Patagonia: Part 1

San Carlos de Bariloche

Originally, when I started thinking about my visit to Patagonia and where I wanted to go, it had never occurred to me to visit San Carlos de Bariloche.  I was in my hostel in Mendoza having breakfast across from Emily, a nice young woman from Ireland, and we were discussing places that she had visited in Chile and Argentina.  “If you’re going to Puerto Natales and visiting Torres del Paine, you could do the “W” trek.  I’ve heard it’s great.”, she said.  “You should visit Bariloche in Argentina.  It’s beautiful.”  So here I was in Bariloche.  The first thing I noticed when I got out of the cab was how incredibly windy it was.  The next thing I noticed was how incredibly beautiful the lake was.  Here I stood at the doorsteps about to enter Patagonia and I couldn’t be happier.

Patagonia is an area in the southern part of both Argentina and Chile.  It’s where the hot and humid area of Argentina and Chile stops and it opens up into great big lakes, with great plains decorated with huge mountain ranges and glaciers.  Bariloche is a fun tourist town.  It has trendy streets filled with chocolate shops and small bistros selling artisanal beers or souvenirs.  Cafes that sell mate and wine are just up the street from the lake.  And of course you have the beautiful boardwalk area with health-nuts running along the lake.

I’ve come to regret it, but I only gave Bariloche one full day.  I could have easily relaxed here for a week or at least enjoyed three to five days sipping tea and reading books.  I got up early the only day I spent there and walked along the boardwalk until I spotted a chocolate shop and decided I needed a snack.  Afterwards, I bought my bus ticket to travel out to Puerto Pañuelo so that I could hike Cerro Llao Llao (pronounced ‘shao shao’).  The hike produced some incredibly beautiful pictures of Nahuel Huapi Lake.  I finished the night having a nice dinner and going to bed early.  The next morning I’d catch a flight to El Calafate.

El Calafate

While flying to El Calafate, I made the acquaintance of Tiffany, the woman sitting next to me on the plane.  After landing, I asked if she wanted to get out ahead of me and exit the plane.  She preferred to stay in her seat.  I said goodbye and offered that maybe we’d pass each other while in El Calafate.  But you say things like that so many times, rarely believing them. You understand that as a traveler you pass through so many lives and for the few times you actually cross paths again, there are a million more where the opportunity never manifests itself again.  Little did I know at the time how important meeting her would really be.

I located my hotel and then walked the mile and a half stretch into town to locate the Tourism Office.  I inquired about going to Perito Moreno, the giant glacier.  They provided a map, and informed me that it was an hour and a half bus ride to the site.  I located the bus station and bought my ticket for the next day.  The Perito Merito glacier is a massive ice shelf floating on an azure blue lake.  Perito Moreno glacier has been tamed with walkways that provide multiple balconies for viewing the glacier as well as protecting the landscape from the large numbers of people that come to visit this site every year.  A cafeteria is also on hand to feed the throngs of people that become hungry watching and photographing this incredible monument.  The weather was bright and sunny.  You can only walk for so long before stopping and staring at the glacier, hoping to hear the soft crack that precedes a big chunk of glacier that falls to the water below, leaving an azure blue imprint among the dirty remnants of the glacier where the chunk used to be.  It’s peaceful and captivating.

Back in El Calafate, I needed something to warm me back up.  Stopping in a bar near the artisinal market, I inquired to the bartender if they served any mate to which he replied “yes”.  Within moments of ordering my mate and sitting down at the bar, a woman’s voice called my name.  I turned to see Tiffany, whom I met on the airplane earlier, propped up on crutches and smiling at me.  When I asked her to join me for some mate, she readily agreed and sat down to provide me company for the night.  2 cups of mate turned into 2 beers, when she finally opened up about her story.  Tiffany uses crutches because she suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a balcony in Dubai years back.  Despite doctors telling her that she’d never walk again, she set out to prove them wrong.  And she did.  She’s still paralyzed from the knees down, but can still walk with the help of two crutches.  Her next challenge….. to prove to herself and the world that she can travel for the next 13 months all over the world.  You can read her story and adventures at her blog, A Tale of Two Legs.

Serendipity is a very real thing.  I’ve known people in my life that seem like they’re plugged into this universe.  They ask for what they want and then they receive.  Through perseverance and a positive outlook, they overcome all obstacles and achieve the most incredible feats.  I too am plugged into the universe, but still feel awkward and doubtful at times.  But when I’m feeling unsure and doubtful of my life and purpose, someone like Tiffany shows up to remind me that almost anything is possible.  I have doubts and questions about my travels thus far.  Tiffany shows up and dispels my doubts and answers my questions.  I start to feel stronger and thank the universe for putting her in my path.

The next day, I have a lazy day and sleep in.  Later, Tiffany and I meet up for dinner and afterwards hug and say our goodbye’s.  She’s off to the glacier, and I need to make my way to Chile.  I’m starting to feel energized again.  My next stop is Puerto Natales where I’ll hopefully get a glimpse of Torres del Paine.

