A Travellerspoint blog

A taste of Mendoza

It was just after I watched a recorded video of myself drunkenly impersonating a French man with a penis puppet, telling everybody to f*#! off for not accepting me as a normal man, that I started to wonder if maybe I had been going a bit too hard in Mendoza. But what choice is there in a city that is famous for its wineries, friendly, fun locals, and thermal springs? Throw in some cool fun loving travelers and some extremely social hostel staff and every day in Mendoza is basically a party waiting to happen.

Mendoza is a city in Northwest of Argentina. It has about 100,000 residents and has a slow paced, down to earth vibe. It still feels like a city, however, with many parks and plazas, restaurants and cafes, and it's renowned wide streets. It is the biggest wine region in Argentina producing 80% of the country’s wine, but its terrain is dry, flat and somewhat barren. Not far off are the Andes with some of Argentina’s tallest mountains, which you can see hovering on the horizon at all times. I was instantly impressed with the warm, chatty locals who were the friendliest people I have come across in Argentina so far. I was also delighted by the laidback, warm manner of the staff at the Independencia Hostel, and had the impression that it was going to be a good place to stay.

Within minutes of arriving I had befriended a young Aussie bloke, Mitch, who had returned to Mendoza after previously living there for 6 weeks during the summer. I was impressed with his immediate offer to share his nice bottle of Argentinean Malbec with me at 2pm in the afternoon. So after grabbing some groceries and unpacking, I happily joined him. He was well acquainted with the staff at the hostel and before too long we had a nice group of travelers and staff all hanging out in the courtyard, playing guitar and enjoying a few drinks together. The following night proceded in much the same way, but a few of us also headed out for dinner as well. One of the best lomo steaks of my travels and 2 deserts later, we organized to get together the next day to do a bike tour of the wineries, or bodegas as they are called here.

Accompanied by an Aussie and a Kiwi, I was feeling very at home and it was nice to drop some local references and jokes and know that my style of humour would be appreciated. No one apart from me was keen to ride 30kms out to the furthest bodega that was off the map, so we decided to head halfway there to another bodega and then make our way back. At our first winery we tried 5 different wines and had a brief tour of the place. Sipping delicious wines in the leafy courtyard in the sunshine, I had the feeling that today was going to be a good day! Tipsily, we then rode to ‘Familia de Tomaso’, the oldest winery in Mendoza, which was started by an Italian immigrant family in the 1800s. There we got to try another 4 wines and learnt how to detect the differences between young and mature Malbec grapes. We also got to taste their oldest and most refined wine, which was delicious!

The awesome foursome

The awesome foursome

One of the bodegas

One of the bodegas

Unfortunately, since we had started the day late, we didn’t have time to do another winery so we decided we would head to the local Cervezeria that we had heard was quite good. The rumours proved to be true and we enjoyed some very tasty boutique beers. They do a fantastic dark ale in Argentina that is as light as normal beer, but so full of flavour, and nowhere near as heavy as a stout. We downed two pints then headed back to the bike rental shop. Along the way I realized someone was following me, and after seeing that it was a police man, I thought that I was going to be pulled over for drink riding. But then I realized that he was just the tourist police making sure we got back safely (I love Argentina!). We managed to get out bikes and ourselves back in one piece and were almost showered in Mr Hugo’s terrible homemade wine back at the bike place.

As you can imagine, by the time we got back to the hostel we were a little toasted. One of the best things about hanging out with the Australian and Kiwi backpackers was that there was absolutely no question about whether we were going to keep drinking into the night. That unfailing commitment to the night ahead is something that I just adore.

We played a game of “I have never…” to kick things off, and I learnt that “I have often…”! Then in true Argentinean style we headed out to a nightclub at 2.30am. Our local connections were able to get us a discount on the cover charge, and we wondered into the extremely packed club. Little did we realize that the band that were trying to avoid paying for was still playing and were an awesome group from Columbia. They were pumping out fresh and funky beats that were a mad fusion of African, reggaeton, rock and electronica. It was hot!* After they finished, we danced to the DJ and eventually rolled out at about 5am.

A few cartwheels along the sidewalk later, I was blowing kisses to the traffic and putting my thumb out to grab a ride. One of the cars actually stopped and all 5 of us piled in to grab a free lift back (I love Argentina!). To top things off even more, the following day was also one of the best hangovers I have had on my travels. You know you are in good company when the hangover day is just as fun as your night out. Tossing out any ideas of achieving anything that day early on, we sat around the lounge room watching Tarentino movies, playing cards, and engaging in the ‘hair of the dog’. It was a laugh a minute until my belly was sore, and all in all just pure, good fun!

