Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Last Days in Argentina and...HOME!

I am sitting in the Dallas Fort Worth airport trying to get on a standby flight so I don't have to wait another two hours for my flight and I am happy to be home. Got on the lightening fast Internet and was able to upload the rest of my pictures in about 10 minutes. It would take me an hour in Argentina. This post is a recap of my last night and final day in Buenos Aries as well as some philosophical pondering about my trip as a whole. If you don't want to read the touchy feely stuff, feel free to stop reading after I talk about landing in Dallas. Also, I was not able to upload my Iguazu photos in Argentina due to super slow Internet, but I have those pics up on my flickr account now, so check them out at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

My flight from Iguazu was nice and I got some great pictures from the air. As we started our decent into the city, I took some nice snaps of the skyline and the big soccer stadium by the airport. Once I touched down it was off to my hostel in the center of the city. I didn't stay at the art factory this time, but decided to stay in the same place as my friend Anna since we were both leaving the following day.

After checking in, Anna and I took the subway to Palermo to meet up with our friend Shannon from our trekking days in Patagonia. We all ventured out to get a bite to eat and actually settled on a sushi joint because another meal of grilled meat just didn't sound that appetizing after eating it for 14 days straight. The sushi place was actually pretty decent with nice ambiance and tasty sushi. The only downer was the lack of Saki, but we managed and I snapped a cool photo of Anna and Shannon talking.

After a good night's sleep, Anna and I grabbed some breakfast/lunch and headed back to Palermo to meet my friend Maria's friend Christie. Christie left Seattle three months ago to live in Buenos Aries for a year. Pretty brave especially since she did not know anyone and did not speak Spanish. We met Christie at a nice place in Palermo Soho and had a few drinks while we both shared our experiences in Argentina. It was a great afternoon and I wish I had gotten in touch with her earlier!

It was getting late in the day and Anna and I needed to get back to the hostel to pack up and get ready for our 7:00 PM shuttle to the airport. In the subway, we saw a sign for "Kevin" cologne so you know I had to get a shot of that. I think the name Kevin is somehow cool in Argentina because there is a clothing line named "Keviningston" as well. While walking back to the hostel, we stopped off at a music store so that Anna could get some Mercedes Sosa CDs for gifts. I snapped a funny picture of the "International music section" which featured all US artists. I thought it was funny to see music from my country in the international section!

After packing up for the final time, we caught our shuttle to the airport. It was a little touch and go as the traffic our to Buenos Aries was heavy, but we made it with time to spare and Anna and I said our goodbyes. I checked into my flight, grabbed a bite and boarded my plane back to the states. The best part about the 10 hour flight back was that I actually slept the ENTIRE way!

I awoke to the sound of "welcome to the United States" and felt a deep sense of gratitude. After spending 15 days in a completely different country, I had gained a new found appreciation to what we have here in the US. Argentina was an incredible place and I had a wonderful time, but it is good to be home. We all take for granted so many little things here. From air condition to fast Internet to being able to communicate to everything else, we are very fortunate for the things we have in this country. I know that I get wrapped up in things shouldn't make me angry like waiting 5 minutes instead of 2 or having to wait for two traffic lights instead of one, but the bottom line is that travel to another country has always been a humbling experience for me and has let me understand just how small we are in the HUGE world.

I will cherish my experiences of the last 15 days and am making a vow to myself to take one international trip and a place I have never been at least once a year until the day I die. I hope you all enjoyed this blog and got a flavor of the awesome time I had in Argentina. If you ever get a chance to visit this wonderful place, you must go!

Happy New Year and here's to a prosperous 2010. The blog will reconvene next year-most likely in Thailand!

Ciao, ciao

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Iguazu Falls Day 2-Rain Forest Adventure

After the waterfalls and boat ride yesterday, none of us really knew what to expect when we met in the lobby to catch our ride at 7:45 AM. I had to pack up all of my stuff because I was checking out and heading to the airport after our morning excursion.

Our guide met us at the hotel and to our surprise, directed us to a four wheel drive tuck looking thing instead of a bus. There was about seven of us in the vehicle and we spent the next 45 minutes picking up the remaining adventurers on our way to our destination.

