A Travellerspoint blog

Sucre

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I have the time now, so I figure I might as well start writing about Sucre to get a head start and then add on more as the days continue.

So after arriving in Sucre around 9pm, I checked into a hostel for the night - walked around the city for a bit looking for food, but that was about it. The next morning I checked out and headed to the Bolivian Spanish School, where I am currently taking private lessons, to get everything organized and move into my Bolivian family's home.

The school is great! I'm already learning a lot since there isn't nearly as much distraction here as there was in Buenos Aires. Sucre is a very tranquilo, beautiful city, much more than any of the others I have seen thus far in Bolivia. It used to be the capitol of Bolivia before La Paz took the title; however, people here believe that Sucre is in fact still Bolivia' capitol. Nonetheless, because of it's previous or current title it has amazing architecture here including tons of univesities, museums, parks, churches, statues, etc. and all of the buildings are white-washed, which adds to its uniqueness as well. Even though it's not as fast-pace as Buenos Aires, there is still a lot of fun stuff to do around the city as well as outside it, and I plan on taking advantage of it's activies this weekend. The food here is great, as is the food in all of Bolivia. Saltenas, which are eaten during the mornings are a cross between beef or chicken empanadas and soup dumplings - probably one of the tastier things I've had in my life. Lunch is prepared back at the house by Miriam, the wife, and so far evey meal has been incredible. For example, today, Friday, we started out with soup (which is the norm in every restaurant or street vendor, one of the tastier items), followed by abeet and chili salad, potatoes, rice, and braised lamb - I won't even comment. I've been warned a few times to be careful in Bolivia with their food and water, but nonetheless, I won't let that stop me, so for dinner, I either eat at different vendors on the street trying local foods, or I've been heading to the main market more of Sucre's traditional meals. There is amazing tradition here and I can easily see why people I've talked to have loved Bolivia, especially considering how cheap it is. Hostels run about $5 dollars a night and meals range anywhere from $1 - $4 max - much less than Argentina. I hear Peru is pretty similar, maybe a bit more expensive but not much.

The family I'm staying with is very nice. It's a pretty huge place ( 5 stories with a terrace), but it needs to be big because of the amount of people that are currently living there. The parents have two sons and a daughter, and one of the sons lives in the house with his wife and three younger kids, which is pretty normal in Bolivia since jobs are hard to come by and moving out is too expensive, and two other people renting out rooms while they study in the university. However, it doesn't feel cramped at all since the only people I've interacted with or seen are the parents, one of the sons, and a few of the kids. So, it's been perfect so far, and only 5 minutes walking distance from the school.

Last night I went to a performance at a nearby town, where the group El Teatro de Los Andes gave their rendition of the Odyssey, except with a more modern twist, since Ulysses, in his quest to return home has to reach Ithica, NY, so issues such as immigration were portrayed, which was pretty cool. I was unaware before, but aparently this acting group is very famous and travels all around the world putting on plays. I was lucky to get the last available ticket for the final two days they were performing in the area. Obviously the whole thing was in Spanish, and there were a few longer dialogues that I didn't fully understand, but overall I was able to follow the action, and it was an incredible play - the acting, music, and stage sequences (I'm not even sure if that's an appropriate term, but I'm referring to all the unique and well thought out ways they portrayed different life events such as death, sex, fights, and lots more), and I think that was the sentiment of everyone else that attended the show as well. Here's there website if you wanna check them out, they may be putting pictures up of the play I saw, so you might be able to see what I'm referring to.

http://teatrodelosandes.com/

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For the sake of keeping this post shorter than the one in BA, I´ll give a summary once again.

The family I stayed with was unbelievable. One of the sons was close to my age and actually in the med school here, so we were able to chat a lot, which was good for my spanish. And the mother´s cooking continued to impress, which was lucky as well. Since the last time I posted about 10 days or so have passed by. During the week, nothing too exciting occured, or at least interesting enough to write about. My days were pretty consistent with classes in the morning, lunch, nap, walking around the city, dinner, and either relaxing back at the house with the fam explaining the rules of football, baseball, and wrestling, or going out with kids from the school. This past weekend was pretty eventful. Friday a bunch of people met back at the school during the evening for a cooking lesson on traditional Bolivian food, and it also happened to be one a teacher´s birthday, so drinks were served as well. Went to a bunch of bars afterwards, good time. The next night went out with the son in med school and his cousin until early in the morning to a karaoke bar. An interesting experience, the people here really take their singing seriously. And I was pressured into singing a few songs in English, so my interpretation of Oasis, Wonderwall and 50 cent/The Game, How We Do. The second was definitely more difficult than expected, but nonetheless, my first karaoke experience singing on my own....

The following day we went to the family´s home in the campo, about an hour away from Sucre. It was a lot of fun, very relaxing. It´s where the campesinos live so all the houses have lots of property with vegetables, fruits, and animals present. My family only goes during the weekends, so they have different fruit plants, but thats the extent of it. Very beautiful, and an experience I´m sure only those that live here get to have, so that was really cool. I have a reservation booked for a flight leaving Wednesday for Cochabamba, but still trying to decide whether I should wait until then or leave a day earlier - not a big deal either way. Cochabamba is known for their wildlife national park which has a large range of animals present that are free to walk around as they wish, so I figured it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to be walking next to Pumas and have monkey climbing on me (if im lucky), I just have to watch out for personal belongings, cause I hear monkeys are worse than South Americans when it comes to theft.

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What more...it´s Wednesday, and I´m about to head out to the airport for my next destination. These last few days have been a lot of fun. I started hanging out a bunch with Miguel´s cousins who were a little more extroverted, and they did a good job of showing me around the city. Monday we spent the night drinking Leche de Tigre, which is a drink normally consumed only during Carnival; however, Ronald´s mom had a bottle that had been ¨marinating¨ for about three years, so we decided to snatch it. The drink consists of Singani (very popular alcohol here), milk, cinnamon, and egg. I´m not sure exactly how the drink doesn´t spoil after three years, but it was pretty delicious, but very potent. Monday was also a holiday in Sucre to comemorate the deaths of three students last year during a pretty vicious confrontation between the police and citizens, regarding the constitution and wanting the title of Bolivia´s capitol to be returned to Sucre.

Yesterday nothing too special happened - ate a lot. Had chicharrones, which is pretty much fried fat or beef, and is very popular here. Apprently Ronald´s mom is famous for her version of the dish, so I had to try it. Of course hers was just fried fat, so I felt very healthy afterwards. A few hours later I ordered a small plate of Picante Lengua and Picante Cola to test out. The Cola, pig´s tail, was amazing. And that´s about all I got. Finished classes up today, had my last lunch back at the house, and now just killing time before I leave for the aiport.

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I had an amazing time here. Unfortunately I have to leave and see other places, or else I could have easily stayed for longer. Although there is much more to do in Buenos Aires, Sucre is a lot more charming due to its culture and small size. It´s really relaxed and everyone knows each other here, so it definitely has that comfortable feel to it, compared to BA. If any of you all happen to stop by Sucre at some point in your lives, please give the Cuelo family a call. They live on Hernandez Siles street, and they are an amazing family that continuously take people in to their homes for various amounts of time. But yea, I´d say just traveling wise, Sucre is a destination only to spend a few days in, but for a city to pass an extensive period of time in, I highly recommend it.

That´s all I got. Talk to you all soon, and keep me updated!

