who has seven kids and is the director of the entire English/bilingual/exchange program at the local private school for k-12.  What a day I had meeting Maria at her school, learning about the programs there, and then meeting her two youngest sons Tomas and Juako and chatting over coffee and Dulce de Leche, about her sons experiences in North Carolina (which includes a Bottle of BBQ sauce in their fridge), and about my connection with Liz through Backroads.

Juako, starting university, and Tomas, in high school in their backyard.

Maria y yo en San Isidro!

It was such a unique experience to be visiting the school at this time because the teachers and students start their new school year in a week, now that summer is ending.  I walked in to that distinct environment you can practically smell in the air, of summer ending and another school year beginning. Scrubbing floors, dusting off supplies, all the teachers were prepping their rooms, or hearing that they were all of a sudden teaching a different grade then they had planned for, and asking where their books were in the attic, the school nurse organizing and stocking materials, all the same exact things we teachers do every fall around the world.  It was a little blast from the past for me, now that I’ve been away from teaching since last June. 

Prepping a 4th grade classroom!

The main Plaza separating each wing of the different grades. So pretty!

Maria is looking into having me be a part of the high school “Global Perspectives” class to come in once or twice a week and present topics on the U.S or any of my previous travels and work part time there, and also helping students who need more challenging English conversation opportunities.  I think if I can make this work with bike touring, I’ll have a hard time leaving Buenos Aires!  (Don’t worry, Mom). It’s really quite perfect because she knows I am leaving in May, but wants to try and take advantage of my native English skills and bring them to the school if possible.  Any other teaching position I apply for here is tough to get if I honestly tell them I’m leaving in May, so this may be the perfect happy-medium.

Maria and her family have hosted students from around the world, opening their home to anyone coming through San Isidro who needs a place to stay, like Justa and Edguardo did many times for a full year with exchange students like Angie.  I am humbled by the amount of people that welcome me with open arms here.  I am forever appreciative and thankful for that. 

Gotta go return that DVD and figure out the translation for “Good Will Hunting” in Spanish.  More Futból tonight! Love from the land of “Good Air”. Miss you all!

A Porteña Weekend

Porteña: An Argentine who is Born, Bred, and Livin’ la Vida in Buenos Aires–and exactly the way of life I tried to absorb as much as I could have this weekend.  With an offer from Javier to head to Luján, where he’d be with his friends on Saturday and Sunday, I politely declined, knowing I’d love to continue piecing together this huge city with distinct neighborhoods and hundreds of bus lines.

To piggy back on one note in my last entry about my current pseudonyms I’ve adopted in Argentina…is one more name that I’d  be prone to classify more as a nickname that I didn’t quite ask for.  Last Thursday night I went to drop my laundry off at Rosario’s, a nice place conveniently across the street, and when the woman asked for my name to write on the ticket, she looked at me with a face of misunderstanding and passed me the pen to write it myself.  That’s when her husband chimed in cheerfully behind her with, “Hanna” “Hanna Montana!”    I replied, with a bit of Miley Cyrus’s teenage energy, “Sí, como Hanna Montana!”. 

Immediately after dropping off the laundry, I went to the gym a few blocks away to get a free week pass to try all the classes and when the nice sales representative took my name she said, “Hanna, Como Hanna Montana!” followed by an expression asking for my approval and also letting me know how proud she was of making the connection.  As if the gym and laundry place weren’t enough, I’ve got Javier coming back from work reading up on some tabloid about Hanna(h) Montana fighting with her family and asking me about it as if I were Miley Cyrus myself. Now it’s just a running joke, “Yes, another day fighting with my family over my fame and money”…

Apparently Hanna Montana is workin’ it in Buenos Aires and the paparazzi haven’t had a chance to catch her yet.   She’s been too busy scoring goals at soccer matches and picking up one on one English classes to help a high school student prepare for some upcoming exams.  Fantástico! I was going to have an interview for a language institute but once I told them I was only here until May 4th, they told me they needed someone more permanent.

Here’s an observation from my city filled weekend.  Argentine women under the age of 50 ALL have long hair. Yes, I just made a generalization that I’d stand behind 100%. At least I can pretend to blend in just a wee bit. Plus, every other corner in my neighborhood is a hair salon advertising hair extensions.  Long Hair is IN.

Friday night was eating yet another delicious asado at a restaurant in Cañitas, a great part of the neighborhood Belgrano that I live in right now with Javier’s three other good friends.  It’s so overwhelming having a menu with about 30 different cuts of meat to choose from, I always find myself asking the real Porteños what I should order.  Leaving there around midnight, we headed to the neighborhood I’ll be moving to soon to live with Roberta, in a cute little part called Palermo Soho with neighborhood cocktail bars on every corner.  We stayed out until 4 am or so like a good Porteño would, which killed half my Saturday—which a real Porteño wouldn’t think twice of.   

Mmm Slabs of Meat and sweet potato puree, and good company!

