Eventful yet unproductive – Ushuaia (fin del mundo), Argentina

After 15 hours on a bus I finally arrived at the end of the world, Ushuaia. As I was checking Facebook that night, Kari, a fellow traveler I met in Calafate had posted she was in Ushuaia and as luck would have it she ended up being at the same hostel as me.

We met at breakfast the following morning and she decided to keep me company while I looked for last minute Antarctica deals. Unfortunately, it turned out it was Sunday and everything was closed. We ended up wandering around town looking for any store that happened to be open. Without luck, we headed to the end of the world sign to take some pictures. Since we had each other, we didn’t have to take selfies, which both of us have come accustomed to as solo traveler. While taking our pictures, we ran into Vashti, another solo traveler who was staying in my room. The three of us would become fast friends! Now a threesome, we headed to a small market that was open and we all ended up buying a ring made out of an Argentinean coin by the cutest old man.

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On the way back to the hostel, I decided to try and see if one more tour agency was open, Ushuaia Extremo. Solange (the coolest tour agent ever) happened to be working on a Sunday and convinced me to book a tour leaving on December 6th. I couldn’t believe it, I was going to Antarctica! After accomplishing what I set out to do even with all the stores being closed, the three of us headed to dinner. Vashti and I shared a delicious plate of meat and french fries.

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The following day, we found out that it was a national holiday and again all stores would be closed. While Kari was out on a 4X4 tour, Vashti and I headed out on a mission to find something to do. As to not waste an entire day being unproductive, we went to the Galeria Tematica. As sad as this is to admit, I cannot recall much of what I learned. I was too busy taking pictures in the scenes and not paying attention to what the audio tape was narrating about the scene. Nevertheless, Vashti and I had a great time laughing throughout the whole museum. Later that night, the three of us drank lots of wine and simply enjoyed each others company!

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Since I would be seeing lots of penguins in Antarctica (or at least I hoped), I skipped out on the penguin tour with Vashti and Kari. I used the next day as my catch up day…updating my blog and figuring out what to do with my week before I departed for Antarctica as well as figure out future plans. I also exchanged American dollars that day at the creepiest stuff animal store, but at least they gave me a good exchange rate!

I had convinced Kari to come to Torres del Paine with me and complete the “backside” of the circuit, therefore leaving Vashti the following morning. On our final day together and itching to get outside, the three of us headed to Tierra del Fuego, the national park in Ushuaia. We walked for around two hours and then headed back to town. For our last night together, we went to one of the only bars in town for a beer. As much as I tried to convince Vashti to come with us to Torres del Paine, she kept turning me down.

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Although I didn’t accomplish much with my time in Ushuaia, hanging out with Vashti and Kari made it all worthwhile. I can’t even really explain what we did with our days, but they were definitely eventful yet unproductive and we have friendship rings to prove it!

Hikers Paradise – El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten, considered Argentina’s national trekking capital, is about 3 hours north of Calafate. After exploring Calafate, I took a 1:00 pm bus headed to El Chalten. On the ride there,  I met a couple from the Netherlands (Nikki and Hilko) whom had the same general plan for El Chalten and whom were also staying at the same hostel.We arrived into town around 4 pm — an incredibly small town at that — with the sun shining, and the winds fierce. Since we had all spent the last three hours on a bus, we decided to venture out to the two smaller hikes in town: Mirador de Los Condors and Las Aguilas. It took us about half an hour to get to the Mirador de Los Condors, with views overlooking the town and the mountains beyond it. Unfortunately, the clouds were obstructing our view of Mt. Fitz Roy, which seems to be a common occurrence in El Chalten.

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Afterwards, it took us another half hour to hike to our next destination, Mirador de Las Aguilas. This viewpoint overlooked Lago Viedma and it was surprising how incredibly sunny the views were over the lake compared to the rain clouds covering Mt. Fitz Roy. The weather can be quite unpredictable it seems within the entire Patagonia region. It can be sunny one second, raining the next, and may even snow in the seconds that follow.

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After the hike, Nikki and Hilko were very welcoming and invited me to cook dinner with them that night. We also decided that same night that we would take on one of the longer hikes the following morning. We awoke to rain the following morning with zero visibility of the mountains that surrounded the town. After debating whether or not to venture out in the rain, we decided on waiting until mid-afternoon in hopes of the weather clearing up.

Later that morning, Tony (a guy I had met earlier in Valparaiso) arrived just as we were about to head out and joined our hiking crew. It took us around 5 1/2 hours round-trip (21 km) to our destination, Laguna Torre. When we arrived to the lake, there were too many clouds covering views of the actual Cerro Torre, but we had been lucky enough to enjoy the hike sans rain.

