A Travellerspoint blog

When Plans Change...

Knee Problems, Planning An Exit Strategy, What I Learned in Argentina, Thwarted By An Orange

sunny 70 °F

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With one-step I was walking, the next, I was limping. I didn’t think much of it, my left knee has bothered me for years, and I figured this to be just another episode. Throughout the week, it has slowly been getting more painful. It began to limit my mobility, to the point where I could barely lift my leg. Enough was enough; it was time to take care of myself.

With my mind made up, I told my farm hosts the bad news. They understood, offering me any assistance I needed. My hosts and I had a hard time communicating with verbal language during my stay. However, the language of hugs spoke loud and clear.

I decided to head back home. This is somewhat tricky, because I don’t have a home. I’m homeless. However, I figured I could call on friends and family to put me up for a bit, while I recovered. There’s nothing like the unconditional safety net of a good family to land in. In family, I am blessed.

My Last Sunset In Bolson
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The mountains around Bolson are incredible. I will be back.

My next task was to organize an exit strategy. My first job was to change my airline ticket. Once I had a fly out date, I knew when I had to be in Buenos Aires. I made the call and found out the only real option I had was to fly out on the 30th, which I opted for.

This left me two days to get to Buenos Aires.

Sometimes my life seems to fall into place without any effort at all on my part. Think of an autumn leaf that finally let go of the branch. It floats easily on the air as it spirals downward to the ground. It's seemingly a short journey. Just before it hits the ground, its trajectory takes it over the river and the colorful leaf lands with a silent plop in the dark waters. It is the beginning of another grand adventure!

The morning of the 28th went something like this.

7:30 My alarm goes off.
8:00 I finally get out of bed.
8:30 I finish packing
8:45 I finish eating breakfast
9:05 I find out bus leaves to Buenos Aires in 25 minutes.
9:10 Farewells given, off to town.
9:30 I limp to a cash machine
9:35 I purchase a ticket
9:40 I’m leaving El Bolson on a bus with the best seat in the house.

Bing, bang, boom. I went from a stationary unknown position, to sitting comfortably on a cama class (sleeper class) bus that was winding northward along the east side of the Andes. I smiled. I love traveling by bus.

I looked out at the mountains, and felt a mix of yearning and acceptance. More than anything, I wanted to explore those mountains. I could barely walk on flat ground, much less steep and rocky mountain trails. I sighed. The mountains will have to wait.

I turned introspective. I had on the right music for proper bus trip musing, and was soon lost in memory. Here are a few things I learned in Argentina.
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There are times when I should keep my mouth shut. I joked with a great Irish couple who I had dinner with a couple of times, “I should’ve had my top teeth glued to my bottom teeth when I turned sixteen.” Seamus understood my plight, and told me he was fluent in “idiot.” He would translate for me when I needed it. I thanked him for his kindness and we all laughed.

The WWOOFING experience was awesome, but next time I would find a farm that spoke English as well as Spanish. I wasn’t ready for total immersion Spanish. There were many times when everyone was laughing, but me. I didn’t understand the joke.

I should never purchase a return ticket before a long trip. Life flows fast and unexpectedly. There is no reason to try to contain it.

Don’t hurt your knee.

Be prepared for the type of travel you want to do. It was killing me not have all of my trusty trekking gear for this trip. I should’ve planned better.

People are the same all over the world. Dogs are the same all over the world.

Don’t worry, things will work out. The proof of this statement was that I was sitting on a bus cruising to Buenos Aires.
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The bus ride was enjoyable and uneventful. I listened to music and lectures by Ram Dass and Alan Watts. I heard several pod casts of This American Life, The Moth, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Radio Lab. I watched the sun arc over us. I dozed off. I wrote in my journal. I watched the landscape change as I crossed from the mountains, to Patagonian scrub, to the Pampas, to the city. I slept. I ate. I only had five hard-boiled eggs for the journey. I grew hungry enough to eat the meals they handed out. Lunch was good. I had mashed potatoes, some sort of beef patty, a sandwich, and jello. Dinner was inedible. It was supposed to be lasagna, but I think they mixed it up with the road kill. No matter, beggars can’t be choosy.
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I arrived at the BA bus station at about 8:30 in the morning. It was a 23-hour bus ride. I’m sure I looked like I had just spent 23 hours on a bus. A trusty cabbie must’ve seen my weariness because he hauled me off to the cab counter before I could decline. I paid for my ride. He led me through the bustling terminal to his car. We drove through northern Buenos Aires and dropped me off at my hostel. Man, that was easy.