A groggy Saturday led to whipping up some scrambled eggs and teaching Javier what Brunch is back home. I never really thought I liked brunch so much until I started describing to Javier what it’s all about and my mouth started watering.  A lazy Saturday morning also meant taking advantage of that free gym pass later in the afternoon! I called up Luicina, who plays on my Wednesday soccer league and we went spinning until every last pore was sweating out Friday night’s fun.  What do I like most about Argentina’s spin classes? When entering and leaving the class, you pass through the door in a single file and greet the athletic male instructor with a kiss on the cheek.  What a nice way to start and end a gym session.

At night I found myself wishing I had someone to call and see a movie with, but I happily went about 6 blocks away to the nearest cinema and saw a late night showing of The King’s Speech that is up for a lot of nominations, and I would definitely recommend.  While I wish it had been in Spanish, it cracked me up that everyone sits so low in their seats in the movie theaters here, and I quickly realized it’s so everyone can see the subtitles that always seem to appear on the bottom of the screen. (hehe)

Ah, finally a good night’s sleep.  Sunday welcomed me with sun and a cool breeze heading to meet Roberta in her neighborhood for a walk around the huge green botanical gardens and parks near her apartment, followed by a bit of yoga in the park.  A few hours later I found myself heading back downtown, hustling to get to my soccer tournament game for 5:00, which really didn’t start until 5:30 (typical).  This was a great outdoor space along the Rio del La Plata, the most eastern part of the city. We won! We actually ended up playing a group of women who played a bit dirty and were incredibly pushy with the ref not making any calls.  It was all fine until Becky, a girl on our team went to head the ball against one of these brutes, when they knocked heads, which resulted in Becky hitting the astroturf and having blood above her eyebrow immediately spurt everywhere. Sissela, the organizer of all our soccer games is EMT trained and was yelling for gauze and tape and water in Spanish and English until all the necessary supplies arrived.  She’ll definitely need stitches with a deep gouge above the brow, but we all hope Becky will be back playing in no time.

The Boys playing along side the Plata River

An action shot of our team, "The Outsiders", no team photo after Becky's injury on the field!

Instead of taking the subway home, I took a local bus that a few girls on my soccer team in the same direction and with a glass of Malbec by my side, I sign off at 11:35 pm, with the feeling of a complete Porteña weekend to cross off on my to-do list.

The Yankee is Back in BsAs

It’s been exactly a week since I landed at the Ezeiza International Airport and paid a new $140 entrance tax, that’s apparently good for 10 more years.  This was implemented recently because there was no such thing in 2006 when I last came through Buenos Aires.  Apparently the trick is to enter the country at any other airport or location in the country and that $140 can just go right towards endless bottles of delicious Malbecs, or empanadas, or both!  If only the U.S, Canada, and Australia didn’t make it so expensive and difficult for Argentineans to enter our countries for vacation, we’d all just be sharing Malbecs all over the world, now wouldn’t we?

Yankee. Gringa. Americana. La Rubia de Chajarí. My new pseudonyms– or the security guard of the apartment building who can’t seem to say my name without an “S” at the end.  “Buenas Noches Hannas” That’s a new one.

The “Rubia de Chajari” has been a joke since I came and met the Marsó family almost 5 years ago.  When I arrived to Concordia, a city along the Paraná River, minutes from Uruguay, Justa and Edguardo picked me up and took me straight to “Las Termas”—thermal pools.  When we were paying the entrance fees Justa told me to say I was from Chajari, about 100 km from Concordia, because they’d charge me more for being a visitor, and mostly because apparently there are a lot of blondes in Chajari.  Funny enough, years later, Javier, his friend Denise, and I went dancing last Saturday in Chajari and I kept joking with everyone in the morning that I found my blonde long lost relatives in a discoteca in Chajarí (while I may be exaggerating about how many relatives I found, one truth is that the average age at the discoteca was about 16, in which case I just felt like I was dancing around a bunch of my high school students. Dios Mio!)

Since I have landed here, it’s been about 80 something degrees and sunny every day and I immediately made sure I got my two fixes: a proper asado–grilled varieties of different meats, and incredible baked empanadas.  Every day I wake up and I am so thankful for the amount of people I have here who are always looking out for me. I always hope there will be a day when I can do the same for the Marsó family in Boston and all of the wonderful people I met in 2006 that I will spend the next three months visiting. Since the moment I’ve landed I’ve been spoiled.  From airport Pick-up, to borrowing a cell phone all hooked up and ready to use from Javier’s business, to doing laundry back in Concordia where we spent the weekend, to being invited to Sunday Asados surrounded by huge groups of fabulous Argentinos, having rides for the first time to the site of my weekly, late night Soccer games, to having friends to cook dinners with, and for weekends planned for the next month including beaches, ATV-ing in Sand Dunes, and Wakeboarding.  

Spending the weekend with the Marso family in Concordia!

