Thursday, October 23, 2008

traveling ain't all roses and daisies

Today I just want to be home. I miss LA. I miss my LA people. I want to hang out with them. Drink free water and have peanut butter. Stupid complaints from someone who is experience the world, I know.

I just wonder how the people who travel for a year do it...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A week or so of major activity!

Ok so I have been pretty absent for a while. I must apoligize to Analise who posted right before this hiatus, how much this blog helped making the work day go faster. I'm sorry for some slow days at work.

But here is a really long post:

El Calafate Part One

After Puerto Madyrn, we bused it down to El Calafate for some quality time with the glacier. If I haven't mentioned before the bus system in Argentina is amazing. Sure the bus ride is 22 hours long on average but there are meals and movies and free wine!! Greyhound is a shit show compared to Argentina's Comma (full bed) buses.

We stayed at the America Del Sur Hostel in El Calafate which is perhaps the best hostel I have ever stayed at. Maybe not the one in Italy that was also a winery but close to it.

The next day we went on the All Glacier boat tour which was pretty boring. A lot of old people and very comfortable. There was a hiking portion of the tour but we were frozen out of the port and couldn't get off. We did get some cool pictures and I did get to see my first ice berg, ever. And yes I was quote Titanic left and right.

El Chalten

We arrived after the All Glacier Tour excited to do some trekking. I had after all spend some money on some hiking boots and I wanted to break them in. So we started with a simple trip to the waterfall as well as exploring the tiny tiny town. We actually ran into a bunch of people from our white water rafting trip. I can see how traveling alone in Argentina or South America can be nicer than doing Europe. Since everyone is doing the same loop, you run into the same people. They told us we were here for the town's 23rd birthday.

We made friends with two Irish girls, Elisha and Therese and we decided to do the Fitz Roy hike the next day, which was incredible. Due to the threat of rain, we were basically alone on the trail which was about 4 hours in good conditions and about 6 in the conditions we were traveling in (one way). The views were incredible but nothing beat the last bit. The trail all together was 1000 meters up in the air. But the last hour is 400 meters straight up. Its challenging enough except we had to go through waist high snow as certain points. But once we reached the top, it was all worth it.

We sat with a French guy admiring the view and proud of ourselves for completing such a feat until 5 French hikers come from the other peak. Oh no there was more. We hiking through more snow to find an even more incredible view of Fitz Roy and the frozen lakes below.

The way back was long because we sat around waiting for the clouds which seemed to constantly hang out around Fitz Roy's peak to clear. Then we saw a condor and three wood peckers. It was pretty much an incredible day. 10 hours of hiking, 1000 meters climbed and climbed down.

The next day was the towns birthday. So we skipped hiking in favor of a town wide asado and a rodeo like gaucho competition. It was awesome. They basically were riding unbroken horses and I loved every minute of it.

El Calafate Part Two

Marcy and I went on the Big Ice Tour and it was incredible. A serious can't miss experience. You spend four hours ice hiking on a glacier. You have crampons and everything. And the best part is, they found an ice cave we got to climb through. I climbed through an ice cave on the only stable glacier in the world!!!!!!!

Our friends from the south are incredible. Ben made us dinner and Therese, Ben, Tomasz, Marcy and I spent hours drinking wine and playing party games. (Christine, I taught Marcy you and your mother's game about the questions. It stumped them for a long while). It was a perfect way to say good bye to trekking and hello to Buenos Aires and party life.

Buenos Aires

Cat arrived and we met her at the apartment. Its wonderful to hang out as the three of us again. I haven't been able to spend this much time with Cat in years. Its a bit different in Buenos Aires. There is less to see and things are mainly on the weekends. So I will hit on the big things:

We couldn't get tickets to Boca vs. River. I'm sad about that since its one of the biggest sporting events of a lifetime to see. But they only gave Boca 2,000 tickets so no one could get them. So we ended up watching it at Lobos por el Futbol and Boca won! even with a player down.

We did the traditional night life in Buenos Aires. We went to club Mod and danced until 6 am. I was hit on about every 20 seconds. I didn't believe Ruben when he said men would love me here but now I do...maybe I should consider a move...

I am having a leather jacket made for me. Its so cool. Since I'm taller than the entire population of Argentina, they just made on to fit me. For the same price as a pre-made jacket.

We went to the horse races with two Irish guys (we meet a lot of Irish guys) and bet on horses. I won 8.50 pesos but spent 20 pesos...but I won. That's the important part. Also who knew there was a race track in the middle of Buenos Aires.

