Wednesday, April 18, 2007

South American Adventures- Part 9: Braun Brothers in Argentina, Part 1

Hola muchachos de Buenos Aires, Argentina!

After 2 months of traveling solo (with a brief visit from my good buddy Matt Wiggins), I have become accustomed to a certain barebones backpacking lifestyle- occasional showers, rarely done laundry, extremely cheap hostels and even cheaper food... no more with Scott "Scoot-Nuggets" Braun in the mix for a 20-day visit. He arrived toting a new Blackberry, iPod shuffle and Sidekick 3 in the spot where his bugspray should have packed. The fates laughed deliriously and made raincheck plans to mock him for this splendiferous miscalculation... Our first night together we enjoyed another great seder with the Herzberg's in Santiago, and then headed the next day to Valparaiso, a beautiful coastal city which was the former home of famed poet Pablo Neruda. After perusing the insanely cool neighborhood with multi-colored buildings and art galleries, I allowed myself to be taken to the first nice restaurant I'd visited in 2 months. We dined like royalty at a gorgeous high-end bistro with an outdoor patio overlooking the illuminating city lights... Scott chose a fine Caesar salad with duck puree dip for the bread as an appetizer, I went with french fries. The best interaction of the meal came when he asked the waiter, "So these wine prices are by the glass?" and received a shocked response, "Umm no sir, those are by the bottle." Hahaha, welcome to South American prices in the most expensive country on the continent.

The delicious dinner was followed by two brotherly Coronas at a great jazz bar, a good night sleep, and then the 12 hour-bus ride over the Argentinian border (where our bus almost left a bathroom-bound Braun) to Mendoza. We happened upon great timing with Santa Semana, the most holy and celebrated 4-day weekend on the South American calender. Mendoza was a scalding hotspot for university students on break, so we quickly met some great internationals. Our first night in the hostel we engaged in savory conversation with three Californian chicas, self-nicknamed the "Dudettes", and an unintentionally hysterical Georgetown guy named Taylor. The combination of the girls' penchant for saying "duuuuude" and Taylor's statements like, "Oh my god! This ice cream is amazing! Seriously you guys, this is the best day of my life, that's how incredible this ice cream is!" made for a great time had by all.

In our four days inhabiting this splendid city the Braun brothers ate massive Argentinian steaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner at each meal... We're real men, you can check our genetics. The second day in Mendoza we walked the city streets for hours, chilled in the sprawling park, and then headed to a bar and later discotec with some newly made Brazilian and Columbian friends. We were juiced and ready to dance, or as our dad calls his oldschool hip gyrations, "Shake it up." To our dismay, the club transitioned its playlist between awful house music and even worse Argentinian pop songs that everyone but us knew the words to... Awesome. Our diversionary entertainment was provided through a game of "You pick a girl for me to Freak On", wherein we select random lovelies or not-so-lovelies that the other must make feel like a natural woman. The debate still rages, but I think I won... Finally the DJ broke out Usher's "Yea", and from a distance I saw Scott busting some serious A-Town Stomps. Sadly, no more than 30 seconds into the song they cut to "Insane in the Membrane", so Scott gave up on all coolness and broke into a Central Middle School furious dancefancy.

The next day we spent several more hours getting to the know the city streets, had the best steaks of our lives at Restaurant Facundo, and then while changing money at the casino decided to stay for some brotherly debauchery. We hit the $10 peso blackjack tables with a fury rarely seen in the Southern Hemisphere. I immediately became fully commited to drinking as many of the free beers as possible, while dropping lovely comments towards the 50 year-old cougar seated to our right. We were breaking even while I drained brews and dropped ridiculous lines to everyone in sight... It was great. Everyone was having a blast, mainly because the Braun brothers were on absolute fire. The casino owner soon came down to meet the young Americans who had lit ablaze his blackjack room, and offered us the penthouse suite for the weekend and a free dinner the next night with his gorgeous 27 year-old twin model daughters... Okay that last part isn't true at all. What did happen was that I got cut off by the servers for the first time in my life by any establishment... And it was a casino, where they want you to get wasted! We eventually left down $50 combined after hours of fun, agreeing that it was the best time we'd ever had in a casino for such little change. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure the cougar roofied my beers. Like I said, she was diggin my flow!... Still, I respect the move. Damn you classy vixen.

