A Travellerspoint blog

Guate Guate


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Our second two weeks in Guatemala were just as jam packed as the first two! We have fallen in love with this beautiful, friendly, lush, natural, welcoming country... Just in time to be leaving!
Things with volunteering absolutely ended on a high note. During our last week we spent a bit of time with the children, and completed multiple crafts and played bingo with the adults and elderly. Momma, ever the teacher, was in her element planning the crafts we could do! The crafts were featured on the big tree...

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Our final day we assisted at a Christmas event that included church visits, lunch, and the blessing of a nativity. It was another case of falling in love with the people and the place just before having to leave. After goodbye to our Spanish teacher and our final dinner with our host family, we were already talking about how we want to return someday, hopefully to astound them with greatly improved Spanish!!
We made the most of our third week in Antigua by taking in the cities churches and ruins...

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La Recoleccion Ruins..
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And the Capuchinas Monastery ruins...
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Our final weekend in the Antigua area we headed off to climb Volcán Acatenango. This was the big climb that I had managed to convince Mom we neeeeeded to do. After a few weeks of preparatory exercise and purchasing additional necessary gear, we were ready. We made the journey with the most fabulous group, lead by guides who are brothers living in a village at the base of the volcano, and they truly made our experience unforgettable. The climb was hard, approximately 1500m on the first day. We managed a decent pace as a group (my Mom is a superstar for sure!) and reached the base camp in around 4 hours. The climbing through about 3 or 4 different microclimates was amazing, corn fields, forested and jungled areas!

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The base camp is on the side of Acatenango with a perfect view of Volcan Fuego, the adjacent volcano that is the most active in Guatemala. It delivered booming eruptions as we were climbing and the puffs of smoke were visible as we reached camp. As darkness falls, the red hot lava spraying into the air and coursing down the volcano side creates an absolutely fantastic display. Which my camera obviously cannot capture so we'll have to stick with the smoking pictures..

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After reaching camp, as Mom and I lay in our tent for a little while, I started shaking uncontrollably though I wasn't cold, and began to feel hints of joint pain and nausea. I finally came to the realization that my old friend altitude sickness had come to hang out again, though we are definitely not friends on speaking terms right now! When I was lying in a tent in Peru, feeling like I was dying, all I could think was that I wanted to be home where my Mommy could take care of me. Silver linings for the second round! I took approximately 6 types of drugs, including extra altitude pills, declined one of the guides offers to come up and get me, and managed to sleep through the night to attempt the final morning climb. I have no hesitation in saying it was the hardest 450m of my life. Reaching this summit view was the sweetest reward imaginable!

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A trip highlight of a sunrise!

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We did it!

The views on the way down from the top were also spectacular.
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We got to run/slide down some of the volcanic rock.

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And then continue the steep return back to the base of the volcano. It was a tough, amazing, beautiful, rewarding 2 days with a great group...

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When we finally left Antigua (sad face), we headed north towards the Guatemalan jungle and Lanquin. It was a long, bumpy bus ride to finally reach our eventual destination, Greengos Hostel/Hotel, but it was worth it..

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We spent the next full day enjoying all the natural beauty that Semuc Champey has to offer. Starting with the views of the beautiful pools (where the river runs underneath)..

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And then swimming in those same pools..

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Felt like swimming in paradise.

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Followed by an afternoon exploring caves. Which are hard to take pictures of, given their darkness and the fact that we swam and walked along by candlelight..

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Finished the day off with a big rope swing and float down the river (with beer delivery from a young boy. Somehow a beer tastes so much better when you're floating down the river and a young guy swims out to bring it to you on a tube!!)