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Back at the hostel and after warming up and relaxing, the 4 of us enjoyed leftover pasta from the previous night. By the second night in El Chalten, we had managed a nice little dinner crew that included the four of us — Nikki, Hilko, Tony, and myself — and another guy from Holland, Frits.

We woke up the next morning to a beautiful day outside. Two of the boys, Hilko and Frits went mountain biking while Nikki and I decided on a low-key one since we would be tackling another long trek the next morning. First we decided on a trek to see the waterfall Chorrillo del Salto, which turned out to be a flat and easy 2 hours (roundtrip) of hiking. We did get to sit on a rock, admiring the waterfall while taking in the sunshine and warmth!

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After our daily dose of hiking, Nikki and I headed to the spa. I enjoyed a nice leg treatment to heal my muscles from all the hiking and afterwards, the both of us enjoyed a 45 minute soak in the Jacuzzi with views of the Mt. Fitz Roy. It was a perfect relaxation day between two rather long day hikes. That night the dinner crew enjoyed a nice steak with potatoes and vegetable cooked by our chef Frits. The food was delicious, the meat cooked just right, and it was a nice change of pace from the usual pasta.

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We were blessed with another gorgeous day in El Chalten the next morning and our trekking crew headed to Laguna de los Tres,which offers the closest views of Mt. Fitz Roy. We took a shuttle to Hosteria El Pilar so we could hike the loop seeing different views along the way instead of going the same way there and back. The final ascent was pretty strenuous and steep, taking roughly around an hour uphill, but the views at the top were more than worth it. It was such a perfect day, we could not have been luckier with the weather. We stayed at the top of the hike admiring and taking in the views for quite some time. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the beauty of the jagged peaks, it was spectacular. We even got to see Fitz Roy without any clouds blocking our view!

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After making our way back into town (which took us about 3 hours), we decided to go out to dinner on our last night together. It was a great and really fun four days hanging out with Nikki, Hilko, and Tony. We were a good hiking crew and I was glad they took me in the very first night in Chalten. The following morning we would all part ways to head to different parts of Argentina, but they are and will continue to remain a big part of my solo travels and my adventures in Argentina.

Dress like an onion – El Calafate, Argentina

I arrived in El Calafate around 4, perfect for an afternoon stroll around the town. I enjoy arriving to a new city mid-afternoon giving me enough time to get a sense of my surroundings, check out the various restaurants and shops, and to figure out what I want to see and do in town. Since the weather forecast for the next three days looked pretty similar, I booked a tour with Hielo Y Aventura for a mini-trekking excursion on Glacier Perito Moreno the following day.

Glacier Perito Moreno is about 80 km from El Calafate. We all boarded the tour bus for our hour ride to the magnificent glacier. 15 minutes into the drive, it began to rain and I instantly knew it was going to be a cold day! When we arrived at the port, we boarded the boat that would take us to the glacier. I was so excited to see the glacier that I was the only crazy person standing on the deck in the pouring rain. At this point, the rain and I are besties and I now just embrace it! Once we got to the glacier, we strapped on our crampons and began our ascent up the ice. The glacier looked like a bunch of ice chips accumulated in a massive hill. Even with the rain pouring down and the clouds up above, the glacier was beautiful and incredibly mystical. We trekked along the ice for about an hour and a half occasionally stopping to admire the cracks, seracs, and pools of glacier water. At the end of the trek, we were all given whiskey on the rocks (the rocks being from the glacier)! Back in the refugio, we enjoyed are lunch while all huddled around the heater trying to defrost.

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After experiencing Glacier Perito Moreno from the inside, we headed to the boardwalks to get a sense of how big the glacier really was. Walking down to this beautiful monster, I was surprisingly taken aback by how incredibly stunning it was. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen. And it is the only glacier in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciers that show no signs of receding. It is considered stable as it is neither advancing nor retreating, a very rare phenomenon in these days of global warming. I sat there in awe and amazement watching the ice fall from the glacier into the water making a huge crashing sound. It is once again something very hard to describe in words and an experience you truly have to experience for yourself. If I hadn’t been so cold and uncomfortable I could have stayed there for hours watching the ice fall and admiring the beauty of this massive glacier.

