Argentina, 2010

Cris got to pick our vacation this year, as I gave up my choice so that I could pick my parent's 40th anniversary cruise in 2011. After lots of debate, we settled on seeing Iguazu Falls in the north and hiking around Mount Fitzroy in the south. This led to a pair of internal flights on Aerolineas Argentina. Someday I want to go back and do a bike tour around Mendoza, as well as spending more time in Patagonia.
We took Air Canada to accrue mileage, so the trip got even more complicated by flying via Canada and Chile.
I wrote longhand in my notebook during this trip, so this is the transcription of that record.

Cris's take on the trip:

Tuesday November 23, 2010

Boston to Toronto to Santiago

Had a hard time sleeping, I'd keep waking up and having to tear my mind from worries. Then I woke up at 6:30, 7, 7:30 and finally got up at 8. I was all packed in my 70L pack and had Cris's crumpler bag as my shoulder bag. I read and dawdled, turning down the heat and checking locks and generally being nervous. I left th e house just in time to miss the bus. *sigh* Taking the pack on and off is a bit of a strain but walking is fine. Had two seat hogs next to me on the Red Line. Transfered to the Green Line and walked to my office. The bank machine refused to give me more money, I'd reach my daily withdrawal limit since I took out the daily limit after close of business the night before. I'll take the 3% foreign exchange hit on my credit card if necessary. Work was a bit nuts, with two meetings, but I got stuff done.

At a natural stopping point I left to catch the 3pm 55 bus to avoid walking back to Kenmore. Got off at Copley and went down to wait for a Green Line train. Let one go by since it was full, but the next had some room. A woman let me have a single seat so my pack was out of the way - I just kept it on and perched on the edge of the seat. On to the Blue Line and off at the airport stop. There I went over to a stone bench/ledge near the park behind the station and put everything in the duffle bag (Dad's old military one that I'd folded and put in the top of my hiking pack) instead, keeping out a sweater and an empty water bottle for the plane. Took the shuttle to terminal B and Cris found me as I was printing my boarding pass. We got our bags checked and I told the woman I'd cleaned out the fuel bottle for my camp stove (with rubbing alcohol, though it would have been saver never to have put any fuel in it before flying with it :/ ). Then we realised that our gate was behind the security check point for just three gates and we had 2.5 hours before our flight. We took the airport shuttle over to terminal C since B was sparse on places to eat. I got some soup at Au Bon Pain and then came back and went through the metal detector. Our plane was a bit late (20 minutes) and we had a bumpy ride on the way down into Toronto (I felt queasy). I read the food issue of En Route, made notes on new Canuck restaurants to check out (Cava in Montreal, Bi Beo (?) in Vancouver). Had to go through a perfunctory customs check in YYZ and walked down a long corridor to the international area. We had dinner at Casey's as we just beat their closing up at 9:30pm or so. Bright red walls and chairs, and bike themed decorations on the walls. I'd have expected the bar to stay open later but only a few Air Canada flights were left to go. Abu Dabi always sounds made up but people were leaving to go there. :) I had Nine (roasted) Vegetable Linguini for dinner, it was good if very garlicky. I brushed my teeth before and after the meal. We browsed the book store, I want to read Cassandra Clare's young adult fantasy books but I didn't want to bring more than the one thick SF book I had packed with me (Judas Unchained). At gate 177 waiting to board. 11pm and tired enough to sleep. We go via Santiago, Chile but hopefully no layover.

Wednesday November 24, 2010

Santiago to Buenos Aires

Ate a second dinner on the plane when it came by, mostly the sides though. Chocolate cake hit the spot. :) Then slept/dozed most of the way - I checked the seat back system's map @ Ecuador and then I was awake for most the way down Chile. We were served very sweet mini waffles for breakfast. Coming in to Santiago there were lots of steep hills and flat farmland, one hill top was ticking out of the clouds. Dry and windy, bumpy landing. Hot, too, heard 30C. We had to deplane with all of our stuff, then we walked and walked and then went through a metal detector. Then back up to the second floor and to the departure lounge around gate 11, right where we started. We had to wait for them to clean and re-crew the plane. The terminal was under construction, there were lots of loose nails on the carpet. There were a Starbucks and a Ruby Tuesday as well as a kiosk called The Last Pisco Sour. Our flight leaves at 1:45, should board soon. I so need a shower, I passed on teeth brushing here at the last second, will trust the plane water instead.

Watched Canadian short films (Dermot's Quest with Sarah Polley swearing, Password, Cut Above), then half of Despicable Me, all during the 1 hour 45min flight. Had to pay a reciprocity fee ($70 US for Canucks, though they charged it to my Visa card in pesos). Quick stamp through customs and then spotted my bag on the baggage carousel right outside security immediately. Then we had a long wait for our driver. No sign for us in the scrum of drivers, and no English speaker on the phone at the hotel. We had started to buy bus tickets outside the terminal when I got email on my phone (free wifi) saying that our driver should be there. Went back into the terminal and found Cris's name on a new sign by the taxi scrum (a round kiosk where drivers would come up and collect passengers, with a lattice supporting hand written names next to it, facing where passengers would come out) and we waited some more. The temperature was 28C, I was wilting a bit. We were finally united with our driver and he led us to his car. We had a fairly long drive to our hotel in the city, there were a lot of one way streets near our hotel so he had to circle back out onto Av 9 Julio. We were finally deposited on the sidewalk outside of our hotel and rang the bell. The mother of the innkeeper let us in and registered us and led us up to our room on the second floor, up a tiny stone staircase (1890 Hotel Boutique is named for the year it was built) with the maid insisting on carrying up our heavy packs.

I took a quick shower and we headed out for dinner. Somehow our time was set an hour early and the restaurant hadn't opened yet (at 7). We went back down the streets of San Telmo a bit and went into the place selling waffles. We had a dulce de leche waffle (first of many dulce de leche experiences in Argentina). It was advertised as Patagonian beach style food and the semi surfer dude chatted to us about the family business. Browsed a used book store and a covered market to pass the time, but the latter was mostly filled with closed up shops. Finally it was time to head back to La Brigada, we were given a table by the cleverly hidden restroom hallway door (mirrored). Lots of soccer stuff on the walls. My caprese salad was amazing (there was a huge pile of amazingly fresh split grape tomatoes) but my roast chicken was mostly dry. Cris's fries were awesome as well as a Norton Reserva 2007 malbec. Desert more than made up for it - my pears in mint sauce were bright green and came with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. Cris's choice from the menu of ice cream dipped in whiskey turned out to be in reality a floating scoop of ice cream in a double shot of Jack. :) Added to the Fernet and cola he had as well as the wine and he was happy. :)

My co-worker Demian had given us a pointer to a tango club, Milonga Maldita, in San Telmo and it was close by. It was garbage night, lots of plastic shopping bags piled on street corners and we saw a pair of garbage men shovelling piles of garbage between their legs, gathering some of it into the truck and then moving on. :/ Demian couldn't join us, but we found the club easily, walking over and up Peru. We went up stairs opening from the street, and entered a large dark noisy crowded room filled with a stage, dance floor and tables. There was a mix up with change at the door, I thought we had a drink ticket, but Cris had to go back to get the rest of his change once the door guy had more. We got a table and enjoyed watching the dancing. The live band was good, I was sorry Demian couldn't make it. We stayed to midnight. A gin and tonic for me and a fernet and cola for Cris had us a bit unsteady on the walk back to the hotel. Got a bottle of water ($4, exchange rate is about 7 Argentinian dollars to one American) at the corner store. No luck with wifi in the hotel room.

Thursday November 25, 2010

Buenos Aires

The black out curtains really work! We were also pretty tired, but still, we slept in to 10:45. Got ready to head out and went downstairs. Glancing into the breakfast room, we saw 3 place settings and someone popped out to ask if we wanted breakfast. Yes please! Herbal tea, fruit mix with bananas were balanced out by sweet croissants with jam, yoghurt and fresh o.j. Dawdled a bit but eventually got out the door. Walked over to Av 9 Julio and along it to the obelisque. Found the hall of justice and then went around and in Teatro Colon.
Tours start next year, and the shows that are playing while we're in the country are on while we're elsewhere. We had a snack of water and coffee at the cafe there, though. It was hot outside and I'm apparently really allergic to the blooming jacaranda trees lining some of the avenues. I stopped in at a pharmacy to get tissues and some mouthwash to counteract tooth brushing water paranoia. We checked in at the ticket booth in the first floor lobby of Edificio Barolo at around 2pm, the tour was at 4pm so we went off to find lunch. Across from Cafe Iberia, we had fish (white (steak) salmon for me, pink for Cris) at a parilla. Service was leisurely, we got offered a pre lunch drink and a post lunch lemon drink included with the table service charge (which usually covers bread and the place setting overhead I guess). Natural potato on the menu ended up being skinned and boiled whole. The room was high ceilinged and airy, with lots of bull fighting stuff on the walls. We wandered a bit after lunch, trying to find an adaptor for the chargers, but no luck. The sidewalks are missing lots of tiles (except on Santa Fe, the swanky shopping street).

