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Archive for February, 2011

Tyler-baby in Puerto Montt, Chile

¡Hola a todos!

We are writing from the so-so town of Temuco, in central Chile.  It’s been awhile since our last update, so I’ll fill everyone in on some of the details of what we’ve been up.  Tyler might write later in a more interesting manner if he feels like it.

But first, for those interested, pictures can be found HERE.

Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt was the first town we went to from Punta Arenas.  The bus ride was shorter than we were told – a pleasant surprise when it lasted only about 31 hours or so.  It was also a pleasantly quiet and clean bus ride; no noisy obnoxious tourists this time!  The disappointing thing was that they took a route through Argentina, which meant more border crossings using more pages in our passports, and driving through a lot of scenery we had already seen.  But, we got to spend the last of our Argentine monedas (coins) that we couldn’t exchange in Chile at one of the stops. (Until, of course, Tyler found a bunch of Argentine pesos in his clothes when we did laundry in Chile).  And, we still got to see some new scenery!

In Puerto Montt we hopped off the bus, got a list of accommodations and a map, got pointed in the ride direction, and ended up in one of the best and most affordable places we’ve found yet.  Plus they had a cat, and there were baby kittens at the little kiosco on the street.  We ended up getting a sort of accidental deal on a private room, with a good breakfast, wifi that worked in our room, and really friendly people running the place.  We went off in search that day of seafood empanadas after I saw a Chilean family making some at the hostel we were stuck at in Punta Arenas.  Once again we were pointed in the right direction, found a little place, and they told us there were no empanadas.  We were sad.  All made sad faces.  Then she offered to make empanadas for us if we waited.  And it was awesome – we made conversation with the folks in the shop, watched some soccer, and finally got to have some great, fresh made empanadas, filled with delicious mussels and green onions.

 

craziest, best hot dog (salchicha completo) ever in puerto montt, chile

We spent the next day traipsing around town trying to make our next plans.  We decided to do just one side trip in the area (our original plan was to do none and save money, but it was too beautiful to resist).  We were recommended to go to the island of Chiloé; transportation there seemed the easiest, so we bought our tickets to leave the next day.  In the meantime, we made a goal to try every street food available in the town – two varieties of crazy hot dogs, giant gumdrops, chocolate, mote (a very strange beverage of sugary juice, grains, and a pickled plum), stick meat, and corn-cake things with wonderfully spicy salsa (perhaps called sopadillas but I’m not sure).  Then we meandered over the fish market, where we had actually tried to go the first day but didn’t make it as it was really cold and raining.  This day was sunny and nice, so we found the place – it was no Pike’s Place but it was pretty neat.  Plus they have lots of razor clams around apparently.  But, we ate dinner near the market the same night and it was suuuuper disappointing.  Oh well.  I did get to see four kittens in one day, and hold two of them so…

 

Chiloé

Next stop was Chiloé, a beautiful nearby island.  The best story of this side-trip was when we got off the bus in Chonchi, a tiny town in the center of the island.  We get off the bus, go to the tourist information booth, and they tell us there’s four places to stay in town, and our very upfront with which one is the cheapest.  We go there, it’s a family home, and get a great room with a view, for only slightly more than we paid in Puerto Montt (no breakfast though).  As soon as we get there, Tyler realizes he left his shorts and towel on the bus.  They were damp so he had taken them out of his backpack and put them in the overhead storage on the bus and left them there.  It was our only towel.  We had just bought those pants in December – they’re the fancy outdoor kind that wick and zip off into shorts.  We were upset, and to try to think of something to do, I said, well, why not just ask the bus company?  It couldn’t hurt.  The same buses probably run through here every day. We didn’t have much hope, but sure enough, we went to the bus office, the guy called the driver on the bus, they found our stuff, and said it’d be back by 7:30 that same night.  Craziness; and, it worked!  We came back, and they had transferred his clothes to a different bus and brought back to us, all, for free!  Latin America isn’t really known for its customer service, but I really think that beats any lost luggage treatment you’d get in the U.S.

 

Pacific Coast, Chiloé

So, we got Tyler’s stuff back, we were in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with almost no tourists, had a great room…all was well.  We decided to go camp on the beach at the national park the next day, another thing we were recommended to do from the tourist office in Puerto Montt. Our hospedaje agreed to store our extra luggage until we came back.  We take the bus to the “national park” thinking it’s a 6 hour walk from there, as indicated on the map.  We go the national park, and mention we’re trying

 

beachy fun in Chile!

to go camping at Cole Cole.  He then gives us a strange look, gives us our money back, and then says we h

ave to take the bus further up, and then walk on the beach to the park, then pay the entrance fee, and then pay to camp.  We didn’t have enough money for all that, and there certainly wasn’t a

n ATM nearby.  So, we start walking down the road.  We hope to get picked up by someone, but so does everyone else and every truck that passes us is full.  So we walk to the end of the paved road, to a gravel road.  We keep walking, and I see a path through a field to the beach.  Why not just look for a place to camp on the beach?  Isn’t that all we wanted anyway?  If we conserve the water we have, we should be fine.  And, it turned out to be the best place we’ve stayed yet – we

found a great campsite (probably a fisherman’s), right on the water, walked up to the national park where we could have camped, and enjoyed a great, people-free day. Fantastic. The only slightly bad part was that it started drizzling the next day so we had to pack out early with damp things, but, all was dried off back in Chonchi in our same great room.  Good times to be able to relax on our own for a bit, and it ended up saving us quite a bit of money.