I don’t really want to talk about my stay in BA. The hostel was a shit hole. It was probably the biggest shit hole I’ve ever stayed in. What do you expect for twelve bucks a night? I was a bit grumpy from lack of sleep, the shit hole hostel, and the fact I couldn’t explore Buenos Aires like I wanted to. My knee kept me stationary. However, one can’t appreciate the good without going through some shit holes now and then. I still have my health, my humor and my positive attitude. I survived a tough day, and moved on.

After a long day of waiting at the Buenos Aires airport, I boarded the night flight to Houston. It was a ten-hour flight, and I watched “Beverly Hills Cop,” before falling asleep for the rest of the trip. When I awoke, we were a half hour out of Houston.

I only had about an hour to get through customs and security before my next flight would leave. It was going to be close. I stood in line and waited patiently for my turn. There was no point in getting antsy, I would make the flight or I wouldn’t. I had made it through customs, and they asked me if I had any food, and I told them I had an orange. They asked me to go to the x-ray room for more questioning. After more standing in line, I gave them my orange. They let me pass.

After security, I had ten minutes to try to make my flight. I decided to go for it. I started limping as fast as I could down the corridors. I can limp pretty fast when I need to. When I left the transit train, I had four minutes left. Houston passengers will talk for years about the “Blonde Blur” that whizzed by them on New Years eve 2012. I reached my gate. I asked them if I was too late. They said, “You’re too late.”

I would’ve made it had I not mentioned the damn orange.

I smiled. I enjoyed the thrill of the airport chase. Fortunately, I had planned for this contingency. I thought that I might not make the early flight to LA, so I booked my flight from LA to Chicago for 11 pm. This would give me plenty of time to get to LA, without having to rush. My reward for my foresight consisted of an upgrade to a first class on my flight to L.A. four hours later. I love it when a plan comes together.

The only bad part about missing my morning flight was that I missed continuing a conversation I had started with a beautiful woman I had met before I had boarded the plane to Houston. Damn it. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
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So it goes, and so do I. Tomorrow I’ll be among my family once again, and getting ready to take care of my knee.

Posted by Rhombus 17:29 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains buses argentina plans photography airports patagonia philosophy Comments (0)

So Long, Adile. Hello, Los Pinos!

WWOOFING in El Bolson, The Best Hostel In The World, and Life On The Farm

Many moons ago, I was thinking about what I would like to do in Argentina. Not only did I want to see the sights, but I wanted to make my trip more meaningful than sticking to the tourist trail. My first idea, was to take Spanish lessons somewhere in the country. My second, was to try WOOFING, also known as, working on a farm. I joined WOOFING Argentina (www.wwoofargentina.com). I searched through dozens of farms, and created a short list of those farms that appealed to me. My deciding factors consisted of location, type of farming, length of stay, and language. Then I narrowed the short list down to two farms. I wrote them a query letter, and one farm invited me to help them.

The farm I chose is located just inside Chubut province, about four kilometers south of El Bolson. Bolson is a small bohemian farming city situated in a lush green valley between two ranges of mountains. I heard good things about Bolson during my travels. I arrived five days before I joined the farm to explore the valley.

The Best Hostel in the World

La Casona de Odile is the best hostel in South America, if not the world. There are many reasons for this, but my favorite reasons are its location and the sense of community among its visitors and staff.
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The hostel is located five kilometers north of Bolson on a beautiful piece of property the owners have cultivated into a wonderful park. It is a peaceful place.

The park reeked of Zen. The moments flowed past like the trout in the stream that meanders through the garden.
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1. I sat next to the pond and watched tiny droplets of water plop into the surface of the pond.
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2. I slipped through the plants to find diamond droplets of water on the green plants after a rainsquall.
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3. The sun came out and I hunkered in the shade of the brightly lit plant so I could see the veins and cells of plant. It looked like I was looking at the earth from space, but it was only a plant from inches away. Nature has a way of repeating patterns though out its realm.

When I arrived at Odile, I set about unpacking, getting clean, then making dinner. There was a group of eight people laughing, and cooking dinner together in the spacious kitchen. At first, I thought they were all traveling together by the way they interacted. I later learned that all of them were traveling alone, and had met here at Odile. After I had finished my dinner, they invited me to join their group and try the fondue that they were enjoying. The conversation bloomed, and it wasn’t long before I was firmly entrenched within the group.
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We spent five days exploring the valley, laughing, playing cards, slack-lining, cooking, and eating. Food brings people together, and we spent a lot of time together- eating and drinking.
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This is why hostels are great places to stay. It’s a funny thing about hostel traveling. Good people come and go, and with each new person who arrives, the group dynamic changes. It gets a new flavor. It’s great. But at the same time, it’s hard to say goodbye. I hate saying good-bye.