As we drove, we were quickly informed that we would be heading to a military base for this adventure. Our final destination would bring us to a zip line course consisting of three sections of zip line about 60 feet above the rain forest floor!

Tensions ran high as we got closer to the course- we were all wondering what we got ourselves into! At the course, the instructors explained how we would be harnessed into the pulley system and most importantly, how to stop! They even had one person in the group snap into a demo line so we could see just how we were going to be sent down the line.

As we scaled the stairs to the first platform, I could not believe the materials the stair system had been constructed of. Very flimsy looking vertical support members that did not look like they would be able to support all of our weight! Once I reached the first landing, I felt the platform swaying all over the place! I was a bit freaked out, but my new friend's grandmother was so excited that I forgot about my fear of heights and decided I had better come correct on this course and represent!

The zip line course consisted of one leg of 1200 feet and two legs of 600 feet each. In all, we zipped along the rain forest canopy for about 4 minutes. It was brilliant!

After the zip line course was over, our hosts took us to the water repelling course. This course consisted of an assisted repel down an actual waterfall. The falls were not that large, but the course was still imposing, especially for inexperienced climbers like us.

I went down to the bottom of the course to get some pictures of my new fiends on the course, then handed my camera off to get some snaps of myself navigating the course. It was a lot of fun, especially at the end where you could barley see because you were getting hit with so much water! Check out all of the action from today at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Once the repel was complete, we jumped back into the truck and were dropped off at the hotel. I showered up using the swimming pool shower and grabbed a quick lunch before my transfer to the airport arrived. Today it is back to Buenos Aries for me for a night, then I will be heading back home on the evening of the 28th.

Although my adventures are almost at an end, I will definitely have one more great night in Buenos Aries before it is back to reality. I have learned so much on this trip and have come to gain a great appreciation for this country and its people!

Ciao Ciao

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Iguazu Falls-Arrival and Day 1

WOW! Have to start this post with that word because the falls up here are truly amazing! Rewinding a bit, I actually left Buenos Aries on Christmas day to catch my 9:30 AM flight to Iguazu. Talk about a hard time finding a cab! I was able to manage and met the craziest, coolest cab driver in the world-a true party animal. I would bet that he partied all night before driving me to the airport, but he was safe, so all was good.

Upon arrival at the airport, I was transferred to the hotel St. George in a good part of the town. The hotel is nice and they upgraded me to the junior suite-the best room I've stayed in for the entire trip!

After catching up on sleep and messages, I headed out into town to check things out. The town was a bit dead because it was Christmas day, but the restaurants were open and I contemplated eating out, but decided to go with the free dinner at the hotel.

After a few movies (Batman returns with Spanish subtitles), I drifted off and awoke at 7 AM to grab breakfast before the tour bus arrived at 8. I jumped in the bus and low and behold, met two girls from the Westside (LA for all you people who don't live in LA LA Land)-it seems that every American I've met on this trip is from SoCal. I also met a teenager from Culver City who was visiting his grandmother for a few weeks. She was a cool lady and made the teen speak Spanish so he wouldn't forget how-she was also pumped for the falls.

Once we arrived at the national park, we started our tour by visiting the Devil's Throat on the upper portion of the park's elaborate walkway system. The Devil's Throat is an impressive set of falls. Half of the falls lay in Brazil and the other half in Argentina. Along the way we saw about 7 billion butterflies-they are everywhere. We even saw a kind of butterfly that has a pattern on its wings that either says 86 or 88. I have a picture of it on my flickr account-check it out, it looks like someone painted it on!

We then took a train to the middle walk, then to the lower walk and got spectacular views of each area along the way. But it was the next event that I was waiting for-the infamous Iguazu boat ride! After viewing the lower section of the falls and getting a bit wet, we walked down to the river bank to start our "Grand Adventure" tour in a boat that takes you almost under the falls. Before boarding the boat, you could really feel the full wrath of the rain forest as the heat at that level was almost unbearable. No worries though, we would be getting very wet soon enough!

