Sunday, March 13, 2011

Malbec Country

Wow...I need to do this whole blog thing a little more often as I think it is easier to remember the little things that make the trip unique. Well, I will attempt to vomit the Mendoza encounter onto this keyboard but I am sure there are things I will forget and have to share later. The bus ride to Mendoza was pretty uneventful. I left Bariloche in the afternoon and slept most of the way. I was exausted after our asado escapade. I arrived in Mendoza in the morning and because I slept the whole time, I didnt read up on the town so it took me about a half hour to get orientaded once there. I eventually found my way towards the city center. While walking through the streets, people were selling bootlegged DVDs for a dollar, where each DVD had 5 different movies, but the 5 films usually followed a theme such as Jim Carrey, Black Comedy, Rocky, etc. After wandering for a while I found a really nice hostal, settled in and went to the commom area. Here I met a bunch of guys who had just returned from summiting Cerro Aconcagua, located right outside of Mendoza and the highest peak in the Americas which sits at 22,841 ft or 6,962 meters. I have begun to think about mountain hightes and distances in metric form, which is a system that makes so much more sense logically. Another discussion for another time but if you cant sleep you can call Joel and I am sure he would be happy enlighten. As I understand it, the summit of Aconcogua is not necessarly the most difficult to reach but because it is one of the Seven Summits, it costs around $4,000 USD for the entire trip. It was cool though because I got to hear some unique adventure stories. There was an older english man who was a Doctor and he told us the story of his experiences as an expedition doc. Apparently right after passing his medical exams this guy was hired on as an expedition doctor, so basically they paid him to climb a mountain, (not a bad gig) but he informed us that he had no idea what he was doing and was lucky nothing went wrong because he wouldnt have been much help. He told the story better but it was amusing.
Complete transition but in Mendoza during this time of the year, all of the local farms are preparing for the harvest of grapes, which will then be used to make wine. Mendoza is famous for being the wine capital or Napa Valley of South America, if you will. In preperation for the harvest, Mendoza throws a week long party or wine festival. I was there at the very beggining of this escapade and man... do these people love wine. In Mendoza, Plaza Independencia is a huge central plaza surrounded by four other smaller plazas, which form something similar to what a five looks like on a dice. The first night began by meeting an German guy by the name of Kamil and venturing out to the festivities. From the hostal it was a 30 second walk to the Plaza Independencia, where at this time the stage lit the night time sky with colorful lights while traditional music was being danced to by many traditionally dressed persons on stage. This night the Wine Queen of the Mendoza reason was announced. You see, every region who produces wine chooses a woman to represent them as their Queen and at the end of the wine fest, a single woman is choosen as the Wine Queen of Argentina for that year based not only on here beauty but the quality of the wine from that region as well. We watched this for a while before moving on as it was a little hard to see. The next step was the wine tasting festival. Some of you may be familiar with Brewfest in Fort Collins, and this was basically the same but only with wine. We payed 30 pesos each and got one glass and were sent down a multi block array of different vineyards supplying tastes of their wines. We got 6 tickets to fill our small glasses 6 different times. We met some others and tasted many a wines. The kiosks began to close and I still had one ticket. There was a rush to find a final place to exchange my ticket and the result of this rush gifted me with a crappy sweet wine to end the night...oh well. A moment or two later a firework show began which was pretty impressive. Who doesnt like fireworks?? The displays termination sent us back to the hostel to relax and go to bed.