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Vino

People from all over the world come to Mendoza, Argentina for primarily one thing: to taste the wines that have given Mendoza its reputation.  I was coming to Mendoza for that very reason.  Truth be told, Maipu is actually the center of many of the famous bodega’s.  Plan your trip accordingly as Mendoza is quite a bit busier and Maipu is more laid back.

After checking into my hostel, I quickly booked a wine tour where you traveled between bodega’s on a bicycle.  Thoughts of riding a bicycle from one bodega to another, through wine fields and trying ample samples of wine raced through my head.  Contrary to my romantic notions, it was more like riding a bicycle between bodega’s on the streets of Maipu, in 100+ degree heat with 2 or 3 very small samples of wine.  We visited 2 bodega’s, Lopez and Cecchin, and one olive oil producer.  Lopez is an old wine producer that uses new methods to produce high-quality wine.  Cecchin is a family winery that produces organic wine.  The best part of the wine tour was the lunch provided at the end where we all spent together in and around a small pool.  The family ran a small vineyard, and for me, it was a cultural experience spent with my new friends from the hostel.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Mendoza much past that, but I found a place in Mendoza that was able to partially solve my technology problems.  Todo Computacion was able to look at my computer right away and fix one of the problems.  And, since I decided to stay 2 more days due to high airline ticket prices, it was inevitable that I try out one more one tour.  While walking back from lunch one day, purely by accident, I walked by and then into Trout and Wine, a small travel agency specializing in wine tours.  For double the price of my last wine tour, I was able to book another wine tour that included 4 bodega’s (one of which was also an olive producer), and a gourmet lunch.  No bicycling involved in this one, either.  I’d escape the heat (mostly) by being shuttled from place to place.

We started things off at Dante Robino with an explanation of how wine is produced and 4 very generous samples of Wine.  Next was Alta Vista, where we had another explanation of how wine is produced (let’s get to the wine samples – I’ve heard this before) and then 3 – 4 more generous helpings of wine.  It was by this time that I was getting a bit peckish.  Have no fear – a gourmet lunch was right around the corner at Tapiz, a winery with a nice boutique restaurant upstairs.  We started things off with a plate of bread, olive oil, and balsamico.  We were then treated to an appetizer of Gazpacho and then followed up with our main entree of some Asado.  During this time, we also were treated to another 4 generous samples of wine.  We finished things off with some helado for desert and were off to our final vineyard.  Lastly, we visited Carinae, a small, french-owned vineyard.  The owner, an astronomy enthusiast, named the Vineyard Carinae after what he felt is the most beautiful constellation in the southern hemisphere.  We were all treated to another tour of the facilities and an explanation of how wine is produced (we didn’t care this time, considering we were all a little buzzed).  In the end, we were treated to 4 more samples of wine.  This was the tour that I was hoping to have.  Obviously, I splurged a bit for this one, but it was well worth it.

At this point, I felt like the heat and humidity were getting to me.  I needed some cooler weather, and Patagonia was calling.

A hop, skip, and a jump

Technology issues, abound.  Sorry for the lack of updates but I’m forced to work on my blog when my computer is actually working.  Hopefully I can get this fixed once I’ve reached Santiago, Chile.

Anyways, I’ve been restless.  After 8 days in Buenos Aires, I was starting to feel stuck.  I wasn’t really enjoying the big city anymore and felt the need to start moving again.  The humidity was getting to me and I was tired of solving technology issues.  I decided that my next destination would be Iguazu Falls and then Uruguay after that.

By foregoing any sense of planning, I’m not really able to enjoy the benefits of reduced airfare that is typically available to someone that plans ahead.  Needing to move forward, I booked round-trip airfare between Buenos Aires and Iguazu.  After arriving in Iguazu, I took a taxi and quickly located my place of residence for the next two nights, Poramba Hostel.  It’s a very basic hostel that is only four to six blocks from the center of town.  I headed out to establish my surroundings.  The town of Iguazu is a laid-back town that mostly survives on tourism.  I returned to the hostel and quickly befriended my roommates.

The next day, we all got up early and headed out to the falls.  Two of my roommates were attempting to do the Brazilian side in the same day.  Lacking a Brazilian passport, I wasn’t worried about fitting in too much.  We located the train that transports visitors to the top and got on.  Note:  There are two trains and the first one only takes you a short distance.  Once you reach the first destination, you’re forced to get off and re-enter the line for the train.  I think it’s better if you walk to the first destination and then get in line, otherwise, you’re burning up time changing trains.  After finally reaching the top, we were treated to some incredibly majestic waterfalls.  Make sure you bring a rain jacket as you’ll get wet from the mist.  We all took the train back, and did the 4 smaller falls which I thought offered more impressive views of all the falls there.