 

Temuco

This is my least favorite place I’ve been to so far.  We wanted to stop somewhere to break up the 15-18 hour bus ride from Chonchi to Santiago.  Central Chile is supposed to be beautiful, so why not stop over and spend a day somewhere a little less touristy.  We were recommended to go to Valdivia or Temuco.  Temuco was further north, so we bought tickets to go there.  We arrived at about 9 p.m. last night.  I don’t really like arriving at night, not only is it dark and potentially less safe, most lodgings are getting full or are full by then.  But, we had no other choice, except to continue directly on to Santiago – there were buses that apparently left as late as 12:30. But we were tired, and hungry, so we looked for a place to stay.  There was no information place.  There were 3 hospedajes nearby.  We were all told to go the bigger one.  It was a crap-hole. And it was more expensive than anything else we’ve ever paid in Chile.  For a dirty shared bathroom, no wifi, and no breakfast. I looked doubtful and the lady started going on and on about how all the other places were full and this was all that was left.  Not a good sign.  But we took it and went out to find food and our tickets to Santiago.  I hated this place.  Hated.  The people there were loud and drinking, and it seemed like the kind of place you’d find strung out heroine addicts in.  Maybe that’s because we just stayed on the beach.   So we go back to the bus station and find out there’s 2 spots left on a bus that night to Santiago.  I think sleeping a crappy bus is better than staying at this place, so we go back to try to leave.  We well the lady we’re really sorry, but we just found a bus that leaves tonight and we want our money back so we can go.  Its literally been 10 minutes, at the most, since we paid.  She tries to tell us there’s no room on any buses going back to today. Lies! We just asked and found them.  I tell her that.  She says if we paid, we paid, we can’t get our money back.  I point out its been minutes, and there’s buses full of people coming in every 5 minutes (true) –  she’ll find someone to take our place.  She says she had to turn away a group of 5 people while we gone because we had already taken the room. Lies. More lies.  And I knew she was lying, but there was nothing we could do about it.  We asked again, said we were sorry, asked why she was being so serious.  All to no avail.  So we go to our room – and the place is, at most, half-full.  My ass there’s no more room.  And, two guys came in after us – two guys that could have taken OUR ROOM!  Impressive that she’d let people that are obviously pissed at her stay in her place.  She’s lucky we didn’t trash it (peanut butter and jelly on blankets did cross our minds…).  But, I managed to calm down, watch a movie, get lots and lots of sleep, talked to a nice Canadian family staying at the place, and got the heck out.

 

The only good thing in Temuco: ice cream that looks like a garden gnome

We leave for Santiago tonight at 10:30, which will get us into town at about 7 a.m. Not the best situation, but sleeping on the bus saves us some money, and we’ll have all day to find a place to stay! Until then we have about 7 hours to kill in the city, which, is mostly just uninteresting.  I mean really uninteresting, as in, I don’t know why people would come here.  But, we found a restaurant with wifi, I ate a turkey sandwich with avocado, something I’ve been missing – a poultry sandwich option instead of beef or ham – we’re about to get ice cream, and we’re about to wear out our welcome here I think.  So, with that, I sign off.  Next time from the Santiago area!

 

Love,

Sharon

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isla magdalena, chile

Just wanted add some links really quick to photos we’ve taken since coming to Chile:

HERE and HERE.

We don’t have much news to report, but I can fill everyone in a bit on what we’ve been up to.

We spent Valentine’s Day on a bus to Puerto Natales, Chile. We were supposed to transfer to a different bus to keep going south the same day, but decided to take a break and stay in town for a few days.  We went out for dinner that night and it was GREAT: we had ceviche (fish marinated in lime juice, with cilantro, onions, bell peppers, and sometimes corn), a FANTASTIC local beer (the best we’ve had in Latin America), and amazing sea food. Tyler had conger eel and I had a sea bass stew.  Best. Valentin’s Day. Ever.

The next day we were feeling lazy and tired, so we booked a tour to Torres del Paine, Chile’s most famous national park. It was fun to drive around and see the countryside, and the wildlife, but the weather was pretty unpredictable: one minute it was sunny and warm, and the next it was freezing rain and wind.  But, that’s predictably Patagonian.  The only downside was that that we never actually got to see the granite spires that are the Torres del Paine.  I was also a bit disappointed that we didn’t do any hiking or backpacking in the park, but, at least we can do that in the Pacific Northwest and it’ll probably be just as beautiful, just different.