Posted by STEVO1285 13:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Potosi

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So after finally arriving to Potosi from Uyuni at around 2am, myself along with a friend from England and a couple from Spain headed to the hostel. It was a short night´s rest as we had to wake up early for the tour over to the mines. There was a very large group from the hostel that had signed up so they split us off into two groups - luckily our guide was better since we had a few dynamite demonstrations, which the other group apparently didn´t have. Mining is huge, or was huge at least back in the day, especially during the Spanish occupation, where the large mountain that overshadows the town was exploited for it´s silver. Although the Spanish never stepped foot into the mines, the indigenous people of Potosi as well as Black slaves were forced to work tirelessly - around 8 million people died while working the mines. Unfortunately at this moment, the quality of material in the mines is poor and there isn´t too much money to be made, so there are very few miners currently working the mountain as compared to four or five years ago. For this reason, we only ran into a few workers during the tour, but nonetheless, it was still a great experience as we spent about 3 hours walking, crawling, and climbing through the narrow tunnels in the mountain, experiencing the working conditions of the miners - not for the claustrophobic or asthmatic as the tour company warns. It was amazing to see the lack in technology and methods for excavating minerals, as it apparently depicts the conditions of first world countries about five decades ago. But the coolest part of the tour was definitely the dynamite demonstrations.

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Before entering the mines, the tour bus stopped at the miner's market, where people were strongly encouraged to purchase items to give to the miners during the tour. Items include: cigarettes, cocoa leaves, liquor 96% by volume, explosives, juices, and food. A few of us decided to by a few more rounds of explosives for the demonstratins that occured before and after heading in the mines. The demonstrations consisted of us creating the bomb (I cant remember the parts), lighting the fuse, quickly taking pictures, and then handing it over to the guide where he frantically ran to a far distance to plant it before hiding. It was a pretty intense explosion to say the least. I recorded on video the first one, and tried to take a picture of the second along with everyone jumping; however, that apparently cool idea failed miserably as the second explosion was about twice as intense, so the picture i got was a blurred background pointed about 90 degrees from the explosion - oh well.

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After returning back to the hostel, I ran a few errands, and then got on the 6pm bus over to Sucre, a three hour ride.

Posted by STEVO1285 04:21 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni


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The 3-night, 4-day jeep tour to the salt flats of Uyuni definitely rivals the ¨W¨ trail in Torres del Paine, as the best trip I´ve taken so far in South America.

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After arriving in Tupiza, I was hoping to take the next train out to Uyuni since I was under the impression that the best trips are based from there. Unfortunately at first, but then unbelievably perfect later, I arrived too late for the bus, and had to wait until the following day if I wanted to reach Uyuni. I didn´t know much about Tupiza, only that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids was filmed there, and it´s the location where they were killed in real life. So I started walking from the bus station and stumbled upon the hostel Valle Hermosa, where I decided to stop in for some info regarding bus times to Uyuni. Instead of getting that answer, I received a very in depth description of the tour they offered to the salt flats, which is a day longer than the ones offered in Uyuni with more sites along the way. At first, I was pretty skeptical, but once I started looking around at different agencies, I realized that although the Tupiza tours were a little more expensive, they were definitely of higher quality and with more to offer - a seemingly better experience. Uyuni is a 3-day tour that starts in the flats and then finishes off driving all the way back to Uyuni, while the Tupiza tours last 4 days, finishing in the salt flats, and ending in Uyuni, a nice launching off point to other cities.

After spending the entire day trying to decide which group I wanted to go with, I was forced to choose Valle Hermosa, since the others had filled up during the time I was off exploring other groups. Oh, Valle Hermosa and Tupiza Tours are the two major tour groups while there are other smaller, less expensive groups that may be more intimate, but also possibly unreliable in theory. Unfortunately, the next morning our departure was delayed since it turned out Valle Hemosa had lied to me and the other two people on the trip, when they said it was 100% certain that at least four people and even five would be on the trip, which reduced the cost. However, they made some excuse about the other kids being tired, so there were only three of us, me along with an israeli couple on their honeymoon, and they tried to dramatically increase the price on us, even though it was completely their fault. The israeli girl was very stern and adament about not increasing the price, which was really helpful, cause even though we did add on a little cost, it was much less than what they originally were asking for.

So after the confusion, we met up with our chauffeur and cook, Julio (23) and Hugo (20), who are brothers, and we headed off for the first day of the trip. Since we had a late start we ended up stopping in a village of 15 families to eat in this woman´s house, where she prepared some sandwiches and llama tamales. The first day was relatively short, stopping frequently to take pictures of the surrounding mountains and lakes until reaching a village where we stayed the first night. Hugo was a great cook, and each day he prepared all three meals for us including tea and coffee a few hours before dinner.

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To make this less exhaustive I´ll just summarize - the next three days were amazing. They consisted of waking up early in the morning for sunrise, driving throughout the entire day stopping at different colored lakes with lots of flamincos, volcanoes, smaller salt flats, and villages- along with a hot spring detour which was pretty refreshing considering we didn´t have access to showers for most of the time. The israeli couple was awesome. It was a pleasure to have spent four days of their honeymoon with them - very romantic. But in all seriousness, they were a ton of fun, had a blast taking some crazy pictures while in the solar de uyuni, and the whole trip was just a great experience. The israelis and two brothers up front all added a lot to the trip, and it wouldn´t have been the same without them. So in the end, though we had originally asked for four or five people on the tour, we were all very happy with the end result. The second night on the trip we ran into another Israeli, Roy, who was staying at the same village, and the stories he had were amazing. He´s been traveling for about the last 4 years straight and he´s currently 15 months in to his 3 year trip around the world on a bike. He started in Alaska and had already made it down to Bolivia, and he´s now on his way to Ushuaia. Pretty incredible - I think he´s made a bit of a name for himself in Israel with TV interviews and such.

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While in the salt flats we learned about the tragic accident that occured less than a year ago with two jeeps colliding into each other killing 14 people, 5 israelies, 5 japanese, and 4 workers. No one knows exactly how it happened since they weren´t any survivors, but there are different theories of how two jeeps leaving from Uyuni could manage to run into each other along a stretch of land so expansive. We stopped at the site of the crash where an Israeli flag and other ceremonial items were left in the middle of a black circle against the white backdrop. Very sad, but these crazy incidents can occur.

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After the trip unfortunately ended, I took the next bus out of Uyuni to Potosi with a friend from England I met during the Uyuni trip.

The bus was an experience of its own. Completely crowed with people, and two older women sitting across from us with a baby sheep on their laps, not only added to the Bolivian vibe, but also the smell of a barn yard - definitely different than Argentinean buses. We arrived in Potosi around 2am and headed to our hostel for a short nights rest.

Posted by STEVO1285 19:39 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salta

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After leaving Buenos Aires, heading for Bolivia, I decided to stop in Salta for a few reasons. One being that it has a lot of outdoor activites including cycling, horseback riding, and site-seeing, and the second reason for the stop was because Trevor was there at the time, so I figured it would be fun to have a friend around one last time before heading to Tupiza, Bolivia.

Salta on its own is a really cool place within Argentina. Since it lies close to the border, the city is very reminiscent of Bolivia including food, people, and culture. For that reason, I probably could have skipped it in hindsight, but if only traveling around Argentina it is definitely a great place to visit as it has a more Latin American feel compared to European.