I wasn’t going to be able to stay in Mendoza for 10 days straight though without a break, so midway through my time there I headed to the mountains to recharge. I stayed in a hostel in the middle of nowhere and was the only guest. It was bliss. I fell asleep in front of the TV, did meditation and yoga the next day, studied Spanish down by the river, went on walks accompanied by the hostel’s five dogs, and did an amazing 3 hour horse ride through the mountains, galloping all the way home for the last 30mins.

I arrived back in Mendoza recharged and ready to go again. I decided early on, that everything worth doing in Mendoza was worth doing twice. So on my second weekend there, I went back to the thermal baths, did another bike tour (the second also ending with stumbling out of a nightclub at dawn), and had another good hangover. On the second bike tour I was also able to persuade my Israeli buddy to do the 30km ride to the furthest bodega with me. Thinking it would take about an hour, we rode for 2 hours straight all the way there, only to find out that the bodega was closed. It was not the happiest of moments! After another hour of riding back to the other wineries, we eventually got to do our first wine tasting, and believe me, it tasted damn good.

That ahhh feeling...

That ahhh feeling...

Overall I was very satisfied with my time in Mendoza. I had made some good friends, got to drink some delicious wine, learnt a few new card games, and engaged in some serious relaxation. And while I was ready to leave by the time I did, I had the feeling of wanting to return sometime in the future, so I could do it all again, a third time.

Salud!

Posted by Tracy Chap 19:56 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

When the planets align

Patagonia Part II

When I dream about going travelling in my day-to-day life, what I get excited about is discovering new places and cultures, exploring incredible scenery, and sharing the experience with a great bunch of people. I dream about feeling relaxed, but excited, free from stress and responsibility, and like I am having the time of my life. It is something that I know can be hard to find when traveling solo because the factors that bring that sort of experience about are largely out of one´s control. But I also know that it is probable that at some point in my travels, the universe will come together to produce the perfect conditions for the ideal travel experience.

In that respect, Patagonia and the Lakes Districts of Argentina and Chile have totally delivered. My time traveling through here has been amazing, and I have not felt disappointed by any of the places I have visited. I have also had a great traveling buddy to have a lot of fun with along the way.

After leaving Puerto Natales in Chile, Britt and I decided to try hitchhiking to our next destination. It was something I’d always wanted to try and had heard it was safe and easy to do in South America. We set off early to try and catch the road trippers and made our way to the main highway. Accompanied by a local street dog who had followed us all the way out of town, we stood on the side of the road with our thumbs out, half our luggage hidden (we had a lot!), trying to grab a ride, and simultaneously trying to stop the dog from killing itself by chasing all the cars on the road.

It took us a while to get our first ride. Most of the drivers responded, though, which was promising, by gesturing that they were not going far out of town, or at least I think that was what their pointing finger was communicating. But within the hour we had a lift with two polite, friendly gentlemen who were heading off to work in the Torres del Paine park. They said they could drop us at the Chilean side of the border, which was quite a distance away, so we were happy with that.

We did all the usual border crossing procedures at the border and waited optimistically for our next ride. About an hour passed and we hadn´t seen one person crossing the border. Luckily for us, we ran into an Italian hitchhiker who told us that border were generally hard places to hitchhike through because not many people pass through them and no one wants to be responsible for transporting you across. He wasted no time in setting off to hike the 8km distance to the Argentinean side. After waiting a while further, we decided to take the Italian´s advice and started walking.

About one km in, we passed some road workers who were kind enough to offer to drop us at the actual border a few kms ahead where we could walk onto Argentinean soil. We arrived in one piece at the Argentinean border office, and after getting our passports stamped, enjoyed some lunch and half a bottle of wine (…it was too heavy to keep carrying, which is always a great excuse!). We hadn’t seen a single car pass across the border the whole time we had been there, and with the afternoon having well and truly arrived, we started wondering if we would actually make it to El Calafate that day. It was another 6kms to the main highway and neither of us were keen to hike it with our packs on, but after a few hours of kicking around the border office staff room, we felt the need to move on, so we just bit the bullet and headed off on foot. Half way in, we nearly got a ride with an Aussie bloke who was traveling on a motorbike with a carriage attached. Unfortunately, we couldn´t find a way to attach 3 huge backpacks to the back of the bike, so he rode off and we continued walking. The rest of the hike was tough, with the last 500 metres being the hardest. Neither of us could have gone another foot further, we thought as we collapsed on the side of the highway feeling exhausted but relieved to have made it.

