Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In Patagonia

Never did I think that a 20-hour bus ride could be so enjoyable. I'm staring out of a moving picture window in my front row seat on the upper deck of a double decker luxury coach. There are guanacos (similar to llama or alpaca) and jackrabbits and rheas (similar to ostrich or emu) darting across the road as we wind our way east and west and south toward the epic peaks of Cerros Torre and Fitz Roy. Next to me sits a young beach blonde couple from San Diego and several rows behind me is my new German friend whose extraversion is being severely tested as my introversion celebrates.

I'm in Big Sky Patagonia, a landscape that feels like eastern Montana but with guanacos and rheas instead of pronghorn and goshawks. The guanacos leap easily over the fences that must be meant for only the sheep. I assume they are free-range and are owned by some rancher who gathers them regularly for shearing, but I hope they are more like the antelope of Paradise Valley near Yellowstone National Park and are free to live their own lives. The sky is so big that last night I was looking down on the clouds at the horizon from my elevated perch in the bus. 

The tangerine dawn rustled me awake at 4:40am after a short night that allowed me just enough sleep to enjoy today's views. I put Morphine's album Cure For Pain on my headphones because the first song is "Dawna" and this is a gorgeous dawn. I'd forgotten that on the third track Morphine would sing to me "I'm free now / free to look out the window / free to live my story / free to sing along". I listened again and again on repeat as I wept with pride and joy and a love of life.

The road is dirt for a stretch, now gravel. It used to be paved back when it was closer to where I came from. It is always thin and lonely, like the shy girl in the back of class who doesn't talk much, but when she does it is clear she is smarter than you.

This part of the world has always fascinated me. But, like the Himalaya, it always seemed so far away and so remote. I'm now in El Chalten, a cute access town just an easy day hike from legendary Fitz Roy. It's awesome. I'm in love.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Buenos Aires & Bariloche Photo Dump

Here are some more photos from my final days in Buenos Aires and a couple days in Bariloche. Bariloche is in northern Patagonia in the Andes mountains about a 2 hour plane ride from Buenos Aires.

This is the town of Tigre, about 30 miles north of Buenos Aires. It is on the delta of the Rio Plata and has a cool network of river channels. There are many boats, rowboats, and kayaks plying the river.

Flor was my Spanish teacher in Buenos Aires and Daniel is my Austrian buddy who was in class with me for four weeks. Three people told me yesterday that they were impressed with my Espanol after only a month of studying. Kudos to Flor!

My final night in Buenos Aires was a late on. This photo was taken around 4am, I believe. Left to Right is yours truly, Daniel, Sandra (German) and Peter (Swiss). They are all friends from the Spanish school.

This photo was taken at the Hard Rock Cafe at the smaller of two airports in Buenos Aires. It is clear by the axe that this establishment falls lower on the Hard Rock totem pole. The plaque reads: Adrian Vandenberg, Whitesnake. Apparently David Coverdale's flowing locks and Tawny Kitaen's dress from the "Here I Go Again" video were unavailable.

On to Bariloche, Argentina in the mountains. Feels more comfortable than being in the big city for a month. Went on an awesome bike ride yesterday along the roads that twist near some amazing lakes and mountains. It felt a lot like Banff or Glacier N.P. but with about 1/20th the people. I also finally found quality craft beer in Argentina. Some of the brews in Buenos Aires were seriously gag-inducing, but Gilbert Cerveceria has a kickass IPA that suits my American taste for some bitter hoppiness.

Beauty. Not me...try to tear your eyes away from me and see beyond...

Tomorrow I'm heading to El Bolson which is a small town of about 10,000 just about two hours south of here by bus. It started as a hippie commune in the '60s so it'll be a good place to relax for a bit. I'll stay there through Christmas, do some hiking, and chill out. Need to work on my book, too. After that I'll head to El Chalten where I have a line on a used touring bicycle that I will be able to ride up through Chile to Santiago. Hopefully the bike fits me alright. But before heading north I'm meeting a friend from Denver who works on a research ship in Antarctica. She'll be in Punta Arenas, Chile and we are going to go backpacking in Torres del Paine national park for a few days. Epic pics to follow.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hasta Luego, Buenos Aires

Time sure flies when you're studying Spanish in a foreign nation. Can it be that I've already spent a month in Buenos Aires? This is now officially the longest term travel I've ever made, and sorry United States, but I just don't miss you enough to come back yet.