Gone, but not forgotten:
M and Robbie (Ushuaia), Ben, Stephanie, Camille (Chalten), Phillip (Chalten and Calafate).
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Not quite gone, and never forgotten:
Tharien, Sabrina, Shane, Jelena, Sarah, Cristian, the Staff at Odile (Bolson).

So Long, Odile. Hello, Los Pinos
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When I stepped out of the cab, my host greeted me with a warm two-minute barrage of Spanish. My deer in the headlights look must have been awesome. I had just imbedded myself into an Argentine farm run by a family who spoke no English. Ha! Take that, Thom!

I met my workmates, Cristian (from Chile), and Virginie (from France). Cristian quickly became my savior, as he can speak some English. He took me on a tour of the farm, and showed me the basic operation. Let me tell you, this is one beautiful farm.

The name of the farm is Granja Los Pinos. The farm is productive. It is growing raspberries, potatoes, black currants, walnuts, cherries, apples, flowers, and a vegetable garden. There are three dogs, lots of cats (only one of them is a cool cat), sheep, chickens, and several flocks of loud birds. It is located on the foothills of Cerro Piltriquitron, and has a lovely view of the mountains and surrounding valley.

I’ve been on the farm for four days now, and so far, it is as good as I hoped it would be. On weekdays, I work for six hours a day. The morning runs from 9:30 in the morning to 12:30 pm. We’ll take a three-hour break, cooking a large family style meal that we eat together. The conversation flows fast. I sit quietly trying to understand the scope of the conversation. I understand about every seventh word, but I’m hoping to narrow that down to every fourth word by the end of my tenure here. Then we’ll spend the afternoon working from 3 pm to 6 pm.

The work is easy, and we take a very relaxed pace.

The Morality of Nut Cracking
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It has rained every day since I have arrived in Bolson. When it rains, it is our job to crack open dried walnuts and sort the nuts into two piles- good nuts and bad nuts. At first, nut cracking is straightforward. One person cracks the nuts, the other two people sort them. After a couple hundred nuts, I started thinking about the philosophy of nut cracking.

Cristian told me that, “After you crack 10,000 nuts, you will gain enlightenment.“ I told him that, “If you live in the moment, you only have to crack one nut.”

On the third day of nut cracking, the morality of what we were doing entered the conversation. Cristian asked me, “I want to know what this nut did to be bad.” I didn’t have an answer.

After awhile, I realized that we were deciding the fate of these nuts. If they are good nuts, humans eat them. If they are bad nuts, the chickens will eat them. The humans will eat the chickens. I suppose something could eat the human before those poor walnuts return to the earth.
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Who are we to decide if it’s a good nut or a bad one? Am I going nuts?

A Language All His Own

The most difficult part has been overcoming the language barrier. It hasn’t been a problem with the work, Roly will take us to where he wants things done, and tell Cristian what to do. I can tell what he wants done just by the tools we have and the short demonstration we are given. No problem. But, I feel like I’m missing out on getting to know my wonderful hosts. They are warm, engaging, and fun. However, I still don’t know what they are saying.

At lunch one day, Analia asked me, “Who is Odile?” I told her a rambling rendition of taking a bus from Calafate to Rio Gallegos before riding all night to Bolson where I found the Casana de Odile. Her daughter asked the question again in English. To which, I realized my mistake. I’m not trying to be an idiot, it comes naturally.

The other day after my friends and I had eaten, I eloquently asked, “How much cheese, please?” My friends and I were almost on the floor laughing about that one.

Cristian asked me, “What do you call a small ship?”
“A boat.” I replied.
“No, no, no, a small ship. What do you call it?” He said. I offered other words that mean the same thing.
He then rephrased his question, “What kind of ship would you put on a fire, the osada?”
That’s when I realized he was asking about sheep. Argentine’s use the young sheep for their barbeque dinners, and he was asking if we do the same. We both laughed, and I explained the difference between ship and sheep. For fun, I added chip and cheap to the conversation too.

