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Welcome to Patagonia

Ushuaia, Argentina

all seasons in one day 45 °F
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Stopover in El Calafate

The flight to Ushuaia offered stunning views of the Patagonian landscape through a clear sky. I was quite mesmerized by it all.
I checked into my hostel, and then went to have lunch. I found a neat little eatery that advertised itself as part restaurant part museum for all the historical objects on display along one wall of the restaurant. It gave it a nice atmosphere, but I was more turned on by the selection of teas they had. I ordered the La Bohemia herbal tea, and finished the meal off with vanilla mousse on a raspberry tart. I try not to use the word divine too much, but a more appropriate word couldn't describe it.
Back at the hostel I met Alicia from Vancouver. I was going to hike up to the Glaciar Martial, not far from town and she was keen on joining me. The weather in the morning was gorgeous, however by the time we made it to the glacier park, which was walking distance from the town the sky had turned gray, and wind and light rain had overtaken the skies. We took a chair lift up to the trail. We headed up the trail over slushy snow, fighting against the wind. Halfway up Alicia questioned her ability and desire to finish the trail given the deteriorating conditions. I was determined to complete the hike. I told her I'd run up around the upcoming bend and see if the end was in sight or if it was still a long hike left.
large_077.jpglarge_078.jpglarge_079.jpglarge_083.jpglarge_086.jpglarge_087.jpglarge_090.jpglarge_091.jpglarge_093.jpglarge_097.jpglarge_098.jpglarge_099.jpgThat doesn't look good

That doesn't look good

I ran up around the bend, and a man was coming down. I asked him how much further and he said it was quite a ways. I went back and signaled Alicia, to turn back. I continued on alone, reaching a clearing. I think I was in view of the glacier, which looked more like more snow than ice. I was up there alone, and didn't see anyone else on their way up. What I did see were big scary looking clouds coming over the mountains behind the mountain I was in front up. I was afraid those same scary clouds were lurking just behind the peak in front of me. If there'd been other people around perhaps I would have been more confident, however being alone I freaked out a bit and decided to head quickly down the mountain. The ground was steep and slick with the slushy snow. I'm going to count it as my first time skiing, just without the skis. I crouched down and slid down the hill on my feet, which was quite fun, and a nice break from the terror of being caught in potential whiteout conditions.

I made it back down to the flat ground, only to pass a bunch of people on their way up to the glacier. Grrreat I freaked out for nothing. Back at the chairlift Alicia was there waiting for me. I couldn't believe she waited, but she'd been chatting with people the whole time.

Back at the hostel, I was checking email when there was a knock on the door. Alicia opened the door and someone whom I couldn't see as they were blocked by the bunk bed asked, "Is Ryan here?"

Who on earth knows I'm here in Ushuaia?! Turns out it was Debbie from my travel group back in DC. She'd messaged me through my blog letting me know she was in Ushuaia, and we'd been planning on getting together while we were both in town at the same time. It was a pleasant surprise and we all headed out for a nice dinner.

Posted by RyRyGoByBy 20:42 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Failed Missions...

But Simple Good Times in Buenos Aires

sunny 75 °F
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Saturday I set out on official business. First I was headed to LAN Airlines office in BA to sort out my frequent flyer miles, and then I was going to look for Inca Rose jewelry for my grandmother. The woman who worked at the hostel said the Liberdad Street was the place to find jewelry.

I headed to LAN's office first; Liberdad Street was on the way back to the hostel, from there. The office was closed on the weekends so that was a bust. I walked over to Liberdad Street passing the Teatro Colon. Unfortunately its ornate facade was mostly shrouded by scaffolding.
Part of the Colon Theater not shrouded in renovation scafolding

Part of the Colon Theater not shrouded in renovation scafolding

Arriving at Liberdad Street, I soon discovered that my second mission of the day was going to be failed as well. All of the jewelry shops along the street going on for several blocks were shuttered and barred. A little tip if you're going to buy jewelry in Buenos Aires, you have to do it during the week apparently.

I came back to the hostel somewhat deflated and hung out with my dorm mates (The roster including Frank and Daan both from Holland (their word not mine) and traveling together, Hillevi from Sweden although a perpetual traveler, and Samuel from Surinam and the Netherlands, living in Holland.) I then took a long nap. I woke up and chatted with Hillevi and Samuel for awhile, until we went out to find the source of the music being played near the hostel.

A small stage had been set up in the street and a rock band was playing to a crowd gathered round. The music was good, and included Pink Floyd's The Wall, covered in Spanish. The whole performance culminated in a song "Viva Peron", which everyone in the crowd joined in to sing with gusto. It was a very cool thing to witness.

