Monthly Archives: July 2008

Skiing, hiking, and exploring in Patagonia

 

My trip to Bariloche was amazing.  The town itself has a very touristy feel and the whole place tries to sell itself as the “Switzerland” of Argentina.  They tout homemade chocolates, Swiss fondue, and there were even St. Bernards.  Beyond this though, Bariloche was an awesome place to visit just because of the beautiful scenery.  The beauty there is breathtaking and waking up everyday to such scenery was well worth it.   I went with one of the guys that Jess knew from her study abroad program.  During the trip to Colonia I mentioned that I would be interested in seeing southern Argentina, but that I couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to go.  Greg, said he would also be interested in making the trip and would even teach me how to ski.  Since I felt much safer traveling with a guy; I took him up on the offer.  As luck would have it we were very good travel partners.  We have a similar disposition (for example, Greg was happy as long as we were both quietly reading on the bus!) For those of you wondering; this travel partnership was purely platonic, since Greg has a very serious girlfriend back in Wisconsin.  In fact we spent every night just chilling in the hostel so that he could chat with her online. 

Monday:

I learned how to ski!  Unfortunately, the region hadn’t had much snow so only a very small part of the Cero Catedral was open to skiers.   This also meant that all of the easy runs, located at the bottom of the hill, were closed!  So, I had to get on the ski lift having never even tried out a bunny hill.  At that point, I was thinking that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Luckily, all of that time I spent in ice-skates when I was younger paid dividends here.  I didn’t fall when I got off the ski-lift.  I might have looked a little less than graceful, but I did just fine.  I did spend a large part of the morning on my bum, but by the afternoon I was definitely getting the hang of things.  Once, I started to get over the fear that someone was going to run into me (the whole place was pretty crowded) I had a really good time.  Also, the views from the mountain were spectacular.  At one point we just took off our skis and sat at the top of the mountain staring off into the distance, when an Argentine condor decided to grace us with its presence. 

Tuesday:

I was a little sore from skiing, but really overall, not too bad.  We rented a car and drove to el Bolsón, a little town about two hours south of Bariloche.  The town is nestled in between some pretty tall peaks and boasts quite the artisan’s fair as well as a beautiful national park just to the south of town.  Just driving there was an adventure in itself.  We had to stop about every ten minutes or so and take pictures.  Once we finally reached the town; we walked through the fair.  Afterwards we continued on to the lakeside national park, where we ate our sack lunches and listened to the waves roll in.  Later we drove back to Bariloche and had another surprise waiting for us.  Before, we could return the car we had to fill the tank, but we couldn’t find the right type of gasoline.  It turns out that the whole town had missed their daily shipment.  We ended up taking the car back without gas; and they drove us to a place outside of town where they knew we could find the right type of gas. 

Wednesday:

We went on a boat tour that took us to various points within the national park including isla Victoria.  There we went on a guided nature hike and then spent the rest of the day exploring the island on our own.  The weather was horrible and it rained heavily during our tour.  We were cold and damp and ready for the boat ride back by early afternoon.  Despite the bad weather the scenery was once again beyond words. 

Thursday:

We took the morning off and slept in.  After a late breakfast we took a bus to the edge of town and took a ski lift up to cero Campanario.  The view from hear was absolutely breath taking.  It was probably the best thing we did all week.  To continue the lazy day we headed back to the hostel and read all afternoon.   For supper we finally went out and had the fondue; which lived up to all of the hype.

Friday:

For our last full day we went on a hiking excursion that lead us back into the national park.  We rode in a van down a very windy gravel road for about an hour.  Then we hiked for about an hour to a beautiful waterfall.  (Cascada los cesares) Afterwards, we hiked back to the van and continued on to spot were we ate sacked lunches and played some Frisbee with the Brits that were also part of the tour group.  After lunch we drove a little bit further and hiked to the black glacier.  The hike was a little treacherous since the snow was packed down and in places was covered by some ice.  Nevertheless, we all made it to the glacier safely.  The glacier is black because it moves so fast that it picks up the dirt as it goes.  The mountain (cero Tronador) has 8 glaciers.  While we were close by we heard a large noise that sounded like thunder.  Our guide explained that the ice had broken on the other side of the mountain.   (Tronador means thunderer)  The hike back was even more treacherous than the hike to the glacier.  Most of us slipped or fell at some point.  I lost my footing going up a steep incline and slid backwards on my stomach for about 10 feet.  Somehow I managed to scratch my stomach on a rock. (I would’ve thought that skiing was the most dangerous thing that I did, but it turn out that hiking was the more dangerous activity this time around!)  I was a little sore on Saturday from the fall, but it wasn’t anything too terribly overwhelming. 