The good news is that I am improving. Cristian has been giving me Spanish lessons throughout the day, and we will talk about it over tea when the day is done. I have a long way to go, but I’m on the right path. Immersing oneself into the Spanish language is not easy.

On Cold Showers and Leisure Time
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On the first day, I took out my slack-line and set it up between two trees. I showed Cristian the basic steps, and he was soon walking the line. Yet another fish hooked. I think Gibbon Slack-lines should pay me a commission for the number of people I have gotten addicted to this sport.
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There is also a great ping-pong table in the workshop. Cristian and I have been playing each other in the evenings. Last Friday night we played ping-pong, drank matte, and listened to Argentine radio for hours. I like Friday nights up on the farm.
On my first night, I went into our small rustic bathroom and turned on the taps to run the shower. The water that came out was only slightly warmer than a glacier waterfall. I figured I had turned the wrong one on. I turned that one off, and twisted the other knob and waited. The water temperature didn’t change. I really wanted a shower. I exhaled, and started working my body under the freezing water. It was a fast shower, but I felt better.

Afterward, I asked Cristian if we have hot water in our cabin. “Ahh. We could, all you have to do is ask for it. I like cold showers; It’s good for the body, no? Everyday it feels colder.”
I laughed, and then I halfway bought into it. I reasoned that there are people in the world that have never had hot water in their lives. Why should I? This would be part of my challenge- cold showers for 3 weeks.

Two days later, I asked to have the hot water turned on.

Farm Photos.
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I will leave you this week of some of my first photos of the farm. Happy holidays from South America!
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Posted by Rhombus 10:13 Archived in Argentina Tagged gardens flowers hostels friends photography farming bolson wwoofing slacklining Comments (0)

The Trails of El Chalten and the Road to Calafate

El Chalten, Los Glaciares Nacional Parque in Pictures, Patagonian Road Thoughts, Friends of Calafate

all seasons in one day 63 °F

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El Chalten was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a small town. I walked everywhere. Everyone walked everywhere. The streets were full of day hikers, trekkers and climbers. There were more hikers in the streets then cars. The buildings were of simple designs- half shanty and half chalet. They were painted bright colors, cozy, but with a ramshackle feel to them. The bistros and café’s were plentiful. They were all plying for the pre/post hike trade. I would attend the latter, exhausted, thirsty and hungry. The hostels poked out of the ground like spring flowers. Some of them are good (Lo De Trivi). Some of them are not so good (Rancho Grande). The grocery had only a few items, but the gents behind the counter were fun.
“Where are you from, man?” He asked.
“The states,” I replied.
“Yeah, which one?” he said.
“Denial.” I said, “It’s near Michigan.”
He laughed, “Yah, I think I’ve been there.”

The dogs roamed through town in packs. These aren’t strays, these are family dogs that run free during the day, and go home at night to sleep it off. They met in open areas, sniffed butts, wrestled, and chased each other around. Dogs love a good social hour.

The hiking was incredible. It’s easy to find the trails of Los Glaciares Nacional Parque from the hostels. Beyond the first ridge, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres dominated the landscape. I spent my days in search of new angles to stare at them for several hours a day.

I offer you the following images as the highlights of my stay in El Chalten.

Chorrillo Del Salto
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I heard the dull roar of the waterfall through the forest. The spray from the falls floated over the viewing area leaving everything with a sheen of water. I walked further downstream to try and find a unique angle for a photograph. I set my tripod up in the river, and spied this bird scratching through the underbrush. It stayed with me for quite awhile, keeping a four foot distance between us, despite my maneuvers to get a clear shot.
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After awhile, I climbed up the side of the cliff to get close to the roar of the water. I took a deep breath of the fresh moist air. It tasted wonderful

My First Llama
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At First I thought this Llama was a stump painted to look like a llama. When it blinked at me, I rejoiced. My first llama!

The Fitz Roy Range
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When I reached Rio Del Salto I hurried down to the edge of the river. I had found my first photo opportunity. Fitz Roy slipped through the clouds with clear blue skies beyond. The clear river gave me the leading line I wanted, and all I had to do was wait for the sun to break through the clouds behind me to brighten up the green shrubs next to the river.

Lago de los Tres
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I like the human perspective of distant hikers in front of the massive mountains.
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Rio de las Vueltas Valley
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On my way back from Lago de los Tres, I saw this light over the Rio de las Vueltas River Valley.

Locro
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Locro is a traditional stew consisting of four different meats, white beans and vegetables. I highly recommend it.