Next we caught a bus to Punta Arenas, further south in Chile, on the Strait of Magellan, just across the channel from Tierra del Fuego.  There’s not much in the town, besides an island with penguins.  We went to the island, and it was awesome!  Penguins are just so funny to watch.  But, because we were lazy when we got here and didn’t buy bus tickets to the next place, we’re now trapped here because the next bus heading north doesn’t leave until Monday.  Oops.  And there’s really not much to do…maybe we’ll take a ferry over to a town in Tierra del Fuego tomorrow just for something to do, and we’ll certainly catch up on sleep, reading the news, uploading pictures, and making some great meals now that we’re not too tired to cook.  At least its a fairly relaxing, small town, the people are nice, the food is great, and its not terribly touristy like other places we’ve been.  Plus, the grocery stores in Chile are fantastic – we actually found ingredients to make Mexican food, finally! We’ve been having a good time trying to make friends with Chilean tourists, getting advice from people on the street, cooking meals, and stuffing our faces with ceviche and pastries.  Not bad at all.

Next stop: Puerto Montt, Chile.  No idea what we’ll do there….but we leave Monday at 9 a.m. and arrive Tuesday at 9 p.m. so we’ve got another loooong bus ride ahead of us, hopefully we’ll find some good Chilean wine and treats to accompany us. 🙂

That’s all for now.  Hope everyone’s doing well!

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cerro torre, el chalten, argentina

I just happened to catch the sign welcoming us to a new country as we crossed the border. I was too busy staring out the bus window, seeing bright pink flamingos wading in fields, spectacular mountains emerging over the rolling green-brown hills, and those oh-so familiar waters of the Pacific Ocean…is that a salt breeze I sense?

Before we realized it, it was what will probably be our last night in Argentina!

And, it somehow managed to be one of our best. After 5 spectacular, exhausting days in El Chaltén, spent hiking to downright astonishing views, trekking on glaciers, ice climbing, even a little bouldering (rock climbing without ropes, lower to the ground, you know, on boulders!), some surprisingly great meals, incredibly friendly locals, and a refreshing time without internet, we were back in El Calafate.

Pictures from El Chaltén can be found HERE and HERE!

It turns out we had to come back to make bus connections, and it also turns out it happened to be the towns 134th anniversary. This time we walked off the bus with no reservations in hand, walked to a nearby hostel I remembered seeing the last time we were there, and it all worked out great: cheaper, closer to the bus station, not up a steep, dusty hill on the other side of town…and the other travelers staying there were fantastic.  After a very long, much needed nap, Tyler very nicely made us dinner while I attempted (without success at first) to upload photos.  After a lovely, carbohydrate packed dinner of noodle soup with some potatoes and carrots thrown in, bread, and beer.  Somehow, and this has been fairly rare in our travels so far, we struck up conversations all around us: one other girl from Seattle that I swear I’ve met before, a Canadian that thought we had accents from Vancouver, and a Swiss German.  Somehow we ended up talking with our new friends for hours, even roping in the late-night hostel worker, who shared his Argentine wine with the Swiss guy, who had apparently needed it due to a lethal choice with boxed wine. Even our French-Canadian dorm-mate was super-nice! It was nice to just spend an evening conversing and chatting, talking about politics, culture, traveling, linguistics, and music late into the night before we parted ways.

After a short night of sleep (made up for later by bus-napping) we caught the morning bus to Puerto Natales, Chile.  There doesn’t seem to be much to this town, besides a beautiful harbor with great mountain views, and it happens to be the closest town to Torres del Paine, a famously gorgeous national park that we’ll be visiting tomorrow. Already we’re noticing the subtle differences in Argentine and Chilean culture; for one, the grocery store actually has more interesting food, and in wider varieties, even with some spice options, and strangely heavy German influence.   So far the people are nice, patient at least as our heads are swirling with new exchange rates – in Chile I believe the smallest bill is 1000 pesos and there’s even a 100 peso coin, so the numbers are a bit outrageous (not in an expensive way, but in a, what’s 10,300 divided by 470 way). But, we’re going to try our first bottle of Chilean wine tonight (first that we bought in Chile, anyway) – a Carménère that we think works out to be between US$4-5, recommended to us by a grocery store worker.  I love Carménère so I hope Chile doesn’t disappoint!

The idea for now is to take a cheesy tour to see how Torres del Paine looks tomorrow, as we’re too exhausted to do any of the serious hiking and backpacking the park really requires.  Maybe if its absolutely amazing we’ll make all the arrangements to spend some more time there.  If not, we should head out the day after next for Punto Arenas, even further south, close to Tierra del Fuego.  From there we’ll go see some penguins (since we didn’t go to any of Argentina’s famous penguin places).  After that the idea is to finally start working our way northward through Chile, but, I could still be convinced to head yet further south via ferry/bus to Ushuaia, but for now we’ve cut that out for budgetary reasons.  It should all be interesting, as we’ve finally left the realm of the almighty guidebook and the relative comfort/familiarity of Argentina.