The next day I decided that I wanted to try and see Avatar in 3D before it was too late. None of my dorm mates had seen it so we decided we'd all go see it in the evening. In the mean time Samuel and I went to have lunch at Habibi and check out the San Telmo Sunday Market. The market was an eclectic mix of stalls set up around a square in the heart of San Telmo, but stretching for blocks in all directions. Everything from costume jewelry and antique maps to crafts and clothing were on offer.

Later back at the hostel I tried to rally the troops to head out to the movie. Reception had told us earlier to get there an hour beforehand to buy the tickets, but my mates all said the movie had been out so long that there'd be plenty of seats. We took the metro over to the movie theater, getting there minutes before start time to a sold out show. Damn.

We went to a nearby park to hang out for a bit. Frank and Daan had brought several bottles of beer which every shared (I was the designated walker of the group so I didn't partake :P). We were entertained by a group of night walkers that gathered near us to do some... interesting, no goofy, goofy is definitely the appropriate word, warm up exercises. After watching the display of hokey pokey like movements, and expecting them to take off in a jog or sprint, the group that had gather one by one, simply walked off together.

It was surprisingly chilly that night and I was in a t-shirt, we decided to head to a jazz club Frank and Daan had been to before and said was excellent. We arrived, but it was late on a Sunday so we had a drink and watched as the last act finished up.

We went back to the hostel and I packed my bag and then went back down stairs to hang out with Hillevi, Frank and Daan who stayed up to see me off, since I had to head to the airport at 3:30 in the morning for my flight to Ushuaia.

Posted by RyRyGoByBy 17:56 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Adventures in Public Transportation, Tourist Traps & VIP

Buenos Aires

sunny 75 °F
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Friday I went to take care of some practicalities. I went to the correo or post office to mail my first batch of post cards then stopped at a bank to refill my money belt. Next I went to a locutorio to call home. Kris turned me on to the locutorio; it's like a little convenient store in front with telephone booths and internet terminals. Calling the States from one is very reasonable. I called my grandparents to get some details on a type of jewelry my grandmother wanted me to buy while I was in BA, and also called home.

I headed to La Boca in the late afternoon. I caught the bus after asking at the hostel, I was told it was a bit far to walk and a bit dangerous as well. The bus was a right disaster. My gringo ass ruined the whole flow of the bus procedure. I had no change, and the bus only accepted change. After trying to figure out the machine you pay through and having no luck we came to the next stop, and a bunch of people boarded. An exasperated driver waved at me to just go sit down so that the hoard of people trying to board could do so and he could get back to his route. You mean you can't break my 100 peso note? Where is the stewardess with my champagne? This really is a lousy service, and I have to stand the nerve! I'm sure everyone on the bus was thinking the same thing: I belonged in a taxi, not on the local bus. Adventures in public transportation.

La Boca was an art project years ago. Now it is thoroughly a tourist trap: a little barrio of brightly colored buildings teaming with tourists, tango dancers performing for pesos, artist selling their work, restaurant hockers, and souvenir stands. I explored for an hour, took it for what it is and then took a taxi back to the hostel.
large_023.jpglarge_1024.jpglarge_2027.jpglarge_028.jpglarge_029.jpglarge_031.jpgDon Quixote

Don Quixote

I went shopping for some black t-shirts as I'd only brought one, and then had dinner at Habibi, Arabe cafe. I'd happily stumbled upon the Middle Eastern eatery earlier in the day and couldn't wait until it opened for dinner. The food was excellent.

I went back to the hostel and checked my email. Nathalie and Jamal had returned to Buenos Aires in the morning. We'd both left on Thursday, but they took that bus I mentioned before. Nathalie was living in Buenos Aires, and her boyfriend was in the electronica scene and performing at the same club I went to the first night I was in Buenos Aires. She invited me and got me on the guest list.

I thought I'd have time for a nap, but turns out I had to be at the club before midnight to avoid paying the cover. Apparently a new law had just recently been enacted that made the clubs close by a certain time and the clubs responded by trying to encourage patrons to come earlier. No nap, I just hurriedly got ready and headed out.

I took a taxi, and was surprised when I arrived at the club that the fare was only 25 pesos. I expected to pay 10 to 15 pesos more. I gave the honest driver a big tip, and then headed for the door. It was 12:30, but the guest list was still in effect. I found Nathalie. Jamal wasn't there, he'd gotten frustrated about getting to the club and decided not to come. I had Nathalie call him and tell him that I was there and said he'd better come. That did the trick, and Jamal arrived a little later.