The bus over to Salta was by far the best ride I had experienced in Argentina. We were given shots, palate cleansers, wine, full meal, dessert, and whiskey on the rocks - pretty incredible considering it´s just a bus. After arriving in Salta, I decided to take the chairlift up to the top of hill within the city to get some good panaramic shots, and in the process of ascending I met an older guy who was raised in La Paz, currently living in BA, and in Salta for work. I understood him as well as possible, but by the end of the afternoon we were eating at a whole-in-the-wall bolivian restuarant on the outskirts of Salta, while he gave me a wealth of knowledge regarding Bolivia, and gave me his number, so when I return to BA I can stay with him and his family. Kind of an unexpected afternoon, but fun regardless.

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The following day I took a tour trip over to Cachi, which is a pretty cool white-washed town, but the main point of the day-long trip is for the views on the way to the city, and they were pretty spectacular. I decided afterwards though that I´m not a huge fan of large group tours, since we bypassed a lot of great photo opportunities, because we had to continue driving, and our tour guide wasn´t too informative. Either way, I was still able to take some good pictures, try coco leaves for the first time, and eat some solid goat stew for lunch. So all-in-all, it was a fine day trip, and with a nice group of Americans on the bus, we were all getting pumped for the elections. Obviously, the win was huge, but it must have been a combination of drinking, lack of sleep, and altitude that caused me to pass out on the catch right before Obama´s speech, which was pretty upsetting. I´ve watched parts, but still need to see its entirety.

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My last day in Salta was more enjoyable for me than the previous cause there was some excercise involved - something I hadn´t done in a very long time. So Trevor and I rented some bikes and got a guide to take us on a 6 or 7 hour bike ride to San Lorenzo and back, hitting up a few other locations on the way. It was a great ride, not terribly difficult terrain, but the high altitude and being out of shape definitely made it a challange. San Lorenzo is a beautiful city. Apparently it rains a pretty decent amount there, but the weather was great for our ride, it´s just a very quiet city that´s very green with large mansions scattered throughout the city. After that amount of time cycling, however, all of our body parts were aching, so we were happy to get back. For dinner went to Viejo Jacks, which is known for having the best parilla in Salta, and I´d say the steak ranked top 2 in my time in Argentina, so very tasty.

I was planning to stay another day, but the only buses heading to the Argentinean border were leaving at midnight, so I just decided to pack up my stuff and head out after dinner. The ride to the border town was pretty quick, and I wasn´t too prepared on how exactly to cross, but with a group of New Zealanders, we were able to get over to Villazon farely easy to catch the next bus to Tupiza. I wasn´t expecting to pay $135 for a visa, but since America taxes every other country, we are the only nationality that must pày this tax. It would have been nice for lonely planet to have mentioned it, but I guess they forgot (lonely planet sucks, by the way). Next up....Tupiza and the 4-day trip to the Solar de Uyuni!

Posted by STEVO1285 19:11 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires Part II

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Where do I begin? I’ll try my best to make this entry as concise as possible, but I will inevitably forget certain moments during my 17-day visit to Buenos Aires. Considering this has probably been the longest amount of time I have ever spent in one city out of the country, there’s so much I could write about, but I’ll quickly summarize my daily routines and add a few memorable moments. The city I eventually came to know very well turned out to be completely different than my original preconceived notions that I developed during my first glimpse when I arrived there over a month and a half ago. The sights, atmosphere, culture, history, food, nightlife, and so much more allowed me to truly appreciate its reputation as a first-world city in a third world country. The blend of wealth and despair, Europe and Latin America, fanaticism of cultural traditions including soccer, and everything in-between this melting pot of a city, added to its dynamic nature.

I arrived Friday night from Ushuaia and stayed at hostel Clan in the Microcentro where a friend of mine from Ireland was staying - really fun hostel with a great bar upstairs. That night we went to a club called Sunset, which was a great first experience of a true Argentinean boliche (heavy techno, sunglasses, foam, runway show, ending at 8am, etc). Spent the following day walking around all the different areas of Palermo, trying lots of different restaurants along the way. Palermo is definitely the best barrio (neighborhood) in Buenos Aires. It’s composed of Palermo Viejo, Palermo SoHo, and Palermo Hollywood, and these quaint neighborhoods offer lots of shops, great restaurants, bars, clubs, you name it. When I first arrived in Buenos Aires in the middle of September I thought the Microcentro was the heart of BA, similar to Manhattan of NY, but it probably offers the least of all the other barrios in the city. On Sunday I went to the Boca vs. River soccer game, which is played only twice and year and is the biggest game in Buenos Aires. To say the least, it was intense and exciting. The game was held at the River’s stadium in Recoleta, and unfortunately they lost 1-0, so I can’t even imagine what the atmosphere would have been like had the home team won or even scored, but nonetheless I was really lucky to have been in BA during the game, and been able to see it. After the game, I moved in to my first home stay apartment where I would spent my first whole week while taking Spanish classes with a program called Ecela.

My first home stay was unbelievable. The apartment belonged to an older woman, Mariuchi, who is a retired literature professor with an older son and a daughter. The son is a chef in London and her daughter is living in Buenos Aires, married with a few daughters of her own. Since Mariuchi was heavily involved on the school board, and still offers private teaching lessons in French, her mentality and ability to speak clearly and correct my errors was extremely beneficial and helpful as we sat for dinner each night and conversed in Spanish for multiple hours. These were moments I highly treasured as we discussed all different topics regarding the Porteno life, the current president, the economic crises, issues with retirement, the problem with BA’s educational system, today’s youth, American politics, and more. Unfortunately the week went by extremely quickly and I completely forgot to let the school know I wanted to continue staying with Mariuchi, and they had already given up my spot, so I was moved to another older woman’s apartment in Palermo, where another friend from my program was staying. Nonetheless, it ended up being a great time as well, but for different reasons. There wasn’t as much conversing, so my Spanish didn’t improve as dramatically as it did the first week, but the location was perfect and she was an amazing cook, so dinners were awesome.

As for classes, I was put in intermediate 2A, which is only a few away from the advanced class, and I along with only four other people, spent the two weeks together learning mainly about the subjunctive along with other sentence structures. Our first teacher was from BA and the second from Cuba. The whole learning experience was amazing, and I’m very happy and looking forward to continuing my improvement in the language while I take more classes in Bolivia and Ecuador, and use what I’ve learned throughout my travels. One of the older men in my class ended up being from Dallas with two daughters that both went to Hockaday. I can’t remember his last name but one was two years ahead of me and the other only one behind. We played the name game and knew a decent amount of mutual friends, small coincidence.

My days consisted of class from 9am – 1pm, followed by either a long lunch and then siesta or light lunch with site seeing and more Spanish work, then dinner cooked by the host woman, and meeting up with friends to either go out to a bar/club, or some other event the school had organized. Mondays were good for La Bomba del Tiempo, which is a cool venue that gets packed with people dancing to a large improve drum group. Then throughout the week there were lots of opportunities to go out, relax, have long dinners that don’t start until 11pm, and salsa lessons. The next weekend I walked around the parks of Palermo with a classmate and then spent Sunday roaming the antique markets of San Telmo, where I ran into Josh the Aussie from Ushuaia. Afterwards we decided to check out another soccer game in Boca. It was another crazy game, and unfortunately within a few minutes of getting there one of the kids we were with had his camera stolen - a common occurrence in Boca.

