Sunday, June 17, 2012

A ´Cozy´ Cabin

....Unfortuantely going to Mendoza, Argentina´s capital of wine-making, was
not in the cards for me. After I said farewell to Carl since he was going back
up to the states for his Dad´s wedding, I hopped on the first bus with
front row seats to view the awesome passage into Argentina. While we got
all the way to the border, we were turned around because of heavy snow
conditions high up in the Andes. I was disappointed and a little annoyed (it was not
the most comfortable of buses) and found myself back in the same hostel in

   Fortunately, I had a back-up plan. Before leaving for South America my mom had recently gotten back in touch with a long-lost relative, who just happened to rent out mountain villas around Santiago! She had told my mom before I left I was welcome to use one of them if they were available. Carl and I were too busy in our travels, but this now seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it. Luckily I had the good fortune to meet two British girls in the hostal the day before, and it wasn´t 10 minutes before I had arrived from my failed trip that I bumped into them again. They seemed game and I said I would try to see if the place was free tomorrow. We went out that night in Santiago where I met one of their friends, Tim, who had moved
to the area, along with his Chilean girlfriend. We had a great time, and I invited them to the cabin if they wanted to come as well.

   This turned out to be my best idea so far, as the cabin was extremely difficult to get to without a car or a cellphone, both of which Javi, the Chilean girlfriend, had access too. As we made our way up into the mountains through a thunderstorm, I could not have been happier to have two people who knew the area drive us all up there! The entire way we were comparing this situation to a horror movie (A dark and stormy night, a couple of young things go up to a cabin in the middle of the woods know one really knows much about, etc.), which only got worse when we actually got there. We had taken an extra half hour or so to buy groceries but it turns out the housekeeper, Nancy, had to wait outside for us in the freezing rain until we arrived, and she was none too happy when we finally rolled in. After shoving the keys in our hand she made her way back home, and only telling us as she was shutting the door that there was no heat in the house and we would have to build a fire.

    Seeing as none of us were particularly experienced at making a fire, especially in a furnace, we were a bit on edge for the first 10 minutes in the cabin, shivering in our wet clothes and trying to get the damn thing started. Luckily the two Brits had a bit more experienced than me, and we were able to have a roaring fire that heated up the whole cabin (not to mention filled it with smoke for awhile as well). Javi and Tim had brought a portable barbeque and in the end we had a general feast with lots of wine as well. The speakers in the cabin could only play CDs... the selection was pretty horrible but we had a great time making fun of the songs playing. We stayed up quite late and managed to continually freak each other out, joking that Nancy was still waiting outside, clawing at the windows :-)

   The next morning Tim and Javi had to leave, and the three of us were stuck in the cabin with nothing much to do except read and watch the rain outside (the same storm that had blocked me out of Mendoza was bringing some of the heaviest rain throughout Chile all year, apparently the situation was much worse in Santiago). We lazed around and kept the fire going, but mostly it was a good chance to get some serious reading done which I hadn´t had time for in awhile. While we tried to get the heat working, we eventually found out there was no gas and there wouldn´t be any till tomorrow, we decided to boil water in the teapot and us that to wash ourselves instead of using the freezing cold water.

     The next day the rain finally stopped and we were able to go out and explore the area. However, we hadn´t made it two blocks when a horde of puppies attacked us with their cuteness. We spent a good hour at least sitting and playing with the puppies. We got many an interesting look from the locals and the owner tried to sell some of them off to us (which we totally would have accepted if we thought we could take care of them at all). There are many cute pictures of us and the puppies (which I´ll have to post later). The puppies got so tired from playing with us that they all fell asleep on our laps, which was 10 times as cute as before. Finally their mother managed to goe them inside and we continued on.

   We finally came across the main attraction of the area, Las Cascadas de Las Animas, which turned out to be a big amusement nature park but with access to two pretty spectacular waterfalls. After hiking up quickly we decided it would be way too expensive to do anything else. We decided the area was nice, and the cabin had been fun, but that tomorrow we should try to leave (especially because the gas STILL wasn´t working!). After another great meal (kudos to the girls, they really knew what we were doing!) we called it another freezing night, and the next day hi-tailed it out of there. The ride back in the colectivo was spectacular, as we hadn´t been able to see the valley during the midnight thunderstorm when we arrived.

    The epilogue to this interesting, albeit luxurious side trek was that in Santiago Tim and Javi invited us to have a drink at the rooftop terrace of ´The W´ one of 5-star hotels in Santiago so that we could see the whole city at night. It was a strange experience and the inside of the hotel was as interesting at
the view, but it was great to see Tim and Javi again, and I hope our paths will cross again soon!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Partyin in Valparaiso Pt. 2

    After the hilarious clowning show, we headed back to our hostel for a good meal and a ´blackout´ hour (no electricity or water but complete with malt wine and candles). We had a great time with the other visitors and got to practice our spanish quite a bit. When the staff tried to put the lights on after the hour was over, the whole hostel insisted we keep it off, as the atmosphere was so good. We made our way out to the clubs again, but actually followed some of the locals to a place called ´El Gato en la Ventana´ which was an excellent place that performed live andean music, had great drinks and lots of dancing. I got to try my first terremoto, Chile´s appropriately-named local drink that is extremely sweet to hide how much alcohol was in it. It wasn´t my favorite, but I was glad I tried it. We spent the night dancing to the band and having a great time.

  The next day I decided to take a walking tour of the city, it was run by a local and totally based on tips, which I really appreciated. I got to learn a lot about the history of the city and many stories of the surrounding neighborhoods. I knew this city was not the safest in Chile (robberies and muggings are common, even among locals) but apparently a lot of the city that tourists don´t have reasons to go to are downright dangerous. There was huge staircase we went by called the ´Escalera de la muerte´ which apparently is not just named for it´s grand number of steps. We got more backstories of the street art all over the city... apparently if you don´t let a local artist paint on your house, you will get tagged by gangs instead and the house will look pretty awful, so it´s kind of an obligation in the city, (though most residents consider it a privelage). We also learned about the legendary Valparaiso Downhill mountain bike race (I would definitely recommend watching this video to get an idea:

    After the tour, the guide recommended and excellent place to get the (in)famous Choriallana. It´s meal usually shared by two people that is comprised of french fries covered in steak, covered in onions, and finally covered in fried eggs. Many people lovingly call it ´a chilean heart attack´. It was delicious and I warned myself that I should only try it a few more times. This, as well as the Pastel de Choclo (I would describe it as a corn pot pie), were my favorite non-seafood dishes I had in Chile and hope they´ll both make it to the states on day. After a night in the courtyard filled with a riotous game of Jenga (seriously... it was intense) we headed back to the El Gato en la Ventana and had another excellent night of dancing and partying. However, we stayed up long after the bars closed to see people already starting to protest for the memorial day tomorrow.