Previously in the day, the German sisters had wrote me and told me that their plans had changed and they were coming to Mendoza so I looked forward to their arrival the following morning. The girls arrived during breakfast with Kamil and we decided to take it easy and head to the Parque San Martin. This park claims to be bigger and better than Central Park and I would be surprised if it wásnt true. The park had a huge lake where jet skies raced against eachothers times, a pool which sat lakeside, many a restaurants, a mini mountain from where one could view the whole park, and much more. This was a great day. On the way there, the world shrunk once again as on a street corner we ran into Jeff and Brittany the couple who I hiked with on the first day of my trek in Bariloce. Enjoyed eachothers company on the way to the park and decided to try to meet up later. The rest of the day consisted of philisophical talks, consumption of a couple beers, culture comparisons (apparently not every German loves David Hasselhof music), and much more. In a joking fassion we disscussed begginng a commune where no laws exist but neither does opression, segregation, inequality, or any of the -isms. All you need is love. Around the end of the afternoon we returned to the hostel, napped (essential in Argentina) ate dinner, hung out and went out for the night. Another cool thing about Mendoza is that they are serious about competition for business. So serious that they have all like services in same place so we headed to the street with more than 30 bars. It was a good night and during a conversation with a guy from Chile I think I found out that Carmelo Anthony was finally traded. It was Chilean spanish and they speak rediculously fast so maybe someone can inform me of what really happened here. As tradition in Argentina, we returned to the hostal no earlier than 6 30 am. The following day consisted of mozying around, booking our Bikes and Wine tour for the following day, napping, and of coarse a Argentinian Punk Rock Festival to top off the night. My buddy Kamil is a punk rock guy so this is how we found ourselves in this position. The first bands sucked, the German sisters headed back to the hostal and me and Kamil stayed and were ucky as there were some good bands after, my favorite the ska band as I love any band with a brass section. After a fight in the street and the police shutting down the party, we headed back to rest before waking to ride bikes and taste wine all day.
The following morning we said goodbye to Kamil as he informed us that he would be leaving that day. We boarded the van to Maipu, the little city right outside of Mendoza where the majority of the vineyards were located. On the bus we met some others and shared the day with them riding to many different vineyards, chocolaterias, and even an olive oil factory. The name of my favorite wine of the day is escaping me right now but it was good, so take my word for it. However, after all of this wine tasting I remain loyal to beer as my true love. I havent had a really good beer in a while which makes me appreciate being spoiled back in good ol´Fort Collins. On a side note, I have met a few from all over the US who admire the FoCo lifestyle from a far while acknowledging the fact that Boulder is just the place where rich families send their kids so they can party, waste money, smoke weed, and pretend to be hippies for four to however many years it takes to either run out of money or actually graduate. Haha, just kidding but the Fort Collins reputation made me proud so if these comments offend you then obviously you havent lived in the Fort. Down from my soapbox I return to the subject of wine tasting/bike riding and will conclude with the fact that a body can only take so much wine before it wears you down. We returned to the hostal to find Kamil still there. He went to the bus station and got a ticket for the following morning to Bolivia. I decided that in order to save time and money that I would do the same and move on the following day to Bolivia, a day behind him but meet him in Uyuni to check out the Salt Flats sometime in the near future. We hungout, went to bed and the following day we once again said goodbye to Kamil, and went about organizing our coming ventures. The girls were heading to Chile and me to Bolivia. I meant to Blog on this day but my extraordinary ability to procrastonate shined through so here I am two weeks later...Sorry Mom, I love you. The day passed, sleep came and went, departing words were once again exchanged and I headed on my way to Bolivia. I would love to begin to tell you about Bolivia but the differences between this country and Argentina are so colossal that it would belittle the experince to conjoin these episodes. Plus, I hate sitting in front of a computer for this long while I can hear the world pass by from the street outside. With this in mind, sorry if this is not proporly proof read and I fail to make any sense at all. I sit here in Bolivia for two weeks now with much to tell and will soon, but not until I arrive in La Paz, the highest capital in the world two mornings from now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


After hanging out with the penguins and sea lions on the Peninsula Valdez in Puerto Madryn I continued my journey south to El Calafate. It took about 24 hours in all to get there but along the way I met some others who helped pass the time. I had heard from other travelers that besides the Perito Moreno Glacier, there was not much to do in El Calafate so I only booked two nights in a hostel. When I  arrived I found that the hostel was about a half mile out of town and in the middle of nowhere. Once again, I found myself the only person who really spoke english but everyone else spoke Hebrew. It was a little more of a challenge, but I shared a room with a man from France and an older gentleman from Japan. The older man from Japan's name was pronounced Shoe. I have no clue how you would spell this in Japanese, but I have now continued to see him often along my journey. The night passed quickly and in the morning I took a bus into Los Glaciers National Park to veiw the Perito Moreno Glacier. This was the first incredible natural beauty that I had seen on this whole trip. The size alone of this glacier made one's mouth drop, and every few minutes you could hear a loud bang like a gun shot followed by a roaring splash as peices of the glacier broke off and crashed into the water. I caught on video a huge peice of ice breaking off and smashing into the water, pretty exciting as it was the second largest peice we had seen all day. I hung out with a guy from Isreal named Azziz who had very similar interests so this made an incredible day that much better. Around four in the pm we returned to the bus and went bak to El Calafate. Back in town, I checked out the shops at night and tryed to find information on trekking in El Chalten, my destination the following day.
