Margarita's Travel History



I was born in Argentina , the first of three (and then four) children. I have always liked to travel. Perhaps this is the result of all the road trips we took as kids, or perhaps it's genetic. My grandfather Tito bore eight children but still found time to travel to Europe several times and around the world twice.

My first trip, when I was 9 months old, was to the coastal city of Mar del Plata, a popular summer playground for Argentinians. In the following years, I returned to Mar del Plata many times (my aunt Beatriz and her family lived there), but also visited other costal towns: San Clemente, where my uncle Pancho's family had a house, Villa Gesell and Pinamar remain in my memory. We also made a couple of short trips to Tandil, including one to visit the "Calf Festival" in Ayacucho - we got to see lots of real gauchos.

We also took some longer trips. When I was five, we went to Mendoza, where my father's friend Hector lived. I remember climbing the monument to San Martín, bathing in the frozen mountain streams near Potrerillos, seeing Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Americas), visiting a winery and Sarmiento's house in San Juan. We sat under the fig tree where Doña Paula would do her weaving.

When I was eight we went to Bariloche (first stopping to visit my uncle in Punta Alta, as part of that visit I remember visiting a warship), and then to other parts of the Patagonia (puerto Madryn, the Valdez Peninsula and Esquel remain in my memory). I was amazed when I returned to Bariloche last year, twenty six years after my last visit, how well I remembered it.

When I was ten I went "abroad" for the first time, in a short trip to Uruguay and Brazil. All we saw of the latter was Porto Alegre, and I remember how "modern" and sophisticated everything looked in comparison to Argentina. At a time when the peso was overvalued, Brazil was ridiculously cheap as well.

We return to Brazil the following year, after a road trip through the Argentinian Mesopotamia. We saw the Iguazu falls on both sides - which is probably the most impressive sight on the world. At that time I remember all the climbing we had to do to get to the top, my mom couldn't make it. Now you can just take a tram. We also visited Paraguay , and for the first time I encountered people who actually spoke an indigenous language in a daily basis.

When I was twelve, we moved to Los Angeles, California , and of course we visited all the local sights (Disneyland, Knots Berry Farm, Universal Studios, Movieland, the San Diego Zoo, etc. etc.). Later I went back to Argentina and returned, but my traveling per se would stop for almost a decade.

In 1989, when I was 20, I got accepted into the Education Abroad Program at Cal, and started packing my bags for a study year abroad in Egypt. My parents, who were very supportive of this opportunity, offered to pay for a week of travel in Europe prior to the trip to Egypt. I figured that that money would go much further in the Middle East, so I decided to spend six weeks traveling through Syria and Jordan instead. It was the most amazing, and scary, experience of my life.

I started by spending a couple of days in Paris , staying in a fleabag hotel in a bad part of town. I loved Paris, but hated the neverending sexual harassment that I would experience, mostly in the hands of Arab immigrants. As bad as things got in the Middle East, I think those two days were the worst. Still, I got to see all the major sights in Paris, including the catacombs, and fell in love with the city.

I fell even more in love with Syria . It was scary getting there - I suddenly realized when I was waiting for my plane that I would get into town at near midnight, without a hotel reservation and without speaking the language and started crying. A wonderful Syrian guy, who was studying in Illinois, offered to help and sent two of his friends to find me a hotel. This was just an indication of things to come. Syrians are the most friendly, most giving people in the world. For that reason - and the magical beauty of Damascus - Syria is still my favorite country.

I found Jordan to be much more westernized, and for that reason easy to travel. This is a country where you can really feel comfortable (if you can put up with the sexual harassment), even as a novice traveler. Petra, of course, was incredible - being able to sleep on site was a great gift. I got to spend a few days in the West Bank, I loved Jerusalem.

I usually describe my experience in Egypt as "the best of times, the worst of times", though with time and age I look more and more fondly at the country. This is a country that I can honestly say I love with all my heart and I still miss terribly. Living there was hard, but it became home and comfortable. Traveling there was wonderful, its archaeological remains are so outstanding as to make everything left in the rest of the world pale by comparison. Take my advice, if you are an archaeology fan leave Egypt for last, that way you can appreciate so much more the rest.

I came home, finished college and got a gig writing the chapter on the Yucatan for a new (now defunct) guidebook series. I spent the summer in the Yucatan, researching and writing. I had a great time, but discovered that travel writing was hard and boring. It was sad to see other people go and have fun while you had to visit hotels and restaurants and write, write and write. I really liked the Yucatan, however, and go to discover some really magical places. Some day I hope to go back with my family.