Overall the trip was breathtaking; the pictures cannot do this place justice. 

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Off to Bariloche

THe last week flew by.  I spent the majority of my time in class and studying.  However, the weather was gorgeous so every other spare moment was spent outside enjoying the nice weather.  It was Jessi´s last week in Buenos Aires so we went to a lot of the tourity destinations we had yet to see.  We also cooked supper one night for our host family.  We wanted to make something really American that you normally wouldn´t find in Argentina.  We settled on an American breakfast and made scrambled eggs, pancakes, and bacon.  I would have never decided to cook if it wouldn´t have been for Jessi, but she really wanted to so I said I would be her helper.  We asked how  you would describe this person in Spanish and the answer was surprising… Juanita.  There is a popular cooking show here and Juanita is the assistant.  So add Juanita to my growing list of nick names.  

Although I had been struggling in my Spanish class, this week it all sort of came together.  It isn´t that I put in a whole lot of extra effort, but all of sudden everything sort of made sense.  I can tell that I´ve really improved significantly in just the last couple of weeks.  All the extra confidence paid off as my second final exam went well, and I managed to get a 9 in this class as well!  (The grading system is based on numbers instead of letters, but this would translate back as an ¨A¨)  

Yesterday, I had to say farwell to Jessi and start the last leg of my trip here.  Fortunately, I have a week off of class!!!  For the week of I am going to Bariloche.  This is a ski resort town in the South of Argentina, close to the border with Chile.  This is the place where all of the young Argentinians go after graduating for high school.  It is also THE place to ski in South America.   I will be in Bariloche for a week….so don´t worry if I don´t post for awhile!

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Time Flies When You’re Having Fun…

So I’ve realized that it has been awhile since you’ve heard from me!  The good thing is that you haven’t missed much.  I’ve spent a lot of time the last week just studying and getting caught up with my school work.  My class is pretty hard, but I’ve been learning a lot so no harm done.   After I got back from Cordoba I had to go to class right away.  That Tuesday was a long day, but fortunately Wednesday was the July 9th independence holiday and thus I did get an extra day off.  Unfortunately, Argentineans would rather spend the day relaxing as opposed to making a spectacle and so there really wasn’t anything extra going on in Buenos Aires; although one Argentine from the provinces told me that they have fireworks there.  We spent the day at the zoo; we were not the only ones who thought this was a good idea because the place was packed.  It was a really interesting day.  I really enjoyed seeing some of the South American animals that you wouldn’t see in your typical American zoo.  Also, the zoo was designed in a way that allowed you to be a lot closer to the animals than you would be in the states.  Thursday and Friday it was back to class for two more days.  On Friday afternoon, Jess and I ventured to a mall to wander around.  This particular mall is the biggest one in Buenos Aires and it has a carnival on the third floor. 

On Saturday it was off to Colonia, Uruguay.  I needed to make this one day trip at some point so that I comply with immigration law!  The problem is that I don’t have a student visa, nor do I really need one. However, that means that I need to leave the country at least once in order to legally remain here as a tourist.  I can stay in the country as a tourist for 90 days.  My trip is 95 days.  Going to Uruguay gives me a fresh 90 days.  Colonia is a small, historic city that lives on tourism.  To get there we took a ferry from Buenos Aires.  The ferry was really nice; but the ride was pretty long (3 hours each way.) While we were in Colonia, we took a city tour, had a big lunch, and rented a golf cart.  We used the golf cart to drive around a see the rest of the city.  It was a lot of fun.  Not only that the weather was beautiful.  It was a long day, but also a very fun day. 

