Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chilean Earthquake

Just a quick note from San Martin de Los Andes.
We were in El Bolson for two days. It wasn´t my favorite part of the trip, but we did make some good food and drink some good beer. We arrived in Bariloche yesterday afternoon and did some exploring. Adam and Chris, two guys we met in El Chalten, arrived last night and this morning we rented a car and hit the road.
However, last night I did wake up to crazy sounds and a rocking bed. I was sure I was having a bad dream which at the time involved what felt like giant trees falling to the ground all around me, and then promptly forgot about it in the morning until I came downstairs and everybody was asking everybody else if they had felt "it." "It" of course being the devestating earthquake in Chile that happened around 4:30 yesterday morning. We felt it, but no damage done over hear. We are safe and sound and I was really excited about feeling the earth shaking for about 2 seconds until I found out it killed people. Its pretty unbelievable and scary!
However, we are fine and enjoying the incredible senery of the lake district and I didn´t want anyone to worry! Hopefully we´ll be swimming in a few hours!!
Besos a todos!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

El Chalten

Some older photos:

flamengos and some other bird in El Calafate

sea lion colony in Punta Lomo

me in El Calafate

skirting the reserve fee by using the back entrance we came upon this car

so where did we leave off:

We just arrived in El Bolson today after a 30+ hour bus ride from El Chalten. We took the imfamous Route 40 with all its charm and mostly unpaved fun. We only had one break down and only had to wait one hour in the early morning brisk air for our two bus drivers to fix the problem while they smoked cigarettes on their backs with no hands.
El Chalten was amazing, and so far my favorite segment of the trip. The town itself is cute and had all kinds of personality. I wish we could have spent more time there, but instead we stashed some stuff at the bus station, rented a camping stove (no fires allowed) and headed into the mountains. The town of El Chalten and the hiking and camping are all located inside a National Park called Los Glaciares Parque National (or something) and for once we were admitted free of charge, given free maps! that came with an info session where they were very insistant that we not start forest fires.
We camped for three nights and hiked for four days, moving our camping site each day as we did a big circle around the park. Each day we had a destination in mind that brough better and better views as the days went on. The glorious Fitz Roy mountain loomed in the background, there were glaciers, crystal clear bodies of water and beautiful green and yellow bushes dotted the mountain sides while plants of vivid red and green sprawled along the groung. Everything had buena onda. We would hike to our campsite, set up the tent (thanks Melissa!!) leave our stuff inside and set off on more hiking. The park was created to preserve the purity of the water, and there are rivers, lakes and streams everywhere to fill your nalgine with. When we got on the bus we switched to the bottled water they provided in the back. I commented to Josh that it tasted weird. "Bottled water," he remarked. We were spoiled. There were lakes and streams with water so clear the stones that lined the bottom were as visible as if they weren´t under water. And then of course there were the lakes and rivers fed by glaciers with their cloudy blue water with minerals from centuries ago. Lets just say water will never taste the same again.
Our second day hiking was my favorite. We set up tent and then headed up. And when I say up I mean 400 km up. The trail was steeeeep, but my claves didn´t fail me and we made it to the top just as I collapsed onto a rock. After a quick lunch (salammmmiiiii) we took a look around. The hike was up to the most famous view of Fitz Roy (a most magestic mountain) and a beautiful blue lagoon. The little mermaid was stuck in my had all day after that.
We headed for some patches of snow so we could have a taste of your wintery lives back in the Sates and along the way we passed a small pool of water that fed the lagoon. I stopped to check it out and noticed water bubbling up from the sand in 6 or seven different places. I´d never seen a natural spring before and it instantly made me think of Tuck Everlasting!!! This water so far hasn´t made me feel like I´ll live forever (camping and busing have been taking its toll on my body) but it was so small and beautiful.
The hiking was great. For once in my life and I am not looking foward or backward. My mind was with my body as we saw more and more beautiful sights, and touched snow and examined the strange lichen designs and red rocks that mysteriously dotted the landcapes.

at the start of our hike

Josh´s amazing sleeping bag and his amazing self

stopping to get some fresh water

the blue of the lagoon didn´t translate well, but here was the destination of our second day´s hike brought to you by 10 second timer! that´s Fitz Roy himself in the background

our home sweet tent : cadillacs, notice what´s at the top?

this one´s for you Gabi: its the circle of life!!!!