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The following week was much the same…trying new restaurants, seeing different areas of BA, going out to new clubs. This week; however, was different in that Rahul finally arrived, which was really fun. It’s weird to think that my original plans of staying for multiple months in BA was because of Rahul, and how far plans have changed since that original possibility. But now we were finally in Buenos Aires at the same time. He’s staying in an apartment with one of his Argentinean friends, so it was great hanging out with them, and getting a glimpse into the life of a Porteno, while attempting to practice my Spanish even though they speak ridiculously fast. So for the rest of the week I spent almost every day with Rahul as well as Josh, until he left for Santiago towards the end of the week. The kids I hung out the most with from school were a kid named Will in my Spanish class, along with a few other students that Jon Matzner lived with while he was there, which was pretty coincidental. I’m actually in Salta right now with one of those kids, Trevor, who I spent a majority of time with in BA, especially for restaurant testing.

This last weekend was Halloween, which was a great night, and then on Sunday, before getting on the bus to Salta, I spent the day with Rahul, a few Germans, and one of Rahul’s Argentinean friends at an estancia riding horses and eating at a parilla. It was a great final ending to my two plus weeks in BA. It’s unfortunate to an extent that I have to move on, considering I was having such a great time there, and having Rahul with his friends would definitely have provided a unique experience; however, I know I will really enjoy the other destinations on my list, as I’ve been given some great advice on each country. I’ll also be back again in Buenos Aires before I return home to the states, so I’ll be able to visit any place I missed and enjoy the city one last time. There’s even been some serious talk that Rahul might join me in Brazil for the month of February, which would be really fun.

What else…oh yes, my favorite restaurants: Also, www.guiaoleo.com.ar is a great resource for getting restaurant reviews in BA. It’s all in Spanish, so a good way to learn some food vocab
Cabana de Las Linas – went with Jon, unbelievable Parilla
Sarkis – top rated restaurant in BA, Arabic/Armenian, and unbelievable lamb kebabs, went twice.
Pura Vida – went a handful of times for lunch. Really great smoothies and healthier wraps. A nice variation from the constant intake of beef.
El Gourmet – best empanadas in town, I think. But there are so many places that offer empanadas and they’re all ridiculous. I probably ate empanadas everyday.
Sigue La Vaca – more for the experience, but still good food and good price. It’s a tenedor libre restaurant which means for $14 it’s all you can eat buffet of sides and salads along with unlimited access to at least 15 types of meat roasting on the parilla grill, a bottle of wine per person and desert.
La Cumanita – famous pizza establishment, ranked number one in BA. Great fugettzzi (white pizza loaded with grilled onions).
Bio – solid vegetarian restaurant
Desnivel – another parilla establishment, cheap good meats, but pretty touristy and I think a little overrated.
Cumano – awesome spot for lunch. Big brick oven with huge calzones, and entrees of Lomo (tenderloin), pumpkin, and cheese placed in an earth worn dish baked in the brick oven.
Las Lines de Colorado – nice food, but the main attraction are the performances put on in the backstage of the small, comfortable restaurant. The band we saw had a harmonica as the main instrument – very cool

Lots of great food there, I still need to try La Cabrera, Sudeste, Green Bamboo, Olsen, Puerto Tango, and a couple of others, but I’ll hit those up when I eventually come back. The parilla culture is fantastic there. Although there’s not too much added flavor to the meat since the only spice the use is salt, the condiments of chimichurri and criolla (kinda like pico de gallo minus the cilantro) really add a lot of flavor. I loved the sweetbread, chorizo (choripans), morcillas (blood sausage), and Lomo. All the cuts of meat are ridiculously tender and cheap, and it was fun trying all the different parts of the animal throughout my time. There’s not a large amount of produce flowing around, and they could use a lesson or two on how to make a big salad, I haven’t eaten seafood once since I’ve arrived in Argentina, but since this is their culture, I had no problem changing my eating habits to become accustomed. Beef Milanese is a very popular dish, and the lady I lived with cooked it for me my last night, topping it off with some roasted red peppers and a fried egg – couldn’t complain.

I think that’s about it for now, if anything new comes to me I can add it later. Sorry for the lengthy blog, I guess I lied, even though I probably could have written another few pages. I’ll be in Salta with Trevor for the next 3 days or so before heading up to Bolivia. I bought a book in Spanish, so reading that and planning my Bolivian trip will keep me busy during the 18 hour bus ride to Salta. I already contacted the Spanish school in Sucre, Bolivia, and they have a great program along with opportunities to stay with families there, which I’ll definitely do, so it’ll be nice to have more practice on my conversation skills along with having the chance to understand the differences in culture between Bolivia and Argentina – an added bonus. It wasn’t originally in my mind when I decided to take classes in multiple countries, but it’s a great way to break up the constant backpacker mentality and hostel life, which can be pretty tiresome after a while, especially when you have to answer the same questions to each new person you meet. Being able to put your clothes away in a drawer, leave your toiletries out in the bathroom, and hang out with a consistent group of people adds another element to traveling which is definitely beneficial and I highly recommend it. Sorry, I’m all over the place. Alright, off to sleep. Let me know what’s happening in your lives, especially to those I haven’t spoken to in a while.

Posted by STEVO1285 13:50 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

El Fin del Mundo

Ushuaia

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I didn’t really know what to expect before heading down to Ushuaia. I hadn’t heard too much about the place, other than the fact that it’s the southernmost city in the world and it’s the launching off city for cruises to Antarctica. For that reason I arrived just happy that I had finally reached the end of the world and the last stop through my Patagonian adventure. However, once setting foot into town I was pleasantly surprised how cool Ushuaia actually is along with the vast number of activities to do there.

The city lies along the Beagle Channel and is surrounded on all sides by beautifully shaped mountains. It’s a relatively small town with one main street, San Martin, having most of the restaurants, pubs, and shopping areas located on it. The bus from Punta Arenas took an insanely long time to reach Ushuaia, so the first night I simply checked in to my hostel, Freestyle (very nice 5-star hostel with great hang-out room on the top floor) and walked around as much of the town as I could just to orient myself. My friend, Josh, the one I was with in Punta Arenas had already been in Ushuaia for the day but since the internet was completely out all over town, we weren’t able to meet up until the following morning.

I headed around 11am to Tierra del Fuego National Park to attempt the Cerro Guarnico hike, the most strenuous of the possible routes that apparently takes 4 hours to complete one way, but the views are the best in the park, so I had to do it. The weather was fine enough, but I didn’t have 8 hours to complete the hike, so I saw it as an opportunity to get a workout in, so I ran as much as I could to expedite the climb. Towards the top, there’s a lot of snow and ice, which slowed me down, but I was still able to reach the peak, take pictures, and return in under 4 hours. The views from the end were unbelievable, literally the very top of the mountain range with Condors flying overhead. I highly recommend the hike if ever in Ushuaia. Later that afternoon around 6pm met up with Josh and grabbed drinks and dinner. I forgot to mention, Ushuaia has amazing restaurants and food – they’re well known especially for lamb. So the first night, I went to Bodegon Fenguina, a local favorite that offers 12 different types of lamb. They had really good empanadas (an obsession of mine), and the lamb was really tasty. The second night, we went to La Estancia, which is an all you can eat joint for around $15. In all seriousness, I have probably never eaten so much food in my life. They had a huge buffet set-up with salad bar, meats, pastas, and vegetables for self-service, and a massive grill and pit set up with whole roasted lambs, chorizo, blood sausage, chicken, and steak. Each time I went for more I tried different cuts of lamb with small amounts of the other meats to dabble in. I probably went through 5 rounds. It was amazing, but the consequence of eating that much food almost ruined the night. Afterwards there was a poker game back at the hostel, so we joined in for the night.

