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As Kim mentioned before, I had a rough time the first few days of the trek.  However, once I had my ‘Nepali magic shoes’ and my phenomenal 75 song, jammin’ playlist I created on my ipod, things got much better physically and reaching the base camp was one of the best feelings mentally I have ever felt.  Its indescribable.  I am so glad I decided to push through and keep going.  As Powan said, ‘its like a little slice of heaven’ and he wasn’t lying.

Nepali Magic Shoes

Day 8-Bamboo to Jhinu

After our night in Bamboo, we headed out early for another up and downhill trek to Jhinu where the natural hot springs are located.  We were really looking forward to relaxing and giving our sore muscles a little treat.  The walk that day was a little rough, especially with the millions of gigantic steps leading up to Chhomrong.  But with the base camp behind us and the natural high we had from reaching it, the days seemed to get easier and easier. 

Guesthouse in Chomrong

When we made it to Jhinu, we had a deliciously ice cold Fanta ( a rare treat when you are up in the mountains- literally, they chill the drinks by sticking them in a bucket of water outside) and decided that instead of hiking to Ghandruk, another small village 7 hours away, we would take a rest day the following day.  Normally this is the day most people rest, but the option of continuing to Ghandruk is available for those who don’t want to stop.  Kim asked Powan if we would be missing anything by skipping Ghandruk, and he assured us that we wouldn’t, it was ‘just another village’.  Plus, we think he really wanted a rest day as well:) 

Since we knew we didn’t have a tough day ahead, Kim and I relaxed with some cold beers and a few games of Dumbal with Powan and Sabin.  There was also a large group of student volunteers partying it up to celebrate their last day on the trek, so I had a few glasses of whiskey with them and called it a night.

Day 9- Rest day in Jhinu

We woke up bright and early to take advantage of the cooler weather for our short hike down to the hot springs.  We spent the next hour and a half relaxing in the small pools right next to the river surrounded by gorgeous mountains, chatting with the local Tibetan women enjoying a dip before a days work.  It was so nice to just sit and relax and take in everything we had accomplished in the past week.   We headed back to the guesthouse for one of the best breakfasts we’d had the whole trek- homemade french toast and apple pie!  We spent the day reading, napping and playing cards with the guys. 

Relaxin' at the hot springs

Day 10- Jhinu to Landruk

The next morning, we awoke feeling nice and rested and ready for our short 3 hour, mostly downhill hike over to Landruk, one of the larger villages on the trek.  One thing we noticed along the way, is that everyone still does everything manually up in the mountains.  Tilling, planting, watering and harvesting crops, laundry, etc.  The villagers even cut bricks by hand! It’s like you’ve stepped back in time a couple hundred years.  It was crazy.

When we reached the village, I did some yoga in the yard to give my muscles a good stretch while Kim took a little nap.  Again, we had a nice long afternoon to read, play cards and have a few beers with the guides, porters and newcomers to the trail. 

Day 11- Landruk to Dhampus

This was our last long day of the trek.  It was about a 6.5 hour hike with surprisingly a few flat areas.  We hadn’t seen flat ground the entire trek up to this point.  Kim and I took our time and really soaked in the scenery and sense of accomplishment we felt.  It was crazy to stop, turn around and look back at Annapurna South to see how far we’d come.  Again, one of the best highs ever.   As we approached Dhampus, the largest village on the trek, we started to see cars, a local school, and more signs that we were getting back to current civilization.  We hung out that afternoon out on the lawn with beers and our books, while a few others played soccer with the kids from the guesthouse. 

Guides playing games with the local kiddos

We had also heard that the guides wanted chicken for dinner that night and were surprised when one of them literally went and grabbed a chicken wandering around the yard, gave it a few swift blows with a stick and started to prepare to de-feather and clean it on the lawn!    One of guides came around the corner with one of those crazy hook knives and upon seeing the bewildered look on our faces, decided to finish the process behind the building.  It was pretty funny.

To commemorate our final evening on the trek, we planned to have dahl baht one last time, but that we would eat it with Powan and Sabin the traditional Nepali way, with our hands.  The guys were really excited to see us get down and dirty as they do every meal of their lives.  They actually never sat with us at dinner because they said the Nepali way of eating was too ‘rough’ for tourists.  Ha!  Kim chickened out, but we had dinner in the small dinning hall with about 25 people taking pictures of Powan and Sabin and me stuffing our faces with fists full of the local favorite.  It was so much fun!   With a few tips from Powan, I pretty much got it down. 