And, as today is Valentine’s Day, I hope everyone’s day is filled with LOVE, in every sense of the word. I miss you all (and am especially missing the PNW as the weather and landscape is very similar here) and hope you’re all doing well.

Until next time!

Sharon

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El Calafate

After a bus ride that clocked in at 29.5 hours over barren landscape, which included the now-accepted as typical “liquid only” toilets and sporadic air-conditioning, combined with severely irritating (loud, inconsiderate, etc.) tourist passengers, numerous extended stops in various cities, a mini food crisis, and a fairly long walk uphill on a dusty dirt road, we made it to our hostel in El Calafate.  And I’m pretty sure it was well worth it.

El Calafate is a small town, essentially in the middle of nowhere, far, far south in Patagonia.  It’s claim to fame?  It’s the nearest town to the south face of the Perito Moreno Glacier, possibly Argentina’s most famous.  We’re spending two nights here so we could have one full day at the glacier, and tomorrow we leave for the even more remote El Chaltén.  This city is supposedly tiny, and known as “the trekking capital of the world.”  There are no ATMs, sparse internet, and I believe the town only has about 600 year-round residents.  But, it literally sits right next to the Fitz Roy mountain range and the Continental Ice Fields, so we plan on spending an exhausting 4 nights/3 days hiking, and hopefully glacier trekking/ice climbing our hearts out until we’re too sore to move.  I can’t wait!  Beware: this means we don’t expect to be in contact for several days.

In the meantime, we spent all day today at the Perito Moreno Glacier, which we think may be our favorite thing we’ve seen so far…ever.  It’s hard to explain without witnessing it for yourself, but the constantly changing shades of blue as the sun and clouds shift in the sky as the day progresses, the continually shifting ice, the jagged edges juxtaposed atop the rugged mountains and turquoise water, and the thundering sound as the glacier calves, is simply incredible.  We were lucky and today was not a very busy day, and yet a multitude of languages swirled around me, all expressing the same thing: “¡Mira los colores de azul, que impresionante! Que magnifique!  Wow!” Just the drive to the national park was impressive; with every turn and hill we came closer to the glacier, and, what luck, we had a rainbow arching over the entire thing as we neared!  Not to mention, we manged to pay $AR15 instead of AR$100 each for the entrance fee because we asked about student discounts.  Then we took the first boat ride of the day to get a closer view of the glacier, avoiding the majority of the crowds, and even though the bus we took wasn’t part of a tour company, they worked out logistics so we would still have transportation to the rest of the park, free !  And we saw astonishing ice shelves crash from the glacier, and got some of them on video!  I think a great word to describe the day is: lucky.

Just a few weeks ago before leaving Buenos Aires, we watched the movie “127 Hours,” and in the beginning of the movie, the main character fatefully says, as he’s holding himself up in a narrow rock canyon, about to drop into a glittering blue pool below: “nature’s always moving, let’s just hope it doesn’t happen now.”  I think when I see mountains, forests, and landscapes in nature that have taken thousands of years to form, I’m awestruck by the detail; by the patience of nature; it seems like it will be the same forever.  Today I was awestruck by the dynamic force of nature: this glacier is moving, now. It’s growing.  It’s expanding.  It’s constantly changing, and you don’t have to wait long to see and hear it (see videos above).  It’s destruction in a beautiful way; when a sheet of ice the size of a 3 story ice crashes into the lake below, it’s a good thing; it’s helping the glacier expand, or as I liked to say, it’s creating a baby glacier!

We took far, far too many photos, and I made an unedited Facebook photo dump into two albums, which can be seen HERE and HERE.  And a final video of the best glacier action, which I’ll post even though I haven’t rotated it yet, can be found HERE.

For now we’re taking our sunburned selves off to bed, to hopefully sleep in a bit tomorrow.

Love,

Sharon and Tyler

 

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Quick Update…

 

view from the bus on the ruta de siete lagos

 

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started.” – T.S. Elliot

I read this quote in our pastor’s blog today, and I’m probably going to think about it for a long, long time.  Maybe its because we’re back in Bariloche again for a night, having finally taken the scenic Ruta de Siete Lagos back (pictures HERE, I also added a few more the San Martin album). The irony is not lost on me that our pastor has been all about settling down and growing roots while we’re in the midst of wandering an entire continent, but this piece of poetry gives me peace somehow. I think we both realize that this might be the last time in our lives we can take an extended trip like this (unless, by chance, one of us lands a job abroad, still an option we’d like to keep open, but aren’t necessarily actively pursuing) before the things I would refer to as “chains” or “anchors” start appearing in our lives: family, house, careers.  These things are starting to look more and more appealing to us, and we’re truly looking forward to settling down and getting to know our little community in Portland.  But, before we make those types of commitments, we at least have one last hurrah to take some time to figure some things out and gain some valuable experiences.  The funny thing is, every new place we go, we try to compare it to home: this looks like the San Juans, this town is like Lake Tahoe, this forest looks like it could be in Oregon… and so on.  We look for little pieces of home wherever we go.