Javier, getting his ATV ready for the sand dunes in a few weekends

 Mostly, I am thankful for the constant company. To arrive to a foreign place with the only goal of re-immersing myself in the Spanish language and to have that one requirement as accessible to me as a visitor continues to amaze me on a daily basis.  It can be very tough to make friends in a new city with foreigners and equally it’s all too easy to become friends with all the ex-pat Americans and speak English all day.  It’s ALL about the networking and of course, giving back. Travel Karma, how I love thee.

Sunday Asado at Carlo's house--I've waited 5 long years for this!

Some of my 1st week favorites and highlights:

  • Meeting Felipe, Eugenio’s 5 month old baby. Eugenio is one of the 4 Marsó brothers, who I traveled with for a week in ’06. 

    Baby Felipe with Abuela Justa!

  • Meeting up with Adam for the past two days, a Backroads leader who was en route to Calafate to lead in Patagonia and Bariloche.  We found the best empanada restaurant in the Recoleta Neighborhood called “SanJuanín” and it was filled to the brim with locals.  We found a gem within a touristy area!

    We found the empanada gem of buenos aires! SanJuanin!

Backroads Leader Adam experiencing the hydrolic/solar flower that opens and closes with the sun

  • Playing Indoor Soccer in a 90 degree building (and I thought I couldn’t do hot yoga?) last night with a group of Argentine men cheering our team on, since women in Argentina rarely play soccer.   Thank goodness I played for the past month on a team in NH with Chanpheng, a high school soccer buddy. 
  • Walking to my little favorite new coffee shop with wi-fi a few blocks from Javier’s apartment, chatting with the staff, and sitting up on the terrace in the shade with a breeze and catching up with friends and family back home.
  • Finding out that Alison is going to come for 12 days in April on her teaching vacation. I cannot WAIT to plan something spectacular.  The vineyards would be in perfect season in Mendoza, so that is one idea we have.
  • Sitting around with the Marsó family and their friends and passing yerba mate around for hours.

Typical Kitchen. As many types of Mate as we have cereal.

  • Remembering how politics are something that you are asked for your opinion on within hours of sitting down for a dinner.  “Did you vote for Obama?”  “How do you think the U.S is doing?” “Why is Sarah Palin crazy and how is she a governor?” “What is Obama saying about Egypt?”  “Hillary Clinton?”, and things alike.  I always feel like I am one step behind them here with reading the latest news!
  • Visiting Roberta, a 40 year old single architect, and in the words of my mother, she is a “hot ticket!”  I met Roberta here in Buenos Aires two days ago, through Sarah in Boston.  Sarah met Roberta on medical mission trips to El Salvador that she does with her family every year.  Sarah put us in touch, and e-mail led to meeting for coffee, which turned in to eating dinner at Roberta’s chic apartment and her offering to rent her empty second bedroom to me for the months of March and April.  It’s a crazy networking world out there.  I’ll move in on March 7th and I will definitely miss the daily living with Javier, but I’ll be happy to have my own space too and continue to come cook with Javier all the time.
  • A highlight definitely worth noting:  No stomach problems as of yet! Yah! Definitely a highlight!
  • Not a highlight, not a favorite, but a regular part of life as a foreigner in Latin America: the hissing groups of men.  Hissing? Really Muchachos? That makes women want to run away, not come and talk to you.
  • I absolutely love adjusting to the accent and vocabulary specific to Argentina, but sometimes it makes it tougher to follow a conversation with words sounding quite different than Spain’s Castellano that I learned. Every day I learn new words that are used in Argentina’s Spanish, for example the world I know for a goalie in soccer “Portero”, is not anything close to the word that is used here.  It makes this all that much more of a cultural and language heavy experience. Me gusta mucho!
  • On Tuesday night, Fernando, another Marsó brother came through Buenos Aires for business. Fer and his aunt came over Javier’s place and we hosted an “Asado” Dinner.  Their arrival time? Typical 10:30 on Tuesday night. Departure time? 1:30 in the morning on Wednesday.  Javier had the meat grilling on his mini outdoor space and I was in charge of the sautéed vegetables.  I thought it would be really nice to have a little appetizer plate of grapes, cheese, crackers, and pistachios, so I put that out and put on some Gypsy Kings to really make our formal dinner night official.  The next thing I know, Javier’s aunt (who I stayed with in ’06 also) was staring at the plate and politely asked me, “How do I eat this? Show me”.   While I cracked up, she explained she wasn’t sure if you were supposed to have cheese and cracker and grape all at the same time? The three of them plowed through the Pistachios and said they never buy them or some haven’t tried them because it’s an expensive item here.  I guess the grapes were not a hit. I realized they might have thought, “Grapes (fruit) at 11 at night before dinner? That’s the last thing I want to eat before I dig in to a bunch of meat.”  Who really knows?  So I left the three of them thinking that Yankee’s eat odd appetizers like that in Gringo-landia.

Javier preparing another Asado for Fernando and his aunt!