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And finally.. We come to our last Guatemalan destination.. Flores and Tikal. We stayed in an amazing hotel on Isla Flores, loved the area and the adorable island.. But the warm fuzzies kind of end there. The town is a tourist trap if I've ever seen one. For the first time in 3 and a half months of traveling, I encountered a salesman/tourist company that was basically out to take advantage of tourists and lying about what he was selling you. Everything worked out ok but we didn't have quite the tour of Tikal, or following trip to Belize that we were expecting. We headed to Tikal for a sunrise that never materialized. Making the 2:30am wake-up kind of hard to swallow! Apparently in the last month, they have seen one sunrise in the park.. Gotta love that they keep selling the tours though. In the words of the Aussie sitting next to me as we stared into the foggy morning "well I'm actually really upset, I was expecting this brilliant sunrise, a spiritual moment with all the colours lighting up the sky and the temples in the background. And instead I can barely see the tree right in front of me!". Buuuuut we still had a beautiful tour of all the ruins in the park..

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The day greatly improved after lunch with a newfound British friend who got us out of an earlier cash bind (due to the shotty tour company again). Our new favourite Guatemalan restaurant chain is El Pollo Campero (which always makes me think of Los Pollos Hermanos on Breaking Bad). This place is like KFC on steroids it is so good. Please everyone go to Guatemala just to eat there!

Aaaand just like that, our time in Guatemala was ending. We had one last night in Flores before an early bus to head to a new country... On to Christmas in Belize!!

Posted by elliehirch 16:33 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Guat's Up?


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Soooooo... It has taken me a long time to start my blogging for the Guatemala segment of my adventure. As it has been a couple weeks of serious ups and downs, I have had a hard time knowing where to start. As she always knows best, I've decided to enlist the help of my Momma and make this my first co-written post.
Our first weekend after arriving in Antigua was one of the 'ups'! Everything was amazing. We started out by meeting our host family, Olga and her two daughters, Marleny and Natalia. They are extremely friendly, kind, welcoming and happy all the time! Olga is an amazing cook and we are getting waaaaaay too used to being well cared for! Their home is in a beautiful, quiet area of Antigua..

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We started our tourist activities with a bit of sightseeing in the streets we would call home for the next three weeks, checking out churches, Parque Central, and the beautiful flowers everywhere...

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For our first event we hit up the chocolate museum for a tour which involved some of the history, the growing, harvesting and production process and some practice making hot drinks and individual chocolates. Hello yummy.

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We also enjoyed an evening spent in a traditional Guatemalan cooking class. We made a bunch of great local dishes, including tortillas by hand.. Much more difficult than all the ladies here make it look!...

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Then came our first week of "regular routine" in Antigua. Our Spanish school has been seriously amazing. Our teacher, Ana, is the most beautiful, friendly, and patient person. Though we are still definitely beginners in español, and it has been hard work, we look forward to every class with her! Especially in this beautiful courtyard..

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Now it is time to share some of our 'downs'. We came to Antigua to volunteer in a school for children with disabilities. Everything was arranged before leaving on my trip. Everything went well arriving in Antigua... Until we actually got to the school to begin volunteering. It is a very long story that we will simply opt to summarize. Miscommunications were had, schedules were misunderstood, and we were unfortunately only able to be there for a few days as they were closing for Christmas holidays. Our silver lining throughout the whole process was time spent working with a wonderful student, Jorge....

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After coming to the disappointing realization that we would be unable to continue volunteering at the school, we immediately began to look for a new placement. Following a suggestion from our Spanish teacher, Ana, we signed up to spend our time at a hospital/home for the elderly and adults and children with disabilities. This was another case of ups and downs. We had a hard time getting things going at first as they were in the middle of a move to a brand new facility. Once the move was completed and things were more organized, volunteering took an upward turn, so we are spending our mornings at Spanish school and afternoons at the hospital.
This is the hospitals old location next to a beautiful church:

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Due to the age of the building and the prevalence of earthquakes in the area, it's no longer suitable as a home. The hospital continues to be in the city and the residents have moved to their new home:

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The location and new facility are truly amazing! Wonderful donations and sponsors made their whole project possible.

