Valentine's Day in the Mud

We had heard great things about the Termas Agua Cachueta outside of Mendoza and decided to splurge for Valentine's Day - spending the day in multiple hot springs and covering ourselves with mud.  For some reason part of our package also included a HUGE buffet lunch, where we gorged ourselves so thoroughly we didn't eat until the next day!  It was a very relaxing day pampering ourselves while looking over the beautiful canyons. 

San Augustin del Valle Fertil

With a week before we needed to be in Chile for our flight to Peru, we headed up to a remote town in the north of Argentina. The area wasn’t even in our guidebook and had no major attractions – a nice change of pace for us! 

IMG_9291.JPG

The usual 7 hour bus ride there was made 2 hours longer as the road had been washed away by a lot of rain creating a new river.  A passing bus got stuck trying to forge the river and literally it took everyone pushing the bus and TWO trucks towing the bus, to get it free again.  More lessons under our belt on things not working as planned and being patient!

 

The long trip was worth it though when we arrived to our best hotel yet.  Hotel Rustico is a gem in an otherwise uneventful town and region.  The husband and wife team, Marisa and Mario, have thought of everything in the construction of the hotel and could not have been nicer to us.  Every morning we enjoyed a feast for breakfast by the pool, lingering over homemade bread and delicious coffee.  As there was nothing else to do besides frequent the other 3 restaurants in the town for lunch and dinner, we spent a lot of time by the pool planning our trip to Peru and reading books. 

The only time we moved from the pool was to head to park Ischigualasto to check out some dinosaur remains and wild landscapes.  The only way to get there was to hire a car and driver.  When we arrived at the park, we then joined a caravan of cars as we all wove our way through the park, stopping at each attraction.  The 4 hour tour was all in Spanish, and as we became a bit bored out of our minds we started to hunt for dinosaurs.  Sadly none were to be found.  Pretty much all we took from the tour is that adding minerals, sediments, and water can make some amazing sculptures.  They say it even looks like we were on the moon, so thankfully we can check “moon visit” off our travel list!

Our time in San Augustin came to an end on my birthday when they were experiencing even more rain. We were worried the bus would again be stuck, thus stranding us for the night in a little town with no reservations.  Our hotel hosts came to the rescue, they had to get to the town the same day and offered to take us with them in their 4-wheel drive car.  We were thrilled – they literally saved the day.  So after a breakfast with mimosas off we went, arriving to the city of San Juan with enough time to get on an earlier bus to Mendoza, and we arrived so much earlier we were even able to go out to a delicious dinner at Anna Bistro to celebrate both travel success and my birthday.  It was a fun change of pace and scenery for us!

Here are some photos of the charming hotel and breakfast!

Mendoza

We had quite the pace going the last few months and had been discussing how nice it would be to settle for a bit.  The packing, unpacking, getting settled, and doing it again, and again, and again, was getting tiring.  When we arrived to Mendoza, with two weeks before we needed to be in Santiago, Chile, for our flight to Peru, we just exhaled.  The city is filled with parks, large sidewalks, and of course, lots of wine!  Instead of rushing to explore another city we booked as many nights as we could in our awesome hostal and just settled in.  We even unpacked. 

Within the first day we were at the park with a bottle of wine and our books.  I could hardly read as I just kept smiling, so happy to be able to have the time to read, and just sit, and enjoy.  And we have kept this pace up.  Slowly visiting wine shops and tastings in-between lots of time in the parks, reading and having picnics.  An amazing market with fresh veggies and meats has also meant cooking lots of healthy meals and meeting people over dinner in our hostal.  These nights are some of my favorites traveling - maybe because it reminds me of our life at home, and sharing meals with our family and friends. 

Oh, and with a lot of parks, comes an opportunity for me to run and exercise which I haven't been able to do with any regularity since we left home.  For 5 days in a row now (!!!!!!!!!) I have been running or doing a little circuit of workouts in the beautiful parks.  This makes me so happy!!