Me and Powan eating dahl baht the Nepali way

Day 12- Dhampus to Pokhara

Our last day was a short 1.5 hour, super steep, downhill hike into Phedi where we would catch a ride back into Pokhara, the town we left from to start the trek.   This part was a little bittersweet for the both of us.  I was so happy that I finished the trek, but at the same time we were sad that it was over.  Especially Kim.  Our entire trip had been planned around this trek, getting there at the right time for weather and all.  It was one of the things Kim had looked forward to the most.  But again,  we were so proud that we had done such an amazing thing and seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  A place that not too many people get to experience.    This was definitely one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I had ever done and I will never forget it.  I’m so glad Kim exposed me to such a wonderful part of the world.  Thanks Kim:)

Me, Sabin, Kim, and Powan

 

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Trekking in the Annapurna region isn’t exactly roughing it.  You start your day around 6:30 a.m. and have breakfast before hitting the trail around 7 or 8.  Most days you hike 5 or 6 hours, stopping for lunch along the way, although we did have a couple of 7-8 hour days.  Kelly and I chose a ‘teahouse trek’ meaning that you stay in guest lodges located in small mountain villages along the trail.  All of the lodges have restaurants and sell snacks, sodas, water, and beer.  Upon arrival at the chosen lodge, usually around 3 p.m., you have the rest of the afternoon to relax, nap, read, and enjoy the mountain views.  Let me stress that the photos we took in no way do justice to the beauty of this region. 

Day One – Pokhara to Ulheri

Our first day of the hike was supposed to be an easy four hour walk up and down a few hills.  However, Kelly and I had been lying on beaches in Thailand and Laos for the past month and a half, eating greasy pad thai and pounding beers and cocktails.  Not exactly the greatest exercise regime to prepare for hiking twelve days in the Himalayas.  I love trekking (even the difficult parts) and have slightly more experience than Kelly, so although it wasn’t easy, I definitely enjoyed the first day more than she did.  On top of the sudden burst of physical exertion, Kelly’s shoes started pinching her toes on the downhill sections and were causing her some pain.  Powan reassured her that the first day is always tough and day two would be much better.

One thing we noticed while trekking is all of the weed that grows along the trail.  Isn’t it a lovely plant?

We celebrated the end of our first day with a room-temp Everest beer and a dinner of the local dish, dahl-baht.  Powan taught us a Nepalese card game, Dumbal, that we would end up playing pretty much every night of the trek.

Day Two – Ulheri to Ghorepani

Kelly started out the morning in good spirits, but by the end of the five-hour day, her feet were killing her.  Upon the arrival at our lodge, she confessed to me that she wasn’t really cut out for twelve days of trekking and was considering quitting.  At the same time, Kelly was frustrated with herself because she is definitely not a quitter…after a couple of pep-talks from Powan and me, we convinced her to hike the next couple of days until we made it to Chhomrong.  From there she could decide to continue to the base camp with us or chill out for a couple of days until we returned to begin our decent back down to Pokhara.

Day Three – Poon Hill and Ghorepani to Tadapani

We woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m., strapped on our head lamps, and made the steep one-hour climb up to Poon Hill to watch the sunrise (along with 200 other people).  It was cold and it sucked.  Once we arrived at the top though, the view was stunning.  Watching the sun peak out over Annapurna South and Machapuchare was incredible and one of the highlights of the trek, in my opinion.

Machapuchare (Fishtail) Mountain on the left

Sunrise over Annapurna South

 

We walked back down to our lodge, had breakfast, and hit the trail.  The hike was gorgeous…we had clear skies and this time of year, the rhododendrons trees are in full bloom.  We climbed through forests of them before arriving at our lodge in Tadapani.  It was a long day (about 8 hours hiking) and Kelly and I were exhausted. 

Rhododendrons

By this time, we had learned that Powan was not nearly as reserved as we had thought. He turned out to be a pretty hilarious guy and he provided much comic relief along the way.

 Day 4 – Tadapani to Chhomrong

This day was easier than the previous one, but still no walk in the park.  We crossed a river and made our way through a couple of mountain villages before making the steep ascent to Chhomrong.  Kelly’s shoes were hurting her feet so bad, she hiked the majority of the trail in her flip flops.