There will be more but I'm tired of writing...and I sincerely hoped that made sense because I'm not editing this at all.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just a taste

I don´t have time for a real post so here´s a teaser of whats to come...

Climbed a 1000 meter mountain through snow packed 3 feet deep for beautiful views of Fitz Roy.
Saw a gaucho rodeo in honor of Chalten 23rd birthday
Drank water out of a glacier stream (it was safe to drink!)
Saw the sunrise on a moutain
Bought gaucho boots
Saw ice bergs, glaciers and more glaciers

Tomorrow: Big Ice climb which includes hiking with crampons

Then on to Buenos Aires for some good old Catherine, Marcy and Diana time. Pictures to come as well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How I wore the same pair of underwear for three days...

First off, my last post talked about Marcy going scuba diving with the sea lions which was absolutely incredible. She has pictures and video to prove it and I am infinitely jealous of her and also annoyed with the hostel. They told me it would be the same price to go snokling as it would scuba diving and the scuba place told Marcy they would have let me go on the boat for free and probably charged me way less to go snokling. Blast! Anyway my new goal is to get my PADI license before I go traveling with Marcy again because this happened in Greece as well.

So my bike ride was spent getting pushed around by the wind and getting whipped in the face with sand but it was cool to ride around the cove. This town reminds me a lot of Woods Hole in the winter. Its really dead and if you are not that into marine life, then its not really worth it.

That night we met up with Marcy´s niece´s friend Flor and her friends for dinner and to go out. They were great. We played Argentina´s version of Trivial Pursut, which translations for me and then Marcy and I taught them ¨Kings¨. Most people don´t really go out to get drunk so they ended up pretty drunk and it was a sight to see. After a while, we went over to the ¨boys¨house and taught them Kings as well. It was so much fun watching them get confused by the ¨take the little man off the glass¨rule or try to rhyme.

Then at 3 am we went dancing which was considered early for everyone but we had a bunch of free passes. The music here makes dancing and going out so enjoyable. And EVERYONE dances. They salsa and we freak. One more point to the South Americans. Although I did try to explain break dancing to a couple of them.

At 5 am, I was ready for bed and we left to get french fries. When we got back to the hostel, we thought we were going to wake up our roommate, Darcy, a 30 something Aussie who was afraid of sharks, but he was pissed drunk singing to himself. It was pretty funny as we all stubbled around until he went to bed with the stinkiest feet right next to my face. Luckily I was too tired to notice.

Then at 9 am, we woke up to Flor at our hostel and trudged to the bus station to get to Puerto Lumas for some whale watching. Flor´s dad owns one of the whale watching companies so we were able to go at a discount. He basically was the Mob boss of whales and everyone called him ¨Captain¨. He spent most of the day yelling from his perch outside of a cafe with different people coming up and saying hello. We couldn´t go on a boat until 2 so we sat around and drank coffee and tried to figure out how to see the penguins and sea lions.

A plan was formed: we would spend the night in Puerto Lumas and then join the tour from our hostel after they whale watched. And we could stay at his house. Perfect right? Except both Marcy and I were pretty scared of him because he yelled a lot and the house was under construction...oh great...And then because of the winds, there was no whale watching so our tour bus wasn´t coming. So we ended up staying the night and paying a taxi to take us to the penguins and sea lions and then back to our hostel...More on this later.

The whale watching was pretty incredible and Flor said that it was a bad day. But the whales literally come up right to the boat. What´s a bad day for Puerto Madyrn would be an outstanding day for any place in the States. I loved seeing the whales but I hate going on group tours like that and eventually got sick of a boat full of people and sick of the boat itself.

After the tour, we went to his house to take a nap. So I mentioned his house was under construction, which at first I though meant ¨oh yeah there are some paint buckets¨. Nope, his house hasn´t been built yet. There was one room with a small kitchen and a bathroom filled with laundry and a sponge bath tub, then upstairs there were two rooms with three shabby mattresses and a half of a not working bathroom. So we pulled on our jackets and slept and I wouldn´t be surprise if my bed was infested with fleas.

We wandered around the town where clearly Flor knew everyone and then bought meat for an Asado. Flor´s dad started up the BBQ and was yelling from his chair outside the pit. It was pretty frightening until his friends came over and started laughing at him. They were great. Old classic sailors who carried their knifes on their belts.

