Argentina: Buenos Aires (Apr 5 to 13, 2015)

After about five and a half weeks exploring Patagonia (Ushuaia, Argentina; Torres del Paine, Chile; El Chalten, El Bolson, and Bariloche, Argentina), it was time to head north to Buenos Aires (Argentina). It was difficult to leave Patagonia (a region that had been on my bucket list for awhile) but I was satisfied with my explorations, at least for now.

Getting to Buenos Aires
On my last day in Bariloche, my friend, Candice (US), who’d I trekked with in Ushuaia and reconnected with in Bariloche, mentioned that she too was heading to Buenos Aires, but she planned to…..gasp…..hitchhike there. Hitchhiking is very common in Patagonia and, according to many travelers, very safe. As I was intrigued by the adventure of hitchhiking and Candice was a seasoned pro, I decided to…..gasp…..go for it. So, I exchanged my last $39 US dollars for Argentinean pesos (the ATMs in Bariloche had run out of money that Easter weekend) and Candice and I said farewell to our friends Carrie (US) and Dave (England). I was going to miss Dave’s laugh and sweet disposition after traveling with him for almost three weeks. Before we left, Carrie took our picture. You know, in case we needed a “last seen” photo. I also promised to check in along the way via my SPOT GPS tracker, which also has a “SOS” button that when pushed alerts rescuers to your exact location (or at least the location of your SPOT). So, with safety precautions completed, loaded with snacks and a cardboard sign, we set out to hitch the 960+ miles to Buenos Aires.

Candice knew the best spot on Ruta 40 for us to set up thanks to Hitchwiki, a website where hitchhikers share info on how to get to/from various points. After a 20 minute bus ride and a 20 minute walk to get to “the spot”, we held up our cardboard sign which read, “Buenas Aires, se habla espanol” and stuck out our thumbs. We expected to wait hours, but were picked up after only 30 minutes by a guy who was going almost all the way to Buenos Aires. What unbelievable luck!

Our driver, Marro (Argentina), was on his way home to his wife and kid in Buenos Aires. He and his wife were expecting their second baby soon. The proud husband/father shared lots of photos of his family with us along the journey. He worked as a bee keeper and had a cool bee hive tattoo on his arm. The scenery was gorgeous for the first several hours, following the Rio Negro as it wound through a wide valley topped with tall peaks and spires. Throughout the day, we all snacked on the food Candice and I had brought, including pieces of the giant chocolate Easter egg from Bariloche, and chatted. Thankfully, Candice speaks Spanish well as Marro spoke no English and my Spanish was basic to say the least. Marro seemed to enjoy our company and was a great tour guide, pointing out various landmarks along the way. At about midnight, we stopped at a hotel for the night and shared a room with three twin beds. We hit the road early the next morning. After about 7 hours, it was time for our journey with Marro to end. He offered to take us to a nearby train station but given our good luck so far, we decided to try hitching the last ~250 miles to Buenos Aires. So, he dropped us off along a wide stretch of dusty road, we said farewell to our very generous host, and up went the cardboard sign.

After only about an hour, we lucked out again! We got picked up by two brothers (Argentina), Sebastian and Luciano, on their way home to Buenos Aires after a weekend of camping and trekking. Their car was tiny and already loaded with their gear but we crammed ourselves and our backpacks in. They were a gregarious pair of 20-somethings who spoke English well so the conversation was lively and fun during the drive. As we neared Buenos Aires, the guys invited us to stay at their house, explaining that they were planning to travel later in the year and wanted to gain some travel karma by picking us up and offering us housing. I love the traveler mentality and need to pay it forward when I’m back home! It was a very nice offer, but I was staying with friends in Buenos Aires so declined. After hugs goodbye to the guys and Candice, who was continuing on with them, I went to see my friends.

In Buenos Aires
At about 10:30 pm, after roughly 16 hours on the road that day, I knocked on the door and finally got to see the smiling faces of my friends, Kelly and Myles! I’d last seen them in 2014 for a fun weekend with our friends, Dave and Nicole, in Scottsdale, Arizona. After a shower to wash the road dirt away, we spent the evening chatting and drinking wine. It felt like home sweet home.

So what did I do for 7 days in Buenos Aires? I relaxed, hung out with my friends, ate, drank, and…….relaxed, hung out with my friends, ate, and drank.