The next day, we took the boat tour through the beagle channel stopping at the lighthouse and small islands home to massive amounts of birds and really cool sea lions. Unlike Puerto Madryn, these guys were actually moving around and interacting with each other. The ride was great. It was a little overcast with a slight drizzle in the early morning, but cleared up beautifully once the ride began (except for the Fitz Roy hike, I really lucked out on the weather this whole time). We took lots of pictures, and learned some cool info about the original inhabitants of Ushuaia, along with the flora and fauna of the land. It happened to be Josh’s birthday so after the 4-hour trip we met back up and started the celebration early in the afternoon.

Even though I could have stayed in Ushuaia for much longer, the time spent there was great. Those two days of activities were the main attractions I wanted to participate in, along with getting my passport stamped and taking a picture next to the Ushuaia sign – all of which I accomplished. Ushuaia is much more than just its location. It’s a really beautiful, homely place that has lots to do, and even though at this time of year there weren’t too many travelers present, I can imagine that during the summer, the city becomes even more exciting.

And thus ends my blog entries on Patagonia. I can’t complain at all about my 3 weeks here. I somehow managed in the short periods of planning to visit every place on my list and do all the activities offered in those areas. Even though the number of people present at any given time was relatively small, it actually ended up being beneficial in the end as I was able to meet and hang out with for extensive periods of time some really cool people – some that I will definitely run into later on. In fact, a group of Irish guys just purchased for me a ticket to see the Boca vs. Rivers game on Sunday (biggest game of the year), so I will definitely be seeing those guys again, along with Josh sometime next week when he arrives to BA.

I signed up for the Spanish classes during my two weeks in BsAs, and will be living in Recoleta for at least a week if not longer with an Argentinean family. I’m really looking forward to working on my Spanish and really getting to know the city – searching for the best spots to eat, party, and relax. Patagonia was amazing, but I’m ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of a big city. If you have any suggestions of places to eat or anything in BA, send me an email cause I’d love the advice. Expect another entry around a week from now. BYE!!

Esteban

Posted by STEVO1285 15:09 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Torres Del Paine

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This post is very long, but it’s an extensive description of the 5-day “W” hike in Torres del Paine, which was an amazing experience. Just before leaving American Sur in Calafate, I was given a small flyer for a hostel in Puerto Natales, highly recommended by the staff working at AS. So I headed to Puerto Natales early Sunday morning for the 5-hour bus ride to my next destination. On the bus I met a few kids from Holland who I ended up hiking with for a bit, and they joined me to the hostel, Erratic Rock, since they had no plans on where to stay. Erratic Rock was awesome. Two guys from Portland opened the place up as a hostel/hiking company, so they were extremely helpful on all things preparation for the trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Everyday one of the owners gives a 1.5 hr lecture on all the different routes you can take, how you should pack (waterproofing, weight, food needed), and any other info useful for successfully completing the hike.

As mentioned previously, I was still contemplating whether I wanted to go through with it considering the weather was still very poor and unpredictable, but we were all assured that it’s quite rare to have terrible weather, as many days in a row as they were having, so luck would eventually turn. Why Patagonia is considered “extreme” in all sports is not due to the trails or rapids being dangerous and difficult like in other areas around the world, (in fact the paths are very well marked and relatively easy), but because of the unpredictable weather and wind. It’s very common to experience weather from all four seasons many times throughout the day. Even in Chalten, one minute everyone would be in t-shirts, sweating during the hike, and by the next hour, we were all walking through a blizzard with howling winds, almost strong enough to blow you over. There have even been lots of stories of hikers getting blown off their feet from the wind. Regardless, we decided to attempt the hike since the weather would eventually have to change for the better, and there’s no way to predict it, so we couldn’t base any decisions purely on that day’s condition. I had also been considering heading up to BA and then flying back down to do the hike during the summer when the weather would nicer, but apparently the place gets flooded with tourists and it’s hard to find spots for your tent, so it was great going at this time of year because the trails were pretty empty, allowing for a more serene and tranquil experience.

The hostel had all the necessary equipment to rent for the hike, and since I had nothing with me except hiking clothes, I pretty much had to borrow everything, which wasn’t too pricey. I must have packed way too much food, cause my bag was definitely one of the heavier ones, there wasn’t any food left over, but I was by no means hungry at any point during the hike. When shopping for food, especially while trying to pack as light as possible, don’t go to the grocery store hungry, bad decision on my part! The two Holland kids had to leave on a boat by the end of the week so they only had 4 days to complete the hike, while I had 5, so we only stayed together for the fist few hours before splitting off. I had never heard of this traveling egg idea prior to meeting the Holland kids, but it’s a small wooden egg with blank spaces encircling it for people to carve their names in when the egg is passed on to them. Some German kids gave the Holland dudes the egg and right before we split off from each other, they passed it on to me. So we took a bunch of picture of the egg and the glacier so Neik and Daan could send them to their egg predecessors in Germany. So now I have the very important responsibility of finding some other travelers worthy of this egg, so I can pass it off to them. It’s a cool little backpacking concept, and I was more than happy to accept their nice gesture.

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So I took the recommended route, which is five days, four nights, finishing off at the campsite nearest to Los Torres (granite towers) so I could wake up at 4am to hike the remaining trail before sunrise to see the “red glow.” Unfortunately it’s pretty rare to witness, apparently there can’t be a cloud in the sky, which is pretty tough for Patagonia, so didn’t end up seeing it, but the hike up in the dark was pretty interesting nonetheless. The hike itself was unbelievable. Great views throughout the entire trip, and I was lucky to meet up with three people from the Netherlands that I walked with for most of the hike. They were very cool, a couple, both 29, in hotel management, and another girl that joined them before the hike started. We absolutely lucked out on the weather, there was hardly any wind and no rain. The trail is called the “W” because the path’s shape looks like a W. There are tons of variations people can create for the hike, but mine started with a catamaran ride to the starting point where I hiked 6 hours up to the Glacier Grey (the left arm of the W). The first night hiking I was the only person at the campsite, which was great, but a little eerie. I went to the mirador for the sunset, and it probably would have taken me only a few minutes to reach the glacier (that’s how close it was), so I sat on a rock for half an hour in complete silence just listening to the cracking of the ice.

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The second day was a longer hike from the glacier back down to the starting point, then over to the bottom curve of the W, stopping at a campsite before the Valley, or the middle arm. The third day is the hike through the valley. It’s a pretty steep uphill, so everyone usually leaves their bags at the campsite, hikes the valley and then packs up and heads a few hours more to another campsite at the beginning of the W’s left bottom curve. I had a small incident getting lost on the 3rd day, but since there’s no real dangerous routes to take, it wasn’t a problem, just set me off track a few hours….I know I know, I’ve done it before, learn from my mistakes. Other than that one detour, everything went smoothly and the views were breathtaking. Hopefully my pictures can do the scenery a little justice.

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The 4th day was a difficult uphill hike from the bottom loop to almost the top of the W’s right arm, at the Torres campsite. The weather wasn’t too bad so we actually hiked to the Torres that afternoon, essentially completing the W. The following morning at 4am, we hiked back up the agro crag-like hill to see the Torres again, before walking downhill to the final campsite where we were picked up and taken back to Puerto Natales. There weren’t too many people at the different campsites, but it was nice hanging out with those that were at the sites who had been hiking around for various amounts of time. The evening back home, I went out to dinner with my hiking buddies along with a few others at their hostel, stayed out until 4am and was completely exhausted by the end. Since I lost my flashlight, my bedtime was pretty much the arrival of darkness, so I was on a nice schedule of falling asleep around 8:30pm and waking up around 7am, so 4am was pretty tough.

