Author Archives: Erin Onsager

About Erin Onsager

Erin tries to escape her corporate confines as often as she can. She loves far-flung destinations, exotic locales, street food, airports, photography, and fun adventures. Please email for any inquiries or just to say hi!

Uruguay

I took an overnight bus from Mendoza to Buenos Aires and immediately headed to the ferry terminal and caught a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay and then a bus to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. I initially planned on heading straight to the beach, but realizing that I had more than enough time here, decided to hunker down for the night in Montevideo. I wandered around the city with two Canadians that I met on the bus from Colonia to Montevideo. We had probably my best meal here yet. One guy got a steak that looked absurdly good and the other and I shared a paella. I’d have preferred steak, but he was jonesin’ for some paella and it was a dish for two. And it was good and I’m always happy to eat fresh seafood.

The day was fairly relaxing, which I needed after 24 hours of bus-ferry-bus travel.

We cooked dinner in the hostel and stayed up to 2am talking, and as I fell asleep around 3am (very early for this part of the world, mind you), the local Argetinians and Brazilians staying in the hostel were still partying quite loudly. I imagine they left around 4am to go to the bars and ambled back around 10am, which was when I woke up for breakfast.

I left for the bus terminal and headed to La Paloma. At the bus terminal, I bought some Pringles for my ride and as I got my change back from my $200 Uruguayian note, I realized that my precious Pringles cost me $7. In a country that not only has soap, toilet paper, and paper towels in every bathroom, but also allows you to flush your toilet paper down the toilet, I suppose I should have expected some dearer prices, but my goodness!

I arrived in La Paloma and was honestly, pretty disappointed. My hostel in Montevideo recommended a cabana by the beach. It sounded perfect and the price was right. As the bus left me in the dust at the side of the road, I wandered across the street to a campground and was shown my “cabana.” Unfortunately undeveloped experiences are somewhat lost on me, since I don’t speak the language and honestly, this campground wasn’t so different from an American one. I walked along the beach and to the center of town hoping to find surfers galore, but the beaches were mostly deserted (but not in the cool, beautiful Indonesian kind of way) and the town, more or less a ghost town. So, I decided I would rest up, leave in the morning and head to a different beach. I took advantage of not being able to communicate with anyone by going to bed early and catching up on some much needed sleep!

La Paloma campground:
La Paloma beach:

RV at the beach:

A few random observations

Riding on a bus in the middle of the night through the Pampas, I’ve realized how similar to the American Midwest this is. It’s vast and flat. There are John Deere stores in every town we pass through and the towns seem to have a laid-back Midwestern, albeit Argentinian, quality to them. Houses are modest, but generally include a garage and often, neatly manicured lawns. Cars are parked outside the homes in the sleepy residential areas and the vibe seems very congenial. And, of course, at 11pm, the streets are not barren of people – most people are probably just heading home for dinner!

The other thing that I love is that there are dogs everywhere! But, they’re pets, not street dogs. And in Buenos Aires, walking around during the day, I think I passed about 5 dog walkers with no less than 10 dogs each in the span of an hour. Apparently, dog-walking is all the rage in Buenos Aires. In other areas, the dogs aren’t leashed and seem content roaming freely. But, it does make me miss Wilco dearly.

This country also seems to be very family-oriented, which I like. People here seem to adore their children and both men and women are quite doting and attentive to their children.

All people greet each other with a wide grin and a kiss on the cheek – regardless of gender.

All in all, this is a very civilized and developed nation and aside from North America, Europe and Australia, is the most western country I’ve been to. But then again, one of first comments in my trusty Lonely Planet is “Forget everything you’ve heard about the challenges of travel in South America. Argentina is different. It’s easy.”
I don’t know how well you can see it, but this container of chips made me laugh – it’s American made complete with English, but they slapped a sticker on it in Spanish, and then put a yellow sticker to cover up the words “Gluten free.” I’m guessing by the amount of bread they eat here, there aren’t too many gluten-sensitive people.