San Martin de los Andes

Anneka had heard great things about San Martin de los Andes and her recommendation was enough for us to book it and and join her for a few days.  The town is nearby Bariloche and continues the tradition of European influenced architecture.  Many wealthy from Buenos Aires vacation at San Martin de los Andes and we enjoyed all the people watching!  There were excellent parks throughout the small town and great bakeries and gelato places. 

We spent our full day there hiking in the mountains and swimming off a small beach to a little Island.  We were the only English speakers around and loved finding another little slice of paradise. 

Our first hostel didn't quite work out so we moved to a (gasp) hotel for the night.  All the hostels were booked so we completely enjoyed our time living the high life.  It was crazy to think what this trip would be like if we had a few hundred more dollars a day :)

The next day we explored the town and then boarded another bus for Chile and the town of Pucon. 

Bariloche

We were in Bariloche for a little over 24 hours and enjoyed every minute.  This European inspired city sits on a beautiful lake and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains.  Did I mention they have saint bernard dogs in the main square to take photos with?  Or that there are more chocolate shops than we have Starbucks in Seattle? 

With perfect temperatures we set off to do a chocolate tour through the streets when we arrived.  After having more than our fill we headed to El Boliche de Alberto, a famous steak place for dinner.  We met Anneka, our friend from the Route 40 bus ride, outside the restaurant 30 minutes before it opened to secure ourselves a table. 

The next morning we set off for an incredible hike, so enjoying a simple pace that rewarded us with incredible views.  This is truly a stunning area! 

With this being the high season we had to move on to San Martin de los Andes to get our next reservation.  Bariloche is definitely somewhere we will be returning to!

Kayaking in El Bolson

Arriving in the hippie capitol of El Bolson, we checked into our charming hotel La Casona de Odile.  The hostel is like staying at a friend's cabin - there's delicious food, homemade beers, a fireplace with continuous fires, free yoga classes, and it's not exactly as clean as I'd like it.  Luckily the group of people here have more than made up for the cleanliness and we have loved it here so much that we keep extending our stay. 

One day we went kayaking with Anneka, a new friend from Holland that we met on the busridethatneverended.  We were picked up by Pablo from our hostel and drove up into the mountains to a beautiful lake.  From there they tried to retrofit a kayak for Eric, a bit unsuccessfully as he couldn't feel his legs, but it was nice of them to try.

We kayaked for almost an hour before posting up on the beach and watching Pablo and his father make us a delicious lunch. They cooked over a campfire and made the best meat Eric has eaten, and for me, a delicious squash dish with eggs and way too much cheese! 

We then set off to climb and jump into a pristine waterfall.  Afterwards we enjoyed a snack and some beach time.

When it was time to head back we had to fight 30mph winds without a rudder (removed to help Eric fit better).  It was unsuccessful and we had to be tied up to help us maintain pointed into the wind.  We paddled harder than ever and tried to keep positive as we were soaking wet and fearing flipping.  Thankfully we made it to shore safely, though soaking!

Pablo took us back to his house to check out his garden and then returned us to our hostal.  Luckily we were safe and it was quite an adventure! 

Route 40 - El Calefate to El Bolson

Sadly our time in El Calefate was coming to an end with Thursday being our last full day in town. Eric and I went on a long stroll through the valley and went to an un-impressive waterfall. We were trying to walk as much as possible before our 20 hour bus ride to El Bolson.  We went out for one last dinner with Greg, sharing more vegetarian pizza at the Cerverseria.  It was another fun dinner, talking about growing up and all the trials and tribulations we put our parents through. It was fun hearing more about Greg’s 12 and 10 year old boys and comparing them to my nephews. We were sad to part ways but I hope we will stay in touch with Greg.  He had some excellent recommendations for our trip and as he has seen so much of the world could guide our decisions.  He still contends that Antarctica and the Galapagos are two of the best places he has visited so we are trying to figure out how to add the Galapagos back to our itinerary.  Unfortunately Antarctica is still way too cost prohibitive! 

