Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Traveling, Part II

OK, so where did I leave off...?
Chalten. Dusty roads and windswept scenery and all that, huh. I spent my twenty-fifth birthday in that town. Alone! Well, I went hiking alone and then went to dinner alone, and then was approached by a group of 6 or 7 Argentine dudes who wanted me to take their photo. I ended up sitting with them for a bit, we had a toast to celebrate my birthday--with a banana/dulce de leche liquor--and watched a sci-fi flick on a projector screen in the restaurant while half the town packed in around us. So, I guess I technically cannot say that I spent my birthday alone ;) The next day two friends that I had met hiking--Sarah from Texas and Niamh from Ireland--showed up in Chalten and took me out properly for the 25th. We had dinner and lots of red wine--and really good conversation. I overslept my 6:30am bus the next morning which was a bit scary when I woke up panicked at 8am because there really aren´t too many options for public transit when you´re this far out and all the roads are dirt for 200km or so--and I had a flight to catch that evening in a town 5 hours away. Lucky me! I did NOT have to take a 450 peso cab ride, but was able to squeeze onto the only other departing bus that day back to El Calafate. This gave me the rest of the morning to hang out with aforementioned wonderful girls and share a pizza for breakfast while discussing politics--does it get any better than this? That night I flew from El Calafate in Patagonia region up to Buenos Aires--the capital city of Argentina and well-known as the ´Paris of South America´. I met up with Yana at a hostel in the San Telmo neighborhood of town...a bit dirty and sketch on our end, but generally known to be the quaint, cobbly-street section of B.A. On Sundays they have a huge antique market out on the street and plenty of hippies show up to sell their jewelry, photographs, handmade clothing...Yana and I hit this up one day and spent 2 and a half hours at lunch in a little French cafe and then wandered down the street buying earrings and listening to live tango music. Definitely a lot of fun. What else...? We ate, a lot. Steak, Asian infusian, red wine, gelato, steak, chorizo, and steak. We met up with a friend of mine from university in Virginia--she´s a BA native, Alejandra. She showed us around the city a bit, we went to the modern art museum, out to the bars with her boyfriend and his friends, and celebrated her birthday with her whole family and a huge asado (which means really amazing barbeque). We even had a strawberry shortcake theme, complete with piƱata. After a week in BA, we caught a flight up to Iguazu falls which is on the border of Argentine and Brasil. We stayed at a hostel with a swimming pool and teepees out back, which apparently used to be a casino, back in the day. We signed on to take a tour of the Brasilian side of the falls---our tour guide had to sneak us into the country, though, because of our lack of Brasilian visas. All went well and we spent 11 hours trekking through iodine-rich red mud, dodging thousands of butterflies and even kayaking in what could only be described as a monsoon. The falls are incredible...I can´t come close to doing them justice by trying to explain what it looks like, but for a short intro--it´s basically a huge wall of water that stretches for maybe half a mile. One VERY large waterfall at the far end, called the Devil´s Throat, and then a series of smaller falls up until the other end where there are at any given time between 10 and 20 enormous, enormous waterfalls. And then jungle everywhere around you with 180 pound super-rats and monkeys and whatnot. Like I said--crazy. From there we flew back to BA for a couple more days with Alejandra and her friends--wonderful people--and then hopped on an overnight busride to Mendoza, Argentina. The busride took about 13 hours direct and is intended to be a decent night´s sleep IF you´re able to pass out in a semi-reclined bus seat. Despite the fact that I was exhausted, there just happened to be a captivating heat storm taking place off to the South somewhere, so I stayed up most of the night watching the bus advance on bright, crashing bolts of lightning. Mendoza is a university town tucked into the pre-Cordillera (foothills) of the Andes mountain range and the