   The holiday being celebrated when I was in Valparaiso was one filled with contention. It´s dark history starts with the actual event it commemorates, which is the day when the Bolivia destroyed a naval ship near the atacama desert in the late 19th century. What this holiday fails to mention is that the fighting started because Chile overtook the desert and its rich copper resources when Bolivia, who was the current owner of the area, wanted to tax Chilean companies for mining it. In the end Chile won the war and now the majority of the desert, along with its copper, belongs to Chile and is the country´s main export...  but it is also one of the reasons Bolivia is currently so poor. However, more recent events were what had instigated the current protests, as many of the left-wing residents of chile are against the corrupt educational system that usually keeps the lower classes of Chile from ever having the chance to receive higher education. Since on this holiday Pinochet ordered the execution of students who were protesting the same problem decades ago, the protest during this holidy has become quite large among the student population. I found out some of the people staying at my hostel had come specifically to watch or participate in the protests.

   After resting for a few hours I arrived back at the plaza to see the protest in full swing. It was another great contrast with Chile´s marines marching by in a parade for the more apathetic masses and the students chanting only a few blocks away. We got to see the president give a speech in the city, but we didn´t listen very long as he is not a popular politician. We decided to head to Viña del Mar, Valparaiso´s rich sister city, to escape the crowds in the afternoon. This sister city was nice, but extremely boring, rich and quiet. The beaches and miniature castles built on cliffs were quite interesting, but that was pretty much it, and we quickly made our way back to Valparaiso. After a chill night of relaxing and another impromptu barbeque, I decided it would be best to leave the next day. The hostal staff and other guests were sad to see me go, but I was off to try and see Mendoza!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Partying in Valparaiso pt. 1

So where were we? Ah yes, Valparaiso... probably my favorite city I´ve been to on this trip.

    This place really took me surprise. I knew it would be interesting city, but I was completely mesmerized by the shapes that comprised the roads and the buildings, and street art covering all of it. It reminded a little of San Francisco, but the roads continued to wind and criss cross until you could completely lose track of where you were. The city was placed right along shimmering bay that yawned out into the Pacific, and the weather could not have been better; each day was cloudless and breezy and the nights were cool and calm. For me, the contrast of the aging beauty of the city with it´s current state of disrepair was what made it most appealing. Ever since the Panama canal was built the city lost its value as a sea port and all the rich European-wannabees were replaced with a poorer working class. However, the city seems to have never lost its touched and remained a vibrant, and fertile place for all kinds of art, many of which we got to experience while visiting. To see a beautiful mural painted on a house fallen into desrepair, next to an beautiful mansion with walls shaped to match the curve of the hill, and belwo all this an open and used trash pit is what really drew me to this city.

   After making our way up one of the city´s many winding hills, we came upon a hostel called Patapata. Although it wasn´t in the guidebook, a young couple walking out of the place could not stop raving about it, and since we were a little worn out from trekking uphill with our bags, we thought it would be a fine choice. The place was cramped but friendly and had a nice courtyard covered by trees. The ohter travelers seemed gregarious enough and one of the staff members, Jorge, made it his job to make sure we always knew about the most interesting things happening in the area, as well as the best places to get a delicious cheap meal. After eating a full course $2 lunch at what looked more like a convenience store than a restaurant, Carl and I decided to check out some of the city. After wandering up and down the roads staring at the street art and taking in as much of the epic views of the city as we could, we started to make our way down to the fish market, in the hopes that we could make ourselve another delicious seafood dinner. Unfortunately it was closed, and in my attempt to take a picture of the city, we were hounded after by two men desperately trying to get us to follow them into an alleyway. It was annoying, but eventually they realized we weren´t in the mood to get mugged and trudged off.

      As we continued to make our way through the city, we came across one of the functioning ascensors, elevators into certain neighborhoods. Valparaiso is built on a very steep hill, hence the winding streets, but at one point the city decided to build around 20 wooden diagonal elevators so residents wouldn´t always have to trudge up and down for their groceries. Like most things in this city, most of the ascensors were broken down and did not look like they were going to be fixed any time soon. But we were lucky enough to stumble upon one of the few working ones. We took it up for a mere $0.50 and found ourselves on a patio with an excellent view of the city. We got our picture snapping urges out of our system and began enjoying the surrounding neighborhood as well.

    We eventually made our way back to Patapata where Jorge had decided to invite a local band to play in the courtyard. Carl and I worked up the barbeque and made some shish kabob while listening to this very indie band. It was a lot of fun and we made friends with many of the backpackers and Chileans who were vacationing for a 3-day weekend. After a few more communal libations, the locals and Jorge introduced us to Valparaiso´s excellent nightlife. We all had a blast and were easily up past 5am (which became a reocurring theme in this town).

    The next morning, after a notably good breakfast, Carl and I hit the streets of Valparaiso again. We eventually came across one of the old cemetaries that was filled when the city was still incredibly wealthy. It had the panache of some of the cemeteries I had seen in Paris, but with a Latin American/Sea-side twist. We spent a good hour wandering around this slowly decaying site, peering into masoleums with broken angel statues and cracked but still beautiful stained glass windows. After having a stand-off with a pack of dogs (while I´ve had a great experience with stray dogs so far, Valparaiso definitely had a problem with turf fights between the packs) , we came across a cultural park with some amazing exhibitions of local artsists. The work was quite impressive and totally free to the public, I felt incredibly lucky to have access to so much wonderful art directly from the city, and wished I had a reason to stay in this city for much longer than would be reasonable for my trip.

