Once again, I have abandoned the blog…I’m not so good at this blogging stuff. This time, though, I don’t apologize. This time it wasn’t laziness or forgetfulness. It was the simple fact that I have been 100% absorbed and overtaken with the absolute joy of travel. Maybe it’s that Cameron’s BFF and college roommate, Byron, came to visit and kept us running circles around Buenos Aires. Maybe it’s that we’ve been in awe at the foot of world wonders like glaciers and waterfalls all across Argentina. Maybe it’s that the countdown has begun and the last day of our adventure is looming dangerously close. But whatever the reason, we (and our wallets-darn the cost of living in Argentina!) have been living life to the absolute fullest. So no, I don’t regret my blog neglect. But never fear, as Cameron busies himself with a liter of Quilmes Bock beer and a Superclasico futbol game (Boca Juniors v. River Plate- biggest rivals in the country), I am all yours, to share our tales and travels to those of you who still bother to check this thing.
After Mama Julie left us in Mendoza we bused (and hikes) our way South through the Lakes District of Argentina. The Lakes District is legendary for
her beauty and we have been hearing tales of her trees, snow capped mountains, and of course, lakes, for months. Bariloche, right in the middle of the L.D., is ski capital of South America (maybe even of the Southern hemisphere?). Complete with Swiss architecture, barrel toting St. Bernards, chocolate shops galore, and oddly enough, world renowned ice cream shops. But even despite the enormous decadent ice cream cones we ate twice daily (not exaggerating) it wasn’t Bariloche
that captured out hearts. It was the small towns around Bariloche. Beautiful San Martin de los Andes, Villa la Angustura, and of course hippy dippy El Bolson. To be completely honest, though, the beauty of the Lakes District finds a steep competitor in the Pacific NW. The smell of wet earth, the pine needle and dried leaf covered hiking trails, and the smell of woodsmoke floating from the wooden houses brought us both home. And to add to it all, we happened upon the loveliest hostel, or maybe I should say loveliest family, of our entire trip. Staying with Valeria and Claudio, of Hostel Pehuania, was like visiting old family friends. From the
hostel-wide, 3 hour long parillas where Claudio served us cut after cut of beef, lamb, ribs, and sausage hot off the grill, to Cameron’s backyard soccer game with 10 year old Nico, to hair braiding sessions with 5 year old Princess Augustina, to hugs and kisses as they dropped us off at the bus station, they were a lovely family and really welcomed us not only into their hostel, but into their home. (And no one even paid me to say all that!)
30 hours of buses later with only our dear friend Suz to entertain us (some of you may remember Suzanne, from England, who we traveled with almost a year ago in Ecuador. We managed to cross paths again and she’s been by our side then, keeping us laughing with her strange customs and made-up version of the English language), we arrived in El Chalten, Patagonia. El Chalten is a town that was created almost overnight (within the last 10 years) for tourists and so that Argentina could keep an eye on their half of Patagonia. (We literally could have hiked to the Chilean border). El Chalten is a town of hostels completely surrounded by incredible trekking, hiking, camping, and climbing. All for free. No tours, no park fees, just good old fashioned, well maintained trails and clear trail maps. Unfortunately for us, the “season” down South ends on April 1st- and by end I mean 70% of the hostels actually close down for a few months- so we were cutting it real close by spending Easter weekend there. Hence, we shouldn’t have been surprised when we were stranded in our hostel by dumping rain and a very angry wind god.
We spent our first day drinking whisky spiked hot coco and learning new card games. Luckily we had carried 4 days worth of food with us from the Lakes District in a box since food in Patagonia is ugly and expensive, so we didn’t even have to brave the weather to eat.
Easter morning dawned with clear skies so we jumped into every single layer of clothing we had and set off for Laguna Torre, sight of the famous Torre Peaks which happen to grace the cover of the latest Argentina Lonely Planet Guide and only peak out from their clouds on lucky days. Despite the blue skies, snow sprinkled down on us all morning, only adding to the absolutely stunning beauty of the mountains. Fall colors like I’ve never seen, snow dusted ground, lakes, and of course, white topped mountains in every direction. When we finally reached Laguna Torre, I looked over the lake for approximately 5 seconds before I ran for cover behind the cleverly constructed rock wall that served as a wind shield. You have never felt cold until you feel Patagonian wind coming off a glacier lake. I suddenly wished very very much that I had a ginger beard like Cameron.