After grabbing a life jacket and a waterproof bag for all of my gear and clothes, I boarded the boat for the ride of my life! The boat crew went pretty easy on us at first staying well away from the falls and even letting us snap off a few pictures. Once they put on their water proof gear, we knew we were in trouble! The driver hit the gas while the crew member at the bow pointed his waterproof video camera at us to record our astonishment as the boat went right up to the falls. We got drenched over and over and over again-it was awesome! After playing in one of the falls for a bit, the driver took us over to another waterfall and the drenching began again!

Once he had us good and soaked and had the guests singing some kind of Argentine song, the driver hit the gas and took us down the river for a great ride carving back and forth to give us a nice thrill.

After the boat ride, we boarded an open air truck to get a short tour of the surrounding rain forest with a bilingual guide. At the end of the tour, the truck dropped us off at the shopping area and I was able to buy gifts for my nieces before getting back on the tour bus and heading back to the hotel.

It was an incredible day and from what I hear, tomorrow will be even better. Check out all of today's action at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve in Buenos Aries

Merry Christmas everyone! I am writing this post from my hotel in Iguazu Falls. I had a great time at a Christmas Eve party back in Buenos Aries last night, so this post is an account of the evening. Enjoy!

I arrived back in Buenos Aries around 6:00 PM after my flight from El Calafate and took a cab to the Art Factory Hostel. The Hostel was hosting a Christmas Eve party later in the evening so in the meantime, I walked about a mile and a half to try to catch a Christmas Eve service at an english speaking church I found on line. Unfortunately, I could not find the church, so I headed back to the hostel just as the festivities were beginning.

The party was packed with about 50 guests and we all sat down to a traditional Argentine Asado (BBQ). I met two really cool couples, one was from Australia and the other was a Lebanese woman and French man who lived in London. Both of them invited me to stay with them in their counties so I may have to tack on Australia to the end of my trip next year!

About half way through dinner Santa and his twin brother crashed the party with a weird looking elf from Brazil. Everyone got a good laugh and retired to the roof top to catch the fireworks. It was the first time I spent Christmas Eve in another country and apparently in Argentina, Christmas Eve is like the fourth of July. It seemed like everyone in the city was setting off fire works!

To see all of the pictures from the night, check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Return to El Calafete and Perito Moreno

I awoke at 6 AM to get packed for the ride back to El Calafate. It was kind of sad to be leaving Chile because it meant my Patagonia part of the trip was winding down. The bus to El Calafate picked me and a few other members of my trekking group up at 7 AM and headed out for the five our journey to El Calafate. I slept most of the way to the boarder crossing-it was nice to get some sleep in a warm bus after our rainy Torres Del Paines experience!

At the boarder crossing, my friends from Mexico, Emilio and Juliana, told me that the bus was going to continue on to Perito Moreno for a two hour tour of the world's most accessible and visited glacier. This was perfect because it was one part of the trip I thought I would miss and I was bummed about it. With some translation help of my friends and the person sitting next to me, I was added to the group going to Perito Moreno once the bus dropped everyone else off at El Calafate. The bus ride went along without a hitch until we had to stop on a steep downhill section so the bus driver could fix the brakes! Not very encouraging, but he got us to El Calafate in one piece, so I will give him credit.

I was low on cash and needed to get to an ATM, but the bus was on a tight schedule so the bus driver actually fronted me the $200 pesos I needed for the trip and just told me to pay him back after we returned to El Calafate! How nice is that?

The trip up to the Perito Moreno was interesting as a tour guide gave us some background about the area in both English and Spanish. As we arrived in the national park, we rounded a bend and got our first glimpse of the Perito Moreno glacier. The size of the glacier was unbelievable! It filled the entire valley! Our tour guide gave us the option of doing a one hour boat tour and a one hour walking tour or just to spend both hours walking around. Without fail, everyone in the group had no problem paying the $50 peso price to take the boat right up to the face of the glacier.

Once we boarded the boat, we were taken within a few hundred meters of the face of the glacier. I could not stop taking pictures of the glacier-it was so massive and beautiful. My flickr account is probably full of the same pictures over and over again, but it is hard to explain just how amazing this glacier was unless you were able to see it in person.