By the way, a random interjection of questionitude- If you had the choice between only being able to wear kitten fur or puma, which would you choose? I'd go with puma, but only because it's the more aggressive of the two felines in question. Sometimes you've just gotta let people know you mean business, ya know? Dave Rocco knows exactly what I'm talking about...

Anyway, the next day we again walked the city through and through before taking the overnight bus to Rosario, a city famed for the beauty of its female population which outnumbers the males seven-to-one. Yup, its a rumored fact, so you know it's true. Let that one swish around the gums for a little bit... Unfortunately, I lost the bus ride gamble as I was seated next to a wickedly diesel bodybuilder whose beastly forearms couldn't help but extend into my personal prism of privacy. The apex of awkwardness was reached right away, as his mini-sleeved tshirt forced his triceps to conspicuously rub against mine because I happened to be wearing a tshit, albeit normal-sleeved, but a tshirt nonetheless. We shifted silently in obvious discomfort with the situation for several hours, until he finally placed a jacket between us and we once again felt like heterosexual men. Within 30 minutes this giant was sleeping on my shoulder, and my heterosexual pride was again stripped... When we got off the bus 14 hours later, Scott immediately told me about his ride- "Dude it was great. I sat next to that cute blond 23 year-old, she was giving me hand massages and shit, it was awesome." Adam 0, Scott 1.

Upon arrival in Rosario we checked into the phenomenal Casona de Don Jaime Hostel, where we were destined for glory. We immediately befriended two of the best characters I've met thus far in my travels- A young Israeli named Doodee who after drinking became a salsa-hipped dancefloor maestro, and a neckless 300lb Peruvian who'd been living in the hostel for a year, everyday wearing a size medium Philadelpha Eagles Hugh Douglas jersey with hot red tightpants and hiking boots. He only spoke in Spanish curses, and fittingly his name was Angel. The date happened to be April 9th, the birthday of our father. In honor of the event, I decided to make it OldSchool Erv Braun Appreciation Day, and therefore shaved down my month-old beard into the rudest mustache you've seen since Erv circa 1986. We spent an excellent day perusing the city with our new friends, and because only four of us were staying in the hostel that night, the two-man staff locked up the restaurant doors and we dined like latin kings on incredible steak, potatoes, veggies, unlimited wine and spiritual lubrication. The Braun brothers agreed that it was the best $3 dinner of our lives... Yet it only served as a mere preface for the day that was to follow.

Our time in Rosario coincided with a wild mosquito epidemic, so it came as no surprise that Scott got stung on the forehead the previous night... The kid's seriously delicious, to insects he tastes like blood-flavored icecream sundaes. What was truly shocking though, was the tumorous forehead lump that developed after the bite. It served two magnificent purposes- 1) To Scott scared shitless because everyone immediately joked in half-seriousness that it was Dengue Fever. His name immediately became "Dengue" throughout the hostel. 2) To provide me with nonstop laughter when looking at the absurdity of my mustached face next to his Dengue forehead. We were in rare form.

So as the hideous brothers awoke the next morning, we were greeted by the news that TV cameras were coming to the hostel that afternoon to interview travellers about their impressions of Rosario. Scott is a natural showman, but his skills were greatly augmented by his Borat-inspired oration that he had been delivering in horribly broken Spanish to every single female we met on the street, regardless of looks, age or Cesarian section scar. He had asked at least 100 women by this point, "Quieres ser mi esposa? Soy de los Estados Unidos, y yo tengo un television." Translation = Do you want to be my wife? I'm from the United States and I have a television. He wasn't getting any yes's, but he was getting many laughs and a few booby flashes... I kid, no booby flashes. So when the cameras arrived it was only natural that he delivered the speech to the people of Rosario while sporting Dengue forehead, and was followed by his brother who repeated the sentiments with a wink and mustached grin.