After all the trekking, exploring, and moving from place to place I’d done since leaving home January 27, 2015, it was perfect! I’m not kidding, I was a couch potato for the first 2 days then again on various days throughout my visit. I hope my ass didn’t leave a permanent dent on the side of the couch that I dominated for most of my stay. It was great just hanging out with Kelly and Myles, drinking coffee in the morning, chatting, watching TV while messing around on wifi (emailing, messaging, and calling my peeps) and checking in on Ansel and Petal, the cutest miniature goats ever (see for yourself:  https://instagram.com/anselandpetal). We also ate yummy snacks, including tortilla chips and spicy salsa (nonexistent in Patagonia), drank delicious wine, beer, and cocktails, and watched the sunset from the balcony of their fabulous 12th floor apartment overlooking the Palermo Hollywood area of Buenos Aires. All this and the wifi was strong. Why would I leave the apartment?

But the sights and sounds of Buenos Aires beckoned, and Kelly and Myles got tired of my ass on their couch (not really) so I did get outside. To get my blood flowing, Kelly took me to her spin class to get my ass kicked, in Spanish, by a cute, petite, hardcore (and very nice) spin instructor. After that, I was motivated to use the gym, a few times at least, on the 16th floor of Kelly and Myles’ apartment. (Hello old friend, I’ve missed you.) As for sights, they took me to Boca, a colorful barrio famous for its brightly painted buildings, street art, tango dancing, good food, and for being the home of world renowned football club, Boca Juniors. After walking around awhile, we had lunch at their favorite parrilla (grill) and sipped cold beers. We also went to San Telmo barrio to explore Feria San Telmo, a street fair “composed of 270 stands and visited by 10,000 people every Sunday.” There were stands on both sides of the street for 8? 10? blocks, as far as the eye could see. It was huge! Being Sunday Bloody Sunday, Kelly made us excellent spicy bloodies before we headed into shopping madness. Yum! Along with sight seeing, they also took me to some of their favorite local eateries during my stay:  Fukuro Noodle Bar for a noodle bowl, The Burger Joint for an awesome burger, and Sudestada for scrumptious Asian fusion. I was also treated to Kelly’s delicious homemade fajitas. Muy rico!

For a night on the town, I reconnected with Candice and Florencia, a native of Buenos Aires, who I’d trekked with for a week in Torres del Paine (Chile). Florencia got us tickets to see a band. We met at a brewery for a platter of deep fried everything and craft beer then went to the club, Trastienda, to see Massacre, an Argentinean rock band with a theatrical flare. It was cool to rock out with the locals (far back from the mosh pit of course). Afterwards, Florencia took us to Rey de Copa, a low key, Moroccan-themed bar where the bartenders made cocktails almost too pretty to drink. It was so great hanging out with these two fabulous ladies!

I’m glad that in between my couch potato days, I explored my surroundings a bit. Buenos Aires is a huge (population:  3+ million) modern city with lots to offer (i.e, good food, colorful sights and people, culture, lots of shopping, sports, recreation). But really I didn’t go there to see the city, I went there to chill out and hang out with my friends. So for me, my time in Buenos Aires was perfect.

Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full photo album:  https://goo.gl/photos/rKh5SywraGQsEzhA8

Enjoy!

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At “the spot” outiside Bariloche. Only 960+ miles to go!

With Marro, our host for part 1 of the journey.

Enjoying churipan with Sebastian and Luciano, our hosts for part 2 of the journey.

Made it! Hanging with my good friends, Kelly and Myles, in Buenos Aires!

Travel notes:  recommend all of the restaurants and areas mentioned above; tap water in Buenos Aires is potable (no treatment needed).

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Argentina: Bariloche/Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi (Apr 1 to 5, 2015)

How did I spend 5 days in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, the chocolate capitol of Argentina? Hanging with friends, eating chocolate, and……trekking, of course!

Bariloche is only a short, 2-hour, bus ride from El Bolson (Argentina). It’s a large town (population 108,000+) located in the lakes district. It’s a destination for tourists and locals given its variety of restaurants, bars, and shops, including numerous chocolate shops, and given its location on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, and its proximity to the mountains which offer skiing, trekking, and climbing.

Once in town, I met up with Dave (England), who I’d been traveling with for the previous two weeks in El Bolson and El Chalten. He’d taken an earlier bus from El Bolson. We enjoyed a very tasty, FREE spaghetti dinner at our hostel (small joys!) then met Kim (US) and Shawna (Canada) at a nearby bar. I’d met Kim at my hostel in Punta Arenas, Chile, in early March. I’d run into her and her friend, Shawna, while waiting for the bus into downtown Bariloche. The four of us met up that night for a few Argentinean beers.