Alpine Flowers at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
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While sitting quietly atop Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, I noticed a small movement on the rocks in front of me. I focused on it, and saw that it was a grasshopper - a mountain grasshopper. I had never seen a grasshopper this high before.

Laguna Torre
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At Laguna de Torres, I sat on the shores of the lake and stared at Cerro Torres for three hours until the tip of the spire cleared of clouds for ten seconds. Sometimes, you have to put in the time to make things happen.

Forest Scene
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I really like this quiet scene. I was walking behind Steph when I stopped to take this photo. She didn't hear me stop, and she went on ahead continuing to talk as if I was still behind her. I laughed.

Horse in the Afternoon
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This horse wanted its picture taken.

Ben
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I have had good luck with room mates here in El Chalten. Every day when I returned from a hike, I would cautiously open my dorm room door to see if I had gained another room mate. One afternoon, Ben was there.

Ben is one of the best people I’ve met on the road. He’s genuine, generous, and genial. He has a knack of being able to approach and talk with anybody on the street. I wish I could do this. He’s a philosopher, who appreciates the quiet moments in life. He was the first person to show me the matte ceremony. This world needs more people like Ben.

Slack-lining at Laguna Capri
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This is the most gorgeous location I’ve ever slack-lined.

Parrots of the Lenga Trees
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I was hiking up a long hill and I stopped to take a rest. I looked into the trees and saw two parrots foraging among the lenga. I slowly unsheathed my camera and took a lot of photos. After awhile, they flew to a branch close to where I was standing. They “kissed”- they bit each other on the beak. Then simultaneously noticed me. They craned their heads to see if I was trouble. Before I could react, one of them dove low and flew inches above my head. “Whu-Wha-Whuh-Whuh.” I grinned wildly, what a moment!

Piedras Blancas
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My favorite hike was to the glacial lake at Laguna de Peidra Blancas. The last quarter mile involved scaling across a moraine of massive house sized boulders. I love this kind of exploration.

Rio Blanco
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I followed Rio Blanco on my way back from the glacier lake at Peidras Blancas. I took this photo just before the clouds covered the sun for the rest of the day.

By night, I ate my fill in town, or made it for myself. I hung out with some of the best people in the world. Paul and Camille (French), Ben (South Korean), Philip (German), Stephanie (United States). We talked about everything. We shared fresh wine, peanuts and stories. We raised our pints to one another in good cheer. It might have been the best days of my life.

If you want my advice, bring your own produce to Chalten. Bring lots of cash, as there is only one cash machine in town. It occasionally runs out of money. Eat at La Senyera. Eat at La Tempura. Stay at Lo de Trivi. Go hiking everyday. Stay for a week.

The Road to Calafate
Philip and I traveled together to El Calafate. We boarded the bus at the small terminal on the outskirts of Chalten. There were only five passengers on the bus. Patagonia stretched before us. We stopped at Rio Leona to take a break. A simple wood chair stood against a wind battered hotel. Fast moving dark gray clouds whistled by above the greenish opaque river. Without a word, we boarded the bus and rolled on.
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Patagonia is everything I hoped it would be. I sat listening to the prose of Ram Dass and choice music selections. I stared out at the wind swept landscape while everyone else dozed. I love this kind of travel.

In El Calafate, I thought the selection of produce in the grocery store was amazing. We chose salami, cheese and rolls. We ate them in the plaza with a coke. We wandered through the town. I looked at the flamingos at the public refuge. I didn’t want to pay to enter. I despise having to pay to visit a park.

Two women stopped next to us in their car and tried to explain to us in Spanish that we could not cross the river on this street. We were going the wrong way. When I finally agreed with them, they drove off. I asked Philip, “How do they know where we are going?”

We drank afternoon beers and went shopping for dinner. The store was hectic. It was busy with shoppers gathering the evening supplies. We found our produce quickly, and headed back to the hostel.
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That evening we prepared penne pasta with sautéed, garlic, onion, tomato, zucchini, and peppers. We topped it with fresh parmesan. It was heavenly. We sipped a Trapiche Merlot, Philip continually filling his tiny cup. We chatted with our housemates. I did the dishes before joining our hostel mates in lounge to talk the night away. We drank all of our beer. It was a great night, perhaps the finest hostel experience one can have.
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Before he left Chalten, Phillip bought a tiny metal cup. He loves this cup. He spent the entire night in Calafate drinking wine and beer out of it.