Cute Nepali kids we met on the way

The view from our lodge in Chhomrong was stunning.  We relaxed, had dinner, some beers, and played a few rounds of Dumbal.  Kelly was still debating on whether she wanted to hang there for a few days or hike to base camp.  Powan gave her a pep talk and told her he would take her by a local store the next morning where she could buy a new pair of shoes…nothing fancy, but hopefully they would fit better and make for a more pleasant hike. Kelly agreed to continue, as long as she could find a decent- fitting pair of shoes.

Chhomrong

Day 5 – Chhomrong to Deurali

We started our day by hitting up the local market to find Kelly some new shoes.  There wasn’t much of a selection, but she managed to find a pair of sneakers for about $7.  They weren’t top of the line hiking boots, but they weren’t flip flops either. 

It was another tough day of climbing with a lot of ups and downs, but Kelly’s Nepali shoes did the trick…no more pain!

 Day 6 – Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp

This was one of our longest days, but my absolute favorite of the entire trek. Finally we were entering the Sanctuary (which has a danger of avalanches during the wet season).  We hiked for five hours though a valley with breathtaking views surrounded by waterfalls, crossed streams, tramped over snow covered ground and made the ascent to Machapuchare Base Camp…we had snow covered mountains all around us.

We had a leisurely lunch and decided to suck it up and hike for two more hours to make our final ascent to the Annapurna Base Camp…I really wanted to be there in the morning for sunrise.  By this time, the air was getting pretty thin, and we could definitely feel the altitude.  We had to stop every 15 minutes are so to rest and catch our breath.

Annapurna Base Camp – 4,130 meters.  We made it!!  Of course, the views of Annapurna South and Machapuchare were beyond words.  We watched the sunset and were in awe to be standing so close to these majestic mountains.

Sunset over Fishtail Mountain

 

The camp was FREEZING.  Kelly and I didn’t bother taking showers, it was way too cold.  We were so tired, we didn’t even have a beer or play Dumbal, but went to bed as soon as it got dark. 

Day 7 – ABC to Bamboo

We awoke the next morning around 5 a.m…a layer of snow and ice covered everything.  Kelly and I climbed up on a ridge to take some photos before the sun appeared over the mountains.  When it finally did peak over, Powan let us know by shouting ‘THE SUN IS COMING!!’.  Pretty funny…one of those ‘had to be there moments’.   Some of our photos from that morning:

Annapurna Base Camp

Us at the top

More ABC views

We made it

After breakfast, we hung out at the camp for an hour or so, watching all the rich people get helicoptered in to the camp.  Lazy asses!  We did get to see one group get helicoptered to the top of one of the mountains and ski down it…pretty fricken cool and VERY expensive. 

It was another long day to Bamboo, but the views were great and we were proud of ourselves for making it in one piece to our destination.

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Nepal…Finally!

Okay, so I know we are slacking on the blog posts. We have a good reason though…Kelly’s friend Seth came for a visit in Turkey and we were just having too much fun to worry about blogging. I have a few days to kill now before Kelly meets up with me in Berlin, so I hope to get reasonably caught up in the next week. 

After a long day of flights, Kelly and I arrived to the craziness that is Kathmandu, Nepal…this city deserves a blog post all its own, which I will save for later. We took a ‘taxi’ (basically an old jalopy from the 70’s that had to be pushed by three Nepalese men in order to start) to our guesthouse, checked in, went for a quick walk around the touristy neighborhood of Thamel, had an early dinner and went to bed. 

The next morning, it was time to get down to business. The main purpose of our visit to Nepal was to do some trekking in the Himalayas and we were anxious to get started while there was still good weather. There are dozens of popular trekking routes in Nepal and after much consideration, we opted for the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, a ten to twelve day hike to the Annapurna Base Camp.

Our first step was to hire a guide. Although the trails are clearly marked and a guide is not required, Kelly and I felt more comfortable having a professional with us and we had read that having a local guide can really enhance your trekking experience. Kumar, a young Nepalese guy that owns his own trekking company, was waiting for us at our guesthouse when we arrived and convinced us to come by his office the next day to discuss pricing.