Eastern frontier with Chile. This region is famous for its production of Malbec wine and also supplies 70% of the Argentine wine market. Yana and I spent a week here--I almost stayed forever here. We took an all-day tour of the wine country which included 5 wineries, an olive oil farm, a liquor production farm (grappa, triple sec, etc...) and a chocolate factory. We also had an amazing lunch somewhere out in the countryside beneath a huge canopy of grapevines. You guessed it--lots and lots of meat. The next day we went river rafting on the Mendoza river, and the next day rented a car to go check out the rest of the countryside. We headed south about 200km to San Rafael which we had heard was stunningly beautiful. The entire drive down there we were convinced that our recommendors were crazy--nothing but scrubland in every direction. When does it get beautiful? The city was also, mmm, well, not too exciting. We found a map which pointed us toward a canyon just out of town and headed that direction. WOW. First we hit the river and followed that toward the dam, behind which was an amazing, amazing lake. Again, turquoise water, rocky cliffs, small patches of sandy beaches. It looked like what I imagine Greece must be like. We stopped to take a lot of photos (by the way we had with us another gringa--larissa from Alaska) and then ended up at this little cafe/boat rental shop which hung out over the edge of the cliff on stilts and was run by a well-tanned Argentine guy who lived beneath the building in his tent and spent winters teaching snowboarding at Lake Tahoe. What a life. Between him and the rafting guides we met the day before, I was convinced that I was not going to leave Mendoza, ever. I will set up my tent, learn to raft,
and beg, plead and borrow until I find myself an income. This place was gorgeous. After having a beer and a popsicle, we headed further into the canyon with many pitstops for photos...gorgeous. The road keeps going into a red rocks canyon that the Argentines compare to the Grand Canyon. OK. I have not been to the Grand Canyon, but I really don´t think they´re right on this one...not really possible they compare in size anyway. But, it was a really incredible sight--and a rough ride. We made it 30km in and then realized that we wouldn´t make it out the other end before nightfall, so Yana took the wheel and hit the gas. I was only partially afraid for my life as she gunned it over boulders and around blind turns...Apparently she was racing both the sunset and her very full bladder. An absolute lack of portipotties in the Andean foothills...Anyway. We made it back alive and that night began the festivities for the annual Mendoza Wine Festival!! We watched the parade the next morning, complete with drag queens, belly dancers, floats passing out grapes and chunks of meat which were being barbequed ON the float, and lots of men on horses. Wonderful. That night the city hosted a show up on the big hill outside of town. They set up a huge stage and amphitheater which you can buy tickets to, or else join in with the rest of the town and go perch yourself in the hills behind the ´pay seats´. Literally thousands of Argentine families with baby strollers and a few odd tourists tucked into the scrubbrush and dusty boulders, with popcorn and cotton candy vendors wandering through the mess of us. The show featured 2 hours of acrobats, choreographed dance numbers and even giant dancing objects, like a set of hands and a rolling pin. Sounds strange, but it was pretty incredible. After that we went for beers and pool and then caught a bus the next morning to Santiago. This bus is definitely one you want to stay awake for. Six hours through one of the highest passes in the Andes mountain range. You even get a glimpse of Aconcagua, which is about 21,000 feet tall--the highest peak in the Americas. Yana and I struggled on this one--I think we managed 3 hours of sleep, maybe, the night before...;) And then we had trouble with border control for accidentally trying to smuggle grapes across the border--luckily they pegged us for ignorant tourists! So. Now. Santiago, Chile. Well, actually not now--later. It´s about 2am here and I need to sleep. So...I will share thoughts on my first few weeks here--orientation and meeting the girls and seeing the city and whatnot--for a later time. But soon--I promise.