Mendoza, Maipu and Malbec

Mendoza was great! If you know anything about me, you know that I love red wine, and Malbecs in particular. Spending time in the vineyards of Mendoza was definitely on my culinary (err…. booze-y) bucket list. The first day, I visited two wineries and an olive oil farm, which was more focused on the tours than the tastings. After a casual touring of the Maipu region (just south of Mendoza were the wineries are), I went back to the hostel and went out to dinner with 7 others. We went to an all-you-can eat buffet restaurant where we sampled Argentinian barbeque, pasta and salad. I’d probably say it was akin to a Ponderosa in terms of quality, but it was reasonably priced and convenient for 8 people.

The next day, our group somehow tacked on 4 more girls, and 12 of us hopped on the bus and headed south to Maipu. We rented bikes from Mr. Hugo and were promptly greeted with very healthy pours of wine. We eventually got on our bikes in search of a winery. However, after biking for 10 minutes, we decided we were hungry, and had lunch at a beer garden in the middle of some vineyards. It was relaxing and good. We finally visited two wineries and focused more on the tasting than the tours. The wine was good, the setting was beautiful – sitting on a second floor terrace with views of vineyards to the east and the Andes to the west. We finally ambled back to Mr. Hugo’s where copious amounts of free-flowing (and free!) wine greeted us. Below is a wine glass (duh) in the vineyards of Maipu.

I was excited, because we passed by a bodega (winery) called Traipche and I’ve had their wine in the states, so that was pretty cool to see a brand that I recognized. Below is a picture of the Traipche vineyards.

I’ve learned that the Mendoza region is home to over 1,200 wineries and the environment is great for grapes, as the soil is dry, it hardly rains and yet, fresh Andean water is pumped in to water the plants as needed. The city of Mendoza, though it is technically in the desert, has aqueducts running alongside every street. Given that every street is tree-lined, you’d never guess.

At one bodega, on our tour, they asked if we knew the difference between corks and synthetic corks. I correctly answered that there is no difference and that synthetic is even better as wine can’t get “corked” and can stay fresh longer. The conversation, however, reminded me of a funny SNL clip – Cork Soakers. Go to Hulu and type in “SNL cork soakers”. I promise you will laugh. Below is a picture of our assembled group of 12 at our final winery of the day.

The next day, I spent some time in the park watching the runners and walkers and bikers and regretted not bringing running shoes. Biking from winery to winery doesn’t quite count as exercise. But, I think hiking in Patagonia should right my gluttonous wrongs of the past few days. Then, I took an overnight bus to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, my bus did not have free wifi, as my first one did. It instead provided an opportunity to download pictures, read, and most importantly, sleep!

Ahh yes, that’s probably also worth mentioning. Meal times. Lunch is typically between 1 and 3pm. Dinner is eaten typically around 11, but you can eat as early as 9pm if you want. My last night in Mendoza, for instance, I ate dinner at 11, but it wasn’t filing enough, so at 2am, a few of us went to grab a pizza across the street. I am always one of the first to bed – and I’ve been going to bed at around 2:30am. This country is exhausting me. I don’t know how Argentinians can stay up so late, party so hard, AND maintain normal working hours; I haven’t figured out when they sleep just yet.

Next up is relaxing on the beach and surfing in Uruguay!

Buenos Aires to Mendoza

I landed in Buenos Aires in the morning and decided to rest my head in the leafy, tree-lined neighborhood of Palermo, which turned out to be a great choice, as this area has some great restaurants, and Argentina has a reputation for some good food.

My initial observations are that everything here is REALLY, REALLY expensive (except the wine). Granted, I’m used to traveling in places like Southeast Asia and India, where the average price I paid for a room at night was $3 and a meal was about the same price. I’m currently on a ~16 hour overnight bus ride to Mendoza and the price for a one way ticket is nearly $100. Just a little more than I had bargained for, but I’ll make up for the prices by drinking more wine. 🙂

The other interesting thing is that roughly 95% of the population is of European descent, so for once in my life (other than while in Europe), I look like just another white Argentinian. And, if I’m not walking around with both backpacks, I apparently look like a local, judging by the number of times I’ve been asked for directions thus far.