Woke up just a bit after sunrise to pack my stuff, eat a quick breakfast and headed to the bus station. While waiting or the bus I began a conversation with a guy my age, Tim, who was also from Colorado. He went to school at East High and was headed to El Chalten to trek with his dad Simon. I ended up sitting right behind them on the bus and we went over the maps of El Chalten and possible routes for camping. Long story shorter, we got to Chalten and learned that we probably only had a few days of good weather so when invited to join them to head up the mountains that day I had no hesitation. After a quick trip to the market and dropping off unneeded goods at the hostel we planned to return to, we headed up into the mountains. After about four hours we reached the first campsite which sat next to a glacial lake with the glacier on the opposite side. This site looked up on Cerro Torre, one of the famous peaks El Chalten is known for. The peak jets straight up with little girth. The mountain tops here were incredible. So much different then what I am used to in the Rocky's. We set up camp next to a huge river that was not only freezing but a brilliat bright blue. All of these glacial lake have a tourquoise blue color due to minerals and sediment. It really was pretty cool. We made dinner and headed up the small hill to watch the sun set on  Cerro Torre. It was so peaceful. There was a couple of others who were up there but no noise but the river and not a cloud in the sky. After hanging out we headed back to camp and headed to bed so we could wake up and watch sunrise and get started on our second day. This sunrise was the most beautiful I have seen as of yet, which is funny because I think I have seen the sunrise more times in the last month than I have in the last couple years.  The sun rose and quickly illuminated the peak of Cerro Torre from top to bottom in about five minutes. Couldn't ask for a better veiw. Ready to get on our way to see Cerro Fitz Roy, a huge peak that climbs alone from the mountains and is veiwable from kilometers away. We packed up camp and headed on our way. The journey to the camp at the base of Fitz Roy took about four hours, and during these four hours the weather slowly changed from cloudless day to windy and cloud covered sky with the treat of rain fairly promenant. We decide to drop our packs and climb the the trail to the Lagos de Los Trece, which is a glacial lake that sits at the acutal base of Fitz Roy. The trail was steep and windy but we made pretty good time. Once reaching the top we were greeted with extraordinary views of the lower vally and as well as to glacial lakes, one many meters below fed but tens of small and one large waterfalls. We spent about an hour up here taking pictures and hoping the cloud cover would clear over Fitz Roy so we could see the peak but it didnt happen. We returned to our packs and with bad weather rolling in decided to head back to town as the people who we talked to said the next few days were supposed to be ugly, which they were. Another four hours through such different climates we reached the town and went on a search for a hostel. No luck was to be had so Simon bought us a great room at this little hotel or hosteria. We made dinner, shared some wine and laughs, played kribbige, and went to bed. The two of them got there bus tickets changed to be able to leave a couple days earlier so they could continue there journey, so as they were leaving the following day I walked down the street only to run into my good ol' Irish buddies, the James'. This was great beacuse I was able to spend the following days hanging out with these guys while in pissed rain and wind howled outside. We were unable to head north to Bariloche for a couple days because the bus only leaves every other day. El Chalten was awe strikingly beautiful in good weather but lacked many options for entertainment during bad weather. By the time it came to leave El Chalten and hopefully arrive somewhere with nicer weather. The bus we took stopped for the night in Perito Moreno, a small town between El Chalten and Bariloche. I think they split the trip up because most of the highway we took was on dirt roads which were not greatly maintained. The day thereafter we got back on the bus for another 12 hour journey but while riding the bus I decided that I was going to jump off in El Bolson, a small town a few hours before you actually reach Bariloche.
