Welcome

"All that is, dies. All that dies, returns. Accept without anguish the inevitable."
(Translated disclaimer on back of bus ticket in Rawson, Argentina)

"Todo lo que hace muere. Todo lo que muere renace. Acepta sin angustias lo inevitable." (Negación en boleto de colectivo en Rawson, Argentina)



Welcome to my travel blog and more. Please select a post from the left side of the screen. Earlier I was motivated to put up a number of essays regarding my afterthoughts. I have decided to keep the few that I did write private. I apologize for exciting you all and then smashing your hopes.

Note: A majority of the photos are taken by me. The few photos (2 or 3) not taken by me are legally taken from Flikr.



Bienvenidos al blog de viajo. Por favor, elige un asunto de la izquierda. Estoy cargando más información todos los días. Gracías.

Muchos de estos fotos son de mi. Si no de mi, he tomado de Flikr.

Traveling Alone

Future essay on solo traveling.

Traveling alone is the way to go...
Meet others,
Truly experience the culture,
Complete freedom.

September 8, 2007

Houston

Sadly, my trip is more or less done. I have a few hour layover at George Bush International in Houston. It feels like all my major layovers have been here.

I had a pleasant flight from Buenos Aires and was even able to sleep most of the way. When not asleep, I watched "March of the Penguins"and began to formulate a return trip to see penguins. My trip was awesome; I just went the wrong season for penguins.

I am proud of myself for taking on such an adventure and will have trouble adjusting back into my Minneapolis routine, especially knowing all that is out there. I do, however, return with an eagerness to improve my Spanish. I know that I always return from Spanish speaking countries with this desire, but I will put checks in place to ensure my success this time.

This was a life changing experience--much more than going to the beach--and it feels good to return a new person.

Fin

September 7, 2007

Buenos Aires

Last night I caved in and paid $20 private car ride into the city instead of paying 30 cents for a 90-120 minute bus ride. I told the driver to take me to someplace cheap downtown, and he delivered.

I stayed at a hostel on the outskirts of downtown. It was the affordable $7. The down fall was that I was on the top floor, and it was difficult for me to do stairs with my bad knee. Once again, I was delighted to find myself to be the only person from the US. However, the hostel was a lot different from my previous one in Buenos Aires.

The first hostel I stayed at was part of hostelling international. I would label the typical HI person (this is a generalization and is obviously not true in all cases) as a 20 something affluent traveler from Western Europe, North America, or Australia. The kids there probably booked in advance, paid to have some organized excursions, already had concrete plans for their whole trip, and like to go clubbing and brag about the designer drugs they have done. Every hostel has its own clientele, and this hostel was very specific as well. All these travelers had been on the road for mounts/years and had no date to leave (many were living there). Everyone loved marijuana and probably a solid third had dread locks. The walls of the hostel were painted as pot leaves. Being very tired from practically no sleep the night before, I elected to turn down their activities. It proved to be a great place to sleep because everyone was so mellow. I slept almost 9 hours straight through. In the morning, I wasn’t sad to leave, and I bet they weren’t sad to see me go.

Having many hours to burn, I decided to just walk and see the city more and learn more barrios. I was probably on my feet for 6 hours just roaming. I had no direction in mind, but every once in awhile I’d rest in a park and check my location. My bag was being stored at the hostel, so I just tried to walk the streets as a porteno. I was wearing shorts and that definitely made me stick out. Apparently, other tourists didn’t notice my shorts and even asked me for directions. It was fun to watch the city work. I wasn’t in tourist areas much, so I felt I was getting the true sense of the day in a life. From the commuters, the school children, the cartoneros pushing their nights bounty in the middle of 12 lanes of traffic. I felt I knew the city. After buying a late lunch from a street vendor in front of congress, I felt I could now leave. I really like Buenos Aires and could live there. However, there are other places on my list to see. I need to return to Argentina someday to see the western Patagonia and Mendoza, but I’m happy with my 2 weeks here.

After reflecting on this and thinking I knew the city, I jumped on the bus to the airport. Buenos Aires has—I’ve been told—over 1,000 bus lines. I didn’t believe this statement because I had only see buses with routes into the 300s. Then, I got to be a gringo, and I got on the wrong bus 86, 3 times. I’d assume all 86s would be the same, but I was wrong. From trial and error, I know there are at least 3 different routes called 86. Knowing this, I can see there being over 1000 routes. Discerning between them is another mystery I’ll have to figure out another time.

The bus ride was very exhausting. The bus was packed to capacity and then some. For 2 hours I was standing, just dying to get to the airport. With my full bag on my back and the constant filtering of people through the hot, sweaty bus, my knees were not feeling very happy. Finally, I made it.

I now have a few hours at this airport and am quite let down with it. It is new and modern but lacks any amenities. One company owns the rights to all the food and that includes pre-made sandwiches and a Dixie cup of Pepsi. Argentineans have great pride in this airport, but I think it is the one thing they shouldn’t have pride in. Perhaps I’m being unfair because as a foreigner I just got hit with a big tax. I had spent off all my money and then learned I needed to get more to pay the tax. At least now I have some money to buy my Dixie cup of Pepsi.