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The next day I headed to the Glaciarium (Glacier Museum) with Emily, a girl that was in my dorm room. We learned various facts about glaciers and ice, the explorations, and how much most of them are receding each year. It is incredible to watch the time lapse of how much the glaciers are shrinking and causing water levels to rise. The museum also focused a lot about raising awareness about the impact of climate change and global warming. After flooding our brains with information about glaciers, we headed to the ice bar inside the Glaciarium for a drink. We were given parkas and gloves as we entered and our drinks were served in an ice glass, it was awesome! The two of us were the youngest in the bar by at least 20 years and therefore the bartender took a liking to us. He made us two shots of vodka with a splash of amaretto and just as we were about to leave pulled out a piece of paper with his name and number written on it. Emily and I couldn’t stop laughing outside. It was hilarious to think that he had readymade pieces of paper with his number on them in his pocket to give away to any tourist that came in! We headed back to the hostel to meet two of Emily’s friends that were arriving that day. After they were settled in, we took a walk to admire the milky-blue color of Lago Argentino. After fighting against the wind on the walk back, we decided to all cook in the hostel kitchen and call it a night. I needed my energy for the hiking I was about to embark on in El Chalten.

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A Whale of a Time – Puerto Madryn, Argentina

I arrived in Puerto Madryn early in the morning. It is not the most beautiful place to say the least, but I had come for one purpose only….whales! After arriving I learned there was a lot to see and do but it all came with a cost and a pretty hefty one at that. Besides whale watching, which was my main priority, you could swim with the sea lions and visit a penguin colony. I decided to opt out of both swimming with sea lions and visiting the penguin colony to help save money. I have swam with sea lions before and I am hoping to see penguins in Antarctica therefore cutting costs where I can. Since it’s pretty hard to explore Puerto Madryn without a car (or on an expensive tour) and everyone at the hostel already had plans when I arrived, I took the day to figure out future travel. High season is quickly approaching in Southern Argentina making last minute bus and hostel decisions more difficult and planning ahead more imperative. That night I went to dinner with one of my roommates, a guy from France. He was on a month vacation from work. The dinner conversation was a bit awkward (as we were both kind of awkward), but at least he was easy on the eyes 😉

I had absolutely no plans the following day, so I had a lazy morning and slowly got ready for the day. I finally got to wear my shorts I’ve been carrying around for weeks! It was a beautifully sunny day out, but it was also warm something I have been missing the past couple of weeks. Seeing as it was such a beautiful day out, I slowly walked along the beach soaking in the sunshine. I walked the entire length of the beach and back (roughly 3 hours). I tried to reflect on my thoughts and meditate like most people swear by, but I just couldn’t do it, my mind likes to wander all over the place. Without expecting it, I looked out to the ocean and saw whales! It was incredible, they were so close to shore. I even saw one smacking its tail on the water. It was such an unexpected delight, which made me even more excited for my whale watching experience the following day. Whales are such incredible massive creatures who move so gracefully in the water. I was mesmerized by them when I saw them out in the distance. I tried to take a few pictures, but they were just too far away. Sometimes (although it should be all the time) it’s not about the picture or capturing the moment, it’s about the experience and living in the moment. Therefore I put my camera away and sat there in awe as I watching these beautiful creatures glide through the water. After an incredibly relaxing day and unexpected surprises, I headed back to the hostel to cook up some delicious Argentinian meat.

*Side note: I don’t normally take selfies (in fact I actually despise them), but when by yourself you don’t really have any other options hence my pictures below.

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It was whale watching day and I could hardly contain my excitement. The tour company I booked with picked me up around 8:00 am along with about 50 other tourists, but even the massive size of the tour group couldn’t get my excitement down. Unfortunately when booking a big tour like this, we sometimes stop at places that no one necessarily wants to explore, but nevertheless we stop there anyway. Our first stop was at the information center, which seemed unnecessary since our tour guide was explaining all sorts of things about whales and the various wildlife, but I grabbed a coffee and admired the skeleton of a baby Southern Right Whale. We were supposed to head to Punto Norte next, but it was closed due to damage to the roads, so instead we headed to Caleta Valdes to observe the penguins and elephant seals. Because the area is protected, visitors are only allowed to admire the animals from a distance. I completely understand why visitors are not allowed to intrude on the wildlife’s habitat, but I sure wish I could have got closer. Around this time of year people have been known to spot groups of orcas on the hunt for baby elephant seals, therefore you can imagine my excitement at the possibility of spotting an orca. As we were observing the elephant seals, our tour guide explained that because the tide was low the possibility of seeing an orca was unlikely as they usually hunt during high tide. Low and behold about 20 minutes later and to everyone’s surprise and amazement, we spotted a family of 4 orca whales out in the distance. As they drew closer (but still at a pretty far distance) you could actually see the black and white of their skin. It was awesome to see orca whales in the natural habitat cruising in the water. I was sad to leave the orcas, but we were headed to board the boat for our whale watching extravaganza.