On our third day we set out to our last campsite. As we walked over a bridge, the craziest thing happened!! We ran into a girl named Sarah Freeman who went to GWU with us! She was just sitting there taking a rest with her traveling buddy John. We promised to meet up with them at their hostel when we returned to town. Even though we´d only ever had one real converstion previous to last week, I felt that instant bond form that happens when you meet someone you know far away from home and the context that you knew them from. It´s happened a few times, and its funny how you feel like old friends almost instantly even though you know nothing about them!
We made up for lost time back at their hostel while we waited for two guys they met in their dorm, and then headed to the El Chalten local brewery where I had the freshest, purest beer I´ve ever tasted. They only use four ingredients: malt, water, yeast and hops. The negra uses toasted malt and even the foam tasted good on both. At $15 a beer we only stayed for three (there went all the money we saved by camping but it was worth it!) and then continued the bonding train back at their hostel until we went to catch our bus a few blocks away. Sarah graciously lent us the shower in their room (we stank!) and she lent me her sleeping bag!!!! I had been using a 60 peso number from Easy and my last night camping I had finally felt warm enough with three pairs of pants and five layers on top. Now with Sarah´s sleeping bag I can dress like a normal person when I go to bed!! Thanks Sarah!!! You´re the best!! (you did say your name has an h right??? fingers crossed!).

myself, Sarah, and Josh during the tour of the brewery

bus broken down in the midldle of nowhere over 400 km from El Calafate but already 10 hours into to trip - Rt. 40!!!!! so gravely...

The two guys Sarah introduced us to are now going to be our new travel buddies. We are meeting them in Bariloche on Friday where we will rent a car together and travel the lake district together. Until then we are hanigng out in El Bolson doing laundry, resting, grilling (you are allowed to make fire here) and tomorrow we are checking Bosque Tallado where Ted went o so long ago to check out the statues carved out of trees, and if there´s time we are going to head to the Israeli hostel Sarah recommended for a bite of hummus!!! Until the next time, besos!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perito Moreno: More Than Just a Big Block of Ice

Before I get into the spectacle that is Perito Moreno, a special shout-out to the MVP of the trip so far: Augustín. He has provided us with a place to stay, and as we´ve shared with some, our bed is by far the best we´ve had in all of Argentina. Maybe it´s just because I´ve been sleeping in a crappy bed for more than a year and that my bed in Puerto Madryn left MUCH to be desired, but I don´t know if I´ve ever slept this my life. Big words, I know, but in the land of limitless plains, sky-scraping peaks, vast lakes, andmammouth glaciers, I´m in the mood for some hyperbole. Also, Agustín is buying Julia´s computer, and to top it all off, he had his friend try and get us a free lift and tour to the Park today. Even though after much scrambling on the friend´s part it didn´t work out, the effort is so appreciated. All in all, the fact that he´s here has made El Calafate a really cool place for us.
So instead of walking down the steep incline and a few hundred meters to towards town to catch a tour van out to the glaciers, we had to wake up at 630 and walk back into the center of town to buy a bus ticket. There we met an English couple with whom we shared a hostel dorm in Madryn, but they were about to board a bus to El Chalten, where we will be heading tomorrow. By 10:00 am we arrived at the park, and you could see the huge white sheet of ice from the windy road leading up to the main area. It´s very difficult to capture the majestic scale of Perito Moreno, which is one of the only glaciers in the world that is still growing, but here´s me best shot: First, think of Bart Simpson´s hair. Or one of those quartz stones you can buy in a tour shop. Both of these kind of look like Lex Luther´s lair, but the most brilliant blue you can imagine instead of green. Now, imagine this structure is more than 2 kilometers wide and runs until it meets the base of enormous, snow-capped mountains in the distance. The other side includes the end of the Lago Arentino (Lake Argentina), all of which is surrounded by equally picturesque mountains that craddle this natural wonder. Also, huge chunks of ice would intermittently break off the mothership, cascading down it´s face or simply tipping into the frigid water below, causing a raptorous ¨slap¨that sounded more like a gun shot. A few times we saw really big pieces fall in, submerging only to bouyantly resurface, leaving a shear blue underbelly in it´s place. Supposedly an immense break in 2004 could be heard all the way in El Calafate center, which is nearly 80 kilometers away. I can´t imagine how loud it must have been at the site. Hopefully the pictures and video (and those that will hopefully follow, it´s taking a long time for it to load and we´re getting hungry for Patagonian lamb) provide the justice my words have trouble accomplishing. Honestly, it was enjoyable just standing and staring at this monstrous beast, but the park provided kilometers of walkways through the wooded area facing the glacier, which allowed for varying viewpoints, exercise, and a way to warm up next to the oversized outdoor cooler in front of us.
Now we are off to El Chalten, where we´ll be taking advantage of all the gear we´ve been lugging around for a week. After that we´ll keep heading north, and hopefully somewhere along the way we´ll be able to update you all on our wherabouts and general activities. Until then, take a look at the pictures from the sea lion cove just outside of Madryn on my picasa page, here is the link: Hugs and kisses to all.
The star of today´s show from the entrance.