Picture info:
1. Big trees in Buenos Aires. There are these huge trees everywhere, and they provide good shade.
2. Big next to Falkland Island War painting. I found it hilarious. (photo from earlier in trip, but I posted it on this page just to fill some space)

September 6, 2007

Ushuaia

Yesterday was an action packed day, and I wasn't able to write. I hope to make up for it with this entry.

On Tuesday night, I decided upon a relaxed evening with wine and a new book. Even though I have a long list of things to read, I opted for some Dostoyevsky in Castellano. I have enough trouble reading his stuff in English, but I figured this would be great practice.

On Wednesday I woke up intent on trying another sendero (trail) into the mountains. The weath was perfect (about 30 F at the start and clear), but I was slightly apprehensive because my left knee had been giving me a lot of pain. It was definitely sore that morning, but I figured I don't make it to Ushuaia often so I shouldn't take it easy on my body.

video


Like the trail I took on Monday, this was a city operated trail which started in the heart of the city. This trail was a bit longer and harder than my Monday trail but was suppoed to offer a better vista. My ascent out of town was slow going because I was trying to save my knee. Upon leaving town, the trail went through a pasture of horses. I was forced to walk amongst a number of horses, and I can tell they didn't like my presence. They at least got some amusement when I fell on my ass when trying to avoid some of their shit.



Upon leaving the horses, the trail entered into a young forest. Apparently all the trees had logged out not too many years ago, and my crude pamphlet on the trail said the trail would be treeless for quite sometime. I was happy to see such strong forest recovery, but it did make it hard to follow the trail. The night before had seen about an inch of snowfall and it was evident I was the first on the trail. This trail proved to me more difficult to follow than the first (even though I got lost multiple times on the first) because people had created side trails leading to illegal settlements. It was kind of creepy to see small shanty towns hidden in the woods of the Andes, and I had the feeling that I was being followed for the first hour.


As the trail ascended, more and more snow was the ground, and I could start to see some very old foot prints from who knows when. I am very grateful for these footprints because at one point I spent a good 45 minutes searching for the trail and ultimately decided to just the footprints. With a compass in hand, I followed the old prints and every 50 paces stopped to make arrows in the snow and to ensure I was continuing to the north. Each step that I was following was sinking about 2 feet into the snow. I was happy that I could occasionally find the other foot prints to walk in because I just had my running shoes and they weren't made for this task. Plus, it was a lot quicker when I could find his prints and not sink as far down. Without walking in his steps, I'd sink very deeply in the snow, and it'd be a real pain to get free.

Eventually, I moved to a very young forest where the branches hardly broke through the snow. This definitely made things tougher because I was not just falling a few feet in snow each step, but I was getting whiplash as well. All this time the forest cover had been to thick to see anytihng and I started to doubt if I'd ever get to a vista, perhaps the trees had grown too much. Plus, without the right equipment, it was very slow moving. Then, just when my doubts were the greatest, I broke through the tree line.



It had been awhile since I felt such relief, but now I could see how the inclined continued. The treeless incline was well more than most ladders I had climbed in my life. Plus, the snow was now probably over my head by this point (My walking stick wouldn't touch the ground). Everything was all white until the summit. However, soon I noticed a sign sticking out of the snow to my left. I grudged over to the sign that simply read "Vista, sendero completo." I guess this was the end of the trail that I didn't realize I was even near (If I was on a trail, I definitely blazed it). There was not even away to discern the trail because everything was pure white. I could have easily continued on up the mountain, but I was unsure if my safety was worth a better view.

Since breaking the tree line, I never though to turn around. I was so focused on going forward that I didn't even notice the phenomenal view until I had turned around at the sign. It was a beautiful clear day and I was on the face of one mountain with other mountains projected 270 degress around me. In front of me was the icity and the Beagle Channel. The channel was flanked by a series of mountains, reminding me of the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan.

Besides perhaps the greatest vista I have ever seen, I was overwhelmed with satisfaction. It made it so great that there were no roads, making it impossible for most people to ever see this. It was also phenomenal to be alone. Who knows when someone last saw this view. I imagine this is more popular in the summer when there is less snow, but the snow really contributed to the experience. After reflecting for awhile, I headed back down in great spirits, even singing along the way.









The decline was very difficult in the snow, and I was forced to follow my steps down. However, when I had gotten out of most of the snow, I decided to abandon my original route and follow a river down the mountain. I figured the river may offer some cool rapids, and if things got tough, I could always follow the river back up to my old trail. When I arrived at the bottom, I was still in great spirits but in much pain due to my knee. It was still early enough for more adventure, but I elected to take a power nap and recoup.

Upon waking, Francene and I wasted some time trying to find each other. When traveling, email isn't the ideal way to coordinate a meeting place. We eventually met up, did some errands, walked around the harbor for a bit, and then had some good dinner with cafe feo. Late into the night we had some great conversations about languages, life in other countries, and all that fun stuff. Due to my limited skills in Spanish, she was forced to do most of the talking. However, what another perfect experience and great way to get true insight into another culture. This is the best part of traveling, these relationships. The night flew by and partly due to my limited walking ability, I didn't arrive back to my hostel until 7 AM.

