Our first full week of travel – hiking, crossing the border into Chile, and riding lots of buses

We’ve only gotten started on traveling, and already I’ve let this blog go over a week without an update – time to get on that! I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet (and sorry, no photos this time).

So I left off at our arrival in Bariloche. We were lucky enough to have amazing weather for most of our time there, so we packed in the activities to take advantage of it! On Tuesday, we went on a day hike to Refugio Frey and back. The refugio (a small mountain hut where people can camp and get a quick meal) is situated on the edge of a lake with a great view of Cerro Catedral (a mountain with peaks that look like the spires on a cathedral). We had to take a bus to the trail head (about a half hour bus ride), and from there, the hike is about 12km (7.5 miles) each way with an ascent of 750 meters (about 2500 feet). Even though we got started a bit late, around 11 am, we figured we were up to the challenge of the 24km (15 mile) round trip. There were some pretty steep portions, and I had some moments towards the end where I thought I might have to turn around early, but we made it and were treated to some lovely views. I have to admit, though, it didn’t quite live up to our hikes in El Chaltén back at the beginning of March, where there were consistently great views for the whole time and interesting traverses through a variety of terrain (I promise I’ll post photos up here sometime). But that’s not quite fair, since that’s supposed to be some of the best hiking in South America. The descent was a bit easier, and we caught a bus back to town almost immediately and were back in Bariloche before sunset.

The next day, our muscles were still feeling sore from the hike, so when a friend we’d made at the hostel told us about his plans to take a boat ride around Lago Nahuel Huapi, we decided to tag along. The boat departed from a port by Llao Llao, a famous hotel with beautifully manicured grounds and great views of the lake, another bus ride out of town (about 45 minutes this time). The five hour trip included two stops, one at the Bosques de Arrayanes (a forest with a particularly gorgeous variety of myrtle trees) and another at Isla Victoria (an island with a very interesting history – all sorts of different trees from all over the world were planted there in an experiment to see which would grow best in the climate).

On Thursday, we took a day trip to El Bolsón, a small hippie town about two hours outside of Bariloche – there, we went around their small craft fair, then went on another long hike. We asked at the information center for a short hike, and instead they recommended a hike that was 10km (6.2 miles) each way (even though it was already two in the afternoon)! But it was worth it, with some really great views of Río Azul (a picturesque river running through a valley below), La Cabeza del Indio (a rock formation that looks like a face in profile), and Cascada Escondida (a hidden waterfall). On the way back, we glimpsed a camping ground with a sign promising artisanal beer, so we stopped by to see if we could grab a quick drink. Unfortunately, they were out of beer, but we ended up resting there for a little bit anyway and chatting with two Argentines there (one who was working there, one who was there on vacation). It was actually one of the highlights of the day, since we were able to carry on a great conversation in Spanish, and a round of mate (a bitter tea that’s very popular in Argentina) helped perk us up for the hike back – which would’ve been a bit shorter than the hike there, since they told us a shortcut, except that we went the wrong way for a little bit.

We got back to town just in time to buy a few bottles of El Bolsón beer at the brewery (which had really interesting flavors like ají (spicy pepper) and chocolate) and catch the last bus back – which then broke down about halfway between El Bolsón and Bariloche. After a couple hours, another bus came to get us, and in the meantime, we got some great views of the stars since there were absolutely no lights out there. But we were exhausted by the time we got back to our room around 2am.

On Friday, the good weather vanished, and we were treated to a cold and rainy day, which was fine by us since we were already planning on taking a little break. We went to the bus terminal and bought our tickets to Puerto Montt, Chile for the next day, then spent the rest of the day catching our breath and drinking the beer we’d bought in El Bolsón.

The next day, we hopped on a 9am bus for the 7-hour ride to Puerto Montt. Crossing the border into Chile wasn’t difficult, but it was slow, since they had to stamp everyone on the bus out of Argentina (at a place about 15 – 20 minutes from the border on the Argentina side) then stamp everyone into Chile (at a place about 15 – 20 minutes from the border on the Chile side). They also had dogs sniff all of the luggage for entering Chile and looked through a few bags – they’re very strict about any food products, and when I asked about the mixed nuts I had with me for a snack on the bus, they made me throw them out since there were raisins in the mix! But we made it through fine and didn’t even have to pay the entrance fee (it’s a reciprocity fee for US citizens, similar to Argentina’s, but I’d heard before they usually only charge it at international airports so I was hopeful).

The weather was still cold and rainy in Puerto Montt when we arrived though, and I didn’t have the exact address of the hostel we’d contacted. When we got to the block it was supposed to be on, there weren’t any signs. We asked a couple people, but no one had heard of it. I knew this trip had been having the desired effect on me when I didn’t freak out at this point, even though we were wandering around in the rain carrying all of our stuff (luckily, we don’t have much!). Instead, we walked a couple blocks to a place I’d seen a sign for on the way (and whose name I recognized from a flier at our last place), and they happily let us in and gave us a room for the night. We were the only people there though which felt a little strange (it’s the low season for traveling around here), and the room was a little pricier than we would’ve liked, but we were glad to be out of the rain and have a place to stay! We went down to the fish market for an early dinner and had some really good dishes (eel in a seafood sauce and salmon in white wine). One major thing we noticed upon entering Chile was how much better the internet is than in Argentina – nearly 10 times as fast as what we were getting in Buenos Aires!

We left Puerto Montt the next morning (after a surprisingly good breakfast at the hostel – the owner even made us waffles!) and hopped on another bus to Temuco, Chile. Another fairly long bus ride (6 hours) – these are definitely not fun, but I think I’m recovering a bit quicker each time. We made sure to square everything away for the hostel the night before (and write down the exact address) so there’d be no more surprises. It was a really nice place, though we were once again the only people there. This time, the room we were in was in a house just for guests – so we basically had a whole little house to ourselves!

We spent most of the next day walking around Temuco. First, we walked to the mercado municipal (central market) – I absolutely love visiting mercados around here, since they’re frequented by locals, have a wide variety of local crafts, and are the best place to eat cheap, local food! Then we walked around Cerro Ñielol, a forested hill which gives a great sense of what the area was like before the city was built and has a great view of the city from the top, to boot. We did somehow manage to get lost on some of the trails (only briefly), and I was then stung by a bee, so we felt pretty exhausted by the time we traipsed back to the market for a very late lunch and then walked back to the hostel.

This morning, we took a bus to Pucón – a shorter ride this time, only two hours. This small lakeside town is popular with tourists, since it’s the ideal jumping off point for a lot of outdoor activities, including the opportunity to hike up a volcano – the imposing Volcán Villarica whose smoking snow-peaked top is visible from town – and visit hot springs. We’re planning on being here a bit longer (probably three nights). I’m hoping the weather improves since it’s rainy right now and supposed to rain all day tomorrow, and hiking up the volcano can only be done on clear days.

Phew, I know I said this post would be short and sweet, but we did quite a lot this past week! I’ll do my best to get some photos posted soon and keep updating about our travels.

20 hours on a bus changes a person

view from balcony

Andrew and I checked out of our apartment in Buenos Aires at 1pm yesterday afternoon, and by 3, we were on a bus headed to San Carlos de Bariloche (usually referred to simply as Bariloche), a small city in the north of Patagonia, nestled in the Andes. The bus, run by Via Bariloche, was almost excessively comfortable – we opted for the highest option, referred to as “tutto letto”, which includes massive, cushy recliners that lay back into nearly flat beds, meal service, and airplane-esque built-in screens with options of music and movies. This was, of course, of utmost importance since the bus ride is 20 hours long.

As someone who’s gotten carsick from a young age and who has trouble sitting still for longer than an hour or two, naturally I was concerned about the ride. We came as prepared as possible, stocked with multiple videos ready to watch on our laptops, a dozen empanadas, homemade peanut butter cookies, and a bottle of wine. In the end, we didn’t need nearly so much stuff, as we were provided with generous amounts of wine (and champagne!) and meals (though not of the highest quality). Although we were starting to feel quite antsy around eight hours in, we managed to get ourselves to sleep.

When we woke up this morning to gorgeous views out of our double-decker seats, it all seemed worth it. 20 hours after boarding the bus, we emerged back onto solid ground and made our way to our hostel, Penthouse 1004, a place that had been recommended to us by a family we met in Buenos Aires while waiting to get our Bolivian visas (a story for another time). The view here is spectacular, looking out over Nahuel Haupi Lake – the photo at the top of the post is (a piece of) the view from the shared balcony, and here’s the view from our private room.

view from room

Amazing! I can’t wait to go on day hikes, taste local beers, and eat gourmet chocolates (all things this area is known for!). But first, it’s time to eat our first stationary meal in over a day.

I walked on a glacier!

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A few days ago, we returned from an amazing time in a small part of Argentine Patagonia, and Andrew’s parents have now left after their two week visit to return to Nashville, so now seems like a good time to start putting this blog to use.

What am I going to write about?  Walking on a glacier, of course!  Not just any glacier, though – the massive (250 km2 = 97 sq mi) Perito Moreno glacier, one of the only glaciers in the world that continues to grow while so many others are shrinking.

Let me start with our arrival in El Calafate, a small city on the shore of Lago Argentino in the far south of Argentina.  We (that is, me, Andrew, and Andrew’s parents, Rod and Bev) set out from Buenos Aires on Friday afternoon (March 1st), and other than a short delay and inconsistent information (par for the course from an Argentinean airline), the three-hour flight was uneventful.  Even from the airport, I was awed by the view.

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We’re just testing out posting as we get this site started.  We have one month left in Buenos Aires before our traveling really gets going, and we’re really excited!  In the meantime, we’ll be posting about a week-long trip we’re making to El Calafate and El Chaltén, as well as thoughts on the past six months.

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