Leaving my Irish friends, I found a campsite in El Bolson where I could stay in my tent for a cheaper rate but still use the facilities. That night I met a bunch of people from all around the world and we hung out by the fire and laughed deep into the night. Four of these people were raft guides who solidified my previous belief that raft guides are a different breed. Brilliant fun and being surrounded by them make you want to just become a guide and travel the world doing what you love. One of the guys told me about how he lived in an abandoned school bus for a whole season and guided during the days. Sounded like a real unique experience. The following day I spent in the city center of El Bolson. I fell in love with this little hippie town. Everyone here had a talent, made crafts, played music, juggled, or something unique. It made me think of what Boulder was probably like a long time ago. People would walk on the tight rope tension lines, drop their butts to the rope, do a flip while bouncing up and land on the line again. There were alson little micro-breweries all over which was fun. With some people I had met we checked out the market where people sold thier crafts and goods. El Bolson has this market three days a week and it was pretty cool. Really enjoyed the day walking around, sitting and talking in the park, sharing a couple beers with new friends. This day was great because I really just got to take the time to slow down and enjoy the atmosphere and the beautiful weather we were given. The following day I woke and decided to head to Bariloche to start a new adventure as I was beginning to itch to actually be in the mountains. Took the bus to Bariloche, met Hector, a local older gentleman from Buenos Aires, who was in this area for the first time in his life. He was awe struck by the beauty and it made me ponder how lucky I was to be able to see all of this at this age. Upon arrival in Bariloche I found info on treks, grabbed dinner, found a hostel and crashed. Woke up early the next day to gather goods for a five day trek title the Nahuel Haupi Traverse. I arrived at the base of the mountain around noon and headed up to the first campsite Refugio Frey. While riding the bus I met a couple from California who had quit their jobs and just headed off to see the world with no real time frame to return. They planned on trying to work the greape harvest in Mendoza which is coming soon to cushion their funds. They were great company and made the four hour hike to the first camp seem like nothing. At the camp after Brittany and Jeff had headed down the mountain for the day, I ate pasta for dinner, enjoyed a brillient moon and then tried to go to bed. The sites for tents sat on stone grounds, and although they were flat the lack of a sleeping pad and the presence of howling wind made the night of sleep more of a night of a little rest. The morning was beautiful though, I packed up my tent and headed up the trail to the next Refugio. This day took about six hours and was full of some decent sized climbs up and over ridges, through forest, and finally down the other camp which at Refugio Jakob. This was a little paradise. I seriously thought of staying here for a week. I actually met a guy from Buenos Aires named Gonzolo while jumping off smalls cliffs into the water. We ended up sharing dinners which was great because he had some tomato, onion, and cheese empenadas which was bettter than crappy cheap instant pasta. We joked throughout the night through broken spanish about starting a secret community here and simply staying forever as it was that beautiful. At night we hung out on the rocks overlooking the lake. Gonzolo played the gutiar while me and a fellow traveler from Phili tryed our hands and playing the harmonica. Some of it sounded pretty good but I still need a lot more practice. Fun to try though. Went to bed and woke with plans of stiking around for another day. However, the Swiss guy next to me was goin over the part of the trail that was strongly advised not to cross. After discussion and deliberation, I decided to join him, another gentleman from Switzerland, and two German girls on this adventure. We had to sign a release saying we choose to do this trek and had been properly informed about the danger. I dont think that any of us really knew what we were in for.  About 45 minutes into the trek we found oursleves rock climbing without a rope with our forty pound packs strapped as close as possible to our bodies. It was literally the craziest day of my life. We crossed mountains cirques and summiited Cerro Navidad, shoe skied on snow, crossed rivers along waterfalls, dipped, dodged, and ducked trees. Most of the day I spent focusing so hard because if I screwed up a little it probably meant death. Literally. I am not gonna lie, at some points i was legitimattly scared shitless. The veiws were unbelievable and to look back on what we had climbed was crazy as well. It was absolutely the best day of my trip so far. Together we formed a bond and have been hanging out since. Due to bad weather coming we returned early after a night at the third camp, but with heads held high for what we accomplished. The night was awesome as we sat in the refugio eating soup, beans, and rice and listening to an Argentinian family play guitar and sing.  Its crazy the people you meet and bond with down here. You would never acknowledge them at home but here you become family. We returned to town, made a huge hamburger dinner, where we added onion, apple, cilantro, spices, and other stuff to the meat. We shared a few beers and a few bottles of win and decided to rent bikes the following day and try to visit the family from the Refugio, who had returned to their rented house on the beach of Lago Nahuel Haupi the same day tha we went to town.