I arrived in Mendoza and visited two wineries and one olive oil farm. As I adore Malbecs, this region is such a treat for me. I even learned some new wine facts today, such as a rose (well at least the one we sampled today) is made from malbec grapes, and has a pink color only because the skins are kept in the wine for a very short amount of time. And champagne can also be made from malbec grapes, but the skins are removed while the champagne ferments (hence, the lack of pink or red-ish tone).

I like Mendoza. It’s about as far from the mountains as Denver is, but the mountains feel about 4 times taller – literally. The city is a bit more relaxed than Buenos Aires and I really like my hostel. I will put some pictures up soon, but felt that I should post something before long.

The next adventure: South America!

I only write in this blog when I’m traveling and that’s just what I’m about to do. I leave on Saturday for 1 month in South America. I’ll be spending time in Argentina and Chilean Patagonia. I might swing by Uruguay and I might visit the Igazu Falls, in which case, I’ll cross the Brazilian border.

I will post updates occasionally and will post on Facebook when the blog has been updated.
I’ll also be meeting up with 2 friends – Niki, who I spent a LOT of time with in SE Asia two years ago and a new friend, Mary Kay, from Denver. I’ll be alone for the first 2 weeks, then with Niki for 1 week and then with Niki and Mary Kay for the last week.
I’ll miss my Denver friends, my dog Wilco, and am sad to be spending my first Christmas away from my family. So, while I journey on, Merry Christmas to all!

Final Thoughts

So now I’m on my way home, flying over the Pacific as I type. I honestly can’t believe how quickly these past few months have passed, but on the other hand, I feel so fortunate to have experienced so much in such a short period of time. I just finished watching a movie on the plane – a nice, no-brainer chick-flick and there was one line it that really resonated with me. It basically said that life is half what you do with yourself and half about who you spend your time with. I can’t iterate enough how much my personal experiences were shaped (mostly for the good) by the people I was with. Had I done this trip completely alone, it’d have been awful. But as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again – that’s the best part of traveling – meeting people.

In the past 109 days, I’ve taken 2 overnight plane flights, camped on a beach for 2 nights, spent 5 nights on bus, took 2 overnight train rides and slept in 59 different beds (yes, I counted). I’ve taken 18 separate flights (well, by the time I get back to Chicago). I can’t even count the number of buses, tuk-tuk rides, rickshaws, motorbike rides, etc that I’ve taken. I walked 150 miles in 14 days, trekked to 5416 meters, rock climbed in Thailand, surfed in Bali, climbed south east Asia’s tallest mountain, white-water rafted in Bali, saw orangutans in the jungle, climbed a sulfur-spewing volcano in Sumatra, experienced new cultures, met amazing new friends, saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, relaxed on the beach in “paradise,” did yoga in India, discovered new food, and through it all, had such an amazing time.

My time over the past 3.5 months was divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Nepal, India and Thailand. I think it’s interesting to note that the 3 wealthiest countries (that I visited on this trip) are Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. I noticed a few differences between the wealthier countries and the poorer ones. For one, the wealthier countries tend to have more cars, whilst the poorer ones either rely more on motorbikes or foot for transportation. The other difference, which I find quite notable, is that in the wealthier countries, women play a very visible role. They have jobs and interact with the public. They are seen out at night – sometimes even alone. In Indonesia, Nepal and India, local women are seen from a bus window, or seen in groups, or seen with families, but they don’t run shops, they rarely interact with tourists and they’re hardly ever seen after the sun goes down. In most places, it’s ok being a western woman (sometimes alone) at night, but India, it just doesn’t feel safe. That’s probably due in part to the “staring” culture that’s more noticeable than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s just interesting, because I believe that women play a vital role to a country’s development and to me, I’d say that the developing countries should work on making a women’s role in everyday life a more visible and vital one.