Unfortunately, I had to be out of my hostel by 10 AM, so I really didn't sleep. The morning was rough, and I just had a good breakfast and then took a two hour extended walk to the airport. The airport in Ushuaia is out in the Beagle Channel. It looks like a beautiful, new terminal, but it is also probably the porrest managed terminal Ive ever been to. Being a foreigner, I had to pay a tax, and the line for taxes stretched for a long time...because no one was staffed to accept our money. Likewise, no one was staffed in security, so I waited about an hour for security to show up. During this time, I watched a number of people just go through security unchecked. I'm guessing this is a huge conflict of world security.



I was delayed for the most expensive flight ever because of the weather. Apparently, Aerolineas Argentinas is really cheap, unless you aren't from Argentina. If you aren't, it is about three times more expensive. Fortunately, the departure out of Ushuaia is one of the most beautiful take offs. Unfortunately, I do not have a direct flight, and my flight is getting redirected to the international airport in Buenos Aires...a good 90 minutes to downtown by bus. I was scheduled originally to land in the small, downtown airport. I'm really not sure when I'll arrive in Buenos Aires, but it should be pretty late by the time I arrive at my hostel.

Picture info:
1. Movie of the start of the trail
2. One of the horses that didn't like me
3. View of mountain with last night's snow visible
4. Me in a young part of the forest (not the really young part though)
5. Me after breaking through the tree line
6. Some of my tracks (it is very hard to see how steep this is)
7. View of city from mountain
8. Movie from mountain I (from youtube)
9. Movie from mountain II (from youtube)
10. Me from the vista
11. Francene and I at restaurant
12. Tourists off bus taking pictures from harbor
13. Me near airport with city in background


September 4, 2007

Ushuaia

Last night was another good night of conversations. I spoke with two men who live in the hostel. I have been surprised how diverse the conversations had been. This one ultimately came to a conversation about the US Civil War. I was very impressed how much these two individuals knew about US history. The claimed that all school children in Argentina learn about US history. I'd be surprised to find any US school children who could name one Argentinian president or war leader.

When I went to bed, I found that the new occupants in my room had probably not bathed in awhile, it was rancid. I could hardly breathe, making it a very difficult night to sleep. This morning greeted me with rain. The rain was a good excuse not to do any outdoor activities and to instead allow my body time to heal after yesterday (I can hardly lift my left leg thanks to too much running when younger).



I ran some errands and then headed to the local museum. The first museum I went to was very impressive. It was a jail converted into a museum. Originally Ushuaia served as a penal colony. All the worst criminals were sent here. Even if they did escape the prison, there was no where for the prisoners to go. They'd surely perish in the harsh environment. This was a perfect spot for a prison. The museum as I said was very impressive. They had different displays in all 300+ prison cells. Some areas were themed around the prison hsistory and specific prisoners while other areas revolved around the city's history and local meritime history.






My favorite, however, was the wing of cells which served as an art gallery. It was perhaps one of the most creative ways I've seen art displayed. I enjoyed it more than the Guggenheim in NY or the Weisman in Minneapolis. I'm not sure why it was so attractive to me, but it's hard to fathom that they could transfer a cold, desperate prison to a beautiful piece of art.

The museum also had a cool display of replicated maps from some of the earlier explorers to the area (notably Magellan, Darwin, Cooke).



After this museum, I ventured out in the rain to find el Museo del Fin del Mundo, the Museum of the End of the World. This museum was centered around the history of the city. This museum was very small and replicated much of the info that the old jail museum thoroughly discussed. Still there was some fascinating bounty from local shipwrecks and a room full of all the local birds (stuffed of course). Not until after I left did I learn that the library had tons of texts related to Darin's visit (something I really wanted to see). At the time, I thought the library was only for researchers...then again I could be called a researcher.

The rain is still falling hard, and it is now dark and not safe to explore the Andes. I went to where I thought Francene was supposed to be and acted like I was looking for a room. I had the lady show me all the rooms and even prove to me that the water was hot. (Note: I later learned this was the completely wrong hostel)

Picture info:
1. Unrestored wing of the prison
2. Restored wing of the prison/museum (exhibits in the cells)
3. Scale model of the Beagle in maritime wing of museum
4. Me by stuffed emperor penguin
5. Wing of museum which displayed art
6. Photo of a piece of art in one cell
7. Map claimed to be used by Magellan, already depicting the Straight

September 3, 2007

Ushuaia

Ushuaia, this is what I was waiting for...however, it started out with some uncertainty. I arrived here last night, and it was a perfect night at 9 pm. It was calm and about 35 degrees farenheit. I walked around the city for awhile and eventually, I decided to pick a random hostel. I don't know why I didn't leave it right away, but I was so hungry (only ate once all day at this point), I decided to just stay there and then go find food. The hostel was very smoky and had cats (the two things my body can't stand), plus it wasn't a youth hostel, I was easily the youngest person.



