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Farewell, Argentina

Farewell, Argentina

I haven’t written in a while, and I have some time to kill on a Bolivian bus, so this may be a bit long, but I feel like I’ve had a lot happen since the last post. I spent a few more days in Mendoza after Dad and Sarah left but I laid low for the most part. I stayed in Mora International Hostel , which had a cool open air layout. The downside of that is the inability to keep mosquitoes out. Add to that the fact that our room had no AC, so keeping windows open was necessary, and you get into a tricky situation. There’s not a much worse alarm clock than a mosquito biting you in bed. And I’ve always had blood that, to mosquitoes, is some sort of combination of honey and crack, so it was open season. No Zika contracted…yet. I went to the bus station the day before leaving to buy my ticket for the 20-hour journey to Salta. The lady showed me the options, and pointed out one bus that was offering a promo price. I always jump at a deal, not worrying to much about the quality of the bus at the time. This would be my third overnight bus, and I’ve had both good and bad experiences on the other two, so I never know exactly what to expect. But I walk on this bus and the entire bus is filled with luxury leather recliners. I’m talking an actual comfortable seat that belonged more in a home theater than an airplane. It damn near brought a tear to my eye. It may seem simple, but it’s hard for me to describe what kind of morale boost it provides when you get a little unexpected gift like that. So, I rode in style and got a decent night’s sleep as I continued to head northward.


Wide-eyed and full on average bus food (nice seating doesn’t mean complete first-class service), I checked in to La Covacha close to Salta’s city center. That afternoon, I just killed some time walking around the city’s main square. Here is where you begin to see the Spanish influence in Northern Argentina, as all the cities are founded around a central plaza, all featuring the main church on one side and the cabildo (city council) on another side. But the most interesting feature on this square was the MaaM (Museum of High Mountain Archaeology). It’s a small museum, but it is one of two museums in South America that share a common display. High in the peaks of the Andes near Salta, the Incas would perform rituals where they would sacrifice their best-looking children for the gods, and bury them on the mountain tops alive after a wedding ceremony. This museum actually has the mummified remains of three children (which were preserved well due to temperature and climate on the mountain) on display in their natural state. Definitely a bit creepy, but very interesting to see. And maybe the one time in history where it pays to be a little on the ugly side.

Salta is also the home of some incredible local quick eats. The empanadas were good as expected (probably the best I’ve had in Argentina), but their tamales were the true hidden gem. Corn (so it’s healthy) flour stuffed with meat, onions, and more wrapped and cook in corn husks – just a little small helping of greatness. They are certainly one of the foods I’m going to bring back to the States and figure out how to make at home. The last night, when I had no real plans, the owners of the hostel invited me to join their family in an asado on the rooftop terrace. Well…actually…a girl that was staying in my room invited me and at that point they kind of had to go along, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. And as usual, it was an absolute feast. A potato salad and mixed greens accompanied serving after serving of grilled meat and plenty of red wine. Near the end of the night, the conversation switched to the women’s rights protest in Buenos Aires over their ability to sunbathe topless. As more wine was consumed, the speed of their speech increased as well, so I didn’t understand all of it. But ‘tetas’ is easy enough to translate and hand gestures universal, so I picked up on enough context. Everyone seemed to be pretty pro-sunbathing. I’ve always been a women’s rights activist and it won’t stop now.


The next day, I called a bit of an audible on my original plan due to some recommendations, and headed 4 hours back south to Argentina’s second biggest wine region, Cafayate. The drive down through Quebrada de las Conchas is known to be very scenic, but what they didn’t tell me was it was full of hairpin turns and the buses are still intent on making good time. This trip has had its highs and lows, and losing my lunch in a coach bus bathroom qualifies as the latter without a doubt. As I try to always look on the bright side, I just see it as making more room for empanadas, tamales, and vino.

I checked into Casa de Huesped, which was a simple hostel but had a really cool layout. Their outdoor seating area, featuring breakfast tables and a few hammocks, laid underneath grape vines which the hostel uses to make their own homemade wines. The next day I set out to do some tastings at some of the local vineyards. I hit 4 in total, with El Esteco being my favorite, but these 4 kept me much more sober than the three in Mendoza…these were actual tastings instead of full-glass samples. I enjoyed the wines and vineyards of Cafayate, but I still prefer the ones we visited in Mendoza if I had to compare the two. For starters, I prefer red wines, and Cafayate’s specialty is the torrontes grape, which produces a white wine anywhere from semi-sweet to dessert-levels of sugar. Secondly, the Mendoza wineries were more equipped to give tours and happily showed off their craft and knowledge, whereas the Cafayate wineries seemed to give the tours out of necessity, almost reluctantly, than out of desire. One advantage Cafayate had was its surrounding scenery. The town sits next to the base of the mountains, which allows for a great visual while sampling. All that said, I’m definitely glad I came and would recommend it for wine lovers and amateurs alike. Accomplishing what I wanted to, I left after two days to head back north on plan, bound for the northwestern most province in Argentina, Jujuy.