We went back to the Barolo and got tickets at 3:30pm, and then went out again to find adaptors and, again had no more luck, came back in time to join our group gathering in the lobby. Our tour guide did the Spanish then the English explanations, though I think we were the only English speakers. The elevators were a bit dodgy, we had to strictly respect the 9 and 7 person limits in the various ones, going up and down floors in three groups. The building's architecture was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, the first floor was Hell, with dragons on the walls, then Purgatory then Heaven in the tip top of the tower. They're unveiling a statue in the lobby that night. It's a working office building and we were cautioned to be quiet as we were going past office doors. We took the elevator up to the tower stop, then climbed 6 flights of tightly curving stone stairs to a lookout point. We went out on tiny balconies to see the view of the city, and then up more stairs to the lighthouse room which was mostly glass. I sat on the floor when I went up with the second group, sitting on the edge of the glass that extended over the side of the tower was not happening. The tour guide did warn people who were afraid of heights to go up last, so I did so. After that we headed back down toward the lobby, and got in an elevator around the corner that a tour member called, and we got stuck. Pressed the alarm and it went dark and the numbers reset to 14th as we were dropping from floor 6 or so. :( I kind of panicked and pushed all the buttons trying to do the math to figure out what number the lobby would be and fearing that we'd hit the bottom of the shaft at speed. Luckily we stopped at the basement level with no surprises and we were directed up some stairs to the lobby. I was a lot hot and cranky from the heights and the elevator scare so I requested that we get a snack as soon as possible.

We went to 1858 Cafe Tortoni. Filled with tourists taking pictures. Had a milkshake and an apple pie (very sweet and a la mode) and it sorted me out. Then to the tango museum upstairs. Lots of display cases with only Spanish lettering, so I had to puzzle things out a bit. There was a room playing a movie and a dance room and lots of artefacts from the tango halls of Argentina (including a very very old bottle of Bols Genever). I liked the large flow-form sculpture of two dancers. Then we braved the subway to Callao to go to El Ateneo, a book store that used to be an opera house. It was really beautiful inside, with shelves filling the spaces where seats used to be. There was a small jumbled English books section, and there was a reading going on at the back, on the old stage. We walked along Santa Fe - nice shops. B.A. seems to group shops like Toronto does, we passed through a music store area at one point. The subway back was insane, maybe a late rush hour at 7:30? Back at the hotel, we were starting to clean up for dinner when Lucy called asking us to settle up then, since she might not make it in before we left the next day. We went down to the kitchen and got our credit cards swiped through the machine, and reserved a night for our transition night on our way back and down south on Saturday. She gave us the room next to ours with a balcony and jacuzzi for the same price as our current room. The kitchen was oddly cozy for a high ceilinged room that was mostly white.

I had a quick shower/bath and was ready when Carolina arrived at around 9:30pm. She's the cousin of a friend of a friend, we were given her contact information when we started talking about this trip and I'm glad that we were able to meet up with her. We all took the subway back to Callao, and walked back up to Santa Fe to a comfort food place, Cumana. It smelled delicious in there, though it took a while to get our food. Their empanadas (roquefort and basil/tomato/mozzarella) spoiled me forever for lesser offerings. My casserole of sweet potato, corn and cheese was delicious. The malbec was a bit light though. Good conversation, she's nice and we have a fair amount in common. Took a taxi back on her recommendation (the subway stops running fairly early, and the busses require a plan to get on the right one). It was kind of scary to be in a taxi going fast on Av 9 Julio. We got back to the hotel at about midnight. Demian didn't make it though I'd sent him an email with the details of where we were going for dinner. Set a 9am alarm for breakfast, packing, subway, bus to airport for 1:30pm flight to Iguazu.

Friday November 26, 2010

Buenos Aires to Iguazu

I guess for completeness I'll transcribe our flight information, recorded in my notebook since I wasn't sure what our 'net access would be like outside of BA:
AR 2728 EZE 1:35->3:20
Nov 27 AR 2739 Ig 4:20->6:10p -> 1890 BNB
Nov 28 AR 1694 EZE 3:50p -> El Cal 7:03
Dec 3 AR 2899 El Cal 22:38 -> AEP 1:34a -> Lola

Cris's phone went off at 9, though I think the birds in the garden had woken us both up before. Changed into tropical adventure gear (aka cancer soaked togs (permetherin to keep biting insects away)) and packed up everything in my backpack (plan is to switch it to duffle at the airport). Breakfast options were the same as yesterday, I had vanilla yoghurt instead. 2 French or German people joined the table, but Cris was so sneezy I hoped that they still enjoyed their meal! Lucy was there after all. We went back up to the room to use the bathroom and grab our packs and then came back down. Lucy let use out. We walked over to the San Juan subway stop (and had a confusing half conversation with a guy as we crossed Av 9 de Julio, not sure we were even having the same conversation). Got a 2x ticket, and just missed a train, but I was able to get a look at how crowded it was as it left the station, everywhere but the front was packed. We moved up and got good standing room on the next train. It was a quick ride to the end of the line at Retiro and we followed the bus terminal signs and walked over to the Manuel Tienda Leon bus terminal. Crossing the street was an adventure, there were no lights so we followed the lady in uniform and the people with kids. We could see the pollution from all of the transport trucks. It was warm but not as deadly as yesterday. Bus tickets, 2 ways, were 85 pesos. Got our stuff loaded in the cargo hold and then we sat for a bit in the terminal bay - we pulled out at 11:25, after having left the BNB at about 10:30. We got to the the airport just after 12pm, we had retraced our steps totally to get out of the city and onto the highway, the overpass was just a few blocks from our BNB. Once we were on the highway, barring the tolls, it was fast. Different, new looking, terminal at the international airport for our departure.

I stopped outside the terminal to switch my stuff into my duffle bag. The check in line was small, but the woman was quite confused by our tickets. After 3 people worked on them, we finally got our boarding passes and our bags were checked. Security was fast, and though both of us got pat downs when we beeped, mine was perfunctory. I just had time to use the restroom (there was a line up), and have a sit down sandwich at the cafe (counter plus a roped off section of tables with waiters running our food) before our flight started boarding. The domestic airport was under construction so the domestic flights were squeezed in 5 or so gates at the international airport. We were put on a bus and driven almost all the way around the airport. We went up the tail stairs of our plane, but row 22 wasn't as far back as I'd expected (big plane!) and we crossed the front door loading line before getting to our seats. An older guy who was excited to take pictures was next to me in the window seat. The exit row wasn't the plum that it is in the US - we couldn't put anything under the seat in front of us and the attendant shoo'd away people who moved in. We were offered a ham and cheese sandwich (I had tomato and cheese at the airport), a dulce de leche wagon wheel, and I gave Cris my toffee.

I napped and read through the short-ish flight (1h 30m?), and the landscape definitely got greener as we flew north. Once we landed, there was a bit of confusion over the bus, I thought that one that had already left was the one we were supposed to take. I had time to swap my stuff back into my pack again for easier carrying, and to find a spot out of the sun - it was hot and humid! Red and black patterned butterflies would swing by but not stay still long enough for me to get a picture. A taxi driver told us that it would be an hour until the next bus, but it turned out that the big bus that had left already wasn't us, he was just trying to convince us to pay his fare. We eventually got into a small bus with one other person, waiting as the driver settled up the fares with the inbound passengers first before we could board.

All the pictures

On the tree lined road from the airport, we drove past the entrance to the falls, and then went on a fair ways down the road to the American campground. They didn't speak any English at the check in desk, but we figured it out, getting a wooden sign with a number on it in exchange for a bit of money to stay one night. We picked a spot to set up the tent, on grass under some trees, near an electrical outlet and stone tables. There was a multi grill structure with a water spout and sink at the end, and lights on poles. I can hear the techno from the pool area, but there are only three other tents set up here. We put up the tent and threw most of our stuff in it and walked back out of the campground to catch the bus to the falls. We eventually figured out where to wait on the other side of the road (it wasn't that exact a science, just flag it down if you wanted it to stop between the vaguely official stops), and a bus came but the driver said that it was too late to go in. I think we should have gone to the hotel inside the park anyway to see if they could store our stuff tomorrow but we got off anyway and crossed the road to wait for the bus going in the other direction, to downtown Iguazu. It was very hot and humid, I was fading and needing water and food. My brain was shutting down and I was just standing dumbly waiting for a bus to show up. We got seats when the bus stopped for us and a group of young women in swim cover-ups. We rode it into town, the bus filling up at flag stops. The roads were all red from the local dirt. We got off near the centre of town, as best as we could tell. After walking a loop and meandering around a bit until we found the bus station were we were able to get info on schedules and a park brochure. I had picked up a bottle of water at a small store and felt verbal again with the hydration working it's way into my system. We walked back to the main road that had lots of supermarkets on it (not sure why they were clustered like that or why they needed so many for such a small town), and stocked up on camping friendly food. We got bread, dulce de leche (because there was no peanut butter), water, pesto, but didn't find any matches. I saw two women with whom we caught the bus out, and we all got on the same bus heading back to the campground. It was less than four pesos/$1US for the both of us, a nice change from Japan where we had to budget tens of dollars to ride the bus around Yakushima. I took pictures on the bus ride back to the campground, forgetting to grab any of downtown.