Initial Goals of Beginning Long-Term Travel Adventure With One Month in Buenos Aires, Argentina

  1. Learn enough of the Spanish language to travel more comfortably throughout Latin America
  2. Get to know Buenos Aires, which I had heard many good things about
  3. Meet other travelers
  4. Get my feet wet in the most Europeanized city in Latin America

Goal 1: Learn some basic Spanish

Mission accomplished. 
Four weeks was enough to get me through the semi-complicated different present tenses and through the fairly simple past tense. I definitely learned plenty to get around comfortably and hold simple conversations, but still my sentence formulation comes quite slowly, too slowly for practical use with strangers who aren't complete saints or have lost their sense of time. That will just take more practice and I might study again for a few weeks in Santiago, Chile or Medellin, Colombia in the new year.

Goal 2: Get to know Buenos Aires

Mission accomplished, at least at the level of someone who isn't living here long term. Buenos Aires is a friendly, large, loud, beautiful, stately night owl. It is not too dissimilar from most other cities around the world of 8-10 million people. It is thoughtful enough to have wonderful parks and plazas. It is friendly enough so that people are quite comfortable being in close contact with each other. The people, Portenos, are very considerate of others and work well in their density. Like, I think, most Latin or Spanish nations, it is a place where people eat lunch at 2:30, dinner at 10pm and don't show up at the nightclub until 2am where they party until past dawn.

Goal 3: Meet other travelers

Mission accomplished. Through the Spanish school I met a handful of terrific new friends that I hope to keep in touch with. I know it can be difficult, however, when everyone moves on to different parts of the world and next steps in life. But at least I plan on coming through their hometowns at some point in the coming years, so we will do our best.

Goal 4: Get my traveling feet wet

Mission accomplished. Buenos Aires is plenty different from Denver or Bozeman or St. Paul, but still similar enough to Chicago or New York that it is fairly easy for the American traveler to feel comfortable here. I am very much looking forward to visiting smaller cities, though, and doing some hiking in the Andes mountains. It seems the more I mature in life the more comfortable I am in smaller cities or just living in a cabin in the woods (with internet connection, of course, for I am not a savage). So the massive city experience is becoming something that I crave less and less.

Miscellaneous Buenos Aires Photos

This is Puerto Madero, the old port part of town that has recently been renovated into classy high-rise condominiums, an artsy pedestrian bridge and touristy restaurants.

This is the obelisk in the center of town two blocks from my hostel. It's a great landmark to help find my way home after a long and wandering walk.

Sean from Chicago reflecting the liquor cabinet at my favorite bar in town.

Funny story. The other night Sean and I were coming back to the hostel after a night out drinking. I was surprised to see that the OPEN 25 HOURS convenience store was closed. See the locked gate in photo. As I took the photo I noticed the guy in the back who I though was the overnight stockboy or something. He looked at me like I was crazy for taking his photo and walked up and asked to help me. It was then that I noticed an open gap in the locked gate to allow transactions. It is simply a late night precaution. I still can't find photographic evidence to disprove the notion of being open 25 hours a day, however.

Next Up: Patagonia

I'm completely psyched to be traveling next to mythic Patagonia, land of majestic mountain peaks, gauchos, and penguins. Here's my planned route after flying to Bariloche.

I'll try to take more pictures along this part of the route as I expect it to be spectacular. Here's one I stole off the interwebs as a teaser...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Weekend in Uruguay

Monday and Tuesday this week were a national holiday in Argentina and Spanish school was closed. I think the holiday is to celebrate the repulsion of British boats who tried to enter the Rio Plata on the north side of Buenos Aires in order to exploit the natural resources back in 1810. Four friends from Spanish school and I decided to go to Uruguay for the weekend.

Uruguay is a popular tourist destination for wealthier Argentinians and Brazilians and is only a 75-minute ferry ride from Buenos Aires. Even though Buenos Aires is situated on the ocean, it really doesn't have any beaches. The coastline houses shipping ports and much of the shoreline near Buenos Aires is marshy. But Uruguay has some beautiful beaches, so that makes it popular.

The ferry dropped us off in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Colonia de Santiago, known as Colonia. We spent a few hours there eating dinner and walking around the compact old town before making the 4-hour drive east to Punta del Este, a popular vacation beach destination.