    We eventually made our way to Plaza Bismark as Jorge had told us there would be an incredible clowning show at the TeatroMuseo (which of course I couldn´t say no to). After getting another amazing view of the city from the plaza we were excited to see the ´museum´ filled with clown puppets and carnival cannons, from which we got some pretty amazing pictures (take a look at Carl´s profile on facebook to get an idea) After enjoying the museum itself, we sat down on the back bleachers for one of the funniest shows I´ve seen in quite awhile. The clowns were amazing, and managed to sneak in a ton of adult comedy without the kids sitting in front understanding it in the slightest. Carl and I even got a little bit of attention since we were the only gringos in the audience, with the clowns hitting on us in English across the room. There were many moments where we almost fell off the risers from laughing so hard, and they managed to keep up some great skits for a good 90 minutes. It turns out they tour around the world quite consistently, even though they´re based in Valparaiso, and so I hope I´ll be able to see them again in the near future.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sleepy Santiago

Well hey there!

   It´s been awhile hasn´t it? With a combination of fighting tooth and nail for the internet along with having too much fun on the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso, I have finally made it back to calmer days in northern Chile... at the moment I´m relaxing at the desert oasis that goes by the name San Pedro de Atacama... but more about that when I get caught up with this blog here. Now, a little about Santiago.

   I spent quite a bit of the time in this South America metropolis, and while I always wanted to leave I found myself returning to it again and again. This city was a grand mix of beautiful and unpleasant. While the streets were clean and the traffic as friendly as you could hope for in South America, the air was filled with smog being captured by the Andes. Also, while many of the streets were lined with stately colonial buildings, these were fast being replaced with modern architecture that would be better if left on the drawing board. While the city was pleasant and enticingly relaxed, it was easy to become bored and turn your back to what the city had to offer, often since the Santiagans themselves being disinterested and disullisioned with the place. However, this international metropolis was a treat if you knew what you were looking for and you got to know some of the locals. By the time I left, most people from the huge hostel I was staying at knew my name, and we would waste nights away chatting in the bar.

   Speaking of our hostel, the place was interesting enough to tell you about. It used to be an old mansion when the district we were staying in (Barrio Brasil) was one of the most expensive places to live. After being handed over to a private school, and then getting turned into a nunnery, it fell into disrepair until someone decided it would work well as a hostel. I have to agree with them for the most part, it had a very nice feel. The place was huge, and each dorm room, even though it had 8 beds, had plenty of space to spare. The kitchen was also the biggest I´ve seen so far and the backyard was complete with outdoor bar, pool, and ping-pong table, which we definitely used. While this place used to be a party house, recent complaints from the neighbors and low season crowds made the place a little calmer, which I actually enjoyed. The rooms were also extremely cheap, which I did not have a problem with, and the hostel always knew where to go out for nightlife each night.

  While the museums here were quite nice, there is nothing too particularly exciting to say about them: they were big, they had many interesting exhibits, and they reminded me a lot of Europe. I spent a good day or two enjoying them, but found  the actual streets of Santiago and its surrounding parks much more interesting. I would spend whole days wandering around with no particular destination in mind. Among some interesting things I found were: an Ampitheatre on top of hill with a view of most of Santiago, numerous mind-altering murals around the city, a huge local market filled with amazing fresh fruit and horrible clothes, a building that looked like a palace from another world, and a restaurant that served 30 different types of empanadas (unfortunately not all of them were good).

   When we thought we had enough of the Capital for a little while, Carl and I decided to book it to Valparaiso, the self-proclaimed cultural center of Santiago... but more on that next time!

P.S. Here´s what Santiago looks like... IF there´s no smog (which there almost always is)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chilling in Chiloé

Hey everyone,
    Sorry, it's getting harder and harder to find good internet connections, and therefore harder to keep you all updated. I'll try my best but will have to cut some stories short just to get this out on the interwebs. (I know it's been almost a month though!) There are many good stories, but I will try to keep my narrative linear :-)

    Last I updated, I thought I was going hang gliding, but as the instructors took us to the top of the hill (enigmatically only saying a few sentences to us the whole time) it became clear that we were actually going paragliding. I was fine with either, as I just wanted to be high up in the air; it didn't matter to me how I got there, but it was a little surprising to see the giant parachute be splayed out in front of me (FYI, Carl has many more details of this trip, including pictures! go check out this blog to find out more). The wind was very rough, and the instructors thought we might not be able to go, but suddenly the wind started up and he yelled for me to run down the mountain! I jumped to and before I knew it we were gliding right off the ground and I was looking down at forests hundreds of feet below us. The views of the mountains, lakes, and islands in Bariloche were an incredible sight. I was surprised I wasn't at all afraid of being so high up in the air; I actually wanted to go higher. The winds were too rough to stay up for very long, but the experience was fantastic, and I knew I would want to do it again and soon.

    After coming down we were taken back to our hostel where we lazed about, finally not having too much to do for awhile. We decided it was high time we got out of the lake district to see some other parts of South America. We booked a bus for Chile tomorrow morning and spent the rest of the evening relaxing with other people in the dorm (we also met a hilarious kid from Buenos Aires who insisted we use our English to send amorous texts to his 'special friend', which he kept referring to her as... we ended up sending quotes from Gunther songs, go figure). Although the hostel had promised us breakfast early so we could catch our bus, we find only a cold refrigerated metal can of coffee waiting for us, which we both unfortunately drank. Later on the bus with no food and only the coffee to keep us going for the next 10 hours, our stomachs were none to happy with us. After a fairly docile border crossing we made our way to a rainy Chile. We decided to get out of boring Puerto Montt right away and head to the Island of Chiloé,  which we had heard many good things about.

   Although not nearly as exciting as other places we have visited, Chiloé was by far the most unique, and I had an excellent time exploring this quaint, and slightly mysterious collection of isles. Across the countryside we saw many incredibly built wooden churches (like nothing I've ever seen), which had sculptures that combined christian symbols with the Island's own unique mythology. We started our side trip in Ancund, right at the northern coast of the Island where we had an excellent time exploring the beaches and interacting with the locals. We befriended the other people in the hostel (two girls from Copenhagen and one from Germany... both had been in South America for quite awhile though) and decided to make a seafood banquet. We went to the market and got amazingly cheap mussels (about 50 cents for 2 lbs.!) and made crab cakes as well. It was incredibly delicious and by far the best meal I have had the whole trip.
     After Ancund we rushed ourselves over to Parque Nacional Chiloé (two VERY local buses... one actually helped a family take three huge tree trunks to the park...they had to place it on the center of the aisle). We got to the park with only a few hours to spare, and we were still not interested in camping, so instead took a quick walk over to the Pacific Ocean. It was great to be near the ocean; you could hear the waves all the way from the town at the edge of the park. It was too cold to hang out on the beach for very long, but I always love being near the ocean and enjoyed the view immensely.