The next day we met, rented our bikes and headed around a popular circuit overlooking the lake and the city. What a beautiful place. Someone described this town as the Breckenridge of South America. We found the lakeside house and hungout with the family the whole afternoon. We had to leave to return the bikes but we were invited to come back later that night for an asado, or bbq. We acepeted as this situation is the reason you travel. We got what we were told to from the store, showered and took the bus to the house where the cooking began around 10 pm.  We all stood around the fire sharing wine and having a good time. The perilla is a pretty cool form of cooking as you set coals under and elevated grill which stands on the ground. The meat being cooked was the largest peices of meat I had ever seen. It also turned out to be the best meat I had ever tasted. With the company, live music being played by all, the food, this was by far one of the best and most authentic experience I have had. We hungout until 5 30 am before calling a cab and returning to the hostel. The Argentinian lifestyle is quite different with the times of events but its uniqueness is what makes the experience so great. Today I woke up, went and bopught a bus ticket to Mendoza, another 20 hour ride over night, and said goodbye to the little family the five of us trekkers had formed over the last four days. It really was sad to split from them as we shared so much in these few days. I hope to run into all of them on the road but it will be nice to have some alone time to reflect on the past few weeks because so much has happened, with so little free time to actually review the events. I guess thats what a 20 hour bus ride is good for.   

Sunday, February 6, 2011

El Pingüino y Los Otros

On the final night I spent in Buenos Aires, a few of us went to the barrio Palermo to check out the night life and the people. This place was full of the hipsters of Buenos Aires and definately more “happening” than the other places we had seen at night time. However, along with the increase of young locals also came an increase in pricing. This being said I only had two drinks but we still didn´t return home until about six or seven the following morning. This morning was the first that I slept through breakfast until about noon. It was another hot and humid day in Buenos Aires, so I walked around some of the nearby parks, consumed some empenadas, and then returned to the hostel to cool down in the AC before leaving for the bus station.
After saying good-byes, I left to the bus station via subte, which is the subway. Being a traveler in Buenos Aires, when carrying your bags they advise you to carry your large pack on your back and your smaller in front of you so no person can run by and snatch the smaller bag. Being solo I took extra precautions placing my wallet, camera, and other items in the backpack in front of me, instead of carrying them in the pockets of my pants. The day before, one of the Irish lads had his camera pick-pocketed from him on the subte when a few kids made a ruckas (sp?) about being on the wrong train. Long story a little shorter, I am glad I did this because after exiting the subte and crossing the street, a woman rushed up to me with kleenex and began shouting and trying to clean my backpack because there was lotion all over it. I felt something graze my back pocket, and realizad quickly that I had read about this situation before. It is titled the “mustard trick” where someone spills a substance on a traveller trying to distract the victim to be able to pickpocket them or have the traveler set down the smaller of their bags so another person can grab the smaller bag and run, leaving the traveler with the decision of chasing and leaving the larger bag or simple giving up on the stolen items. Anyway, after about 5 seconds of pure confusion, this recolection hit me and I said to the woman with Kleenex “Todo esta bien” and walked into the bus station as quickly as possible. After a few moments of anger at the entire situation I calmed down and found some napkins, which are basically thin pieces of paper, and cleaned my pack. A half-hour passed waiting for the bus to arrive and eventually I boarded my bus run by a company named, El Pingüino.
The beggining of this trip was very smooth although it was very clear that I was the only person who spoke a spot of english. Off topic, but with this story I find it necessary to share that the spanish here is much different than the spanish in Mexico. For example, “ll” usually make an “y” sound but here it is a “sh” sound. Ex. Como se llama is sh-ama. The letter y is pronounced as “ch”, and there are a lot of other subtle differences. This has made it a little harder to communicate without feeling like a nuesense. Anyway, this didnt seem to present a large problem because communication wasn´t essential. A few broken conversations maybe but nothing more. However, a few hours into our journey after I had begun to drift off to sleep, (the bus was an over night journey) the bus slowed to a stop, shook and the engine died. Not riding many buses I thought this may have just been another stop along the way, but when the driver turned the ignition, the engine refused to turn over until about the sixth attempt. Eventually our journey continued only to have this happen several times throughout the night. Once we were stopped for what seemed to be a couple hours while a mechanic looked over the situation. After this the bus ran well until about 9 am when it died again, and this time with no resurection. Everyone exited the bus and began waiting for news of what comes next. Over the next seven or so hours an old bus came from the city, took us to the nearest bus terminal, they paid for our lunch, and we boarded a new bus to continue our journey.