Anyway, just a quick, very unfinished thought. Next up, I’ll share the itinerary we spent a good chunk of time today setting up, since at our new hostel we have wifi from our bed 🙂

Feb. 6th: take the bus bright and early down to El Calafate in the south of Patagonia. Should be interesting as I think it’s 28 hours long, and we’re in the second-cheapest class.

Feb. 7th – 9th: El Calafate – mostly known for being close to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually still growing, by up to 6 feet a day!  I can’t wait to see (and hear!) this amazing creation!

Feb. 9th – 13th: El Chalten – only a few hours from El Calafate, this town is famous for the toothy Fitz Roy mountain range, home to climbing, hiking, glacier trekking…should be both amazing and exhausting.

After that we either head all the way down to the “end of the world:” Ushuaia, or make and early break for Chile.  Haven’t decided yet. We hear that since these towns in Southern Patagonia are so isolated (ATM usage isn’t even guaranteed so we have to stock up on cash!), and since there’s going to be so many interesting and exciting things to do, we might not post much for the next few days, but we’ll try our best.  You know I like uploading the photos!

We miss you all, and think about you all the time.

Love,

Us

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San Martin de los Andes:

It has long been a personal struggle of mine the amount of significance that I attach to seemingly unimportant events. I walk by a blue fire hydrant and suddenly become convinced that there is no set order to the universe, that my wife is going to leave me and that our friends have sold our cat and moved to another country without telling us.  At the same time, sometimes it really is these small things that really do carry the world in general, the behavior of people, and why I like the weird stuff I enjoy so much (i.e. wearing one rock with a hole in it at all times). Without rambling anymore, I think that balancing the tension between over and under analyzing events in my life is a significant part of what I’m up to lately. One such important (?) event occurred today.

This afternoon, I decided to get money to do our laundry. This is always more of a task in Argentina than the average person in the states would believe. Quite frequently, every ATM in a given city will run out of cash and begin dispensing, instead, pleasant apologies. I had already encountered two such machines and was waiting in a twenty minute long line to try my luck with the last remaining ATM in San Martin when the lady in front of me told me to go ahead of her in the queue for, seemingly, no reason at all. After declining several times, I finally relented and moved ahead of her. We began discussing the shortcomings of the argentine banking system and I learned that she was from Buenos Aires which led to a discussion on how much we both liked it there which is to say not very much at all). The conversation meandered and I clumsily tried to piece together a sentence to swat down a compliment about my Spanish, but discovered that my Spanish was too bad to deny that my Spanish was good. Sitting on some stairs in an idyllic town in the Andes, I found myself marveling at the openness of the people here. It wasn’t just this woman either. I realized that, in just a couple of days, I had met more people than I could count who had showed me this kind of openness, engaging a stranger as a person and as a pleasant part of their day rather than a distraction from life. In part, this is the reason I came to South America. The idea of this kind of mentality is very attractive to me; I find I truly love the concepts of relationship and community and it seemed when I left for this trip and still seems now that these ideas are alive and strong down here. Furthermore they seem to extend not only to life-long relationships and the community of town or country, but also to relationships with strangers that they may only know for the twenty minutes it takes to wait for an ATM and to a community that includes those from countries that they may never even see. At peril of sounding like a smoked-out cheeto junkie, “it was deep”.

Back to the point and also staying on the topic of smoked-out cheeto junkies, the insignificant event that really got me thinking about the nature of Life, The Universe, And Everything happened a few hours later while sitting in a coffee shop. I was contemplating nothing more than whether or not to use the bathroom for the fifth time today and risk ridicule from Sharon, when a song by Jack Johnson started playing in the café. Within the familiar hippie, beach-bum rhythm and lyrics, Jack asked me, “In the true sense of the word, are we using what we’ve learned?”. From a pragmatic, theological, or philosophical paradigm, I think that this question is one of the most important to answer. I’m always learning stuff. The world is a constant flood of information washing over us and no matter how much I’m able to soak up as it rolls over me, I question its usefulness if it doesn’t affect who I am or the things I do and think. Have the things I’ve learned about relationship and community ever affected the way I treat the people I encounter each day? Perhaps a bit cheesy or trite but it got me thinking about if I have really been interested in people at all for the last few years or simply the idea of people and the concept of how they form community between each other.  Each year, I find that my social circle shrinks to exclude people that I don’t think that I’ll know for very long or people that (it sounds even uglier typing it than thinking it) people that have different ideas than me or have different ways of thinking than I do. Framed as such, it’s pretty easy for me to see that I’ve put myself in a position where the kind of closeness with others and the kind of community that I’ve so enjoyed thinking about have been an impossibility for me. Que triste. Nevertheless, I think that finally recognizing this puts me in good position to finally work through it, and that’s a good thing in my book (which of course is a book all about me *smile*).