  • Adding another brother to the dinner table resulted in me learning more and more inappropriate, albeit useful (!) vocabulary from hanging around a bunch of boys.  Why is always that kind of vocabulary that you end up remembering the most?!
  • Today I spent over an hour just exploring the isles at the grocery store, and also because it was so well air conditioned.  Grocery shopping with the 4 to 1 currency exchange is certainly a plus.  Four juicy, sweet oranges cost me 80 cents today!
  • I am deciding which cooking course to sign up for (1 week intense or 1/week for a month) at this famous cooking school down the street from my apartment! 

When I make an entire album of photos I’ll be sure to post the link! Can’t wait for e-mails and stories from back home!

Camp Ass and Sous, Who?

Camp Assistant (camp ass for short) and Sous Chef: Two job titles I never imagined acquiring with my degrees in Spanish and Teaching.  While it’s a bit weird kicking off my first blog entry of 2011, by turning time back to August 2010, I figure I just couldn’t skip over this wild week of insanity that would sure make for a new reality tv show on the Food Network:  Team Hanna Brewer and Liz Barry, housing and feeding an army of 25 for a week, all while dodging potential bear fights, fetching pails of water until your arms want to fall off, and peeling and chopping over 40 onions.   Food Network channel, where ARE you?! Anthony Bourdain, Samantha Brown, and Andrew Zimmerman, look out! Bobby Flay, come throw down with me! How would you make the best grilled Salmon, fresh rosemary foccacia bread, coffee cake, thai night, huevos rancheros, ghetto coffee, with make shift grills, a stove and 5 dutch ovens?

Fast forward to 2011.  Only New Years resolution: To make my blog entries more frequent, thus shorter, to appeal to more of my readers, a la all my best friends who always say the blog is realllllllly long, in the nicest way possible. Thanks for your honesty, my friends!

Sitting in a café in Buenos Aires with another 80 days of sunshine and summer south of the border, it’s going to be tough to sum up the last half of 2010, but I mostly want this entry to be dedicated to my week as a camp chef, which I am going to take the easy route out by supplying all the pictures–two sets, both mine, your host, “The Camp Chef”, and Liz’s—Camp Assistant extraordinaire.  Chef Hunz in action and Liz Camp Crew photos.

Playing Chef for 2 meals a day, for the last week of the summer, combined with camping in Yellowstone and the Tetons was like a little blow to my pampered hands and feet that had oh-so-quickly adapted to leading inn trips and showering in nice hotel bathrooms every night.  I thought the most pain I’ve ever felt was crossing the Boston Marathon finish line, which I describe as being hit by a Mack truck for about 15 minutes.  In no way is this a dramatization to say that every morning when my alarm went off in the very brisk mornings in Wyoming to get up in the dark, get out of my warm sleeping bag, and go fetch water to make the slowest drip coffee possible on this planet, did I feel like the horns of a Mac Truck carrying a load bricks was headed straight our campground and right through my precious, “rustic” Kitchen.  This was definitely the hardest working week of my summer with backroads, but it was also the best week I could’ve asked for to close out my season in Cowboy country.

Lucky for me, I had the best camp assistant possible by my side, and we would move camp almost every day, loading up 15 tents, drive to the next campground, unload the tents, pound 6 stakes for every tent, remove 6 stakes, load everyone’s heavy (and sometimes excessive) luggage into the corresponding tents, label the tents, draw a pic of the tent village labeled by last name. Now time to set up the kitchen, chop those onions, chop that cilantro and parsley that appear in every single recipe for the week, clean that pot you made lasagna in the night before, figure out which dish of 6 takes the longest to cook and start prepping! Oh, the appetizers! The guests will be back to the campground in no time! Find a fun play list on my I-pod and bust a move while it blares from my mini speakers sitting above my unkempt stove, next to my Corona. 

I think the two things I was most grateful for apart from my talented Sous Chef /Camp Ass Liz, were 1) My I-pod because without songs for hours of prepping, cooking, and cleaning and setting up tents, I think I would’ve went mildly crazy and 2) For my prior knowledge gained from the food industry, that is the topic of food presentation and quantity—how much is too little, too much, or just right to feed a group of 25.  By mid-week I was adding my own recipes to make the table more “well rounded” or a dish to appeal to vegetarians in addition to the many recipes that Backroads supplies.  Needless to say, I had guests asking for my song playlists and my additional recipes at the end of the week.  Success!

I am realizing how long this is already.  So here goes.  The Camping pictures speak for themselves.  I returned to our leader house in Jackson hole and had the duty of closing down our house fit for at least 20 people, with two kitchens, and three floors, and putting everything in storage for next year.  That was measured by the $120 of coin-op laundry I did for every sheet, comforter, towel, and pillow case,  the 20 mattresses we hauled out of the house, and that’s not counting futons, an office, and boxes of random leader souvenirs left behind, everything piled high in one single garage.  See ya later Jackson Hole with your stunning daily view of the Tetons mountain range….