In Colonia we went up into the lighthouse. (L to R: Sean, Daniel, Nena, Sandra)

There are many flowering trees around here and they're gorgeous. Here's Sean and Sandra (just amigos).

On the beach in Punta del Este is this cool piece of public art. It's quite simple and yet very clever and people absolutely love it. That's good art. I was there early one morning before it got crowded with photo seekers.

Here's the crew out for a great dinner at a super cool off-the-tourist-path restaurant in Punta del Esta. For $40 I had a high-end steak, 2 glasses of wine, 2 beers, appetizer and dessert. And all in a very chic space.

The contrasting peace and quiet of Uruguay was drastic compared to the constant bustle and buzz of Buenos Aires. One of the highlights was simply being outside in quiet spaces. Here's me chilling on the beach. This past year I discovered the simple joy of laying down in the grass flat on my back. It is super relaxing and I can feel the fatigue just drain out of my body into the ground. Try it sometime on a patch of grass near you.

Hanging at an awesome sculpture park in Uruguay. There was hardly anyone else there and it is located on a beautiful bit of land in the hills inland from the beach a couple miles. Also in this picture is Barbara from Brazil who joined us for the day.

Fun wave bridge in Punta del Este. We had a blast driving it repeatedly late at night with our hands out the sunroof like we were on a rollercoaster. For tourists its really fun, but I think if you lived there you'd get sick of it, perhaps literally if you don't do well on rollercoasters.

What's Next

I have one more week of Espanol classes and then next Saturday I leave Buenos Aires for San Carlos de Bariloche. Bariloche (as it is known) looks to be a kickass mountain town on the edge of the Andes. There's a bunch of Swiss/Austrian architecture, a ski area nearby, a lake, and I think some good hiking and maybe mountain biking. Plan is to stay there for a week or more before making my way farther south into the heart of Patagonia. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Friends and Eating in Argentina, Part I

Just a couple quick photos and notes...

1. These are my new friends who are taking Spanish language class with me in Buenos Aires for 3-4 weeks. Left to right: Daniel from Vienna, Austria; Nena from Stuttgart, Germany; Sean from Chicago, USA. They are great folks and  it has been a pleasure to spend time with them. I hope to see them all again at a later date in a different part of the world after we part ways before Xmas.

2. These are two legends from the Argentinian tango music scene. I don't know their names but I can imagine from these artists renderings that it would have been great to see them perform.

 3. The first photo above was when the 4 of us went to a vegetarian restaurant the other day. Eating well in Buenos Aires is a bit of a challenge for me for a few reasons:

  • It is hard for a traveler here to get his full complement of leafy greens each day. Argentina is very much a meat culture. I've had 2 wonderful steaks at nice restaurants that each cost about $10. At a Chicago steakhouse they would have been $30 or $40 or more. An accompanying glass of terrific wine cost about $3. 
  • There is a kitchen in my hostel that I can use but, seeing as I never much used the kitchen when I had one of my own in the States, I haven't used it yet. Shopping for ingredients and preparing food has never been something that I enjoyed very much. 
  • Restaurant hours are very late here. Most Portenos (citizens of Buenos Aires) eat dinner between 10pm and midnight when I am normally in bed. Some restaurants are open earlier and some are not. Some grocery stores are open in mid-afternoon and some are not. It is still unfamiliar to me as to what times of day different food sellers are open.
First week here I had this for lunch most days. It is a mini-veggie quiche sort of deal that I could buy at the baker near the Spanish school. Quilmes is the local beer and it tastes just like all other bland Asian and major American beers. There are some craft beer places in town but I haven't been yet. 

This is the $1 bottle of wine I bought the other day. I wanted to buy a bottle of wine with a twist-off cap because I don't have a corkscrew and the hostel sells alcohol and frowns on people bringing in outside booze. The only red wine I found at the store around the corner that had a twist-off cap was this bottle, so I decided to try it as I had nothing financially to lose.

Notice the fancy wine glass to accompany the fancy wine. It is important to drink such wine out of such a glass in order to really experience the full flavor. Did you know that most of our taste buds actually get activated through our nose? I don't know if that's entirely true or not but think I heard something kinda like it somewhere once before.

The wine was fine, but I didn't finish the bottle. It was, I imagine, significantly more tasty than rubbing alcohol.