We are getting to use our limited Spanish to communicate with some children, take them for walks, and help with meals. We are also helping with some of the Christmas events. We are planning fun Christmas crafts to do with some of the adult and elderly patients this week! They don't allow pictures of any patients, so the above images of the hospital itself are all we can show you guys in that respect!

We took a trip to Lago Atitlan on our first weekend and had a great opportunity to rest and relax. Not hard with these views....

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Our hotel room was beautiful, lush and secluded..

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We also hit up the Sunday market in a town called Chichicastenango (We've been trying not to let Conor's prediction of 'buying too much stuff' come true. We are probably failing)..

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Chichicastenango has one of the most colourful cemeteries in Guatemala. Colours are chosen based on the favourites of the deceased and symbolize a celebration of life..

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So far we have been able to see so many of the beautiful things Antigua has to offer. We took a trip up Cerro de la Cruz for a great view of the city...

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We've taken rides on the chicken buses (school buses from Canada and the US that are refurbished for Central America's public transportation.) Their bright colours, loud music and crazy drivers make for quite the overall experience...

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Mom's personal favourite are the 'helpers' that hang out the bus door, yell out where the bus is going, take your money and help the driver navigate if needed. They are also crazy.

We've also enjoyed shopping in the big market. We may not be cooking for ourselves but we are buying tons of fresh, amazing fruits and vegetables..

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Our third weekend in this beautiful country was also a busy one! We started if off with a trip up Volcan de Pacaya. The ~ 1.5hr trip up brought us to the base of the crater of this active volcano whose last eruption was in 2014...

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We had great views of the surrounding area....

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and finished the tour off by roasting and eating marshmallows in the heat of the lava rock. Though it has all hardened and turned black, the amount of heat emanating from the ground is incredibly surprising for it being two years since the last eruption.

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First hike of the mother-daughter trip gets a big thumbs up!

While Shelagh is not the biggest coffee fan, it is probably well known that I certainly am, so she was generous enough to join me on a coffee tour at Finca Filadelfia. Mom says: "it was super interesting, the plantation is so beautiful, the coffee was delicious, Ellie was definitely right about it being a good idea, just like she always is"...
Ok, so I may have misquoted slightly, 3 truths and a lie, you guys decide which.
These pictures may help...

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The beans drying out in the sun look like a java zen garden!!

The best things about this coffee plantation is that it's set in some beautiful hills and the higher ground isn't suitable for growing coffee but they have used that area for a ziplining course. Another time that I'm lucky to have such an awesome mother. She is scared of heights and allowed me to convince her she should try ziplining. This time she actually did admit that I was right! With these views, anyone would be distracted from their fears!!...

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We did it!! :) :)

And so concludes our first two weeks in the most amazing country. We have another full two weeks ahead, looking forward to continuing this marvelous mother-daughter adventure.

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Posted by elliehirch 16:00 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

BA & Buh-bye South America!


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So, my visit to Buenos Aires was actually a really disjointed one which I have amalgamated into a single blog post as my final entry for Argentina, as well as for South America (I KNOW, I can't believe it!!). I spent some time in this big city in between the trips to Mendoza, Iguazu and Uruguay. It's a great jumping off point for all these destinations. I don't necessarily feel that I got the best exposure to BA due to the scattered trips, but I saw some great things and really tried to make the most of it.
The first day I spent walking around with Jeff! The person lucky enough to reunite with me so many times on my SA journey ;) We hit up Palermo for lunch and then onto the theatre turned bookstore, El Alteneo Grand Splendid. I couldn't decide if I thought the abundance of books or the store itself was more beautiful!!

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Our next stop was Recoleta and the cemetery of BA. Which is amazing of course, don't get me wrong. I just couldn't help comparing it to Santiago. I'll just give you my favourite pictures and you can decide for yourself what you think...

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(The last picture is the green space outside of the cemetery itself)

The cemetery is quite large so Jeff and I weren't 100% sure how we'd find Evitas grave (First lady, actress, activist.. "don't cry for me Argentina"). Then we realized we just had to follow the crowds of people!...