The next day Dave and I changed hostels since the one were at was booked for the night and to join my friends, Carrie, Candice, and Don who I’d trekked and hung out with in Ushuaia (at the tip of Argentina) in February (just before my Antarctica trip). Once settled, Dave and I walked around town and discovered we’d totally lucked out because we happened to be in the chocolate capitol of Argentina for Easter weekend! Every year, to celebrate Easter, various chocolate producers send their students to Bariloche to construct the world’s largest handmade chocolate Easter egg which is cracked apart Easter Sunday and shared with the crowd. Per the internet, this year…”The giant egg fed 50,000 people and was made from 8,000 kilograms of chocolate. The titanic Easter treat stood eight and a half metres high and was six feet across in diameter.” They also construct the world’s longest chocolate bar, spanning two blocks of the main street, which is also shared with crowd. In addition to chocolate-mania, the weekend’s festivities included live music and performances all day Friday and Saturday.

Wow! All of this happening AND there was good trekking nearby. I wanted to eat chocolate (with good red wine, of course) AND go trekking but my time was limited. So, after much deliberation over a few beers, Dave and I devised a plan:  we’d trek for two long days then return to town in time to enjoy the Easter festivities. Later that day, the Ushuaia crew finally showed up at the hostel. It was so great to see them! Candice and Don planned to leave the next day but Carrie was staying in Bariloche for several days so decided to trek with us.

On Day 1 of our trek in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, we woke up super early for the 30-minute bus ride to the trailhead. We planned to hike ~13 mi (20.5 km) to Refugio San Martin. The first part of the trail was along Arroyo Van Titter, so we had lovely views of the river as well as Lago Guiterrez, just south of us. We headed gradually uphill to arrive at Refugio Frey, a wood/stone cabin (similar to those I described in my post about El Bolson, Chile) located on the shores of a glacial lake surrounded by mountains. We watched some climbers make their way up the vertical wall of a nearby spire while we ate. After lunch, we climbed up and over two passes to finally arrive at Refugio San Martin, another wood/stone cabin on the shores of a glacial lake surrounded by mountains. Such gorgeous scenery! And thank goodness because it made it easier to deal with the rain that had begun as we arrived. There was no shelter for the tent campers and cooking in the refugio was not allowed, so we cooked our dinner in the rain then went inside to eat. As we sat there eating our backpacker food (i.e., a cheap packet of soup with pasta), everyone else enjoyed a beautiful-looking paella made by the refugio staff. We didn’t reserve and pay for a meal at the refugio ahead of time, so no paella for us! Oh well, a least we were warm and dry. We began Day 2 by packing up wet tents and starting the roughly 10-mi (16.5-km) hike back in soggy weather. We hiked down a gorgeous valley along Arroyo Casa de Piedra. The trail was steep for the first few hours then became a more gradual descent. Once at the end of the trail, we still a ways to go to get to the bus stop. After ~2 hrs of walking in the heat and dust, we finally caught the bus back to town.

Back at the hostel, we ran into Candice! She’d decided to stay in town for the Easter festivities. So, after a few hours to clean up and rest, Dave, Carrie, Mathieu (France), who’d we’d met at the hostel, and I went to the main plaza to met up with Candice and check out some live music. We didn’t find Candice but the four of us had fun listening to the Argentinean band (who’s name I can’t recall) then having a few beers at a nearby bar. The town was crowded but the vibe was festive and fun. Most of the crowd appeared to be Argentinean and Chilean. The next day was Easter so, Dave, Carrie, Coullaud, and I headed to the main plaza again to taste a piece of the world’s largest chocolate Easter egg. It was only 9am but everyone was out to enjoy a clear, sunny Easter day. The line for chocolate spanned several blocks along the main street, around the corner, down two blocks, around another corner, then along several more blocks along the waterfront. It was a long line. After a while, Coullaud left to go trekking but Candice joined us. During the wait, we chatted, did some good people-watching, and had some matte (traditional Argentinean tea) with our neighbors in line. After an hour and a half, we were rewarded with a large carton of chocolate which we ate sitting under a tree in the plaza. Honestly, the chocolate wasn’t that great (very sugary) but getting it was part of a fun day hanging with great friends and a great end to a fun time in Bariloche!

Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full photo album:  https://goo.gl/photos/zAxuEcfb8NLhRmDZ7

Enjoy!

On the way to Refugio San Martin.

The world’s largest homemade chocolate Easter egg!

Travel notes: recommend Punto Sur Hostel (friendly staff, free dinners on some nights) and The Hostel House (friendly staff, large communal kitchen); tap water in Bariloche and water in the national park is potable (no treatment needed).