The next morning I went shopping in the notoriously expensive shops of Calafate. I needed a pair of trousers. By some piece of random luck, Phillip found me the perfect pair of jeans that cost one-third the amount of every other pair in the store. They fit amazing. I had to laugh. I had to come all the way to Patagonia to find a pair of jeans that fit me. What are the odds?

Philip headed back to Buenos Aires, and I’m heading north to El Bolson tomorrow. The bus will be traveling Argentina’s famed Route 40. Imagine spending 25 hours on a bus rolling across the rising steppe of grassy Patagonia. My friend Camille, who I met in Chalten will join me for the journey.
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I can’t wait. I wonder what’s out there?

Posted by Rhombus 15:26 Archived in Argentina Tagged waterfalls mountains birds parks hiking trekking towns argentina photography patagonia Comments (0)

Ushuaia And The Long Road to El Chalten

Returning to Terra Firma, In the Forest, On The Bus, and Patagonian Road Thoughts

semi-overcast 59 °F

It took me a couple of days to get used to Ushuaia. Actually, I should have said it took me a few days to get used to civilization. After four months of ship life, I was a landlubber once again. The transition is hard. I suddenly (and violently) realized that if I wanted to eat, I had to prepare something, or go to a restaurant. It’s a cruel world, sometimes.

I was nervous. This time I was starting in a foreign country, I didn’t know the language, and I was alone. But, I did it. I put one foot in front of the other and I walked off that ship. I haven’t really looked back. Argentina has been too alluring.
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Ushuaia is a bustling city. People have places to go, and a never ended stream of traffic moves along its sidewalks and streets. The city was bigger than it appeared from the ship. The city looks and feels like a larger ski town, with upscale outdoor clothing shops, and very high prices.

Ushuaia reminds me of southeast Alaska. I think its the climate. One can see every type of weather in one hour. The mountains are similar. The forests are similar, but the plants are not all the same. They both have clean mountain streams, and the town is perched at the base of the mountain. I almost felt at home.
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I spent my first day attending to business. I found my hostel. I bought an adaptor for my computer, a small lock, a bus ticket, and food. I managed all of this without speaking many words. I don’t speak Spanish very well. So, while I may be able to ask for directions to the supermarket, I don’t know what they said to me in response. They could have told me it was on Mars, and I would’ve replied, “Yes, thank you.”
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I feel bad about it. I don’t want to be another dumb American who demands English in a Spanish-speaking nation. Therefore, no matter how badly I mutilate their language, I will still try to speak it.

It is always difficult to shop at a grocery store after being on a ship for so long. I never know what to buy, or what I want to eat. I’ll spend the first ten minutes kind of wandering around in a daze. I’ll touch various pieces of produce remembering that somehow French fries come from this earthy brown thing. A mom was pushing her cart around with two kids in tow. The one sitting in the basket looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hola!” I smiled back, and said, “Hola!” Then I repeated the process with her brother. Kids are the same everywhere.

After a good night of sleep, I felt much better. I could do this. I met all my daily requirements, and slept well besides. I decided that the day’s mission was to find a place to slack-line.
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My small city map indicated there was a park six blocks west of my hostel. I found it, and I set up my line between two likeable trees. Whenever I have an audience, I always perform my best tricks. I think I’m trying to show off how fun slack-lining can be. I listened to the usual catcalls, but this time I didn’t understand what they were saying. No matter, I was having fun.

On my last day, I decided to see if I could find a hiking trail. I had two different sets of directions on how to find the trailhead, sandals, my adventure bag, and good weather. I wanted to see how feasible it would be to hike in sandals. I reasoned that people have been using sandals for thousands of years, yet hiking boots are a modern invention. If I could hike in sandals, it would save me the hassle of shopping and the cost of the boots.

I found the trailhead to Cerro del Medio right where they described. I grew confident. I know what to do with an unknown trail that ventures into the mountains. The trail snaked upward through thick woods that covered the foothills. The trail became increasingly muddy. Mud doesn’t pose a problem if you have boots, but it becomes a challenge in sandals. I clung to any patch of higher ground and stepped off into the woods to make my passage. I broke the hiker’s commandment, “Stay on the Trail.” But, it worked.
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Then I took a bad step and sunk up to my ankle in mud. When I pulled my foot out, I discovered my sandal had broken at one of the straps. Sandals were not a good idea. Fortunately, only one strap broke. This meant I could still walk in them, but they were very loose.