    While we tried to get back to Castro, the capital of Chiloé, to stay the night, we ran into an interesting problem. We had left our backpacks with the park ranger, and returned from the walk only to find the door was locked and no ranger was in sight. The last bus was leaving in 15 minutes so we had to get him quick. After searching through most of the park we eventually found him out, and after a confusing conversation (he was a very fast Spanish speaker) we realized that he had locked himself out of his own office! We spent the next few minutes trying to pry open all the windows in the house, but with no luck. Eventually we found a wedge and managed to break the frame of the window, but only to leave us running with our bags after the last bus speeding off. In the end we found a small unheated cottage near the park to stay the night, which of course was more expensive than anything we could have gotten in Castro. The place had no heat and no hot water... and no dinner. We decided to head back to a cabin in the middle of the park, which the ranger had said would be open for the night. There were no lights on the road and the hut was about a mile away, we got our flashlights and headed into the darkness.

    After an exciting walk on the empty road (many a stray dog barking their lungs out at us) we made it to the house. This turned out to be an excellent choice for the night, delicious food, malt wine, and dozens of board games we could play the night away with, all at a reasonable price. The couple who ran the place were very friendly, and couldn't get over how they were getting tourists from the US on their little Island. After failing at playing a Chilean ripoff of Monopoly we headed back to our hut.

    The next morning we were doomed to miss the next bus (it seems I've become attenuated to my watch alarm... it's gotten me into trouble a few times now). We wandered through the park a little more and had to wait through some wind and rain before the next bus came. Finally we made it back to Castro where nothing of particular interesting happened, except for seeing a beautiful wooden church (it was quite impressive, especially considering how close the building was to the water.)

     The next morning we decided as the rain continued to come down and the weather showed no signs of stopping, that we would quit the lake district for this trip and head up straight to Santiago. We bough a cheap ticket overnight to the capital (about 14 hours) and wasted the day away in a fake western saloon in Puerto Montt, complete with bad 80s music videos on screens everywhere.... overall a very good time!

I don't know when I'll be able to update you all next, but let me assure you that Santiago, Valparaiso, and everything in between have been an excellent and most adventerous time. At the moment we'll be leaving Santiago and heading up to the Atacama desert, but more on that when it actually happens!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Clean Clothes at Last!

      Of the many firsts on this trip, one of the big ones so far was not being able to clean my clothes for over a week (last time I had them washed was when we got back from our 3-day trek in Bariloche). I am fortunately writing to you know with fresh, clean, warm and folded clothing by my side, it is a wonderful feeling.

    Anyway, the day after the glacier Carl and I were preparing to take a 24 hour bus drive (!) back up to the lake district in the afternoon. It was the only reasonable way we could get out of this uber-touristy area without waiting another week. We managed to get a ragtag group to come with us to the bird sanctuary, where we were lucky enough to see some chilean flamingos in the wild (I´ll post a picture, but they were very far off, we had binoculars though which made the view great in person). We had a lot of fun wandering around with our fellow travellers and even had a few stray dogs join us for the party (although they kept scaring away the birds, which was annoying).

     I was a little worried about being on that bus for so long, I had never taken a bus for even 12 hours and I´ve never particularly enjoyed riding them. However the ´cama´ buses in Argentina were like nothing I´ve seen. I´m talking real luxury seats with expansive leg room and almost fully reclining backs! I had no trouble falling asleep, although Carl was still too tall for the buses (he can only stand up straight on the stairs to the second level). Before I knew it a day had passed and we arrived in Esquel to see the Alerce trees.

    Unfortunately we had run into our first bit of bad luck. We could only find one hostel that would room us, but because the Little League Patagonia Region Field Hockey Championships were happening in town (?!) we could only stay for one night. We hashed out a plan to see part of Parque Nacional Los Alerces and be back in time for a bus to  El Bolson before tomorrow night. We tried to call it an early night, but the entire family of two field hockey players (sisters) demanded that we entertain them by speaking to them in English. It was the first night I had to use earplugs... and they somehow got up before us too!

     When we got to the park, we learned that we wouldn´t be able to see the part with the Alerce trees in the few hours we had. While the area we saw was nice (a beautiful lake, and a roaring waterfall) we wondered why we had tried to so hard to get to this park. Clearly the fates wanted us to get to El Bolson and fast. We hopped on a bus and a few hours were there.

     I´ve had a lot of firsts on this trip, but a truly unique one was having to take showers in our hostel in El Bolson in a bathroom with no curtain and no lock on the door (definitely had to reach a level of comfort with my hostel-mates). Now imagine that below this scene, a Wiccan ceremony is taking place, run by one of the locals in town, complete with cheesy spiritual music and everyone clad in black dresses, and you might have an idea of what El Bolson is like.  Overall, I really enjoyed this town, the self-proclaimed hippie mecca of Argentina (Apparently we had missed internaltional weed day with a full parade and small children running around with marijuana flags... oh why did we even stop in Esquel?!) This place has excellent organic food which made all the produce in town, as well as the food in the restaurants, especially delicious. There were so many farms nearby, Carl and I were almost set on looking into WOOFing here (if he didn´t have to get to Santiago in a few weeks, we probably would have).

     While our first day here was rainy, we had beautiful weather the other day, and got to take a nice bike ride up a mountain. We biked past amazing views of valleys and mountains (almost competing with the beauty of Bariloche) and biked through cool forests that had farms scattered around it. We both wished we hadn´t over-hiked ourselves, as this was an excellent  place for more trekking. We still had an excellent time and had many of the artesanal beers the town is famous for. We knew it was time for a change in scenery and so are heading back to Bariloche and then across the border to Chile (but not before we both try our hand a hang-gliding.... stay tuned!)

Big Ice

Hello everyone!
    Sorry about the long wait, I didn´t have anything to write about for a few days, and of course the whirlwind of adventures we´ve been having picked me up and landed me right now in El Bolson. But first, I have to tel you about the Glacier: Perito Moreno.