Friday we set off for the first of two, 10-hour days of travel.  We boarded our bus with seemingly all the smokers that were in El Chalten.  The day passed surprisingly quickly in the barren landscape.  Besides the few wildlife that we saw the only notable views were of the flat, flat landscape and pretty cloud formations.  I guess that’s why this route is so legendary, maybe from the lack of things to see instead of the beautiful mountains we were expecting!  The day ended in a pretty sad little town, Perito Moreno, in a run-down hotel with no windows and a shared dorm room.  We spent a few hours in a bar with the first workable internet in a week and endless beers to congratulate ourselves on a job well done on the bus.  A hotel down the street, Hotel Americano, had a delicious dinner that we tried to stretch out until we could go back to our room to go to sleep.  Sleeping pills were our reward at night before another long day on the bus.

Saturday morning we were back on the road.  More endless landscapes with a bit more variability and vegetation.  I think Eric and I are both starting to realize how big this continent is in comparison to Central America and how much travel time it is going to take to move from place to place.  The roads along Route 40 are also only partially paved which also adds to the length of the journey.  The roads were pretty rough, making it hard to read or do much else and a few rocks that went into the windshield helped with airflow in the cabin.  Needless to say we are so excited to be in El Bolson in an excellent hostel with hiking trails all around.  More to come as we explore this new town.

Laguna Torre

After quite a few drinks the night before, and with a hurt ankle, my partner in crime was a bit slow to get moving on the trails following morning. After deciding his ankle would be better tended to in town I took off on the trails, excited to be back outside after a day inside. I was headed to Laguna Torre which is meant to have spectacular views of one of the glaciers coming off of Fitz Roy, with the other mountains looming in the distance.  The weather was a bit cloudy so I didn’t get the views (or photos) I had been hoping for but so enjoyed some time alone on the trail.  I was able to hike at my own pace and stop when I felt like it.  The water is all safe to drink right from the streams and lake and I enjoyed bottle after bottle of mineral-rich, ice cold water.  I couldn’t stop thinking how nice it was to feel safe the whole time on the trail and met many other hikers that were also solo. 

When I arrived back to the hostel Eric had made another delicious dinner, lentil stew with beef.  We relaxed a bit in our room and played some cribbage before another fun dinner with Greg. 

Here are some photos of my hike with some selfies from the trails.

Rain & Chocolate

Unfavorable weather persisted another day and as we headed off for our hike the next day we couldn’t justify bringing ourselves into such nasty weather when the hostel was so warm and cozy. With non-existent internet in our hostel we spent the day reading, playing cribbage, and cooking. Our hostel had the most utilized kitchen we have yet to see and mouth-watering dishes coming out of the kitchen made us want to try our hand behind the stove. We have yet to cook much beyond simple pastas and sandwiches with the heat of Central America so it was fun to think what we’d like to eat in the cooler climate.  We decided on an elaborate pasta and spent the afternoon shopping for the ingredients and making the sauce.  We knew Greg was going to join us and were waiting to hear from Ruth and Ronin, who were trying to making their way to El Bolson but couldn’t decide whether hitch hiking or a bus reservation was going to be their mode of travel.  Since it’s about a 20 hour trip I was encouraging the safe reliability of the bus but we didn’t know which they’d choose.  We had extra pasta and sauce hoping they’d join us. 

Trying to explore the town, and let’s be honest, get my chocolate fill, we went to the chocolateria that Jehan had recommended.  The seductive scent of chocolate lead us to the correct street and we found the adorable shop.  Some warm cocoa made the bad weather a bit more enjoyable.  The shop had many more treats that I wished we could travel with and bring home to our family and friends! 

