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Archive for November, 2009

Lake…BIG Lake!

Bariloche. The Switzerland of Argentina, located in what is known as the Lakes District.  This was definitely one of my favorite cities we’ve hit so far.  This small mountain town is located right on Lake Nahuel Haupi, near many trekking areas and other ski resorts.  The lake is massive and one of the prettiest shades of blue I’ve ever seen. 

Lake Nahuel Huapi

 
We stayed at Bariloche Hostel which is known for their roof top deck and great views of the lake.  It was like a little bed and breakfast! So clean and neatly decorated.  We felt right at home.  Also, our friend Marianne from Norway that we met in Mendoza was meeting us there the day we arrived so we all got settled in and cooked dinner at the hostel.  I decided that it was high time for me to go out dancing and Marianne was happy to join me.  We grabbed a couple of boys from the hostel and we headed to a local bar called Dusk for some drinks and were totally surprised that there was no cover charge and they actually played decent music, not just techno like all the other clubs we had been to.  We had a blast!  Of course, we stayed up too late and didn’t quite get up when we were supposed to.  Sorry Kim. But it was worth it!  I’m pretty proud of myself for limiting my social outtings these days.  But hell, if I’m going out…I’m doing it right!
 

Before

After

Obviously we had a lazy day the next day, walked around town, checked out the main plaza, and discoved some of the biggest chocolate shops ever! We had heard that Bariloche was known for all of its delicious chocolate, but we were amazed.  Chocolate shops as big as a grocery store! We were very happy:)  We had another chill night drinking beers at the hostel. 
 
The following day, the weather was not so great.  It was raining a bit and really cloudy, but, we headed out anyway to hike through Llao Llao National Park.  Of course, our views were limited but we still saw some amazing scenery.  We decided to save the Cerro Campanario viewpoint for the following day in hopes of better weather.  It’s supposed to be one of the most incredible views in the world. 

On the trail in Llao Llao National Park

 

Kodak moment on our hike

Sure enough, it was worth the wait!  The weather was much better so we took the bus to the viewpoint and did the super steep, but fairly short 45 min. hike up to the top.  And everyone was right, it was breathtaking.  A 360 degree view of lakes, mountains, all of the surrounding towns…check it out.  However,  the pictures don’t to it any justice…
 
We spent some time up there, had some hot chocolate and our picnic lunch before we made our way back down and headed back to the hostel for a nap.  Life these days is pretty rough…ha! To celebrate our last night with Marianne, we went and had dinner at another wonderful parilla.  This time, a spread of lamb, chicken, sirloin, flank steak and ribs.  Um….yeah.  Of course a couple bottles of wine as well. 
 
We spent the rest of the evening at the hostel with a little more wine, laughing and watching you tube videos.  We had to share all of the Andy Samberg/Lonely Island videos with our new foreign friends.  They loved it! And I’m sorry, they never get old.  “I’m on a boat!!!”
 
Our last day in Bariloche, we hung at the hostel and played poker with some new commers from NYC before our 36 hour bus ride to El Chalten.  We had to say goodbye to Marianne, but we will be meeting up with her in Australia yet again! She is moving there to do a semester of med school, and just happens to be arriving in Sydney the same day we are.  So great how things work out sometimes!  Kim and I loved it here and definitely think its a must see if you are in Argentina.  Now on to El Chalten for trekking! Fitz Roy here we come!
Also, just a note that our flickr page hasn’t been updated very well…the internet in Patagonia is not the greatest, but we hope to get caught up in the next few days.
 
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Penguins! Whales!

Puerto Madryn, located on the east coast in the Patagonia region, was not on our original itinerary for Argentina. However, when we learned of all of the wildlife we could see here, plus the fact that it is prime whale-watching season, we decided to make a very long detour (24-hour bus ride) to walk among penguins, see elephant seals and hopefully spot some whales.

Our first outing was a day trip to Peninsula Valdes. This national park is HUGE and is home to penguins, whales, seals, guanacos (basically, llamas), rheas (like an ostrich), armadillos, and other creatures. We drove around the park and checked out some of the elephant seals lounging on the beach, saw some Magellan penguins from afar and finally, arrived at the port to wait for our boat. June through December, Southern Right Whales mate, give birth, and the mothers are with their calves so we had high hopes of seeing them in their natural habitat.