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I’m in Porto Arenas now, which isn’t exciting at all. I was very fortunate that when arriving to my hostel (mainly occupied by Chileans), the first person I saw was this kid from Australia I met at one of the campsites during the hike, so we had each other to hang out with. There’s really nothing to do here at all, so we just drank for a large portion of the time and commiserated on our distaste towards Chile. He left this morning for Ushuaia, and I’m here one more day before leaving tomorrow (Tuesday) morning – so we’ll meet back up over there. I’ve only been in a few Chilean cities, but I’m pretty confident I made the right decision in skipping this country in order to visit all the others on my list. It’s pretty expensive here and not exciting at all, at least in Patagonia, so I’m looking forward to getting back to Argentina. I mean, an exchange rate of 500 pesos to the dollar is just annoying. Alright, that’s about it. My next update will be on Ushuaia, which I’ll probably write on the plane flight over to Buenos Aires this weekend. Hope everyone is doing well. Keep up the emails! Bye

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Stephen

P.S. I’m leaving today for BA, I wrote this entry last week so just keep in mind that my present voice was from earlier. Enjoy!

Posted by STEVO1285 11:16 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Calafate and El Chalten

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I last left off on the bus ride over to Calafate, which is directly south of Bariloche by about 15 hours, I think. However, since Route 40, which goes straight to Calafate, is closed it took a whole day to arrive there. I stayed at American Sur hostel, which was awesome. Two brothers who’ve traveled around the world opened it up and the staff is very cool, relaxed, and informative. Lots of people from around the world there – that night hung out with Israelis, Irish, Aussies, Swedes, and a few Americans. The following morning I left with one of the Australians and two Israelis for the mini-trekking day at Perito Moreno, the famous glacier that everyone visits. It’s one of the few glaciers in South America that isn’t receding. There are different options when visiting it, and around town there are tons of tour agencies offering the same deals. The “Big Ice” trek takes a small group of people to the glacier an hour earlier than all the other groups, and they hike on it for 4 hours before eating lunch and heading to the terraces to view the glacier from different angles. There’s also the cheapest option, whereby you just pay for the bus ride and entry fee to view Perito Moreno from the terrace. I chose the “mini-trek” which falls in the middle, and I really enjoyed it. We took a boat all the way up to the glacier, which gave really amazing views, before disembarking for a mini-hike up to the side of Perito Moreno. We were then given crampons so we could hike for 2 hours along the glacier, where at the end, a small table awaited us with ice, glasses, and a bottle of whiskey. Whiskey on the rocks, on the big rock was a nice touch.

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We then hiked back for lunch and then finished off by taking a bus to the terraces for final views. The terrace portion was cool for experiencing the thunder-like cracking and crashing of the glacier into the water. Towards the end it started to blizzard a bit, so it was nice to get back to the hostel. The whole day started around 8am and lasted until 5:30pm, so a nice full day worth the cost.

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The other popular excursion for people in Calafate is a two-day stint in El Chalten to hike the Fitz Roy National Park. I tagged along with four Australian for the two days and we hiked almost every route that was open at this time of year. Unfortunately the weather was absolutely miserable – cloudy, low visibility, snow, rain, etc – the full Patagonian experience. So we weren’t able to see anything during the two days, not even the Fitz Roy Mountain, which is the main attraction. However, even with the uncomfortable walk, it was still fun hanging out with the group, and we did eventually manage to view the scenery, just not well enough for any spectacular pictures. It was actually during the last day of hiking where I was strongly considering skipping Torres del Paine altogether, deciding that I’d rather spend an extra week in Buenos Aires then hike around a mountain range for 5 days with little visibility due to the weather. Luckily, my plans remained unchanged due to a fortunate encounter with a few people back at hostel American Sur after El Chalten.

After cooking dinner I randomly decided to sit next to two guys who were lounging on the couches that had both separately just finished hiking the “W” trail at Torres del Paine. Although the weather was currently miserable, they were fortunate and had perfect weather almost the entirety of their hike. One of the guys in the US Military had done treks all over the world and said the “W” was by far the best, and the other guy from Australia had similar remarks. Although I was still uncertain due to the weather issue, they continually pushed for me to go until I decided I might as well take a bus early the next morning to Puerto Natales (the launching off point for Torres del Paine), and if the weather forecast looks glib, then I could just immediately continue down to Ushuaia. So, I guess to a certain extent I owe those guys a lot of gratitude because the hike was unbelievable and I may have missed out on it, but I guess those sorts of instances are what this whole experience is about!

Another interesting thing about Patagonia during this time of year is that not a huge amount of people are down here, at least compared to the summer months, and everyone that spends time in the area all visit the same locations and do similar activities. So it’s been fun meeting people in one location, splitting off for a week and then randomly seeing them again at the same hostel two cities later. It’s happened enough times that I in no way have felt like I am traveling alone thus far, and the feeling should continue on for a majority of the trip as a good number of people are headed in similar locations as me, so I’m bound to run into them again.

Also, compared to Europe, it’s been nice being one of the few Americans around. Most people traveling are in their upper 20’s and 30’s, traveling for a period of time since they quite their job. So, as Andrew would say, it’s like sitting at a UN meeting every day, which is great. I haven’t gotten any resentment to the States yet, at least not to my face. I’ve also gotten really good at spotting out the Israelis – they really are all over the place!

I’m actually on the bus right now to Punta Arenas and am getting kinda tired, so I’ll finish my entry on Torres del Paine later tonight. Enjoy! Here's a picture of the Torres mountain range that I hiked from a distance. The next entry will be up in a few days along with some pics of the Fitz Roy hike....

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Posted by STEVO1285 09:51 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Puerto Madryn

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Once again, I have found the time to write my next entry, this time on an 18hr bus ride down to Rio Gallegos before hopefully catching the next bus to Calafate, another 4.5 hrs. If nothing else, I guess these long bus rides have changed my perspective on long-distance travel, and rides like these are no longer that big of a deal. Hopefully this will benefit me sometime in the future. It was a big decision for me to either head to Calafate first and then make my way to Ushuaia, or do the opposite instead. It was also difficult trying to figure out the best way to get from all the way down here to Pucon in Chile by plane flight. I had really been looking forward to Pucon and was trying every which way to make it possible to hike the volcano, but I decided that at this point in my life, it would be silly to spend this much time in South America and not come home fluent or relatively so in Spanish, so I decided to make that a priority of mine. Although I have a lot of time here, I did set a deadline to be in Buenos Aires by the 20th of October to start Spanish classes, so unfortunately that has made it almost impossible to head down this far and do Pucon while still making it by that start date. So instead, I’m headed to Calefate, a decision I made for multiple reasons, and then will cross over to Chile to trek in Torres del Paine for at least four days, then heading farther south to Punta Arena and then finally Ushuaia where I’ll fly to Buenos Aires around the 17th. That’s pretty much all I have planned thus far for certain. I decided to go to Calafate first mainly because the weather is supposed to be nicer there now than it will be in Ushuaia, and a few friends Jon and I made from Ireland are heading there as well, so it’ll be nice to have familiar faces for that leg of my journey. Also, from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia it takes an additional 12 hours, so I figured 22.5 hrs straight would be a little easier than 30 hrs!