…And welcome to Portland, Maine’s airport! I arrived at Midnight on September 8th, took a taxi to some address that was supposed to be my house in Westbrook for the next month and a half.  Lucky for me, I lived about 5 minutes from Uncle John and Aunt Susan’s house and had sushi dinner and the assistance of John’s pick up truck for some Backroads errands over the next month and a half.  It was wild to go from not knowing anyone in Jackson hole this summer, to be leading in a place surrounded by family and so close to home. I couldn’t have asked for better variety in my leading schedule.  In Maine, I led three glorious biking trips from Acadia to Deer Isle (Penobscot Bay) to Camden and back down to Portland and had a week off to get back to Boston to catch up with everyone.  Favorite day in the Maine trip? Sea Kayaking between the islands of Penobscot Bay and surprising our guests with a lobster bake complete with all the fixins on an island.  I LOVED teaching guests how to eat an entire lobster for their first time.

Close up Maine house with another wonderful and ever dynamic leader, Jess. Drive the Backroads Vans and a trailer from Maine to Salt Lake City, in 5 days.  Thank you Audio Books!  That was my first drive through our country and it was something I’ll never forget, mostly the look of all those mid-western small town, farmer men who would stop mid conversation, watch our 40 bikes, a trailer, and 2 vans  pull into rest stops and stare in the most obvious way possible at the two girls jumping out from the vans. Those looks were priceless!

Arrive to Salt Lake City, unload vans packed with all the stuff from Maine.  Sleep in Salt Lake City leader house. Drive to airport at 6 in the morning and I’m Barcelona Bound.  Train to Puigcerda, in the mountains in the north east corner of Spain and find my bike amongst 150 others so I can join in the fun of our company staff ride.  Five glorious days of biking up mountains, through ancient villages, tuning out like guests and arriving to a gourmet lunch without thinking anything of it, ride to the next quaint town, party, and then party some more, and then add some foam blasting machines to the party and you have our last night to say good bye to the Costa Brava. Oh could I move on without mentioning the massage tables waiting for us on the beach on the last day of our cycling journey to help bring our legs back to life? Or should I say, the male masseuse staring down at my odd padded spandex bike shorts asking me if I want the massage “Suave or Fuerte?”


All of us taking over another seaside village for a pit stop!

Spanish construction workers intrigued and amused by cycling chicks Hanna and Beth Hudock

Beth and I, pre-foam discoteca

Adios 150 backroads leaders and sunny Barcelona. God dag cheap flight to snowy and cold Norway in October to visit family again, a year after meeting them in the summer of 2009.  I had to borrow coats the entire week from Anita, Reidar’s wife!  What a fabulous nine days I spent seeing the family in their work and school routines.  I was also able to visit a few Norwegians I know through friends in the U.S, and also bake some American treats (pumpkin squares and banana bread) for the family.  Pumpkin doesn’t come in a can over there and finding Crisco equivalents and baking powder versus baking soda is always one of the best foreign cultural games to play when visiting other countries with a desire to do some baking–and those silly gram to tablespoon conversions.  I could definitely write a whole blog entry on that!

In front of the ski jump that was just being built when I was there in 2009!

Henriette walking Milo in Holmenkollen

Fredrik dressed as the perfect Harry Potter for Halloween in Norway!

Lauritz, a year and some months older than when I last saw him, and Elisabeth!


Home to NH, for the first time since summer breaks in college–bizarre and great at the same time.  One Pilates class led to another, which led to a family friend hiring me as a helper in the office of Lamprey Brothers, the Oil company in North Hampton.  Pilates class to office assistant at an oil company? Definitely one of my most recent random connections as of yet! I spent December and January (save for a New Year’s trip to Puerto Rico) working for the nicest crew of people and I do miss the routine I had there and the office crew who I became to know so quickly as friends in such short time.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to make some money while being home which is definitely the only way I could make 90 days in Buenos Aires financially feasible.

I’m writing this and I can’t help but mention that I do feel like the most fortunate and luckiest traveler/guide/teacher/friend/daughter there ever was.

On another note, Who really keeps their New Year’s resolutions anyway? If you forgot, mine was mentioned about 2,000 words ago!

Love and Peace from Buenos Aires.  Plenty to report on that soon!

Toto, We’re not on the East Coast Anymore…

I was at a salon in the downtown of Jackson Hole a few weeks ago and the woman next to me also getting an overpriced pedicure, looked down at the pedicurist and asked with a little mid western twang, “So ya git to see the pig wrestlin’ at the county fair last night?”  She replies, “No, but I did git ta see the Figure 8 races.”  And I think…(Toto, we’re not in New England anymore…)

We all get talking and the same customer asks me what I did before Backroads. “I taught high school Spanish in a Boston Public School.”  (Cue shocked facial expression) “You diiiid??? Oh! I don’t know how ya did it!”  “Sometimes I don’t know how I did either, but it was a great school, and kept me quite busy and challenged.”  “Oh! But what about your safety?!”   (Toto, we’re not in a big city anymore…) + (Cue my desire to teach this middle aged woman a little bit about life outside of Jackson Hole).

