Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas from Mendoza

Merry Christmas to everyone from lovely, stiflingly hot Mendoza Argentina. It was 86 degrees in our hostel room when I woke up this morning. Needless to say it´s a bit difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. Mendoza has been a great place to spend a few days over the holidays though. After one day hike, which I swear will be my last hike in a while (I ¨forgot¨my hiking boots in our last hostel so no one could make me hike anymore) we settled into to some pretty lazy days filled with lounging by the hostel pool and enjoying the fruits of the Mendocinos wineries. Rented bikes one day to tour the wineries which was an experience. We only made it to 3 wineries in 6 hours despite the fact that they are no more than a few kilometers apart. Christmas was nicely subdued. Small Swedish style jul bord and a mini-white elephant gift exchange between Cecilia, Camilla Erik and I.

Waiting to take off on the bus back to Buenos Aires to meet Russ and head out for Punta del Este, Uruguay for a few days over new years. Hope everyone is having a great holiday.


Bingo on the bus from Bariloche to Mendoza. Just one of the many ways to keep yourself occupied on the 19 hour bus rides. Another is watching terrible American B movies that the sound will inexplicably switch to Russian half way through.

Erik and I in a heated game of ping pong against a couple of Danes.

Interesting sign along the wine route. Bad things must happen to the right.

Our very ¨touchy¨waiter at the first winery, Christian serving Erik, or Vigo (Mortensen) as Christian was so fond of calling him. He told me I didn´t have the actors face, more like a producer.

Sitting amongst the vines enjoying one of our purchases.

Cecilia with our police escort on the way back to the bike rental place. We spent too much time in the vineyard drinking so we were the last tourists back along the route and aparently its not the safest road.

Christmas dinner at the hostel on the 24th.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Adventour in Bariloche

Last day here in Bariloche which has been our home for the last two weeks. Getting on the night bus to Mendoza (wine country) this afternoon where we will be spending Christmas. Our last couple of days in Bariloche was filled with fun activities. Eric, Brad and I went river rafting one day where Brad had his second near death experience after choosing the "more adventurous" boat, falling in the water and ending up underneath the boat when trying to come up for air, twice, and then getting caught by a whirlpool on the third attempt. We had a great time though and after reaching the Chilean border (the river runs through both countries) we enjoyed some traditional Argentinian asado before heading back to Bariloche.

Camilla and Erik arrived on Tuesday after spending a couple of days in Buenos Aires, great to see them!! We rented a car one day and did the "Seven Lake Route", enjoyed some amazing views, a very cold swim and a short hike. Yesterday we went horse backriding in the mountains, it was so much fun, and a bit dangerous (helmets are apparently not for gauchos and so not for tourists either). First time I have been on a horse without a helmet and riding "Western style" was totally new to me but we figured it out after a little while. We were out for 5 hours climbing all the way to the top of the mountain where the ski lifts are and rode through a gorgeous forest before reaching a cliff where we had lunch, steak sandwiches cooked up by our guide on a little grill. Later we galloped on gravel roads with crazy stray dogs running after us barking. The trip ended very unfortunate when Brad experienced his third near death experience on this trip. With 10 feet left to the gate where we stopping, Brad´s horse was in full gallop and as he assumes we are going straight the horse apparently wanted to turn towards his stable (sharp right turn) which it did and Brad flew off the side together with the saddle that came off. It was a scary moment but fortunately nothing was broken, head didn´t hit the ground. A very sore butt and back was the result and Brad is not looking forward to our 18 hour bus ride today.

Erik and Camilla joining us meant the addition of another ukulele for the "concerts" we have been having at the hostel the last couple of nights. Who knew backpacking would make me take up playing the violin? The amazing people at our favorite hostel of this trip Penthouse 1004 includes Javier who had a violin and a guitar and got us all playing instruments and singing while sipping wine after dinner. Fantastic.


The staff at the hostel, Javier, Cecilia and Gladis

Refugio Frey in the national park

On the bus to the river for some rafting

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Down South

It´s been a while since we´ve been in contact. After an extended stay in Puerto Madryn we headed down the west coast to Rio Gallegos, the furthest south anyone in our little group had been. That´s about the only thing memorable about the layover there, b/c an hour or so later we were back on a bus for a 4.5 hr trip northeast to El Calafate, home of the Perito Moreno Glacier. A couple days there doing a little trek on the ice (culminating with one of the most memorable scotch on the rocks I´ve had) and we were off for El Chalten, the national capital of trekking. Not sure what had been the capital of treking before because Chalten was only founded in 1985. Maybe 800 people inhabit the town, and I think that´s being very generous. Apparently not having had enough hiking, we laced up our boots and took off for 3 days, including one overnight. With that overnight, we officially entered the echelon of full-on backpackers. The scenery was nothing short of breathtaking as you can see below.

