>>>This posts PHOTOS can be found at: The Never Ending Road Trip<<<
If you don’t have an idea of what awesomeness I am about to write here, you should probably scroll up and re-read that title.
Did you read it?
Don’t believe it?
Oooohhyeaaahbaby. I made it to the “top” of the world (as they like to say it “down there”, oh geography humor).
LETS GET STARTED!
From Part 2 of BFP we left of at the beginning of my roughly 24 hour bus ride to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. A port town, developed from a population of prisoners and isolated explorers exiled from the center cities, Ushuaia receives annual tourists every summer/spring/fall (deeefinitely not winter, that place is COLD!) to visit the beautiful state parks and join boat tours that lead to isolated islands with PENGUINS! YAY!
Isn’t this post exciting already!?
Well, sorry but I got to stop you from jumping up and clapping your hands shouting PENGUINS PENGUINS for just a sec. Because, being the poor student I am, I elected to take a bus, to see the country side, and well… to save a few bucks. So, first:
THE BUS(ES) TO USHUAIA:
What we (my traveling mates and I) thought might be a semi-cama (bed) bus that traveled straight to Ushuaia, turned out to be much much more than a sore butt and a quiet journey where one can catch up on their reading. oh no. This is Patagonia and everything is an adventure here.
We left our hostel at 2am in the morning, just as the last backpackers went to bed and the solo night staffer was setting up camp behind the desk. Our backpacks stuffed and our iPods charged, we ventured out underneath the bright starry sky and headed down the dirt hill to the bus station. Like always, we picked up a guia dog who took us all the way to the station, where she even quietly laid down next to our things while we waited for the bus to arrive. We boarded and were happy to find chairs that unfolded into nice slightly elevated beds. Once I figured out how to lean back the damned thing, I was out like Ke$ha after a big bottle of Jack.
The next moment of consciousness was to my SUPER STRESSED OUT companion looking confused as all hell, and everyone on the bus was awake and up collecting their belongings. I thought for a second why this was happening and then I remembered I had TWO tickets. Must have meant something. Probably that we had to change buses as some point. Guess that point was now. We had reached Rio Gallegos, capital city of Santa Cruz, and pit stop for all buses that lead to Ushuaia. It was now 7 am (where did the time go?) and we sat for an hour looking up every time a bus came having absolutely NO idea which was ours and how everyone else seemed to know what to do except for us. Finally a bus pulled up with the same name as the one on our ticket and we grabbed our bags only to be told last minute that we had to “CHECK IN”. Crap.
Rushing back into the station and searching frantically for the right kiosk, we registered and then ran back in time to catch the bus. THIS bus was the long haul. I spent most of my time reading D.H. Lawrence’s “Women In Love” , and catching up on some Zs. At least that is until some stranger woke me up to tell me to get off the bus…which brings me to the next section.
For some historical and complicated reason, the tip of South America is split between the countries of Chile and Argentina. And for some complicated and historical reason, we travelers have to pass through not one, not two, but FOUR BORDER PATROL CENTERS. Each one 10 minutes away from the other, and each one takes 30 to 60 minutes to do the following:
- Get off and back on the bus
- Get your bags (all of them) back off and on the bus
- Have all your ID’s checked
- Have all your bags checked (yes, every damn time)
- And get your passport stamped (woo!)
- Also you get to ride a ferry (not so bad…except when the storm we had been out driving caught up to us and we happened to be riding that same channel that shipwrecked hundreds of people and oh look the waves are getting a little more ferocious looking, are we supposed to rock like that????)
So yes. more exciting that sitting on one bus for FOREVERRRRRRRRR.
After changing buses once more in Rio Grande, the next part of the trip wasn’t too exciting, the sun had begun to set as we started to weave through the mountains on our way to the town. The geography had changed from flat lands and golden fields to green forests and mountains. The last hour was my favorite as I got to watch the beautiful sunset over the Andes and lakes. As we reached Ushuaia, the last bit of sun set and a crescent moon rose over the glowing water. It was a beautiful and perfect way to feel we had passed through the gate into Tierra del Fuego and the End of the World.