One of my first nights off after arriving in July, a group of Backroads leaders whisked me off to a Bar downtown via a great bike path from our house, 5 miles away to the Million Dollar Cowboy bar.  Every bar stool was a horse saddle.  Every man and woman has adorned their Friday night Country dancing outfits with their best cowboy boots (shit kickers—dad, that’s for you), a hat, and those belts that shout “Rodeo” all over the enlarged gold buckle.  I didn’t know how to dance to the music, but the rest of the local crowd my age sure showed me up with some actual patterns and steps and twirls that I couldn’t begin to understand and follow.  (Toto, we’re not on the East Coast anymore…)

That night I had to prep for my very first trip the next morning and so we left the bar and hit the road early on bike at about 10 pm.  Upon hopping on my bike and heading for the bike path, I realized, there wasn’t a single light to help guide me home.  Oops, I need a headlamp when I bike home from the bars???? (Toto, we are SO not in Boston anymore!)

Last night a guest ordered bison, elk, and antelope sliders for dinner. (Quick! Get me those ruby red slippers! This New England gal is ready for some Maine lobstah!)

**Surprisingly, the one thing that brings me back east is the massive amounts of Red Sox paraphernalia that I see daily from tourists in the park.  Somehow that little calligraphy “B” makes me feel like I know those people, or perhaps they understand the beauty of a Fenway Frank and beer in the baseball park beneath the Citgo sign.

Those are just a few things this summer that have made me laugh inside and remember what it’s like to experience “culture shock” within our very own country.  I keep talking about changes and transitions, but that’s what this summer has continued to prove to be.  All jokes aside, Jackson is a fabulous place in the summer and I would love to experience the skiing in the winter, but the differences here do tend to crack me up at least once a day.  If you aren’t a kayak, river or bike guide, you might as well be an outcast.  You can’t turn a corner on the street without finding people of all ages hobbling around on crutches, carrying groceries with some sort of a cast and if one would inquire about these injuries, the answer would most likely be one of four causes:  free solo climbing up the Grand Teton, floating down the snake river in an inner tube, or twisting an ankle hiking, or mountain biking down grassy black diamond ski trails.  The level of activity reminds me of what I observed in Norway last summer—places where the winters are so long that summer becomes a daily triathlon.   For me, Jackson will forever remain a place where the mom’s inevitably have nicer legs than the 20 something year olds, the only obese people are the tourists on coach busses, and Teva’s or Chaco sandals are worn just as much as cowboy boots.  Alison would have a very difficult time adjusting to the Teva’s aspect of Jackson.

 For the past month and a half I have asked myself if I want to lead again here next summer or try somewhere new.  It feels so good to know directions now around 2 national parks without having to think about it or hide sticky notes on your thighs so guests can’t see you looking for the next major turn, or develop relationships with hotel staff and park rangers, and friendly porters, and most of all, to be able to spew out buckets of information on the names of the 7 peaks of the Teton Mountains, or how Rockefeller saved the park, or which scat is bison, bear, elk, and coyote, and when we’re crossing the continental divide, what year each fire took place after passing a burned section of Yellowstone, and which views of which hike are the best.   

One of my favorite days every week is tricking grown adults with my co-leader Laurie on the walking/hiking trip that she is in fact eating elk poop.  On the 2nd day of the trip, at the trail head while guests are getting water and awkwardly fumbling with walking sticks, Laurie will look at me and ask, “Do you wanna do the poop, or you want me to?”  My answer is always the same.  “You.” (And I think…this was definitely not in the job description!) So off she goes to the trail head to plant brownie bites or ciff bars rolled up into a nice poop pile when the guests aren’t paying attention.  We walk some yards and then her talk starts about figuring out if the elk is a male or female by smelling, and then tasting.  If I had a dollar every time those guests look confused and then disgusted as Laurie chews elk poop and shouts, “It’s definitely a female!” I’d be making some good savings.   Another favorite day of mine is taking the gondola up the mountain in the Teton village and having a half priced happy hour with live music, delicious cocktails and apps with the view of the valley and the sun going down, on our final evening with guests.  I’ll be doing that tonight at 5:30 and I find I never tire of the view.

A guest and I at happy hour overlooking Teton Village

There’s been so much happening in the last month and I have wanted to write (I wish as frequent as Cousin Dan hiking the Appalachian trail, reporting back every single night via his cell phone!), but my time off has proved to be filled with many of the outdoor activities described above.  The days in between trips are often used to burn off the calories from wining and dining like a guest on vacation all week, and interestingly enough, working for an active travel company creates many days where we run around but never end up doing any real physical activity.  Often in the leader house there will be leaders coming off a trip and usually they come flying in the house and say something along the lines of, “Ughhhhhh I ate so much this week, does someone want to climb snow king with me? (or insert any other activity incorporating mountains).  There’s always a leader in the house ready to hike the switch backs up snow king, the nearest ski mountain, and ride the chair lift back, or bike over Teton Pass, a 10% grade incline, gaining 2000 ft in 4 miles.  It took me a little over an hour of biking in the smallest gears, dubbed granny gears, and after making it to the top I was slightly expecting a yellow jersey complete with the signature Tour de France designs waiting for me.  Here are a few pics of Lauren and I after completing it for our first time!

