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University of Chicago Department of Athletics & Recreation

Men's Basketball: South America 2009 blog

Sunday, Sept. 13

As most great things, our amazing trip had to come to an end.

We arrived back in Chicago around 11 AM pretty exhausted after nearly 24-consecutive hours of traveling. Our trip was filled with numerous memorable moments that will last a lifetime.

Looking back on the unforgettable 10 days, there are many events that stand out. In addition to the many tours of beautiful Buenos Aires, the fascinating Recoleta Cemetery, the entertaining yet potentially dangerous (I'm fine) Estancia, and the eye-opening experience of playing the top professional team in the area were unique opportunities that everyone enjoyed.

Then after a quick flight to Argentina's west side, we arrived in the gorgeous oasis that is the city of Mendoza. Here we were privileged to visit not one, but two vineyards, lead basketball clinic for the local boys and girls club (tons of fun!), as well as go rafting and hiking, activities very few of us have ever been fortunate enough to experience. I think I speak for the majority of the team by declaring the day filled with rafting and hiking as the favorite, though Tommy Sotos may disagree after nearly going overboard on the rapids.

Finally, after a long but breathtaking trip through the Andes, we arrived at our last stop, Santiago Chile. Here we were greeted by Rodrigo, a local guide who led us on multiple informative tours thorough his hometown. In addition, we had the chance to watch a local soccer match between Los Palestions and Chile University. The home team was the Palestinos and we were wisely advised by Rodrigo when to cheer in order to avoid the wrath of any fanatics.

While each destination was filled with awesome events, the meals and hotels deserve some attention. In each location, we stayed in some of the nicest hotels in the area and were able to live in luxury. In conjunction, the food we ate was delicious (Vegetarians may disagree). Each meal we were presented with never ending portions of some the finest of meats I have ever had. Furthermore, we tasted variety of Chile's scrumptious seafood during our stay.

Personally speaking, this was the best trip I have ever been on and I'm sure Steve, Sophia, Micaela and I will never forget the birthdays we celebrated in South America. From the extraordinary experiences to the wonderful people, I could not imagine a better trip.

For all those who made it possible, I am deeply grateful and thankful for the opportunity you have given us simply through your generosity.

- Jake Pancratz

Sunday, Sept. 13

Sadly, today was our last day in Santiago and the end of our fabulous trip.

After rising early for our last hotel breakfast, we left for a bus tour of several neighborhoods of Santiago. We were able to get a much more complete view of the Providincia neighborhood, where our hotel was located. We were also able to see several other middle and upper-class neighborhoods that surround the downtown area. I was especially interested in the large mansions that were carved into the hillsides; they were beautiful both in setting and architecture and it was fun to imagine living in such luxurious fashion.

After the neighborhood tours, we visited another beautiful Catholic chapel and an interesting street fair. The merchants in this fair peddled more expensive goods than previous ones, including giant peacocks, large wood sculptures, and incredibly soft ponchos that may make an appearance as pajamas for some of my teammates. We had our last taste of the empanadas that we have come to love on this trip for lunch and returned to the hotel to check out.

We ended our time in Santiago by driving up a trail into a Chilean national park that gave us breathtaking views of the city and adjacent areas. The park was beautiful by itself, but it was amazing to see the contrast between the modern skyscrapers, the shacks congregated further from town, and the ancient mountains surrounding the area all at once.

Afterwards, we went to a shopping mall to eat more and shop. After being struck by the low prices of almost everything in South America, I was surprised to discover that electronics like video games were more expensive than in the US. Of course it makes sense that it would be expensive to ship these foreign goods to Chile, but I had become spoiled by low prices.

Now, we are headed back to the United States, and my last impression of the day and the trip is that I have developed a healthy respect for the language barrier. I am especially sympathetic to my Spanish-speaking co-passengers that struggle to communicate with the flight attendants after ten days of trying to communicate with no knowledge of Spanish. This is only one of the many lessons that I will take away from this trip. I am sure that we have all learned a lot and I hope these lessons will help us to become better rounded people.

- Joe Guiler

Saturday, Sept. 12

After yesterday's lengthy, yet breathtaking bus ride twisting through the high peaks of the Andes, we were ready to see a different kind of beauty in the fascinating city of Santiago, Chile.

The next to last day of our South American trip kicked off with a walking tour of downtown Santiago. Before we go into the tour itself, allow us a sentence to laud the subway system in this city. Our team has travelled extensively and we have experienced many a subway system both foreign and domestic; we were hard-pressed to think of a single one that rivaled Santiago in its cleanliness and efficiency.