Sea Lions, Glaciers, Flamengos Oh My!

We´re still writing from El Calafate, but while I had the time I thought I´d record some thoughts and events...
We´ve been seeing all kinds of wildlife that I´ve never seen before. You´ve already heard about the penguins, but we haven´t had time to talk about the sea lions yet!!!!! Our last day in Puerto Madryn we rode 16 ish km to Punta Lomo where the main attraction is a sea lion colony. Unlike Punta Tombo, you can not walk among the sea lions. Its just as well though because you probably wouldn´t make it out alive. Those guys are huge!!!!
The bike ride itself was eventful. The views were amazing, the personal challenge of not giving up and walking my bike when the gravel and sand got deep was rewarding and the best part was when we came upon some wild horses hanging out in the middle of the road. They were so tame and just wanted food. They nibbled everything from my hand to my back pack to my bike. They got nothing edible from us but they let me pat their faces. They were so beautiful and magestic.
The entrance fee to Punta Lomo was a whopping 32 pesos, and after walking up a steep hill we came to the main attraction. An outcrop overlooks the shore and caves where the sea lions hang out, rest and play. This was the best time of year to come because the pups had been born a month before and they were the cutest!! They would bother the adults and get chased around, flop off rocks, or flop onto their mom´s backs for a free ride. Basically they did a lot of flopping. When they swam in they water they were beautiful and swam with such ease as compared to the rediculous flipper walk they do on land. There were lots of females and only two or three males. The males are MASSIVVVEE and it looked like they had mains like male lions. They were really sleepy (you would be too if you had just impregnated anywhere from two to twelve sea lions a few month ago) and just lay around like they were dead most of the time and then would randomly lift their heads, roar and then go back to sleep. The sea lions made crazy sounds that were like silly roars and they were accompanied by the cawing of the birds they share the shore with. It was really cool.
As Josh already said, the journy to El Calafate was helish but worth it. Our host, Agustine, is most gracios and wins mvp of the trip so far. He showed us a secret bridge into the reserve that you normally have to pay ten pesos to get into. Josh and I walked to the shore (by more horses) and hopped a fense to get a closer look at the flamengos that come from Chile every year. They are so pink!! And when they fly they are so beautiful. It seems their pinkest part is on their wings and hidden with they are sitting in the water. The wings are pink and black and they are amazingly graceful when they fly and amazingly silly when the walk around the water.
Today was one of the best days we´ve had so far. After waking up at 6:30 to catch the bus to Perito Moreno (there are some really amazing facts if you click that link) and after paying an even more whopping 75 pesos each!! to get into the park (extortionists!) we arrived at Perito Moreno, one of the worlds only glaciers that is still growing and advancing.
Our first view was from the top of the park and as we made our way down along the new man made metal and wood walkways we got to see it from every angle. When we arrived we were bundled to the max and as they sun came out we shead layers and it turned out to be a beautiful day (amazing because it rained all day in El Calafate).
I´ve been trying to think about how to describe the thing, but I think the pictures Josh took will have to do the talking. The most amazing thing was how blue the ice was, and how massive it was. It went on and on and on into the distance and up and up and up. One of the most entertaining aspects was when great chunks fell many stories and hit the water with a crash and a splash. Some big chunks had broken off and floated away and they were so blue I couldn´t believe it! It was magnificent. It was also amazing how much noise the glacier makes even when chunks aren´t falling off. Its like a living, breathing creature that does things very slowly or all at once and very loudly. It cracks and sighs and thunders.
Being around this amazing glacier in the midst of beautiful snow capped mountains gave me this amazing excited feeling that at once humbled yet enthralled me. It was truly an awesome sight to behold.
As far as the town of El Calafate goes it had exceeded my expectations. It´s geared completly toward tourism, but its beautiful and the people are extremely kind. Tonight we dine on lamb and then its into the wilderness of El Chalten and camping food for a while. Till the next time we have internet, cheers!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

El Calafate Dreamin

After a tulmutuous journey from Puerto Madryn to El Calafate, which included more than 5 hours of waiting in bus terminals and more than a day of travel in total, we finally arrived at our southernmost destination last night. So far so good, the town is small and situated right on the Lago Argentino, only a bit of which we can see before it stretches into the mountains. We will venture into those mountains tomorrow in order to view the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is very exciting. Due to a lack of easily accesible internet our posts will become less frequent over the next week or so, but we will be sure to update you with stories and photos once we reach Bariloche. Until then, our warmest regards from this cold place near the end of the world, and many hugs and kisses.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Puerto Madryn y Punta Tombo: Dia de Penguinos!!!!!