I ate and then walked around the city more. The city has a beautiful setting; it reminds of a larger version of Sitka, AK. There are mountains all around the city and even out in the ocean, the Beagle Channel, there are mountains. What is depressing is that this is the southern most port in the world, so it is the best place to catch a ship to Antarctica. For this reason, there is the typical main street you'd find in any cruise city. This street could be in Park City, Aspen, Cancún, Ely... It is also a big ski village so there are a lot of ski shops. The main drag is yuppie USA, not Argentina. Apparently, there are multiple flights from Buenos Aires each day (no one buses here but me and 5 others). Fortunately, a few blocks away from the main drag is a more real Argentina. I like that.

I went to bed a little annoyed with the city and a little apprehensive with my hostel. Fortunately, just like in Buenos Aires, that all changed as a better side of Ushuaia became clear. I woke up after 10 hours to the realization that I was given my own, private room (6 beds but only me). I got dressed to get breakfast when a young worker, Miguel, offered me some mate. It is bad manners to say no, so I joined him and we ended up having mate for well over an hour (may 2 or 3) in Spanish. Awesome. I've had a bunch of good talks here and that is what is great about traveling alone. With someone, you aren't open to taking a good chunk of your day to talk to someone random. We had a good talk about Argentina and tourism. Plus, the mate was the best I'd had yet. The concept of mate is excellent; it is like having a drink with your friends but you share the tea.

Eventually, Miguel had to do some work, allowing me time to purchase some groceries for a day out exploring the mountains. The city is very touristy with buses and even an overpriced train taking people to all the beautiful vistas. However, there are a set of 4 mountain trails that start in the city which are not the top destination spots of tourists, especially during the springtime like now. I decided to make a day trip of one of these, a route to a glacier.

The route was supposed to take 2-3 hours (one way) in the summer. It is closed in the winter and parts aren't advisable in the spring (this is according to the tourist office). Based on this, I wasn't sure what to expect from any of these trails, so I played it safe and brought my backpack with some survival gear in case I got lost or in case I had to spend the night out in the mountains. The trail more or less followed a glacier fed river up one of the countless mountains which surround town. After about five minutes on the trail, the trail became all ice which made it difficult wearing running shoes (not too ideal for this situation). Fortunately, the ice turned to snow after awhile, and snow is much better to work with because you don't slip around. Despite the snow all around me, I was sweating and just wearing a pair of cargo pants and a long sleeve t-shirt.

The view was excellent throughout the walk, and I'd stop ever once in awhile to admire it. After about 90 minutes of solitude, I ran into a road...of course they needed an easy way up for the lazier visitors. The road had a sign that said the overlook was accessible in 500 meters by road or by about 40 minutes by trail.

I obviously took the trail. Little did I realize that when coming off the road, I strayed off the trail and started following something completely different. Prior to this point, there was yellow paint every so often marking the way. Now, there was no paint, but I just assumed it was all under the snow. By now, the snow was about 4 feet deep, but there was a packed trail (perhaps an animal trail) which I struggled to walked on. This eventually led me to a frozen swamp which was completely surrounded by mountains. I continued through the swamp, but then started breaking through the ice...not a good situation. I reluctantly turned around, with my pants already a frozen chunk of ice.

video

It was quick backtracking because I could walk in my past foot prints. When I just about got back to the road, I found the real trail I should have taken. I jumped on the real trail and quickly noticed the yellow paint. I also realized it was getting later, and I couldn't afford to get lost. With the trail not obvious at all after awhile, I realized I better play it safe. I have read enough survival books to know how easy it is to get completely screwed in the wilderness (especially when you are somewhere that isn't very well traveled which I could tell by the lack of footprints in the snow that no one had been here in a long time). The trail was slow because with each step I sunk in a few feet. I continued for awhile until I reach a clearing. It was a magnificant vista with mountains on 3 sides and the Beagle Channel (traveled by Darwin) on the other. I admired for awhile and then continued up the mountain. By now the snow was very deep and I sunk up to my chest with each step. This wasn't good with my attire. It just wasn't worth it to continue. To prevent sinking, I'd have to roll up the mountain.

I decided to descend to the road and take the walk via the road. The way down to the road, however, was difficult because it was very easy to get lost..even with my foot prints. I found myself utilizing the sun and different techniques to keep my bearings. I didn't use my compass at all; I was saving that for desperation, but I was orienting myself ever 20 paces or so.



I still hadn't seen a soul and it looked like no one had taken this route in awhile. Eventually I found the road and quickly walked the 500 meters, a distance I had spent hours trying to take snowy trail. As always, a bunch of people in a tour bus were at the vista with me. Fortunately, the vistas I saw from the mountains were better than this one...or at least I wanted to tell myself that. I think I had the satisfaction that I got there on my own power. I was happy to be an endurance runner at that point.

Right now, I am having some wine and dinner. The wine is phenomenal. I had the waiter write down the name for me so I can buy it in Minneapolis. Tomorrow I'd like to walk one of the other trails but am certain I'll want a day of rest. If so, I"ll just see the local museums and wait until Wednesday. Francene emailed and said she may try to meet me here. If so, that would be great. However, I am 100% content right now. I'm going to have some more wine, look out the window, and watch the ocean.