Anyway, for those of you kind enough to be praying for me, that is what’s rolling around in my head as of the now. As for those of you who are kind enough to read my tedious blog…that is what’s rolling around in my head as of the now. As always, I hope my ideas find y’all well and that you’re all working on some generally difficult ideas as well. Shoot me an e-mail or comment here and I’d love to pray for you whenever I get word of what you’re up to. Until then, I’ll keep you all in my heart and mind so try not to get fat…I’d hate to have a heart attack or stroke down here.

Much Love,

Tyler

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volcán lanín

 

Hi Everyone,

Somehow, it’s already been almost a week since we’ve left Buenos Aires! I suppose this is how it will be from now on, too busy/tired to write, too many more interesting things to do than upload pictures, and extremely spotty internet connections (and we’re not even to ‘the desolate’ part yet). Thusly this blog will probably take on a format more like a travel journal than…whatever it was before.  Warning, this is a LONG entry!

Our first stop from Buenos Aires was San Carlos de Bariloche, a beautiful town built on the shores of Lake Huapi, in Argentina’s Lake District. Pictures from this part of our trip can be seen HERE.  Bariloche reminded me a little bit of Lake Tahoe, combined with Leavenworth, sort of.  It’s a cute town; most of the buildings are this sort of creative mix of Swiss architecture with a Patagonian wood twist.  It’s also full of chocolate shops, and laid-back restaurants that serve local trout, and, at long last, microbrews.  We’re finally to the part of Argentina that has delicious beer – hooray! It’s also not crowded; it’s clean, the air is fresh, and it’s not hot (in fact, it’s quite cold).   It’s a bit touristy, but still a breath of fresh air (literally) compared to Buenos Aires.  We stayed at the Marco Polo Inn Hostel,which had pretty good rooms and included breakfast and a hot dinner.  But, their wifi was basically broken the entire time we were there (4 days) which was pretty irritating, as I’m now left with a mountain of photos to upload, emails to check and reply too, etc.

Our first day in Bariloche we basically wandered the town for hours waiting for our room to be ready and gathering information to plan what we wanted to do there.  Not so much fun, but necessary.  And, a stop at the chocolate stop made it all worth it.  The next day we went on a nice hike to Cerro Lopez and had amazing views of the surrounding countryside.  It was also nice to get our heart-rate up after the long bus ride!

Our third day we decided to take it easy and ride the public buses around Circuito Chico, which is basically a nice little loop that has pretty views of several lakes and charming towns.  Pictures can be seen HERE. We wanted to take it easy because we planned on doing a long hike the next day (20k) and wanted to rest after our last hike (16k).  Well, that didn’t really work out…we took the bus first to Llao Llao, a tiny “town” that basically has the famous Hotel Llao Llao, a church, a ferry station for boats to Chile, and about 5 stores/restaurants.  Oh, and a golf course.  But, it’s absolutely beautiful there, what I imagine Germany or Austria to look like (not sure why I think that) – surrounded by mountains and lakes.  Supposedly there was a bus that would take us to the next stop on the circuit, but all the locals told us that said bus (thanks again for the bad info Lonely Planet) didn’t exist. So, we decided to walk for a bit…just a bit and hopefully flag down a bus or hitchhike to the next stopping point. So, we walk along the road, and see a sign for a trail that goes alongside the road.  A trail seemed better than walking on a windy mountain road with no shoulder, so we took it. 4k later we’re at the base of a really pretty lake, and we’re also the only non-Argentine tourists there.  Pretty cool.  Then we get back to the road, and see another trail that leads to a lake, Lago Escondido.  Since we have all day to walk, we decide to take that trail. From there were two options – one to a “roman bridge” and one to the lake; both were short.  So, we did them both.  Add a few more kilometers.  Then we continue walking on the road and eventually read Bahia Blanco (I think) – another little resort town built around another beautiful lake.  Here we meet an English-speaking couple on the bridge, strongly hint for them to please give us a ride around the bend so we can catch the other bus to complete the circuit, but the hinting was lost on them. So, we continue the long walk, stopping to gaze at mountains and trees and lakes as we go.  We finally reach the creek that signals the starting point of the hike we did the previous day, so we know we’re close to where we can catch the bus to Colonia Suiza, our last stop on the circuit before home.  Due to time constraints, we decide to start the dusty walk to Colonia and flag down the bus if we see it.  That actually works here, the flagging down of buses on the road…if the bus actually passes you.  This bus never passed us (good thing we didn’t wait for it!) so, add 3 more kilometers to our tab.  We finally reach the town, which is a cute little town founded by Swiss people a hundred or so years ago that the city of Bariloche declared a historical site and thus funds it keep its cuteness.  Basically, after all that walking, it was a bit of a let-down, but the beer and strudel awaiting us made up for it, well, part of it at least.  It was a pretty town, but in my opinion not worth the effort to get to.  From there we finally caught the bus we’d been trying to find all day, and made it back to Bariloche via a scenic route which included yet more lakes and more amazing views, which I practically fell over trying to take pictures of on the bus. We had finally complete the Circuito Chico, and our “easy day” of walking ended up being what we think was cerca 20k. LOL.