With Carnaval approaching, I knew I wanted to be in Jujuy to celebrate due to its reputation in Argentina. There are several towns in Jujuy that offer Carnaval celebrations, but I settled on Tilcara as it seemed to be the most popular from what I gathered. This time of year, people from around the country storm this otherwise small town, and it becomes very crowded. Online, I could only book a hostel through Saturday morning (the main party being Saturday) so I figured I’d just figure out that day as it got closer. On Wednesday and Thursday I went on a few hikes around town. I went to Pucara de Tilcara, which is a collection of ruins dating back to the 12th century, and were rediscovered in 1908, with a lady from Buenos Aires also traveling solo. It was cool to explore the ruins, but I did find it a bit odd that the highest point on the mountains was a monument, dedicated not to the ancient settlers, but to the archaeologists instead.  The next day I hiked solo to Garganta Del Diablo, a rock formation created millions of years ago by shifting tectonic plates, with a waterfall at its peak. Although my favorite view was on the way down, looking across the valley at the multi-colored mountains (due to the different mineral types formed over the years).

Over Thursday and going into Friday, I experienced probably my first bout of real homesickness. Not to the extreme of ‘get me out of here now’ but I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I was just kind of in a funk. It had probably been two weeks since I had spoken more than a sentence or two in English, and that wears on you. Due to some indecisiveness on my part, I had little success finding a place to stay Saturday night, and had started to plan to leave for Bolivia Saturday morning (thus missing the party and the reason I was there). Just a bit of a cold streak if you will. But as things tend to do, I got a little momentum on my side going into the weekend. On Friday afternoon, a girl at the hostel told me she saw another hostel with availability for Saturday night, so I was able to book that and stay as originally planned. A good crew checked into the hostel Friday night, and we had a blast at a local peña, a restaurant and concert in one with folkloric music, including some sort of horn that was 8 feet long. Plenty of cerveza and dancing to go around.

I checked out on Saturday morning to go to my other hostel, and Jan, a French guy from my previous hostel, joined me. He had to run around to chase down his friend so I was kind of just hanging out when a few of the others at the hostel invited me to join them at the party. I couldn’t turn that down…sorry Jan. We got there as it was just getting ramped up. It was situated in an open field with some big speakers and a bunch of vendors. Before long it was shoulder to shoulder and all hell broke loose. The best way I can describe it is I got to act like a kid again. It’s an all-out war, with the weapons being paint, spray foam, and handfuls and handfuls of powder. I’ve said it before but I think it’s important that regardless of how old we are, we still find time to let loose and play. This hit the spot. I don’t know anything about Brazilian carneval, but this would be tough to top.

Now all I had to do was take a bus to the Bolivian border, buy my visa, and then take the 2nd bus to Tupiza, about 2 hours north. Easy enough, right? I knew beforehand that this could be tricky for a few reasons. First, Bolivia is one of the few countries in South America where people from the US need to pay to enter (reciprocity for us charging Bolivians) and second, a yellow fever vaccine, which I don’t have, is technically required. I knew you could pay the fee at the border and didn’t have to do it beforehand. The tough thing is you must pay in USD and have exactly $160 because they aren’t giving you change. I did some reading and people said there was an ATM at the border that could give out dollars. Cool…just need to find that ATM. So, I’m going through the process, filling out the paperwork, and I get to the grumpy lady that wants the money. I tell her I don’t have it, I need to find the ATM, and here comes a lot of confusion. She doesn’t really understand me, I don’t really understand her, she has my passport and tells me I need to pay before I get it back, I tell her I completely understand I just need to find that ATM, she mutters something else. Eventually someone else in line says go ahead into Bolivia and get some money and come back. Looking back, I’m sure I was in the country 100% illegally (allegedly). So I wander in, without passport, to go find an ATM. Of course, the one in town only gives out Bolivian pesos, so then I need to find an exchange house to rip me off and convert them into USD. I go back to the office, cash in hand, and there’s someone else working there. Great. I tell him my passport is here and I need to pay for my visa and he starts looking for it, nervously, without any success. To make a long story just a tiny bit shorter, I end up jumping back and forth between two offices a few times, recompleting paperwork, and getting a new stamp because my previous one was annulled (which I’m sure will make me stand out to every future immigration officer I meet). Almost four hours after when I arrived at the border, I legally entered Bolivia again and got on my way. Stressed out, I went to buy a beer from a street vendor and it was about 65 cents. Then I remembered why I’m in Bolivia. Should be a fun few weeks.