Excellent training for Staff Ride bike routes in the Pyrenees! 9000 feet!

Toughest Bike route I've ever done!

Over a month ago, I was in the middle of my shadow, which was an interesting and excellent experience that set me up for success for the rest of the summer.  Since then, this area of the world has been making headlines almost weekly.  Half the time I have no phone service and my father will send me texts letting me know about some news story hot off the press.  These texts usually sound like this: “I heard some bonehead got gored by a bison today”, “Are you okay? I heard there was a 17 person rescue on the Grand Teton and people died and were struck by lightning?”, “Be careful out there Hanna, there’s two convicts from Arizona on the loose in Yellowstone!”, “Did you hear about the people camping that were eaten by a bear in their tent? What about when you are a camp chef and are camping?”  I appreciate my dad’s texts to keep me in the loop while I’m out here in the area but I do have to say  that aside from the news flashes, most of his texts revolve around picture texts of some bait or bloody scene from gutting fish on his boat…and they all make me laugh (so keep them coming Dad!)

 During the shadow I talked about thinking of Dan, hiking 30 miles in a day on the AT, who only has 200 miles left of the trail in Maine, and I did a beautiful 14 mile hike and ripped up my heels so badly that I had to wear sandals the rest of the week hiking and in return received a lot of flak from others about being an “active travel guide” with heels fit for a hiking idiot.  See disgusting visual (this is for Beth, leading in Europe who specifically asked for a photo of my heels):

The right one was just as bad. Hiking shoes for dummies...

It was worth the blisters to arrive at Lake Solitude

 I was able to heal my heels before my first real trip I lead, which was a family multi sport trip, with 3 families and when I looked at all the background info I happily realized what a great sign it was to have 2 of the families coming from Beantown!  The trip ran so smoothly and the other leaders Andrea and Anna were the best mentors I could’ve asked for.   We also had a family from Pennsylvania, two women who adopted 2 beautiful girls from Vietnam and they shared their stories openly about the process and what it was like to be there in Vietnam.  During our trips, we often have birthdays, but this week was a special one for one of the girls because it was her “Gotchya Day”: the day her moms adopted her.  So with a cake, jazz hands, and a jingle created by the 3 of us leaders, we celebrated her “Gotchya Day”. I will always remember those families from my first trip.

The Boston families were fabulous, and have opened their homes to me and took me out for dinner even after the trip was over and one family happens to own “The Bell in Hand”, the oldest Bar in Boston, a place where I have danced many a cover song and perhaps participated in some drinking activities.  Looks like I’ll be cutting the line and cover charge next time I visit!  One of my favorite parts about the week was sharing with the guests in our last half hour together that it was my first trip ever.  They had no idea! (Yah!!).  Since then, the puzzle pieces to this job are starting to really come together and my evaluations have been a confidence boost and finally my nerves have subsided a bit.  On our way to pick up the guests on my very first trip, my co-leader Andrea looked at my terrified face while I was driving and said, “Hanna, this is the worst you’ll ever feel in your entire career with Backroads; I know the feeling.”  I am relieved knowing that those days are already over.

July was a blur of trips and some of you know I was fortunate enough to make it to Scotland in my two weeks off to visit Ryan, who happened to be with me in San Francisco when I found out I got the job with Backroads.  The trip from Jackson Hole was enough hours to get me to China and back, but instead I spent some good hours in Minneapolis and Amsterdam airports, with my final destination of Edinburgh.  Once I arrived, it was so nice to see a familiar face waiting for me at the airport and to have a beautiful flat in the middle of the city to stay in.  I just so happened to arrive in Scotland in the height of the August festivals in the capital city, called the Fringe and the Military Tattoo.  I read about these events before my trip and they never really made sense until I was actually there. It was so nice to take a back seat in leading and have Ryan, a great resource for seeing all things Scottish to show me around.  The two festival events were definitely the highlight of the week, the Fringe being a month long comedy party where every type of comedy show can be found on any given corner of the city in between 10 am and midnight, all for reasonable prices and it happens to be where many comedians make their break!  We would base our days around which shows we wanted to go to and I was able to make it to about 5 different shows, most of them absolutely hilarious and interesting, like one in a particular called, “Chef”, about the Korean dish Bipimbap.  The review below sums up this eccentric, creative, comical show.

Chef! makes one of Korea’s traditional dishes, the Bibimbap, into a national treasure: exciting, adventurous and everyone wants to get their hands on it. Yes – get your tickets now!

This production is an absolute joy that has the audience of all ages cheering, clapping, gasping, laughing and generally experiencing a wonderful hour packed with brilliant comedy, acrobatics, breakdance, beatbox, a capella, martial arts, mixed media and cooking. There are actually a fair few panto elements – a comedy villainous duo, a highly creative dark scene which allows a filmic change of viewing perspective, and an ‘in front of the curtains’ section, along with audience participation made fresh. Even multi-media contributes intriguing action that is seamlessly part of the staging and story.

