Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ushuaia--El Fin Del Mundo

Something i forgot to mention in the previous post: the drive down from Esquel to El Calafate (the place with the glacier) was wild. not mountanous or through forests, just long, straight, flat roads. in every direction around us it was purely flat. not even hills for much of it. if you think of looking over the ocean, and that flat horizon line, a line so flat that it is almost only ever created by the ocean, i saw that kind of horizon line on land. there were no hills, no plants, no trees, no buildings...nothing. for hours. very strange.

alright, to continue where i left off, a 7 day sailing trip around cape horn was $2500, so i think ill pass. i didnt accomplish much in ushuaia, which was kind of my goal. ive been moving pretty fast lately--2 nights here, 3 days there--and i was looking for a break. i went for a hike with a semi-insane, anemic looking american girl who was on vacation after studying in BA for a few months. the idea was to hike up to a glacier, which was really just some ice and snow on some rocks. a bit disappointing. my birthday was pretty good. i started celebrating the night before (after midnight though, so it was my birthday) with a guy from boston who vacationed in wellfleet for 20 years, a wierd, very drunk guy from brazil, and 2 argentine women, who were nice. although they ordered a round of tequila shots and i had to do two since it was my birthday. although apart from a glass of wine that was the only drinking i did that night. the next day (the 26th) involved a lot of sleeping and taking a walk with an italian woman who lived in switzerland. that night was fun. 4 brazilian guys made a bunch of food and fed us and i stayed up a bit with time drinking some beers and playing jenga, and trying to understand portugese. i met an aussie girl and watched and laughed at the brazilians who set up jenga but had twice as many pieces as they needed, so they just made a really tall tower and the game was over much more quickly.

I left a couple days later, happy with my stay. i met some really cool, fairly ridiculous people, and left that hostel with more new email addresses than ive taken from one hostel in a while. i made it to puerto natales, where i was planning on paying substantially less than retail for a 4 day voyage aboard a ship headed north. heres the story: the ship leaves tonight at 9 and there are plenty of spaces left. the retail price for a bunk is $510. im not about to pay that much. i came by their office at 10 today and offered $250. the woman laughed. i expained that i wanted to give her money, and that the company she works for does want my money. shes not going to make $510, and if she doesnt take my $250, she wont make anything at all. if there is one thing ive learned about people of argentina, and i guess chile, too, its that they dont like to take money. she wouldnt accept my offer. so i bought a bus ticket to leave this worthless town tonight, but im going to go back at 7:30, an half hour before the office closes and see if they have reconsidered. $250 or nothing. you think it would be an easy choice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ruta 40

After spending a good couple nights going out with my friends from my exchange, it was time to move on. i knew my british friends would be in calafate (my next destination) the next day, and my bus was to due there the same day, perfect. i was just a bit shocked when the got off the bus for a breather as i was waiting to get on! we ended up on the same bus for the remainder of the 18 hour trip. there was also a very annoying american who grew up in an amish town in pennsylvania who took everything too seriously. when we got to El Calafate, a town known only for the massive glacier that lies 60 kilometers away, i tried to check into the same hostel as my friends, but it was filled up, even the couch upstairs has somebody on it. so i got a room in a place just a hundred yards away that had a bed and hot shower, which was ill i was looking for. i spent more time at the other hostel (the one i wasnt sleeping at) than i did at mine, and the staff adopted me friend and i was always welcome there. calafate is probably the most expensive town i have been to in south america, which means we were cooking. steaks. we had great food for a fraction of the price and i now have some more receipes to add to my mental cookbook...

the next day natasha and i took the bus out to the glacier. natasha´s friends rachel wanted to hike on the ice itself, which was out of my price range, so she left earlier than us. let me just say, this piece of ice is massive. we took a boat ride on the lake that it help to create and got really close, watching enormous chunks of ice fall off the face of the glacier, less than 100 yards away. we then headed to the cafe for our packed lunch, and then proceeded to the various obsersevation decks. sitting in the sun watching this piece of ice was somehow captivating, and at the slightest sound we would jump up hoping to see another piece of ice calving from the face. we managed to see it happen quite a few more times, in awe as the suprisingly blue ice would, with a resounding CRAAACK, BOOOOM, of huge tree falling, slip into the lake below. of course i forgot my camera, so pictures will have to wait until natasha emails the pictures to me.

