Category Archives: Argentina

Tour de Argentina

To survive extended travel one must develop a rhythm and balance.  Moving constantly becomes tiring and staying in one place too long becomes boring, so one finds a balance between the two. Looking back over the last 9 months, we’ve tended to alternate between extended stays in one city (usually 3-4 weeks) and long bursts of “rapid fire” travel where it’s 2 or 3 nights in one destination and then on to the next.  Wanderlust must be balanced with the comfort of home, even if “home” is a comfortable South American apartment rented by the week.

After nearly 4 weeks in Buenos Aires, we started a tour of Argentina that took us all the way from chilly southern Patagonia to the northwest tip of the country, about 4,000 kilometers in total, traversed entirely via bus.  Destinations included El Calafate, El Chalten, Bariloche, Mendoza, and Salta.  As has become the custom after bursts of rapid fire travel, I’ll devote a few paragraphs and photos to each location even though one could easily write a blog post on each.

El Calafate

We arrived there via plane, which was a blissfully easy way to travel compared to the numerous 12+ hour bus rides that took us back north.  El Calafate is located in southern Patagonia, not far from Antarctica, and has the cold climate to prove it.  It’s a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and the surrounding mountains offer some of the best hiking, trekking, rock climbing, and ice climbing in the world.  The town is small and the weather is harsh, but the clean Patagonian air and snow-capped mountain vistas make it all worthwhile.

Patagonian lake and mountains close to El Calafate

The main tourist attraction in El Calafate is the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that is not receding.  It’s a breathtaking sight to behold, especially as every few minutes a large chunk of ice breaks off the glacier and into the water with a thunderous roar.  A local tour company even offers ice trekking on the glacier itself, which we did one sunny afternoon.  Hiking on a massive glacier with crampons strapped to our boots was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The best part of the trek was at the end, when our guides handed us glasses of whiskey poured over freshly chipped glacial ice.

The Perito Moreno glacier

Freezing cold but it was worth it for the view

El Chalten

From El Calafate it was off to El Chalten, a much smaller town (if you can imagine) at the edge of the Patagonian wilderness.  It has one main road, two ATM”s, and no cell phone service. The town is only 20 years old and subsists entirely on tourism, serving as a base camp for day hikes and overnight treks through the Los Glaciares National Park.

We timed our arrival to Chalten poorly, in late March at the very end of the summer tourist season.  We literally checked out of our hostel on the last day before it closed for winter.  There is a good reason that Chalten closes at the end of March — the weather becomes quite harsh.  Even bundled up it was too cold and windy for long treks, but we still managed to fit in a few day hikes to the surrounding snow-capped mountains and waterfalls.  The fresh air and beautiful scenery justified our chilly toes.

Lauren standing in front of her reward for walking an hour though the cold and rain

A postcard-like view of the Patagonian mountains

It was every bit as cold as it looks

Bariloche

Patagonia is roughly divided into two parts, the cold and mountainous southern region and the temperate, lake-covered northern region.  Bariloche is in the latter, an evergreen and scenic resort town with excellent skiing in the winter and equally great biking and hiking in the summer.  It reminded me a lot of Vail, Colorado.

We took advantage of our great weather there to go mountain biking, paragliding, and just strolling through the picturesque town.

A typical view of Bariloche's hills, trees and lakes

Cable car up to the town's highest viewpoint

Lauren coming in for a landing after her first (and only) paragliding flight

Mendoza

Our next stop was Mendoza, which is famous Argentinean wine country.   If you’ve ever tasted an Argentinean malbec it probably came from Mendoza.  If you haven’t tasted an Argentinean malbec then you’re missing out!

Mendoza was a great place to visit, although it pales in comparison to Napa Valley in the US in terms of scenery. The landscape is flat and the city much more industrial than Napa or Sonoma.  That said, the surrounding area is beautiful and offers lots of outdoor adventure sports such as whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and rock climbing.  We enjoyed our few days there and drank lots of delicious and inexpensive malbec.

Some over-sized bottles of malbec in Bodegas López, the largest winery in Argentina

Rock-climbing close to Mendoza

Lauren drinking "mate," the ubiquitous tea-like obsession of Argentina, after her climb

Salta

The final stop on our “Tour de Argentina” was Salta in the rugged northwest of the country.  Salta is situated in the Argentinian equivalent to the American wild west, with lots of horses, cattle and Arizona-like landscapes.  It’s beautiful and untamed country with many natural wonders.

I went horseback riding one day with Enrique and his staff at Sayta Cabalgatas and it was an excellent experience.  We also went on a day-trip to Cafayate, a quant town about 180km from Salta.  Although the town itself was nice, the drive there through Argentina’s magnificent canyon country was half the fun.

The breathtaking canyon country between Salta and Cafayate

First-person perspective from the saddle of my horse, Paisano

Lauren standing in a huge natural rock amphitheater close to Cafayate

Well folks, that concludes our one-month tour of vast Argentina.  I’m writing you today from Medellin, Colombia, after an extended and fast-paced trek through Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.  But that’s for another blog post.  Besos y abrazos!

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Leaving the warmth of Brazil’s beaches and people was no easy feat, but as they say in theater… the show must go on. Next on the travel itinerary was the vast country of Argentina, beginning in its cosmopolitan capital of Buenos Aires.