This story is pretty basic – an ancient master of Bibimbap flees pursuers intent on gaining the recipe and finds assistance in a modern kitchen – but it is handled with great panache and full of absolutely delicious ingredients, mixed magnificently and served with the greatest energy and enthusiasm possible. The skills of the performers are multiple and awesome (just a couple of examples: beatboxing with their own pulses and spinning ‘forever’ upside down in a dish) and even with the occasional rough edge, this is firmly a five-star show.

That is just one of the examples of an unforgettable show I was able to walk right into and experience.  The Fringe is like a flea market, with each booth or venue offering a genre of comedy for all.  The other festival, quite different and unique compared to the comedy, was the Military Tattoo.  It’s hard to describe exactly what this ceremony encompasses, and some excellent pictures and descriptions are on the website here: http://www.edintattoo.co.uk/ .  I felt so lucky to be there on the first night of the show, in a packed stadium, facing a medieval castle at the top of the city, with soldiers in kilts playing bag pipes in a way I’ve never heard before, with the picturesque atmosphere and Highland dancers enhancing every score of the musical and marching performance.  Essentially military marching bands from all over the world come present their local instruments or tunes and then always end up with some sort of a comical relief, breaking out into James Brown songs or other popular Motown jams, which involved the audience and made us laugh during a beautiful instrumental procession; An incredibly unique experience that I hope I can share with friends and family someday.  It was neat to see the very small city buzzing with people, with the bars open until 5 am during the entire month of August, allowing me to spend my 2nd to last night on a Sunday bar hopping, with a broken sandal until the sun came up…haven’t done that since Spain in 2005!

The Scottish procession

Fireworks, music, horses, and performers all coming out of the Castle!

We also were able to take a road trip, eating fresh oysters at a farm at a Loch, we were able to swim in a Loch that couldn’t have been more than 45 degrees, eat haggis, the national dish of stuffing pig intestines with oats and other yummy things, and meet Ryan’s oldest brother and his wife who are looking for a new flat, so in my first hours there I was able to go visit a flat like I was on House Hunters International, trying to understand the thick Scottish accent.  I thank Ryan for planning all of these ultimate Scotland activities.  It was all much like I pictured from the Scottish Romance Novels by Diana Gambaldon that I fantasized about when I read a few of the series a few years ago….a few of you ladies know what I’m talking about!

Medievil B & B. How quaint! If only I could've arrived on horseback!

Go Ape! An amazing ropes course and zip lining place!

Last night dinner at a wonderful French Restaurant!

Coming back from Scotland was a funny transition going from working all of July, to an impromptu vacation to the U.K and then leaving for my last trip a few days later.  Regardless of all these transitions and how communal living has been a tough adjustment, I can’t complain since I haven’t paid for a load of laundry, internet, barely any food, or transportation since I arrived.  Big purchases are usually coffee or alcohol on my days off.  There’s definitely room to save when we are leading, but I am nervous now about not having winter work….so let the saving begin.  I’ll be leading all premiere biking trips in Maine this fall, so hopefully I will be in good shape for at least a few months of the winter if I don’t receive any work.  The hardest part is that I won’t find out until October 15th!  As of right now, I’ll be buying my ticket home to Logan airport from the staff ride in Spain, with a few extra weeks to play and travel with Backroads friends in Europe, on November 8th!  Any great part time jobs in NH or Boston…pass them right along.  Part of me is thinking I’ll head south of the border to keep up my Spanish and find work wherever I end up (preferably a return to Argentina, one of my top favorites since I went in 2006).  I am also hoping I can get involved in medical interpreting, after taking a course all last winter and being very interested in that line of work.  We’ll see. It’s a little nerve racking not having anything all set up, since upon graduating college I had a set teaching schedule for 3 years.  This will most certainly be an interesting winter for me.

Before I sign off, I want to give a few shout outs to friends at home that I can’t wait to visit and give my congratulations in person.  Two weeks ago, Erica (“Reeder”) and her husband Sean, welcomed Emma Grace into this world.  I am sad she will already be a few months old when I get to meet her, but I can’t wait to hold that baby in my arms! And last Sunday, I got a phone call when I was in the middle of Yellowstone at Old Faithful, from Lauren, exclaiming that her boyfriend, Benji, proposed to her on a rocky look out on the marginal way in Ogunquit, ME.  I can’t wait to watch Lauren and Benj embark on this new chapter of life together and to attend the beautiful wedding!  Congrats to both couples!  Can’t wait to see you sometime between September and November!

Thanks to all my readers who call me and tell me they’ve been checking my blog and waiting for updates.  I suppose this one will keep you tied over for a bit! I am giving you all one task though, and that is to start thinking about what Backroads trip you want to do in the future! My co-leader’s parents and friends are on our trip right now and I want to badly to be able to experience one of these trips with you all back home….so take a gander at the website and remember…serious discounts, people! =) 

All for now, wish me luck cooking as a camp chef for 21 people next week!

Thinking about clapping my ruby slippers and arriving in Maine shortly…