     I was stuck in El Calafate for a few days because of bad weather. It was an overly-touristy town with not much to do unless you wanted to see the Glacier. I booked a tour to go walking on the glacier but for the most part just waited for the two days of bad weather to go by. Luckily the hostel we were staying in had a lots of people, and I got along with quite a few of them. There were nightly asados (all you can eat BBQs) and we always managed to stay up talking way into the night.

   Finally the day came to see the glacier, we started driving out on the bus long before the sun had risen (even though El Calafate is the closest town to the glacier, it was still over an hour away) Finally we drove around a corner and there it was... even from far away you could understand how massive the glacier really was. It was impossible to see the end of it and its walls seemed like a giant impenetrable fortress. We stopped a little to stare, but quickly got on the bus to get much closer.

    From the shore of the lake, we took a boat to get to the other side and right to the edge of the glacier, it was on this ride that the true size of the glacier became apparent. It felt like the sides of the wall would soon cover the entire sky. The glacier was unbelievably massive and went up for what felt like 200 feet above the water (and of course we found out it was even deeper than it was higher).

     After a quick natural history lesson (interrupted by a huge wall of the glacier falling into the ocean!), we finally got to put on the crampons (ice pick shoes) and get on the glacier. The walk was incredible. I had always thought a glacier would just look like a lot of white ice, but only when you´re right on the thing itself do you realize how incredibly blue it is. I was expecting amazing shapes, but not such vibrant colors! We continued walking around see more of the mind-altering landscapes, and even got to look down a hole that went all the way through the glacier. You could hear water running through it (our guides explained there are many streams and currents of water moving within the glacier, one of the reasons it calves so easily). The tour ended with a shot of cheap whisky in glacial ice, but is free so no complaints. Overall, it was an excellent experience, and well worth it.

      On our way back on the boat, we got the opportunity to see a Condor flying overhead (I find out just today that they´re the largest flying animal in the world!) It was so huge that even Carl saw it even though he was on a totally different part of the glacier. It was quite a sight.

    Afterwards we got a chance to experience the grandness of the glacier from the view points. I almost wished I had seen this first, I would have appreciated the ice trekking even more! It´s hard to put into words how unbelievably incredible this glacier was. Luckily, I finally got some of my pictures off my camera so you can see this one! I stood there for a full hour, taking in the majesty of its form. It was hard to break myself away from staring, hoping I would see another piece of the glacier fall off before I left.

Note: Sorry guys, I tried to post pictures on this blog but the internet is just so slow! I will try to have a picture update when I have a fast computer, but until then, I recommend you look up pictures of this glacier, they are quite incredible!

p.s. another update coming soon!

Monday, April 30, 2012

p.s. Link to Carl´s Blog

Hey Everyone,
     Extremely small postscript post. Carl has his cable for his camera so if you want to see pictures (and his side of the story), check it out here:

The REAL Deep South

Hey Everyone,
     Finally have some time for a quick post. We´ve ended up in El Calafate in southern Patagonia and I decided to take at least one day to rest after going non-stop for so long. It´s surprisingly calm here at the end of the world (although the nights are considerably longer here). At times this place feels like a complete tourist trap, but the surrounding vistas with its amazing mountain ranges, lagoons, and glaciers make up for that. Also it makes it very easy (albeit expensive) for us to get around and see the sights before winter weather really begins to set in here.
     As expected, we ran into a bit of trouble taking the LADE airlines (they have to be a little untrustworthy since their flights are so cheap) While they said they would e-mail us if there was a delay, we rushed to the airport to be on time only to find out we weren´t leaving for another 4 hours. As we got closer and closer to the new time, no one from the airline was showing up. Eventually our departure time changed to "ask agent".... ugh. When one of them finally showed up they told us we would have to wait till tomorrow for the flight! They were nice enough to give us a free night at a hotel (meals included). We were shipped back to Bariloche and got to stay a night in the nicest place we are probably staying our whole trip. The place was filled with rich elderly folks who were probably not planning on going the hike we had just done :-) The food was fine and we called it an early night.
     After getting up early the next day only to find out our plane was delayed another 5 hours, we were finally on our tiny little plane preparing to head off into real patagonia. Carl and I were both lucky enough to get an excellent view. The landscape was like none I had ever seen. The whole ground was coverd with dust and sand with random lagoons the size of neighborhoods interspersed throughout. This stretched on in every direction as far as we could see. Sometimes we would catch a road below us, and so still felt we had a better deal than those taking the dreaded route 40. Up here we had a spectacular view, and didn´t have to dwell too long on the desolate land.
     When we landed in El Calfate (finally!) we were lucky enough again to catch a bus going straight to El Chalten. The weather was so good and there wasn´t a cloud in the sky (which is the perfect time to see the mountain ranges there) so we hopped on and made it to a hostel before dinner. The town was mostly deserted and the normal population is less than thousand. It was clear they had made an attempt to organize the city for travelers, but only just enough. Two huge paved roads and random modern lodges made up the main streets while the rest was dust roads next to humongous mountains. I really liked this town though and the people were extremely friendly (locals and travellers alike). We actually met one of the coaches for Canada´s olympic cross-country skiing team.... he could do the hikes around the area in half the time suggested!
     We heard that tomorrow would be just as nice, and so decided to hit the follow the path Monte Fitz Roy as it´s almost impossible to see in bad weather (the clouds can shroud it completely). The hostel got us a taxi to take us to a different part of the trail in the morning. The ride showed us stretches of river in the cold desert valley that seemed to go on for quite a ways. In some places the river was rushing and at others was at a complete standstill, the view was epic and a little mind-altering. As we turned around a mountain we started to see glaciers clinging to many of the surrounding mountains. Stepping out of the van in the crisp morning air to get a better look was a great feeling, it was a re-awakening me how awesome it was to be here, and how lucky we were to be able to see southern Patagonia this late in the season.
     We started on the trail through a fairly dense forest, it felt even more lush than Bariloche, which surprised me. We climbed up onto the ridge of the valley where we could see a huge glacier in the distance, a great sight (my camera was and has been dead for some time sadly, but I´m sure there are tons of pictures online that can show you what it´s like!) The hike was easy enough this time as we didn´t have to carry much with us. We only needed one bottle of water for each as well since the streams next to the trail were completely potable (you can´t get much cleaner than glacial water!) After a few hours we finally saw the amazing peak of Monte Fitz Roy, we knew we had at least another 2 hours to reach the lagoon at the foot of it, but it already looked like we were right up against it, It´s peak was humongous but surprisingly smooth and colorful. As the sun moved across the sky, the rocks seemed to reflect different colors and when the sun rose and set on it, the view was particularly fantastic.
    After a little strenous climbing we finally reached the lagoon. It was frozen almost completely solid, and even throwing a huge rock at it wouldn´t even crack it (as many people, including myself, tried to do so). As I started to walk around the lagoon, I heard a thunderous noise, and I turned back to see a huge crack on the icy surface. It was extremely cool to see the blazing sun have its effect and how powerful such a change could be. On the other side of the lake was an impressive water fallfrom which the water underneath the frozen lagoon escaped into a lake far below. We could see the water finally moving from this part, which was the mouth of the Rio Blanco back below us.
    On our way back we got another excellent view of the valley with the desert lake, and even heard a few avalanches from distant mountains. There were huge boulders scattered across grasslands; it looked like some post-modern artist had placed them there. The views around us were excellent and the sun setting on the ridges made this place particularly remarkable. Even though it has been cloudy every day since, I still feel lucky that we got to see Monte Fitz Roy on our first try!
Next post: A little walk on a Glacier