From there we headed to a waterfront restaurant with Doodee and two local girls we'd met on the busride, and within twenty minutes of being seated, our fire was fanned. A gorgeous female field reporter began walking around our table with her cameraman, apparently shooting a story on the mosquito epidemic. Scott immediately approached and proposed marriage to her, which she refused but let him down softly by insisting she interview us for her story that was going to air on the same station as the Rosario traveler piece. The only day in my life that I'm rocking a gobstopping mustache next to Dengue-horns and we get put on TV twice! The fates are funny I tell you...

The day raged on with our four-man crew of Angel, Doodee, Scott and myself going to an indoor GoKart racetrack. It was clear by the trashtalk that they assumed the races would be competitive, but they overlooked a very small but simple fact. I had a mustache. Anyone who knows racing will tell you that mustaches equal three things- speed, cornering prowess, and a lack of basic education. As expected, I ruthlessly dominated every race and celebrated atop the sweet podium that I previously thought only existed in ExciteBike.

Following the races we looked up at the TV to see our splendid mugs on the nightly news, and once again high-fives and Spanish curses permeated the cool evening air. We then went back to the hostel to eat a big dinner among fellow guests and jammin music. Scott and I were seated next to a 50 year-old German man who was traveling solo in hostels without a word of Spanish knowledge and fronting the most aggressive toupet we'd ever seen. When he said he worked at a paper company I couldn't help but respond with, "Ohhh, Dunder Mifflin?" (If you don't get this joke, buy every episode ever of The Office and watch them consecutively without blinking. You'll thank me, I promise) Scott practically snarfed his drink, and the rest of dinner was littered with immature bathroom jokes that won us no respect from our fellow diners. Still, we made some friends and the German turned out to be a great guy. Plus, Scott got bit on the forehead by a mosquito for the third time in three days. Clearly this was swift justice, Walker Texas Ranger style.

After the comida we bounced to a karaoke bar with our local female friends, and again lit the place on fire. Unfortunately we started slow, as our brotherly duet of "Summer Lovin" with Scott playing the part of Sandy bombed horribly. No one laughed, clapped or even gave us a courteous jazz-snap. The rebound was strong though, as Scott put on an unbelievable show for "Billie Jean" that culminated in him doing a chest-compression dancemove and at least 10 seconds of serious roboting onstage. He later took the mic when a friend struggled and sang "No hablo espanol... No hablo espanol. Quien quieres ser mi esposa. En serio, quien?" The people laughed their drunken faces off, and Scott became the official Diego Maradona of Argentinian karaoke. At this point we could crap gold, especially after befriending some rowdy young locals that were farewell partying for a wild friend who spent 15 minutes trying to pick up an Irish girl through his unintelligably broken English, offering her cocaine he didn't have by singing Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" into her face. "Daaaadaaadaa daaaa, da da da daaa da da, COCAINE!" he'd scream at her from three inches away, until he finally came back to the table laughing in pain, and informed us that the reason she couldn't understand his slaughtered English was because she was a native Argentinian from Rosario. We practically peed ourselves, shook it up salsa-style for a little longer, and then called it an early night at 5:30am.

The next day we bid a sad farewell depart to our great friends in Rosario, and rolled into Buenos Aires. The brotherly adventures have continued in fine fashion since arriving in this effusive city, but those shall be dispensed in the second installment of the Braun Brothers in Argentina emails. Normally at this point I would write a paragraph about some lesson that I've learned via the travels in the past week or two. However, the recent events have taught me one simple creed that all should heed- No traveler should pack a Blackberry instead of bugspray, the decision will always come back to bite you in the forehead.

I hope this email finds each of you filled with health, happiness and fulfillment.

Challenge the assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 75
Showers with Heat- 20
Song of Choice- "Highway Patrolman" by Bruce Springsteen. Hauntingly moving song about brotherly devotion. A tip of the cap to Catfish McNamara for this gem.
Book Selection- "Socrates Cafe" by Christopher Phillips
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Highlander
Quote of Note- "It is possible to have too much. A man with one watch knows the time, a man with two is never sure."
Random Person- Heather Weiss

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