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We stopped to see some sea lions around the port before boarding the zodiac. While observing the sea lions, out in the distance we saw a whale breach 3 times as well as a mother baby pair swimming not too far from shore. These sightings got me even more excited to get out on the boat already and observe the whales even that much closer. Myself along with 10 others got to take a smaller zodiac out on the water since our group was too large to all fit on the bigger boat. We found a mother and her baby to hang out with and much to my surprise they didn’t mind us being there at all. It was mind-blowing how close they come to the boat. Sometimes they were so close you could reach out and touch them! They are just as curious about us as we are about them. At one point, the mother was directly underneath our boat with her tail sticking out one side of the boat and her face on the other and she continued to swim underneath us! It is difficult to describe in words what an incredibly unforgettable experience it was for me.

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The Southern Right Whales come to Puerto Piramides from June to December to mate and give birth in the bay. As it is nearing the end of the season, most of the whales have begun their migration south to feed. The whales still hanging out in the baby are mostly mothers and their young. The mothers stay as long as possible with their babies to help nurture and protect them, but soon they too will all leave Puerto Piramides heading south. Hopefully we will meet again as I too am making my way south, but I’ll be feeding along the way 😉

My near death experience – Bariloche, Argentina

There were no overnight buses from Pucon to Bariloche (most likely due to the border crossing from Chile to Argentina), so Sophie and I took a day bus and had a travel day.  As the  weather out was not suitable for being outdoors, it was a bit of a relief to know we weren’t spending a nice day out on a bus. The views of the seven lakes en route to Bariloche were also special and made the bus ride worth it. It was raining when we arrived in Bariloche and the weather forecast was not in our favor for the next couple of days, but we were hopeful!

The following morning, we woke up to a sight of snow outside our window. The snow didn’t last long and the skies began to clearly quickly in early afternoon. The views from our hostel (Penthouse 1004) were incredible as they offered 360 degree views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. After breakfast, Sophie and I met up with Mark and Deb, an Australian couple we met in Pucon, to explore Bariloche.

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As we ventured out, we realized it would have been a bit difficult to do a ton with the treacherous winds. Luckily, as the streets of Bariloche were populous with a variety of chocolate shops and cervecerías (breweries), we came up with our own Chocolate/Brewery Crawl. We began the crawl with a couple different chocolate shops, tasting and buying chocolates and sipping on hot chocolate. We then made our way to the cervecerías, only to discover the majority of them did not open till 5 or 6 pm (afternoon Siestas, I have come to learn, are very common in almost all of South America!).

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To kill some time and avoid the long wait, we headed to the supermarket to buy some steak to cook for dinner as we had heard meat was a cheap product in Argentina. After the market, we dropped the groceries off at the hostel and decided to cook after our beer crawl. We went to two of the more popular cervecerias, Manush and Antaras. I had a honey beer at Manush, which was light and refreshing. At Antaras, Sophie and I split a taster of 4 beers. I had no idea Argentinans liked and brewed beer but it was fun and interesting to see a side of the country I hadn’t discovered before.

After our satisfying beer tastings, we headed to the hostel to cook our steaks. Mark cooked them perfectly and the meat was tender and full of flavor without even bothering with seasoning. After dinner and with our bellies full of meat and beer, we called it a night and headed to bed.

The next morning, as Sophie and I desired a little adventure in Bariloche, we headed up the mountains to stay at a Refugio (a little hut with beds). After talking to an organization — Club Andino, whose main purpose was to help people choose what trails to hike, what to take along, and what best fits their fitness level — the previous day, we ended up deciding to hike Refugio Frey, along with an overnight stay there. The lady at Club Andino told us we would need snow shoes because it had snowed a decent amount the previous night. With all our rented gear we were prepared for our hike into the wilderness or so we thought. It was beautiful at the start of the trek, the sun was shining, the wind was tame, and the scenery breathtaking. I haven’t realized how beautiful the scenery was going to be on our 4 hour journey up to the Refugio. We started off with views of the lake and snow kissed mountains that later turned into forestry sprinkled with white. Although we didn’t end up using our snow shoes the first day, we sure looked professional and badass.

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The mixture of people inside the Refugio were either hikers or talented backcountry skiers. I had never heard of Frey before I arrived in Bariloche, but if you are an avid back-country skier, it is one of the top destinations to go to in the winter. Besides us, there were 6 other hikers, a couple from Portland and four Argentinian boys. The mood of the Refugio that night was a bit odd. We had come on the night where management was switching for one person to the next. Therefore, that night it was managed by one person and the next morning when we awoke it would be managed by another. Club Andino, the owner of the Refugio, decided that it wanted new management for the following season, therefore not renewing the contract of the current manager (who had been there the last 8 years). There was a bit of tension and you could tell the current but soon to be ex-manager was heartbroken, but making the best of the situation. That night, we went to bed thinking we would have another gorgeous day on the trail the following day.