But with that I say goodbye to Argentina. A country in which I’ve spent 5.5 of the last 7 months, and they’ve been a blast. Many Argentines that I met said I’ve seen more of the country than they have, and I just look back and appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to accomplish that.

Two Feelings of Home

Two Feelings of Home

Back to Buenos Aires

When my flight touched down in BA, I almost felt like I came home. Not quite the same, but after about a month straight of figuring out a new city every three days, it felt so comforting to arrive to a place where I knew where I needed to go and what I needed to do. I had a few days before Dad and Sarah arrived, so I used that time to catch up with old friends who I hadn't seen in a few months. My friend George put me up in a spare bedroom of his which was just what I needed. He also had two lovely ladies from Canada staying with him who kept great company (and made great finger foods for the happy hours). Thursday I met up with a few friends from my TEGOBA group for some shawarma and coffee. On Friday I met up with Candela and we went to a Mundo Lingo event, the language exchange at local bars. I had a great time and it reminded me that I should've attended more often when I was in BA before; it's such a great way to practice language, but in a setting where everyone else is open and willing to do the same. On Saturday, I grabbed beers with my old roommate Nestor, the one person in Buenos Aires who had to put up with me more than anyone else. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see everyone I would've liked to, but if any of y'all are ever in the States, my door is always open.

I welcomed Dad and Sarah Sunday morning, fresh off their long, miserable first-class flight spent eating 4 course meals and drinking champagne. Poor kids :) It was wonderful to see family in a foreign land and I had a great time introducing them to my second home. We stayed at a really nice hotel in San Telmo, where I slept in a huge bed for the first time in a while. They got to see some of the Argentinean culture: exploring the San Telmo market, taking a tango lesson and seeing a full tango show, and being amused at how late they eat dinner. They got to sample the food (steak, empanadas, choripan, provoleta) and were even adventurous enough to try mollejas (sweetbreads, or, more familiarly, gizzards). I don't believe they'll be repeat mollejas consumers. And they were able to see the beautiful architecture of Buenos Aires, and appreciate it much more than I could. Although once the two construction nerds start talking about the different concrete techniques, they start to lose me.


Wednesday morning, I said goodbye to Buenos Aires (at least for the foreseeable future) and we hopped on a plane together to Mendoza. We arrived at Casa Glebinias in Lujan de Cuyo, a nice wine region 20 minutes outside of the city center of Mendoza. It's a beautiful boutique hotel with an on-site restaurant, wine cellar, and pool. Not what I'm used to, but really nice. The first day we were responsible and only went to one restaurant before we came back to get ready for 1884, Francis Mallman's top-class steakhouse. Incredible meal. The next day was our full wine day, where we went to the first winery, Vina Cobos, at 11. We learned quickly that the "pours" at these wine tastings are more like "glasses". Not that we were complaining, but I was probably down 2.5 glasses of wine after the first winery at about noon. We went to a lunch/wine pairing at Bodega Lagarde, where they did a 6-course meal with a wine pairing for each course. Here they didn't even bother asking if you wanted more; they treated an empty glass as a nuisance, and they knew the solution. Really good meal, really good wine, really bad prep for going to our third winery. We certainly had a nice time at Carmelo Patti, but I'd be lying if I told you I had any notes (or memories) of the different wine varietals the little old Italian man offered us. So, Pro Tip for anyone planning a Mendoza vacation: two wineries per day is probably a safe bet. Not long after arriving back at our hotel did we cancel our dinner reservations and settle for a nice pool-side "nap". Friday was our day to take a driving tour of the Andes, all the way to the entrance to Aconcagua National Park. As tends to happen with these massive mountains, there was a collection of clouds surrounding the peaks which skews your view, but it was nice for us to see a different side of Mendoza province, and our driver Gino gave us some nice history of the region, the country, politics, and everything in between.