The most impressive part for me was the sounds the glacier made as it inched it's way into the lake below. The groaning and cracking was as loud as thunder and a few pieces actually broke off into the lake while we were out on the boat (I was too slow to catch the action on camera unfortunately!)

After the boat tour, we got back into our bus and went to the start of the walking platform area located above the glacier. This was an amazing site as you were actually able to get a perspective on the glacier from above it. The sounds were very pronounced here and the views spectacular!

After walking for a bit, I retired to the snack bar at around 4 PM since I had not eaten the entire day! A nice milanesa sandwich with tomatoes and a small Malbec did the trick as I rested for a few until the bus was ready. Right before getting on the bus, I snapped a picture of Santa chillin under a tree by the snack bar. I also met a woman from Puerto Rico who was traveling for Christmas. She was in the US Army and worked in the Embassy in Santiago, Chile. We chatted about the military for a bit and walked around El Calafate before her group had to get back on the bus for the trip back to Puerto Natales.

After checking into my hostel, I downloaded some cool Argentine music the guys at the font desk were playing. Emilio and Juliana came down to go to dinner and asked me to join them, so we all headed back to Don Pichon Grill to have a spectacular dinner of grilled lamb and the malbec we had the day we met. In all, a great end to my trip to Patagonia!

It is now Christmas Eve and I will be flying back to Buenos Aries for the evening before flying out to Iguazu Falls on Christmas day for a few days of rain forest, water falls and adventures. Check out all of the pictures from Perito Moreno at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Torres Del Paines (Day 3) and Puerto Natales

Not much to speak about for day 3 in the Torres Del Paines. The scheduled hike was almost cancelled due to heavy rain, but an adventurous group of four decided to brave the elements and set out for the trek. I would love to tell you that I was one of the brave four, but I was spending too much time cuddled up by the fire and in the tent to do any trekking!

The brave four returned around 11:30 and we broke camp to catch the boat back to the "civilized" side of the lake in order to start our journey to the town of Puerto Natales. The ride to Puerto Natales was nice, especially with Mercedes Sosa on the radio (already downloaded some of her music-it's Muy Bueno!). We arrived at Puerto Natales around 5:00 PM and checked into the hostel Natales-the best hostel I have stayed at on this entire trip. After getting settled in our rooms, my friend Anna and I went down to the front desk to ask the receptionist were the nearest laundry mat was located. After ten days of no laundry, I was running out of clothes to wear!

Walking through the town toward the laundry mat, we were struck by the charm of the small Chilean fishing town. We arrived at the laundry mat and found that the owner could wash, dry and fold all of our stuff in about 2 hours! She kept the joint open until about 10:00 PM, so we grabbed some Chilean pesos from the nearest bank and headed back to the hostel to shower up and check e-mail before meeting the rest of the group for dinner.

Dinner was at 8:00 PM at a nearby seafood joint and was very good. Some of the group, like myself, would be heading out the next day while the rest of the group were continuing the tour down to the city known as the "end of the world" because it is the furthest south of any city in the world, so this was really a farewell dinner.

After dinner, it was back to the hostel to catch some sleep before I had to catch the bus back to El Calafete. Check out all of the Torres Del Paines (Day 3) and Puerto Natales pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Torres Del Paines (Day 2)

After a good night sleep and breakfast at our campsite, we broke down our gear and loaded up the bus to move to another campsite on the other side of a nearby lake. We had to take a boat across the lake, so we only packed enough gear to stay one night at the new campsite.

The boat ride was pleasant and provided some more spectacular pictures as well as some hot tea and coffee down below. We thought it was funny that all of the workers on the boats had American names like Walter and Freddy. We thought those were just their "boat names" kind of like a stage name for strippers!

Once we reached the new campsite, we stowed our gear and took a quick look around. The campsite featured a larger eating area as well as a small hotel, but there was only one bathroom for everyone and from what I heard, the water in the showers was ice cold!

Once we got settled we started our trek into the French Valley. This was a very nice hike that was suppose to be fairly flat for about 2/3, with a climb for the last 1/3. The trek ended at a beautiful lookout area that would provide 360 views of the French Valley. The problem was that about halfway into the trek, it started raining and it wouldn't stop until we boarded the boat the next day!