One more thing...I love Charles Darwin. I think he had perhaps the most influential ideas in history. This city--despite being in Catholic Argentina--embraces evolution. I was happy to see a sign in the forest which pointed out natural selection. He traveled here, and I hope to find a statue or something of him. I'll ask around.

After thought: Right now I'm doing something tons of people dream of doing but just don't hae the means or the courage to do so. This is awesome. I'm fortunate.

Photo Info:
1. I had traveled all 3000+ kilometers on this road
2. Me at start of trail
3. Melted snow, exposing a bridge on the "real" trail
4. Picture from swamp
5. Movie from real trail
6. Me in deep snow
7. Sign about the natural selection of the forest

September 2, 2007

Chile/Argentina Border, Tierra del Fuego

Last night I read from “Fervor de Buenos Aires” by Jorge Luis Borges. His poetry really made me want to spend serious time in Buenos Aires. He captures the essence of the city so well, and I imagine I’d be more in awe if I fully comprehended is poetry (big Spanish words I don’t know). He truly is a great ambassador of Buenos Aires, and his writings make me think it is one of the greatest places on earth, especially in the evening.

As I write this, I am in Chile on the grand island of Tierra del Fuego. This morning I caught a bus from Río Gallegos (after falling in the dark on the torn up streets of the down). We were probably less than 45 minutes to the border with Chile. We had to enter Chile because there is no contiguous road which connects all Argentina. Border control in Tierra del Fuego isn’t like crossing into San Diego. Our luggage wasn’t inspected, but we were asked to throw away all the fruit in our possession. The process still took quite awhile because I’m on a full bus with apparently a lot of fruit.

Once we crossed into Chile, we followed along the Strait of Magellan (Estrecho de Magallano) until we reached a ferry. Being at the shortest expanse on this point of the strait, the crossing only took about 15 minutes. Many on my bus elected to stay in the bus during the crossing, but I couldn’t pass on this rare opportunity of walking the docks of a ship on perhaps the most notorious strait in the world. It was cool with a steady breeze coming from no particular direction. The water had a greenish tint, and the surrounding shores looked as if there could be anywhere in the eastern Patagonia. A grey sky enhanced the perception of absolute desolation. I too would want to mutiny on these waters in the winter.


Since crossing the straight, we have traversed on dirt roads and have seen about one vehicle/hour approach us from the opposite direction. The landscape for now is a hillier version of the Patagonia; however, there is more diversity in wildlife. At any flooded low lying area, birds are plentiful, but I am uncertain of their type. Additionally, what I assume to be alpacas roam in the occasional small group.

We are scheduled to enter Ushuaia after one more border crossing and another 7 hours. In that time, we should also pass through the southern tip of the Andes.

Update: Back in Argentina and after a record long duration for me, back on paved roads. I switched buses in Río Grande, the last city before my final destination (still 3 hours away). Río Grande didn’t look much different from other Patagonian cities: trash everywhere, half the houses still standing, and a lot of brown. They did plant some trees on the main drag in town, and they have wind blocks around each tree. They city is right on the Atlantic, and I can imagine it gets very windy. All the mounds of dirt are also nicely eroded from the wind. Anyways, for the first time since my flight to Buenos Aires, I can finally see some snow capped mountains in the distance. I hope our bus makes it; it is making some bad noises. Fortunately, there are only about 5-6 of us so if we perish, all not is loss.


Photo Info:
1. At border with Chile
2. Sign designating Strait of Magallen

3. Me at Strait of Magallen
4. Other boat at Strait of Magallen
5. Flooded landed on Tierra del Fuego
6. Me at border going back into Argentina (Notice I'm entering the Antartica Province)

September 1, 2007

Rio Gallegos

Getting to the end of the world is about as difficult as it should be—and is harder than I expected (If you have money, it is easy to fly I suppose). I rolled into Río Gallegos in the morning, but the next bus south didn’t come for another 22 hours. I unexpectedly got stuck in this town, but after a day of roaming, I’m happy I got to see the city.

From the bus station, I started walking into town towards the one hostel and the cheapest place to stay. Along the way, I encountered a girl (Soledad, 25 years old) from Buenos Aires who was walking to the same hostel. I followed her, and when we arrived, she made me some mate. Eventually, another traveler, Don (who I recognized from Trelew), joined us with the mate. Don had been traveling around the world for over 2 years. South America is his last destination. We drank mate for over an hour and then we all went our separate ways. I enjoyed the talk because I was the only one who spoke both Spanish and English and got to serve as the translator. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the email addresses of Don or Soledad.

I walked to the heart of town and again found a rather ugly Patagonian city. This city lacks the extreme poverty, but the landscape is so harsh, it is hard to make any city look nice (FYI, I am now south of 51 degrees south latitude).


video


After a filling lunch (my first and only food of the day), I ventured to the city’s two museums. The first was the Pioneer Home, one of the original buildings from the city, restored and furnished with original items (circa 1910). It was a small museum and after going through, I talked with the curator a bit.