It was getting a bit dark, it took a while to get a fire going with found charcoal and a lighter that Cris bought at the camp store. Eventually the water in the pot started steaming and we put in a couple of boil in a bag rice bags and let them sit for about 20 minutes. It was about 9pm once they were done. I mixed in flavoured salmon pouches and called it done. We're ignoring the parilla up the road. :) We used our headlamps on and off, and the candle lantern as well since the park lamps weren't optimally spaced to light our tasks. I think I saw some pale bats, and a small ground animal, as well as the pair of mating dogs belonging to the campers across the way. *sigh* I also saw a few bright blue LED-like fireflies. The plan is to be up early and on the 7:30am or so bus to get to the park as it opens. I'm still not 100% sure what we'll do with the packs. Time to brave the rest rooms and clean up as best I can. And find earplugs for the incessant techno music, and the highway noise, and the night chorus.

Saturday November 27, 2010

Iguazu to Buenos Aires

I slept poorly, a car alarm went honking at one point and night roving animals would jar me awake. Near dawn a gaggle of roosters sarted crowing and the song birds went nuts too. During the night, I was a bit chilly in a sleeveless shirt and boxers, I ended up half in the down sleeping bag that I'd brought for Patagonia. I got up at around 6am, and had granola for breakfast from the baggies that I'd packed. I just washed my face since I was putting on the same permetherin soaked clothes as yesterday. Cris struck the tent, and I got some of the mud off of the footprint, but it needs an airing. I took the tent poles and restuffed my pack. We dropped off the wooden 57 number board at the check in building and crossed the road where we flagged down the bus as it kept getting delayed at the previous stop by young women dashing across the road, but not quite delayed enough for us to make it there with laden packs on our back. 7.50 pesos for the cataracts stop, and he went pretty fast once the forest engulfed the road, only slowing once he made the turn and encountered speed bumps. Almost everyone got off (we'd stood at the front of the pretty full bus), but we took long enough to get sorted out once we got off that we were the last in the ticket line. 75 pesos, then 20 pesos to check our bags in the ticket building locker room, but it was worth every centavo. :)

We decided to walk the green path instead of taking the free train. We took the rainforest path to the cataracts station and we saw a few birds and lizards along the way. We went in the park at 8am and came out at 2:30pm and time flew by. Most of the trails were paved or metal bridges (we often crossed above the falls). We did the upper trail first, then the lower. It was very hot in the sun. The falls were thunderously loud, and we got really close to the falling water, close enough to be in the spray. Our first glimpse of the falling water was almost overwhelming, and then more and more cataracts would apear, it was insanely beautiful.

Then we went down to the Ilsa San Martin boat landing point, a bare rock path next to the cliff face and near the bottom of the falls. The for pay boat adventure left from the dock next to it, so we saw lots of soaked people coming off the boats - they went right into the spray at the bottom of the falls. Our trip was calm, we put life jackets on over our heads but the pilot said not to tie the belts - it was a 2 minute cruise over the river at the base of the falls to get to the beach on the island. There were big black birds drying their wings on the beach, next to the base of the trail leading up the cliff. We had a long hot climb up to the top of the cliffs, I kept having to stop to catch my breath. I had my second dulce de leche sandwich at the top of the climb on a bench by the trail. I think it was here that a bird left a deposit on Cris, and we saw a few big lizards who felt like they owned the paths. I slurped down so much water all day long, but I sweat most of it out immediately. It felt like it was 35C or so, I was pretty miserable whenever I was out of the shade.

After walking around all the trails on the island, we went back down the cliff path and back across the water on the boat - people were swimming on the island beach now. We went up the cliff on the other side and went to the food court area to get some lunch at noon. Some curious animals had to be shooed away by the park rangers, but one camped out under a woman's chair, waiting for crumbs to fall. The cafe was basically just a roof on poles, but shade and a cross breeze, not to mention more ice water and some food, revivied me. Chicken and hard boiled egg empanadas and water and Cris made me at potato chips for the salt. We had just enough time to take the train out to Garganta station, though we had a 20 minute wait for it to leave the station near the food court.
From where it let us off we had a 1.2km walk on a long metal walkway over various branches of the river and islands in it. It was really hot going over the open water stretches with no shade. I took some quick photos of the huge falls that we hadn't really been able to see from where we were before, and then we did the long walk back and caught the train at 2pm. We took it all the way back to the gate stop and got our bags out of hock. We bought some post cards at the gift shop, and then got a taxi outside to head to the airport.

There was a long line to check in, then we went up to a balcony area on the second flood where the security lines were a mess due to 2 flights leaving soon. Cris went to get a snack and I stayed in line, getting shifted back and forth by airport employees. Then I went through another passport check (Cris reminded me that Brazil and Paraguay were only a bridge away), and a quick security scan and then spent some time waiting in a lounge (just chairs, no amenities). People lined up at a door that said gate 1, but I was happy to sit still until we saw the line moving. Cris came through security soon after. We're on the plane now and sitting due to technical difficulites. I saw a butterfly in the lounge area, there were lots and lots of them at the falls too, of all colours. Eventually we got going but we were about an hour late. Smooth flight but when it got bumpy the group of Italians on the flight ignored the fasten seat belts signs and kept moving around and chatting. We were offered the same snack as on the outbound flight, a ham and cheese sandwich and sweets. I read the in flight magazines - the Austral (?) interviews were kind of silly. We were bussed to the terminal again, and had a wait for our luggage, so all the carts got snapped up. But as we got a look outside, we saw the bus so we just hauled stuff to it as fast as possible and just barely caught it before it pulled out. The return ticket from when we left took me a minute to find but I got on eventually. Cris had a brainstorm and suggested checking our bags at the bus terminal so we wouldn't have to lug them downtown and then right back again in the morning. It was 10 pesos to leave them until midnight, and another 10 when we would pick it up in the morning. Perfect. Sitting on a bench in the bus terminal, I dug out a change of clothing, pjs, and stuff to wash with from out of my duffel and got it all in a stuff sack which Cris put in his backpack. We left our heavy duffles there and got back on the subway, after walking back across the park.

The subway wasn't too crowded and it was nice walking with just a shoulder bag. The temperature was good, but it was a little windy. We showed up back at the 1890 Hotel and Lucy and a new woman checked us in. We were shown up to the room next door to our old one, it was still very white, but had a fireplace and balcony and more space around the bed. I washed my clothes in the tub and hung them on the chairs and door grating on the balcony, they were drying quickly, thankfully. Then I showered off all the grubby feeling from camping and sweating around Iguazu. I waited a while to fill the tub over the jets, but then I was too tired/hungry to soak for very long. I changed into tomorrow's clothes and then we went out to find dinner. We walked up to the monument/obelisque and turned right, went down a quiet street until we finally (felt like miles on my empty stomach) found Chiliqin, another parilla, but a bit more casual this time. Cris found it in a guidebook and they recommended the polla a la verde (chicken with green onions) and it was amazing and delicious and wonderful. :) We were seated off to the right side, at a table next to the wall, so it was just out of the way enough to make me feel comfortable. We both had provencal fries and a rose' malbec that was a bit light for the meal (Cris had meat) but nicely summery. We split (well, I had 20%) a flan with a big dollop of dulce de leche on the side and then walked home. The wind was in our eyes the whole way, I kept having to squint to keep the dust out of my eyes. Lots of young people dressed in black passed us, I think we were missing something. We were both falling asleep in our food and crashed when we got back to 1890 around 12:30am or so (we went out to eat at 10pm). People were still being seated at 11pm - it was nice not to worry about being able to get food at that hour.

Sunday November 28, 2010

Buenos Aires to El Calafate

I was feeling a bit crampy this morning, I took some midol and went down for breakfast (there was a sniffly guy at the the table next to us). Same stuff to eat as last time we were here, if it works, go for it. :) I still gave Cris my bananas though. :) Then I headed back up to the room to pack up, only my underwear hadn't dried from the washing last night, though leaving it in the sun over breakfast almost finished it up, but I packed it up separately any way. Loved the free water in the fridge, I remembered to take my vitamin when I saw it. We walked over to Av 9 Julio and we were both able to get out cash from the Bank of Argentina, though my 1000 pesos almost cleaned it out, and Cris had to reduce his requests.
The ATM had a nice interface, it asked for the network and would let me put in the request for funds in pesos or US dollars. From there, we took the subway up to Diag. Norte and over to Plaza Italia (park) and walked up beside the zoo. We peeked through the fench and bushes and saw guinea hens (I think) and a giraffe. There were bike lanes all over up here.

We walked over a couple of blocks, along a wide avenue, and then crossed the street to go to the Japanese Garden. For some reason it felt too big, only a few vistas opened up as we moved around. But it had most of the familiar elements of a Japanese garden: crooked bridges, fish in the pond, rock islands, fountains and wells, gorgeous trees. There wasn't a sand garden though, and the palm trees were a bit jarring. :) We tried to get lunch in the restaurant in the garden, but service was too slow, so we left to make sure that we would get to the airport on time. We walked back to the previous subway stop where we had gotten off and then took it back to Diag. Norte and then up to Retiro. We got our duffle bags out of hock, got onto the bus and were off the the airport again. I fell asleep on the way there.