Mr Silverstein

¨If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar. A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...If you´re a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!¨ --Shel Silverstein

Sound and Music

Two of my favorite people on this earth--an amazing bulgher salad--and sunset over Puget sound...Things I love about Seattle.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bariloche, Argentina

The city of Bariloche, Argentina gets so crowded in the summer its hard to move down the sidewalk. So, ignoring the voice in my head that said ´if you rent a car it will probably be robbed from you´ (because that is what happens to me when I travel--things get robbed), I tried anyway and was able to get out of the city for the day. I headed North on the Siete Lagos (seven lakes) route and stopped whenever I saw something I wanted to take a photo of. By midday I was on a random beach with beautiful turqoise water, birds flying overhead and a good book...also on my way to a fantastic sunburn. They were really serious when they said the ozone is thinner down here. Other highlights from this stopover where the nightly performances in the Plaza Grande--one of these photos is of an amazing Argentine folk band...And, I can´t forget to mention the all-day boat trip I took out to the islands. 300 Argentine tourists (mostly toddlers and elderly) and myself. Kind of like trying to get out into nature by going on the Disneyland jungle ride...;)

Pucon, Chile

A volcano sitting just above Pucon, Chile. This was the first place I visited on my trip. Just a little bit of a mind trip to be sitting on a black sand beach, (sharing an illegal liter of beer) people in bikinis and sandals...and then you turn around to find a live volcano, snow-covered and smoking. Apparently that´s where all the black sand comes from.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Torres del Paine

One of my favorite photos...this is on the bajada from the French Valley. Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. We spent 5 days hiking in this park with wind, snow, sun, rain...you name it ;)

Shades of Sage: Patagonia

February 3, 2007

In contrast to my northwest home, the brilliant colors here are not found in the sky. Not in clouds or light or the wedding of the two in sun's daily birth and death...No. But in an impossibly neutral palette of brown, light brown and sage, the colors which do stand out are striking. The turquoise light inside a 4000 year-young glaciar. The white-tipped wing of a passing hawk. The icy, milky blue of a glacial mineral lake. These punctuate mesa, scrub and birds in flight in a way I couldn't anticipate or imagine.
The landscape is confusing--reminding you of a dozen places and nowhere all at once. Feeling both familiar and foreign...Or maybe all land is like that in it's own way, when you give over to its patterns and rhythms.
I find myself feeling as if I've been here eons longer than two weeks. Really, that's it? I can't reconcile the 10 o'clock sunsets, the people in sandals, the freckles coming out on my nose. What season is this anyway? Each day spent more--or maybe less--with myself. And the anticipation of new lives growing on your side and on mine, so far away from each other. I already feel the loss of moments I don't think I should be losing.
But we make our choices, cross our fingers. Pack our boxes and say goodbye. Whether literally or figuratively, the moment and the motion of goodbye comes to each of us in turn.
I always seem to make mine jump their time, though, I feel.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Glaciar Nat'l Park

Here's a pic of the guys who took all my photos once the camera crapped out on me...Also another shot of the glaciar face.

Ice, Ice Baby

More pics of the Perito Moreno Glaciar...these are all from our trek onto the ice. We did 4 1/2 hours into the middle of the glaciar which was an insane experience--very beautiful. My camera battery went dead 3 photos in so some nice american boys took some pictures for me. I also forgot sunglasses and I believe that I sunburned my eyes--is that possible?

Perito Moreno

This is a pic of the Perito Moreno Glaciar just outside of El Calafate, Argentina. The Glaciar pushes out steadily at something like 4000 pounds of pressure per square inch (as far as I could make out the spanish and the metric conversions...:) and eventually pushes out to separate two lakes until the pressure mounts and huge chuncks of ice calve off the glaciar to equalize the lakes again...When it gets sunny in the afternoon large chunks will fall of the face of the glaciar and create large waves all the way out to the beaches so you have to watch how close you get to the shore sometimes.