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Amazing Hike from Hell

As I was saying,
    The real adventure in Bariloche hadn´t even begun. Carl and I had been a little down since we came to Bariloche, as we discovered it would cost over $200 US currency to take a 28 hour bus  (one way) to see the Perito Moreno glacier and the famous Monte Fitz Roy. We both thought it was too much for such a dreadful trip (did I mention this bus would be on gravel road the entire time, and would have no bathrooms?). We decided it would just be fine to stay in the lake district in Argentina and then move up north, however you could hear the regret in our voices when we talked about it. Luckily I found out about a ridiculousy cheap airline called LADE, and while their website wasn´t working, I managed to find their office in Bariloche and discovered that for the same price, we could hitch a ride to El Calafate (right next to glacier) and be there in 2 hours instead of 28!
     The plane was only once a week on Thursdays, and Niki decided it was worth the bus ride to get down there sooner. We said farewell and decided to pack a trip inside Parque Nacional Nahuel Haupi. We knew it was short notice but the weather has been PERFECT here. The trees are also changing color for autumn abnd we knew this would be the best chance to see them.... it might already be too late by the time we made it back from the south (this place becomes a ski resort in the winter, surprise surprise). We were recommended a trip that was supposed to be ´fairly easy´ which had Refugios (log cabins) that we could sleep in and eat breakfast and dinner at on each night. We planned a two night trip, grabbed some food for lunches and were off!
      After an hour bus ride we made it to the foot of Cerro Catedral Norte. The mountain seemed nice enough and this part of the trip was supposed to be fairly easy. We left some of our stuff at the hostel so the load was much lighter than usual. The trail was nice enough, with small waterfalls every 15 minutes or so. We had started late so needed to move quickly to make it to the refugio by nightfall. As we finally turned the ridge of the mountain, I understoond why this trip was recommended. We were in a forest of brightly colored orange-yellow leaves that covered the valley we were in. The mountains around us were humongous and the the vistas were truly majestic. We were enjoying our nice trail and the great views, but the going soon got tough. It seems that by an easy hike, what the guide from the park really meant was ´climb up one of these mountains to get the refugio´ I can only imagine him laughing at us from the distance, seeing us lumber up the route as night began to fall. The sunset was incredibly beautiful but the last hour of the hike was constantly uphill. I hadn´t conserved my energy before this part and could barely make it up the mountain! I realized this 3-day trek was going to be much much harder than I expected.
   Refugio Le Frey, our first stop, was in the perfect spot. Placed on the lip of two peaks, overlooking a high-altitude lagoon on one side and the valley we had climbed out of on the other. This place was exactly what I needed. A few mountain climbers and the caretaker of the hostel were there. And my spanish had gotten good enough that Carl and I could manage a long conversation with these friendly travelers. We shared a Mate (that they spiked with rum) and gobbled down our dinner (it was simple, but we were both famished). Outside it got so cold that the lagoon froze over partly, but there was no urban light and you could see dozens of stars. We shared a wine while shivering and enjoying the view and soon called it a night.
     In the morning I was slightly worried, as today was supposed to be the hardest part of the trek. The distance on the map looked very short so I knew there would be some extreme elevation changes. Carl and I decided to check out another lagoon that two hikers we had crossed yesterday had recommended. It turned out to be a big climb and I decided to head back about half way and save my strength for later in the day. It turned out that it was exactly the same path to the next refugio, and to our dismay, we had to repeat the 1st hour of the trek (not to mention it was one of the hardest parts). We slowly made our way up hundreds of feet, and came across another even more pristine lagoon. We saw another ridge we had to climb and trudged on. The going was grueling, but we worked fast and we were getting over the mountain in no time. The lagoons looked beautiful from up here, and after another hour of climbing, we finally made it to the first peak. The view was absolutely incredible. A sweeping valley below with a river and ridges of enromous mountains all around us. We stopped for lunch and try to gain some energy, we still had a long ways to go.
   While this first part of trail was demanding, it was far from the hardest, we had reached a desert-like part of the mountain, the markers were almost impossible to find, and we eventually realized we had to slowly make our way down the sandy side of the mountain, which was far steeper than the one we had climbed. Carl and I had to move one at a time on certain parts of this insane terrain, as we were worried about all the loose rocks falling on either one of us. This part of the trip took at least an hour, constantly stumbling down sandy terrain and hoping no huge rocks would come loose. We saw the valley and the trees far below us and hoped we´d be there soon. As we made our way down the rocks became more frequent, which turned out be a bad thing, they were just a loose and hurt our feet even more. When I pulled off my shoes near the bottom at least 5 rocks had found their way into my boots, and one even in my socks! We finally reached the beautiful valley below. When I looked back up at our mountain, it was clearly the largest and steepest one around. It was ridiculous what we had done and I sure as hell didn´t want to do it again.