The Italian had been right though, the border crossing was the hardest part, because once we reached the highway, we waited no longer then five minutes to get picked up. Our first ride was with two young tour guides who had just finished working the season in Torres del Paine and were off on a road trip to Northern Argentina. They were friendly and hospitable, passing their mate around the car and teaching us the correct etiquette for mate drinking. This made up for the fact that they also chain-smoked cigarettes with their windows up the entire way (…hitchhikers can’t be choosers!). They were able to drop us 40 kms out of town, and with the sun having just gone down we waited for, what we hoped would be, our last ride. This time we were picked up by a tour bus filled with old Argentinean tourists. We were greeted pleasantly by all on board, and headed to the back seat. With all heads turned, the tour guide interviewed us on the microphone, and everyone got to learn our names and nationality. They dropped us right outside our hostel and wished us all the best. By this time, I was feeling very impressed with the level of hospitality and generosity that we had just experienced, and was on a high after making it all the way there. I decided that hitchhiking, despite the downs, was loads of fun and a little addictive, and I was keen to do more of it soon.

That night the universe was again on our side. We were trying to organize to see the Puerto Merino glacier the next day and had heard that the best way to do it was to hire a car with other travelers. I thought I would ask around to see if anyone was keen, and the first couple I approached had already hired a car for the next day and were happy to split the cost with us. Perfect!

It is hard to imagine what coming face to face with one of the world´s largest glaciers was going to be like. I had heard from other travelers that it was incredible, but I did not even know what a glacier really was, and after all the amazing scenery we had just witnessed, just how great could a huge block of ice actually be? But like everywhere else in Patagonia, my expectations were completely blown out of the water. The glacier is one of the only advancing glaciers in the world: 60km long, 5km wide, and almost 200 feet tall… lets just say it is the mother of all glaciers! It was the second time in Patagonia where I had felt as though the landscape was a breathing, living entity. It´s energy was incredible. It made constant noises that ranged from thunderous internal cracks, to echoing shards of ice and water gushing underneath it. Best of all were the frequent loud ice melts. Just out of the blue, a big chunk of ice would break off and go crashing into the water. It was exhilarating to watch and I was transfixed for hours, unable to tear my eyes away, just waiting with anticipation for its next movement.

Puerto Merino Glacier

Puerto Merino Glacier

After taking over 200 photos and viewing the glacier from every possible angle, we bid farewell to the icy beast and headed back into town. Again with complete synchronicity, we were able to arrange with the couple to share a ride in the rental care with them the next day up to El Chaten, as were were all headed there. The road trip was a welcome change to all the bus travel I have done, and allowed us to enjoy the incredible views of the Fitzroy Ranges (the mountain range in El Chaten) and stop for photos along the way. Apparently it is often hard to see the top of the ranges because the clouds are usually hovering over the peaks. But we were blessed with a clear, blue sky that day, so we got to see the complete picture. It was like driving into a classical painting, and I can honestly say that I have never seen any mountain formation as stunning as that in my life.

The Fitzroy ranges

The Fitzroy ranges



That afternoon our luck continued. After saying farewell to the couple and heading off to lunch, we then ran into them again, just in time to accept their offer to accompany them on a one hour scenic ride north of El Chaten to do a short hike up to another glacier.

But our luck had to stop somewhere and the next day we were hit with some cold, nasty weather. The first day it rained heavily all day, and the next day was windy and snowing. So windy, that the hostel’s cat was blown up against the window of the hostel from the outside (a sight to behold!). Despite the unpleasant conditions, we were determined to see more of the ranges so we rugged up and set off on a 3 hour hike. It was freezing cold and the ground was covered in snow. Being maybe the fifth time I have ever seen snow in my life, I was exhilarated by it, and before I knew it, started to regress to a child-like state building snow balls and eating ice. I was amazed by the texture – so soft and airy, but so hard and icy once it was compressed. I delighted in grabbing big chunks of snow off the logs along the way and began patting them into a big round ball, which tasted delicious. With the help of a few sticks, my ball evolved into a snow man, who I called ´Smokey´. High on “ice”, I started to become very fond of Smokey and couldn’t help but carry him all the way along the hike under my right arm. Along the way my imagination went wild and I created a whole story about Smokey´s personality and life history, of which Britt, who sees snow every year in Colorado, was kind enough to indulge me in and play along. My time with Smokey came to an end when I could no longer tolerate the pain of my freezing hands, that my wet gloves were unable to warm. I eventually left Smokey behind, put my hands in my dry pockets, sung a rock ballad in his name, and headed back through what became a near blizzard.