Next, I went to an art museum. It was the museum’s last day of their show on penguin art. The exhibit was fun, fresh, and small. The museum itself was probably only 600 ft squared. It was rather awkward in the museum not only because I was the only patron but because both the curator and the security guard followed me around. I took my time, giving the impression that I was a major connoisseur. This impressed them, and they invited me to go to their storage rooms. They had 2 rooms full, floor to ceiling, of great, vivid, bold, modern, Latin art. It is probably my favorite type of art, and I couldn’t believe it was all hiding in storage. We talked awhile of the expense of displaying art. I gave some money and went on my way. I really enjoyed my time with them (and everyone I’ve encountered in the city) because they speak to me in Spanish and don’t realize I’m from the US—they just know I’m not local.

I then ventured down to the Río Gallegos because it comes from Galicia, the Spanish province with Santiago de Compostella. I feel I have a connection to the city/name. Anyways, the river was nice and wide as it opens into the Atlantic. On the other side of the river was the bleak Patagonian landscape. On a cloudy day like today, the land looks, and is, so desolate and undesirable, it is no surprise that the non-indigenous were not successful in colonizing until less than 100 years ago.



Lastly, I did some shopping in the city, and I bought some poems by Borges. I read some Marquez the other day and realized I need to improve by depth on Latin American literature.

Back to my arrival to the city, the bus ride here was—as always—enjoyable. One thing I love about busing here is the uncertainty. You never know if you are in the right place, have already missed your bus, or even got on the completely wrong bus. It isn’t like an airport with monitors giving flight statuses and concrete gate numbers. I mention this because I again thought I lost my bus. I’m still learning how everything works here so if something doesn’t feel right, I worry my ignorance has gotten me in trouble.

The actual ride was rather typical. The landscape was much the same, barren Patagonian style I’m used to. Notably, I did go through the lowest point on the continent. Additionally, around this point the landscape temporarily lost its flatness and gave my eyes some variety. Oddly enough, about an hour outside of Río Gallegos I started to see animals, the first I have seen minus the stray dogs. First I saw horses and assumed they were wild. I stopped thinking this as soon as I saw a bunch of sheep. There were never any people or buildings in site, but I doubted these were wild sheep. I was surprised that there was suddenly enough vegetation to support animals. As the ride continued, I saw a myriad of birds and even some ostriches.

That’s it for the day. Tomorrow I leave at 8 AM for the south. I am very uncertain how long the trip will take (anywhere from part of a day to multiple days).

Photo info:
1. A view of Río Gallegos from the bus depot
2. A Cristina Kirchner sign in Río Gallegos
3. Movie of downtown Río Gallegos
4. Me in front of Pioneer Home
5. Me in front of the river with Patagonia in the background
6. Patagonia sunset


August 31, 2007

Rawson and Patagonia

The day started out on the wrong track, but I have a smile now. I woke up early and to be safe, I took a taxi about 15 miles to the coast where I thought I’d catch a boat to see dolphins. I was told the ride would be 17 pesos but the driver assured me it was 37. I thought he was taking advantage of me because he even covered up the fare amount. However, once I arrived, multiple people told me that the price was 37.

The company I wanted to go out with to see dolphins was on a port which only ran about 2 blocks. When I arrived at 9:30, the street was dead and the doors to the boat place were locked. The sign said the tour was at 10 but no one was around. I walked up and down the street and all I found were stray dogs. Eventually, a tour bus with 6 people showed up for the same tour I wanted to take, and they joined me outside. At 10:15, we got word that the boat was broken but to please wait. I didn’t feel too safe about going out in the ocean with a broken boat, but I paid a lot to come to this port, and I didn’t want it to be for nothing. Finally, at noon, we were instructed to go on the boat.

The tour was well worth my $20. First, we saw some penguins swimming and then we followed around a group of dolphins. I was happy even though the animals were too quick for photos; the ride itself was fun, especially to think the view I was seeing was the Magellan saw 500 years ago (there isn’t much development along the coast). However, we got really lucky when we encountered 2 whales on our way back. We watched for about half an hour. This was fairly rare. Apparently the whales like the water farther out and to the north.


video

video



We got back on shore at 2, and I decided to save some money by taking public transportation back. The bus took longer than the taxi, but was only 4.5 pesos ($1.20). Plus, I got to see more of some cities. The cities of Patagonia are very ugly. It is a dessert with only shrubs. For this reason, the cities have no landscaping and are all dirt. There are a few trees in the cities, but they are so bare and must require so much effort to maintain, I doubt it’s worth it. The people here definitely aren’t affluent enough to lay sod and constantly water it. Trelew is rather poor. I saw no out right shanty towns (it’d be too cold probably), but all the buildings seemed to be crumbling. The cars are all also pre-1980 and unlike Buenos Aires where the drivers maneuver around pedestrians, the drivers here will plow right through you. Apparently the cars may not start up again if they stop for you.


The street food here isn’t too impressive either. Buenos Aires had the best street food I could safely eat. Here, all the vendors just sell “Panchos.” All the sings claim the Patagonia special food is the pancho. For this reason I bought one and was rather pissed off that it was just a pale, boiled hot dog. I am now waiting in the bus terminal for my ride south. I talked to the bathroom attendant (all bathrooms here have attendants, the bathrooms are very clean but you have to buy/tip toilet paper, soap, towels). He was excited I was from the Estados Unidos because he had heard about hurricane Katrina. He offered me some mate, but I had to decline.