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As for Puerto Madryn, it was a tough decision whether we wanted to go north and hike the volcano Villarica in Pucon or head to Puerto Madryn, but we both thought PM would be the right decision since it would allow me to continue heading south, while still allowing Jon to reach BA for his flight home. So we left Bariloche Sunday evening, which is where I wrote my last entry. Once arriving to PM at 7am, we had considered going on the 9hr tour to the Valdez peninsula to see whales, sea lions, and penguins, but decided to hold off until the following day cause we were both exhausted from the bus ride. So instead we checked in to our hostel, Hi Patagonia Hostel (really good hostel) and fell asleep. We spent the day checking out the city and eventually headed to the peer where we watched around eight Right Southern Whales intermingling with each other. Most people we met in Bariloche were headed to Puerto Madryn because this is the perfect time to go whale watching as this time of the year is mating season. So it was definitely cool to have already seen all those whales even before the next day’s tour. Just hung out for the rest of the day, weather was slightly chilly but sunny and beautiful (we lucked out the entire time on weather), worked out, and then cooked Jon’s final dinner, which of course was steak. I’ve probably eaten more steak in the last two weeks than I would in a year, but that’s what Argentina is known for so I’m happy about it.

This morning we woke up around 6:40am for breakfast and us along with the three Irish lads were picked up to start our daylong tour. In hindsight I probably wouldn’t recommend it, even though every day is different depending on the animals. We were a little unlucky and none of the whales we saw did anything that interesting, the sea lions just sat around and we could only view them from afar, and the penguins were actually very cool and up close but almost 80% of the time spent on the trip was on a bus driving to reach these different areas. So if traveling with a decent sized group I’d probably rent a car and go to three different areas that are each better than Peninsula Valdez to see their respective animals. I did meet a few other people who went on the trip a few days before and absolutely loved it cause the whales were jumping all over the place and going under their boats, etc. So it all depends. But regardless, it was still fun to actually see whales on a whale watching trip (haven’t had such luck in the past) and it was cool to see all the sea lions and penguins outside a zoo.

Now I’m here on the bus, just watched Shooter and now they just started Pirates of the Caribbean II, so that’ll keep me entertained. I’m looking forward to these next few weeks, as I’ve heard amazing things about Calafate (Glacier National Park), Chalten (Mt. Fitz Roy), Puerto Natales (Torres del Paine), and Ushuaia (southern most city in the world). I was considering for a point in time trying to get on a ship to Antarctica, just thought it would be cool and maybe my only chance to hit that continent, but the trips don’t start until mid-November and trips cost at their cheapest around $3000, which I shouldn’t be spending at this early junction of the trip. If anything, it’ll give me something to come back down here for cause I’ve heard amazing things from different travel forums. Alright, I’m going to start watching this movie. Love you all and keep the updates coming.

My next entry will include El Calafate, El Chalten, and Torres del Paine. Get pumped!

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Stephen

Posted by STEVO1285 19:34 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Bariloche

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Now for an update of Bariloche! Located about 18 hrs from Mendoza, Bariloche is the largest city in the lake district of Patagonia, and it is absolutely beautiful as hopefully the pictures can portray. The town is nestled across from Lake Nepue Hepa and surrounded on all sides by the Andean mountain range. At this time of year, the beginning of spring, the different activities offered are boundless with unbelievable lakes and vegetation overshadowed by snow-capped mountains.

The first day we arrived we checked into Pudu, which is a great Irish-Argentinean owned hostel that’s extremely friendly with great facilities, including one of the largest kitchens I’ve ever seen in a hostel. All the people staying there were very cool and I got lots of great advice from their previous travel experiences. Since we didn’t arrive until the middle of the afternoon we decided to spend the day exploring the small town, very reminiscent of any ski village teeming with chocolate shops, winter clothing stores, and parillas. By the end of the evening we found a butcher shop where we purchased a pound of lomo, tenderloin, for 2.5 dollars each, incredible. I think in the states that kind of meat would probably go for 30 dollars each.

The following day we took a bus over to the start of the Circuito Chico to mountain bike through the difficult trails and amazing views. The entire route, including a hike up to a viewpoint halfway through took us about 6 hours to complete. We met another kid, Mike, from San Francisco on the bus ride over, so he joined us for the entirety of the ride. Along the way we stopped into Llao Llao, which is the nicest hotel in South America with rooms running about 1000 USD a night! The ride was definitely not easy by any means, but the struggle up the many hills were well worth the views of multiple lakes and mountains. The entire time I kept thinking of that stoner/hippie dude that drew paintings of nature on channel 2. The landscape looked exactly like the scenes he depicted. Cooked again that night.

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Jon had some things to do the next day and wasn’t interested in skiing, so I went on my own to try my hand at skiing in the Andes. I went with a few Irish dudes, one of which I ended up skiing with for most of the 7 hours, which was nice. Although it’s getting very close to the end of ski season, the snow was still solid enough to get a good ski in, and the weather was unbelievable, you didn’t even need gloves or a beanie. One run in particular we attempted multiple times was called Nubes (clouds), which started at the top of the mountain, a great vista with surrounding clouds at eye level. Also, something very very cool and different from skiing in the states is that, unlike each run that is completely separate from all others and clearly marked for difficulty, the entirety of the Andes mountainside was connected and free to ski down, with small colored signs next to each other signaling the steepness. So even the hardest runs were do-able since there was so much space. But, don’t make the same mistake I did and forget to put sunscreen on, because 7 hours of bright sunlight at that altitude does wonders on your face. A consequence I was dealing with for many day.

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Our final day of activity, Saturday, we found three other people, another from San Fran, one from Australia, and the other from England to rent a car with and drive the seven lagos route north to San Martin de los Andes. The original plan was to head south to see the “black” glacier, but with a little convincing we decided to do the former, especially since Orly so highly recommended it. And a great thing she did because the drive was awesome. We spent a full day driving close to 400km total to and from SM de los Andes passing seven lakes that were each unique and pristine in their own right. It was also nice to simply get in a car and drive for that amount of time. The kids we went with were great, and the two not from the states had already been traveling separately for about 7 months and gave me some great advice, especially on Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. We had some issues with the first car given to us, but once that was dealt with, the rest of the trip went very smoothly and it was a great day and perfect way to fully experience the Lake District. The hostel that night was hosting an asado (large quantities of meat cooked over a parilla for everyone) but since Jon and I had eaten late and didn’t think the cost was worth the little amount of food we would have consumed, we just bought a small portion of bife de chorizo and cooked it on the parilla, which was a fun cooking experience – great meat and extremely cheap!

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The last day we went on a small 3 hour hike for some more views and then headed to the bus station for a 6pm ride over to Puerto Madryn which lies across from Bariloche on the coast. This time of year is prime for watching whales, penguins, and sea lions, and we ran in to a lot of people headed there, so we figured it would a good idea to check it out. The bus ride, which I’m currently on is about 14 hours, so not terrible, and we’re in the coche cama seats, so extremely comfortable.

We’re going to spend about 2 full days there before Jon heads back to BA to fly out, while I head on farther south down Patagonia, most likely to Calafate. It’s been great having Jon around so far. Although in Europe I preferred traveling on my own, the laid back atmosphere of SA definitely lends itself to having a travel buddy. Jon was a great travel partner. Very laid back and down for whatever, so it’s kind of allowed for the best of both words. It’ll be interesting to see how my travel mindset will change once he’s left cause I’ve definitely ended up spending more days in single locations than I’m used to. It’s also been great having him cause he’s just as enthusiastic about cooking as I am, so that added another dimension to our travel experience going to the markets and cooking local cuisine. I will be sad ☹. Good luck with work Jon, and I hope everyone is safe and doing well. Talk to you all soon!