The next day, I hopped my flight back to Buenos Aires and readied for my boat to Colonia, Uruguay.  I had six hours to spare, so I burned it up having drinks and using the WiFi at the TGI Friday’s located around Puerto Madero.  The high-speed boat to Colonia takes one hour to cross the bay.  I decided to go with Colonia Express whom I thought was very professional and also the cheapest of the options.  You can also drink beer and shop their small duty-free shop while enjoying your ride to Uruguay.

Colonia del Sacramento is a sleepy little town.  Their historical center is full of cafe’s and restaurants.  The view from the lighthouse is incredible.  I ended up renting a motor scooter during the day so that I could ride up to some of the beaches north of town.  Before arriving in Colonia, I was told that Uruguay had some of the best beaches around.  I was impressed so far and looking forward to experiencing some more of Uruguay’s treasured beaches near Montevideo and Punta del Diablo (hopefully).  In addition to visiting the beaches, I was also able to check out the Museo de los Naufragios y Tesoros, the most ridiculous pirate / nautical museum I think I’ve ever seen.  The scariest thing about the museum was the horrible paper-mache pirates on display.  Outside the museum, one can also visit a small, abandoned Colosseum.  Unfortunately, one cannot enter due to it being surrounded by metal fencing.  I don’t believe that’s a problem in that it looks extremely unimpressive from the outside.

The next day, I would be arriving in Montevideo via a two hour bus ride.  It was nice to be moving around, but I was looking forward to a couple of days of leisure.

A New Year

The other day, I received an email from my friend Lisa, where we were discussing length of travel and some of the challenges that can occur while traveling.  She states:

“People don’t realize how exhausting it is to keep moving, finding new hostels, figuring out transportation, speaking/butchering another language, getting hustled, getting sick, meeting new people, etc. It becomes less of a vacation and more taxing overall.”

I have a friend that has spent a year in Buenos Aires on two seperate occasions and another that has spent a couple months.  Both speak very highly of the place and I’ve been quite excited coming to see Buenos Aires based on those recommendations.  I was also ready for something new after spending two and a half weeks in Cusco.  The prospect of spending an amazing New Year’s in Buenos Aires became a huge draw.  But that’s the thing.  Many times, I think I over-romanticize what my experience will be, and if it doesn’t quite come close to that, then I’m somewhat disappointed.

The truth is, Buenos Aires kinda wore me out.  Maybe it started when I had to rush at the Lima airport to get my reciprocity fee paid for before I’d be allowed to get on the plane for Argentina.  Or, maybe the fact that I arrived during the hottest weeks in Argentina in the last 4 years, with blackouts and no air-conditioning at a very uncomfortable hostel.  I imagine letting my guard down and having my day pack stolen in San Telmo didn’t help matters.  And of course, dealing with some crappy taxi drivers and failing technology about put me over the edge.

When it rains, it pours.  But that’s the thing about travel – despite whatever challenges arise, you find a way to keep moving forward.  There are no other options, but to go home.  And I’m not going home.  Not yet.  This trip has been too amazing and incredible to just up and walk away from it because of some mishaps.  You learn to apply this to the rest of your life.  When I do go home, I imagine that instead of walking away from many of my problems and starting over, I’ll instead face them head on and keep moving forward.  Also, I imagine I’ll be better at planning and avoid some of the avoidable pitfalls I experienced on this trip.

But enough with the challenges.  Buenos Aires was still an amazing experience.  After finding a hotel with more stable electricity and WiFi, I went to meet Juan Villafañe, a swing dance instructor I had met in Herrang this year that my own Swing Dance instructor contacted on my behalf before leaving.  For the small price of a lunch, Juan gave me invaluable information on where to go and what to see while in Buenos Aires.  We parted with the promise that we would meet later in the week for a swing dance lesson.

The first thing I wanted to experience was a tango show.  Juan recommended the Madero tango show which I can verify was an amazing show.  The food was top notch and the tango lesson thrown in at the end was icing on the cake.  The next two days were spent exploring La Boca and San Telmo, two very touristic places situated amongst cobblestone streets and very colorful buildings.  Also, I took in La Recoleta Cemetary where I was fortunate to see the gravesite of Eva Perón.  The graves were the most ornate graves I’ve ever seen.

New Years, it turned out, was a more laid-back affair.  After finally locating an open restaurant (within my budget) at 9:30pm, I was quickly invited over to the table of 3 women that were currently traveling.  2 were from Canada, and the other was from Santiago, Chile.  We all drank and talked about our travels.  When midnight struck, we all cheered the new year and watched the fireworks exploding from above.  It was here that I discovered my true hidden talent – taking selfie photographs.  New Years day found most of Buenos Aires shut down where I was told most people spend the holiday with their families instead of going out.  And honestly, it was nice not doing anything for the holiday.

I had a feeling the worst was over and that the challenges would be fewer from here on out.  I decided to spend another day in BA before heading out to Iguazu Falls.