   Despite this hard task, I was extremely proud that I had done it and enjoyed the more or less flat walk through the small valley. Down here ther were more waterfalls and beautiful trees with autumn leaves. The peaks surrounded us on every side and we let the endorphins carry us along. Eventually we started our way back up the next mountain. This one did not look nearly as hard as the last, but we were much more tired this time around. As we slowly made it pass the treeline the rocks came back in full force and my feet were howling with pain. We got one more look at the nice valley but the rugged dark mountain loomed ahead of us. It was getting late (we really regretted doing that first mini-hike) and the sun was going behind the mountain. It was cooler but I had to stop many many times to make it up the next mountain. Constantly out of breath and soaking my shirt with sweat, I wasn´t sure I´d have the energy to make it, and only the fact that the next refugio was downhill was what gave me the strength to trudge on. When we finally made it to the top it was as beautiful a view as the last, another sweeping valley (much longer) and even larger mountains surrounded us. The sun was still high enough to enjoy a few more minutes of sunlight and we enjoyed the rest of our food at the top of this peak.

    What I hadn´t mentally prepared for was how much farther downhill we would have to travel to reach the refugio. Although this second mountain was less steep than the last, this side of the mountain was even worse than the first! We again had to clamber our way down and down and down and down and down with more loose rocks to hurt our feet and hit the person below. I was so tired at this point I kept making mistakes and scraping my skin on the rocks. I was reaching my limit and knew I wouldn´t last much longer. Finally we made it below the treeline but the rocks didn´t stop we kept going until finally dirt was the main thing below our feet. Just when I thought it was easy sailing, the mud and swamp starting to come up around us. I didn´t have the energy to keep my balance across the muddy streams and got my shoes and sock covered it cold water. It was an extremely unpleasant way to end the day, and the frost forming on the ground did not bode a warm night for us. We finally after made it to the refugio and managed to wash ourselves off a little in some cold war. I felt disgusting and exhausted, and almost fell asleep while eating our dinner. I was extremely proud of what we had done, but this was close to the limit for me.

   The next morning we scarfed down breakfast and headed out on the last part of the trail. This one was much easier, although my legs were so tired it hurt to go downhill at all (still do). We trudged along the valley back to Bariloche. The trail soon became mostly flat and went beside the river. It was very nice and relaxing and I had more time to reflect on how amazing an opportunity this was. We had the most perfect weather to see some extremely beautiful sights, and if Carlton had not convinced me to follow him into the backcountry, I would probably never have seen something like this on my trip (or at least felt the experience was so rewarding).

   We were in a rush on our last leg of the hike as we had to make sure to get back in time to prepare for our flight to El Calafate the next day. We eventually made it off the path in under 5 hours (the time should have been 6!) and made our way along the road. To our dismay the road was closed to cars, including the bus we needed to get back. We were lucky enough to hitch a ride from one lone car one the road. The woman turned out to be a scientist who was supposed to pick up the other people who were staying at the second refugio, but they had taken too long. She gave us a ride to a closer bus stop and we caught the bus right on time. Whoever is looking out for us, and is wishing us well, it´s been working so far! We made it back and at this moment I´m waiting at the airport for our flight to leave (it is 4 hours late, as we kind of expected given the price of the flight). I´m excited for our next part  of the trip as it is most likely to be the most epic. We have been going non-stop except for last night and this morning, but I hope to have more stories from the REAL deep south soon!

p.s. Really sorry if there´s lots of typos in this. Didn´t have any time to edit!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chocolate Binging in Bariloche

Hello everyone!
    It´s been a few days since I posted, but only because I´ve been doing SO MUCH (and have had very little internet access).
     So last I left off I was lazing around Bahia Blanca. This was by far the most boring part of the trip. We literally wandered around the 16 blocks of the town trying to find different places to sit or do anything that wouldn´t cost money. We had gotten in at 9am and our bus to Bariloche wasn´t until 10 at night. We started off lazing around in the main plaza (Bahia blanca isa upper-middle class city, a little reminscent of Bethesda) and waited for the time to go by. We noticed dozens of dogs wandering around the park, all of which seemed to be feral. A few came up to us, begging for food, wanting to play, or just laze around with us (We found out later that Argentinians don´t put their dogs down when they can´t afford them anymore, they just let them loose onto the streets and the whole community tries to take care of them) overall they were very well fed and extremely friendly.
      We decided afterwards to hit up a local artists museums (mainly because it was free). There we met an extremely enthusiastic man who, as soon as told him I was a scientist, went into an hour-long rant about Tesla and how we connects to international capitalist-based conspirancies. He only spoke in spanish and the more excited he got, the faster he spoke. Carlton was the only one who managed to keep up the conversation and Niki was completely lost. It was a pretty insane but amusing way to pas the time. Afterwards we gave up all hope of findimg something to do and decided to drink and eat at the hostel where our bags were stowed...
    ...Of course this meant we ate and drank way too long, and had to run 15 blocks to make it to the bus station in time for our trip to Bariloche. I actually had a better time sleeping on this 12-hour trip than the train (although I don´t think Carlton and Niki would agree with me) and before I knew it we were in the Patagonian region. The weather had gotten noticeably colder (before it was always pleasantly warm or a little too hot) and my dread of a second winter started to seep back in. However, our pit stop had a much colder weather than Bariloche and so far the weather has been more or less bearable. Our bus got stopped at the border to Parque Nacional Nahuel Haupi when the cop dog found something in somebody´s bags. It wasn´t ours, but the cops were suspicious of us for awhile because we had misplaced our tickets. Eventually we got through an arrived in this strange and beautfiul town, a mix of Latin America, British Columbia, and Swiss-Germany all rolled into one. The town was beside a huge glacial lake (all the water in this area is completely potable) where you can walk past a mountain gear shops, a parrillas, and  a chocolate shops all in the same block.
    I have been completely spoiled by this place and will never think of chocolate the same way again. From my first sip of hot chocolate my first night here, I knew I would never have a better one anywhere else. Seeing as the cacao plant comes from the continent anyway, it should make sense that the chocolate experts in Bariloche know how to make a damn good dessert. I have been enjoying pastries, chocolate bars and some amazing ice cream since I arrived, and will be sad to see it go. I don´t feel like I´m overdoing it though as I´ve been exercising twice as much as I´ve been eating and still find mysefl constantly hungry (more on that in a little though).
    Our Hostel in Bariloche is simply awesome. The people have been nice enough and there´s not enough reading light at night, but the place is right on the lake! Seeing the sun rise over the Andes and reflect on the lake every morning has been a sight I will not soon forget. It´s a great place to relax and get an amazing view. Even better the hostel has a Bar below it with its own microbrews and is a local hotspot. When we first got in on Saturday night the place was full and live bands were playing surfer rock (it was as incredible as it sounds) I finally had a chance to celebrate getting into Johns Hopkins was up drinking and dancing till 4am.
    The next day I felt like being a little more lazy and getting over my debauchery, but Niki managed to rouse me and Carl from bed so that the three of us could do a bike ride in one of the most beautiful parts of Bariloche. The route was called Circuito Chico and from it you could see crystal clear blue-green lakes, rolling green hills and Islands and some very epic mountains. We had a wonderful time on our very nice bikes and went zipping down hills and trudging up other ones. The views were incredible and I finally understod why everyone gets excited about the lake district (I will hopefully be able to post pictures soon, still need to work things out with my camera). By the end I was thoroughly exhausted, especialy since I was tired before we began, and was asleep not long after dinner.
    Which was a good thing to as I needed all the energy I could get before our trip into the Park..... TBC