We arrived at the airport only to find that our flight was cancelled. :( We were eventually given boarding passes for an 8am direct flight to El Calafate, choosing it instead of the 6:30am that went via Bariloche (to cut down on possible lost in transfer luggage issues). Hopefully the flight will be on time so that we can catch the bus to El Chalten. I talked briefly to the woman in the Aerolineas Argentina office, she took our passes and closed the office door, then eventually came out with vouchers for us for Manuel Tienda to get us downtown and back, and for a hotel and supper for tonight. Cris was freaking out a bit, but my unfortunately frequent experiences at being stranded at airports all over the US and Canada made me tip over into problem solving mode and I took the lead on this part of the trip. To be honest, this was almost a non event compared with other times I've had to pay for my own hotel or have friends come pick me up when connections to their city didn't go through from the major city where I was supposed to transfer.

We made our way back to the M.T. bus stop to get bus passes to transfer to Hotel Wilton (*sigh* avoiding trademarked names by only changing one letter just makes everyone's life harder). Cris went out to the bus and I got us snacks as we'd missed lunch (I found lemon cake and brownies), and we ate on the bus. I fell asleep again. There was a bit of confusion at the bus terminal, but they finally directed us to a car with another woman and they dropped us at the Wilton. It's a simple place, four rooms per floor, and reminded me a bit of our unplanned hotel stop in Fuokoka. I tried to call M.T. for our transfer tomorrow (40c/minute, I didn't want to pay the $20 for wifi access), but couldn't get connected to a person who spoke English. Cris called Aerolineas Argentina and confirmed that we could take a taxi to the airport in the morning and get reimbursed. *whew*

We went out to eat before these calls, we didn't have the energy to deal with anything else without real food. We ended up going back to Cumana, since we seemed to keep coming back to that area of Santa Fe. I had a rustic vegetable cazale (not stew like, more roasted), and Cris got the 1L Stella Artois. Once we had food and liquid we could plan a bit more and sorted out options and contingencies and back up plans and generally calmed down. I stopped in at a farmacia for more tissues (we're both sneezy and a bit sick), plus travel sized listerine to avoid tooth brushing water issues, moleskin for my feet and a new knee brace for me since the old one was giving me a rash. I took some time to write up my travel notes and convinced Cris to head out in a bit to get some wine before we have to be back at the hotel for dinner (7:30-10pm), and then we'll be heading right to bed to try and get some modicum of sleep befor our 5:30am wake up call. Cris charged my phone and camera batteries (he bought a 4 peso converter plug on the street near the bus terminal, there were all sorts of little kiosks set up there).

I got Cris some cough syrup at the same farmacia we had stopped at before, and we circled the block a few times around Santa Fe (a main shopping/restaurant street), looking for a bar. We turned down one crowded street, anticipating a hopping joint, but it turned out to be a crowd leaving church. Eventually we started looking at places with tables outside and settled at the one with a stag/deer head as a logo. Cris got his fernet and cola and I had a drink called the Bambina - it had creme de cassis, OJ, pineapple juice and 2 other alcohols in it. Good, though it had ice in it (keep forgetting the no ice rule when drinking in places where I don't trust the water, but B.A. was fine). We also got a plate of olives, chips and crackers to munch on. It was a nice night out, just getting a bit cool. There were lots of small dogs being walked along our street (we were at a street table), and we were across from a pizza delivery place, so people were in and out of there on a regular basis as well. It was a nice slice of the street scene in the city.

We walked back to the hotel and straight into the restaurant there. They had three or four choices of meal to use with the airline delay vouchers, we chose the pizza and was amused when the waiter eventually came back with a take out box and put it on our table. It was cheese, tomato, oregano and olives. I ate two slices and had two left to take up to the room for breakfast. I took a hot shower while Cris crashed. Then I was woken up by the phone system auto call at 3:30am and then the front desk calling to say that our taxi was there at 4am. I started packing up before Cris checked the time and asked them to come back at 6am. Then the auto call went off at 5am and finally Cris's alarm went off at 5:30am and we got up for real.

Monday November 29, 2010

Buenos Aires to El Calafate to El Chalten to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

I was just about ready to go when the desk called, our taxi was there - at 5:45am. *sigh* Went down after taking two bites of leftover pizza and we were whipped to the airport in just over half an hour. Lots of slow downs as we passed speed traps, but traffic was generally light. As I stood in line to get reimbursed for the taxi fare (135 pesos), an old guy hit my leg with his suitcase and then tried to cut in front of me, but I stated "primero" and got done first. Hmph. The guy I gave my taxi receipt came back out of the office and asked how much I paid, 165? But I told him that it said 135 on the receipt. Then I finally got ... another receipt. Cris was near the front of the check in line (they finally let the crowd in to the snake) so I did that and then went over to the first position to get my money. I had to give him 15 pesos or wait for the next guy to be free, as there was no change, so we scraped it up. Then I bought a couple more post cards and stamps for them (didn't get the cinqo I asked for). We went through security and I had to stand in yet another line to use the bathroom and for a quick couple of croissants and O.J. in the cafe. Now sitting and waiting to board the bus to the plane and then off to El Calafate for reals. Then to see if we can catch the early afternoon bus to El Chalten and have a chance to get to our campsite tonight. Otherwise, we'll stay at our hotel in the town and maybe do the glacier trek tomorrow or start hiking then. Wifi is still for pay so still cut off. Joined the back of the line at the boarding announcement and got a seat on the bus. Bit of a wait on the tarmac, but Aerolineas Argentina got close by parking slots at last. Saw all the noses lined up as waited to climb the stairs into our plane. Saw a woman in a gold pant suit and carrying a shopping bag walking across the tarmac and then along the green space between the taxi way and the runway/. A kid dashed off a few steps from the line but the jet engine was off, luckily. Not in an exit row this time, so have all our stuff nearby. Hope to get some photos as we fly over the pampas and the mountains.

Notes on fashion in Buenos Aires: lots of form fitting stuff, lots of tiers on dresses in the windows. Saw nice blue flowers on a white skirt with blue between the panels. Saw a jersey sundress with three shades of grey running vertically. Neat black and white shoes in a shop window. Men's wear is more fitted than in the US (yay!).

We had a tiny bit of a wait, sitting in the plane on the tarmac, but I think we took off on time. Some bumps, so I drank my glass of water quickly so that it didn't spill. The breakfast snack was a carrot cake (plain, no frosting) and an apple rice bar. I wrote up some post cards after I woke up from a nap once the food cart came by. We flew over a lot of flat land and then a snaky river. The landing was a bit nerve wracking because we could see how short the runway was, but it was fine, if bumpy. We had a pretty long walk along the tarmac to the terminal - it's the same size as the one at Comox, but two wings are under construction to expand it. I think they only currently have one bridge to connect to a plane door. I had to certify that my duffle bag had no fresh fruit (no fruit flies nor hoof in mouth disease in the area and they want to keep it that way), but I was blanking on how to say I had dried fruit in the granola packets I had for breakfasts, I could only remember the French word for dry. The let me through in any case. Then Cris spotted a kiosk selling bus tickets to El Chalten (not going through El Calafate as we'd thought we'd have to do). The next one is at 1:30pm, it was about noon once we got our luggage, so we ate a snacky lunch at the airport cafe (paninis). Cris repacked his duffle so that he had separated out the stuff he wanted to leave at our BNB, and I started to do the same but at 1pm we got the call to board the bus. I was second to last to board since I had to quickly stuff things back into my duffle bag, Cris was in a seat by himself and I squeezed into the 4 person back seat between a lone guy and a couple. My bag went on the floor, it was a big van more than a bus.

I tried to nap but they were talking, over me in Portuguese or Spanish. We went over the snaky river, Rio Santa Cruz (same name as the province we were in) that I'd seen from the plane, as well as another big river. We took a rest stop in the middle of no where - there were few other cars on the road, it reminded me of Montana, especially with big open spaces and steep mountains rising from the flats. The hotel and cafe at the rest stop (La Leona) had a sign with distances to lots of cites, as well as wifi, so I posted a snapshot of Cris to FaceBook and an update to let people know where we were. Had mate cerribo, it tasted like green tea from a bag. Criss offered to swap seats so I could nap and I took him up on his offer. I dozed on and off, waking when people would exclaim over the views. I took some pictures as we approached the glaciers park, it was a gorgeous day, about 11C and sunny when we landed, with scattered puffy clouds, but the wind was nuts. Apparently we passed a bike tourist on the road to El Chalten but I missed him while I was napping. We made a turn and I saw the town on the bend of a river. The driver asked the passengers for our hotels, but didn't know ours (Lunajuim), but it was right next to the first stop, so we got out there and walked 50m to the BNB.