Travel Log One: Patagonia

So I´m looking out the window and i see, in this order: dirt road, wood lodge, scrubby canyon and jagged grey mountain peaks.
I´m in Argentine Patagonia. In writing about this place in my journal I´ve struggled to describe the contrasts...this is the best i can do. Stunning, beautiful, desolate. In one direction you´ll look for miles and only see flat, dry steppe, guanacos (native llamas) and sheep. In the other direction you´ll see a jagged run of mountain peaks that look like shark incisors. Next to this will be a milky-blue-turquoise glacial lake. Then a condor (carrion bird) flying overhead with a 9-foot wingspan. it´s a little bit crazy.
and that´s just the southern end of Patagonia! My first introduction to this continent was through Santiago Chile (hot, crowded and muggy in the middle of summer) and the bus station and then an overnight ride south through the lake district to a lakeside town called Pucon. I was lucky to meet some other travelers on the bus and we all meandered our way to a hostel in town...since it was still 7am, we had to wait 3 hours for check out to see if they would have space. An Aussie girl, Kate, and I set up camp in the breakfast nook and drank coffee con leche until we were assured a space. We quickly hit it off with eachother and with the other half dozen travelers packed into the dorm next to our room. We all shared a deck just off our rooms which was a great place to lay in the sun, read a book and share a beer after hiking.
Kate and I wandered around that day, checked out the lake and the beach and gaped at the volcano. Yes, volcano. There´s this ridiculous volcano that lords over this town, so close you feel like you could touch it. You´re in the middle of summer, everyone in bikinis and shorts and then there´s a snowcapped, smoking volcano as the backdrop! A lot of the travelers made the trek up the volcano, probabaly the most popular thing to do in Pucon. I opted out of that one and caught a bus with Kate and a couple of other guys to the national park for a hike up to the alpine lakes. We´d all been out dancing the night before so our 7am start was not a friendly one, but we made it--seriously a feat against nature--and 11 hours later we could all be found sleeping beneath the Huerquehue National Park sign, waiting for the bus to come back and get us...;) /( we were told that a few departing tourists took pictures of us passed out beneath the sign ;)
An afternoon beer, an empanada and a bottle of malbec wine later we were all lounged on the deck trying to figure out our various travel plans for the coming days.
I decided to head to Argentina next--to a town called Bariloche. This is the northern end of the region called Patagonia. Gorgeous, gorgoues place. In a alot of ways it reminds me of the northwest--mountains, lakes, forests--but everything was a bit bigger, more extreme i guess you could say. I hated the town--SUPER touristy (as are many of the places down here) but the surrounding country side was really amazing. I spent 4 days here, met another great Aussie girl, Joanna, ate a lot of beef (steaks, hamburgers, sausages, sanwiches...it never ends--help!) danced to latin music all night in an irish pub, met a fly fisherman from montana, stayed in a penthouse hostel with panoramic views of the lake and mountains (for $10 a night!) and listened to live folk music in the central square. i also took an all day boat tour of the islands where we were able to get out and hike a bit...what a trip. i was the only non-argentine person on the entire boat of 300 people. Every time we got onto an island, they herded in one direction and i went in the opposite one. after that experience, i decided to rent a car for my last day there and get out of dodge. There´s a really popular 7 lakes route that takes you through all the countryside. I set out on that but then got caught at this little beach i found--turqiose blue lake surrounded by green plunging mountains faces. it was pretty amazing. i spent the day there reading and getting very sunburned.
From there I flew down south to nearly the end of the continent--a town called El Calafate. This again is very touristy, but smaller so I liked it better. MY first day I went on an all-day trek of the Perito Moreno glaciar. It was a whole other world out there--really cool to see. My camera battery died, i forgot sunglasses and sunscreen, but i still had a great time and came home exhausted. The next day I took it easy, went to visit a wildlife sanctuary/estuary and hung around town. I met back up with an Aussie friend from Pucon that day and we went out for a 4 hour dinner that night--more steak, trout, salad, wine, more wine and strawberries. easily my best meal so far (La Tablita--thanks Josh).
The next day we headed out for Chile again--puerto Natales and the torres del paine national park. This is the big daddy of trekking and hiking in the region--a lot of you have probably seen pictures of this place, even if you dont know thats what it is. Puerto Natales was my favorit town so far--a big expat community that´s concerned with local issues, environmental stuff, growing local produce. etc. and the locals were really great. I really like Chileans.
We geared up that first day and then took a 7:30am bus the next morning to the park. Neither of us had ever led a backpack before so we were winging it a bit, but it all worked out well. In 5 days we got snowed on, rained on, sunburned and windswept nearly off the trail at times. It is so windy here that when we were in the park, we heard about a guy who got blown off the trail and broke both legs. it´s that windy. We saw llamas, condors, flamingos, sheep (most of this was on the way to the park)...
The terrain again is really stunning and very dhard to describe. Jagged mountains, turquoise blue lakes, scrubby steppe, massive glaciars, glacial rivers (that we could drink from) green leafy woods...really beautiful. It was a tough 4/5 days of hiking but well worth it. The night we got back to Puerto Natales we definitely gorged ourselves at dinner and took long hot showers ;)
So that´s about it so far. I´m back in argentina for a few days more before i fly up to Buenos aires to meet Yana. I´m in El Chalten right now--a little town that reminds of the wild, wild west with dirt roads and log cabins. the whole thing is set at the base of a canyon with Mt Fitz Roy in the backdrop.
Looking forward to having a friend with me for the next 3 weeks! I´m missing you all--of course--and wish I could be sharing this with all of you in different ways. you´ve all come up in conversations i´ve had or thoughts of which of you would love which place...
and before i go--a disclaimer: all of this is amazing and great to see, and i´m thankful and lucky to be here. but. nothing beats being with all of you in seattle.