 

view from Cerro Lopez outside Bariloche

The next day we set off for San Martín de los Andes, a picturesque town further up in the mountains; pictures from this part of our trip can be seen HERE.  We thought that a specific bus service would literally take the scenic route, but it didn’t (seriously, LP, I hope the new Argentina guide corrected all this). Either way, the 4 hour or so drive was pretty and I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the countryside and listening to music.  We arrived at San Martín with no reservations to stay anywhere; a man approached us at the bus terminal trying to convince us to stay at someplace.  I brushed him off as trying to rip us off, but Tyler took the map and said maybe we’d look at it later.  The man scribbled something on the map, and we commenced asking hostels if they had room for us.  After at least three or four failed attempts, and with full bladders and feetsies in serious pain, we decided to look for the place on the map from the man at the bus station.  Luckily, thanks to my internship I am excellent at reading scribbled handwriting in Spanish, and figured out that the place was called “Familia Muñoz.”  We found the street, but had to ask a man on the street if he’d heard of the place.  He walked us straight to the building, where we were greeted by one of the most friendly people I have ever met, and, the best part, she was a cat lady.  We were given a private room, with a bathroom and full kitchen, at a lower rate than anything we saw in Bariloche (which wouldn’t have included a kitchen).  And, it included breakfast.  Fantastic.  And there were kittens, even a baby kitten, that I named Little Blackles. And a wonderful heater, and cozy blankets, a hilarious little TV/radio, and seriously, the nicest lady ever. So, we were happy, finally alone and out of the hostel dorms with annoying roommates for a bit, and in a beautiful little town that has more Argentine and Chilean tourists (mostly families on summer vacation) than anything else. I love it here.  If it weren’t for the freezing weather and harsh winter, I could live here.  Everyone is super nice, all the buildings are adorable, and the food is amazing.

 

Our first stop was to the tourist info center to get the bus schedules to go to Parque Nacional de Volcán Lanín.  Even though it was 10 minutes past closing, they waved us in, gave us a great map, and exact bus schedules, and even helped us figure out how to make the connecting transfers, all while being super friendly, patient with our Spanish, and didn’t make us feel rushed at all. Then, we went to restaurant recommended in the LP that had local specialties (trout, deer, boar, etc.).  While it was a bit expensive by Argentine standards, it was AMAZING.  I had risotto with wild forest mushrooms and deer, and Tyler had boar goulash.  And we had yet another local beer that yet again actually had tasty hops, body, and interesting flavors.   A great start.