Everyday, I come home from school thinking about what I want to write and share on my blog.
Everyday, I try to cross one more item off the list of things I want to get done that day… and while “doing” them (i.e. reading a book for school while actually daydreaming about something completely different), I actually narrate to myself what I will write later. sick, I know.
Now. If I actually WROTE a damn word, my head would be a lot less full and I think I’d actually get SOME of those things DONE.
I suppose a brief explanation for the lack of communication is warranted, but let me sum it down to this.
1 week was spent traveling in Patagonia, Southern Argentina (of which I will post about now), 1 week was spent sleeping that trip off while signing up for classes, attending said classes, and completing other menial tasks for school, and lastly, I’ve been dancing my butt off and was just bombarded with school work and every time I come home, all I want to do is just SLEEP!
I’ve been going through some highs and lows, but I think I’ll leave that to the next post (Culture Shock part 2) and I also have some fun ideas planned for future posts (Weird Things That Porteños Like) but for now I will just leave you with the EPIC TALES OF PATAGONIAAAAAA:
(I’m a nerd.)
We start the scene at 4:30 in the morning, where a fine young Gentile Man named D accompanies me in a radio taxi to the Aeroporte. Along the way, we pick up companion E, a sweet young lady from the V of Mont, and we reach our destination at not 1 minute past 5.
(already fun isn’t it?)
Whence upon our arrival, we acquire our last travelling amiga, the name of S shall do her justice, and we go on our way through security (in literally TWO minutes – TAKE THAT USA) and then we sit FOR TWO HOURS.
So, next time you are taking a 7 am flight, you really do not need to get there THAT early. Ok? ok.
Also I bought the most expensive water there. 10 pesos. Really? really.
We arrived after our two 2 hour flights to a place where the golden grassy flat lands roll into the milky white & blue-tinted glacier water, bordered by the snow-covered Andean mountains. A sight to behold. A fresh view and breath to be taken.
Only one major highway passes through this town (route 11) , and it goes east to west. Looking down it’s vanishing point, it finally hit me that I was IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. 😀
I made it to the Hostel America Del Sur, and when I stepped outside the lounge area, I fell in love with Lago Argentina and it’s buddy, the Andes.
El Calafate has beautifully tempered weather this time of year: 70s with the sun to keep you warm and a breeze to cool you down, I never needed more than a light long sleeve fleece over my tie-dye t-shirt (I had to go backpacking in style 😉 ). Many roads are dirt, pebbled, and… awesome. I wish I had more time to explore the outskirts of the town, where brightly painted houses and interesting architecture exists (such as those cool bungalows where the v-slanted roofs simultaneously act as the walls). The town itself has a few main roads, but RT 11 carries the traffic through the main stores and attractions (artisan and tourist shops) and a walk further will take you towards the natural reserve by the Lago. Dogs run rampant through the town, but in actuality they are all quite clean and very sweet (in comparison to dogs I’ve seen in other small towns). Each time we walked to town and back a different dog would accompany us, expecting food most likely, but I like to think to myself that they were our own personal guides.
After settling in at our very fun looking and welcoming hostel (run by young adults with dreads and hair wraps – reggae was a constant audible companion), we took a nap in our private room, with double bunk beds and a sweet view of the town/landscape, and once we re-energized we began our tour of the town.
We started out with an informational guided walking tour through the Walichu Caves. Discovered right on the coast of Lago Argentina, these 4000 year old “caves” contain red hand drawn paintings with hidden symbolism, revealing a bit about indigenous life.
A negative hand print perhaps signified the impact and position of a woman’s hand during the birthing process, the force she gives as she presses against her companions for help. A circle of dots spiraling into the center allude to a person’s life line. Other more recognizable figures such as a man, a young stag, and a warrior exist to pass on their history, forever stained on the rock’s edge.