Roxanna was a the front desk and she and Cris had emailed as he updated her on our cancelled flight and expected time of arrival. They had an animated conversation as she welcomed us. She asked if we'd checked the weather forecast - um, no. She warned us that tomorrow would be very windy and rainy. But she directed us to the ranger station to get another forecast there. It was a bit out of town, so it took us 10 minutes to walk there. The ranger was very helpful, he gave us an explanation of the forecast (gusts up to 60mph, rain from 3pm to 9pm). Cris and I talked on the walk back to town and decided to go for it, we could beat the rain to our next camp site and hole up there or bail. We went to the grocery store for water, cheese, bread, soup packets. I stood in line to pay and Cris went out to track down some white gas (naptha blanca) for the stove (MSR whisperlite international). Went back to the hotel, finished sorting out stuff to leave and ... left!

Hiked out to the edge of town and up a ridge to a set of upper houses. I remembered then that I'd forgotten to get matches. Cris dropped his pack and ran down to town to get a lighter. It was about 6pm, we'd been told that sunset was at 10pm, and we had a 3 hour hike to our camp site. Lots of people coming out of the mountains, going the opposite way on our trail and an older couple was day tripping our way. Saw the small water fall into the river and continued on. Most of the trail was sheltered but we could see the wind picking water up off the river. Precipitation fell as snow and rain. Mt. Fitzroy played peek a boo with the clouds above the glacier. Most of the trail was flat, at the end especially as we followed the river. We hiked around a bog and over 2 ridges to camp. We picked a camp site with a stone for cooking, well more of a shelter with a rock wall with an air hole curves from it. Saw a rainbow over the river. Got the tent set up and the stove going to boil water for orzo before it got dark, but we ate in the dark, just past 10pm (thank goodness for long summer days). The port a potty was a frame around a pit toilet, I was thankful for the wind then. We were in a grove of trees and the wind sounded like a train rushing by overhead. There's a river just down the bank too. Ended up drinking direct from it; no ill effects. Hard to sleep with the wind, I ended up putting everything I'd left under the fly into my pack so I'd stop worrying that it would blow away at least. Others had hung packs with food from trees.

Tuesday November 30, 2010

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

Was up at 7am, Cris made oatmeal and tea. I left my oatmeal to cool too long and almost threw up when I got a cold mouthful of slimy oats. I'm not a huge fan of oatmeal to begin with, this was not pleasant. :/ I gave up and dumped the rest of the bowl out in the pit toilet. We tried to go up to the view point but the wind was too high, we were blown back as we tried to leave the shelter of the trees. We struck camp and headed out along the trail. The exposed bits along the river were dire. Cris was blown over once and I almost was as well - the packs added to our profile and if the wind caught us without both feet on the ground we would stagger. Luckily when Cris went over he was on soft ground rather than rocks - the worn down trail between two banks probably contributed to the tipping. It took us an hour to get back to the turn off and from there the weather was sunny if windy (I stripped off my wool hoodie for the climb out of the valley, I was fine in a wool base layer, shirt and wind breaker, and too hot otherwise). We climbed through forested hillsides, working our way around the mountain to the right of Fitzroy. At each intersection where we could bail and head back to town, the weather continued to hold and we went on. Wind was fierce by Hija Lake, but the trail went up into the trees by the mother lake. While we were well away from the water, I took a pee break, counting off the requisite number of steps from the trail. We'd passed a few people on the trail so I made sure to go behind a tree. :) A large group passed us going the other way, and a few pairs of hikers as well. At one point we passed some trees with a thick layer of moss on their trunks, and people had carved happy faces in them.

The meadow and river valley were harsh, with high winds. There were white caps on the lakes. We finally reached Poincenot Camp at around 3pm, right when we had wanted to get there, racing the gathering clouds. We picked a spot with a bit of a wind break (the whole camp was in the lee of a head high earth bank) and set up the tent and tied it down to rocks and logs. There was a tiny bit of rain. Cris made soup and we had the dulce de leche sandwiches, used the pit toilet (managed not to drop anything down it when the stench staggered me), and then retreated to the tent to escape the wind. Last night I'd had to put my fleece jacket around my hips inside my sleeping bag to warm up, will do that again tonight. Tomorrow - view of the glacier! Could see two glaciers as we walked past the lakes. Then we'll have a two hour hike to El Chalten and our hotel! :) Cris set up his camp chair since we'd be here for a while. There was a huge bird hopping about camp as we came in, a solid hooked beak making me a bit nervous for the fragile fabric of our tent. We didn't manage to get the rain fly on the tent completely taut, hope it holds okay if we get an actual storm. Only my pack, and the stove and pots in it, are outside anyway. The wind didn't seem as bad as last night or earlier, but I kept hearing rain misting down and dropping from trees onto the tent. We napped the day away, warm in our down sleeping bags.

I got up at around 8pm to use the pit toilet, and get more water from the river. I cooked boil in the bag rice and mixed in flavoured salmon packets once it was done. I couldn't finish mine, apparently I didn't have enough exertion today on the flat ground to work up an appetite. Though I did have to rest and catch my breath on a steep part. Cris cleaned up after our supper and I finally brushed my teeth - I'm used to doing it twice a day but forgot in the morning. Oh, and when we got up, it was snowing! Big flakes were ticking down through the trees (but not sticking in the camp) and in the open spaces to either side of the camp, making a white carpet of the grass. The wind was almost gone by then, it was almost too quiet after the days of rushing noise. I transfered the leftover fuel from the storage bottle (it was leaking a bit and getting my pack's outside pocket soaked, will have to clean that before checking it back on the plane out :/ ) to the metal bottle that attaches to the stove, since we were running low, and tucked myself back into the tent.

Wednesday December 1, 2010

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to El Chalten

I slept fairly well until it started to get light at 5am. Cris got up at 6 to visit the pit, I got up at 7 to see the whole camp under a blanket of white. Considering for my next tent one with a fly that goes to the ground, the edges were wet where the wind blew the rain/snow against the base of the tent. :( I had granola this morning to avoid the oatmeal debacle of the day before and Cris enjoyed his oatmeal in peace. :) He also made tea for both of us, the warmth was very welcome. I packed up my sleeping bag in a dry sack to stop it from getting damper, will open it up and let it dry out as soon as we get to the hotel tonight. It's still snowing a bit, will go to Laguna de los Tres anyway as a day hike, leaving the tent up, as it's only supposed to take an hour to get there. Then we'll maybe check out another lake and then hike 2 hours to El Chalten.

Okay, wow, that was hard. We had a few river crossings on single railing-ed split log bridges - luckily the wind was non-existent, passed through the mountaineers camp (lean to) and then the trail went straight up the side of a mountain. Cris's take on it. The signs said 2.5km, 400m change in elevation, but add in the slowly deepening snow, dropping temperatures as we climbed, and snow falling harder, winds picking up and it got nasty. Nice views over the valley though. We saw two people coming down as we went up, they looked grim. Then a Korean dude caught up with us near the top. I had stopped at the top of a ridge and Cris was seeing if it was worth it to go on. The guy had no gloves or hiking poles, and kept stopping to get snow out of his boots, but he and Cris made it to an overlook. I bundled up (putting my windbreaker hood up over my hoodie hood) and tried to stay out of the wind, and ate a luna bar to keep my energy up. I was only climbing with my poles and a Nalgene 1L bottle of water, but I had lots of layers on and stayed feeling okay. Snow came up to my knees at one point as we followed the sticks with yellow paint on them up the switch backed trail. The snow would also hide the rocks we were climbing, so the footing was treacherous. Since it was snowing harder up there, the view was more obscured, but I felt so peaceful standing by myself on the side of a snow covered mountain. Cris and the Korean were just dots in the distance, and all I could hear was wind, it was very meditative and I had a huge smile on my face.

Cris turned back and re-joined me, and we headed back down. A lone guy coming up stopped to ask us about the climb. It turned out that he was from West Vancouver and had lived in Toronto for four years. He'd been travelling since January (!) and was heading home in 2 weeks. We continued to retrace our steps down the mountain, slowly coming out of the clouds and met up with a large group led by a Spanish guide. They stopped us and asked for a beta - I was the voice of doom and Cris was the voice of optimism. There was a guy in the group from Burnaby, BC - seems like it was a day for lower Mainlanders to hike this trail! I think that I discouraged the next trio of hikers we met just inside the trees, they passed us coming down soon after. It was a long time up and a long time down, the switchbacks held down vertical progress. I think we did it in about three hours, maybe 4, it was past noon when we got back down to camp. I made soup and we packed up to go. One last (thankfully) trip to the pit and we were off.

I had pure river water in my reservoir, nice and pure, glacier to river to me, no filtering/purification needed. We back tracked to where we came in from the mother and daughter lakes, appreciating the still air on the exposed parts of the trail, and then went left around the other hill. There was a camp that we passed in the middle between two trails, we passed two trails to it, but we mostly followed along the big river and it's valley. There were lots more people today, I think that El Chalten to Laguna de los Tres is the most popular day hike. A couple of guys separately passed me going fairly fast and light, one had come into camp heavily laden so he might have been going back for more supplies for a longer stay. Saw a tour bus on the thin road in the river valley far below us. There were neat rock formations to our right. We got to the lookout toward Mount Fitzroy and there were four other people there, sitting on logs and looking at the clouds. One French woman said to imagine it, and a guy jumped up and posed as the mountain, he had us all laughing. :)

I started to feel bad, my sciatic nerve was sending pain shooting down my leg due to the way my pack was sitting, and my left foot was all blistery, and my right foot had blisters and pain under the the base of my toes. My knees were hurting and my head was aching. Cris and I both took ibuprofen since his head hurt too and I felt a bit better mood-wise. I was still slowing down though and had to have a Clif bar since I was running on empty. I saw a huge woodpecker with a head crest poking around a downed tree. I'd seen a rabbit yesterday. There were more birds as we descended, and it got warmer. Eventually there was no snow at all on the ground. We passed a large rock with a guy who'd climbed up on top of it, sitting perched on the edge, overlooking the valley. We got back to town just after Cris's knee started hurting from the descent. We came in through a different part of town than we left, but it turned out to be San Martin and our hotel was up the hill to the left, easy to find.