For around $40 a day per person, we were offered a package the included a guide and porter, our permit fees, transportation to Pokhara (where we would begin our trek), all of our accommodation along the way, three meals a day (except for snacks, sodas, and booze), and the rental of a sleeping bag, down jacket, and trekking poles. I had done some research on guide costs and although we could have gotten a better deal, this price seemed in line with the reputable trekking companies and was within our budget. Before making the booking, however, we wanted to actually meet our guide.

Powan came into the office and introduced himself. At 37 years old, he had been guiding in Nepal for 15 years and had done the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek more times that he could count. We reviewed the trekking schedule day-by-day and he answered a million of my worrisome questions. He obviously had the experience, but seemed a little quiet and reserved. Kelly and I were hoping for someone more outgoing, but whatever…Powan fit the bill fine, and we signed up. Kumar took us out that night for a Nepalese dinner and beers as a ‘thank you’ for our business.

The next morning, Kelly, Powan, our porter Sabin, and I made the 9-hour white knuckle bus ride to Pokhara to spend the night and prepare to begin our trek the following day. We stocked up on granola bars and Diamox (for altitude sickness), went out for pizza and a couple of beers, and had another early night.

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Upon hearing we were headed to Laos, a lot of our friends and family from home asked, ‘Laos?  Why are you going to Laos?  What’s in Laos?’  It seems to be a country that not many Americans know much about.

Wedged between Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos is a small country that during the Vietnam war, the USA dropped over two million tons of bombs over Laos, destroying villages and displacing thousands of citizens.  In addition, a large percentage of the bombs failed to detonate, leaving behind contamination from the unexploded bombs , which has injured or killed thousands of Laotians since the end of the war.

However, despite its grim past and current poverty, Laos is a beautiful country with friendly people…we looked forward to exploring and seeing what it had to offer. 

Crossing the Mekong in a longboat, we arrived at the Thailand/Laos border, had our passports stamped, and began the long and bumpy bus ride to Luang Prabang (there are very few paved roads in this country…it took us nine hours to go around 60 miles).   Along the way, we made friends with Megan, a fellow passenger from Denmark that was travelling for a few months around India and southeast Asia; she would turn out to be our travel buddy through the majority of our time in the country.  We arrived in Luang Prabang around 10:30 p.m., checked into the first reasonably priced guesthouse we could find, and passed out.

Thailand/Laos Border...very official

Our first couple of days we spent making new friends and exploring the town…Luang Prabang is so quaint and charming, it almost makes you want to throw up.   Situated between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, its cobble stone streets are lined with cafes, shops, Buddhist temples, and buildings inspired by French architecture.   There is an extremely slow pace of life here…all the restaurants and bars close up around 11 p.m. and the only late-night action after that is the local bowling alley (it only has 5 lanes…ha!), which of course we had to check out.

At the bowling alley. I bowled a 13.

One day, our group took a trip to the nearby Kouang Si Falls to walk around and do a little swimming.   It had rained the night before, so the pools were a little murky, but still incredibly beautiful.   Kelly and I jumped off one of the falls and Megan did the rope swing.   Fun times.

 

A couple of days later, we booked a one-day trek that involved a hike through the jungle, lunch in a mountain village, and kayaking on the Mekong.   After a month of laying around on beaches, the trek was a bit difficult, not to mention crazy…we were climbing over huge boulders, fallen trees, and walking through leech-infested forest.  We made it to the mountain village where we had lunch at a local’s home.   The poverty in these villages is somewhat shocking…there may be a house or two that have brick or concrete walls, but most are made of bamboo, thatch roofs and some plywood.   You see homes and villages like this all over Laos and it made Kelly and I feel very fortunate to have such cush lives back home.

This is someone's house

Our hosts were very friendly and the food was delicious.   After lunch, we began our kayaking down the Mekong, which made the hard trek worth it…the paddle down was absolutely stunning.

On the Mekong

Cute kid trying to get us to pay him $1 to set a bird free, which of course just flies right back to its cage. Lil' hussler!

On our way back to town, we stopped at Ban Xang Hai, a small village where Lao Lao, the local whiskey is made. A lot of the whiskeys are poured into glass bottles with snakes, scorpions, centipedes…even a fricken bear paw…and are supposed to give you crazy dreams. We tried a few flavors sans insect/animal parts and it was pretty brutal.   It tastes a lot like rocket fuel.