Photo Info:
1. A view of the Rawson harbor
2. An up close movie of one of the whales we watched (southern right whale)
3. Another movie of one of the whales
4. Big animal floating in the water (not a whale)
5. View of Patagonia from Atlantic Ocean
6. View of Patagonia, just flatness

August 30, 2007

Trelew

Today saw another 12 hours in a bus, heading south. Once the moon came up, it became a rather clear and beautiful night. The grass of the Pampas gradually got higher, and the trees became less common.

A few points in the night brought complete flatness as we traveled in a straight line, with no lights or cars in sight. I did eventually sleep about 7 hours, but even that was hard due to the constant interruption of cell phone noises. I could swear that the whole bus was text messaging each other.

The ride had other notables. About 3 times we stopped at checkpoints where all our luggage was removed and dogs sniffed it for what I believe to be drugs. Considering there was typically nothing between checkpoints, I found it rather redundant. At 11pm we stopped for dinner. Instead of going into the dinner, I went to the bathroom. When I got out, the bus was gone. I was so concerned that I was stranded with all my stuff still on the bus. Fortunately, the bus was just getting some gas. On the whole I really enjoy the South American busing and think it is a great way to see the country. I decided I’m going to do more than planned meaning that I may spend a solid chunk of my vacation on a bus.

My first bus trip actually ended early because I purposely got off the bus early. I decided to go to Trelew, a city founded by the Welsh not too long ago (100 years). Even though it isn’t on the ocean, it is significantly larger than my previous destination and hence offers more to do. Additionally, it is the self-proclaimed penguin capital of the world, and I really want to see penguins and my guide says this is a great time of year for it. Unfortunately, the first 3 people I spoke with on the bus told me that it was the off season. This further was proven correct when all the travel agencies I stopped in confirmed that the penguin tours were over for the season. I guess it makes sense. If I was a penguin, I wouldn’t be too happy. It was the warmest day yet on my trip even though I’m about 1,000 miles south of Buenos Aires.

I checked into a hotel and am probably the only person here. The room is so small that it is designed for you to take a shower while on the toilet. I’ve joked about that before, but this is real.






I then spent about 5 hours seeing the city. The Patagonia is one of the best places for dinosaur bones, and there are a lot of researchers here. I went to the dinosaur museum and was very impressed. Besides the Museum of Natural History in NY, I’ve never seen so many bones. Plus, they were all local which made it interesting. The museum was logically laid out on an evolutionary path, ever increasing my desire to study some biology.

Besides the museum, the city offered very little. I traversed the streets multiple times and found nothing. I did find a steak dinner with a couple of beers for $10. I could only eat a fraction of the meal even though I had eaten very little all day.

The nicest part of the city is the lack of tourists. Everyone assumes I’m a local and being a Welsh city, I look somewhat the part. However, for the first time on my trip, I’m bored. I’m going to take this opportunity to catch up on sleep. Tomorrow morning I hope to bus to the ocean and go on a dolphin excursion and rush back to town where I’m catching another overnight bus south. I have determined that I want to make it to Tierra del Fuego. It will take my whole trip, but I think it would be beautiful and amazing.

Photo Info:
1. My bathroom, the only private bathroom of my trip
2. Outside dinosaur museum in Trelew
3. A bunch of dinosaur bones
4. An old ancestor of the rhino
5. The only notable thing in Trelew


August 29, 2007

Buenos Aires and Pampas

As I mentioned before, today I was going to take a bus to Rawson. As mentioned before, it first seemed like a mistake to book a ticket to Rawson, but now I’m excited for it. The ride is 23 hours south. Argentina is so massive, that even in 23 hours, I’ll only cover a fraction of the length of the country.

Because I had a 23 hour ride ahead of me, I decided to stay out late (I could sleep on the bus). I met 2 American guys from Roswell, GA. They reminded me of the typical Carlson students and had just graduated with accounting degrees. These two had just both moved to Argentina where they plan on starting a service of taking Americans out to the clubs. One of the reasons they picked Buenos Aires was because they like the women here. They also recommended a good book about the slang used in Buenos Aires. I actually bought this book today.

Eventually the Roswell boys went out, and I ran into Francene again. Because I was going to sleep the next day, I made her stay up too late. She eventually got too tired, but I was very happy to have another great multi-hour conversation with her in Spanish.

This morning I had a big breakfast and walked to the bus station. At first, the bus station is very intimidating. There are over 100 gates and it is apparently very rate if your bus leaves from its scheduled gate. Luckily, I got on my bus and am very impressed by the value. For about $50, I have a luxurious 23 hour ride. The bus is a double decker with windows 360 degrees around and fully reclining seats. I am very lucky and am sitting arriba (on the top deck), in the front row. I have an elevated, 270 degree view of the drive.

The first two hours were spent just getting out of Buenos Aires. I bought two books but didn’t read a page because it was so fun to be elevated and to have such a great view in the middle of 10 lanes of traffic on the craziest streets I’ve seen yet in my life.