At first this seemed to be a poor situation but in these hours I met and formed a bond with many of the passengers, learned their stories, discussed rock and roll with a few guys on their way to a concert, shared Fernet (the alcoholic drink of Argentina, which is mixed with Coke, never Pepsi, and ice. Alone it tastes very bitter), and joked about our dislike of El Pingüino. While killing time outside of the broke down bus, one of the passengers would yell at “El Pingüino.” It was really funny but this might be one of those stories that is better if you were acutually there. Although I didnt get to Puerto Madryn until 3 am, I am glad this happened because it was the first situation where I was forced out of my comfort zone and really had to use my spanish, but learned a lot and thouroughly enjoyed myself. Also learned how much the Argentine people love Homero Simpson and “Duff” beer which is actually sold here. Overall, pretty good adventure. Now just enjoying myself in Puerto Madryn and soon off to El Calafate via another long bus ride. But first I have to find a place to watch the Super Bowl tonight.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Buenos Aires

After a few days here it is clear that Buenos Aires is the city that rarely sleeps, but also rarely works. The banks are open from 10 am to 3 pm, all stores are closed on Sunday, the day I arrived. Also, people eat dinner at 10 pm and if you are in the mood to go out to a "party", which is how everyone refers to going to a busy club or pub, chances are that the club will be empty until 2 am when people begin to arrive and doesn't clear out until well into the morning hours around 8 am.  This has been a transition for people of all cultures as this is widely discussed around the hostel amongst people of many nationallities. This gives a whole new meanning to being a pace car not a race car.
This city reminds me a lot of New York in that it has different barrios, each unique to themselves. I am staying in the center of Buenos Aires, a great launching point to visit all of these surrounding areas. In the last few day, I have visited these barrios and the seperation of classes is clear. In the center of La Boca there are homes, buildings, restaurants, and others, all painted in bright and various colors. There are balconies along the buildings where life size statues of Argentine people stand. I will have to post pictures to describe this as a picture speaks so much more than words. Outside of La Boca we were told to stay away from because its not necessarily the safest place for tourists which became obivous to us as we reached the end of the town. So we turned around and returned to the bus stop to head back making some stops along the way. Out of all of the barrios that I have seen, my favorite has been Recoleta. It is a place of old money in that this neighborhood blossomed during a period of a prosperous economy, and its development was highly influenced by Europeans which was clead by the architecture. Beautiful statues, fountains, parks, and palaces were scattered through out this neighborhood. Pretty awesome.
Beyond the barrios, the people are great as well, inside the hostel and outside as well. All the travelers have been great. I have met so many open and interesting people. I have been hanging out with a couple of Irish lads quite a bit, both named James, but have met people from Switzerland, Germany, Isreal, France, Canada, England, Australia, and man other countries. Eric was right when he told me that there will be a lot of Australians as they seem to be everywhere. Hanging out with the James' I have picked up on a lot of Irish euphamisms which are fairly entertaining. With the locals when wandering the streets, if directions are ever needed, people are more than happy to help out.
Beyond that, other things that stick out in my mind as unique to Buenos Aires in comparrison to The States include the amount of beef, quality, and its cheapness is awesome. A couple of guys went to dinner the other night where they cut the steak with a spoon, which apparently speaks to its quality... There are a lot of stray dogs which wander the streets but none seem harmful, as a matter of fact, I haven't heard a single one bark. I figure that they are pretty good about finding food though because none of them appear malnurished. Everyone from the hostel went to a drum concert named La Bomba, which was a blast as I will take advantage of any opportunity to dance. We went to a club one night with one of the hostel attendants, in hope that it would be more local people, but it ended up being a bunch of tourists, all of which would sing, at the top of there lungs, the American Top 100 samples played only for about 60-90 seconds each. Wasn't to impressed to say the least, but either was anyone else in the hostel as I found out the following day. Beyond that, the hostel has a beatuiful view from the roof top terrace and...yea. One more night in Buenos Aires and then onto Puerto Madryn via 20 hrs bus ride.