Smokey

Smokey

Defeated by the elements, we left El Chaten the next day. After a 30 hour bus ride from hell along Route 40 we arrived in Bariloche, the biggest town in the Argentinean Lakes District. It´s landscape resembles that of the European Alps and it has a similar culture to match. Famous for its chocolate, local boutique beers and ice cream, it is a good place to come to get fat (…something I seem to be doing quite successfully!). And as I sit in Rapa Nui, one of its best chocolate cafes, I am pondering whether I should bring this entry to a close, and whether its time for another hot chocolate… the answer to both, I think, is yes!

It has now been one month since I started traveling in Patagonia and what a month it has been. Nothing has felt stressful or difficult, and every experience has flowed so naturally from the last. I sense that this flow may be about to change as I prepare to say goodbye to my traveling buddy and set off solo again. But it has been an incredible ride, and I feel completely relaxed and refreshed, if also a little fat and round… like my dear friend Smokey!

The life and times of Smokey, the Tango dancing portable snowman (the short version)
Smokey was once just a regular snowman living in El Chaten. Although he had had many lovers in his life, he had never found that one true love, so had resigned himself to a reclusive, introverted existence. After meeting Smokey and becoming friends, we ventured one day to Buenos Aires, and like all tourists there, tried our hand at a Tango class. To our complete surprise, Smokey had a natural talent for Tango and ended up dancing the night away with all the best females in the club. Coincidentally, that night, the National Tango Academy of Buenos Aires had sent out scouts to all the good clubs in town to hunt down the newest talents. Smokey was picked to audition for their academy and, would you believe it, was successful. One thing lead to the next and within a week, Smokey was employed as a professional dancer for the Academy. Performing every night and living the high life in Buenos Aires, Smokey enjoyed close to celebrity status and was living it up. That is, until the day of the terrible accident. It occurred during one of his performances at the Teatro Colon. Someone had put oil on this stage before the show, which Smokey tragically slipped upon. He was injured in the most horrific way, becoming decapitated and losing his entire body. He spent close to a year in intensive care and was eventually released with only his head intact. Ironically, it was in his darkest hour that Smokey realised that fame was not the life he really wanted, and he decided to return to his old, quiet life in the mountains. Since returning to El Chaten, Smokey has found contentment living a simple life of mate drinking and crossword puzzles. And though he has never danced the tango again, some say that he has been spotted on a few occasions, late at night, doing a triple spin with a rose between his teeth.

Posted by Tracy Chap 18:50 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Patagonian bliss and blisters

Right now I am sitting in a warm cosy hostel in Puerto Natales. It is cold outside, Jose Gonzalez is playing on my ipod, and I just got the blister on my heel sown up with a needle and thread by Omar, the quirky, dark-humoured hostel owner. He assures me it is the best method for getting rid of blisters, but I was very hesitant about letting him do it. His eerie laughter about how the previous girl started crying during the procedure, didn’t feel comforting either. But to my surprise it didn’t hurt much at all, and I am now awaiting the much promised transformation that I am told will happen within a day.

I am in a very different place, both literally and metaphorically, than I was in Buenos Aires. Patagonia has been incredibly relaxing and peaceful, and has definitely reignited my passion for travelling. This place is just made for backpacking. It has the most jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery in every direction, and tonnes of small, quaint towns that are perfect for chilling out in, getting to know fellow travellers, and hanging out with the locals.

I have to admit that my expectations of Ushuaia, the Southern most city of the world, were not that high. I thought it might be a dead-end town with a couple of streets and some nice scenery. Little did I realise that Ushuaia is quite a historical city with lovely architecture and very charming restaurants and cafes. I was gob-smacked by the setting – perched right on the sea side and encircled by snow-capped mountains in every direction. I felt an instant sense of calm upon arriving, and I knew that coming here had been the best idea.