They flew back home early Saturday morning and I've moved to a hostel in the Mendoza city center for a few days. I really enjoyed having them here, having them experience a world and a culture much different from what they're used to. It was a nice refresher, a pleasant reminder of home, that should hold me over nicely the last few months until I return to the states for good.

El Chalten and El Calafate

El Chalten and El Calafate

Well, I survived the 24-hour bus ride. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I got lucky and the bus was only about half full; the seat next to me was open and gave me the proper space to stretch out. The ride was also baby-free which was a nice touch. I was able to get almost a full 8 hours of sleep, and with Netflix downloads (life saving for me these days), podcasts, and my book, I passed the time without too much heartache. The bus company (Marga/Taqsa) even gave me a halfway decent dinner…or my standards have just fallen. They first brought me a tray with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese, a dinner roll, and a container of orange jello. I was about halfway through that delicacy when he brought up a warm aluminum container filled with chicken and rice. I have no doubt the chicken was frozen at some point but it was a nice surprise nonetheless.

I arrived in El Chalten mid-afternoon. El Chalten is a tiny and relatively young town, only founded in 1985, and driven completely off tourism. It sits in a small valley surrounded by mountains, which creates a perfect path for hurricane-like wind gusts, which can be a bit frustrating as you’re carrying both of your packs and trying not to fall over. After checking in at Rancho Grande hostel, I got out and did a quick 90-minute hike to a small waterfall, and started walking back just as it began to rain a bit. This wasn’t a great sign as if you have bad weather, El Chalten becomes much less interesting. If you can’t hike, there’s not much else to do besides eat and drink. That night I met up with my friend Nacho who I met in Bariloche, and one of his friends who were also in town, at a local restaurant. We split a massive picada plate (think charcuterie), which included my first helpings of ostrich and wild boar. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. After a beer and a bottle of wine, we split up and I walked home in the now-much-stronger rain storm.

I woke up the next morning to surprisingly clear skies. A well-timed break in the weather, since this is the day I had planned to hike the most well-known trail in town – the hike to Mt. Fitz Roy. On just a granola bar for breakfast (which I’ll explain later), I set out on the four-hour hike. The first hour or so was a little tough, but when you reach the peak of the first hill, you have an amazing view of the mountain peaks towering over the valley below, and for the next few hours, you walk with constantly beautiful sights. The last hour was the toughest part, an even steeper climb over rocks, but absolutely worth it. Probably my favorite hike so far, with absolutely stunning views, and the finish didn’t disappoint. After a 30-minute break at the top, and refilling my water bottle with fresh glacier water that would make Bobby Boucher proud, I headed back towards town. The following day, I had another day of decent weather and hiked towards Cerro Torre, a slightly less taxing hike towards the other tall peak in the area, with another glacial lake at its base. I hiked with Isaac from Holland, and he worked up the stones to go for a dip in the lake. Crazy Dutch…When we got back, we went to a local happy hour, where a 5 piece Argentinean folk band surprised us with a live performance.

The one challenging aspect of this town was the complete lack of ability to get cash. I heard it was a pain but was cutting it to close to my bus departure in El Bolson to fix it, I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong. They had 2 ATMs in town; one doesn’t accept cards with chips (is the alternative even a thing anymore?) and the other one regularly runs out of money. I went down at 8 on Monday morning when the bank opened (or was supposed to), and waited till 9 before accepting that maybe the teller just wasn’t planning on showing up that day. Without a withdrawal, I had barely enough cash (when combining Argentinean and Chilean pesos with my $20 remaining in USD) to pay for my hostel and bus ticket out of town, so I was skimping on food hard. I found one restaurant that took credit card, so my plan was just to eat a big dinner there every night. Of course, on my last night in town, I was able to withdraw a little money from the ATM, and later found out my hostel did accept credit cards, so all the worry was for naught.

I took the 2-hour bus ride to El Calafate, and the first thing I did after checking in at iKeuKen hostel was find a farmacia for my cold. Heavy dose of Sudafed in hand, I went to Laguna Nimez, a wildlife reserve right on the coast of Lago Argentina. Upon entry, the guy at reception told me to watch out between stations 7 and 10 as the birds of prey were nesting and they could get protective. I figured he was just saying this to add a little excitement to a bird sanctuary. It’s rare, he said. Wrong. Not until station 13, but I swear to god this bastard dive bombed me. I’m glad no one was around to hear the pitch of scream I let out, but it was an effective enough deterrent to save my eyeballs from certain gouging.

