To think that I am still on week 4 of my journals and trips when I still have 4 more months to go through!
Guess that’s something to think about and look forward to ~
>>>> Photos for this post can be found here: USHUAIA TOWN TOUR <<<<
Let’s get started!
After my late night bus trip I finally arrived at Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina – the southern most town in AR and here’s a fun fact – the first homosexual couple in Latin America or at least South America married there. Yay to freedom! Ohhh tangents. Anyway, I got there around 9pm and found my hostel: FreeStyleBackpackers which is somewhat near the center, but uphill enough to be able to wander around the smallish city (more like a large town).
The people running the hostel were around their mid-twenties and fairly trendy enough to have a few computers and televisions around the lounge area. The upstairs contained a fun-looking ping-pong table and usable couches which would come in handy when we wanted to hang out and flirt with cute and foreign back-packers.
One of my travel-mates, S, had her blackberry and thumbed away at her keys for most of the time, but eventually we got her to come out of her shell with a few bottles of Quilmes. The other, E, a shy but more sociable girl wandered the hostel with me. We came upon an open dorm room and spotted to young “men”, around our age (oh to be in age and maturity limbo – not a boy, not a man, not a girl, not a woman – what fun!). I, being enthusiastically outgoing and slightly uninhibited by my bottle number 1, merely poked my head in and grinned. “Hullo” one said, in a fun and cute british accent grinning equally if not more eagerly. The game was in motion.
Having been somewhat involved with another man who was stuck in Buenos Aires (and as we were still courting one another (oh language)) I was simply looking for some fun company and maybe a little bit of eye-candy for my pretty girl friend. These fellows, or blokes as they say, were attractive enough in my book (personality and looks-wise – I’m not so shallow haha – ‘perfectly tolerable but not enough to tempt me’, thank you very much Jane Austen) so we entered and began to chat about this and that, and pangs of jealousy arrived in my gut when I heard that they had already been to the Galapagos islands and everywhere else one could dream to visit, as they conveniently came from big money. In fact, one already owned a house in the Italian countryside and the other happened to be the grandson of a lord – who was even invited to the Royal Wedding! It’s fun when things like that exist in real life – something to entertain the everyday ‘common girl’ like myself haha. After their time here, they were to go up north and travel the long trail to the oh so famous and magical Machu Picchu.
We convinced them to join us for a few tasty and cheap brews (10 pesos for a kilo) and as the night continued and eyes were flirtatiously batting and oogling, I felt somewhat proud of my contained flirtatiousness and loyalty to that blasted pre-paid cellular phone – in other words…I couldn’t help myself from sending a text to that Porteno I had been seeing…..
We woke up the next morning and spent our time walking around the town and visiting the port – the water was brilliantly blue and it glistened under the bright and sunny weather.
As we walked back to our hostel, our male companion, D, started to feel slightly dizzy and out of breath. The night before he had been concerned with the amount of smoke from cigarettes that had wafted into our room from the outside garden where people were smoking. Worried, we stopped for a moment at the top of the hill and asked if he felt he was having some type of allergic or asthmatic reaction – my thoughts were in the direction of a panic attack as he just seemed too young for a heart problem and as I have asthma myself, the signs just weren’t the same. Being in a foreign country, and especially a small town where we weren’t sure of any medical facility, we resorted to calling the police. A patrol car stopped by soon after and was able to give us the name and location of the closest and only hospital. We quickly flagged down a taxi at a queue, cutting in front of a woman holding a baby, but as E felt it was an emergency, I guess things like that just happen sometimes. When we got to the “emergency room” which was basically a hallway, a few chairs, and three sketchy looking doors with who-knows-what laying behind them, D, and our best spanish speaking companion, S, went into the 1st room. This meant that E and I were stuck helplessly sitting in that hallway with 1 chair left as the others were taken up by elderly.
I called the program director to inform her just in case anything happened, and then we waited. and waited. I think I went to the bathroom 3 times before finally S came out and explained they were doing some heart monitoring and oxygen giving… Eventually it turned out okay, and I’m not really sure what it ended up being, but D seemed fine enough – He ended up staying overnight at his host mother’s sister’s home – lucky that she was living down there at the time, huh. The funniest part about this was the way the forms were filled out for him and the insurance company. D’s last name: MacDonald, isn’t a very common name in Latin America, as anyone could guess. The easiest way he could explain to someone how to say and spell his name was to say “mi appellido es como el restaurante, conoces McDonald’s?” My last name is like the restaurant, you know McDonalds? And they would go “Ahhh, si, si”.
This time, in a hilarious end to the unfortunate events that occurred, in his hand was a crumpled up paper that said “D– Restaurante”. I smile to myself when I remember little things like that. Ah the wonders of language and culture.
We ended the evening back at the hostel after a nice mexican dinner (we had a craving – though Ushuaia is most famous for its seafood) and hung out with the friendly Brits, excited and jittery for the morning to come when we would take a boat to visit the Penguinos!
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.