Sunday, February 28, 2010

Batallas Perdidas (Lost Battles)


There are not words in any language I know to describe Iguazu Falls. So maybe just buy a ticket down there today and experience it, because wow, it is worth it!

I took a bus for 21 hours from Bariloche to Cordoba to meet up with Carole Gedenberg where she’s volunteering as a doctor for three months. I spent the day strolling around the pedestrian mall downtown and bought some Argentine CD’s. We left the next day to take a 22 hour bus ride to Iguazu, which is right on the border of Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay. We arrived the next day and found the hostel Carole’s friend recommended then signed up for an excursion to go zipline through the canopy and rappel down a waterfall that afternoon. We were picked up in an enormous truck and taken to do three zips through the trees, which felt like flying! We got going pretty quickly and I took a video with the camera hanging from my harness, but it makes me kind of nauseous so I’ll spare you that. The waterfall we were supposed to rap down was too powerful that day so we did a normal 20 meter rappel instead, which was great and we got to wade in the river afterwards.

The next day we got ready to experience the waterfalls. We took a bus to the park where we strolled down a path through the jungle under enormous hanging spiders and a rainbow of butterflies. To our delight a few coatimundi cam running down the path from the forest. They look like a mixture of anteaters, raccoons and lemurs and of course are not phased at all by human contact so we got some great up-close pictures of them rooting around in the soil. On the trail we met Alejandro, a man from Buenos Aires who was just as goofy as we were and decided to explore the park with us.

We walked among the crowds of people on the boardwalks weaving through the waterfalls, catching glimpses of the giant cascades further up the river. Some boardwalks led us to spectacular viewpoints where we could walk right up next to the falls and get soaked! Carole and I had decided to take a jet-boat ride under the falls and it was pretty difficult to convince Alejandro to come too (“Ale, want to come on the boat ride with us?” “Ok!”).

We boarded the boat with life jackets and drybags for our stuff, pumped because we had seen other boats edging close to the falls. We got in and sped up the river, snapping pictures until they told us to get ready for the water. Once again I was really excited to have my waterproof camera and snapped pictures and recorded us getting absolutely soaked by the enormous Iguazu Falls. It felt like people were throwing buckets of water at us and we could barely see from the immense amounts of water pouring on us. It was epic.

We stopped at the cafe for an overpriced snack after the falls. I was inside buying a sandwich when the first attack happened. Yes, a coati lept up and grabbed Carole's bag of cookies. Luckily she and Alejandro were quick enough that they snatched it away before it could run off with her snack. However, I was unsuspecting and when I sat down and unwrapped my sandwich, the next thing I knew a coati was on the table and had my sandwich in it's grimy little paws. The thing was surprisingly strong, Alejandro was trying to pull my sandwich from it's grasp while I grabbed its body for a minute and pulled, but alas, it was victorious and ran off gleefully with most of my sandwich. A battle lost.

More breath-taking views ensued as we walked along the top of the falls. Exhausted, we walked toward the train that would take us to La Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat, the most well-known part of the falls. Unfortunately we were too late to catch the last train of the day, so we left and decided to come back the next morning before our 22 hour bus ride back to Cordoba.

As we were leaving the park we stopped to see what the indigenous women selling souvenirs. Alejandro was hooked and examined carved animals (he threatened to buy me a wooden coati to remind me of the fantastic day) while I asked the woman selling decorative bows and arrows and blowguns if they would kill a coati. Alejandro then asked if he could try shooting the bow and we spent the next half hour laughing and shooting the thing at trees while the poor woman selling it watched us helplessly and finally just laughed at our misguided attempts to fire it. Then, when we finally left, at the entrance of the park I looked up and saw a huge tucan silouetted against the sky! Its beak was really as long as the rest of its body!

That night we had an asado with Betsy and Cristian, an American/French couple also staying at the hostel with us. Betsy had a guitar and it was a lot of fun to jam and sip wine and let Cristian grill the veggies and lomo steak we had. A perfect end to the day (minus the coati stealing my lunch)!

The next morning it was pouring rain so I ended up heading to see La Garganta myself. I caught the train and walked down the boardwalk over rivers so deceivingly calm nobody would guess in a few hundred meters they’d become the largest falls in the world. I walked to the edge of the boardwalk and closed my eyes as the strangely inverted rain being blown up from the bottom of the waterfalls soaked me completely. I got a few pictures then hurried back to the train and ran through the jungle to catch the bus back to town before our bus left for Cordoba. On the way to town I was chatting with some Argentines and they made me a sandwich on the bus, and I didn’t even ask! I love this continent.