As we approached the part of the trek that would take us the lookout, the guide decided to change course and head to a nearby glacier because the visibility at the lookout was non-existent. The route led us along a beautiful stream and the destination was pretty nice. The wind was crazy though, so you had to be really careful when scaling the rocks.

After checking out the glacier, we strolled back to our campsite, broke for dinner, then ended the evening at the second story bar drinking wine, looking out the window at the views and watching old 80s music videos on the bar TV. The sun went down at about 11:30, so we retired for the evening ready to dry out and face the next day. Check out all of the Torres Del Paines day 2 action at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Torres Del Paine (Day 1)

We awoke to a beautiful morning at our campsite and got ready for our big hike up to "the horns". The hike site was about an hour and a half drive from our campsite, so after a nice breakfast, we boarded the bus and set out for the trail head.

The trail head actually started at a very nice hotel and the weather was looking good as we set out. Our Chilean guide, Juan (who really reminds me of my friend Jack Lam) told us the hike would be challenging and he wasn't joking. We gained about 3,500 feet in a little under six miles. Some areas of the trail were SUPER steep and took some time to navigate, but the summit was well worth it with some spectacular views of "the horns" and the glacier lake at the base of the rock formation.

After some cheesy pictures, we started back down the trail. This was the hardest part for me because of my knees, but we took our time and eventually made it back down to the bottom in one piece. Along the way, I got some great landscape shots, close ups of plants and flowers and even a picture of the biggest bee I have ever seen! Check out all of the pictures from day one at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Venturing back to our campsite exhausted and hungry, we had but one more obstacle to navigate as we passed over a bridge that was about an inch wider than our vehicle. Our diver was a natural though and got us back to the campsite safe and sound for some dinner and wine before hitting the rack for some much needed sleep before our next 8 hour trek!

Drive to Torres Del Paines (Chile)

With not much sleep in my four man hostel room (won't do that again), I awoke to get ready to catch the shuttle down to Torres Del Paines National Park in Chile to start our trekking adventure. In the lobby, I met most of the rest of the 12 member group-a very diverse group indeed with representation from Mexico, London, US, Austria, Spain, Poland and Australia!

We boarded the bus and started the four hour drive to the National Park with an immigration inspection and lunch at the boarder. As we got closer to the National Park, we got our first views of the Torres-an incredible mountain range with the bluest lake I have ever seen in my life. The wind was blowing so hard, it was difficult to stand up straight for pictures!

As be boarded the bus, our tour guides treated us to a little Erykah Badu up on the MP3 joint and we bounced into the National Park after paying the $15,000 Chilean paso entrance fee (about $26 US).

After passing the National Park check point, we saw our first guanaco, an animal closely related to the lama as well as some flamingos and some incredible landscapes. We arrived at our first day hike site, but it was pouring rain, so our guide thought it would be better to just go to the camp site and get set up.

The camp site was not what I was picturing. We did sleep in tents, but the facilities were awesome with clean bathrooms, hot showers, a gift shop and full service restaurant. I was able to buy a sweet camping rain jacket for the trip at the gift shop for only $40 US and we all got settled in with our first meal together at the park. Check out all of the pictures for our drive down to Torres Del Paines at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Patagonia Arrival and Welcome Dinner

So much to write about as I spent the last six days in Patagonia. I caught a flight from Jorge Newbery Airport in Buenos Aries and flew down to El Calafate with a short layover in Bariloche on Aerolineas Argentina. The flight was nice and the actually fed us on both 2 hour legs of the flight (the flight attendants were hot too)! Upon arrival in El Calafate, I met one of our tour guides, Marcela and took the shuttle to my hostel for the evening. I ran into a Chinese family from Fullerton so we talked a little Souther California for a bit.

After getting settled in my hostel, I was taken to Don Pichon Grill for my welcome dinner with Emilio and Juliana, a newlywed couple from Mexico City. The restaurant featured, what else, Argentina Asado (BBQ) and great wine! The views were also spectacular. We finished our meal at about 11:00 PM and it was still light out! Check out all of the pictures of El Calafate and the restaurant at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39526836@N05/sets/.

Should have about five more blogs coming up highlighting the entire Patagonia experience!