On Sunday, I finally made it to Boca and el Caminito.  This is the area of town that has the vibrantly painted houses that you see in the picture every time you read my blog.  It is a dangerous part of town since a shanty town is located very close by.  The block that is el Caminito, however, is a tourist trap and within that zone you are perfectly safe.   We ate lunch at a sidewalk café and watched an impromptu tango show that also included a folk dance.  The weather was absolutely beautiful again and we spent the whole day walking outside enjoying it. 

The last few days the weather has remained absolutely beautiful.  Every day has been about 70 degrees with plenty of sunshine.  Although, I’ve been spending lots of time studying in and in class I have been able to spend some time outside enjoying the nice weather as well.  It isn’t supposed to last very long so I have to enjoy it while I can! 

My time here is slipping by so fast… I feel like I just landed here yesterday but in fact it has been almost two months! 

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¿Querés volar hoy? Do you want to fly today?

On Monday we woke up and checked out of the hostel and waited for news concerning the hang gliding outlook for the day.  While we were eating breakfast, Pablo, the guy in charge of the hang gliding, called the hostel and asked to speak to me.  This made me really nervous because talking on the phone in Spanish is always an adventure.  I do pretty good face to face but sometimes the accents over the phone are just too much.  I was especially nervous because sometimes people from the country are impossible to understand in person!  Luckily, Pablo was easy enough to understand.  His first question was do you want to fly today.  What a question!  Of course, I want to fly today!!!   The outlook was good, so Jess and I left the hostel to catch a bus to the mountains.  We made it to the bus station and bought a ticket to the small town La Cumbre for $5 a piece.  The bus ride lasted two hours and led us past some excellent scenery.  We arrived in La Cumbre a little bit after 2:00 and waited and had some lunch at a little café next to the bus station.  Finally, a whole bunch of people showed up in trucks to take us up into the mountains.  We drove for about 10 minutes up and down some really crazy gravel roads.  There where several spots along the way where I thought geez, “this could be South Dakota” There were even no hunting signs!  Finally, we arrived at a point where we could see other hang gliders and the truck stopped.  We got out and walked to the “take off point”   I was a little nervous but seeing all the other hang gliders floating around peacefully sort of like hot air balloons was a soothing sight.  One of the instructors strapped me into this backpack that had a seat of sorts and a backup parachute.   I got a really fast paced lesson in how to run and jump.  (As if it wasn’t obvious)  Luckily for me, I was with the guy in charge so I got to watch everybody else go first.  He also had the biggest parachute. (That can’t hurt anything right?)  Finally it was my turn, and I ran and jumped!!!!  The whole flight was awesome and for the most part tranquil.  We were even joined in flight by a couple of Argentine condors! There was only one scary part of the whole flight.  There were about 2 seconds when I thought, “Oh geez we are going to run into the cliff.”  As soon as I had the thought we turned and headed in another direction, but a strong gust of wind blew us back even faster.  At this point we were so close to the cliff that I thought we were goners.  All of sudden the guy pulled a cord and we went into a very brief free fall.  During the fall we turned sharply and were heading in a safe direction again.  After about 20 minutes we landed in a pasture not too far from our starting point.  We had to wait for somebody to come find us