The hostel was warm and cosy, with internal heating, power showers, the most comfy pillows I have ever slept on, and views from every room. Chilling out here for a couple of days was not going to be hard! I met some lovely travellers and did some great day trips. Hiking through the Tierra del Fuego National Park was just gorgeous and my sweet Argentinean companion, Diego, was good company. I saw foxes, hares, and wood peckers, and loved the old bendy and twisted trees in the forest. I also did a boat trip through the Beagle Canal, where I got to see loads of sea lions sun baking on an island. I loved watching their fat, clumsy bodies wobble their way around and heap themselves over each other for warmth and affection. I was overtaken by a sudden urge to jump off the boat and join them – spending the rest of my life as a part of their clan. Funnily enough, this urge passed rather quickly, and I re-focussed my attention on obtaining another hot chocolate.

Back in the hostel we made homemade dinners, drank good wine and enjoyed several good sleep ins. By the end of my stay there, I was feeling recharged and inspired again, ready to travel the world indefinitely and loving every minute of it.

Ushuaia

Ushuaia

Wobble wobble, splat splat

Wobble wobble, splat splat

Tierra del Fuego Nataional Park

Tierra del Fuego Nataional Park

Me and Mr Fox

Me and Mr Fox

Nest stop was Puerto Natales in Chile where I planned to do the Torres del Paine “W” trek that I had heard so much about. After staying in several big, impersonal hostels, I was ready to stay somewhere a bit more chilled out, and Omar’s ´Backpackers Kawaska´ has been the perfect place for that. It is small and cosy, has free towels and internet, and the vibe is mellow and friendly. I met an American girl called Britt in Ushuaia who I arranged to do the trek with. She seemed friendly and had funky sneakers, so I thought she could be good to go with. She has ended up being one of the coolest people I have met on my travels so far, and I have had an absolute blast travelling with her.

I was nervous about doing the trek in April because I knew it was going to be cold and that the weather in Patagonia is famous for being unpredictable. But I later realised that April is one of the best times of year to go because, despite the cold, it rains less, is less windy, and there are many less tourists here. We found all of this to be true, with pretty much perfect sunny days the whole time and the scenery most of the time completely to ourselves.

We decided to do the trek in 4 days and 3 nights, starting at Las Torres and finishing on the Western end. We arrived at the Park around midday on the first day and trekked 4 hours up a steep, windy mountain to camp at the top near the Las Torres look out. The Torres are basically 3 huge granite rocks that look like sister towers, and stand out as striking and prominent geological formations that contrast the surrounding scenery. We pitched our tent and managed to cook our first gourmet camping meal before sunset. I discovered how delicious baby food can be as a hot puréed fruit desert. It was cold at night, but luckily for us, we got acquainted with the ranger there - well actually, he got acquainted with us… the minute we arrived! – and we got to enjoy a hot cup of tea in his toasty hut before heading to sleep.

We were all geared up for the sunrise hike to the Torres, so despite feeling tired, we managed to drag our sore bodies out of bed, fill up the thermos, and head off in the dark at 6am. We had been advised to take our sleeping bags and mats in our big backpacks up with us to stay warm up there, so we did this. Running a little late, we hurried along the path in the dark and were doing well until the trail stopped being a trail anymore, and we found ourselves climbing up a tall, random mountain of big, slippery rocks. It was one of those moments when I had to ask myself ´What the f!*#…?´ I was doing, and whether I was going to make it back alive. After falling down the mountain a few times, I eventually made it to the top, just in time for the sunrise. Greeted by 2 Israelian guys making tea, who had also lost their way, we had hot drinks and good company to enjoy the view with. It was beautiful up there and the sun put on a spectacular light show. I wanted to strangle the guy who told us to bring our backpacks, though, because they were so heavy to carry and we didn’t need them at all. We somehow managed to climb back down the rocks and made it back to camp.

Sunrise over the Torres

Sunrise over the Torres

Hiking down after sunrise

Hiking down after sunrise

After breakfast, we headed back down the Las Torres trail and over to the middle of the W. We totally underestimated how long this would take and how hard it would be on our bodies. The last leg was meant to take 4 hours, but we did it in 6. Our tired and hurting bodies obviously needing to take it slower than the average trekker. We went from feeling highly motivated and charged, to totally exhausted and close to collapse, to completely calm and serene, to sheer delirium. My body was aching for most of the day, until the pain of my blisters took over, and all I could do was just keep going. We nearly cried when we saw a sign telling us that after 4 hours we were only half way there. But despite the pain, we never lost our sense of humour and enjoyed many an uncontrollable giggle about the absurdity of our situation. Meanwhile, the scenery we were passing was incredible and we couldn’t help but be blown away by it. It was well worth the pain!