I heard rushing water through the trees, and decided to investigate. I wanted to wash my foot off before slogging back down to town. When I neared the stream, I found a long gently sloping waterfall running over a carpet of green moss. It was beautiful. I forgot about my sandal, and pulled out my camera. I spent the next half hour setting up scenes through my camera, and blurring the water into a silky white.
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When I returned to the trail, I turned uphill. I saw no reason to return to town. I felt good. I liked this mountain track. I passed the tree line. I clawed my way up a snowfield onto a rocky side the mountain. I followed the track for another half hour. I wove along moss-covered rocks with beautiful patterns.
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I could see forever. The beagle channel and Ushuaia lay far below. The wind whispered through the rocks, but I’m not sure what it said. The trail went on up to the ridgeline, but I did not. I was satisfied.
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The Long Road to El Chalten
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I walked to the bus station through the early morning gloom of a rainy day. I boarded the bus at 5:00 in the morning. I would not reach my destination until 9:00 the next morning.

Even at that early hour, I was excited. I was heading into the nether regions of Patagonia. All I wanted to do was listen to a good book and stare out the window. I love endless landscapes. I love moving through new country. This was going to be great! Within ten minutes, I fell asleep.

I woke up some time later in the town of Rio Grande. Soon afterward, the road had turned to gravel, and we were slowly bouncing through the mud at a steady clip. The mud flew up and slowly spackled my window into an opaque layer of filth. Light could pass through, but I couldn’t see out of it at all.
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The bus stopped, and the driver told us we had to pass through customs. I didn’t know what he said, but when everyone else left the bus, I followed. I understood when I saw the building. I went through the line. With my passport stamped, I stepped back on the bus.
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A little while later, it stopped again. I didn’t like not being able to see where we were going. Again, we all filed off the bus and I saw we were on the south side of the Straits of Magellan. Aha! I walked on the ferry. It was weird to be crossing another famous waterway. I never imagined I’d ever see the Straits of Magellan. Yet, here I am.

Once I was back on the bus, we passed through customs into Argentina, and Rio Gallegos.

The bus station in Rio Gallegos was dirty, but had plenty of seats. Stray dogs with ratty and matted looking hair wandered in an out of the station trying to get out of the cold. They scratched their fleas, and chewed their fur. They smelled of dank dog sweat, and stale fur. They were a sorry lot.

It’s a five-hour bus ride from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate. I slept through most of it. I remember waking up somewhere out in the middle and trying to see out of the window. From what little I could see, it reminded me of nighttime in North Dakota. Wind whistled through the crack in the window near my head. My eyes were dry and unfocused. I tried to remember my dream. I couldn’t grasp it.

Outside El Calafate, the police checked our passports once again. We motored to the top of the hill to the bus station. The station was mostly empty, the station kiosks closed for the night. There were a handful of passengers waiting for the next bus. I sat down on a wooden park bench. I had six hours to wait. I brushed my teeth. I washed my face. I applied deodorant. This was my shower, El Calafate style.
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When the last bus for the night arrived, it took the rest of the passengers. I was alone. I wondered if I could stay there all night. There were no signs, and I reasoned I wasn’t the first gringo to stay overnight at the bus station. I tried to get comfortable as I could. I sighed. I settled in for the long haul.

I had Chatwin to keep me company. I read his prose and tried to relate. I was getting sleepy. Every half hour or so, and army man would walk around the deserted station. He didn’t look at me, or talk to me, and I didn’t say anything to him. At four thirty, I sprawled on the uncomfortable bench and fell asleep. I woke up an hour later to one of my snores. I would have been embarrassed, but there was only the stoic army man to hear me.

I huddled by the heater for the next hour as the station began to come alive. At 6:30, I boarded my last bus that would take me to the promised land: El Chalten. I dozed off. When I awoke we were rolling through the grassy steppe of Patagonia. The steppe was mostly grassland, but there were many stones and rocks sprinkled throughout. I wondered if I would see Mont Fitz Roy from the road. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was glad my journey was nearing an end. I couldn’t wait to sleep in a real bed.