My next trip wasn't until almost two years after, when Mike and I got married. We went to Guatemala for our pre-honeymoon and had the greatest time. Traveling together wasn't easy, but discovering the ruins of Tikal, the beauty of the Lake Atitlán, the shopping fun of Chichicastenango and getting lost in a mass pilgrimage in Epiculas brought us closer together. I continue to think that Guatemala offers one of the best travel experiences, you can see so many different things (archaeological ruins, river trips and beaches, colonial towns, Indian markets) in such a compact area.

My next trip, the year after, was meant to be a solo trip. I was going to spend two months traveling through Morocco and rediscovering my love for Middle Eastern culture. Alas, it didn't work out. I was gone for only a couple of days when I started to miss Mike terribly and called him to my side. I still spent three weeks traveling alone in Morocco (it's a very cool country, though as it offers a "Middle Eastern light" experience, I recommend it as your first step into the Middle East), but then Mike met me and we spent a couple of weeks traveling through Spain . We had a blast! We visited the Basque country and even went to Aoiz, where my great-grandparents were from, and after getting tired of all the rain and snow of the Pyrenees, we headed towards the sun and the fun of Andalucia.

The following year (1995), we were able to exchange our apartment for one in Paris , so I got to live my dream of actually living in Paris for almost a month. We got to know the city backwards and forwards and live like Parisians, waking up and going to the bakery for some hot bread and petit au chocolat, then eating a cheap lunch or making our own with cold cuts and bread, and finally cooking our own dinners (we couldn't afford to eat at restaurants back then). We got a train pass, and we also visited Normandy, Alsace, Geneva, Luxembourg and spent an unforgetable day wine-tasting in Burgundy.

By then, we had established a pattern of taking a trip every year. The next summer I got an internship in Lima, Peru , and Mike joined me after that was over for a 3-week trip through Peru. We went to Puno, from which we had a quick trip to La Paz in Bolivia , and then spent a great week exploring the sites around Cuzco. We also loved the less touristy Trujillo and Chan Chan and flying over the Nazca lines.

The following summer I had a course in Costa Rica and decided to take the opportunity to visit Nicaragua . Mike joined me for that - it was the worst trip of our life. In the Managua bus station, we got robbed and Mike got beaten up. Some very helpful people were wonderful with us and helped us, but it was quite a traumatic experience. We wanted to get out of Managua right away (and use a different bus station), so we decided to go to Bluefields on the Western Coast. It took a day-long bus ride in a horrible bus with no suspension riding on the worst roads you can imagine, only to get to a town filled with drunkards and prostitutes. Bluefields wasn't much better, though it was at least a little bit more interesting. From there we took a boat ride to the Corn Islands and I discovered that I suffered from sea sickness. The boat was full and I didn't have a place to seat, and as I leaned against the railings more than once I thought about just jumping in. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who got sick, though I seemed to be the only one who thought about throwing up out of the boat. Most people just did it where they were. Needless to say this was one of the most horrible experiences of my life (so OK, I've had an easy life).

The Corn Islands were great, quite, peaceful and a great place to rest and mend our wounds. The place where we were staying was expensive - otherwise we'd have stayed longer - but it was just what we needed. Still, we decided to cut our trip short and fly to Managua (again, overextending our budget). Unfortunately, we were stuck in Managua for several days before we could get a bus back to San Jose, though once in San Jose we were able to get an early flight. As I said, the worst trip we've had.

A few months after that, I got to go to Europe again. First to Nuremberg in Germany and then to Geneva , in both cases for conferences. I didn't get to see much beyond those cities but it was still a lot of fun. A few months after that I got another conference, this time in Quito, Ecuador , and decided to take ten extra days to travel through the country. Ecuador is a really cool country, at that time it was also very cheap (that's no longer the case). It's very laid back and the people are very friendly. I didn't get to go to the Galapagos, but a few days in the jungle made me feel like I was in a García Márquez novel.

My following trips, in 1999, were also "business". I went to Rome and Milan but got to explore both cities. Rome was great and I look forward to returning to Italy some day. A month later I went to The Hague and got to spend a day in Amsterdam - I loved the canals and all the houseboats.

Much later that year, I decided that it was time we went to the place Mike had always wanted to go so I planned a trip to Thailand and Cambodia . Angkor Wat was wonderful, everything you could imagine. Mike's highlight was renting a motorcycle and driving ourselves to the ruins - we had a great time. We also visited the genocide sites in Phnom Phen, heavy stuff. Once back in Thailand, we realized that we didn't really feel like traveling, so we spent a week at the beach in Ko Chang, a really cool island. Once we got tired of doing nothing we went to Bangkok, which Mike loved.