Back in Cordoba for the day and tomorrow I leave to fly to Lima. We weren’t affected by the massive earthquake in Chile, thank goodness. But apparently Peru is expecting a tsunami, so I have to check to make sure I can still fly. Any suggestions, Rebecca?

And that's where our boat was!
Under Iguazu Falls
Buena vista
La Garganta del Diablo
La Garganta


Monday, February 22, 2010

Thank you Johnny!


I left Bolson feeling kind of sad that I was leaving so many great people but also really looking forward to seeing our good family friend John Hartley and hopefully learning to kiteboard. Let me just say that John is one of the most relaxed, kind, generous people I know and I definitely admire and respect the way he and his wife Christina are raising their son Bob. I was so excited to see John as it's been over seven years since Mom and I visited, so it was a real treat to meet up with him in Argentina!

I got to Bariloche but couldn’t get a hold of John for the entire afternoon, so I decided to ask where the kiteboarders went to play and look for him there, which involved me getting lost and being escorted to the kiteboarding club by one of the lifeguards who were bored out of their minds because the freezing water was being whipped off the lake by the wind; not so appealing for swimming.

Turns out John wasn’t there, but he emailed me to invite me to an asado at their hotel, the Charming. So I hopped on the bus and ended up on the doorstep of a brand-new, super-luxurious hotel. John is a pilot and his company was paying for the crew’s stay, and John immediately informed me there was an extra bed in the apartment suite with my name on it. Evo who is John’s friend and co-worker from Argentina was manning the indoor asado grill filled with steak and sausages. Room service came in with an enormous salad and potatoes. Wow, not exactly a hostel but it works.

The next day we had a mellow morning because there was no wind. John has been kiteboarding for over ten years at Lago Nahuel Huapi next to Bariloche. He said he would be happy to teach me but since there was no wind we went out on Evo’s boat instead. The water was super clear and smooth so we flew over the water and visited an island with a nature trail and coffee shop. As we flew back across the water we got some of the breathtaking views of El Tronador, “Thunder-maker” because even in the summer it is covered in snow and the glaciers calving sound like thunder. John has snowboarded down it before. Really tempting after a year of summertime.

The next day we were invited for a gourmet asado courtesy of the owner of the hotel, who we chatted and sipped (really expensive) wine with for the afternoon on the deck overlooking the lake and mountains in the sunshine. Wow, it was incredible!

I didn't get to kiteboard because the wind was too strong when we went, but it was fun to watch John and Evo and probably good I didn't get hooked on another sport to buy equipment for...but it did make me really pumped to go snowboarding!

Sarah and I paddling on the lake
Crystal mountain water
Where I got to crash with John (thank you x 1,000,000)
Evo and John grilling
The Charming view
Boat ride

El Tronador (John has snowboarded this)
Ahh, sequioas are big trees
View from the balcony
Argentine flip
Johnny tearing it up

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This is what I imagine Boulder must have been like 30 years ago only everyone is speaking Spanish



Bienvenidos a El Bolson, Argentina. There are still dirt roads and the aptly named Rio Azul (Blue River) runs through town. Four days a week there is a local artisan’s fair in the Plaza Pagano (Pagan Square) where you can find beautifully hand-crafted jewelry, scarves, hats, mate gourds, food and local beer. And everyone is always drinking mate. A good thermos, mate and something to drink it from are always about 2 inches away from any Argentine at any given moment, at most. It's lovely!

I’ve spent a few days at La Casa del Viajero (www.lacasadelviajero.com.ar), a wonderful little hostel on the edge of town. I walked here the day I arrived, and I had a map but the road just kept going and I hadn’t seen any signs of the hostel, but after about 25 minutes I walked under the wooden sign through bushes and found myself in a beautiful little community in the trees. There are chickens and dogs and cats and backpackers running around and hammocks abound. The owners Laura and Agustin are amazingly kind and make us feel very welcome. They are so mellow and have movie nights where we watch Argentine movies.

I have spent several days chilling out at the hostel and working on grad school applications. Yeah, whose idea was it to apply while I’m in South America? Oh well, this is the most relaxing place to write and a girl here named Isa revises cover letters and essays as her job, so she’s been helping me a lot which has been invaluable. I also went on a day hike with two other American girls at a gorgeous lake called Lago Puelo.

Yesterday Juliet, Carol and I went hiking up to Refugio Piltriquitron (say that five times fast). Piltri is the highest peak in the area. Apparently it means something about how beautiful it is when the clouds come down around the mountain peak, according to our taxi driver who dropped us at the trailhead. After two hours of relaxed walking we arrived at the Bosque Tallado, or Carved Forest. There was a fire here many years ago and artists had the brilliant idea to hike up and carve a bunch of the dead trees into beautiful statues. There are 30 total and we wandered around and posed with the pictures for a while before having a delicious lunch in the shade.