The bar on the first level was packed and getting drinks was taking forever, so Nathalie worked her magic and got us into VIP. We spent the rest of the evening enjoying the music , drinking champagne and dancing. It was a good night.

Posted by RyRyGoByBy 17:36 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Pickpockets Strike!

Back in Buenos

sunny 80 °F
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A little glimpse of the hostel in Iguazu

I took a taxi to the airport. As the green of the jungle flew by in a blur outside my window, in a moment of reflection my eyes began to water. Ah, so this is what it feels like to be totally alive. I savored the absolute bliss of the moment.

I was struck by how simple things were in South America. Airport security: no liquids ban, no removing belts and shoes, no pulling out the lap top case, opening it and taking the lap top out. You and your bags just go through a scanner, that's it. I feel just as secure flying in South America as I do flying in North America, however one is certainly less of a hassle.

I was in the emergency row, which was lovely, except I couldn't have my bag with me. Which means that as we flew over the falls and Buenos Aires, I couldn't capture the amazing views with my camera.
San Telmo Hostel Inn

San Telmo Hostel Inn

I checked into my hostel in San Telmo. Kris's ferry arrived at 5:30 and I figured the only way to meet, with limited time and neither of us having a phone would be to meet him at the terminal. I had time to kill so I finished writing postcards. I left the hostel a little late, leaving at 5:10 to catch the metro over to the nearest station to the terminal. I left the station asking where the Buquebus terminal was in nearly perfect spanish! I couldn't really understand the responses, but that's what hand gestures are for. It was 5:45 when I got out of the metro, and I ran to the terminal. I'd come all this way and I kept thinking I was too late. I reached the terminal 5 minutes before 6. The crowds of people I'd seen waiting for taxis and rides when I'd come back on the ferry were significantly thinned out. Oh no I missed him!

I walked towards the door of the terminal already resigned to the fact that I was most likely too late just as Kris was coming out! He was suprised I was there, not expecting to see me again. We were going to meet Javier, before Kris had to catch a 10:15 bus to Cordoba. We walked to the right metro line and went down in the subway. The station and cars were crowded with people. We had no idea which direction the trains were moving in and we asked as people moved along recieving no response, but signaling to all that we were the marks to follow. We figured it out and got on the train. The car was packed, body pressed to body. Kris and I were seperated by the surge of people that flooded into the car when the doors opened and stood a few feet apart. It was at this moment in my innocent, naive little world that I thought, "What an experience this is! Evening rush hour in Buenos Aires, I should pull out my camera and get a picture for everyone back home!" You'll be relieved that the smarter side of my brain chimed in and convinced me that that was a really dumb idea. Not long after that brilliant thought came and went I felt two fingers wiggling there way into my pockets. I reached down and they quickly retreated, I looked right at the girl who's fingers they were. She realized I was on to her and she left me alone. I grabbed my lower pockets and held on tightly. I discreetly got Kris's attention and told him to watch his pockets. Moments later he disappeared down on the floor. He rose again and the train came into a station and the girl and her partner now went to exit the train, having relieved Kris of his $400 dollar camera and all the photos from his trip so far. We got off the train and chased after the guy in the bonne and clyde duo, caught up to him where he stood in the doorway of the train and then stood there not sure of what to do. The doors closed and the train pulled away.

We found a police officer but he wanted Kris to go to a police station to give a statement, which he didn't have time for. We left the subway and decided to take a taxi the rest of the way. It should have been straightforward, except that even thought Kris speaks decent spanish the driver took us to the wrong stop, even after confirming numerous times. After calling Javier to come meet us and waiting for awhile we realized we were in the wrong area, and had to take yet another taxi to right area.
We eventually found Javier and went back to his place for dinner. Javier is quite the cook and dinner was delicious!
We hung out for awhile and then Kris and I left to get him to the bus terminal, which we barely managed.
large_012.jpgJavier's Home Cookin', DELICIOUS!

Javier's Home Cookin', DELICIOUS!

Thus ended a crazy evening in Buenos Aires.

Posted by RyRyGoByBy 06:18 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Living and Loving Every Moment

Iguazu Falls

sunny 90 °F
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I got up early to do the Jungle tour that I'd booked on my first day in Iguazu. The guide picked me up at the hostel and then we went to go meet the rest of the group. A woman from Georgia, her daughter who was studying in Buenos Aires, and the woman's friend originally from Chicago, but currently living in Buenos Aires as a journalist reporting on Latin American business affairs.