As I’ve mentioned, the people that I met made my trip what it was. From meeting an aspiring dominatrix from Montreal to a chain-smoking Jordanian man in Singapore who had his passport confiscated and was contemplating escaping from the country to a British man nearly in tears because his Muslim Indonesian wife ran off with their two children to a tattooed British man who constantly reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, but knew great magic tricks and was a former member of the Iranian mafia who spent time in a Malaysian prison for human trafficking, I’ve met a few characters to say the least. Best of all are the friendships formed and the memories that I share with those people.

My top moments of my trip were:

Tubing down the river in Bukit Lwang with (Indonesia)

Reaching the Throng-La pass at 17,769 ft (Nepal)

Catching waves in Bali (Indonesia)

Motorbiking to deserted beach after deserted beach in Lombok (Indonesia)

Watching the sunrise from the summit of Mt. Kinabulu (Malaysian Borneo)

Rock climbing in Railay (Thailand)

Relaxing on the paradise island, Gili Trawangan (Indonesia)

Other cool moments include:

White water rafting for my first time in Bali (Indonesia)

Doing yoga (India)

Seeing orangutans in the jungle (Indonesia)

Climbing an active volcano (Indonesia)

And the only two low-lights that come to mind were:

Sleeping on the filthy floor of an over-crowded Indian train

Getting sick with stomach issues

But, I wouldn’t trade those “bad” experiences for the world, because it’s all part of the experience. Plus, I love that so much of what I experienced can’t just be seen on the Discovery Channel or from the view of a car window. I had to work to get to these places (especially on the Annapurna Circuit!), but that made the satisfaction all the more worthwhile.

And now that I’m nearly home, there are definitely some things that I’m looking forward to, and others that I’ll miss dearly. I can’t wait for consistently hot showers. I’m glad that I won’t have to carry my own toilet paper everywhere I go, but crazily enough will miss public squatters (though not the spraying on toes part of it – yeah, I think it happened every time). I’m looking forward to drinking tap water once again and not buying another bottle of water for a really long time. I’m happy that I’ll get a fair price when I walk into any store (and not the “white price”), but will miss the overall cheaper prices. I’ll be glad that when someone yells “hello” at me, it’s because they want to actually say hi to me and not because they want to lure me into their store… or in their taxi… or to their bedroom. I’m happy to have a diverse selection of ethnic cuisines available to me again, but will miss the amazing street food (especially Indian food). I’ll be sad that rent for my future apartment will cost more than an entire day’s activities. And I’ll most certainly miss the under $10 massages.

In sum, I can’t reiterate just how fantastic of a time I had on my trip. But, I think I’m also leaving at just the right time. I’m not jaded by traveling yet and really, really excited to see my friends and family that I haven’t seen in months! I’m looking forward to being in a home again, and not changing a bed every few days. And if you know anything about me, you know I’m looking forward to the food… and to cooking and baking – good thing it’s Christmas! I’m also excited about the winter ski season – I’m moving to Colorado this winter at the very least to ski for the season while I focus on my job search, but will also be looking for work permanently there, so I’m looking forward to exploring a new region of the country and establishing a new life for myself there.

Thanks for reading y’all! Your comments and happiness for me definitely meant a significant amount and kept me going during those harder moments that I might have glossed over. Have a great holiday season! J

Rock Climbing and the Beach, Thailand



Pictures are of my last sunset at the beach in Railay Beach, Thailand, me rock climbing in Railay, and me with Zac and Jeff on my second to last night in Bangkok.