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It snowed throughout the night and I mean really snowed (about 4 feet). It continued to snow or shall I say blizzard thought the morning as well. Seeing as it didn’t look as though it was going to get much better, Sophie and I along with the couple from Portland (Lindsay and Brandon) decided to head down. We strapped on our snow shoes and hoped for the best as we made our descent. Since we couldn’t see the path as clearly because of all the snow, it was difficult to know exactly which way to go. I had remembered crossing over a river to get to the Refugio and I could see the river from the day before. Sophie and I headed towards the path we remember, while Lindsay and Brandon headed towards the ridge. As we continued to walk, I could see the path as well as footprints in the snow up ahead further so I had assumed I was going in the right direction. Little did I know there is a very specific spot you should cross when making your way to the path. Within a matter of seconds, I had fallen through 4 feet of snow and down into the river and once I felt water I began to freak out. In that moment, I genuinely feared for my life. I didn’t know how deep the water was or how long I could hold grip of the snow around me. Many thoughts were going through my mind, was the river strong enough to take me down and how was I going to gain stability with stupid snow shoes on, to name a few. As I made eye contact with Sophie, I began to worry that she would also fall through. I had no idea how strong the snow was beneath her, all I knew was that I had to get out somehow. After calming myself down long enough to pull my snow shoe out of the water and secure it on a rock, I pulled myself up so I could see Sophie more clearly, thankfully the snow around me holing tight. She grabbed my hand pulling me out and after embracing for a few seconds, we quickly got out of the area. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives. I’m sure the pure panic on my face was enough to make anyone nervous. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t as dangerous of a situation as it felt, but if that rock or Sophie had not been there it could have been a lot worse and an entirely different situation.  And he best part is Sophie got it all on camera!

Be Careful Where You Step…(Click for Video)

Since we were not far from the Refugio, we headed back to wait for anyone else going down who knew the trail better than we did, which was pretty much anyone. One of the cooks was headed down, so we started to follow him and then soon caught up to the other 4 Argentinian hikers (Christian, Emmanuel, Julian, and Demian) who had been at the Refugio the night before as well. The second time around we had a nice group of 9 people and I instantly felt safer. It turns out I had been going the right way all along, but I crossed over to far up the hill, where it was apparently less stable. After safely crossing the river I instantly felt calmer even though we were still hiking through blizzard like conditions. Everyone hiking down with us were amazing, always making sure we were doing okay. We ended up hiking down with the 4 boys the majority of the time and when I no longer needed my snow shoes one of the boys even carried them for me. It was incredible the change in weather between the two days. The first day was beautiful clear skies as spring should be and not even 24 hours later it was snowing. It was though we were hiking through a winter wonderland, snowing the entire journey back down. For it to be snowing as much as it had that day was incredibly rare for this time of year. I thankfully made it down in one piece even with my near death experience, sneakers, and cotton gloves!

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We parted ways with the boys to go shower and defrost but made plans to meet up with them later for some dinner and beers. Only one of them spoke English, but it was helpful to practice my Spanish and for them to practice their English. They are a bunch of really fun, sweet guys as well as very generous. I’m hoping I can go visit them in their hometown on my way back up to Buenos Aires before I fly home. I fell asleep that night within a matter of seconds after such an eventful and exciting day. Safely back in the hostel, I can now laugh at the entire situation!

The next day the weather was once again not as nice as I would have liked, a mixture of rain and snow creating a sort of slush. I was planning on going to see a viewpoint, but instead stayed in the hostel all day catching up on emails, blogging, and just staying warm. Sophie and I parted ways, she was headed to Puerto Mont and I was headed to Puerto Madryn on an overnight bus. I am hoping to catch her again in Torres del Paine. I had a blast traveling with her this past week. She is sure to be someone I will never forget both as a friend who shares very similar interests and as my rescuer from the sunken hole in the snow!