Finally, we rolled into El Chalten. I had made it right on time, twenty-nine hours later. I was glad to be here for many reasons, but the number one reason is that El Chalten is gateway to Los Glaciares National Park’s north side. This is home to Mont Fitz Roy, Mount Torres, glaciers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and as it turned out, one of my favorite towns in the world.
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More on El Chalten to come…

Posted by Rhombus 08:33 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains islands hiking buses photography forests patagonia ushuaia roadtrips Comments (2)

Living The Good Life: Parting Shots of Antarctica

Opportunity, Parting Shots and Going Around The Horn

sunny 21 °F

It’s hard to believe I went to Antarctica. Who does that? As we were winding up our last days on the continent, my travel companion and I compared notes on how much we’ve worked this year. I’ve worked five and a half months in 2012, and she worked six months. We both started laughing at our ridiculous good fortune. By the numbers, we should be living in poverty. But here we are, sitting in white robes on a comfortable bed, waiting for our next landing on the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s absurd.

My advice: When opportunity knocks on your door, answer it.

Parting Shots

Orca!
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I didn’t see many whales around the peninsula, except for one pod of Orca. The orcas were on the move in search of seals. The seals like to bask in the sun on top of ice floes. The whales will search among the icebergs; spyhopping out of the water to see if any seals are hiding on top. In this pod, there were two males, one female, and one juvenile whale.
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Endless Mountain Landscapes
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We had some outstanding weather on the trip. These shots are of the narrow passage that leads to Port Lockroy. The weather for the entire trip was amazing. There were several days in a row of brilliant sunshine with blue skies. Sunglasses and sunscreen were mandatory.
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I didn’t expect the peninsula to be as mountainous as it is. I love seeing high mountains peaking out from heavy cloud cover.
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Marching Penguins
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Penguins spend a lot of their day moving from one group to another, one place to another. Though wary, they tolerate humans so long as we do not get in their way. A penguin is busy this time of year, there are rocks to haul, nests to construct and mates to attract.
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A penguin highway is a great spot to watch them. The highway is obvious, as there is a ten-foot wide discoloration on the ice, and it usually has a couple of penguins ambling back and forth upon it. I like to sit down right near a highway at a strategic point where the penguins have to by closely in order to get where they want to go.
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For instance, one of their paths wound up a rock ramp between the ocean and the main colony. I sat down right next to bottom side of the ramp. The penguins didn’t care at all. They waddled right by and allowed me to watch them from less than three feet away.
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Penguin Flight

Brown Bluff sits at the extreme northerly end of the Antarctic Peninsula. Underneath this massive rock lies a large breeding colony of penguins. Like all life forms, a penguin must eat. To do this, they have to eventually get into the ocean and swim out to their feeding grounds. A leopard seal must also eat, and it knows the best place to catch penguins is between the colony and the feeding grounds.
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The leopard seal is very crafty, and uses all kinds of stealthy camouflage to catch the penguins off guard. He will hide behind bergs; wedging himself into a small crevice before launching himself at the passing penguins. He’s a menace to penguins.
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The penguins know this, and fight back with numbers. At a rocky point, the penguins gather in the hundreds. They wait there until the lead penguin closest to the water decides to go for it. Then it’s a game of follow the leader, and the hundred penguins that were standing behind him launch themselves into the sea in a mad rush. It’s impressive.

The penguin mob began swimming out to their grounds. When penguins swim, they “porpoise” through the water, jumping out like dolphins to catch a breath of air before diving back down. I watched the penguins get further away from shore. They looked like they were going to make it. Then, in an instant, they turned 90 degrees to their original direction and began to panic. The leopard seal struck again.
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The penguins raced back to shore. They began popping out of the water and recklessly landed on the rocks. They were scared. When the chaos ended, I could see the leopard seal thrashing the penguin against the water. It was somewhat sad, but that’s the way it goes.

Around The Horn
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We ended our explorations of the southern ocean by cruising through Drake’s Passage up to Cape Horn. This section of the world is unique. It’s where the Pacific Ocean meets the Atlantic and Southern Oceans collide. Our passage wasn’t bad. We had a good roll to our ship, but the seas remained relatively calm.

It was strange to see Cape Horn. Though I have read about it, I never imagined that one day I would be looking at the tip of South America. I had made it around the horn. What a strange life I lead.

In the old days of sailing, it could take months to make it around the horn, and many mariners did not make it. Hundreds of ships litter this section of ocean. Many sailors were never seen again.

Fortunately, our ship was not one of them. We turned northeast before turning into the Beagle Channel before returning to Ushuaia.

So ends one hell of an amazing life journey. In time, I may have more to say about this voyage, but I’m still digesting it. As one adventure ends, another begins. “Adios, Antarctica. Hola, Argentina.”

Posted by Rhombus 08:42 Archived in Antarctica Tagged islands wildlife ice oceans photography penguins icebergs antarctica Comments (0)

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