We checked into room 10 at Lunajuim and Cris let me have the first shower, that's love. :) No washcloths in the bathroom though. I had a lovely hot shower and then put on my last clean outfit. I gave Cris two pants and shirts to get laundered and then we went out to get stuff. The pharmacy was almost next door, I got sinus medication and tissues to deal with my on-rushing cold. Then we stopped in at Fitzroy Expeditions to buy the glacier walk for the next day, 440 pesos each, putting it on our credit cards and eating the 3% foreign transaction fee. Then we went into the supermarket for Cris to get more postcards (2 and 3 pesos depending on size). They have vinegar and alcol atletico so will clean out my fuel bottle tomorrow in anticipation of flying with it again. I hit the tea shop for gen mai cha and Cris came back and had hot chocolate and apple pie. Then we went around the corner to a pizza serving restaurant (nice dark wood dining room, filled with hikers, and with big windows to take in the views) to get dinner. My appetite was low, I finished half and have the rest for lunch tomorrow. I'm going to get fruit and water to also bring on the glacier walk as we're instructed to pack a lunch. A woman at the table next to us pointed out that Fizroy had come out of the clouds, so I ran out with her partner to take a picture. The pumpkin cream soup was good too.

Back to the hotel and hung up my sleeping bag and the ground sheet to dry out, and washed underwear and socks to avoid having to pay the hotel laundry fees on them. Lay in bed writing my diary and struggling to breath through my blocked airways. :/ I took a sinus pill and the continuing dosage for the malarone with dinner. The kleenex that I bought doesn't have lotion in it (doesn't seem to be an option here) and my nose is going to get painful fast. I'm just lucky that I got sick after we came out of the mountains, I've camped with a cold before and it sucks. Cris went to the common area/bar to write post cards to let me rest a bit. We'll be picked up at 11 or 11:30am tomorrow, breakfast is from 7am to 10:30am. Ready for sleep.

Thursday December 2, 2010

El Chalten and Viedma Glacier

Looking up stuff for our return trip:
9:40pm flight from El Calafate - earlier than scheduled.
Caltour 75 pesos to El Calafate, then would need to taxi to airport).
Las Lengas 90 pesos to the airport (can drop off in El Calafate instead)
All have trips at about 8, 1, 6. Could go to El Calafate and take buses to see cave paintings or to Perito Moreno Glacier.

Woke up at about 7am, Cris had a sneezing fit near 8 and we got up for breakfast then. I gave him a sinus pill, hopefully it will head it off. There was an older British guy there when we arrived who reminded me of my dad (flannel checked shirt, blue jeans, white hair, glasses, backpack and camera). Will have to encourage Dad to come. :) Lots of modern art and antiques in the dining room, somehow it all worked. Cris pointed out the fireplace where he wrote post cards last night as I slept. Back to the room after a continental breakfast, and wiped off the last of the water from the ground sheet (and rinsed the dirt down the tub drain) and packed it up. My sleeping bag was dry so stuffed it into it's dry sac as well. I rinsed off our cook ware and got more dirt down the drain so as not to traumatise the cleaning staff. Cris put the leftover fuel back into the plastic jar. Will go to the supermarket to get apple, water, vinegar or rubbing alcohol. And maybe lotion for my poor nose. Back - no apples at the grocery (think they get deliveries from El Calafate once or twice a week) (though Cris had one in the lunch box that he ordered from the hotel), but I got water and vinegar.They were in the process of cleaning our room when we got back, but I was able to drop stuff off. Our laundry was back and clean, oh frabjuous day. :) We dropped in on Expeditions Patagonia and confirmed that we didn't need to bring our trekking poles for the glacier walk. Cris gave the remaining stove fuel back to the store next door, where he'd bought it. We walked back to the place where we'd come off the trail looking for the heladeria, but didn't spot it. Near the turn around point we went into a bakery and got croissants. Looked in on a store and I think I got my co-worker a necklace. The design store next door was closed still, too early. As we walked back toward our BNB, we spotted the ? Bianco heladeria, it was close to the hotel but the sign was facing the other way. We didn't have enough time to go in, we could see a Patagonia Expeditions van parked nearby, and it was 10:30 or so. Walked back to the hotel, and had to wait for the cleaners to be done with our room. I already had on my wool long underwear as leggings under a skirt, but I switched to my Adventure[tm] pants, and put lots of layers on top, plus a hat and gloves. I put my left over pizza as well as water and granola and a luna bar in Cris's backpack and we went out front to wait for pick up at 11am. It turned out that we were the second last to be picked up despite being a half block from their offices.

We drove out of town a ways and then turned right on a dirt road. The landscape was amazing, we could see more of the Fitzroy massif as we got out from under the shadow of the cliffs cupping the town. The weather was amazing, sunny with a blue sky dotted with clouds. And windy of course. :) We saw condors soaring, cows penned in a vast rolling landscape, a bull crossing sign, going over pipe bridges to Laguna Viedma and the boat dock where our ride was moored. We had a bit of a wait on land, the staff went onto the boat first, and other vans arrived, and then we finally got on the smaller boat (not the larger catamaran). The seats were a bit tight, no wonder they said we could only bring small packs, but we had a table to ourselves. The boat trip only people came out on our trip too, not getting off at the glacier but riding right back. We motored past an end moraine that was covered with green. The lake is deep, there were ice bergs floating in the water and grounded on the moraine. The green and milky colour of the water is from the glacier sediment suspended in the liquid. Once we got out of the sheltered cove with the dock, the wind picked up and there were white caps on the lake, and we were bouncing over the waves (shades of the trip to Yakushima) and our window as getting splashed. I ate my leftover pizza as we were motoring out. Finally the foot of the glacier came into view. Wow. They motored along the front and we went up on the roof deck of the boat to take pictures (I had to have my hat off and in my pocket because of the wind though, so it was chilly). We were the last to come down from the deck as they turned the boat to head for the debarkation point on the rocks. We stepped off the boat onto worn smooth rock.

We had a steep hike over a ridge to a viewpoint along the water front of the glacier and a section where calving had happened but we didn't get to see any ice breaking off and plunging into the lake while we were watching. Then more steep paths to just before the face of the ice where they'd stored the crampons. I got help putting then on and to step onto the stone covered ice. We had a walking demo on how to use the crampons on ice (like snow shoes; point one foot down the slope to stop from going over sideways on traverses) and then we were off.

All the pictures, go look at them, I can't begin to describe everything we saw.

There was no babying, we went up and down steep slopes, across a narrow bridge of ice, to the edges of steep drops. Gorgeous. There were deep green sections, oblong lip shaped holes with water and rocks in them. There were rocks at the bottom of melt holes shaped to their outlines. We went out and up to where we could see the rest of the ice field extending beyond sight, and the huge green lake behind us. I got Cris to take a picture of me touching the ice to tease Carlos. :) the guides would give us a hand over tough/dangerous bits. The official photographer would range out as well to get long shots of the group (you could buy the trek package with photos for a bit more). Then the guides cut down into the ice and put it in cups and served us a shot of Bailey's over it (I didn't know that they actually did this, though I saw Anthony Bourdain on an ep of No Reservations get some whiskey on ice during a private trek). One guy in our tour group kept lagging and going ahead to take pictures, he reminded me of some of the people in the other group on Kilimanjaro. I went a bit slowly, we had to stop if we took our gloves off to take photos. I switched to lighter gloves at one point so that I didn't have to take them off when I needed to fuss with my camera. My knee was a bit sore, and my ankle turned once as the crampons slipped. The guide's hand grips were crushing (though only when the guys were helping me over dangerous spots, the gals were just firm). It was so sunny, I got a bit of a burn despite two applications of SPF 70 sunscreen - the bounced light off the ice was killer. The wind really picked up near the end of our tour, Cris got blown a step and his crampons hit the top of my boot as he caught his balance. Luckily my hiking boots are sturdy and I was fine. I spotted the boat coming back for us on the lake and we soon ceased meandering over the ice and went straight back. Took off the crampons back on the rock and was a bit unsteady walking on rock with my suddenly lighter feet. We rinsed the crampons off in a pool of water and re-stored them and then got back onto the boat with new water trippers and headed back to the dock.

I was just thirsty on the boat ride back, not hungry. The offered us coffee and tea (but I never did get hot water) and chocolates. I'd lost a tissue to the wind on the ice but one tour member was able to catch it. We dumped the extra ice and Bailey's into a thermos so as to leave no trace. On the drive back to El Chalten I had a nice view of Fitzroy.