Meat and lost sleep – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Arriving in Buenos Aires around 4 pm, we checked into our hostel the Art Factory in San Telmo and immediately headed to Florida Street to exchange money. The American dollar in Argentina is worth significantly more on the black market than the actual exchange rate a bank would offer. We received 11.4 Argentine pesos for every American dollar versus the bank rate of 8.13 Argentine pesos for every American dollar. Exchanging money felt a little like a drug deal (not that I would know what that is) or like shopping for knockoff purses in New York City. There are dozens of people on Florida Street, a famous shopping district, dressed like everyday shoppers yelling cambio as you walk by. We picked someone who we thought looked legit, who then took us to his office above one of the shops, where we exchanged our money. We made sure to check every bill for authenticity, the watermark being the key. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires’ most famous café, for a quick coffee. We made plans to meet Carol (my old roommate) for dinner, a reunion in Argentina!

We headed to Carol’s Airbnb in Palermo with two of our friends Cherie and Baron, who we met in San Pedro and then ran into at the Art Factory Hostel, for some wine before dinner. After talking and catching up for a couple of hours we headed to one of the well-known steak houses in Palermo, La Cabrera. Of course we all ordered steak. The pieces that were cooked medium (what we ordered) were delicious, but the ones that were overcooked were a little disappointing. It was nice to have a fancy dinner, but it was definitely way more expensive than expected, especially for meat that had been overcooked. Even still the company was awesome and I was so happy to be with my old roommate again.

Farima and I explored the area of San Telmo the following day wandering around Chile Street and popping into various antique shops and markets. If only I wasn’t backpacking I would have liked to purchase a record player and a bunch of records for my future home. Later that afternoon it started to rain so we quickly hurried back to our hostel for shelter. Once again rain was ruining our chance to explore and see the city, but luckily the hostel was offering a free tango lesson that night so at least we could do something cultural. Tango is more difficult than it looks and the steps are all controlled by the movements of the man’s shoulders. I tried to look down at my feet to follow the steps, but I was always corrected to keep my eyes up and feel the movements. It was an hour lesson in total and I really enjoyed learning at least the basics of tango, maybe I’ll take more dancing lessons one day! Since we had spent so much money on dinner the previous evening, Farima and I decided to go to the market and cook dinner at the hostel that night. While at the market, we met a local (he lived right across the street) who out of pure kindness wanted to buy us a gift. He bought us grapes and told us to stop by and say hello whenever we were around the area. Our two nights at the Art Factory were pretty low-key in preparation for a weekend in Buenos Aires.

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It was the start of the weekend and Farima and I checked out of Art Factory to move to Milhouse, a more popular party hostel. After we were all checked in, we met my cousin, Andrew, his friends, and Carol at El Alamo, a local bar to watch the opening game of the World Cup. It was really fun to be in an atmosphere where futbol (soccer) is so popular. After the game, we all headed back to our hostel bar and hung out for a few hours. We met some other guys; Mikey, Matty, and Adam, who were also staying at our hostel and we all headed to another bar a few blocks away (same hostel chain just different location). Everyone was headed to a club later that night, but Carol, Farima, and I decided to call it a night and we headed home around 3 am, which is fairly early for Buenos Aires’ nightlife.

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We woke up around noon the following morning and signed up for the bike tour of southern Buenos Aires at 2 pm. Our first stop was Plaza de Mayo, where paintings of white handkerchiefs circle the plaza representing mothers whose children were taken away from them during the Military Dictatorship and given to families with similar beliefs as the dictatorship. These women wore white handkerchiefs and marched around the plaza every week for over thirty years demanding information about their children’s whereabouts. Finally, a blood bank was formed and any child born between 1976-1983 could donate their blood and be potentially matched with their biological parents. Next, we headed to Puerto Madero, home to the wealthy and more commonly known as the center of money laundering. A few minutes from Puerto Madero along the river’s edge where once used to lie a beach and is now an ecological reserve, we stopped for a quick snack. Farima and I had a steak sandwich, while most people tried the national favorite, choripan (sausage in a roll). La Boca was next on the tour and is one of the poorer neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. The area is full of brightly colored buildings and became this way because of the paint that was available to them. Each day ships that came to dock near La Boca would have leftover paint that was given to the locals and whichever color they happen to have that day would be the color of one section of a building. La Boca is also home to one of Argentina’s leading football clubs, Boca Juniors who rival the River Plate team located on the other side of town. A fun fact we learned on our bike tour was about the origins of Tango. It originally began between two mob men at gambling bars and was used to show one’s dominance over the other. Later these men used tango as a sort of foreplay with prostitutes (but is now danced by everyone in Buenos Aires), which is why today you typically see the man dressed as a mobster and the woman dressed rather sexy. The tour ended around 6:30 pm, where we met up with a few friends from the hostel and decided to head to Palermo, which is supposed to have the best clubs in town. First, we tried a club that reached capacity just as we reached the front of the line. The second club we tried had a strict dress code for boys and not everyone in our group could pass (those Californians wearing shorts). It was not looking like our night to get into a club and since our group was pretty big anyway we found a bar for all of us to hang out at.