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We ended our day together with a walk back to the hostel, stopping for pictures with the BA sign along the way..

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On the next stop in BA I reunited again with Jeff (see what I mean about how lucky he is :) ) as well as Grace and Charlotte, the other half of our Bob Squad from Bolivia. We spent Jeff's last day in South America (and our last Bob squad day) at a tango show. It started out a little rough because the bus was late but we just passed the time waiting together on the hostel couch...

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Then we were seated in the corner and had to suffer through some particularly poor wine. Despite the fancy tastings and the amount of wine I've had lately, I am still by no means a wine snob. Buuuuut this wine really did suck. Saving grace was the unlimited consumption of said wine and the dinner was pretty decent.

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And then, the show itself completely redeemed the evening. They provided great displays of tango styles through the years, the dancers were incredibly skilled and I was mesmerized (except for necessary bathroom breaks from the previously mentioned bottomless wine).

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It ended up being a great final night for the Bob squad after all.

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So lastly, my final time spent in BA, I joined a walking tour in San Telmo and the Centro area. San Telmo is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires. We walked along streets that feature some popular Argentinian cartoon characters..

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Found the city's smallest house..

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Then got a little bit of history of the city, visited two of the largest churches, and beautiful streets around Centro that remind me of Europe for sure..

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We finished the tour at Plaza de Mayo..

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And after returning to the hostel, I had finished my touring in South America.
As with Uruguay, I'm going to skip my typical list of Argentinian favourites. Between mountains, natural beauty, wine, beaches, etc. it's really fairly similar to other countries. Instead I will opt for a list of my favourite things from two and half months in South America:
- Natural beauty is all around- No matter the country, you don't have to go very far on this amazing continent to find something in nature that will completely blow you away.
- Culture- each country is full of unique and beautiful cultures to experience. I love my country and I love living in Canada but the rich histories and extensive cultures of South America are wonders to discover.
- People- I've found South American's on the whole to be so much more friendly than I expected and so interesting to spend time with. Every country has their differences of course but I have also enjoyed the things that make them similar.. Intense, passionate individuals who are fiercely proud of their countries and their cultures.
- Tourist experience- Now don't get me wrong.. I love each and every one of you who have continued to read my blog, keep in contact with me on my trip, send me messages, contact on Facebook, what's app, Instagram, snapchat, etc. But I've heard about 1001 times to 'be careful' or 'be safe' and so many warnings had me nervous to begin travelling around SA for two months largely by myself. Which was something I have been pleased to find was fairly exaggerated! I'm not negating the importance of smart decisions and common sense, and I believe that I have those and have maintained it throughout the trip. But everywhere that I have been so far has been very tourist friendly, very safe (with the appropriate precautions), and just a great place to be!
This is truly the trip of a lifetime and I'm so lucky to be here. While I am sad to go, I am also extremely excited for the next chapter.. To see my Mom!! And spend time in Central America!

"I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility" - Jon Krakauer

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Posted by elliehirch 18:31 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Beachin' it in Punta del Este


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I capped off my short stint in Uruguay by checking out the beaches near Punta del Este! This small peninsula town is often described as the Miami of Uruguay.. Ritzy, busy, touristy. I was lucky enough to be there during spring, low season, and still have great weather. So while I understand the 'Miami' vibes, it was quiet, peaceful, and perfect for me!
I spent my first day walking around the peninsula a bit. Starting at the surf side of Brava beach..

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To the rocky outlooks along the peninsula's tip..

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Through the puerto (port)...

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And over to Mansa beach, the quieter, calmer side where I stopped to soak up the sun..

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On the second day, I was reunited with Chelsea that I'd met in El Chalten (we had been lucky enough to be on the same walking tour in Montevideo!!), and we went to check out La Barra and the beaches there. Also beautiful of course..

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We also managed to find a time on Brava beach where the Hand sculpture (called Dedos, which actually translates to fingers) was miraculously free of people!

