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!