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The next day was a relaxation day…well at least until it was time to go out again. We slept in late and watched the England vs. Italy match at our hostel. Our hostel had a big screen TV in the common area playing all the matches of the world cup. This one was especially entertaining since almost half the people staying at our hostel were English. I was secretly rooting for Italy, but couldn’t be too enthusiastic as I was outnumbered by English fans. One guy, Adam, was so confident he bet his friend that if England lost he would do 10 shots in 10 minutes. Unfortunately for him, Italy ended up winning, the mood of the room drastically changed, and Adam had to take 10 shots. Later that night the hostel had organized buses to go to one of the famous clubs in town. Carol, Farima, and I along with our roommates at the hostel, Connor, Brent, and Liam, and a few others including, Adam, Mikey, and Matty all headed to the club together. The club was huge with 3 different dance floors all playing various types of music. After dancing the night away, we headed home around 5 am and were some of the first to leave. I’ve come to realize my body can no longer handle partying so many days in a row, nor do I particularly want to.

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It was Sunday, a day of rest and open-air markets! Farima and I headed to the Feria de San Pedro Telmo, a Sunday market easily taking up at least 20 city blocks selling everything and anything you could imagine. Farima and I both ended up buying some boots since our current shoes had come to the end of their existence. After walking the entire market we headed to El Alamo to meet up with Carol and watch the Argentina vs. Bosnia game. Matty, Mikey, and Adam from our hostel also met up with us to watch the game. It was a lot of fun to be watching the Argentina futbol game in Argentina with such passionate fans. Argentina won and everyone in the bar celebrated! For once we called it an early night since Carol, Farima, and I were headed to Montevideo early the next morning.

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(Rain) Breaking Records – Iguazu Falls

We were welcomed to Iguazu with pouring rain…

As we had only two days in town (Puerto Iguazu) before we had to catch our flight to Buenos Aires, we contemplated what to do over lunch as far as seeing the falls. Iguaza Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River that fall on the border of Argentina and Brazil and form the boundary between the two countries. The falls can be reached from the two main towns on either side of the falls, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, both providing you different views and experiences of the falls. From the Argentinean side you are able to take a boat tour into the river and see the falls up close while the Brazilian side gives you overall panoramic views from a distance.

Since it was raining on the first day and we figured more time was needed to explore the Argentinean side, we decided on crossing over to the Brazilian side given it stopped raining, which it thankfully did. We were able to catch the last bus that crossed the border at 4 pm and the weather turned out to be really nice… we were not so lucky with the water in the river and the falls. Since it had been raining, the color of the water was brown and the waterfall pressures so powerful that many of the tourists attractions were closed in response, including a walkway known as the Devil’s Throat where some of the best views can be found. The panoramic views from the Brazilian side although still breathtaking were at a distance and we were excited to get up and close to the falls from the Argentinean side. Jaap, Farima, and I decided along with two other guys from our hostel that we would head to the Argentinean side the following morning, crossing our fingers for no more rain.

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We woke up excited like kids on Christmas morning the next day to a cease rain and the sun shining from behind the clouds. The feeling was short-lived as our hostel guy informed us that the falls were closed due to a more than normal high water level as a result of all the rain. Who knew that too much water in a waterfall could close down a national park? Farima and I were really bummed, we had come all the way to Iguazu Falls only to have the park be closed. Weather seems to be a recurring factor in the demise of our travel plans! Since there wasn’t much to do in town, we caught up on some TV shows, did some reading, and posted some blogs.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the Hito Tres Fronteras, an obelisk overlooking the Iguazu river where the three borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Whoever said you can’t be in three places at once?! We even have a picture to prove it!

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We headed back to the hostel after our little adventure and tried to figure out whether or not we should push back our flight one more day to try and do the tour from the Argentinean side. The unfortunate thing was that no one could predict whether the park would open back up the next day or anytime soon for that matter. Since we had the option of changing our flight up until an hour before departure, we agreed to wait till the next morning and make a last minute decision then. If we were lucky and the park was open the next morning, we were to change our flight and stay one more night and if not, we were headed to Buenos Aires as originally planned. We headed to dinner and drinks that same night with a big crew from the hostel, all of us hopeful and positive about what the next morning would bring… a reopened National Park!