On Peninsula Valdes

Elephant Seal

Standing on the shore, we knew we would not be disappointed, as we could see whales jumping and spraying out in the ocean from the beach! I could hardly wait to get on that boat and see them up close. Once we were out into the water, the real show began. We could see whales popping up all around us, spraying and showing off their tails.  At one point, we had four or five whales about 10 feet from our boat (I think one or two even swam under it) and we saw a mother and calf together.  It was truly an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. I’ve done some whale watching in the past and seen a couple from afar, but nothing compared to what we saw in Peninsula Valdes.

Whale tail! This was right next to our boat.

Up Close

Showing off

The next morning, we took a drive to Punta Tumbo, the largest Magellan penguin colony on the continent. I hate birds, but penguins are cute and therefore okay in my book. In this park, you can actually walk among the penguins, which is pretty fricken cool. There are boundary markers that you cannot cross, but the penguins walk anywhere they please, including on the trail with you. This time of year, all of the mother penguins are in nests with their eggs and we were told that if we were lucky, we may be able to see a baby penguin. Fingers crossed!

We spent around an hour and a half wandering through the penguin colony, giggling at how they waddled, peaking at their eggs, watching them swim, and even witnessed two penguins getting it on. It was so crazy to be standing mere inches away from these birds. Although they are cute little things, you don’t want to touch them or get too close, because they will peck your eyes out.  Not kidding.

Cute

Don't get too close!

On the beach

Finally, on our way out, we saw a guy crouched down, peaking into a nest and snapping photo after photo. We moved closer to get a look at what he was photographing and we saw it…a baby chick! The mother would raise up every now and then to reveal the fuzzy little guy and let him squirm and chirp for a bit.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Can you see the baby chick? Look closely...

Kelly took a couple of videos of the penguins walking around and swimming if you want to check them out on our Flickr page…see the ‘photos’ tab for the link!

We spent our last day in Puerto Madryn strolling along the beach pier and getting tipsy with our new friend Sarah from Belgium before we had to catch a bus to the ‘Swiss’ mountain town of Bariloche. Was Puerto Madryn worth a 24-hour detour and the money we lost out on with the bus ticket fiasco? Absolutely!

Puerto Madryn from the pier

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Red Red Wine

Mendoza.  Wine country!  With the friendly people, tree-shaded streets, lovely plazas, huge park, and tons of vineyards 20 minutes away, Kim and I could totally live here.  There are over 1,200 wineries in the Mendoza region, all specializing in Malbec.  We were in heaven!

After our 23 hour bus ride, we arrived in Mendoza on November 1st and checked in to our hostel, The Oasis.  This was another family-run, smaller hostel that offered amazing, cheap asados (BBQ’s) every other night with, hallelujah, unlimited wine!!!  Gaspar, the owner’s son, was not only our grill master, but a fantastic source of information for anything we wanted to do around town.  Not to mention, his English was perfect.  Yay for Kim!

Gaspar

Gaspar the Grill Master

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Dinner at the Oasis

We took the first day to get settled in and then headed to El Parque General San Martin.  Along the way, we had lunch with May and checked out the main Plaza Independencia.  The park was the biggest park we’d ever seen. Izzy would have loved it!!!  Tons of trails, open green areas, and a really nice lake equipped with a backdrop of the mountains.  It reminded us a little of Town Lake because there were tons of runners and a few rowers getting their workout on.  We even stumbled upon an awesome outdoor group aerobics class!  Ha!  It took a lot for us to not join in.  It was great hearing all the Spanish commands and super loud techno music.  Awww, we miss you Gold’s Gym!

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One of the trails in San Martin Park

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May and me in the park

The following day, Gaspar hooked us up with Mr. Hugo, a old man that rents out bikes to get to and from of all the vineyards.  What a fantastic day!  One of my favorite of the trip so far.  How can you beat riding around on a beautiful day, surrounded by vineyards and ice-capped mountains, with a group of fellow travelers??  We stopped at 3 wineries and toured the facilities, tasted a few types of their wine, had lunch and shared a few bottles with our new friends.  And to top off that amazing day, after the wineries close at 5pm, we headed back to Mr. Hugo’s for unlimited free wine!!  He and his wife literally just keep filling up your cup the minute you turn your head. Around 8:30 pm, Mr. Hugo personally escorts the entire group of 50 people to the bus and hugs and kisses them goodbye.   Awesome. 

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Cruisin' through the vineyards

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Our biker gang at one of the wineries

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Wine Tasting!