We got dropped off at the hotel and showered and debated what to do tomorrow - the cave paintings and Perito Morena glacier are all far out of El Calafate. We'll spend the morning here in El Chalten and then get the 1:30pm bus to El Calafate and kill time there. Hoping that they offer checked baggage at the bus station so that we can drop off our duffle bags. Did a bit of packing and then went out for ice cream. I got the calafate gelato (like black raspberry mixed with cranberry or black currant), it stained my mouth purple and was delicious. Went to a few shops, found nice necklaces in Soa, was tempted by the tops but resisted. The bookstore here also has Eclipse in Spanish. Might go back for a coffee table book that they had. The first two restaurants we tried didn't work out in terms of things I wanted to/could eat, we ended up at Casita. It was very informal, we just beat a tour group (the same one from dinner last night Cris says). Cris got a coal grill of lamb parts, and I had tuna with mushrooms (a bit dry but the sauce was good. A Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit dry for me. Also got a hot mate green tea since I was chilly, as well as water to take my malarone pill. It was cold, we rushed back to the BNB, Fitzroy was clearly visible again though. We cuddled on the bed and talked about tents. :) Ours is a three season, it really wasn't meant for winter camping. I went to the lobby to write postcards and my travel diary in front of the empty fireplace. I'm out of real tissues, I have to go back to the farmacia tomorrow for another box. We ate from 9-10pm or so, we're turning into real Argentinians, the late sunset helps.

Friday December 3, 2010

El Chalten to El Calafate to Buenos Aires

Up and out for breakfast at 8am. Everyone else had the same idea, I think all the place settings were in use. The lady seated in front of us had waist length hair that made me wonder how much it tangled in the wind (though we saw her later ready to hike out and she had all her hair in a tight braid - she was asking about moleskin for her feet, the legend grows :) ). I had vanilla yoghurt this time, otherwise the same breakfast. The wind was high again and clouds were coming in, so we decided to stay in town until it was time to head towards the airport for our late evening flight. Cris arranged our 1pm bus, buying tickets via Roxanna and she said that they'd drive us to the bus station so we wouldn't have to haul our stuff there on foot. Back to the room and I packed everything into my duffle bag and went back out to check out. A mix up caused the full charge to go on my credit card instead of just half, so about 1300 pesos in one go, plus 150 pesos for the bus (had to be cash). First stop, the ATM.

We walked through the windy (mostly empty) streets to the tiny little building that held the only ATM in town, but it was all out of cash and Cris couldn't get anything out. Another person was trying to come in as we came out, and we passed on the bad news. I also paid for lunch at a tiny cafe since little was open that took visa (Cris's credit card, as he was attempting to pay me back). I think I might also have picked up the bill at the chocolateria (it came highly recommended by Roxanna). The brownie pie was OMG chocolate and also had dulce de leche in it, I ate around the walnuts in the crust, it was totally worth tempting an allergic reaction. We also popped into quite a few stores to do souvenir and present shopping. In front of one shop was the silly little Centro Meteorologico El Chalten with a rock and a sign. I had to laugh and take a picture once I deciphered the the third last night: "if the rock is not there, it is very windy". :) I found presents in that shop for Marc and Jake (gorgeous soft wool socks), Dad (a coffee table book showing a lot of the places we visited on this trip to Patagonia), and Mom (a mate cup and spoon). Score! Cris got stuff for his sisters and I got myself a short sleeved knitted sweater at Soa (only $7US I think). The polka dotted top that I'd seen the day before was too small and thin, unfortunately. Lunch ended up being a bit rushed at 12:10 or so, 2 pollo empanadas for me and a small pizza on a thick crust for Cris. It was just around the corner from the BNB, so we were quickly back at the hotel and picking up our bags from beside the front desk. We got a lift from a guy in the Lunajuim truck and found out that the name of the BNB was formed from the first letters of the names of the four kids of the owner.

The bus was at the terminal, I ran in to exchange the vouchers for actual tickets, and we were off. It was a big CalTour bus with a cargo bay underneath. Cris got the window seat as we went around Laguna Viedma, then we swapped at the Leona hotel stop. A lady got locked in the bathroom stall but as I was going to get help from the cafe staff antoher lady got her out. I had te con leche (using hot milk) and enough wifi to access Facebook to post an update, and was the last back on the bus. Another CalTour bus kept stopping, but they made it back to El Calafate.

I took quite a few pictures from the bus windows, feeling like I needed to capture my last possible views of Patagonia before we left. It was a long way around the end of Lago Argentina, and there were a few ice bergs floating in it. At one point I saw a guanaco jumping a fence by the side of the road and just barely caught it on film.

The bus stopped at the El Calafate airport first to drop passengers there. It was funny, we couldn't see the airport or the town as we were approaching, despite the land looking fairly flat and open both sites were hidden in valleys (probably to mitigate the wind). Cris had been getting confusing emails from Aerolineas Argentina combined with the web info about when our flight was leaving, first later than scheduled, then earlier. Cris tried to call them once we got off the bus in El Calafate, but the 20 centavo pay phone didn't take the 10 centavo pieces that we had. I had found a piece of bench to perch on (it was busy in the bus terminal) with our bags tucked a bit out of the way, while Cris tried to find a way to call. We were able to leave our bags with the CalTour office for free when we asked them about what luggage check options there were, that was nice. We walked down one street from the terminal to the main drag of El Calafate. OMG Temple of commerce! There were crowds window shopping in the plethora of souvenier stores. Cris got an ATM to give him money and he let me chose hte place to eat as I was hungry again. We found a wine bar and restaurant that was open, the second of two pricey places, but the cheaper of the two. It was kind of nice to be able to sit down someplace quiet after the noise in the streets - we were the only people in that dining room. First we picked out a type of pasta (I went with spinach and ricotta manzanill, I think, they were tiny little pillows), and then the sauce was extra (a lovely saffron cream sauce). They gave us olive oil and balsamic vinegar (both from Mendoza) to dip bread and it was amazing. I found a smart phone in the washroom and gave it to the bartender. The pasta was very good until I hit a bite that tasted like bad water. I went to the bathroom to spit it out. :( But then I had a nice glass of white wine (new grape I'd not heard of before, tressotto? probably torrontes) and did some face book catch up to kill time as they had free wifi as well. :)

After we were finished eating, Cris got stamps at the Patagonia superstore. We looked in various shops, dodging around the crowds on teh streets. The leater store was all "don't touch!" and hard sell, so they lost Cris's business even though he was looking forward to the cheaper leather prices to get a new car coat. A merino wool place has mostly cotton clothes, oddly enough. We walked through an artisan's market and saw people in their booths weaving, making jewellry, doing beautiful macrame necklaces (they were too ornate for me though), and carving wood. We stopped for ice cream (half vanilla and half tiramisu) and then it was time to head to the bus station up the stairs. We got our bags back from CalTour and carried them to the front of the terminal and got a taxi to the airport for 60 pesos. Cris paid for everything in El Calafate, I think that covered his half of everything that I had paid for in El Chalten except for the hotel. El Calafate was totally different than El Chalten, traffic, bustle, commerce, I felt unpurified. *wry smile*

At the airport they rushed us through check in, paying for the airport departure fee (38 pesos), security (could take boots off if you didn't want to beep, but the hand check if you did set off the gate was fast and professional). The sun was still up so it didn't feel late. I had time to go the bathroom and then we boarded. I'm sure that we were off the gate by 9:15pm or so, after 10:40 and 9:40 estimates of departure time - I think that may be the first time I've been on an early flight! Despite the wind rocking the plane at the gate and on the runway, we had a smooth if steep take off. My sinuses are clogged but no pain - yet. I think the early departure was either that they're avoiding a storm in El Calafate or that the new airport in Buenos Aires is causing issues (in and out faster?). We could just see Laguna Viedma as we took off and headed north west. It was a quiet flight, fast take off, no English safety demo. The landing in B.A. was incredibly painful for me, I almost cried at the spikes of pain running from my ear down my neck. :( We had a bit of a wait to get our bags, we had to get offf on the tramac and get bussed to the terminal (wtf?) after getting to go ou ta real gate in El Calafate. We bought a transfer to our hotel from Manuel T.L. and went around to the arrivals area to wait 30 minutes. I sat out of the way, people were pushing and yelling at the counter where the drivers were coming to pick up their fares. Cris kept a spot there to make sure that we wouldn't miss being called. We started waiting at around 12:15am, we were very early wrt our original flight schedule (thankfully). Our driver was there right at 30 minutes later, but gave us no help with our bags. We had a hair raising ride through the city and a guy let us in when we got to our new BNB, Lola House, and we were led through a small courtyard to our room (huge high ceilings). I took a quick shower, I was still deaf in one ear from the descent, and then crashed.