The following year I got to go to Rwanda for a conference, and made a 6-hour stop in Nairobi, Kenya , enough to take a drive through the city and the animal park close by. It was pretty cool though it reminded me of a wild animal park. I didn't get to see much of Rwanda, beyond the countryside in my way to a prison or a genocide site, but it did look very, very green, in contrast to much of East Africa. Later that year, for a change of pace, Mike and I took an Alaska cruise. I found it very relaxing, not having to move from place to place or decide where to go or what to eat each day can be a treat once in a while. Plus Alaska is truly beautiful, in particular the misty fjords we got to navigate through.

I was antsy for some real travel and some time alone, so I planned a trip to India for March 2001. First I got to stop in Madrid and visit with my partners for a few days, and then in Jordan for a couple of days. I found it quite changed, much more "conservative", though still very easy to travel in. I was disappointed in realizing I'd forgotten all my arabic.

India , where I spent about six weeks, was the hardest country I'd ever been to. I'd never encountered so much poverty, so much filth, so much chaos. Probably what bothered me the most was my inability to connect with the locals. Once or twice I was able to, but mostly with educated, middle class Indians. What I usually enjoy most about traveling is experiencing another culture, in India I felt I was doing that through a window. It was a very interesting experience, however. I really loved Kashmir and I wish I could return. I got lonely early in the trip, however, so once again I called Mike and asked him to join me earlier than he'd meant. He did, and we spent a couple of weeks traveling through Rajasthan, which we both liked. It was also nice to see the Taj Mahal together.

Soon after I returned, I went back to Italy for a two-week course. I didn't get to travel much this time, though a short trip through the backroads near San Remo was a blast.

Soon after I returned I got pregnant. Mika was born in April 2002, and since then we'd traveled quite a bit in the US. We went to Washington DC when she was 8 months old (a good age, she was fine being in her stroller as we visited the museums and the monuments), and then to Park City, Utah, when she was 10. She was the snow for the first time, and of course she loved it. When she was 13 months we went to Argentina for a 6-week trip. I was amazed at how easy it was to travel with her. We stayed in 3-star hotels (rather than 1-star) and traveled mostly by plain, though we did rent a car for a few days in Bariloche. We got to go to the Perito Moreno Glacier which was truly amazing, as well as hang out in Buenos Aires and in La Plata with family. It was a great trip.

The following October, when she was 18 months, we spent a few days in the Pennsylvania Dutch country and New York city, again, traveling with Mika was a breeze. A later trip to Oregon, when she was almost 2, proved more difficult. By this age Mika couldn't sit still for a whole meal at a restaurant, and would get whiny if she didn't get her way. We did get to go dog-sledding, however, which even she liked.

Mike and I took our first Mika-free vacation, a four day cruise to Mexico, when Mika was two. It was somewhat relaxing though not as much as I wished. We had meant to go back to Argentina that year, but a new pregnancy kept me continuosly exhausted so we decided to go to the Big Island of Hawaii instead. We loved the island, really enjoyed snorkeling and the volcanos (despite the fact that we couldn't see any lava) but we learned that a vacation with a 2.5 yo is not really a vacation - we returned just as exhausted as when we've left.

Our first trip with our 2nd daughter, Camila, came in late 2005. Mike had a job in Seattle and we decided to join him and also explore the Olympic Peninsula, we'd been there over a decade before but it was a different experience being there with the kids. Later in the year we once again went to Argentina for almost six weeks, this time we flew to Salta, explored the Northwest including the quebradas de Humahuaca and Cafayate and then made our way by bus down to Tucuman and Cordoba, before taking a couple of weeks at the beach in Mar del Plata. Once again, traveling with the kids was not relaxing but it was fun.

We got to take a break from them last April/May when my parents took them for a week and we went to pick them up by car. We drove down Highway 1, stopping at the major sights (Carmel, Monterrey, Big Sur, the beaches, Solvang) and spending a night near St. Simeon. We did a tour of Hearst Castle at night, and I could not recommend it more - it was wonderful to look at the sunset from the outside patios, and the patios and pools were plain beautiful. The inside of the castle does not make the architect proud, though to each its own.

In 2006 I went to Belgium, where our sister organization has its main office and to London. I didn't get to see much in Belgium as this was a work trip, but I did spend part of a day in Brugge and went to Brussels for dinner. England was also a work trip, but I couldn't go there without taking a sight of the city. I spent a day walking around it and another half a day at the British Museum. The weather was wonderful, sunny and warm, when I was there so of course I loved the city.

A year later, for the same work thing, I went to Geneva. Not the most exciting city in the world, but I got wonderful weather and spent a day and a half looking around.

Next on the agenda, a short trip to the California Wine Country. I also hope to go back to Egypt with the whole brood in 2009.