Stephen

Posted by STEVO1285 19:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

It's Always Sunny in Mendoza

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Mendoza is really cool (read –relaxed, inexpensive (sorta), and very good wine and food). We arrived on Sunday when everything shuts down, so it was nice to have a day for lounging around and checking out the main city area - especially when you get a free stay at the Park Hyatt Hotel containing every amenity you could ask for. Can’t say I’ve been roughing it thus far. The hotel has a casino, so we spent a decent amount of time after dinner there before heading to bed. For the hotel situation, Jon’s grandma and aunt booked a room and we both just crashed on a roll-out bed / floor, which was great since it was free and the hotel had a casino, workout room, sauna and steam room.

The following day we hired a driver to take us south to three bodegas or vineyards in the area. By the third I was already pretty tired and a little tipsy so I was ready to head back to the hotel, but the entire experience was great. All three vineyards were very unique ranging from new to old. The first vineyard we visited opened in 1999, and the whole tasting was definitely the most educational of the tour, as they gave us samples of the same wine but at different aging periods so we could disseminate the difference between processing times. The following bodega was much larger and the oldest in Mendoza, since 1894, where we toured around and sat down for lunch. Very good, kinda pricey – all you can drink wine, a choice between puff pastry with chicken or pumpkin cream soup, then fillet, spinach tagliatelli, or lamb ragout, and finally apple / pear crisp or chocolate mousse. Lastly walked through the largest vineyard that relied more heavily on technology than the other two (everything was done manually by the others).

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After the 6-hour trip we headed back to our hotel. John and I bought our tickets to Bariloche (that’s about the only decision we’ve made so far) and now just hanging out.

We leave tomorrow at 8:00pm so we’re planning on renting bikes and riding around to other vineyards located east of Mendoza, Maipu, to see that region for the entirety of the day. We’re trying to decide whether we’d like to head back north to Santiago after Bariloche or go west towards the coast before heading to Buenos Aires. But we’ll figure that out as we go.

The following day in Maipu was a pretty fun time. We rented bikes and rode along the 20km road that breaks off into multiple side streets, each with its own wineries. After the pervious day we weren’t in the mood to spend the money for more wine so we spent the whole time mainly just riding around. The area is about a 25 minute cab ride away from Mendoza and definitely has much more of a backpacker’s vibe, more so than the pervious day. So we met some people from one of the hostels, next to our hotel, that were all there to try a few bodegas.

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Once Jon and I got back to the hotel we packed up and headed out for the 18 hr bus ride to Bariloche. The ride wasn’t too bad, they played some pretty solid movies for the first part and then I slept for the majority of however much time was left. I’ll write my next entry about Bariloche, but it’s absolutely gorgeous here, so the picture below will act as a teaser.

We’re still trying to figure out where we’re going afterwards. We’ll most likely head north to Pucon and then Santiago. That way I could start taking Spanish classes sooner than later, and when I head back down to places south of Bariloche, the weather will be much nicer. But still up in the air. Argentina looks big on a map, but its ridiculous how large it truly is, which is making the decision much more difficult. We’re on the boarder of Patagonia and it’s probably another 40+ hrs of bus time before getting to Tierra del Fuego, if not longer. So heading up to Santiago and then coming all the way back down again will tack on a bit of unnecessary travel time. But speaking to a kid today, he was just south and said the weather was pretty miserable still with a lot of hikes closed, so it may be worth it to wait for the temperature to rise a bit. I’ll keep you all posted

Nothing serious to complain about so far. Everything has been awesome and I’m looking forward to this next part of the trip. Let me know what you all are up to in this past week!

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Posted by STEVO1285 20:42 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

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Alright, as I sit here on the 12-hour bus ride to Mendoza I have plenty of time to recap my first few days in Buenos Aires. Arriving at 8am I immediately headed to a hostel located in the microcentro, recommended by lonely planet as one of the nicest hostels in BA, to check in.

I wasn’t meeting up with John until later in the day cause he was still in school, so I took a much needed 3 hour nap before heading out to roam around the city. Once Jon Matzner (friend from Penn) and I met up we headed to his apartment for my first experience of Mate. It’s a pretty cool cultural obsession, everywhere you walk you’ll see people holding thermoses with their mate glass in right hand. It doesn’t contain caffeine but another substance that acts as a stimulant, maybe the same stuff in Red Bull? Anyways, we hung out and walked around for the majority of the day before meeting up with Josi (Kristen Ip’s friend from USC) and some of her friends for dinner. It makes sense with all of the immigrants and European influences that Italian food would be so prevalent, but I definitely was not expecting its extensive prevalence. So we went to an Italian place for pizza, pretty good. Afterwards headed out for the night to a club that plays hip hop every Thursday, so John was really excited about that since apparently it’s the last music typically played in clubs.

The following day John’s aunt and grandmother arrived to BA so we walked around with them throughout the day. Had a solid lunch, where I felt a little adventurous, especially after watching No Reservations and ordered the veal sweetbreads, veal kidneys, and veal innards. Interesting to say the least, but probably don’t see myself ordering the kidney or innards again.

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Eventually we made it to the Recoleta Cemetery to see Eva Peron’s grave. Her’s is actually one of the least exciting out of all the other very elaborate mausoleums present. That night, John’s aunt treated us to dinner at one of the nicest/most expensive parillas in BA later that evening, and it was unbelievable – juiciest steak and perfect wine. Afterwards, a friend of Johns was having people over at their place, so that ended up being our night.

After sleeping in a bit we walked over to San Telmo, which was a very cool neighborhood teaming with antique shops and markets.

Now we’re on the bus headed to Mendoza for a few days before the relatives leave for the states and we head to the Lake District.

Jon’s aunt and grandmother are awesome. They’ve been all over the world, so most of our conversations have been about travel and food (they’re also all about eating). So it was nice to get some travel advice on places I am planning to visit. John’s aunt is a flight attendant for AA, so she gets unlimited passes along with most of her immediate family members. Sometimes they’ll even play a game where they randomly choose a gate terminal and wherever city that flight is departing to, that’s where they’ll end up – pretty amazing deal.

Lastly, it was nice to be in BA for these three days because there was absolutely no pressure to do all the touristy stuff since I plan on returning for an extended period of time. That made it very relaxing, and with each day being so long I was still able to get a very good sense of the culture and society there. The cooler weather also made it easier to feel a bit more local for some reason. Definitely beats the non-stop sweating that occurred everyday in Europe. Pretty much all the kids I've met so far in hostels are European, which was expected. BA also reminds me a lot of Montreal, which makes sense since they’re both heavily influenced by European lifestyles, but it was one of the first things I noticed while walking around. Alright, that’s about it for now. I’ll keep you all posted on our time in Mendoza! Love you all!!

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Posted by STEVO1285 18:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Heading Out

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Just finishing up some last minutes errands and crossing off the final items on my to-do list before heading to the airport. I've been pretty calm throughout this entire process, but now I'm starting to get a little anxious, but still very excited. My flight leaves at 7:30pm, Wednesday September 17th and I will be arriving into Buenos Aires at 8:00am Thursday morning. I've downloaded lots of new songs to keep me occupied on the flight and I have a lot of research to do for my trip since I've been putting that off a great deal. Alright, gotta run and finish up, I'll try to keep posting as frequently as possible, but we'll see how that goes. Love you all, and please keep me updated on your lives. Adios!

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Posted by STEVO1285 14:29 Archived in USA Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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