Puerto Madryn is a small city in the north east of Patagonia. It has a beach, lots of ice cream, and lots of wind. Its also a great starting point for any trip in Patagonia. We arrived mid-day Friday and decided to explore only our hostel and the local supermarket. We found out we couldn't getting a running start as hoped due to a wind storm due to hit the next day. Instead we spent Saturday exploring the city:

It was once a tree, now its a statue swallowing Josh!

This one's for you Dan

On the pier

above natural caves that have some historical significance

a sweet truck

a real whale skeleton and a red one made of garbage

above the caves

being one with the cool trees

Along the way we found out that Saturday night was the inauguration of a wind festival/art exhibit. All the art pieces were wind influenced, and we heard a cool speech about it. The wind is such a constant presence in people's lives here. They hate it, they love it, but no matter is stays around. It was pretty cool to see just how it influenced these artists. There were painted kites, cool windmills, wind chimes made of painted rocks, beautiful paintings, statues, and one that was a door coming out of a painted wall with sand piled up on the floor as if the wind had blown it through the door with painted t-shirts caught on things around it all. That was a pretty bad explanation, but I tried. Anyway, here are a few:

when the wind spins the propeller it moves the pedals and the mans legs.

Today we finally got to go on our first excursion! We headed to Punta Tombo in a mini van to check out the infamous penguins. The driver was a speed demon and the sound of his wheels kept sucking me into weird naps. The first destination was a dock where some people went out to see the dolphins. We saved our pesos and drank maté with our new friend Anneka.

our maté spot

Then we finally headed for the penguins. I was hyped up on maté, but unfortunately the scenery was desolate and boring. It looks like it does in the pictures below as far as the eye can see. I also started to freak out and think I was going to be killed in an accident when we turned and sped down a gravel road littered with warning signs our driver seemed not to heed. Turns out he's an amazing driver, but I was a little scared.
The penguins reside in a National Park that is protected by the government. The penguins also have the right of way and if they cross the road you have to wait for them like you would for school children. Its pretty cute when they stop, think, and decide maybe they didn't want to cross this path, and then you just have to wait for them to decide. Luckily this didn't happen too often.
penguins kissing/pecking at each other with their beeks

The penguins we saw were all Megellen Penguins, and they are small - about a yard high. They are adorable, and all I wanted to do was cuddle with them, but I was told that if I tried that they would hook their beak into my flesh and pull. I decided to just take photos.
Turns out penguins are really cool animals. This colony has about 200,000 males and 200,000 females that arrive each year. The males come a month early. They use the same nest year after year, so when they arrive they clean out the nest, or make a new one of they have to. Penguins are monogamous, so if they pick a partner they stay with them the whole season. When the female arrives the male penguins make this crazy honking sound that can sound like a dieing horse, a goose, or a fog horn. Each male has its own distinct call and we heard plenty of good examples. When the female finds its mate they check out the nest and their man to see how clean they are. If they suffice then she stays with him, he does this funny dance thing, rubs her with his flippers to arouse her, then tries to balance on top of her in order to do the dirty. They often have to try several times and ofter fall off several times in the process. Its kinda funny. If the female isn't happy with her mate's preparations she goes off in search of a new one. I love this system. Josh says that it signifies that gold digging girls are only following their natural instincts. Thoughts?
The penguins produce two eggs 7-10 days apart, the first egg being a bigger baby and the one that usually survives. When it is time to migrate they use this oily substance produced out of a gland in their butts that they rub all over themselves to make their feathers waterproof. Otherwise they become very heavy and drown.

an angsty adolescent penguin molting

home sweet nest

when penguins aren't fishing or migrating they swim around like ducks

thousands of penguins, as far as the eye can see

celebrating Valentine's Day with a snuggle

lots of dangerously exposed nests - these are the loser penguins who didn't get there in time for a good location

After Punta Tombo we headed to Gaimon, a town settled by the Welsh when they fled GB to escape religious persecution. Below is a photo of the corner Butch Cassidy lived on for a while.

Tomorrow we are going to bike to see a sea lion colony and then we get back on a bus and we head to El Calafate via Rio Gallegos. We probably won't post till then.

Last Night In BA In Photos

I'm too lazy to fix it, the photos are in the reverse order. So, our last night in photos - backwards: