The South American Way

Day 60 – 30 Apr, 2015

Until the 11th hour departing for Salta, I didn’t know where I was headed.  To La Serena, Chile and the beach or to Salta, Argentina and the desert….  I had bypassed much of Chile during long haul bus rides in Argentina and I was beginning to feel like I had missed some good spots, but after a peek at the weather in La Serena and determining that it wouldn’t be warm enough for the beach, my sights were again set on Salta.  I bought a bus ticket and within 2 hours I was on my way north.  Feeling a little disorganized with the last minute decision, I was already thinking about being more prepared for my departure and knew I needed to do some research as soon as I arrived.

  

My patience that day was a testament to already spending 2 months in South America, but buying a bus ticket to leave Salta proved to be quite the challenge in logistics.  A bus company that only accepts cash.  Multiple ATMS that kept rejecting my debit card, not including a Citibank that I knew would accept my card except for the fact it was closed for renovations.  I made 3 trips to the bus station, the third being the time when I finally had cash in hand, only to find that the bus company was closed for siesta!  I waited 2 hours for the joint to reopen, tried to pay, and was told that their system was down so they couldn’t accept my payment!!! Oy!

With nothing else I could do, I had spent too much of the day running bus errands so I decided to finally have a look around the city.  I climbed the stairs to the top of Cerro San Bernardo, rode the teleferico back down, and ate my first Super Pancho (gross) in Paseo San Martin.

   
    
    
 

The main attractions in Salta are actually not even in Salta at all so the following day I joined a tour going to Cachi,  a town in the desert surrounded by noble mountains.  Cachi itself is not the prize of this tour, but the road between Salta and Cachi was beyond stunning.  This is what I came for.  Painted desert.  Mountain scenery.   Remote and isolated.  Northern Argentina is often passed over by tourists, but it shouldn’t be.  We arrived in Cachi in time for lunch, on a holiday, so needless to say, it was empty except for us and a woman who was playing a drum and singing in the plaza.

   
    
    
 

Because of a limited bus schedule to San Pedro, I couldn’t stick around longer to visit Cafayate, the wine region, or Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Province, although both received rave reviews from fellow travelers.  Instead I made my way to the bus station early Saturday morning, hoping that there was still room for me and that I could purchase a ticket.  Of course, their system was still down, meaning they couldn’t print me a ticket or a receipt.  I did what any other traveler would do – I handed a random guy 800ARS (about $80USD) and trusted him when he told me it was ok to get on the bus without a ticket or a receipt.  I held my breath waiting for security to come and drag me off the bus, but when the bus departed without incident, I bid a silent farewell to Argentina and could finally laugh about how typical this had been.  Ah, South America….

   
 

Time to Slow Down

Day 32 – 3 Apr, 2015

Everyone said it would happen. But so soon? A couple of days ago I hit a wall. I don’t mean for that to sound negative. There are just so many breathtaking places to visit and wonders to see that travel can be downright exhausting. My senses have been on overdrive since arriving in Patagonia and I needed a rest. 

After jetting through El Calafate, Torres del Paine, and El Chalten, hiking almost every day, I arrived in Bariloche just in time for Easter weekend.  Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentina and the Easter festivities did not fail to disappoint!  A giant chocolate Easter egg, constructed in the middle of town, was on display for the weekend and then Easter morning, it was broken into 40,000 pieces to be distributed to the masses of sweets-loving Argentinians who converge on this small mountain town every year.

   
     

Besides an attempt at mountain biking, I did not do much else in Bariloche besides eat chocolate, empanadas, and celebrate the holiday with new (and also some reunited from earlier in my travels) friends, a much-needed reprieve from the constant demands of travel. Cheers to Freddie, Harry, Matthew, Chris, Marty, Ryan, Chris, Alvaro, Deirdre, Ellie, and Carly!  Thank you for a memorable weekend!

   
 

   
     

After 5 days in Bariloche, I felt refreshed and it was time to move on to the next destination, San Martin de los Andes.  I have yet to arrive in a new town without having accommodations booked, but I could only find a hostel to book for my first night in San Martin.  I decided to book one night and then try to book a second and possibly a third night when I arrived.  This did not work quite as seemlessly as I hoped.  I was told that my hostel was sold out and I would have to leave after one night.  For those who know me well, they know that I always like to plan ahead.  With that said, noone was more surprised than me when I woke up after my first night in San Martin not knowing where I would sleep that night, how I was going to get to the next location, and only had 240 pesos in my pocket in a town with an unreliable ATM machine.  It seems my “rest” in Bariloche was completely erased and I was feeling more out of sorts than ever!  Putting problem-solving skills to task and with a few false starts, I found a place to stay, got some money, and bought a bus ticket to Chile for the following day.

It turns out there was an ultra marathon taking place in San Martin over the weekend which is why all of the accommodations were sold out, but I made the most of my one day in this little village by going on a long hike and eating some good food.

   
   

   
 

Next stop will be in Chile for a couple of weeks and I am very much looking forward to a change of pace!

Wild Patagonia

Day 18 – 28 Mar, 2015

What could I possibly say about the wonders of Patagonia that haven’t been said already?  It is truly one of the most beautiful and wild places on the planet.  Known for its unpredictable and severe weather, my 2 weeks spent near the bottom of the globe were predominantly sunny and mild.

First stop was El Calafate, famous for its proximity to the Perito Moreno Glaciar.  Here, I met Juan and Valeria, an Argentinian couple from Paranas who were also visiting Calafate for the first time.  Such lovely people and I thoroughly enjoyed having dinner with them and sharing travel stories.  Perhaps our paths will cross again one day!

   
   

I quickly moved on to Chile’s world-renowned National Park, Torres del Paine.  I wanted to soak up the outdoors and challenge myself with a self-supported trek on the “W” Circuit.  With a home base of Puerto Natales, Chile, I rented a tent, sleeping bag, pad, and cooking equipment and I bought food for 5 days, a little uncertain as to what supplies would be most necessary.  Luckily for me, I reconnected with my friend, Stuart, that I had met previously in Buenos Aires.  We agreed to complete the trek together so it was settled – trekking from west to east, Stuart and I set off to see some of the most fantastic mountain views in the world.

 

  

    
           

A couple weeks later, with some time to reflect on this trek, I am so glad I did it.  Carrying all my own gear was more challenging than I expected, but I have always liked pushing myself to the limits and beyond and I have a renewed sense of confidence in my capabilities.   Of course, I would have done a couple things differently.  I will write a separate post with logistics for Torres del Paine for those interested in taking on this adventure as well.

From Torres del Paine, it was on to El Chalten, trekking capital of Argentina.  Ursula, a friend I had met my last day in Puerto Natales, also arrived in El Chalten when I did so she and I spent 3 days there together.  We were desperate to do laundry so we sacrificed one day of nice weather to do some administrative tasks.  Little did I know that the weather would turn and my remaining days in Patagonia would go from cloudy to rain to hail to snow.   I continued trekking, in spite of the weather, but I quickly learned that it was time to move on.

   
  

    

 

 Moving on meant a 24 hour bus ride from El Chalten to Bariloche in Argentina’s lake district.  This would be my first long-haul ride and I’m ready to escape some of the cold weather!!