The second day we got up painfully early at 7 a.m. (I know, it’s not that early, but keep in mind we got up at like 9 or 10 on our “busy” days in B.A.) to catch our bus to Junín de los Andes, a town about an hour away.  The sad part of this day is that we got back really late the night before, and had to leave so early, that I didn’t tell the Mrs. Muñoz that we didn’t need breakfast so early because I was afraid to bother her at the odd hours, but she didn’t know and made us breakfast anyway, waited for us, and then was worried about us because we left so early and were gone all day!  Oops!  Luckily I explained everything later. From Junín we made a quick connection to a bus that would take us to the national park, about 2 hours away, on semi-paved roads. This is where it gets hilarious.  The bus, which was really more of a 4-wheel drive van, finally arrived at the Ranger Station at Tromen, where we were set to do some short day hikes, and also from where people set off to climb Volcán Lanín.  The weather was clear when we left San Martín, but was windy, freezing, cloudy, and raining when we pulled up.  Literally everyone on the bus just looked at each other when the bus stopped with the same expression: “but…I don’t want to get off the bus anymore, it looks horrible outside!”  LOL.  So, making the most of it, we got out, got some maps and info from the very awkward folks at the ranger station, and set off to walk to the base of the volcano, hoping to actually be able to see it from there (as you couldn’t see it AT ALL from the ranger station). It was freezing, literally, the rain was freezing sleet, and we were bundled up in everything we had, but determined.  It was ridiculous.  But, like true Pacific Northwesterners, we pushed through, walking about 45 minutes to the “the base” of the volcano, seeing only clouds, took refuge behind some rocks, and ate lunch (deer salami and cheese sandwiches, and these cookies I’m addicted to).  I took some pictures of the clouds and fog, and of what I believed to be the volcano, and we went back, thoroughly amused at what a terrible day it was.  The best part was that Tyler managed to break his third thermos in Bariloche, so we didn’t even have hot water for mate. We got back to the station, and, seeing as we had bought tickets for the last bus back, hoping to spend a good 6 hours enjoying the park, thought we might as well do another hike to see Lago Tromen.  We started to take the long route, but I didn’t really like walking through the muddy, wet, field, so we ended up taking the short one.  We got to the lake, where it was even windier and colder back at the station; I felt like we were off the coast of Maine or something in some terrible storm.  We ran into some Argentines trying to pull a little boat full of water out of the lake so it didn’t get lost, and had a fun chat about the great weather for a walk.  Then we walked back to the lake, and tried to take refuge in the little general store that has supplies for campers.  There weren’t any seats actually inside the building, but there were some stools under a roof, and they did have hot tea for sale.   We spent a long time there, huddling, trying to make the hot tea last as long as possible, hoping someone would take pity on us and either let us stand by the oven inside, invite us inside their car/tent/whatever, or give us some pan dulce.  After at least an hour, none of these things had happened, although one employee did comment that I looked like I was freezing.  As we still had hours to kill, we decided to go on yet another hike up this giant hill to a viewpoint.  Of course, once we were in the forest of the hill, the clouds cleared up and you could actually see the volcano, if you weren’t in the forest like we were.  Also, the viewpoint was more for the lake than the volcano, and we couldn’t even make it to the top because we were paranoid about missing our bus back.  But, it did thoroughly warm us up to walk up the giant hill, and I did eventually get some decent pictures of the volcano before we left.  But man, what a ridiculous day, and of course, today it’s sunny and warm!

After our looong day at the volcán, we decided to get some pizza to go from a place we’d noticed the night before. That was pretty much a great decision, especially since we had some wine we’d been saving from Mendoza that Tyler was already tired of carrying around.  It made for a great night, and we decided to take it easy the next day (today) and relax.  We slept in, had breakfast around 9:30, and chatted with Mrs. Muñoz for at least an hour.  Two of her three kids are in college in Córdoba, and she really misses them, and I think that’s why she’s so nice to the two of us; she needs someone to mother. And, we don’t mind.  She made us a great breakfast, with jamón crudo (yum), cheese, some special jam from Patagonia, palmiers, bread, cream cheese, etc.  And, she made me this crazy café batido which is basically instant coffee mixed with sugar and…some other stuff, so that it looks like brownie batter, that you put into a mug, our hot milk over, and stir.  It tasted like the vanilla cappuccino you get out of those machines at Pilot or 7-Eleven, but better. After our long chat about life, travelling, learning Spanish, etc., we went outside and played with the kittens for awhile, which will probably be the highlight of my day.  She found kittens living under her car one day and tries to take care of them and find homes for them, so she has seven right now, I think.  But, she actually washes them and lets them in her house, so they’re well taken care of, and, adorable.

Today we’ve done nothing else but book our bus tickets back to Bariloche, this time via the scenic route of the Siete Lagos, which should be both beautiful and interesting, as it’s an unpaved windy road through the mountains.  And, I’ve spent a good chunk of hours uploading photos and writing this blog, much to Tyler’s dismay, who has had to keep himself busy buying a new thermos, and things for dinner, among other errands.  Everyone here is so nice; we dropped off our laundry and ended up having a conversation with a lady that works there about languages, drinking mate, and where to buy the best, and cheapest, thermoses in town.  And now we’re in a lovely corner café that gave me a little dish of chocolates with my tea and has, from what I hear from Tyler, great sandwiches.  Today we continue to laze about; maybe we’ll walk to the lake at the end of town; maybe we’ll play with the kittens instead, but it sounds like Tyler has bought ingredients for a great pasta dinner with fresh veggies, and that it’s his turn to use the internet and put his thoughts on the blog.

Our next stop is going to be El Chaltén, in southern Patagonia.  Apparently it’s the hardest place on earth to get to, which is why we have to go back to Bariloche first in hopes of better bus connections.  We’re facing either three transfers our taking a trip on the historic (and also, unpaved) Ruta 40 down through a tourist agency.  Either way, it should be interesting, and totally worth it, as El Chaltén is supposed to have amazing views of the Fitz Roy mountain range, and we’ll get to see, and walk on, the Perito Moreno glacier.  Also, southern Patagonia inspired a lot of the images in The Little Prince, which Tyler is currently reading in Spanish, so I can’t wait!  Let’s just hope that all the complicated bus connections/accommodation reserving (or lack thereof) work out, as we’re in the height of the busy summer season here!

Sorry to ramble so long about our travels, but I’ve put it off for far too long, and want to get our stories down so we can remember them and share them with our friends and family.  Hope everyone is doing well.  I’m off for now…

Sharon

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