The conditions were not in our favor as we find out early the next morning that the tours and the National Park were still closed. Apparently, Iguazu had received an excessive amount of rainfall that week causing the falls to receive high water levels that broke records. The falls remained closed up to a few weeks after we had departed the town, which we learned from fellow travelers who had the same experience weeks down the road. Thankful to have seen and experienced the Brazilian side, we headed to the airport after saying goodbye to our Iguazu crew and boarded our flight to Buenos Aires. Although we were a little disappointed not to be able to get up close and experience the Argentinean side of the falls, it only added to our list of reasons to come back and explore more of everything this amazing country has to offer!

Edited by: Farima Mn.

Vino and a missing corkscrew – Cafayate, Argentina

Salta was simply a stopover for us on our way to Cafayate. We arrived around nine at night, grabbed dinner, and went to bed. The following morning we had to say goodbye to Alaina, she was off to Buenos Aires and we were off to Cafayate. Once again it was hard to say goodbye, we had shared so many great memories together both in the jungle and the Salt Flats and were really going to miss her.

The ride to Cafayate was a quick 4 hours and we were excited to enter wine country! After settling into our hostel, we headed to some wineries around the main square. Our group had grown to four, we met an Italian on our bus ride to Cafayate named Filipo. Being on a traveler’s budget, our first stop was a winery with free tastings. Farima, Jaab, Filipo, and I tasted a Malbec and a Torrontes. The Torrontes grape is Argentina’s number-one white wine and grows abundantly in Cafayate. After our first tasting, we headed to the second winery where we tasted four different types of wines, a Malbec, a Rose, another Torrontes, and a Cabernet. We ended up buying a bottle of the Rose to go with dinner the same night. At our third and last winery for the day we decided to just buy different bottles of wine instead of doing tastings since it ended up being cheaper that way. We sat outside in the courtyard overlooking the vineyard, enjoying the weather, wine, and the company. For dinner, we bought some Argentinian meat and vegetables to grill over the BBQ back at our hostel. There was a nice size group of us hanging out, BBQing, and enjoying delicious local Argentinian wine!

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The following morning, the four of us rented bikes from the hostel to explore the wineries a bit further away. The bikes had definitely seen better days and weren’t exactly the best for dirt roads. The first winery we stopped at was Vasija Secreta, where we enjoyed a bottle of wine and cheese. After relaxing for a bit, we hopped back on our bikes in search of the next winery. The next stop was a bit out of our price range so we decided to skip it and head to the next on the list… little did we know it was an hour away. Since our bikes were a bit old, it was difficult to try and bike uphill, against the wind, on gravel, not to mention a couple glasses of wine deep. At one point, Farima and I gave up and decided it would be easier to walk our bikes instead (no shame).

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On our hour adventure, we ended up following a sign for a winery that seemed to have closed ages ago once we actually reached it. As unfortunate as that was, on our way back up the main road we stopped at a local family’s house and had a wine tasting experience like no other. An older man who was the owner of the property/vineyard, poured us tasting of his homemade wine he produced in barrels placed in his own garage. It was a cool experience to taste a local wine straight from the barrel that was made using clay barrels by a local rather than what we were used to in our previous wine tasting experiences.

We were all getting pretty tired from the strenuous bike ride so decided to make the next stop our last. The last winery was absolutely breathtaking and probably one of the nicest wineries I’ve ever been to, and not just in a foreign country. Since we were all exhausted anyway, we stayed a little longer and enjoyed lunch at the winery’s restaurant overlooking the vineyard and surrounding meadows. Our ride back to town was a lot easier, downhill and with the wind. The hour ride back only took us about 15 minutes to return. As if wine wasn’t enough of a reward for biking, we headed straight to the ice cream shop known for its famous wine ice cream, where Farima, Filipo, and I enjoyed a Cabernet flavored ice cream and Jaap had the Torrontes one.

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We headed back to the hostel after our desert and Farima and I dropped our bikes and the boys off and headed to the square to explore the numerous shops and have some girl shopping time. Upon our return to the hostel, there was another big group of people BBQing so we ended up joining them for our last night in Cafayate, eating, chatting, and enjoying more delicious Argentinian wine. That same night we said goodnight to everyone around 2 am since Jaab, Farima, and I had to catch our bus to Tucuman (6 hours away), where we then had to catch another to our next stop in Argentina, Iguazu Falls(19 hours). As much as I was dreading our 25 hour journey, it surprisingly wasn’t as bad as expected. The bus company gave us lots of food and played pretty good movies – they were even in English! Although it was a fairly easy bus ride, I was beyond ready to get off the bus when we arrived in Iguazu around 9:30 am a day later. Cafayate was an enjoyable and relaxing few days and I’m glad to have experienced the Argentinian wine country different than the norm.

Edited by: Farima Mn.