Some of the scenery on the 'W'

Some of the scenery on the 'W'

´Just a bit further...´

´Just a bit further...´

After a total of 9 hours of trekking, starting before sunrise and arriving just before sunset, we arrived at our destination and just managed to pitch our tent before dark. Again, we befriended the staff working at the refugio there, and happened to receive special treatment for a second night in a row. This included a free glass of wine and a free bed to sleep in. Though we knew it was a cop out, it was way too cold to refuse a bed, so we took up the offer and, I swear, I had one of the most incredible sleeps of my life. I was warm and snug all night, had the most happy and inspired dreams, and woke feeling gay (in the original sense) and refreshed. Even though we had misjudged time the day before, we felt no need to rush off that morning, and enjoyed a slow start to the day, with a good breakie in the delicious sunshine. Recharged and ready to go we headed to our final camp ground 3 hours away.

After pitching our tent we hiked up the Valle de Frances. This was my favourite hike overall. It had the most varied and breathtaking scenery, with a huge ice-capped beast of a mountain in front of us the whole way. We loved it’s frequent and loud ice melts that sounded like thunder, and the somewhat spiritual energy that surrounded it. Before I travelled to Patagonia, I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with landscapes, but since then I have lost my heart more than once to the scenery here.

That night we spent our time, you guessed it, in the Ranger’s hut cooking dinner. Cosy, warm and satiated, we now had clear proof that being a female traveller in Chile came with certain privileges that we were more than happy to exploit. And although the intentions of the rangers were always broadcasted clearly (wink, wink, pout, pout), we never felt uncomfortable or threatened in anyway. The Chileans, at least the ones we have met from the South, truly are a warm, open, and kind-hearted people, and an absolute pleasure to have the company of.

Overall, the W trek was amazing! I had so many moments of serenity and insight, which have given me a lot of clarity about my life and my reasons for travelling. It sounds so cheesy and clichéd, I know, but that is what travelling though Patagonia is like. Beautiful, spiritual and inspiring! I am so glad I have more time to spend here travelling around without any constraints – just able to go on, like a blister in the sun!

Posted by Tracy Chap 17:39 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

What goes up must come down

Its a little ironic that after writing about how easy it is to be positive while travelling, I ended up having a week of feeling more negative than usual. Maybe I spoke too soon, but I also think that it is an inevitable fact that travelling is not always great.

I have just spent 4 days in Buones Aires, a city that I had been looking forward to for a long time. My original plan was to stay in BA for around a month and study Spanish, but I realised about a week ago that if I wanted to make it to Patagonia I had to go quickly before the weather gets too cold and everything shuts down. So, I changed my plans and I am now heading down to Ushuaia tomorrow.

My first impresion of BA was awesome. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and fortunately had enough time to check out the Sunday markets in San Telmo. Surrounded by Bohemian culture, with artists selling their work, interesting bars and cafes everywhere, and loads of street music, it was love at first sight. That evening I had dinner with some friends in Palermo and had my first taste of Argenitian steak and wine. It was a great start to BA and things were feeling good.

San Telmo

San Telmo

A street artist in San Telmo markets who painted this on the spot infront of an audience

A street artist in San Telmo markets who painted this on the spot infront of an audience

Mate cups that everyone drinks mate out of (a herbal drink that is a bit like green tea)

Mate cups that everyone drinks mate out of (a herbal drink that is a bit like green tea)

The next night was also good one as a group of us headed out to see La Bomba del Tiempo, a regular Monday night percussión gig that is a BA institution, and of which I had heard great things about. We had a great crew and the 1 litre beers went down a treat, but after Salvador, the percussión was a little disappointing. We still had a good night though and I got to do some impromptu singing on the street with a group of guys selling empanadas for 5 pesos. The song was called ¨solo cinco pesos¨ which we repeated over and over with one of the guys playing the pan flute. That night ended up being a spontaneously big one, involving dancing in a night club till all hours and stumbling into bed around dawn.