I was ecstatic to be back in Thailand, the so-called “Land of Smiles” and immediately noticed the difference between India and Thailand. First, Thailand has got to be one of the most touristy countries in the world. I think foreigners might out-number Thais – alright so that’s an exaggeration, but it’s definitely very touristy. After spending some time alone in India – often feeling as if I was the only foreigner, this was a welcomed change. I’m reminded why I like traveling alone – I barely have a minute to myself before someone strikes up a conversation, which I absolutely love. This is the best part of traveling in general (for me) – meeting people – and it’s even easier to do when you’re flying solo.

I spent a day in Bangkok. I decided to get a suit made. I had one made when I was here a few years ago and was quite pleased, so I decided to have another one made. A custom-tailored suit for $130. It’s a steal. Let’s just hope this one turns out well! I took the night bus to Krabi, which is actually pretty pleasant. The seats recline almost fully; they give you blankets and show a few movies – there are definitely worse ways to travel, but Thailand is definitely the country most set up for catering to tourists and they’ve got it down pat. I sat next to an interesting girl from Montreal. She was a waitress in a strip club in Montreal and told me of the bundles of money she made, that her customers literally just throw at her. Apparently, one customer pays her credit card bill every month AND gives her a $200 month stipend. The craziest part is that she’s a lesbian and absolutely doesn’t engage in the sexual services side of the business. Since she makes more money than everyone else in her life, she can’t contemplate leaving the sex industry, so she’s hoping to be a dominatrix when she returns. My naivety about such things prompted me to ask her a slew of questions. But, she wanted to get away from the business for awhile, so she is traveling in Southeast Asia for 3 months and then will get work in Australia for a couple of months before returning home.

When I arrived in Krabi, I hopped on a longtail boat and headed to Railay Beach (thanks Niki and Chanti for the recommendation!). I’ve been told by multiple people that this is the most beautiful setting in southern Thailand and they may be right. Rock climbing is all the rage here, as there are massive limestone karsts shooting straight up out of the water. It’s not a bad place to pass a few days. The main downside is that this place is expensive. I’m paying the most for accommodation that I’ve paid on my entire trip and it’s certainly not the best place I’ve stayed. For $12, I’ve got a mattress on a floor and a fan. It is barebones basic, which is fantastic, but just expensive compared to the $2-4 range that I’ve come to expect in my travels.

I spent my first two days relaxing on the beach. The first night, I went out and hung out with a group of Canadian guys. On my second day, I met up with Elad, an Israeli guy who I met on the Annapurna Circuit. It was great to see a familiar face again! As soon as Elad and I parted ways for the night, I saw a couple swimming in the pool of a fancy resort and images of Lombok when Niki and I swam in a couple of resort pools was conjured up in my head. I hopped the fence and jumped in the pool and spent some time chatting with a Russian couple who were incredibly friendly and interesting. That evening, I hung out with some guys from Argentina. Today was one of those days that makes me really love traveling alone. I literally went from hanging out with one person to the next group with only a matter of seconds alone – it’s fantastic just how easy it is to befriend people in situations like this. I definitely love it!

Then, I finally tried what Railay Beach is famous for – rock climbing! I’ve done a bit of indoor rock climbing, but have never had the opportunity to go outdoors. Well, I LOVED it. It was so much fun! I think it’s definitely a sport I would like to continue to pursue once I’m back home. On my last day in Railay, I spent the day with two guys from Australia, Jeff and Zac, and a Canadian girl, Meghan. The four of us just sat near each other for breakfast and ended up having a conversation that lasted for at least 2 hours. In my life, I’ve found that groups of four that have good chemistry are often the most fun. I’ve had a solid group of four friends in both high school and college and had the most fun on my trip in Sumatra, when with another group of four. We continued our day at the beach and then spent the evening playing cards.

The next day, Jeff, Zac and I headed to Bangkok on the night bus. I spent my last two days in Bangkok getting fitted for a suit, shopping and getting a massage. I’ll certainly miss the $8 massages, that’s for sure! I said my good-byes to Jeff and Zac and headed to the airport for my 30+ hour commute home. I will write one final blog entry (for this trip) to sum things up. Expect it soon!