they left the next evening on a flight to Buenos Aires and i got on my 3 am bus to Ushuaia. my friend chris from queensland happened to sit down next to me on the bus. what luck. we changed buses in a town called rio gallegos and then headed toward the end of the world. the road crosses into chile, which sees itself as an equal in quarentine conditions to new zealand, so everybody was made to get off, open their bags, fill out delcaration forms, get passports stamped, and then get back on the bus so we could move on. that happened leaving argetina, entering chile, leaving chile again, and re-entering argentina. we also had to have the bus loaded onto a boat to get across a channel, so technically, im on an island right now. the road to Ushuaia is for the most part Ruta 40, and the chileans dont maintain it, since there is nothing this far south in chile worth seeing. so the going was slow--about 29 km/h--on a think gravelly road, for much of the time before re-entering argentina. lovely.

but we made it to ushuaia, i got to the hostel and already met a nice aussie woman who is headed to antartica tomorrow. how i envy her. if it wasnt $2500 for the 11 day trip down there, i might just consider it. it occured to me that my birthday is 2 days away, and the only plans i might have would be to take a 2 or 3 day sailing trip around cape horn, that could be fun. off not to investigate prices.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Irony: 5) an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

Alright, first of all, we went to what is considered by Travel and Liesure Magazine as the seventh best restuarant in the world. it was pretty fun. i had a sandwich before we left, but the taxi took us to a big plain looking building with a gate and a security gurad. he came up and check that we were on the list and we were allowed to walk though. then he walkie-talkied to someone inside, and the large steel door was opened for us. it looked like a imagine a club in miami might. as we walked past the bar area, which was stalked with every kind of expensive liquer you can imagine, there was a perfectly maintained grass courtyard on the right, with candle lit tables and a big Argentine style barbeque and clay oven at the back. we stat inside, in cushy chair at tables that were set correctly, a rarity in south america. service was immaculate, water was poured, the wine man recommended a reasonably priced bottle of a local malbec, which i normally dont like, but this one was pretty good. i just got an appetizer, but my grilled squids were very good. the steak and lamb that the guys i was with was also very good, some of the best ive had. only english was spoken in the whole place, and every local we asked about it had never been. we left satisfied and with money still in our pockets.

The next day we wanted to go for a hike. so we had a taxi drop us off at the base of a big hill that was recomended to us to climb by some guys at an outdoors store. it was a bit disconcerting, however, to be dropped off in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, and then have the cabbie speed off laughing at us. we pondered our situation and our lack of water and the fact that it was supposed to hit 98 degrees that day. fortunatly we found some paragliders and they sold us some water and told us where to go. there were times during our trek that shall i say it...we thought we might die. not really, but this area is a bit dangerous and there were "no trespassing" signs everywhere. but we ran into a old man who was about to run up the slope we were going to walk up, and he said it was fine, he did it all the time. it was wicked hot, but when we summited an hour and a half later we had delcious salami and cheese and avacado sandwichs to eat. we watched some people go paragliding off the top, and then headed back down. upon reaching the road at the bottom we again asked ourselves, "what the hell do we do now?" forutnatly the same paragliders called us a taxi, and we were back at the hostel in 15 minutes.

next morning we met a canadian girl who wanted to go zip lining. it wasnt expensive, so we all got signed up and once again headed into the middle of nowhere, this time knowing what we were getting ourselves into. the zip lining was very cool. you have a harness and you get attached to a cable and push off and cruise from one side to the other. the last two lines were over a massive river and we got some pretty good speed going across. once we got back to mendoza, it was time for adam and ian to go to BA, and for me to head to bariloche. a sad time in my trip, they´re good guys, and im sure ill see them again at some point.

i skipped bariloche for now, and im now in esquel, my exchange town. its a bit strange being back. i met up with some of my friends last night for a couple games of pool, and received some fairly comical news. apparently, Flor, my younger x-host sister may or may not be in italy on exchange, and Belen, my older x-host sister is studying in cordoba (where i was a week ago, remember?). well, since shes studying there, my x-host family went as well, or so im told. so now that i am in esquel, almost 2 years after being here last time, my family isnt here, and they are where i was a week ago. so im staying in a hostel now, not sure what to do. i am still trying to get to the bottom of the world by my birthday, and i think i can make that happen. just a week short of 19 and im still the youngest person ive met who is actually traveling down here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wine wine everywhere, and every drop to drink

