Buenos Aires, Patagonia and Mendoza.
09.11.2010 - 13.12.2010
Happy New Years 2011!!! Feliz Año Nuevo 2011!!!
Greetings from Houston, Texas! We are finally back… In this entry we narrate the events that took place on our second visit to Argentina. There is one more entry (about Chile) on the way... hopefully it will be posted pretty soon!
A comfy overnight bus brought us back from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. After one and a half hours of carrying our heavy bags looking for a place to stay, we run into an old, quiet and welcoming Hostel. It was very well located in the microcentro (meaning the most centric part of town), right next to the Obelisk, artsy and bohemian Corrientes St. and gigantic 9 de Julio Ave. As I have mentioned before, the best way to get to know a city in on foot, and so we did. We walked all over BA, about 20 - 25 km per day.
A good map and a heavy breakfast (lots of facturas -sweet pastry- and hierba mate -Argentinian Tea) got us to Recoleta Cemetery, a little town in its own. The many streets, monuments and sculptures in a maze-like arrangement makes it easy for first-timers to get lost. Finding Eva Peron's grave ended up being more difficult than we originally thought.
To see her mausoleum we had been advised to follow the tourist crowds, but such strategy proved to be wrong. We jumped into group whose guide was trying to get rid of a local couple using the same approach. The heated conversation between the guide and the couple got nasty. Actually the trip’s ugliest racist remark came out of it: "Look at the color of your skin in the mirror before addressing me like that" replied the upset white female to the dark tour guide.
On a Sunday most businesses close and parks are filled with merry locals biking, skating, walking pets, exercising or chatting drinking hierba mate. Palermo's Rosedal -Rose Park- was over crowded that day. The many benches, lakes and rose patches with delicate scents were visited by masses of people of all ages. Needless to say this place is so romantic that it is not difficult to see couples expressing their love through passionate kisses and endearing hugs. Of course we didn't want to look alien so we played our part... "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," so the saying goes
For the next two days our main objective was shopping for leather stuff and warm clothes for Patagonia. Monchi joined us on the quest. We went all over town, reached every possible shop so Jay could fulfill his dream of buying Argentinian leather pants. La Boca, Once, Florida, Corrientes, Murillo... It took us two days and lots of patience to find them. What we didn't know was that Jay would leave his pants on a bus a few weeks later (darn!).
"A trip to Argentina is incomplete without going to Patagonia, you have to go whale-watching in Puerto Madryn" said Guille and Cami when in La Plata. Our friends' enthusiasm convinced us to jump on a 20-hour bus ride South-wise. We liked the mid-size town as soon as we arrived. Laid-back, friendly people in addition to a long pear and walkable beach with dozens of jumping whales (and a few sea lions) made us realize the trip was worthwhile.
I must confess by the time we arrived in Patagonia, 15 months on the road were making us lazier and lazier... Yet our motivation to see whales for the first time got us on our feet to arrange a tour to go to Peninsula Valdez. We ended up sharing a car with a Brazilian couple and a driver who turned out to be a very atypical guide. Happy to show the area where he grew up, he drove us to remote unvisited spots that offer great views of the dry and windy Patagonian shore.
In Puerto Piramide we shared a boat with 80 people to go whale-watching. In mid November most of the male adults have already left the area so what we saw were females nursing the young. The curious young sea mammals approached our boat so closely; within an arm's reach. Some of them even swam underneath the boat, leaving the exited visitors breathless. The majestic creatures were definitely well worth the trip down.
The sounds of the wind, the camera shutters, and the exhaling of the beasts combined as the heat of the moment reached it climax. At a distance, many whales were going deep, looking for food, leaving only the tale in the surface or just jumped graciously splashing water all over. Thinking things could not get any better, a school of playful dolphins surprised us by chasing the boat as it headed back to the port. It was one of the best nature-watching excursions we've had.
Whales are not the only attraction of the area. Our guide drove us around the peninsula to see sea lions lying on the beach, some birds -including Patagonian Ostrich- and penguins. The later were our favorite. They were so close to us and so friendly that we felt like touching them. Not that we did it... instead we took lots of photos of them mating, breeding, walking around and even fighting. Check out the Photography section for more pics.
Andean village El Bolson was chosen to spend my 31st birthday. It poured rain that day so we stayed indoors warming up, drinking wine and eating empanadas while contemplating a nostalgic view of the Piltriquitron Mountain through the window. I just wanted to rest that day, but when the rain waned Jay convinced me to go for a walk.
A muddy trail took us to a lookout point with good views of the town and nearby mountains. On the way up, a greeting to a local old man started a brief conversation: "Things are not what they used to..." he mentioned the shire's rapid growth and complaint about people not talking to each other anymore. "When I was your age, I always liked to talk to older people; now that I am old, I like talking to the young" he said as a sort of justification...
We had a lovely delicious dinner at a fine restaurant to celebrate my B-day... The following days had perfectly sunny weather so exploring the village surroundings was the thing to do. About five to six kilometers away the vivid colorful Valle del Azul and Cabeza de Indio welcomed us. I now understand why El Bolson could be a wonderful place to settle: growing what you eat amidst a beautiful mountainous scenery and chill out artsy atmosphere is not the worst lifestyle, is it?
A street Milonga -event where Tango is danced- with life music closed the program. Several members of the shire and outsiders alike (who had obviously taken Tango lessons) where dancing to Bandoneon (sort of concertina) tunes. Many bailarines spontaneously popped up in the dance floor casually dressed. My favorite couple was an enigmatic old man elegantly dressed who danced passionately and skilfully with a young girl with dreadlocks... what an interesting combination, don't you think?