Saturday December 4, 2010

Buenos Aires to Santiago

I was up at 8am, and went to breakfast at 9am, the innkeeper was very insistent on feeding us (she just asked me again if I wanted anything as I sat writing at the small cafe table outside our room), depiste breakfast being a buffet. There was lots of food, yoghurt, strawberries, fresh apricots (maybe the first not dried ones I've ever eaten), tangerines, toast, scrambled eggs, juice, tea, and I turned down pastries, coffee, ham and cheese sandwich.
Then we went back to the room and repacked and tried to get a hold of Adam, a former work colleague that I still stayed in touch with. We had been looking at Lola house for one of our nights in Buenos Aires and when I heard from Adam that we would be in the city at the same time and staying in this hotel, I arranged to get a reservation for one of the nights he would be here. He had just finished an Antartic cruise as well as going up to Iguazu so we had lots to talk about. But first I had to get a hold of him that morning so that we could hang out before Cris and I had to head to the aiport to head home. I could get wifi at the table outside our room so I added Adam as a friend on Facebook and sent him a message that way. :) I got a message back from him, he was getting ready to leave his room. We could leave our packed bags in the room, they'd hold on to them after we checked out. At 10:15 or so Adam appeared and we chatted with him a bit outside our room, in the courtyard. Then we all went to the breakfast room to join Nathan as he ate, and were offered more food. Then Nathan went to get a shower and Michael came down to eat (he had a neat Russian camera).

We were all together and ready to go at around noon. We walked to the subway and took it out to Bolivar to walk along the neat pedestrian bridge and around Porto Madero. There were two tall ships, bridges that swung sideways (not while we watched, but they pointed out the pylons) and restaurants lined the water way (including a Hooters). We found Chile (our original goal), but it was closed, so we went nearby to an Italian place. Most everything on the menu started at 90 pesos but my chicken in green onion sauce was delicous. Cris and I both got a glass of the house red - it was nice - since we were both still all about the wine with lunch and dinner on this vacation. :) Nathan's prawns were awesome, he shared them around. The restaurant may have been called Mario's. I was nicely full from my meal, so I skipped dessert. We all gave cash to Cris and he charged it.

Then we walked away from the river to the green strip (marshy) with wide sidewalks running next to it (short wall separating the sidewalk from the green) and lots and lots of grilled meat stands lining the street side. There were also lots of young men on low rider tricked out bikes - a pair passed us with loud speakers blaring loud music, we were confused at first as to why the noise was moving up behind us. It turned out that Nathan was from Kitsilano, we we found our third Vancouverite in Argentina. As we were wandering around seeing the sights, we got to hear stories from all of them about their Antarctic trip, it sounded amazing. Adam put his Argentina pictures up at (but I can't find the link right now). I also hope to see Nathan's since he brought a digital SLR, and Michael's with his strange film format. :)
Nathan's: Antarctica and Antarctica 2
Michael's: Aboard the loffe
I was nicely buzzed from the wine I had with lunch. We walked back to the subway to take Line A to ? to H to ? and back to our stop. We wanted to ride the old wooden cars (my pictures came out blurry though).

We were a bit late for our 3:30pm taxi and I needed to get some more pesos. The first bank machine I spotted wasn't working, so I paid Adam some US cash for a 100peso bill. Cris got us checked out of Lola and our driver carried my stuff to the car. We had a slightly saner ride to the airport since we were close to the highway. Again with the staff at the check in counter telling us to board now. I had to fill out exit cards, then went through the immigration line, the security line, and walked through some duty free stores to get to our gate. I thought we had a bit more time to kill than we actually did, so I stopped to look at the Shiseido and Mac stuff. There were no prices on the Mac things, and the package of three things that I wanted from Shiseido was $35US (decent compared to in the States), but one of the bottles was more than 3oz and I didn't want to risk it. I found Cris and he went for water and I went back to get some eye shadow from the Mac store. There was a bit of a line at the combined checkout counter, and I could see that our flight was boarding at the gate across the hallway. I got into line and Cris went off to mail his postcards (he ended up giving them to a store clerk who promised to pop them in a mail box, since there were no mail boxes nearby).

We finally got on the plane, it was huge, we were in row 52 of 60+. It was a smooth flight to Santiago (oops, just realised that I'd labelled pix taken from the Santiago airport wrong). I watched the last bit of Despicable Me and some Canadian short films to pass the time. Plan to watch How to Train Your Dragon on the long haul up to Toronto. Off the plane, down the halls, through security and up to the waiting area again, just at dusk. There were rows of blue-grey mountains outside the windows. I changed my Argentinian pesos to 4000 Chilean things and got four bottles of water and a donut with a smiley face for Cris at Dunkin' Donuts. There were multiple passport checks but we finally got back on the plane and to the same seats, though this time we didn't have a third person in our row segment. Getting sleepy. I'd kept a hold of my earbud headphones from the last flight segment, and gained a pillow and blanket. My boots are to be taken off as soon as possible. We have a short layover in Toronto but we were told that we have to go through both Canadian and US customs after picking up our duffle bags (though we'll see what happens when we actually get there). I'm kind of sad to be leaving South America, especially El Chalten, but I'm ready to be home again and surrounded by languages that I can understand.

Sunday December 5, 2010

Santiago to Boston

I did indeed watch How to Train Your Dragon, and enjoyed it a lot more than Despicable Me. I put my boots back on to get up and go brush my teeth in the restroom to get ready for sleep. I managed to doze relatively comfortably, only nodding awake a couple of times. Then two hours before landing in Toronto they woke us up for breakfast. The quiche was okay, I skipped the bun and think that made m hungry soon after. Bit of a bumpy landing (saw a big bird and worried about flame outs), and it was chilly as we were deboarding the plane, -1C or so outside and leaking around the accordion pleats. I stopped to go to the washroom as soon as we passed one, sick of the tiny airplane ones, and we ended up at the back of the pack of passengers. If you don't want to read about the hassles we had getting back into the USA, go back now.
We followed signs for US connections and didn't have to go through Canadian customs after all. We had a long long wait for our bags at the transfer conveyer (of doom), at least 20 minutes anyway. :) We had such a long layover that we decided to ask if we stood a chance at getting on the earlier flight to Boston, at 8:45. The agent in the transfer area got us boarding passes and tags for our bags and we were off to immigration. It was a very slow line, with agents jumping people for flights about to board and families slowing stuff up and crew jumping the lines too. I tried asking an agent if we could get out of the line since we were boarding soon and was so frustrated with her when she said no, we still had a minute before they started boarding our flight. They eventually called our flight out of line as we neared the front of the snake, but we went through at the same time as if we'd been in the regular line. And then we got Mr. Cranky-pants who wanted to see the whole H1B sheets, and business cards to prove our employment and gave us both a hard time. Our flight was boarding by then and he decided to pull Cris for further screening (his recently stolen passport complicated things since the new one didn't have all the visa stamps the guy was looking for) after basically yelling at us that he didn't care that we'd miss our flight, he had to do his job, and there was a lot of forgery, etc, etc. So, we were off to the dreaded secondary screening area, though they let me follow Cris instead of letting me stew on my own. We had to wait again and I stayed seated when Cris was called up to talk to a (rarely seen in airports) smiling guy. All I heard was "out of status" an started planning how I'd get home and find his H1B sheet and FedEx it back to him and .. then he came over nodding and we were free to go. I was stressed out and near tears at this point, my sinus infection was also getting worse. Plus it was now 8:50am and we had to get rebooked back on the 11:35am flight.

A lady from Air Canada in the baggage re-check/security area past customs and immigration sorted us out. I got her to put Fragile stickers on Cris's duffle bag to try and help the wine to make it back to Boston intact. We carried it over to the Fragile/Oversize check, they made him put it through the xray saying "Let's see what makes it fragile". The shape of the wine bottles popped up and then we could go to the security line for ourselves. I made a bee-line to the far right, away from the scanners toward the good old metal detectors, but I had four air crew jump the line I was in. My sinuses were aching fiercely, an agent actually asked me if I was okay since I was pressing my hands against my face. :/ I couple of TSA people were talking about a poor guy who had piercing "near" his genitals that showed up on the scanner and so he had to be patted down. The person patting him down apparently had no idea what the piercings were, and then I moved out of earshot as I think the speaker was saying something about "those people want"... I was seething. A little professionalism all around would be nice.

Cris led me to our gate and I finally took more sinus medication. We had 2.5 hours before our flight left so we went off to the Red Rocket diner for french toast and tea, and he got me OJ and water too. We charged our phones at an outlet there, no converters needed. As we finished up and headed out to our gate again, I heard the gate change announcement. We had to go to the ground floor section and we had to walk over the tarmac and up stairs yet again. Snow as blowing but it was sunny, and the fresh air was great. It was a plane with each row being two sets of two seats, we were in the exit row, and it was a nice surprise to be reminded that we were allowed to put our carry on bags at our feet here (not allowed in exit rows in the internal Argentina flights). Juice and a snack were served. Almost home! The skin on my nose is peeling insanely, but at least I only had minimal sinus pain on the descent into Toronto. We talked about what we were most excited about doing when we got home. Cris said to do laundry, while I was looking forward to sitting on my couch and riding to the grocery store (I miss being on a bike, especially since I had to carry so much on my back this trip) and making dinner (I missed chicken marsala).

It was freezing when we landed, but we bundled up and stood outside to wait for the Silver Line bus and took the T home. I managed to unpack everything that night, my packing system won out for me again. :) It was easy to separate out the clothes from all the camping stuff and throw all of the former into the laundry hamper right away.

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