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Cordoba

So on Friday I set off for our amazing weekend in Cordoba.  Our bus didn’t leave until around 10:00 at night, but I was determined not to take a nap because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the bus otherwise.  I did sleep o.k. on the bus, but for some reason this bus service didn’t include a blanket or a pillow which was really awful; because it was chilly.  I had the small blanket I had brought but it wasn’t enough.  We arrived in Cordoba at about 7:40 in the morning and headed towards our hostel. We checked in showered, had breakfast, and thought we were ready to go hang gliding.  However,  we had the schedule wrong and while we were waiting to hear if the weather was nice enough to go hang gliding someone from the ranch we were visiting showed up to pick us up.  So, we left to go spend our day on the ‘estancia.’  We rode in this really beat up old car covered in graffiti to the ranch.  There we went horseback riding for about 3 and ½ hours with a pretty large group.  I was a lot more comfortable on the horse this time around, which was good because the riding was a lot more intense.  I think at one point when we were going up a hill we actually hit a full gallop for about 2 seconds.   I wouldn’t have wanted it to last any longer than that, but at the time it was an adrenaline rush!   After horseback riding we enjoyed a huge Argentine asado that put any Fourth of July BBQ to shame.  Following the asado we took a cab back to the hostel.  After a relaxing nap Jess and I got ready to hit the town to see what it was like at night and to maybe have a drink outside in the gorgeous weather.  It felt like a summer night in South Dakota.  We walked about 30 blocks total and saw most of the sites in the city by accident.  This is a fun way to explore because you never know what is around the next corner and you don’t really have expectations that won’t be met.  The city has many beautiful plazas and several long pedestrian streets that made the walk very pleasant.  We came back to the hostel early and were asleep by 2:00.  On Saturday we thought we were going to be going hang gliding but found out at about 11:00 that the weather just wasn’t going to permit it.  We were disappointed but decided to spend the day seeing the sights within the city.  On our way out of the hostel we met up with two other American girls and went with them for lunch.  In true Argentine style we spent about 3 hours at the café drinking coffee and chatting.  The first two hours we were there by our choice; the last hour we spent waiting for the bill.  We didn’t complain because it was another beautiful day and we were sitting outside.   We spent the rest of the day wandering the city and hanging out in some of the beautiful plazas.  That night we headed out to an all-you-can-eat restaurant that was quite the experience.  The place was huge and hade a river running down the middle complete with a waterfall.  The food was also really good; and we all ate more than we should have.  After supper we headed back to the hostel and kicked back on a coach and chatted with some of the porteñas who were also visiting Cordoba for the weekend.   The city has a really laid back and relaxed feel so the whole day was very relaxing. 

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Happy Independence Day!

So I’ll admit that I’m missing home just a little bit today; given that you guys all had the day off and I was in class!  Also, I found out that they don’t do really do anything to celebrate their independence day here which falls on the  9th of July.   Nonetheless, I hope you all enjoy the fireworks and your time by the lake.  This weekend I am off on another weekend excursion.  This time the plans include hang gliding and some more horse back riding.  Cordoba here I come!

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Ice-Cream and Bowling

Monday:

Today it was back to class and the daily grind (if you could even call it that here!)  The class stretched on for what seemed like forever, but we where finally talking about something that I seem to somewhat understand and for once I was picking it up faster than the other students in the class.  After class I waited for Jessi in the library and worked on some homework.  Then we headed back towards the house to try and attempt to run some errands.  I wanted to go to the post office to mail postcards (I know you are all waiting for them) However, the line was out the door and onto the sidewalk, so maybe tomorrow.  We also went to a representative of the bus company that has an office on the corner to buy bus tickets for this weekend.  We are going to go to Cordoba, which should be amazing.  This was awesome because we didn’t have to go all the way to the Retiro bus station and talk to a million different people just to buy tickets.  I wish we would have known about this guy earlier!  The travel agent was impressed with my Spanish and we ended up having quite a lengthy chat about Argentine and U.S. politics.  At one point while running errands we stopped and had ice-cream at Persica.  We where enjoying our ice-cream when a couple of kids stopped to ask us for change.  Unfortunately, I really needed the only change I had left in my pocket to ride the bus back, so I couldn’t give it to them.  They then proceeded to ask for what was left of my cone!  I didn’t understand what they were asking at first; and then when we finally figured it out I was really surprised and shocked to the point that I didn’t know what to say.  The kids looked fairly well dressed and fed so I’m not sure if they were legitimately homeless or just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the foreigners and have a good laugh at us.  Either way the whole situation was pretty bizarre.  When I arrived back home I had a very pleasant surprise: I FINALLY GOT MY DEBIT CARD!!!  Yeah, for no longer having to pay extra fees to withdraw cash! 

Tuesday: 

Today I didn’t really do anything besides go to class, nap, and do my homework.  However, that was because I needed to have all of it done before family night!  This time we went bowling.  We played two games and it was really fun.  I won the second game with a score of 110…not bad for me!  Maria and Luciano were hilarious and of course there was plenty of Quilmes and peanuts for anybody who was interested.  

Wednesday:

On Wednesday after class we went to a MALBA a modern art museum that has free admission every Wednesday.  Some of the art was really interesting but in general I don’t get modern art.  So, we spent about two hours wondering around, but the museum is actually really small so this was about all that we needed.   After the museum visit I returned home to tackle some of my never ending homework and to squeeze in a short nap before dinner. 

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