Patagonia, Round One
This is the story of my 8-day adventure in Patagonia. It was AMAZING—last Sunday I left with my 2 friends Meghan (from Buffalo NY) and Rebecca (Washington DC) on a bus that, in a mere 18 hours, took us to Bariloche, a small place I like to call paradise on the Chilean border. Bariloche is the biggest city in the Lake District, and it is on the southern side of Lake Nahual Huapi, the biggest of the lakes. I can’t put into words how beautiful it is there, and the 350 pictures I took over 4 days just don’t do it justice. There are 7 branches to the lake it is surrounded on all sides by the Andes Mountains. And there’s really no better place for an adventure than the Andes, right?
DAY 1. We arrived at 8 in the morning and took a nap at our hostel before going out to explore. In the main square there are photographers willing to charge people an arm and a leg to take their picture with a St Bernard puppy. Random. We went to the place where our travel agent had booked us an excursion and talked to Ulysses. He was like, “right, so we have you down for hiking and rappelling” and I thought to myself, “well, my travel agent is FIRED because we’re supposed to do something tame that doesn’t scare the living daylights out of me, like snowshoeing.” But for some reason I didn’t say that out loud…instead I just gave him more money to go snowshoeing a different day. Then we had a photoshoot at the lake :)
DAY 2. One of the many sweet things about our hostel (and I suppose a lot of hostels) is that we could cook our own food. So we did that on Monday and Tuesday nights, and took lunch with us to go sledding on Tuesday (day 2) and all of that at the grocery store cost 15 pesos, or 5 dollars each. So the trip was pretty affordable already, but even more so because we could do that. Also, Bariloche is famous for it’s chocolate, so on Monday and Tuesday we tried the guide book’s first and second choices (Mamushka and Benroth) and each chose a few kinds of chocolate to try, such as white chocolate with dulce de leche, mint and wiskey (my personal favorites) and had a chocolate tasting after dinner. I also made it a habit to drink delicious hot chocolate at a café after a long day in the snow. Sledding was fun, beautiful views from the top of Cerro Otto (Cerro pretty much means ‘Mount’ but not really. Monte means mount, but Cerro is just a really common term in the Argentine Andes).
DAY 3. I woke up and the idea of rappelling hadn’t really sunk in yet. (If you don’t know what rappelling is check out wikipedia: Its basically just walking backwards down a rock face and you have to be in control of whether you’ll fall or not). If you didn’t already know, I am absolutely terrified of heights. This was actually a really big day for me. I started out thinking about how I was mad at my travel agent (Andrea) for booking this excursion WITH OUT ASKING us if that was ok (we DEFINITELY told her snowshoeing). I don’t really know how to put this into perspective for you…but I was the only kid at outdoor school in 6th grade that didn’t make it to the top of the climbing wall at Camp Orkila. I only made it a 1/3 of the way up (what is that? Like 10 or 15 feet? Maybe 20?). So we hiked along in one of the most beautiful places ever, within sight of Chile, and met up with our guides, Marco and Marcelo.
We went up, up and up away from the lake, and that’s totally fine, because I’ve been working on my fear of heights lately. I climbed Mt St Helens at the end of May, and was totally fine the whole time, and then did a scramble (climbing up loose rock) at the top of Mt Si in mid-June, so I’m a LOT better than I was before. And they showed us this rock, and from the bottom, it didn’t look straight up and down, there were like…stairs? Stairs for a…giant? I don’t know, it was straight down, then out a little, then straight down some more. Even thinking about it makes my hands tingle. I went up to the top, and Becca went first, and I was definitely considering not following through, but I couldn’t pass up on this good of a story. I thought there would be some time between people but once Rebecca was out of sight on her way down, Mariano was like, ok, get over here! First of all, it did NOT help me that she got 2 ropes and I only got one, how is that fair? I was 50x more scared than she was. So anywho, I thought to myself, “I’ll just go to the edge and see how it feels” but all of a sudden I was roped up and there was this short rope I was clipped to for security, and he just unclips it! (Apparently once you’re clipped to the actual rope you don’t get to keep the other one). And Mariano and I were having this conversation in mixed Spanish and English about how I thought he was crazy and he was like, “just go. And remember: NEVER let go with your right hand! Ok bye!”). O, and he also yelled down that I should look around on the way down (I was hundreds of feet above the lake—no thank you!).
So I actually feel like I was tricked into rappelling. First of all because of Andrea, who planned it, and then because Mariano was showing me how to step back and how I should lean back, etc. and he took a couple steps with me, and at that point I was definitely still thinking about it, and he started going back up, and I stopped to think about how scared I was, and he was like, ok, keep going!
It was 40 meters, and it was AWESOME. It really was. As much as I like to be overly dramatic about things, I can’t wait to go rappelling again. There are certain things in your life that once you do them you know you can do anything. I knew I could rappel down that thing because of so many things I’ve done before. I’ve been living in Argentina for 5 weeks now, what can’t I do?