We ate a rib and a leg of a male sheep which felt like the closest I would ever come to eating a dinosaur. I wish I could have gotten a picture. Then it was off to sleep on our mattresses. I can only imagine that this was what backpacking used to be. Before hostels and Lonely Planet, you went and slept where ever.

In the morning, we left to have breakfast and had the best cereal I could ever eat. We have been having a lot of toast with dulche de leche and just having cereal with a banana felt amazing on my system. Then it was off to see the penguins and elephant seals. We saw some lamas too. I am so amazing about how comfortable they are with people. We respected their space but they just knew that we wouldn´t hurt them so they stayed really close.

We were hoping to see a Killer Whale eat an elephant seal because they are in this area as well but no such luck.

In the end, our hostel was mildly concerned when we didn´t show up for a night and I am not exactly sure we saved any money. But it made for a good story and I seriously saved on laundry.

Back in Puerto Madyrn, we ran into Duncan and Becky and made plans for New Years in Los Angeles. We met them rafting and they have a four day layover in Los Angeles in January.

Then we booked tickets for the south. Next stop is the glacier for some ice hikes and climbs. Maybe some dog sledding.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Puerto Madryn

After a 17 hour ride on an overnight bus, we have arrived in Puerto Madryn, a haven for marine life including whales, sea lions and penguins. Marcy is off to go scuba diving with the sea lions and while I do have a love for Seabert, I decided not to go on the ¨pseudo-dive¨since it didn´t seem worth the money.

So I am spending the morning renting a bike and biking the cold, freezing beach.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

1st Day of White Water Rafting Season

We went white water rafting yesterday on the first day it is even possible to go on the river. That means the water was freezing, cloudy because of the ice still melting below and about six meters higher than the river is in summer (November to February). Marcy said the water reminded her of Artic Ice Gatoraid, so I guess they did their market research.

Our group consided of an mildly insane Italian, two kiwis, a solo travelor from London and a couple from England where were traveling until their money ran out. Our guides had that same look that any outdoor adventure guide has: fit, tan and crazed. I mean, you have to enjoy taking a bunch of tourists out on a river every day and never know how good they are at rafting.

The group was really friendly and all knew each other from another hostel. We got picked up and driven to the river. We were actually rafting to the boarder of Argentina and Chile so we had to fill out custom forms in case we fell out and went down river into Chile.

We started rafting in the rain so essentially every part of us was drenced before we even started but once we started rafting, I never felt cold. Our group was pretty uncoordinated, especially the Italian but we made it through the rapids fine but I am not sure how much of that was luck.

One rapid, named Scream, Cry and Go Left, had a 50% chance of us flipping. It included three huge waves and a whirlpool, which would have dragged someone down 200 meters and the popped them up against some rocks. The raft went almost verticle and if we had been an inch off the wave we would have flipped. The guides were yelling at each other in spanish about how close we were to flipping. In the end, only the Italian fell out. Marcy almost did except Liz (one of the Kiwi´s) caught her.

The guides included one directing the boat and instructing us and one safety who was in a tiny kayak. The safety had to go ahead of us and make sure the rapids were free of branches and other obstructions. And was also able to help if someone fell in. He had a much harder job since he was flipping and turning into whirlpools in his tiny kayak. I love kayaking and am interested in rapid kayaking. But I am not sure how you start since I wouldn´t have wanted to be alone in a kayak for that trip.

The trip ended with Asado (Argentina BBQ), wine and beer bought by the Italian (price of falling in). Then someone bought wine for the van ride home; it was definitely my first time drinking in a car.

We ended up meeting up with the rafting group later than night. The couple is going to Puerto Madryn on our same bus. I tried the Argentian national liquor which tastes like menthol and a stray dog got attached to me in a bar and ended up following me all night.

Today, Marcy and I are pretty exhasted. I bought new hiking boots and wandered around town. I am looking forward to a 17 hour bus ride to sleep and read and relax. Puerto Madryn is going to be pretty chill. Marcy knows the guy who owns all of the ecotourism in the area so we might get some inside tours of whale and penguin watching. Some guy at the other hostel told us about renting kayaks and being in the middle of the ocean with about 50 whales. So I might have a Pinoccino story to tell.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Glaciers, Al Gore, Cabalgatas and Meat

The past two days have been a mixture of heart breaking, beautiful and breath taking. Here goes: We have been staying in Bariloche at the Periko Hostel. We arrived after a 22 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires and wandered around the town. We drank mate and signed up for the trekking tour leaving the next day. For those who don´t know, Mate is a tea which people share in the afternoons. The closest I can equiate it to is sharing a joint. Its very communal and calming and also brings the same bond as the kiss on the cheek greeting. It just breaks the awkwardness.