Friday, April 20, 2012

Would like to drink in my funny bar?

As great as this sounds, I hesistated to trust how hilarious this Hawker´s bar really was. Carl and I had met a another traveller from Santiago named Paulina, and she had convinced us to travel to La Boca, one of the most touristy (and potentially dangerous) areas in Buenos Aires.

We had a great time at the restaurant the night before "La Peña de Colorado" where we got to listen to some young local artists sing alternative rock versions of Andean Music. They were all quite good and we definitely enjoyed the music more than the dinner. It got really interesting after the actual show ended, and the audience started bringing out their own guitars and performing among little groups. They were all quite impressive and we felt lucky to be there listening to them.

After wandering around Palermo all afternoon and that night, we tried to find a night club at 3am (normal for that city) but our directions were a little off so we gave up and still managed to get a few hours of sleep.

The next day I decided to hit the best part of Buenos Aires, San Telmo. This is where the Tango was born and still thrives today. Carl, Paulina, and I saw wonderful grafitti on beautifully old buildings, and got to try our first cup of Mate (Argentina`s very strong green tea) It tasted great to me and I`m looking forward to having it again. After we spent some time there Paulina managed to drag us to La Boca, where of course despite everyone´s warnings we got off at the wrong spot and had to walk through the bad part of town. We thought we were following the advice of a local, but he turned out to be Colombian and decided to find his way with his nose glued to a huge GPS... I can`t imagine he still had it by the time he got out of there! However, we made it totally fine and got to walk through the overly-touristy caminato of La Boca. We had fun hanging out and we practiced our Spanish on Paulina while she practiced her English on us. We said we`d try to meet up with her when we made it to Santiago.

Overall we had a very good time in Buenos Aires and found lots of places we want to check out more when we come back.

We left with our new travelling partner Nikki and took the local overnight train (13 hours!) to Bahia Blanca. We got wind that our super cheap tickets would leave us in a very uncomfortable part of the train, so for $10 more we bumped up to first class. Still possibly one of the most decrepit trains I´ve been in (windows looked like they were shot at years ago) but the seats were comfy enough. Felt more like a roller coaster ride than a train and overall I actually had a good time (and got some sleep at well).

Not sure when I`ll update again but we`ll be taking an overnight bus to Bariloche tonight. I`ll try to post pictures if I can find a way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A quick stay in Buenos Aires

After a longish flight that turned out to be even longer than we excpected (apparently a little rain shuts down the airport in Bogota!) Carlton and I finally made it into Buenos Aires. You could feel the high energy of the city almost immediately, and although this is a city full of ecletic people, cars clearly rule the streets. I honestly think it would be easier to die assuming you have the right of way in BA than for any other reason while traveling the country. The city is beautiful however, and you can feel how it´s trying to be New York, Rome, DC and any othe latin american city all at once. The people are extremely friendly and are ready to practice their english if they get a chance. Overall, very good people!

The hostel we picked turned out to be great, and we´ve met some cool people who have given us very good advice. One of them is also interested in going to Patagonia and we´ve teamed up to get down there. We´ll be leaving tomorrow to take a train and then a bus to Bariloche, and so should be there by this weekend. Carl and I are hoping to gather up a group of people so that the tour bus will take us down, and this swiss-like town in the lake district seems like the best place for that.

I am very glad I did not decide to be a vegetarian before I came down, because argentinian meat is delicious! Last night Carl and I found a small Parrilla (steakhouse) in the middlie of a non-touristy street in Palermo. There a grumpy waiter and chef (who was cooking the food on a very old little grill right in front of us) prepared and gave us some of the steak I have ever eaten! We had a bottle of wine from Mendoza region and sat back and stuffed ourselves silly. It was an unforgettable experience.

Other than that I´ve mostly been wandering the city while Carl has dealt with credit card troubles (South America doesn´t seem to like him yet). I´ve gotten to see some of the realy neighborhoods and have had a chance to work on my spanish. I can see why this is such a hot-spot for latin america. Tonight we´re going to a small dinner place where we can hear some local argentinian music, and then we´ll hit the clubs Argentinian-style (apparently things don´t even open until midnight, and you´re kind of lame if you show up before 2am!).

The weather here has been incredibly nice, and I´m going to miss it when we head down to Patagonia. Hope to be in touch soon!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Away we go!

Hey Everyone!
     I decided to set up this little blog so I can let everybody know what I'm up to while I'm down in South America. I hope this is a good way we can keep in touch and that I can find out what you're all up to as well.

    I must admit I'm relieved to find out about going to Johns Hopkins before I leave. It's true I could be there for 5 years, but I'm incredibly excited about the program and the people I will be interacting with while I'm there. It's nice to know there's a whole other adventure that's waiting for me when I get back.

    I'm busy doing some last-minute packing but am extremely excited about our trip. Carlton and I are planning to start in Buenos Aires for a day or two, and then get down to Southern Patagonia ASAP (the sooner before winter hits, the better). I hope to be updating this when I can and to tell you about all our adventures. I won't have a phone or wireless with me, but please leave comments, send e-mails, and let me know what you're up to.

Miss you guys already!


Next Stop: Buenos Aires!