Though not a jaw-dropping cave walk, where gigantic stalactites and stalagmites (do you still get those confused?) tower over you, it was still a beautiful place to walk around, what with the pretty rock formations, the coast of Lago Argentina at your feet, and a piece of cultural history to learn.
My first account of I DON’T SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE FLUENTLY happened soon after our tour. We were riding back to town on the bus when the tour guide, looking directly at me, asked in Spanish (and this is roughly what I think she said) – “Do you guys want to get off here? or are you continuing?” And me, not really mastering the whole language after 4.5ish months and having a much hindered ability at reading body language because I didn’t have my glasses on, turned to my compatriots (all Avenzada Espanol Estudiantes) asked them, “Do we have to get off here? Is this the end of the tour?” I figured that A. we only paid for the Cave tour, and B. this bus was going somewhere NOT in the direction of our hostel…we should probably get off…but they all just sort of shrugged and off we went to continue what was called the CITY TOUR… and not something that we paid for. In the end it didn’t matter and some fun things included:
Spotting Cristina Kirchner’s (El Presidente) home (basically large and covered with lots and lots of trees), Passing a very pretty boardwalk along the Lago A, and stopping at a history museum, at which we finally realized our mistake and were graciously given a free ride back to town.
We strolled along, window shopping, looking at pretty artisan crafts, and then we walked along the boardwalk where water weeds, trees, and birds inhabited the stagnant part of the lake. I sat facing the seemingly ever-expanding landscape and contemplatively munched on some lays potato chips. Always salty and crunchy when you need ’em. Em, the adventurer, jumped the fence/wall, hopped over a couple of rocks, and stood on the water’s edge. I enjoyed myself by just watching her and the birds flying overhead.
Another 2 hour nap later and I woke up to the smell of yummy yummy Asado – an Argentine version of BBQ Grilled meat, choice of Beef. and can I just say YUM.
We ate at the hostel with the buffet styled dinner and some Quilmes to wash it down. We also purchased a cheapo bottle of Malbec to hang out with post-dining. Sat with us was a couple who had just arrived from the wilderness. They had been backpacking (actually hiking and tenting) in Torres Del Paine, the Chilean national park with beautiful beeeauuttifulll mountains, views, and wildlife. Jim was happy to shave, and Anna pleased to have a warm cooked meal. They came from Long Island, he a boat sailing lawyer and she a partially retired Czech model who once graced the cover of Vogue (if you can believe it!). I thoroughly enjoyed their conversation and shared wine (which trumped ours by about 10 points).
We made it an early night, satisfied and full of meat and drink, we fell asleep easily enough.
The next morning it was Up and At ‘Em at 7:30 am. I was greeted by dry bread and dulce de leche. Coffee was a happy friend that day. 20 minutes later we were on a very comfy coach bus heading out to Perito Moreno and El Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We passed by Estancias (horse ranches) and rolling hills. As the sun rose, I was soothed by the voice of our tour guide who spoke about the history of the area (a location originally inhabited by farmers who have now mostly left due to the dryness of the land) and the glacier I was about to oogle (a constantly growing “piece” of ice that is 80% below water and the chunk above water towers over 60 meters high)
When we got to the park and paid the 100 peso (15 for students) fee, we embarked upon a boat ride that would carry us to the glacier’s edge. Yippee! It of course was freezing and bitterly windy, but I was too excited to see ICE. why? I have no idea, but for some reason it is just the bees knees.
Words can’t really do it justice but, here’s a visual taste:
(those tiny specks on the ice are PEOPLE!!)
Alas, I must leave off here, as I am to go to a breakdancing/hip hop dance club tonight and will be taking a tour of La Boca tomorrow. Don’t let me not post for 3 weeks people! I don’t want to forget anything and I want to stay in touch.
I still have miles to go before I sleep.