The other highlight here, and main reason people come, was the visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the world, and one of the only glaciers in the region that is expanding in size rather than shrinking. It was amazing, and one of those things where pictures don’t really do it justice. Hard to capture the sheer size, and the best part to me is sitting and listing to the thunderous cracks and crumbling of the ice as it falls 70 meters to the lake below.  It’s awe-inspiring, if not a little haunting. I capped off the afternoon in the café on-site, where they will serve you whiskey over a chunk of glacier ice, and it was 5 o’clock somewhere, so I partook. I ended the evening by meeting up with some old friends with Valparaiso over a few beers, and am about to get on the 5-hour bus towards Puerto Natales, Chile, the base to reach Torres Del Paine National Park. Hope the weather holds off.

Bariloche and El Bolson

Bariloche and El Bolson

After an easy 7-hour bus ride to Bariloche (I never thought I would just shrug off 7 hours on a coach bus but it’s not too bad with Netflix letting you download content now), I had one day to simply relax and get situated in the hostel as the weather was a bit rainy. I woke up the next day and set off to hike Cerro Campanario, an uphill but relatively short hike to, in my opinion, the best view point in Bariloche. Here, you can see all the surrounding lakes and mountains in the region, and fortunately for me the sky cleared just as I reached the top.

The next day, I went with 3 others from the hostel on the trek towards Refugio Frey. It’s a refuge at the top of the mountain where people can sleep, use as a base for their campsite, or simply grab food before the hike back down. The hike up was just over 3 hours, and was pretty mild for most of the way. The weather at this point was fantastic – I was able to rock just a t-shirt. We got to the top and enjoyed a better-than-expected ham and cheese sandwich, and watched a few psychos rock climbing up a ridiculous rock face at the very peak before starting the walk back down. I enjoy the random and sometimes ridiculous conversations that spur up on these longer hikes. For example, out of one guy’s refusal to believe in the marketing hype of trekking shoes (he wears his Vans to hike), we created the concept for a new product line: Vans Extreme, a potential rebellious outdoor shoe line. The working slogan: ‘F*ck trekking shoes. F*ck everything. Vans Extreme.” The nonsense you come up with to fill 6 hours of quiet without Wi-Fi is good for the soul, even if it doesn’t lead to profitable business ventures. Also, learned the basic rules to the Irish national sport of hurling around the dinner table one night.

The hostel here (Penthouse 1004) was fantastic as well. When you secure the top floor of an apartment building with a balcony overlooking the lake, it’s kind of hard to screw up. But they built out the space great as well. Huge and well-stocked double kitchen, great common area for socializing, and nice private bathrooms. Well worth the 5 extra bucks it’d cost you over some of the other hostels in town.

The next day I took a 2-hour bus ride to El Bolson, a smaller town to the south. I sort of planned for this leg to be a more relaxed leg, in between bigger hiking stops, and it was truly the perfect spot for it. The hostel here (La Casona de Odile) was recommended to me by someone I met at a previous spot with the caveat “it’s the kind of place that makes you not want to leave the hostel” and she was right. It has a ranch feel to it with several guest houses on a huge plot of land 3 miles outside of town that backs up to the river. Also featured: a wild lavender garden, an organic farm, hammocks everywhere, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 1 horse, and a new restaurant/bar on site with homemade beer and live music every night. Just an incredibly well-thought out and executed hostel. Everybody would be well-served to spend a long weekend here and unwind.

I did have one day out of the place, where I took a bus down to Lago Puelo National Park, hiked up to a great viewpoint and through the botanical garden, and finished with a meal along probably the bluest lake I’ve ever seen. I also saw what I believe to be the biggest wild pig I've ever seen, and immediately started scouting my possible escape routes. But we came to an understanding, he just wanted to eat and I was cool with that. Beautiful park with plenty of activities if you’re looking for a nice day trip from El Bolson.

 I’ve had a really nice 6 day run in this region, and for the most part, I’ve had incredible weather (sunny and low 70s). Now the real adventure begins – in 2 hours I board a 24-hour bus ride down to El Chalten in the heart of Patagonia. There’s no way to spin it…this bus ride is going to suck. Terribly. But hopefully, with the aid of too much melatonin, I can get some decent sleep and wake up tomorrow refreshed and ready to go.