Alright, its been a while since ive posted. since i left buenos aires i headed up to iguazu and stayed at an overpriced hostel that wasnt that nice. i arrived in the morning and thought i would explore a little bit. so i hoped a bus to brazil and walked around Foz do IguaƧu for a bit, then walked across the bridge to paraguay for a cheap lunch. the paraguayan border town is known for its contraband, mostly knock off electronics like camcorders and stereos and people walk around with flyers for their store that sells all this cheap knock off stuff. but there is good local food right by the border. as i was walking on the bridge between paraguay and brazil i saw some guys with ropes sitting by a hole in the wire fence. a few seconds later, 3 guys come running down the bridge from paraguay, each carrying a massive brown box full of something. incredibly quickly they lowered all three boxes down from the bridge to their friends on the brazil side. nobody seemed to be stopping them, but im pretty sure i witnessed some serious smuggling. back on the brazilian side i got a bit lost (of course) and asked directions in spanish, and got an answer in spanish. i found the massive super market i was looking for, found my peanut butter (which doesnt exist in argentina, as far as i can tell), and as i tried to pay for it the woman just rattled off fast portugese. i didnt understand a word, its such a ridiculous langauge. anyway, as i walked away with my purchase, instead of saying, "have a nice day" or "thanks for coming" she just said "be careful." that much i did understand, we were in brazil.

the first night i was there i met a tiny french candadian girl who was headed to the Iguazu falls the next day with an aussie guy, so i thought id go along with them. we had and early start and were on the bus to iguazu by a little after 8. we got off the bus and it felt like we were going into an amusment park. they had a big entrance like you find at disneyworld or something like that, with various maps of the park inside, and people speaking all different languages taking pictures everywhere. we got in and took the mini train to the head of the first trail. the falls we saw there were pretty cool. they werent that high, but there were so many of them it was crazy. we continued along the various paths and saw amazing views of massive waterfalls, took a small boat to an island in the river, got more great views, then headed by train towards the "devil´s throat". its insane, i dont even know how to describe it, but a few women (not men, dont ask me why) kill themselves here every year. ill try to get pictures up soon. this whole area was far more amazing than even niagra i think.

i met some americans and candadians that night, and we all took a bus to cordoba the next day. cordoba wasnt impressive. its just another city if all you do is stay in the city, and thats all we did. had some decent food, then had some aweful food at an all you can eat place, and ended with a pretty big night out. cordoba is a college town, and has some of the best clubs in the country, but its january, and every college student is on vacation or home or not in cordoba, so we ended up at a club surrounded by 15 to 17 year old girls, who had not intention of dancing with us old north americans. the guys im with are 25 and 27 and the canadian girls were 24. we were also with a crazy but cool dutch guy and some german girl who came too. next day was stictly recovery, and that night we parted ways, the candadians going to BA, the two americans and i headed to mendoza.

mendoza is cool. the first day we trekked through this massive park just outside the city, summited "mt. pablo" (a term we coined, dont ask me why) and had some good steak. yesterday we took a bus out to a random lake because the hot springs were closed (damn sundays) and ended up at a place with no beach, no shade, and a whole lot of locals that didnt know what some crazy gringos were doing there. we tried hitchhiking back, but not many people pick up 5 white guys in the middle of nowhere, and if they do, we probably dont want to go with them. today was the best day. we rented some bikes and cruised the wineries. i think we tried 5 different wineries´ wines, and took tours of 3. we also saw an olive oil plant, and had delicous liquour and chocolate before getting the bus back. there is supposedly the 7th best restuarant in the world here in mendoza, and thats were my rich investment banking friends want to go, so i think ill eat beforehand, and just go for an appetizer or a beer or something. i cant afford to pay $40 for one meal, even if it is that good. ok, that was kind of the quick and dirty unfortunatly, but know that all is well. i think on wednesday ill try hitchhiking down to bariloche, let me know i if you think that will pan out, nobody here does.

Friday, January 2, 2009


For starters, hope no one was offended by my last title. its a very positive expression, name, term--what have you-- about the greatness of this city. i saw it on a shirt a few weeks ago, im still trying to find the store that sells them...

its quite hilarious acutally, after all that trouble with the hostel, i finally got ahold of my friend hugo, who i met alomst 2 years ago in an electronic club in patagonia, and how now lives in buenos aires, and he told me to get my stuff and stay with him. the prospect of not having to pay $80 for 5 nights in a large dorm room was delightful, and soon i dropped my bags on the mattress (which was on the floor) in the bedroom. for all intensive purposes, hugo is a bachelor. technically, he lives with is two guy friends how are now out of town. the one bedroom looks as it would if three 22 year old guys were living in it. the bunk bed in the bedroom was broken, so only the bottom bed had slats to support a mattress, so the other mattress was tossed on the floor, sans sheets and a pillow. the bottom mattress was covered in plastic bags filled with clothes fresh back from the cleaners (thank goddness). other (presumably dirty) articles of clothing were strewn about everywhere. the living room was simmilar, with two futon couchs facing each other in front of a TV. one of which had a fleece blanket and a pillow on it, and was being used as a bed. plates and glasses were everywhere, and the kitchen sink was filled with dirty dishes that the fruit flies flying around were just delighted with. empty bottles of slightly alcoholic cider were laying on the dirty carpet floor. i vow not to live like that, but i will put up with it--even revel in it, perhaps--for the next few days. i am saving a small travellers fortune by staying here.