While on the map, the route from Chalten/Calafate to Bariloche looks straight forward enough, it isn´t. There are only 2 bus companies that operate that far south on the Routa 40, Argentina´s Route 66, that stretches nearly the entire length of this massive country. We chose one about which I had read a scathing review on another travel blog by some Brit. I chalked it half up to this guy being an insufferably pessimistic Brit, and half to a bit of truth. As we had gotten further south, our plush bus rides had gotten a bit less plush with the absense of hot meals (or any meals for that matter) and wine. And those were on the main bus lines operating well traveled routes. I was expecting the worst and the first day confirmed those expectations. The novelty of traveling up this legendary road where ChĂ© once rode his motorcycle was not enough to make up for the cramped bus with no A/C, no bathroom, and a complete lack of scenery. True we had been spoiled with fully reclining seats, hot meals, movies and booze, and we were coming from the amazing scenery of Southern Patagonia so we were a bit spoiled. The only thing saving us from insanity on the first 12 hour leg was that Eric had brought with him a seemingly endless supply of books and when we weren´t reading, the combination of the constant jostling of the bus traveling on unpaved roads and the 90 degree heat knocked you out. We were either sleeping or reading for 12 hours that day, when we weren´t running behind shrubs to relieve ourselves. But we were assured that this wasn´t the ¨regular¨bus, and that the ¨regular¨ one had bathrooms. More than once I wondered why then we paid the ¨regular¨fare.
After a stay in Perito Moreno (town, not Glacier 12 hours south) we were greeted outside our hotel (yes hotel!! The first on our trip. Our room was noticably devoid of bunk beds and communal bathrooms) by a fully equiped bus, complete with TV´s, working A/C and reclining seats. The second leg of our journey would be better. An uneventful 12 hours later we arrived in Bariloche, toasted ourselves for having completed the marathon journey at the hostel bar with too many cervesas and passed out. We changed hostels after that first night being unimpressed by the big-company-run-hostel experience and opted for a smaller, unadvertised one on the top floor of a dilapidated apartment building close to the water. This place is amazing. Huge terrace overlooking the city and the lake and the mountains, huge kitchen equiped with 3 full gas ranges, large prep areas and (Cecilia´s favorite) prep bowls. We immediately booked all our remaining time in Bariloche, waiting for Camilla and Erik (Dec 15th) at this place.
After our 2.5 weeks down from BA to Southern Patagonia, we´ve been pretty pooped. We´ve taken it easy the last few days, making a trip to a little hippie town a couple hours south for a Jazz festival. Learned that hippies are hippies all over. Dirty dreadlocked parents with filthy little naked hippie children (Eric thinks the national pasttime is not fĂștbol, but baby-making, not only prominant among hippies, although more pronounced) drinking beer, smoking dope, selling ¨hippie crafts¨and generally being at one with the earth. Just like the hoards I would see at Phish concerts in my college days....only in Spanish.
We´re trying to get ourselves up for doing some more hikes while we wait, but the balcony view and proximity to the beach is making it difficult to get off our butts and do things. Enjoy the pics of our last couple weeks down here.


PS I finally shaved off most of the beard I´ve been growing for 3 months. I have a bit of post-partim depression, but I´m working on a Key West/Captain Morgan inspired number now. Still a work in progress, but you´ll see in our next group of photos.

View of Perito Moreno Glacier outside El Calafate. Pieces the size of busses break off and splash to the water making quite a sight.

Cecilia treking on the Glacier
Brad trekking on the Glacier

The north face of the glacier (with enhanced blue function on the camera, which captures it more appropriately than normal settings)

2 happy kids on a boat by a glacier.
Eagerly anticipating the enjoyment to come...
Enjoying the enjoyment previously eagerly anticipated...ahhhh scotch on a glacier. I got a double since Cecilia doesn´t do brown liquor. Made for an interesting trip off the glacier.

2 kids outside a candy store...Patagonia style. That´s Lamb "al cruce" (Lamb on the cross)

The one horse town of El Chalten
Rock hopping towards another glacier in Chalten
By the glacier after rock hopping

Cecilia in all her hiking glory. Mt. Fitz Roy in the background.

All loaded up with camping gear. If Cecilia and I are backpacking, Eric is Plastic Bagging.

2 fun boys contemplating fun times.

2 fun boys having fun times
Breakfast at the Fitz Roy view point

Fitz Roy from the camp site

More breakfast by the peak. We took our camping stove up and made coffee. Fantastic.

Sunrise over Patagonia

The only time we remembered to take out our camera on Routa 40. Multiply this times 24 hours and you get the idea.

Ok, I lied. We did take out the camera one more time. Lucky shot this. We were cruising by on the bus and caught this guy just as he was waving by chance. If herding cats is tougher than herding sheep looks, I would love to see that.

View from the room of our hostel in Bariloche

Biking the Circuito Chico (little circuit) around some of the lakes close to Bariloche with a couple of Irishmen.
Outside a brewery in El Bolson where 70% of the hops grown in Argentina are grown. Perhaps the funnest of funboy moments on the trip so far.
Jazz fest in El Bolson. Surrounded by hippies. The naked babies are just out of sight.
Viewpoint on the circuito chico.