Snow-capped mountain that drained into a massive lake populated with multiple islands dressed with pine forests and aromatic flowers under a deep blue sky... wonderful Bariloche was our next stop. Home-like comfort, Hostel Penthouse 1004 is an apartment on the tenth floor with Bariloche's best views and some of the friendliest staff we have encountered on this trip.
We took it easy in Bariloche and only went sightseeing three times. A short but steep hike took us to the summit of Cerro Campanario. A chairlift could have been taken instead but we needed to exercise (due to the great chocolate, ice cream and wine availability in town). I would say this place offers the best views of the Nahuel Huapi Park. The coffee shop at the top was perfect to rest, play cards while taking in the marvelous views.
Good public transportation is another great thing about Bariloche. Nahuel Huapi's Circuito Chico is normally done by car or bike but we did it by bus and on foot. Even though it takes a longer time to cover the same distances it is well worth it. You can access off the beaten track areas, stop anywhere anytime and take a greater number of photos. We ended up walking more than planned and sometimes it seemed as though we were lost ( some trails got narrower leading to a dead end)... But the views where more than rewarding.
Villa La Angostura, an hour away from Bariloche was our last excursion. A boat tour drop us off at the tip of the Peninsula from where we headed back 19 kms through one of the two unique Arrayan forest in the world. The amber color of the Arrayan trees twisted in capricious ways gives them a particular appearance. According to Fede this forest may have inspired Walt Disney to design the landscape for the Bamby movie. It looks like a forest from a fairy Tale, indeed!
I happened to have two friends in town: Fede (a Patagonian Museum employee who hosted me in the past) and Gabriel (a mount climbing guide that I met in Huaraz many years ago). Fede is quite a character, with his refined Castilian and thousand of stories about Patagonian architectural legacy he entertained us quite a bit. Gabriel and his wife Nancy -who was 8 months pregnant by the time- joined us for a lovely dinner; climbing in Huaraz and friends in common were the main topics at the table. Jay took he opportunity to learn more Argentinian slang... so typical!
One of the things Jay was really looking forward to was the wine touring around Mendoza. The bicycle circuit is very popular with the tourists. So the day after Jay's bedridden bout with the sights, we joined up with several other backpackers in our Hostel for an independent group tour of about 10 people through some of the wineries.
Now, most of the time, we try to avoid large groups when we're out doing sight seeing, but we were VERY fortunate to have a very diverse group of too cool for school travellers. Needless to say that, by the end of the day, we were quite tipsy. As a bicycle is not considered 'heavy machinery' we took no precautions in riding while intoxicated.
One of our favorite things about the city of Mendoza itself was this little restaurant we found around the corner from our second Hostel. Other than being an excellent economy option, it was popular with the older pension crowd, so we got to overhear some interesting conversations. But there was also a nice city park that we spent a good amount of time walking through.
After 4 nights in Mendoza, we took a short bus ride to Uspallata, which is on the way to the Chilean border. As 7 Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt was filmed here, you can imagine the landscapes; F'n AMAZING! The town is very small and friendly. Seventy percent of the locals are environmental activist in some way. It was not hard to see graffitti and street paintings against a Canadian mining company.
While in town we stayed at the oldest hostel of the area. The family who run the posada was quite interesting, The old lady enjoyed talking to people "it keeps me learning and entertained" she said. Therefore she had all sorts of stories about peculiar hostel's guests, some of them climbers attempting to reach the highest point in the Western Hemisphere. Her husband was an excellent entrepreneur with lots interesting anecdotes and tips on how to run a successful businesses.
We spent our last 2 days in Argentina here doing day hikes while saying our goodbyes to the country. One of the loveliest excursion was a 14km round trip hike to the 7 Colors Hill. If you want to be alone in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but deserted rocky hills, this is your best bet! After climbing the hill, we enjoyed many hours of solitude just listening to the wind and watching the clouds pass-by near some of the driest Andean mountains I have seen.
On the next day the target was to visit Aconcagua Provincial Park. The bus dropped us off by Puente Inca, an impressive natural bridge with sulfuric structures and hot springs. It was 4 kms away from the Park's entrance. "Just follow the highway and you'll get there" said a local seller. We didn't want to walk next to the road so we took a shortcut which ended up being a closed trail that used to be accessible in olden times. This was one of our favorite parts of the day. It seemed as though we were actually exploring something... and the views couldn't be better.
Once in the Park, we took a short trail to a viewpoint to see the highest mountain of the Americas. Unfortunately the clouds didn't allow us to see massive Aconcagua (~7000 meters) in all its magnitude. So we took it easy and laid down for a couple of hours by Horcones Lake watching a family of ducks swimming around looking for food, fixing their feathers and taking a nap.
The way back to the bus stop was an adventure in itself. Since the park rangers had made it clear it was forbidden to take the old trail, we headed back along the highway. We realized there was a railway parallel to the road not too far from us, so we decided to follow it. Gladly, the old railway was out of service. Some of the tunnels had collapsing parts blocking the way.
The scariest part of it all was having to cross a partially fallen bridge. We could see the river underneath us. A minor stumbling step would mean the end... so we had to use both legs and arms to secure ourselves. Our agitated heart beats and shaky legs let us know that we had been in great danger. Thank God nothing bad happened. "It is the last time we do something like this" Jay and I agreed.
It's a little awkward updating the blog from home... but we wish to tell you about the last days of our long trip. It makes all the difference in the world to know that some of you have been able to see (and travel) the world through our blog. We greatly appreciate your encouraging words, your comments and suggestions. There is only about a week left to be narrated so stayed tuned...God bless you.