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Classy

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Us at Mr. Hugo's, where the wine flows like water

We spent the next day recovering and chilling at the hostel with our new friends.  The following day, we signed up for an all day trek in the mountains of Vallecitos.  We headed out around 8:30am, took a 2 hour drive into the mountains, and started my first trekking experience!  Kim did Machu Picchu in Peru a few years ago so this wasn’t her first rodeo;).  

It was 3 hours straight up for 3000 feet, that’s right….straight up.  No switchbacks for you experienced trekkers.  Luckily our guide, Rodrigo, walked extremely slow and kept the group on the same pace.  Oh, and we had a couple from Israel in their seventies in our group!  It was so inspiring to see them still keeping up at that age.  That’s going to be us.  For sure. 

It was 2 hours back down, which actually seemed a bit harder due to the pressure on the knees, but still amazing. E very time it gets a little tough, you just look around and it’s all worth it.  Check out these pictures…

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My first trek!

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Us on the mountain

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On the way down

The following day, we rested our sore legs and butts, hung around and went to the park again for some frisbee action. We were supposed to leave the following day for Puerto Madryn for whale watching and penguins!!! However, we had a mishap with the bus company, Andesmar, and ended up letting our bus leave right in front of us. They failed to tell us that the bus’s final destination was a completely different city and it would say that city on the bus and not Puerto Madryn. They wouldn’t allow us to change our tickets, so we had to buy new tickets for the following day and are out $200. Screw them. If any of you plan to travel in Argentina, try to avoid Andesmar at all costs. On a side note, I was pretty impressed on how efficient I was at bitching people out in Spanish. Go me!

We headed back to the hostel and luckily they had two beds left for us to stay an extra night.   We also lucked out because they were having another BBQ that evening!  It was one of the best we had. Great company, some English and Norwegian drinking games, tons of wine….see, things do happen for a reason. Marianne and Carl, we’ll see you in Bariloche.  Mark, James and Dicken, we’ll see you in Manchester, Lisi and William in Austria and Doug from Canada will be in Hong Kong when we go!  Traveling is the best….now on to Puerto Mardryn! 

 

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One of the ‘must sees’ for us on this trip was a visit to Iguazu Falls, a series waterfalls over 200 feet high that cascade over an ancient lava flow. There was no way we were coming to Argentina and not checking this out.

After a 18 hour bus ride, we arrived in the small town of Puerto Iguazu and got settled in our hostel, Residencial Uno. The owners, Dian and Balleria, have five big dogs that ruled the place, so we got to get our ‘cute dog’ fix during our three days there. Our first night the owners hosted an asado (an Argentinean bbq where they cook the whole cow) and Kelly and I tried some of the intestines and the kidney. Kelly loved the taste, but I could take or leave it.

Dog

There were five of these dogs. So cute!

Our first day at the falls was action packed. The park has two circuits, an upper and a lower. The upper circuit allows for a bird’s eye view, while the lower lets you actually walk around and into the falls. We immediately went to see the main attraction, ‘La Garganta del Diablo’ (The Devil’s Throat) upon entering the park. Whoa. There are no words to describe this thing and the pictures do not even begin to do it justice. The sheer amount of water pouring over the edge was mind boggling.

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The Devil's Throat. The cloudy stuff at the bottom of the photo is actually mist spraying up from the waterfall.

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So much water

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Incredible

After about 30 minutes or so of staring in awe at the throat, we headed off to catch our speed boat that took us up the river, over rapids and into the falls. We took some fast turns into the falls and got completely soaked. It was a blast! The boat dropped us off on the lower circuit and we were able to check out the falls from the ground level, and again, got sopping wet.

Boat Ride

Us on the boat

Falls from the boat

On our way to the falls...view from the boat

Us on the lower circuit

Us on the lower circuit

Upper Circuit

Upper circuit. Can you see the rainbow? They were everywhere.

We made our rounds on the upper circuit and returned to the park the next day to hike the Macuco trail, a more remote hike that leads to a secluded waterfall. After a couple of hours basking in the sun, picnicking, and taking pictures of all of the butterflies, we said goodbye to Iguazu Falls.

Butterfly

Pretty

There are also some short videos of the falls and many more photos on our flickr page, which is under our photos tab.  Check em out!

Our goal was then to get to Mendoza, the main wine region of Argentina. We spent one night in the university town of Cordoba on our way there and made a new friend, May from Baltimore, that ended up tagging along with us. Fun days ahead…

 

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