We continued on toward the regugio and to our delight it was only about 15 more minutes instead of the 45 we were expecting. We strolled up to see people lounging around drinking homemade beer on a large grassy lawn in front of the two log cabins up there. Dogs and beautiful snow leopard looking cats ran around and begged food from picnic-ers. We promptly reserved beds, dropped our packs and started drinking the delicious beer they made up there. It was excellent and so relaxing to while away the afternoon among the lupines in the sunshine sipping cerveza casera. The result of afternoon beers was early evening exhaustion and after cooking up some pasta and pounding water, we were thoroughly drained of energy. I played a few songs on guitar and we all crashed around 9:30, by far the earliest I’ve gone to sleep in South America but I’ve been fighting a cold so it felt good.

We woke up casually the next morning and after a breakfast of their homemade bread and raspberry jam (which was about $4 for an entire loaf of bread and jar of jam) we started on our hike for the summit of Piltri. We met two other Argentine women along the way and hiked with them which was really pleasant and good Spanish practice. I got super excited to be climbing mountains and even though I was feeling a bit sick and the scree slope was steep and slippery, I climbed and climbed and arrived at the summit first. So, being the only one up on top of the world, I decided it would be great to be naked there, so I was. That was fun until the wind picked up so I got dressed and the others arrived and we all enjoyed the unparalled views of the mountains and valleys around us.

Another hour and a half and we were back on the lawn by the refugio eating to our hearts’ content. We were all so hungry after the climb and enjoyed the rest of the bread, jam, avocado, eggs and cheese. By this time the hike was really catching up with me and I found myself exhausted during our descent. To my utter delight, by the time I got to the upper parking lot the other women had found us a ride back down in the bed of a pickup truck, which brought us right into town. Thank you Argentina!

Back here at La Casa del Viajero it’s great to meet back up with Max, Jerome and Jon the Frenchmen, Dan and Beth the English hippies who love to juggle, Isa from Germany who is healing a knee injury, Rosana the energetic Argentine on a short vacation, Gisamina and Cynthia who are working here and are so kind, and of course Agustine and Laura. It’s good to be “home”.

Front porch of the Casa del Viajero

Rio Azul

Cerro Piltriquitron


Jon buying cerveza casera at the fair
Our family having an asado or barbeque


Starting our climb to Piltriquitron
Yoga at the Bosque Tallado
El Gauchito
My favorite carving
Happy cat at the refugio
Mate, the lifeblood of Argentina
Refugio
Sunset at Piltri
El Bolson
Before we died climbing the mountain
SUMMIT FEVER
Carole, Karina and Juliet MADE IT
Vista

Where am I? Seriously, how did I get here?
Tour of La Casa del Viajero

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Y andas sola?


Hola de Bariloche, Argentina!

I am in love with Argentina. It's so breathtakingly beautiful and I'm not even in a place like Glacier Perrito Moreno or something like that. But Bariloche is one-of-a-kind for sure.

I had the tremendous luck to meet two Chilean couples on the bus from Pucon. None of us had accommodation booked for the night so we all decided to search together. Meet Cesar, Margarita, Marianne y Simon, the kindest, most fun kids in Chile. We have been hiking, chatting and drinking good Argentinian wine together and I felt totally adopted into the Chilean family. It was so cool, none of us knew each other before but we all just got along so well and had an epic time.

The first day we finally got some sunshine (it was freezing cold and rainy when we arrived). We stationed ourselves in Hostal 1004, on the 10th floor of a building right next to Lago Nahual Huapi, an enormous, cerulean lake nestled in the Andes. This meant an epic view from the glass window wall of the common room and from our dorm room as well. Cesar, Margarita and I decided to go to a small cerro, or hill/mountain to see the view that was finally accessible to us, the clouds had blown away with the strong winds buffeting the town.

We caught the bus and took a chairlift up to the top of the cerro where we had some breath-taking 360 degree views of bright blue lakes and green forests and craggy mountain peaks dusted with snow. Wow. Plus there were really friendly stray dogs and cats that just wanted some love to hang out with. The wind was ridiculously strong though, so we descended to look for some hot coffee.

That night I made pasta with veggies and chicken in artichoke sauce for Margarita and Cesar, then we met up with Mari and Simon and had some drinks in a little pub. At this point Margarita and I had taken care of quite a bit of wine, so needless to say it was a giggle-filled evening.

We woke up early the next morning (kind of) to go hiking at Cerro Otto. We found a small trail going strait up the mountain, and found ourselves climbing with five other people including two nuns who were super tough! The trail got steeper and steeper and the soil more and more loose. It was pretty fun, we were all pushing each other and helping each other up, it was great! One nun even took off her sandals because she wasn't getting any purchase. What a champ!