Impressive as the subway was, the city was clearly the highlight of the early part of our day. Gorgeous cathedrals dot the downtown area. Contemporary high rises are scattered amongst traditional federal buildings and classical apartments. Street vendors push their products in some of Santiago's strategically-placed plazas and squares.

While more modern in appearance than either of our first two stops, it was particularly reminiscent of Los Angeles, Santiago's beauty was a welcome breath of fresh air (despite it's location in a sunken, smoggy valley).

After eating lunch at an excellent seafood café, our team headed over to a small professional soccer game at Palestino's stadium. A stunning backdrop of the Andes mountains range was the perfect setting for a very unique experience. Palestino had a small yet extremely devoted group of fans that cheered, sang, and yelled the whole game. The game ended in a tie, but pardon the cliché, the day as a whole was quite the victory.

- Stephen Palmtag, Tommy Sotos, & Tom Williams

Friday, Sept. 11

The primary item on the itinerary today for the Maroons was the bus ride from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile.

Leaving early in the morning we headed towards the Andes Mountains, which we had to pass through in order to get to Santiago. There was plenty of scenery to look at as we started venturing through the mountains. We stopped midway up at the spot where we could view the highest mountain in the Andes. Even though there was snow covering the ground, it was still sunny and warm outside.

As we reached the top of the Andes and the border of Argentina and Chile, we had to stop at customs for a thorough check. This stop took longer than expected because the bus in front of us had fruit, meat, and cheese which can't be taken across the border.

After we had finished the customs check, we had to start the ride down the mountain. The winding ride down the mountain included 19 curves but offered us plenty of opportunities to take pictures out the window. The best view, according to our guide, was at the 17th curve. Once we were down the mountain, the terrain flattened out and we stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the side of the road.

Finally reaching Santiago, we were relieved to settle into the hotel and unpack. We walked down the street to have dinner at La Hacienda de Gouchos. We feasted on beef, chicken, and pork and sang happy birthday to Sophia on the girl's team.

One of the high points of the meal was the delicious ice cream we had for dessert. Even though the day was filled mostly with a bus ride, there were still plenty of happenings to make it one of the more memorable days on the trip.

- Chase Davis, Alex Doyle, and Michael Sustarsic

Thursday, Sept. 10

The Maroons woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to embark on their river rafting and hiking excursion.

After about 20 minutes of driving through the city, we became flabbergasted as the Andes mountains appeared in the horizon. I personally felt it was one of the prettiest things I have seen in my life.

As we arrived to our destination, we quickly learned that putting on our wet gear was not going to be an easy task. However, after a couple minutes of struggling we were ready to begin our journey downstream. After the first rapid came pouring into our raft we quickly learned how frigid the water was. That however did not stop us from dominating the Mendoza River.

After a quick lunch, we were ready to being our hiking odyssey through the Andes Mountains. Once again the site was simply breathtaking. The path was not easy, to say the least, and a couple of times we thought we had lost some men but in the end we reached our destination.

A beautiful waterfall was waiting for us and we simply could not get enough of it. After about 15 minutes of taking pictures, we set out for our journey back which we found was much harder than our hike there.

The night was concluded with a amazing dinner at one of the local restaurants near our hotel. The food was spectacular and dining with the fellas was once again a night to remember. After some well thought out speeches by the coaches and John Bonelli we made our way home through the beautiful streets of Mendoza ready for our trip to Chile in the morning.

- Marek Kowalewski

Wednesday, Sept. 9

After the travel day and basketball clinic yesterday, the team was looking forward to a relaxing and scenic tour through Mendoza's famed wine region.

With the majestic peaks of the Andes mountain range on the horizon and a chilly morning sun sitting low in the morning sky, we knew we were quite a ways from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.

Our tour guide and fearless leader Victor led the way on an extremely informative and interesting tour of the San Felipe Vineyard and historical museum. We learned a lot about the history of wine making in Agentina.

We'll surely remember this first stop for its beautiful location, great wine, and rich sense of history. And I know Matt will never forget his friend and companion of the morning: a small affectionate feline who curled up in his lap to take a break from the hectic, high stress existence of mouse hunting.

Our next stop was the Familia Antonietti winery. This small, family owned and operated winery was definitely a highlight of the trip. Here, we learned the nuances of wine tasting, from what to look for in a wine's color to the importance of the pop the cork makes when the bottle is opened. More than being a tour of a winery, our trip to Familia Antonietti felt like spending the afternoon with old friends. We had a delicious lunch, complete with homemade empanadas that we watched being made.

Relaxing with a glass of wine around the beautiful meal, we were able to take a break from the stresses of travel and completely enjoy the conversation and company of the team. I could not imagine a better way to spend the day. Mellow and rested, our team is now ready to tackle the outdoors tomorrow!