Right as we started the pasta water Ruth and Ronin rushed with stories of the day and new plans to take the bus the following day.  I was so relieved and happy to see them!  We met another gal from Colorado and shared another really fun dinner.  Ruth and Ronin have done some amazing traveling and Ruth shared some of her favorite memories and stories of her photography.  Once again we closed the hostel down and I don’t think got to bed until after 1a.  My face hurt from smiling and laughing so much!

Riding horses in Patagonia

After incredible weather we awoke to rain and some serious winds.  Such a change in scenery from the past few days!  We decided to rest our feet and try horseback riding.  Alexis joined and in the car we met our fourth – Greg.  We spent the morning sneaking photos when our guide wasn’t looking (the horses don’t like when you shift your body weight around a lot) and trying to avoid rain drops.  About halfway through the journey we had a pause in an adorable cabin that looks out over the valley and we were told you can also see the mountains, when they are out.  Greg, Eric, and I had our first Yerba Mate experience with Alexis detailing the traditions surrounding this popular drink.  We also learned more and more about Greg, who works for National Geographic.  He ended up in El Chatlen when he couldn’t make it to the island in Antarctica where he was supposed to be doing research.  So with an additional week in his itinerary the came to the mountains to do some hiking.

The sun came out after our snack and we enjoyed riding the horses back to the stables.  Arriving dry and a bit sun-burned we had forgotten all of our early morning rain.  Back in town we shared a few beers to celebrate our horse skills and then the four of us headed back to the Brewery to share some more delicious food.  Alexis introduced us to the vegetarian pizza and from there on out we were hooked, though the others all asked for the addition of jamon crudo.  Alexis and Greg have both traveled extensively and Eric and I loved soaking in their adventures.  As Greg shared more and more we realized how many places he has been working for National Geographic over 20+ years.  We tried not to all ask for a job at once! 

That evening we had a schmorgesbourg dinner with all sorts of random contributions making enough for a meal.  Ruth and Ronin joined us and we shared box wine and stories late into the night.  It was a perfect combination of people where conversation and a multitude of laughs meant we were some of the last up at the hostel.  Alexis was off to catch her bus that evening but we adopted her cheerings tradition of tapping the glass on table before sipping in her honor. 

Laguna de los Tres

After our short warm up hike yesterday we headed out in the morning for an all-day adventure. Our hostal provided rides up the road about a half hour to a trail head leaving from Hotel El Pilar. This allowed us to see more varied landscapes.  We hiked in to Poincenot, a large camping area.  From there we tried up the steep slope to Laguna de los Tres.  We were at the first of the two summits and were hit by the most serious wind I have tried to walk in.  We were both almost blown over trying to see what else was along the trail amid flying sand and rocks.  I was literally worried a rock was going to break my glasses the wind was blowing so hard.  It was a huge bummer but we decided we shouldn’t continue on.  Eric was right that we could have easily been blown over and seriously hurt – it was hard to keep our balance and there were serious rocks in all directions!  I was defeated but had to remind myself it’s more about the trip than the destination. 

We enjoyed the terrain and views as we hiked back to the city.  We stopped to enjoy Lake Capri and soak our sore feet.  The landscapes in Argentina are so vast with any structures outside of El Chatlan hard to find.  We finished the hike and met up with Alexis at our hostel. She told us about a brewery with excellent food and we went to investigate. We enjoyed delicious food and met two of her other friends, Ruth and Ronin.  They had all been hiking together in the Torres del Paine and had some hilarious stories to share.  We were exhausted from our day on the trails and headed home to bed with them still sharing stories at the bar. 

Hiking around El Chalten

After two nights in El Calefate we were ready to set off to El Chalten, a mountain town located 3 hours north by bus.  We got on the nicest bus we have yet to see on our travels – there was a seat for everyone (and then some!) and no chickens!  There was also serious air conditioning!  Needless to say, it was a huge departure from our Central America experiences.  We had heard incredible things about El Chalten and were also excited to meet up with my former coworker from K2, Alexis. 