We finally made it after about two hours of climbing to the top where the gondola ends and there is a revolving restaurant with more epic views. Unfortunately we weren't allowed inside unless we paid 25 pesos since we didn't buy gondola tickets. That was fine because we had a great picnic all sharing sandwiches, coffee and mate. Beautiful views and great friends!

We took the long and winding road back down instead of the dangerous steep trail, which meant easy but slow descent and dehydration since we couldn't buy water at the top. But we got a ride in a dump truck at the end and that made us all really happy!

Today I decided to leave my Chilean buddies when they went to a campsite near Lago Gutierrez and I decided to come here to El Bolson. I love it. More soon!

The view from our hostel. Let's talk about it.
Me y Cesar
Margarita
Mountain hop
Times TWO!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Am I in Vail? No, Pucon

I spent this weekend in a town called Pucon down in the Lakes District of Chile. It is beautiful even though the weather has been very rainy while I've been here. I decided to give the ol' couchsurfing website (www.couchsurfing.org) a go in South America and it turned out really well. I am staying with some French kids doing an internship at an outdoor outfitter here: Leo, Nico, Marion and Gilligan (nobody knows how to pronounce his name, not even the French people).

Yesterday morning when I arrived it was already raining steadily so after getting some food and trying really hard to find their house without asking, I caved and was directed to the activity agency they live above (I was close, across the street, not bad). I have my own room and free wifi, which is great. Plus they all speak Spanish but a lot of times they take off in French and I just sit and smile to myself, but they are really great.

Since the weather wasn't conducive to much outside, I decided to check out the hotsprings the couch hosts told me are here. Good move. A crowded bus ride resulted in making friends with a Chilean chef and the bus driver and me being at the top of a hill above a river with six natural hot pools beside it. Nice. I practically ran down the hill to submerge myself with at least 50 other Chileans in the wonderfully warm water while the cool rain dripped steadily on us. It was so relaxing, especially after 12 hours on an overnight bus from Santiago, which was actually pretty comfortable, but still a bus. I even made friends with several Chilean women, they are so friendly and love that I can speak Spanish. I love that too.

It has been SO satisfying to finally be able to communicate with people and be able to ask them about their families and hobbies and how they came to the place and what their story is. After so long in countries where I've been oblivious to what's going on around me until it happens it's so so wonderful to understand and be understood. When I was with Tommy in Santiago he said if he could have any super power it would be flight or the ability to speak and understand all languages. Yep, that about covers it, flying and shouting in every language at the clouds and people below me. Dream come true.

Last night got pretty rowdy here, lots of mixed drinks and loud French people but because they drank everything so quickly and because I didn't want to over-do it, I remained in control and was able to maintain conversations in Spanish with French accents. This meant lots of shouting at all hours of the night and me waking up at 7:30am to catch the bus to go hiking feeling very drowsy.

Rousting myself paid off though, I was one of five people I saw all morning on the trail. I followed the muddy path through the drizzle still coming down past a beautiful large lake with campsites abounding and up into the cloud-filled forest of some of the most enormous trees I've seen in a while. Some were even bigger than those in Angkor Wat. Huge and mossy and wonderful.

There were also loud, complex, beautiful bird songs to offset the fuzziness of a rainy day. I finally spotted them, small puffy birds that ran super fast on the ground and sometimes fluttered unaffraid near my head. They remind me of juncos; gray with rust-brown shoulders but these ones have yellow bellies. They were so cute and sang so wonderfully. There were lots of bright colored flowers as well, little stars shining in the damp green woods.

I made it up past a waterfall to three blue-green lakes shrouded in mist with very very clear waters. They took my breath away but I didn't stay long because if I stopped moving the rain chilled me, even with a raincoat on.

So I slipped and sloshed my way back down the trail and caught the bus back to town in time to see the sun come out! Woo hoo! This merited a stroll through the suddenly-lively town filled with ice cream shops, North Face installations, lots of knit products and busquers on the street. Very pleasant and it felt so good to dry out and stop shivering in the sunshine.

Tomorrow I'm catching a bus to Bariloche to try to meet Jorge, a very good friend of the Schencks. I think he might be on a trek at the moment, so I might head to El Bolson, a Lonely Planet-proclaimed hippie's paradise. I guess I could be into that...Plus Daisy who I met in Spain said there's an organic farm to WWOOF there so I've been in touch...that could be very pleasant. Things are looking good and feeling better.

Hot springs YEAH
Done changing? Go right in through the floor!



Catarata Nido del Aguila
Lago Chico