hugo had some stuff to buy (suprisingly cleaning agents were on the top of his list) so we headed to the super mareket a few blocks away. we bought more cider, stuff for cleaning, cereal and milk (in a bag, its cheaper that way), and then we bought lunch. it wasnt a deli chicken, it was pieces of a deli chicken individually wrapped in styrofome and plastic wrap. we also bought potatoe squares that were wrapped up the same way. dont ask we what a potatoe square is, i dont know, i just coined that term but i dont know how else to describe these bits of manufactured potatoe. after "lunch" we had some more errands to do, so we ran around town for a couple hours. i dont know what it is about the mentality of people in south america that makes them walk so slowly down the side walk, but it can be semi-infuriating occasionally. hugo apparently likes to rebel against this generalization, by haulling-ass everywhere we go. he´s not tall but something allows him to walk fast enough that i am close to a jog just to keep up. i honestly feel i am a healthier person just for walking around with him for a few hours; i was tired by the end of the day.

apart from the need he feels to get to where he is going, as fast as possible, hugo is fairly tranquilo. he doesnt have much to worry about, and live a simple life. although the first long conversation we had was about conspiracy theroes behind 9/11, religion, and world bankers. hugo believes they are after total social manipulationk, and that 9/11 was an inside job, among many other things. yesterday he took me to this same cyber cafe to show me a 2 hour "documentry" (home made conspiracy film) about the 3 things i just named. it was supposed to blow my mind an open my eyes, although once it ended i found myself merely playing along and agreeing half heartedly with his fanatical ideas.
i have lost track of the days and the date while ive been here, but sometime after the day of potatoe squares it was new years eve. we headed over to his friends house and had an amazing dinner of all kinds of cheese i normally dont get: brie, bleu, and swiss, as well as bread, olives, wine, and tuna. it was very castillion. his friend put on a movie and immdiatly passed out, so we left at midnight and shot off some fireworks and headed to the planeterium, where there was a party last year. the party was winding down a little bit after we got there, so we called it a night. here, since they dont usually go out till far after midnight, the celebrations (apart from a wonderful fireworks display) are somewhat mineute. after about 12:30 its the same as any other night, except that only some clubs are open so the price to get in is about $30. not something i feel obliged to pay in order to bring in the new year.

today is the second. i know that. hugo stayed at his girl friends last night, so i had the apartment to myself, which was nice. after going to bed quite late after reading and playing videogames (something i have not done in 3 months) i was awoken at 9 am by the buzzer from downstairs and a message on my phone saying "open up, im downstairs" from hugo. he only has one set of keys, so we switch off who gets them, and hope the other one isnt left stranded. he had to go to work, and once he left, i went back to the futon and fell asleep. when i awoke again, this time with the intention to have a bowl of ceral and not go back to sleep, i found the floor (and everything on it, my book included) was soaking wet. i jumped up (creating a small spashing sound from where my feet hit the floor), and went to check the bathroom. it had at least 2 inches of water on the floor and half of the rest of the (carpeted) apartment was soaking too. i threw some towels on the flore and called hugo. then i called the super--at hugos request--who came up and ask me in rapid castellaƱo what happened. i struggled to get across the point that i was asleep when whatever did happen happened, and that i didnt have a clue about it. he told me someone would come in an hour. 5 minutes later, with cereal in hand and flip-flops on feet, the phone rang. brilliant. i answered as hugos friend, and managed to figure out it was the water people calling. he asked me a series of questions relating to the issue, most of which could only studder a "i dont know, theres a lot of water on the floor and its coming from the bathroom. half hour later the buzzer rang and i let in the plumber. as he did his work in the bathroom, i couldnt help but to ask myself what this would cost. it ended up being free, and after a 20 minutes or so of work the bathroom was clear of water. every bathroom down here has a drain in the floor, maybe for this purpose. so i squeegeed (its a word according to the merriam-webster website) the water from the carpeted living room and bedroom into the bathroom for it to drain. then i bought 3 rolls of paper towels, which were no help, and only left me with a bag full of soaking wet paper towels and a still-wet floor. so i turned the fan on and headed out, finding my way to this cyber cafe.

the world famous Dakar Rally, held anually (maybe, i dont have any idea though) in africa is not in africa this year. its too dangerous there apparently, so they have a course through argentina and chile, and it starts today or tomorrow. either way, we are going to watch the beginning of it in BA. alright, thats all i have for now, although it was probably far to much for most of you. on sunday im headed to Iguazu falls, and then to the wine country.