Lao Whiskey

The rest of our evenings in Luang Prabang were spent wandering the nightly street market, cocktails at Hive Bar (along with a Lao village fashion show!), and dinner by the Mekong.

Fashion Show at Hive Bar

One morning I dragged myself out of bed to watch the procession of monks, a tradition where monks collect their alms for the day.  Every morning at 6 a.m. the monks of Luang Prabang walk along the main street, which is lined with local men and women seated on mats.   They place sweet cakes and sticky rice in the monks’ urns…this offering is the monks’ only food for the day.  It is a beautiful custom to witness, despite having to watch a few tourists get right up in the monks’ faces to snap photos, which I found a little disrespectful.

After 5 relaxing days here, Kelly, Megan and I headed to the party town of Vang Vieng to do some tubing and watch an obscene amount of ‘Friends’.

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Into Patagonia

To me, the word ‘Patagonia’ has always conjured images of a far away ancient landscape that was only visited by the most adventurous of travelers and trekkers. Visions of bearded men scaling jagged mountains and massive glaciers would pop into my head and I knew that we had to experience this place, even if we only ended up staring at some pretty mountains.

 It turns out that you don’t have to be a hard core trekker or climber to visit southern Patagonia at all…you just have to like to walk. A lot. 

After a thirty something hour bus ride (2 nights on a bus…ugh), along the mostly unpaved Route 40, we arrived in El Chalten, the ‘trekking capital of South America’. El Chalten is a small mountain town in southern Patagonia, with only about 300 permanent residents. There is absolutely nothing to do in this town but go on hikes, which is why we were pretty bummed that it was raining and snowing when we got there. The weather slightly cleared up later in the afternoon, so Kelly and I were able to do a short two hour hike to a waterfall before heading back to spend the evening at our hostel where we made dinner and played with the resident bulldog, Tango. 

El Chalten

 

Trying to catch some snowflakes on my tongue

Tango

Our second day, the weather was better, but still overcast. Since you can pretty much experience all four seasons in one day here, we decided to try our luck, suck it up and hike to Laguna de Los Tres, which is supposed to be beautiful and have a great view of one of the mountains, Fitz Roy. It was a nice hike, but the further we got into the mountains, the colder it became, and before we knew it, the sky was dumping snow. We had to turn around because it was pretty miserable and we couldn’t see anything. 

The next morning we awoke to blue skies and a handful of clouds. Finally, the weather was looking better! Our goal for the day was to hike to Cerro Torre, another one of the well-known mountain peaks in the area. The staff at our hostel had warned we should only attempt this trail on a ‘shiny day’, since you could not see any views if it was cloudy. We had to take advantage of the clearer skies. 

The hike itself was absolutely stunning, despite the little bit of clouds that obstructed some of our views of the mountain range. Three hours later, we reached Laguna Torre and settled down to have a picnic, hoping that while we were there, the clouds would part and the Cerro Torre would be visible. 

Sure enough, after about 15 minutes, the clouds cleared and we could see the peak!! It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever laid my eyes on and I could not stop taking pictures of it (sorry if you see a million of these on our flickr page), although pictures do not do ANY justice to what we saw. We sat there and stared for another 45 minutes or so, thinking how lucky we were to have had some good weather. 

The hike to Cerro Torre

Cerro Torre

Cerro Torre

On our way back down the trail, the sky cleared completely and we were able to glance back and see the entire panoramic view of the range, including Fitz Roy. We celebrated that evening with a fantastic steak dinner and a couple bottles of vino. 

Steak Dinner...of course!

Our final day in Chalten, there was not a cloud in the sky. The bus to our next destination didn’t leave until 6 p.m., so we decided to try and hike to the first view point of Fitz Roy, once again. We made it there in under two hours, and of course, the view was incredible. I took a million more pictures. Kelly and I had a picnic at the view point before heading back to take a quick shower before catching our bus 3 hours south to Calafate. 

Kelly at the Fitz Roy trailhead

On the hike to Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy

Us at the Fitz Roy View Point

The bus ride out of town was breathtaking, as you could see panoramic views of the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. Needless to say, it was a much different bus ride than when we drove into town. I could have spent at least another week in Chalten…there were so many more hikes and trails that we didn’t have time to do. I hope to make it back there one day to try again and actually camp in the mountains.

 That’s right, Mary and Nicole…I said I would go camping.

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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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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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