- John Bonelli

Tuesday, Sept. 8

After a few days in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, we set out for Mendoza, Argentina. We didn't think Argentina could get any better, but the city of Mendoza proved us wrong.

After a short flight, we walked to a small neighborhood restaurant named Mi Terra. There, the classic Argentinian dishes of chicken or beef satisfied even the largest of appetites (aka me).

Later that evening, we had the pleasure of teaching a basketball clinic for local boys and girls, and it was an absolute blast. The kids were very enthusiastic, and loved playing in front of an American team.

We set up several different stations, each teaching a different fundamental. I can safely say we saw some future NBA stars in the making!

Afterwards, we came back and relaxed at the hotel and spent the night exploring this great little city in Argentina.

- Steve Stefanou

Monday, Sept. 7

We experienced yet another bueno day in Buenos Aires, our last before leaving the capital to explore other parts of the country.

We spent the whole morning on a tour of the city, exploring eight different districts. Along the way we saw two magnificent churches, Argentina's Congress building, the "Pink House" where the President works (pink is the new white, apparently), and many small stores.

My favorite district was La Boca, most famous for its prominent club soccer team, but full of shops, colorful buildings, and plenty of tango dancers (Buenos Aires is the birthplace of the tango).

After finishing our tour, we had lunch at a nice Italian restaurant, complete with Dulce de Leche crepes for dessert. We let the food settle for a couple hours before we went over to a local athletic club to play the teams there.

It was quite the complex, with four floors of courts and an impressive outdoor soccer stadium. Both the men's and women's teams played extremely hard, battling the professional teams while adjusting to the nuances of international play. It was a great experience, complete with a gift exchange between the teams before the tip-off. (EDITOR'S NOTE: We received a small pennant representative of their club while we presented them with pins from the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. The team also wore the Chicago 2016 warm up t-shirts to help generate enthusiasm for the bid internationally.)

It was a spectacular day, adding to what has already been an unforgettable trip.

- Matt Johnson

Sunday, Sept. 6

After a long flight and wonderful first day in Argentina, the girls and guys from the basketball team were excited about the new day ahead of us.

Buenos Aires is such a unique city and there just so much to see! We departed for our trip to an Estancia after eating breakfast at the hotel. All of us had no idea what to expect and were excited to explore more of Argentina. It took about an hour and a half to arrive at the Estancia, and as we exited the bus we would find ourselves in a beautiful ranch.

The first event of the day was a horse show but on by the people that worked there. Three men, having the appearance of gauchos, were in control of about 40 horses that lived at the ranch. It was impressive on how well all the horses listened to the gauchos, as they turned they walked and circled in perfect unison. After that, one of the gauchos would sprint with his horse in a straight line, while throwing a tiny metal stick in a small metal whole that was attached to a wooden ledge. The gauchos did this numerous times, giving the metal ring and a kiss on the cheek to a different girl on the basketball team each time. I was crossing my fingers that I would also be chosen, but I was out of luck.

After the horse show we had the opportunity to ride our own horses around the ranch. For the most part, all the horses were very well behaved and obedient while walking us in a slow and steady pace. My horse didn´t seem thrilled to have my weight on him (who can blame him?), but he was a trooper and was able to handle me.

At one point Jake´s horse went a little crazy, jumping and running in circles until our point guard fell off. Jake was brave however, and got right back on following his fall.

Following the horse riding was a wonderful all-you-can-eat meat dinner prepared by the gauchos. As yesterday's food was, this meal was also delicious and extremely filling. All of the weight lost during our hard work the past week and half in practice is slowly coming back on after all of these big meals!

We left the Estancia after dinner, and traveled to the San Telmo Street fair. The girls and guys teams walked around there for a while, shopping for crafts, clothes, jewelry, and other various things. There were so many little outdoor stores that had neat things for us to buy and look at.

We also got a taste of Argentinian culture as there were live bands and tango dancers all over the streets! It was another wonderful day in Argentina and we all feel so lucky and privileged to be here.

Can't wait for tomorrow!

- Paul Riskus

Saturday, Sept. 5

The day all of us had been waiting for since learning about our trip to South America finally arrived. After a long night of travel we hit the ground running in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Along with several members of the men's and women's basketball teams, I spent the day roaming the streets in the Recoleta district. The highlight of the day was surely our visit to the world famous Recoleta cemetary, where we made our way through tight streets lined with ther most architecturally ornate tombs I had ever seen. The attention to detail showed the city's dedication to the preservation of Argentinean culture for many years to come.

We finished out the night with a heart stopping meal at a South American steakhouse and a stroll through the Palermo Soho district.

- John Kinsella