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The beaches in this area definitely lived up to their expectation. The sun was hot and I was left feeling appropriately sun kissed after only a few short days. Unfortunately that meant my time in Uruguay had come to an end and I was on my way back to Montevideo for a bus & ferry to Buenos Aires. Time really feels like it's flying.

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After only a few short days in Uruguay my list of favourites would be huge! I think it's probably fairly obvious from how I've been describing things that I loved Uruguay and everything about it. The food, the beaches, cities, people, culture, values.... I'll skip the formal list that I've previously been doing and just leave you with this... For a bit more of a slow paced, relaxing and beachy (can't forget the beach!) stopover in South America, I couldn't recommend Uruguay higher!

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Posted by elliehirch 05:33 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Montevideo is a capital city!


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Only two and a half days in the wonderful city of Montevideo was long enough for me to fall in love! Looking for an opportunity to relax at the end of my time in South America, I had definitely found the perfect place. I spent my first day enjoying Pocitos beach in the neighborhood I was staying..

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The Pocitos area was really nice, very green, and the location of Uruguay's World Trade Center!

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My second day I really got to appreciate the full flavor of the city (and the country) with a walking tour in the old city.
We started in the main square, Plaza Indepencia..

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Can you spot the Canada flag?

We headed down some beautiful streets and explored other great plazas..

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Between beautiful buildings, fences, greenery, etc. I was taking pictures all over the place. Just continuing my typical tourist lifestyle!

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Throughout all of this, we heard a lot about the culture of Montevideo and Uruguay. They have basically no indigenous people left, which is a sad fact in itself, but means that all Uruguayans have come from somewhere else, and they are a small population (only 3 million), considering themselves one big community.. A happy, friendly family. They are quite welcoming to immigrants, boast less racism, classism, and sexism (I mean, they joke here that their population isn't growing because every woman is getting an education and doing what she wants before having a family.. How great is that). They have also have marriage equality, and have legalized abortion as well as marijuana for nationals.

They are also fiercely proud of their football team (what South American country isn't!) and love to remember their last World Cup victory over Brazil.. In Brazil. Gotta love an underdog victory, especially a country of 3 million over one of over 200 million. When I think about the feeling I get when Canada beats the US, I totally understand the Uruguayan pride! They also like to joke that more people know the name of their football coach than their president. And that his office is 'higher' than the president in their presidential building...

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We also heard about their food and drink preferences. In a country of 3 million people with over 40 million cows, they feel it is their duty to eat all the meat they can so they don't lose the country to the cows! Big plates of beef and big beef sandwiches (chivitos)are everywhere. They also consume the most whiskey per capita in the world (so between the beef and the whiskey, I know a certain few people who should probably move here ;) ). They also drink a lot of wine, grappa and beer.. Saying the only thing that you really need for drinking is an excuse! And mate is everywhere (as it is in Argentina), people literally carry it with them all over the place, and it is a drink that's meant to be shared, fits right in with the friendly culture. Case in point.. The first time I tried it I was offered some by a random guy I was sitting with while waiting for a bus..

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It totally tastes like they describe it.. Really strong, bitter tea. Didn't like it at first.. Then again I also didn't like coffee at first and now I'm basically a coffee addict :)

We also spent some time enjoying the unique, quirky, wonderful personality that this city has. From interesting street art/displays...

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To interesting fence designs..

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And interesting store names..

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To marijuana dispensaries throughout downtown..

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The combination of the quirky with the traditional old city gives a unique and perfectly Uruguayan feeling to Montevideo. It has that friendly, relaxed, enjoyable vibe.
Based on what I have raved about in my blog, and to basically anyone that knows me... I love small places and countryside. So I actually surprised myself by saying I would 100% live in this city. First time I've said that on my trip. That's not to say I don't love a lot of cities. I just don't see myself living there. So I just need to improve a wee bit on the old Spanish first ;)

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Posted by elliehirch 04:14 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

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