Though Argentina and Brazil share a continent, a border, and (somewhat) similar languages, they couldn’t be more different culturally and economically. Brazil has the feel of a country on the rise, with deep social problems yet explosive economic progress and an uninhibited joie de vivre. In Argentina, on the other hand, the dominant vibe is cultural sophistication mixed with a nostalgia for better days. It is a country that has risen, fallen hard, and has cautious optimism to rise again.

The porteños, or people of Buenos Aires, look and act more European than stereotypical South American. Their blood is mostly Spanish, German and Italian, and they speak with a very distinctive Spanish accent as if to elevate themselves above their South American neighbors. They carry themselves with a confidence bordering on arrogance, and often come across as distant and unfriendly until you get to know them. That said, they’re not bad people, they just take a bit longer to open up. If there’s anything I’ve learned from traveling over 40 countries around the world, it’s that cultures and communication styles are different, but at their core all people are equally warm.

Aesthetically, Buenos Aires (or BsAs as it’s commonly abbreviated here) doesn’t look like any other South American city that I’ve seen. It has European-style boulevards, architecture, and cafes that are more reminiscent of Paris than Sao Paulo. In fact, a Parisian friend with whom we recently shared dinner said that it reminds him of home. There is also world-class shopping in BsAs, at least for foreigners with hard currency. The Argentinian peso has been very weak ever since it was unpegged to the US dollar in 2001, which triggered a major economic crisis here. For Americans, Europeans, and even Brazilians these days, it’s a relatively cheap country to travel and shop.

Street corner in Recoleta, a posh BsAs neighborhood

View of the city from our 35th floor apartment

We stayed in Buenos Aires for three full weeks, enjoying the food, the shopping, and all the creature comforts that a big city has to offer. Coming straight from the rugged Amazon, for me it was a very pleasant reprise. We don’t have much to show for it other than some new designer clothes and photos from our graffiti tour (BsAs is famous for its street art) but it was a much-needed rest stop on a long traveling journey. Our days were mostly filled with strolls around town and through the park, soaking up the sun and ubiquitous high-speed wifi access. I finally got caught up with my P90X workouts and ate enough inexpensive and delicious Argentinian steak to disgust most mortals.

Buenos Aires street art

One of my many bites of Argentinian grass-fed beef

We did get some culture in as well, such as a tango show at Cafe Tortoni (Argentina’s oldest and most revered cafe), a visit to the Recoleta cemetery for the obligatory visit to Evita’s grave (and we watched the movie “Evita” to get some historical context), a visit to the Casa Rosada where Evita and her husband Juan Perón addressed adoring fans, a stroll through the famous Caminito in La Boca, and the accidental attendance of a huge parade to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the end of Argentina’s military dictatorship.

Tango singers at Cafe Tortoni

The famous Caminito in the La Boca neighborhood

Political parade near the Casa Rosada to celebrate 35 year of post-dictatorship democracy

We now understand why Buenos Aires is so popular amongst American tourists. It’s cosmopolitan, sophisticated, safe, and even feels a bit like home.

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The best jacket for woman-kind

So some of you may think it’s strange that I want to write a blog post about my jacket, but I believe it’s the best jacket in the entire world.  When you pack for one year of travel in a carry-on size bag, it is very important to choose the best pieces of clothing which are extremely functional.  I have that one jacket!  When I was home for a 2 day layover in November before heading to South America, I went to REI to buy a new jacket.  My requirements were that it had to have a hood and pack down extremely flat.  The sweatshirt I had in Europe was just a bit too bulky.  I knew that it would get cold at night in Peru and I needed an extra layer between my clothes and my shell (rain jacket).  I found the most amazing jacket by Salomon!!! I just recently realized what an incredible piece of clothing it was on my hike today.  The past week, we have been in Patagonia, Argentina where we have been wearing every layer of warm clothes that are in our bags.

Why this jacket rocks….

  1. Thumb holes with extra fabric that covers your knuckles and palms
  2. Fold-out mittens
  3. Little zipper pocket in the front that holds my iPhone and cash/credit cards
  4. Big zipper pocket on the back of the jacket where I keep my journal and a pen when I’m out for the day
  5. Cute purple color
  6. Ventilated arm-pits
  7. And the last reason which I discovered today…a hole in the hood for my ponytail

Built-in mittens!

You girls will understand the problem I have when I put a hood on my head I’m not sure what to do with my hair.  Do I stuff it down in the back?  Do I pull it out to the side?  Well, with this hood, there is a hole in the back to pull my ponytail out!!! I thought it was just for ventilation and it may still be intended for that, but the fact that it’s the perfect height for my ponytail to just fit right out the back is ingenious. I got so excited when I figured this out on my way back from my hike that I decided there needed to be a blog post dedicated to my jacket.

Much needed jacket on the islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru

Thanks for reading 😉

Just to catch you all up, I met Jared in Buenos Aires on March 3rd and we spent 3 weeks exploring the city.  Jared is currently working on a new blog post about BsAs.  From BsAs, we flew south to El Calafate in Patagonia and spent a few days there where we visited the Moreno Glacier.  From El Calafate, we took a 3 hour bus to El Chalten and spent 4 days there.  Currently, we are on a 2 day bus trip heading north to warmer weather and Bariloche, Argentina which is the beautiful lake region.

 

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