DAY 4. The feeling carried over to the next day when we went snow shoeing (with Marco and Mariano from the day before—yay!). I miss you guys (some days I miss Seattle and Orange a lot) but I really need to be here right now, and I’m so well taken care of—I have made friends here and found a church. I know God is always with me, but we all know that’s a little harder to grasp sometimes. I love that I’m out here trying all these new things on my own, because they’re my own experiences just for me. I think I’m going to do some indoor climbing before I come home…we’ll see :)
Snowshoeing was beautiful, and we stopped along the way so Marco could give us little lessons about the plants and animals of the area. Interestingly, there are a lot of Cypress trees there (which honestly means nothing to me) but the cool thing is that the underbrush is primarily bamboo cane—how exotic! And the other cool part is that 90% of our conversions were in Spanish. At one point as we hiked along, Marco turned around, and was like, “wait, how long have you been in Buenos Aires?” and I said a month, and he was like, “that’s not possible! Your Spanish is too good!”
As a side note, I’ve gotten really into Spanish lately. It’s been getting easier and easier and we met some cool people this week that we could practice with. I start my regular classes tomorrow, and I’m taking what is supposedly a really intense advanced Spanish class, and I’m excited to learn more. My other 2 classes are in Spanish too!
After snowshoeing on Thursday we got on a bus to go from Bariloche to Puerto Madryn (in Atlantic Patagonia) to see the whales (and I was hoping Penguins too, but I’ll just tell you right now, that it didn’t happen). These buses are SO comfortable, and surprisingly, although I can’t sleep on planes or generally in cars, 2 out of the 3 nights I was on buses, I slept pretty well. I might even venture to say really well. However, this night on the way to PM was the night I didn’t sleep well. That was fine, but it’s worth mentioning that there are attendants on these buses that serve meals and show movies (always random movies no one has ever heard of: Next is the weirdest one I can think of right now). The attendants on the first and last buses were very helpful and nice, and this one, on the way to PM gets the points for being beautiful, but was REAL creepy. His name was Santiago, and he slept on the seat in front of Becca after inviting her to join him there (whoa). He really was beautiful, but after talking to him for a few minutes we didn’t want anything to do with him, which is too bad because there were only 8 people on the bus for the first 4 hours so he lingered for a significant amount of time.
DAY 5. We arrived at our hostel at 7am and while we waited for our room, we played with Jaime, a 2 month old puppy whose owner works at the hostel (adorable). Then after a nap that really wasn’t long enough, the 3 of us were very cranky and went out to find lunch. We felt a lot better after that, but had been spending a lot of time together, so needed a break. Also, I was sick all week, and Becca was about 2 days behind me on the sickness cycle, so it hit her the hardest in PM. Becca went back to the hostel to rest, and Meghan and I rented bikes to explore. We went to a little museum a few miles down the beach that had a lot of history about the first Welsh colonists who settled in caves along the beach in PM in the 1860s. So we left our bikes there and walked down to the beach to see the remains of the caves, and then walked along the water for a really long time.
As we walked back to our bikes on the road, there were whales out in the water!!! So cool. And we’d also been worried that we’d gone at the wrong time of year to see whales, so that gave us hope for the next day. And Meghan and I had so much fun together, we’re really compatible travel buddies.
DAY 6. On Saturday we had breakfast at the hostel with Kirk from California and Todd from Australia and then the 5 of us went whale watching with a bunch of other people. I sat next to this really fun Argentine woman named Marí who is very mom-like. She talked and talked with us for a long time and added on to what our tour guide was saying. We drove out onto the Valdes Peninsula which took like 1 ½ hours, just to get to Puerto Piramides where we put on ginormous blue ponchos (kirk got a bright orange one, that lucky dog) and extremely flattering life jackets and got in a boat that was probably smaller than a whale.
It isn’t even peak season yet, and once we got out into the water, there were whales EVERYWHERE! It was really cool, because I’d never been whale watching before. I’m pretty sure there are some kind of protection laws in the States where you can’t within a certain distance of whales, but luckily, that isn’t true here, so we got within about 15 or 20 feet. Totally awesome, although most of my pictures are of a single fin sticking out of the water. There would be 2 or 3 swimming alongside the boat, or one by itself floating on its back, bobbing up and down with its fins sticking up in the air. And they were ENORMOUS. (they’re called southern right whales, I’ve never heard of them before…)
We also learned all about the difference between Sea Elephants and Sea Lions, and saw them from a distance, but that wasn’t nearly as exciting, as it was right before lunch.
Later that night we went to dinner with Todd and Kirk and also Lisa and Diego who had arrived from BA that day. Lisa is one of those people you feel like you can connect with in about 10 seconds. For those of you who know Christy Lang, she is VERY similar to her, and for those of you who don’t know Christy Lang, then you’re missing out, and I can give you a more detailed description sometime. OK, I want to wrap this up soon, but Lisa is a middle school teacher from Calgary, Canada who does really fantastic stuff every summer, like spending 2 months in Argentina to improve her Spanish while living with distant relatives. We only spent 4 hours together, but it was really refreshing, like a little bit of home to keep me going. After dinner we all went to get ice cream and then walked out onto the pier and froze our faces off and then hit the sack.
DAY 7/8. Sunday we went back to the bus station with Todd, who was heading south to see the glaciers, and the 3 of us got on the bus with the loudest snoring man ever to walk the Earth. I was sad I couldn’t take Todd home with me, but, such is life. And that’s about it…we got to BA just in time to take the subte (subway) home during rush hour, and I’ve been sleeping and eating pizza ever since :)
It was really hard to leave Bariloche, so I’ve decided to become really outdoorsy and move back there to be a guide (if anyone wants to join me, you’re more than welcome to!)
I’m attaching some photos for you:
First, beauteous Lake Nahuel Huapi. Second, Sunset from Bariloche. Third, Becca and Meghan dressed for whale watching!