That night after returning from a dinner of Argentina BBQ (meat meat and more meat) and a bottle of wine and a bottle of beer between two of us, some people in the hostel were watching An Inconvient Truth. I had never seen it, knowing that it would have upset me especially if I saw it alone. So drunk and determined, I sat down and watched. It left me upset with the United States and with the world. I just feel like we can do so much but are moving so slowly.

The next day, we went on a three trek tour with about 15 other people, a few Americans, some Mexicans but mainly Argentians. The first two stops were waterfalls. Pretty but nothing breath taking. The treks were simple and easy and I was starting to feel like we wasted some money. But then we hiked to a glacier. It was awe inspiring. You could hear the ice falling. It sounded like Thunder. There was the glacier on the top of ¨Thunder Mountain¨(get the name?) and there were black glaciers (ice which had refrozen with dirt and rocks) melting in the river below.

The glacier had receeded miles in just the 13 years the guide had been giving tours. It was heart breaking. I vowed right there to take a stand on being green. I can´t demand anything from anyone else but I can make a change in myself. Before I have been convinential being green (Nice going with that title, Al) and now I am going to actively make decisions based on the environment. I guess everyone should just sit and watch a glacier disappear...

That night, we had dinner with two lawyers from SF we met at our hostel. Its funny how when traveling friendships are made so quickly. We just chatted in the lobby and then made plans for dinner. It was so easy.

We made plans to go horse back riding for today. Since its the beginning of the season (end of ski season and start of spring and summer activities) and low tourist season, no one was doing tours. We ended up going with a small company the hostel didn´t really know and paying for a private all day tour.

The cabalgata tour turned out to be run by a family descended from one of the founding fathers? of the town. They owned a huge ranch and valley with cows, horses and bees. We were greeted by a woman in a tiny log cabin with a wood burning stove and a man who was the definition of gancho. The people were really friendly and gave us helmets, half chaps and an extra jacket for me.

My horse was an ex-race horse, which I felt was a good sign. Marcy had a horse half the size of mine (the running theme, is this country is tiny). Because the season just started and the snow had just melted. The horses still had long coats and the trail was mostly mud. We made our way up a mountain where we could see the glaciers, ski mountains, lake nuapi and the lower valley. It was...unforgettable and undescribable.

On our way down, we were able to run a bit which was incredible. I had forgotten the joy was racing on horseback. We returned to the little house to find a table set with home made bread, salad and wine. The men were cooking Asado (not sure how to spell this and too tired to look it up) in an open fire pit. The BBQ was the best I have ever had. Better than Ruben´s. The meat just melted in my mouth. Marcy conversed with the family while I listened. I could understand and follow the conversation. My proudest moment was understanding ¨Move the water bottle¨ before anyone else. Spanish is beginning to ¨fit¨in my ears and I can relax while my brain processes the language. But it was also nice to be able to sit back without pressure to contribute to a conversation.

A note just to make my Dad jealous: the meal ended with home made flan with ducle de leche with home made candied sugar on top.

The second half of the ride was led by the Gancho. We rode in two the valley and herded home the cows. We were able to run more in the valley because the footing was better. So Marcy and I were yelling at cows while riding horses into rivers and on a beautiful valley.

Once the cows were home, we went into the valley and ran. It was lightly raining and we were slashing mud and water while the horses galloped. Dogs ran underneath the horses. The day ended with a rainbow (I´m not joking). It felt like a romance novel or a Bonte novel or both. I have never been so amazed by the surroundings and happy to be riding.

Then we returned to house for a homemade tea with jams, torta frites, cake and mate. Again we sat around with the family and discussed everything from soccer to the political situation in Cuba. Marcy and I both felt like part of the family and I felt a bit jealous of their lifestyle.

Exhasted, we arrived back at the hostel and showered. Then wandered around Barihocle to buy bus tickets for the next location and a few warmer clothes and food. Both of us are pretty destroyed. I faired a bit better than Marcy since I have more riding experience and was able to move with the horse instead of bounce against him.

Now I´m covered in icey hot and probably should go to bed. We have white water rafting in the morning. Its the start of the season tomorrow so the water is going to be freezing. I hope I don´t fall in.

As soon as I get to Buenos Aires, I should have pictures to share. VP debates tomorrow! And I hear Obama is ahead in the polls. Also the economy is apparently destroyed. Anything else I should know?