Eventually, we left the city and moved to the Pampa. The Pampa is a romanticized prairie worked by gauchos (Argentinean Cowboys). It reminds a lot of western Montana, but with much higher grass and with clumps of trees. As I write this, I have been traveling south for 6 hours and the sun is beginning to set over the Pampa. There are few cars even though I am on the main artery (2 lane highway 3).



Photo Info:
1. Cristina Kirchner sign for President (she is the president's wife and insanely popular)
2. Looking east on Pampas right before sunset
3. Typical view of Pampa

August 28, 2007

Buenos Aires

Last night was another great night of learning of other cultures. It started with me sharing some wine with some American and British students. I left the table when I noticed a guy who looked really bored and needed someone to talk to. He was from Holland and coincidentally, he had studied Spanish at the same place I had in Cuernavaca, Mexico. What a small world. He was sitting next to some girls who eventually got engaged in our conversation.

Eventually, I began to speak exclusively with one of the girls, Francene from Colombia. We spoke in Spanish for a couple hours, allowing me to greatly improve my Spanish and to learn greatly about the current social and political conditions in Bogota. It was a great conversation, and it didn’t hurt that she was extremely cute.

I eventually went to bed and in the morning went on adventures with Alex from Brazil. I like to walk and he likes to ride and we don’t speak the same languages, so it is a very interesting friendship. Anyways, he convinced me to take a bus to the barrio “La Boca.” He only won because the hostel workers said that it wasn’t a safe walk, even for 2 men. We bussed to La Boca and I wasn’t overly impressed. It is a very yuppyish tourist trap surrounded by extreme poverty. What is cool with the barrio is that every building is painted the colors of football teams.


We walked around, saw some expensive trinkets and then walked to the local football stadium. The local team, Boca Juniors, is very popular and perhaps the best in Argentina. We paid to tour the stadium but having no tie to the team, it was only okay. However, I can see why it is a popular tour—I’d pay big bucks for a behind the scenes tour of the Metrodome.




After the stadium, I convinced Alex to walk a few miles to our next destination, a huge nature reserve along the water. The workers at the hostel weren’t lying, it was a bda neighborhood, probably the worst I’ve ever walked through. About three blocks from the touristy Boca, the streets were dead and all the houses were reminiscent of an upscale shantytown. A few people came outside of their houses and just glared at us while we walked by. It was like this for about 2 miles, and then it became very exclusive, everyone wearing suits and hanging out at beautiful public plazas.

We eventually made it to the park. It is a beautiful nature reserve with the Rio de la Plata on one side and the city on the other. It is roughly the same size of Central Park, but it isn’t 100% man made. We walked a bit in the park and then went back into the city and had some phenomenal, cheap food from a street vendor. Next, we slowly progressed (lots of breaks and Alex kept asking for directions because I don’t think he realized that I knew where we were going). Eventually we made it to the Japanese Garden.


The garden was a gift from Japan back around the 1950s. It was small, but still demanded a few photos. Alex and I also went our separate ways at this point. He wanted to bus, and I wanted to walk.

I headed south through Palermo. I followed the Avenue Liberador for about 3-4 miles. IT is a grand avenue (running North/South) with 12 lanes of traffic. At times, both sides of the avenue were parks. If not, one side was a park and the other majestic, expensive high-rises. I was very impressed and leisurely walked this distance, stopping to take in the sights or to view a monument from time to time (I have never been in a city with so many monuments).

Eventually, I came upon Retiro, the large transportation center. I wanted to buy a bus ticket for somewhere, but I didn’t have my guidebook to know where to buy one for. On a whim, I bought a ticket from the first booth to a city with a familiar name, Rawson. I thought I had read about this city, but I was mistaken. I don’t think Rawson has many, or any, tourists, so we’ll see how it goes.

Anyways, I bought my ticket and began walking to my hostel. Along the way, I encountered another thing Buenos Aires is famous for, demonstrations. Ever since 2000 when the economy collapsed, there have been widespread demonstrations by the piqueteros. Apparently, there are multiple a day, and they are now just treated as a common occurrence. Because they are so common, I expected them to all be rather small, but I was surprised by its enormity. Literally thousands of people marched through the streets for block after block. I was impressed by the organization. I guess after multiple demonstrations a day for a couple years, the protesters get good (perhaps not effective). I also was surprised how none of the non-participants were even fazed by it. Everyone went on like it was all normal.

video

Due to the crowds, it took me awhile longer to return to my hostel than expected. When I got there, Alex wanted to go shopping for gifts, and I was a good guide. I was dead tired, but decided it’d be nice to see some more of the city.


Photo info:
1. Picture of El Caminito in La Boca
2. Photo of La Bombonera, the stadium of the Boca Juniors
3. Me by bridge in La Boca, not Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge
4. Me by cool movable bridge in downtown Buenos Aires
5. Me with some big carp-like fish in Japanese Garden (photo taken for Brandon)
6. Me with some banzai trees in Japanese Garden (photo taken for James)
7. Fuzzy movie of some demonstrators in Buenos Aires
8. Avenida Florida where Alex bought gifts