We drove out to the boonies of Iguazu, we didn't have to go very far. Driving down a packed red clay road through humble wooden homes and shacks we passed friendly locals who'd wave and smile. We eventually came to a stop at the head of a trail through the jungle.
We took a short walk through the trees to the first platform of the zip line, this was the "hike". I was told by the women that I'd be going first. The business reporter was simply here for support and wasn't doing the zip line or the wet reppelling.
I walked up the steps to the platform and they strapped me in. I looked down wondering if I fell was death guaranteed or was it still just within the range of probability? It is funny that while I do love rock climbing, I also have a fear of heights to a certain extent. I trembled a little and grabbed the zip line device. Luckily there is no need to jump you just lean back and you're off. Whoosh! All fear and anxiety disappeared behind me like the first platform. Flying through the trees was exhilarating and I loved every minute of it. I only wished it had lasted longer, or that I could have gone again.

I came down off the last platform, and waited for the rest of the group. Once they'd all come down, we were off to the waterfall. It was a little dissapointing. It wasn't as high as I would have preferred, and I don't know if what we did was technically repelling. The repelling I've done before was done by well me. My idea of repelling is where I lower myself on a repelling device. Here they straped you in at the top and then they lowered you down on a pulley system, much like a sack of potatos from a barn loft. I had my waterproof camera ready (with battery!) but unfortunately I had no way to use it while coming down the face of the falls, because I had no way of stopping the decent. I guess I should've figured it would be like this. Tourist operations are always overly cushy. It was still an interesting and fun experience none the less.
large_Iguazu_115.jpglarge_Iguazu_003.jpglarge_Iguazu_004.jpgSorry for the redundancy, but I just couldn't decide between coloring and composition

Sorry for the redundancy, but I just couldn't decide between coloring and composition

We headed back through the shacks and homes. The guide said we'd be stopping at a little trinkets stall, and to keep in mind that selling little trinkets was how this woman survived. Great there's that guilt again. We dutifully got out and looked at the wares on offer. I wanted an anklet for some backpacker cred anyway so I decided I'd get one. Unfortunately she didn't have anything long enough to fit my tiny ankle so I settled on a bracelet made of seeds for $10 pesos, or a couple dollars. I guess I was the only sucker as no one else bought anything, and we got back on the truck. The following evening I would lean on a table, with the bracelet sliding under my hand bearing the brunt of the pressure it came to pieces. Just as it was starting to grow on me.

I got back to the hostel, repacked my day bag with the necessary items and headed out to catch the bus back to the park for one last look around. There was a trail I didn't get to the day before that I wanted to check out. I got on the bus and sat in the first seat. A few moments into the ride the woman across the isle tapped me on the shoulder and asked if this was the bus to the falls. I said I didn't know for sure, but hoped it was. We struck up a conversation, her name was Valeria, she was Hungarian, but she'd escaped communism over 20 years ago and been living in the states ever since. She started her own business, a successful hair salon, and owned her own home. Poster child for the American dream. I adored her and her infectious personality.

We got to the park, and turned out we were both back on our second day because we both wanted to hike the Macuco trail. Coincidences are fun! We headed out trying to find the trail head. We ended up in the train station, which was clearly wrong. The platform is surrounded on all sides by an open field of high grasses. I caught glimpse of a trail through the grasses. We tried to determine if it was actually a trail or if it was simply for maintenance of the facilities. Two people came walking down the trail, and we stopped them to ask if it was actually a trail. It was indeed the way to the Macuco trail. That is how we ended up meeting Nathalie and Jamal from Belgium. Sometimes you get lost to find something you weren't even looking for.

We walked down the Macuco trail four brand new friends. It was quite a ways, but the trail ends at a waterfall underneath which is a swimming hole. The reason I'd come. The water was suprisingly cold for the tropics. I didn't care though. I jumped right in and went right up under the waterfall for a nice shower. We didn't stay long, Valeria wanted to see the Devil's Throat one last time, Nathalie and Jamal went to join her. I wanted to chill and swim a little while longer and thought about staying behind, but quickly decided I wasn't ready to say goodbye just yet.
Final part of the Macuco trail

Final part of the Macuco trail

large_Iguazu_024.jpglarge_Iguazu_029.jpglarge_Iguazu_028.jpgYes, I'm so pale my skin glows in direct sunlight... thanks for noticing

Yes, I'm so pale my skin glows in direct sunlight... thanks for noticing

Valeria & Nathalie

Valeria & Nathalie

Looking French, or so they told me

Looking French, or so they told me

We made our way to the Devil's Throat. Valeria and I gave our interpretation of the American way of life to Nat and Jamal: a hollow facade of unnecessary possessions hiding massive debt. Nathalie explained that in Belgium you knew who could actually afford their nice possessions by opening their fridge. If they had a nice house, and nice car but an empty fridge they couldn't afford their lifestyle.

