Thursday, June 16, 2011

Travel Friends

Before my trip, whenever anyone asked me where I was going/who I was traveling with, I almost felt embarrassed to say I would be traveling alone (save for two weeks with my sister in Peru). It´s just not that common for some reason. But I already knew that I like the flexibility/independence of solo travel, having traveled alone through Europe after college. And so I came to South America (mostly) on my own.

And then I made friends. After we bonded over Buenos Aires nightlife, I ended up traveling to Mendoza, Santiago, and the Atacama desert with an Australian girl (Catherine) and two British guys (Dinesh and Amar). We were a great travel group: equally capable of having drunken shenanigans and conversations about politics.

We left Buenos Aires on a Monday evening, heading on an overnight bus to Mendoza. Immediately after arriving we signed up for a wine tour, since Mendoza is Argentina´s premier wine region. Drinking malbec, one of my favorite varietals, from the source was pretty amazing.




The next day, Catherine and Amar went horse riding while Dinesh and I went up into the high Andes to catch a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia. The mountains were stunning, but I have never been so cold in my life. A Brazilian girl on our tour took pity on me and gave me one of her boyfriend´s fleece jackets. On the way back we stopped for lunch at a mountain lodge hostel, and I thawed my frozen feet on a space heater.



On Thursday, craving some heat after the icy day before, Catherine, Dinesh, and I visited some hot springs outside of Mendoza. Upon arrival the lifeguard informed Catherine that she was not allowed to wear her board shorts in the pools--but she had neglected to bring a proper bathing suit. So she went in her lacy underwear, and Dinesh and I unintentionally and repeatedly embarrassed her by switching pools over and over. The locals´judgmental stares were hilarious.



Next we headed back to the Andes to cross the border into Chile, arriving in Santiago on Friday afternoon. We went out Friday and Saturday nights, and spent the days exploring the city. The rest of my friends preferred Santiago to Buenos Aires, but I´m still enamored with BA.




One of the highlights of Santiago was an impromptu street party we came across in Plaza Italia after a local soccer team, Universidad de Chile, won a big match. We sang and jumped in the street and soaked up the amazing energy.

Monday brought a painful 24-hour bus ride from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, in Northern Chile. We stretched our legs after the journey by going sandboarding the afternoon we arrived. Although I had sandboarded in New Zealand before, this time was different--more like snowboarding than sledding. It was lots of fun, although the difficulty of climbing a sand dune at altitude limited the number of ´runs´ I attempted. Afterward we visited La Valle de la Luna, so named for the rock formations that give the valley a moon-like appearance.




Woke up at 4:30 AM the following morning, when Dinesh and I embarked on another freezing excursion to the Geysers del Tatio, the highest geyser field in the world. We arrived before sunrise and it was -12 degrees Celcius. I don´t know what that is in Fahrenheit but I thought I was going to get frostbite and have all my toes fall off. The cold was slightly more bearable once the sun came up, but I didn´t fully thaw until we visited yet another hot spring. This time it was 100% natural, nestled between two hills in the middle of the desert.



My friends and I finally parted ways this morning (why I suddenly have time to update my blog). They are headed to the Bolivian salt flats, and I am en route to meet my sister in Lima on Sunday. Plenty more South American adventures await...hopefully I will do a better job sharing them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I ♥ Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is my new favorite city, ever. In addition to walking all over town and the normal touristy activities, these are just some of the things I have done since returning on Thursday:

- Learned how to tango

- Gone out dancing past 5 am ... three nights in a row

- Met up with two future Boothies for steak and ice cream

I want to live here slash not leave tomorrow for my other destinations. Obviously I will have a great time on the rest of my trip, but really I just want to stay and play in Buenos Aires for another month. I should be investigating bus options for tomorrow to get to Mendoza (aka wine country!), but I´m putting it off by blogging because I´m not mentally prepared to leave yet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Iguazú

After two days acclimating in Buenos Aires, I hopped on an overnight bus to Puerto Iguazú in order to visit Iguazú Falls, straddling the border of Argentina and Brazil. After staring at a printed picture of the falls for six months in my work team´s overly-decorated conference room, I had to see them for myself. They did not disappoint.


Iguazu Falls

From Puerto Iguazú, it´s only a short bus ride to Iguazú National Park. While waiting at the bus station, I met three fellow backpackers--two Germans and an Austrian girl--that I ended up spending the day with inside the park. We hiked around for nearly seven hours, starting at the smaller falls and finishing with the main attraction, the Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat).

Me with my new Deutsch-speaking friends. The sun was too bright so I tried to shield my eyes in the shade, but I just look awkward instead.

View of some of the smaller waterfalls

Everything was lush and beautiful, but the Garganta del Diablo was truly breathtaking. The force of the falling water was mesmerizing and indescribable. Pictures don´t do it justice, so I took some video to share...(hopefully this works, internet is slow here).


video

Beauty-wise, I preferred Iguazú to Niagara, which I visited a few years ago on a day trip from Toronto. Interesting that Niagara also lies on the border of two countries, as does Victoria Falls in Africa.

After an incredible day, I headed back to the hostel for a power nap then met up with one of my new friends, Chris, for dinner. Three courses + wine for $15. As I mentioned briefly in my last post, the food is delicious here (and cheap!)...though not exactly healthy.

I arrived back in Buenos Aires this morning and am staying at Milhouse Avenue, a notorious party hostel. We´ll see what fun stories I have to report next from BA...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Saying ´sí, y...´ to Argentina

For some reason writing an inaugural blog post has been intimidating, so I´m going to start off with some random observations from my trip so far to get the creative juices flowing...

- Buenos Aires is exactly the blend of Spain, Italy, and Latin America that I expected. Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) eat dinner as late as midnight and some clubs don´t even open until 3 am. If certain friends were here with me I know we could do some major damage.

- I have been meeting tons of interesting people from around the world--Scots, Brits, Germans, Israelis, South Americans--but only one other American so far. So curious as to why this is.

- Somehow I got saddled with a fake 100 peso bill, and when I tried to use it yesterday the cashier laughed at how bad of an imitation it was. I figured out that a taxi driver in Buenos Aires must have switched it out for my real one when he said he didn´t have enough change. This has been the only real bummer of the trip so far, but I´m only out $25 and now I know to be more vigilant.

- Long-distance bus rides are surprisingly comfortable and relaxing, especially with my Kindle. I´m about to head back to Buenos Aires, but the 19-hour journey shouldn´t faze me thanks to Devil in the White City, care of WZ.

- I am newly obsessed with alfajores, multi-layer Argentinian cookies that are fused together with mousse and generally covered in chocolate. More information to come. Slash good thing I am walking A LOT because right now my diet consists of bread, steak, beer, wine, and alfajores.

- The first few days of my trip I had technology withdrawals like crazy. I have been trying to get a little computer time in each day, but not having my iPhone makes me feel naked. Related note: I miss all my friends.