The town is quite small with around two thousand inhabitants but has everything one would need.  They have an excellent visitor center that has detailed maps and trail descriptions of all the trails in the area.  One could keep themselves busy for over a month here with all the hiking offered!  Everyone we have come across here has serious backpacking gear with them.  They have enough gear for several days in the elements and we have seen every label the outdoor industry produces.  It’s been a bit surreal for me to be down here while those at K2 are getting ready for the trade shows – being in the outdoors with all those that also love to hike has made me miss the industry that promotes this level of exploration! 

The day we arrived Fitz Roy was out in all of it’s glory and we took a short hike for better views of the mountains, lake, and city.  We met a nice Australian who had a lot of advice about other destinations in South America and it was fun to trade notes on where we have been and what we have liked.  Per the usual, many photos were taken! 

Patagonia, Argentina

And finally with our funds and plane tickets purchased we are on our way to El Calefate, Argentina.  This is even further South than Buenos Aires, and we are now only a short flight to the bottom of the world.  The days are long here – the first day we were surprised when the sun started to set around 10:30p.  It was weird to feel tired with the sun so high and bright in the sky!  The views have been stunning and I literally cannot stop taking photos.  Just getting off the plane was the most milky, turquoise lake I have ever seen set in a desert-like setting with towering mountains out in the distance.  We feel so lucky to be here!

We flew into El Calefate which is a bit of a strange city.  It’s a very dry dessert with not very much vegetation but the city sits a few blocks up from an incredible lake.  The air has been dry and cold, quite different from the humid heat of Buenos Aires, and this suites us much more!  The Pierto Moreno glacier is located here and it’s really the only attraction in the town.  Our hostel had an “alternative” tour that allowed us to do a short hike along the lake with the glacier views off in the distance before the typical tourist tour that consists of being dropped off at the boardwalks overlooking the glacier on all sides.  It was fun to do something a bit different than just take a bus to the glacier and back.  We also got to stop at a working farm and play with some sheep.  It was hard to leave Patty, our favorite sheep, behind! 

The glacier was a pretty stunning sight and the infrastructure that they have around the glacier was equally impressive.  We walked along big boardwalks for different views of the glacier.  We had literally every warm item we owned on (a first since we left!) and were glad for the cheap gloves and hat we purchased.  We splurged on a boat tour of the glacier as well and although we wouldn’t recommend it, it was fun to see the glacier from a different angle. 

Here are some of the photos we took.  With both of us armed with cameras we came back to the hostel with hundreds of photos!  It was a very impressive day.

A tourist day in Buenos Aires

In-between the city being closed for New Year's and us trying to track down our blue money funds at Xoom, we haven't felt much like tourists in Buenos Aires.  We also have a sweet apartment that lends itself nicely to cooking our own food and as ground zero for all the research it takes to get to Patagonia!  At any rate, we are in a holding pattern right now as we wait for funds to be available at Xoom and then to be able to book our flight down to El Calafate.  All of this planning takes a lot of time and it has meant more time behind screens and guidebooks than we are used to!  

Yesterday we did as much as we could to get this moving in the right direction and then hit the city.  We went to the famous cemetery in Recoleta, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Museo de Arte Lationamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba).  The temps were down in the 80's and it was sublime.  Here's a summary, with photos, of each location we visited.

Recoleta Cemetery

The wealthiest and most important Argentinians are buried in this cemetery that stretches over four city blocks.  Local and international sculptors have designed more than 6,400 mausoleums with each design different than the next.  One of the most popular tombs is Eva "Evita" Peron, who was buried in a concrete vault some  27 feet down to prevent robbers from stealing her body.  We enjoyed the maze of tombs immensely.  From our Day of the Dead to this experience, it has been really interesting to see what the afterlife looks like in different cultures.  