Once on the catwalk, Valeria and I walked together. I was suprised to learn she was over 40. Her looks and jovial personality would keep her eternally young. She confided that she was ready to move on in life. She wanted to sell her home and business, and move back to Europe. All of her family had remained in Europe, and she wanted to be closer to them. She also wanted to travel more, and Europe was a great hub for that. I told her she had to follow her dreams, you only get one shot at life and you gotta make it count.

If possible the falls were even more spectacular the second time. The late afternoon sun illuminates the them perfectly. We took it in, and got plenty of photos of ourselves enjoying the moment. We stayed until a park employee came around and herded everyone back to the train to exit the park.
large_Iguazu_038.jpglarge_Iguazu_048.jpgDear Virginia, this is where clouds come from...

Dear Virginia, this is where clouds come from...

large_Iguazu_053.jpglarge_Iguazu_057.jpgValeria sent me this picture, not sure what vantage point she got it from

Valeria sent me this picture, not sure what vantage point she got it from

Valeria & I

Valeria & I

Gang of Four

Gang of Four

Wild Guinea Pigs?

Wild Guinea Pigs?



On the bus back to our hostels, Nathalie and Jamal discussed their plans for dinner I asked if I could join them and they said of course. Valeria unfortunately had plans. We were all so caught up in talking I missed my stop and I had to get off a little up the road and walk back.
Walking back

Walking back

I got ready and then tried to called Nathalie's cell phone to let them know I was on my way. I used the hostel phone, but could not get the call to go through. I was running late and the time wasted trying to call didn't help. I said screw it and went to catch the bus into town, where their hostel was. I panicked a little bit the whole way there. I worried they were going to think I flaked and head out without me. I don't miss having a cell phone at all, except in instances like this.

I followed Nathalie's directions to their hostel getting slightly lost only because the hostel was down a dark residential street which I wasn't expecting. I walked in, and asked the guy sitting in front of the front desk if a Nathalie and Jamal were staying there. He didn't speak English. He lead me to the back of the hostel and pointed up the stairs. I have no idea why he did this, because they ended up being on the ground floor in the front, oh language barriers. Obviously I found them.

We went out to look for a restuarant, ended up doing a little shopping along the way. I bought a pair of sandals that were too cool and unique to pass up from one of those shops that had a little bit of everything, and I wanted everything in the shop.

While searching for a restaurant we ran into people Nathalie and Jamal had met in Iguazu and they joined us for dinner. We ate at funky place that served stir fry. I was so excited to get stir fry. At dinner I was a little frightened to learn that one of the guys who'd joined us had just had his laptop stolen out of the locker at his hostel. Out of the locked locker at his hostel. I already knew it, but it was a grim reminder that you and your belongings are never totally secure no matter what precautions you take.
large_Iguazu_071.jpglarge_Iguazu_075.jpglarge_Iguazu_074.jpgtee-hee hee

tee-hee hee

We hung out for a long while, and then I took a taxi back to the hostel having long since missed the last bus. Once back I ran into Renata, the lovely woman who worked as the hostel concierge and had helped me book my activities in Iguazu. The night before she saw me on my computer and invited me over for drinks with her group. It was about half past midnight so I needed to get to bed for the early day I had planned the next morning. I finished up and went to find her to accept the invitation if only for a few minutes, but she'd stepped away and I missed her. I explained what had happened the night before, and of course she understood. She said she loved guests like me, so nice and easy to work with. She said it was hard to keep a paycheck as she often was invited to hangout after hours for drinks but it was a fun job. I asked her if it was difficult, getting to know people just before they left, but I guess I already knew the answer to that. It is but it isn't, she felt the same way. The alternative of never getting to meet anyone new would definitely be worse. She gave me her info, and told me to keep in touch.

I headed off to pack and get to bed. Renata was further proof that I needed to let go of the doubts I had about myself. Stop being so timid, and let myself be fully open to people. If they liked what they saw when they only caught a glimpse, imagine if I let them in completely.

I'd hoped an extended trip would some how be a magic cure. That being away from home, and all familiarity would be like pushing some sort of mental reset button. The truth is that when I packed my bag, I packed the mental one too. Guess you can't run away from your anxieties, you just have to face them and deal with them as they come.

I think it's time for a Stewart Smalley daily affirmation: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it people like me!

"There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom" A favorite quote from Anais Nin

Posted by RyRyGoByBy 17:37 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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