I wish we had an entire week or two to
explore El Chalten. I would have loved to hike every single one of those trails. But our third day brought more rain, whiskey, and hot coco, and the next day we had to bid farewell and head to Patagonia stop #2, the very touristy El Calafate, named after the local berry that if you eat it, guarantees a return to Patagonia in your future. El Calafate is full of expensive restaurants and tour agencies, but we had one goal only: Perito Moreno Glacier.
Bigger in square kilometers than Buenos Aires City, Perito Moreno is one of the world’s most accessible (and apparently stable aka not currently receding) glaciers. Even though we were rained out in beautiful El Chalten, coming on the off season turned out to be a blessing when it came to the glacier. Not only did we have entire walkways and viewpoints to ourselves, but the colors of Fall only made the blue of the glacier that much more vivid. (Fact of the day: The more compressed the ice, the deeper the blue. As you look toward the bottom of the glacier where it has been compressed for the longest and all the air bubbles have been squeezed out, the color appears a deep, dark blue. The ice, of course, is actually clear. Ice absorbs colors from the warm end of the spectrum, but it reflects the blue, leaving it for us to admire.)
They say that the act of seeing a glacier is
only 1/4th of the experience. And it’s true. The size, shape, and color of the glacier is incredible, but it’s the auditory that really moves you. There is absolutely no way to recreate the experience of hearing a piece of the glacier wall crack and
tumble into the water below. The only thing I can even begin to compare it to is the sound of a glass full of ice crackling when liquid is poured over it. Now take that cracking sound, multiply it by a thousand, and add an enormous splash and 5 full minutes of after shock waves. The glacier speaks, like an old man, groaning, moaning, cracking, and creaking, until something gives. Sometimes it’s just a small piece (by small I mean the size of a VW van) and sometimes…
We were waiting and waiting, hoping
and praying for a big mother load to drop. (The glacier is stable, growing back as much as it drops, so I didn’t feel too bad for wanting disaster). As we wandered the miles of walkways around the side of the glacier, we made sure never to lose sight of it in case The Big One came. Walking down some wet metal steps, I suddenly lost my footing, slid off three steps in a row, and landed flat on my butt with a big slap. All the senior citizens on their tour turned, startled, and stared. Stunned, I sat still for a moment. Still, until I heard it. The crack, creak, groan of the glacier. I leapt up and we ran to the railing. And then it happened. The Mother Load. Pieces the size of a house
started to pull away from the wall, tumbling down the side, knocking even more chunks from their ledge, all falling falling falling into the lake, creating a splash like a mushroom cloud that washed it way all the way across the water to where we stood leaving the water lapping for 10 minutes. It was absolutely incredible and we were all left with gigantic idiotic grins on our ice cold faces. I abandoned all attempts at walking with care in hopes of another big fall that could shake the earth, but at the end of the day we were lucky to have seen and heard what we did. I wish I could replay it for you.
We opted for a 3 hour flight back to Buenos Aires rather than a 36 hour bus,(Everyone has to draw the line somewhere) where Byron was flying in for 10 days of fun. They call Buenos Aires ‘The city that never sleeps’. But it’s a misnomer. Buenos Aires does sleep, or rather naps, from approximately 2 pm until 7 pm every day. Which means that if you want to be out and about in the city, your options are morning or night- and don’t even think about eating dinner before 10 pm or going to a bar before midnight. So after 10 days straight of museums and parks before lunch and Fernet and wine until the wee hours, we were absolutely exhausted. But I think we showed Byron a good time, and managed to make the most of Buenos Aires in the time we had. We even managed to put with Byron for a week with smiles on our faces- even if they were alcohol induced. It was a wonderful week of friends (between Byron, Suz, and other travel friends we’ve made from England, Holland, and France, we were our own party wherever we went).
The adventure hasn’t stopped there. But I think I’ll stop and save the waterfalls and illegal border hopping stories for next week. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Buenos Aires in a ceremony including lots of ice cream (best bitter chocolate and dulce de leche ice cream in the world, no contest), meat for every meal, a liter size glass of Fernet
and Coke (Argentina’s favorite mixed drink. If it’s not wine, it’s Fernet), and a night of dancing to the incredible improvised drum
rhythm of a Bomba de Tiempo show (look it up, it’s awesome). From here it’s off to Colombia for our last (tear…) three weeks of Caribbean beaches and sunshine (and maybe a sweaty and mosquito infested multi-day hike through the jungle).
So thanks for bearing with me and my irresponsible blogging and until next week, Ciao!