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

This art museum is located in what used to be the building that pumped the city's water supply, a beautiful building that now houses the world's largest collection of Argentine sculptures and paintings.  We wandered from one room to the next enjoying all of the pieces and opportunities to people watch.  We stick out a bit in our travel clothes in this chic city and being in an art museum only made us feel this more acutely!  No photos from here.

Malba

Our good friend Jehan recommended this museum to us and it turned into one of my most favorite visits to an art museum!  From the traditional design and collection at the Bellas Artes to this was a fun juxtaposition of what art can mean to different people.  This space was huge and airy and holds the collection of a private art collector Eduardo Costantini, a very well off real estate developer.  The modern pieces both surprised and delighted us at every turn and reinvigorated us after a long day of sightseeing.  I would argue this is a must-visit in Buenos Aires!

Click on any of the below to enlarge:

New Year's in Buenos Aires

One of the things we have noticed while here is all of the paper confetti coming from the tops of buildings.  It seems to be pages of the calendar ripped out, maybe they are literally throwing out the old year to get ready for the new year?  We have found these calendar pages all over the city!  We'll have to get clarification from someone as we go as to what the reasoning was!

Our AirBnB host shared that New Years is a largely family celebration in the city and that what parties do occur tend to get a bit out of hand.  After being robbed in Seattle and having an attempted robbery when we arrived here (mustard on the back routine that we walked away from without incident other than needing a shower and clean clothes) we weren't really up for braving crazy crowds and being worried the whole time.  And with our awesome 7th floor deck we decided to buy some delicious food and spend the night drinking bubbly watching the fireworks all over the city.  When midnight came it was hard to pick which direction to look as fireworks lighted up the city skyline.  Buenos Aires also loves their dynamite as there were a lot of explosives around the city as well.  Eric kept joking it seemed like we should see buildings falling as the explosions were so loud!  We finally took a mini sleeping pill to go to sleep and put in our ear plugs.  They really party all night here!  

Today we were happy to see all building still intact but signs of a really good party all over the streets - a lot of empty bottles and some broken glass.  As we didn't really see people on the streets until 4p it seems like people had a good time celebrating!  The streets were literally empty and literally everything closed!

Click on a picture below to enlarge:

Buenos Aires

After a way-too-fast stop in Seattle for the Holidays we are back on the road again!  Our families and friends raised our standards considerably with all the delicious food and drinks at home but luckily flying into Buenos Aires for our first stop in South America has yet to disappoint.  We are staying in our best AirBnB yet, a spacious apartment on the 7th floor with a large deck that has views all over the city.  

Since we have arrived we have been trying to track down Xoom, a money changing service that bridges the black market and official rate, known locally as the blue market.  The official exchange rate is  $1 USD to $5 Argentinean Pesos.  Thus, withdrawing from ATMs or using our credit cards will result in this official rates.  If we go to the black market we can get close to 10 Argentinean Pesos but would also mean using all of our USD.  Thus, we have been trying to find the Xoom office since our arrival.  To use this service we wire money to them and then withdraw at one of their locations at a rate of 8.6 Argentinean Pesos.  The problem is we have had a really hard time finding them and then with the New Year's holiday it has been closed!  The more we read about the Argentinean Pesos the more we realize how much more buying power we'll have using the blue market.  Stay tuned for how it works!  We are really grateful Lynn's friend turned us on to this service!! (See links below if you are really interested.)

Other than trying to track down funds we have been enjoying exploring this city with 13 million inhabitants.  The city is larger than NY, Paris, London, San Fancisco and Geneva.   But, with the holiday it seems that most of the inhabitants have gone to the coast as the city is empty!  With their departure the shops are all closed but it means easy-to-navigate streets and empty subways and sidewalks.  We are curious what will open back up in the next few days but have been enjoying our apartment and kitchen and cooking the food we stocked up on when we arrived.

Here are some photos from our time here so far.  We are hoping to take a tour tomorrow to get some more in-depth knowledge of the city and ideas for the rest of our time here.