Katharina, Lena and me at La Bomba del Tiempo (German girls I met in Ilha Grande and also hung out with in BA)

Katharina, Lena and me at La Bomba del Tiempo (German girls I met in Ilha Grande and also hung out with in BA)

It was around the next day that my things started to shift. Beginning the day with a major hangover, I was feeling pretty wrecked and sorry for myself. I decided that the most I could accomplish that day was to spend a couple of hours in the Internet café. Unfortuantely, while I was there, my backpack was stolen, and this was a major bumma indeed! Luckily, I had nothing too valuable in it apart from the backpack itself, my lonely plant guide, and practical things like glasses cases. Although I was expecting to be robbed at some point on this trip, it really isn´t a nice feeling and it has definitely dampened my mood. Since arriving in BA I have heard so many stories about people´s belongings being stolen and other crime on the streets, that I now think BA is not as safe as the Lonely Planet guide makes it out to be. The following day I had to spend the whole day replacing what I had lost, which sounds simple enough, but was actually quite difficult. I found a Lonley Planet guide in English in about the 10th bookstore that I went into and paid through the roof for it.

Right now, I am sitting in the hostel catching up on my journal. I am feeling exhausted from not sleeping well due to the constant traffic noise and lack of somewhere peaceful to relax, and I think I am coming down with a cold. The excitement and novelty of being in a different country is starting to fade and I am no longer smiling at every stranger I pass on the street. Over the last week, I have started to feel increasingly tired and less motivated and I can feel myself developing that kind of flat, disinterested demeaneur that many backpackers seem to have. The bad hangover and stolen backpack have sort of tipped me over the edge, and for the first time I have started thinking that maybe 6 months of travelling would be plenty.

But I also know that travelling always has its ups and downs, and I was expecting it to be like this along the way. I am sure this feeling will soon pass and before I know it I will be having the time of my life again. As it turns out, I think my trip to Patagonia has come at the perfect time. Getting into nature and a slower pace of life should be the perfect way to rest and recharge my travelling mojo.

Posted by Tracy Chap 11:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Cascades of water with glasses half full

One of the things I love about travelling is how easy it is to turn a negative experience into a positive one. For instance, this morning I missed my morning transfer to the Brazillian side of Iguazu Falls (the biggest waterfalls in South America, situated on the border of Brazil and Argentina). After sprinting to the bus station and arriving just in time to make the bus, I realised I had left my passport in the hostel – an essential requirement for border crossing. This was a negative experience, but my disappointment at not being able to beat the crowds or the heat did not last long, as a group of travellers from the hostel immediately invited me to go with them later in the morning, and I realised I had time to catch up on my journal. Missing the bus had suddenly become a positive experience. Then, just as we were about to leave together, the group realised that there was not enough room for me in the taxi, so for the second time this morning I bolted to the bust stop to try and make the next bus, which was leaving in under 5 minutes. This time I missed it completely (another negative). Sweating as if I was impersonating the waterfalls, and failing to comunícate any kind of comprehensible Spanish to the staff, I decided that rather than wait another hour, I world take the public route, which takes 3 times as long and involves 3 different buses. But I figured that public transport is a much more interesting and cheaper way to travel, and allows the opportunity to observe and interact with the locals (suddenly, this was a positive!).

Also on my bus 16 hour bus ride from Sao Paulo, I had the unpleasant experience of being exposed to what may have been the worst (and possibly most violent) movie ever made in hollywood, which was dubbed in portuguese, but only slightly audible due to the over-riding, extremely high-pitched noise that was also pulsating through the speaker, located directly above my head. This was a definite negative! Wide awake, with a flat ipod, and unable to read due to car sickness, I decide that I could pass the time by using the Spanish subtitles in the movie to try and teach myself Spanish - a desperate measure, but an almost positive experience. And finally, my cold shower tonight, after really needing a warm one, was not good, but became a positive after I saw it as a self development opportunity to practie the Buddhist exercise of tolerating adversity without attachment… OK, the cold shower was just a negative, but I tired.

So it has been about 1 week since I left Arraial do Cabo, where I did my diving course, but it feels like much longer. My departure from Arraial was perfectly timed as it poured rain the entire day. I made my connections in Rio easy enough, and six hours later was at the port where the ferries leave for Ilha Grande (Big Island). While waiting I met a Turkish traveller named Shanol. I remembered his name straight away because of it´s resemblance to Shannon Nol. We kept eachother company on the boat ride and he helped me find my hostel. My concerns about how I was going to manage walking with my backpack in the rain, were quickly overcome by complete surrender as we walked drenched in a terrential downpour along the beach through ankle deep water to the hostel.

Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande

The hostel had no record of my reservation and left me dripping wet while they checked in every other traveller who arrived after me, so my initial impressión of the place was not great. This was not helped either by the loud, girating reggae music that was pumping through the speaker in the one communal room, that had everyone packed inside it like sardines due to the rain. I had instant cabin fever! But things improved quickly after meeting my room mates who had all arrived on the same day. We quickly became aquainted and formed the ´¨Room 107¨ posse for the duration of our stay there. There were two sweet German boys, two lovely German girls, a cool Aussie, courchsurfing guy, a comically gifted Israelian dude, a chillean lass and myself. Of course I was the oldest, but I have grown accustomed to that now, and was comforted by the delusion that I was also the wisest!

On our first full day there, some of us decided that we would face the elements and try hiking to a nearby beach. It was only slightly raining when we left so I figured it should be fine. To our surprise, by the time we arrived the sun was shining brightly and we were able to enjoy the whole afternoon bumming around on the beach. After the usual Brazilian lunch of chicken, rice and beans, I was feeling good. The friendly, though sleazy, waiter also doubled as the enterainment for the afternoon, playing and singing Bob Marley on his guitar in between serving tables, often stopping midway of a song to take an order. I got the sense he was somewhat desperate for company, or maybe just an audience, as he was almost begging us not to leave. But we eventually hiked back to the hostel and headed out for a night´s feed.

The next day we headed off on party boat trip that was organised by the hostel. After much deliberation about whether I was ´too old for that sort of thing´ (as if that has ever stopped me before), I moved to the other extreme and decided to give it my all. Grabbing the first free caprihinia of the day was the perfect beginning to achieving that end, and the day proceded from there, with loads of swimming, hiking up to see a waterfall (not reccommended after several caprihinias), and dancing to the live Argentinian band that was on board. Luckily I did not attempt any cart-wheels, but I did manage to pull out a few pole dancing moves and summersaults of the top of the boat (actually, I stopped after one summersault due to the resulting pain).

On the party boat trip

On the party boat trip

On the third day we caught a boat to Lopez Mendez, one of the most beautiful beaches on the isalnd. It lived up to its hype and we enjoyed a great day of just lazing around. The day was topped off by seeing dolphins on the boat ride back. The boat detoured off course to follow them for a while and there must have been 20 or 30 dolphins diving in and out of the water around us. It was a truly magical moment and tipped the day over into a perfect one.

Lopez Mendez

Lopez Mendez

´Room 107, plus Marian´ (who was in the crew but not the room)

´Room 107, plus Marian´ (who was in the crew but not the room)

After 4 nights of island bliss, I headed to Paraty, a small colonial town also surrounded by beautiful beaches and islands. There I did another, much more sober, boat ride, this time being serenaded by live acoustic bossa nova. The music was beautiful and the beaches were divine, and all in all it was another perfect day. Ready to move on but sad about leaving Brazil, I then headed down to Iguazu Falls where I currently am. I have now seen both the Brazillian and Argentinian sides of the falls and can say that they are both spectacular. I viewed them from every possible angle, including from underneath on a boat. My favourite part was the last viewing point on the Argentinian side, which is aptly named the ¨devil`s throat¨. It is right at the top where the numerous rivers come together to form the beginning of the falls. Once the water reaches the edge of the cliff most of it pounds downwards into the falls, but a lot of it is also pushed upwards in a huge smokey-like spray that floats for metres through the air. Truly breathtaking!

The Brazillian side

The Brazillian side

The grand overview

The grand overview

The devil´s throat

The devil´s throat

As for Argentinia, I feel like I have been experiencing an unpexpected culture shock after coming from Brazil. I noticed an instant difference in the people here and have found them less warm and welcoming than the Brazillians. I also did not realise how far my survival Portuguese was getting me in Brazil, until arriving here without a word of Spanish under my belt and suddently feeling like a mute gringo. My Italian seemed to be a helpful aid when I was learning Portuguese, but for some reason I have struggled to make the switch to Spanish. I am having difficulty differentiating between the three similar languages that are all floating around in my brain, and I end up muttering incomprensible mixtures of all three, of which the Argentinians understand nada. This has made me feel a bit frustrated and powerless, but I know that in time I will pick it up.

All in all, it has been a strange introduction to Argentina. I guess I hadn´t really thought much past the Brazil part of my trip, and am suddenly finding myself in this foreign country that I know nothing about. The upside, of course, is that I have everything to discover about it and loads of time to get to know it, which are the perfect conditions for a whole new adventure… and that is a definite positive!

Posted by Tracy Chap 19:12 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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