Diaries of the Americas, Argentina

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Part two. ARGENTINA.

We try our first mate in Chile, but in the hands of a knowledgable Argentinian, actually she’s from Ushuaia. It’s freezing cold and we’re about to go hiking when the rain lets up.

Arrive to El Calafate in the afternoon, built up town in the remote desert regions. Small and stylish in the main streets, tourist shops, hilly. Everyone is in down celebrating the ´doma´ (rodeo with live music, performances, choripan). The group have pizza at a local shop and finally enjoys a bed and shower again. Early rise to see Perito Morener glacier. Travel by bus with an Argentinian geologist who tells us about the glacier – it’s the only one still growing. Note: remember to read about the geology and geography of Patagonia when you get home.

Huge and spectacular, the group goes on a glacier trek. I take a boat ride and hang out with Carla. See multiple ice breaks, one particularly huge and loud. Carla and I hike off trail to a hill where we can sit and view the glacier. We sit amongst the flowers and rocks and eat apples and muesli bars. Talk about the history of El Calafate and of two people who once lived by the hill (we find a burnt out car on the way), Reiki, chakras, peace, Siddhartha, people and fate, her travels in Kathmandu, Vietnam, Laos, etc and mine through Latin America. She tells me to hike Valle de la Luna, Tafi del Valle, San Juan, Jujuy, Humahuaca, in Bolivia (camino del Chorro, Sorata).

Meet group and have dinner on the high point of El Calafate, looking over Lago Argentino. Everyone orders Patagonica Lamb with vegetables and Calafate berries. Muy sabrosa! Vino and Calafate helado.

Next day fly to Buenos Aires in a little plane, staying in the Microcentro. It’s the pilot’s first big flight and everyone cheers when we land, lucky I didn’t know at the time. First day in Buenos Aires it’s time for tango lessons, dinner, and tango show in the theatre Piazolla theatre. Happy birthday Carla for tips! Next day the group goes to La Boca, Recoleta cemetery, Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Puerto Madero, Abasto, Cafe Tortoni, parks and the big solar powered flower. Everyone checks out and adios amigos!

I spent three days solo in Buenos Aires – Lime House and Hostel Suites Florida. Quiet days walking Plaza de Mayo, Palermo, city. Walk to the bus station and take a bus to Mendoza.

First day meet Sebastian from Germany in the same bus and hostel, we decide to change to Campo Base. Make rice and vegetables for dinner and meet Adam (Tucson, Arizona lived in Montevideo 3 years). Early morning the three of us take a bus to Maípu, meeting Espana Fernando, Italian Margherita, French winemaker Vivien and another French friend of his. Together we rent bikes, riding to Tomasso, Cerno, Mevi, Trapiche. That night asado in the Mendoza Inn, meeting Emmanuel from Santa Fe, Michelle and Sarah from the UK. Fernando´s birthday big fiesta, Tim the bartender giving everyone alcohol, weed, and things to celebrate.

Early next morning group road trip to Aconcagua through the Andes. Unbelievably beautiful drive. Terrifying winding drive. Scenery & colours always changing. Group often stop for photos, llamas, picnic in Uspallata, Puente del Inca, hike to Aconcagua base. Get home late at night for pizza. Last day I do a trek with Marcos from Buenos Aires. Rappel 12,8,40 metres, termas, asado. Big tequila fiesta with everyone at night & continue until 7am! estoy muy cansado..

Ciao beautiful people.

Catch a bus with Adam to Cordoba…. we meet up with our Swiss French couple friends and have drinks on the hostel rooftop.

We arrive early to Rupestre, spend most of the day recovering then walk around in the afternoon. Big city, most places closed. Visit churches, art galleries. Share a Shabbat dinner with three Israelis Daniel, Noa & another. Amazing chicken wings with potato dish.

Second night a hostel asado on the terrace with roommates, Israelis & the Swiss French couple we’d met in Mendoza. Visit a reggae club – Cordoba gets its reputation from its night life. We leave at 3am when people only start to get crazy. We must be old!

Leave by bus at midday for Puerto Iguazu- long yet comfortable bus to Timbo Posadas hostel (with pool & hammocks). Unbearably hot, take a bus to Cataratas/ Falls. First trails del Diablo. Powerful display of nature. Endless repetition of water crashing from all points. Can see Brasil’s flag across the falls. Take lower & upper trails following all of the falls. Spectacularly large. Island in the middle that is centred in the falls. Beautiful jungles, forests, rain & storm. Cook own dinner & take night bus to Buenos Aires. Terrible bus ride- no food, recliners & in the barrios before Buenos Aires two guys steal some suitcases on the highway. Not mine luckily.

Check in to Portal del Sur, nice hostel. Meet Jill in the evening & celebrate our reunion with Trapiche Malbec. Great travels ahead, farewell to solo travel- it was and is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Independent travel is the best teacher.

Jill and I stroll the city, meeting her Scottish friend Chris for drinks in his San Telmo apartment. We share beers, Petron, political opinions, travel stories and meet his partner, an older Argentinian guy with a world of experience, he’s lived in United States, drug experimentation, buyer for Macy’s in New York, now owns a gallery. Really funny lovely couple. They marry in October. For dinner Jill & I get Quilmes & pizza & are asked to join two Argentinian guys for drinks, Diego & another. Spend most of the evening talking in spanish. I’m better than I thought! Jill & I make a good team!

We walk the city & eat in Palermo at night.
Join the group & Soledad from Bolivia at Hotel Carsson & share dinner in San Telmo. Fly to Salta in the morning. Beautiful town. Incredibly green. Archaeological museum in the town- main exhibit is discovery in the mountains of four children’s bodies perfectly mummified. Each child aged 5 or 6 face in four directions of largest Inca empires. Very rare ritual, children were chosen from four different towns & used as sacrifice to the Gods.

Walk along the main square in the afternoon & share dinner with the group.
Second day drive to Cafayate wine region. Stop along the way to admire the changing landscapes. Mountains formed from earthquakes, clay mountains in a region that was once the ocean. Go into Garganta del Diablo & climb to highest point- police guard the last part. See the amphitheatre & arrive to Viasaja Secrets winery for tour & tasting. Beautiful town in the valley surrounded by the Andes. Lunch & markets before driving home for an early night. Jill & I share cheese & crackers before crashing.
6am the following morning we take a 10 hour bus to San Pedro de Atacama. It’s a long, winding, scenic route that reaches 2000m above sea level. Catching a flu the day before the bus ride is hell. Occasionally look out the window at salt flats, gorges, green patches in desert landscapes, sand dunes, farmers, llamas. We pass Jujuy along the way.

Cross the Argentinian border, Ciao! Such a beautiful country I know I will return to. The most beautiful passionate people and a flowery gorgeous language.

Then two hours later I’m back in Chile. Wait an hour to finalise everything. Sue says I love an organised system. Arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. Such a bizarre town. Old bus added to cardboard & cola carton walls with a Coca Cola flag. So many flags! Dirt towns there is no main square. Houses look to be made of mud & clay. Hot but cold in the evening. Behind the desert town the Andes have snow tipped volcanoes. Excited for Valle de la Luna. Funny how one area can have so much geographical variety. Jill and the others spend the morning visiting salt lagoons and sand dunes, I stay behind to recover from a fever. In the afternoon we take a bus to Valle de la Luna, first trekking along sand dunes and rocks, getting brilliant view of the valley, small salt tipped peaks and smooth dunes, the guide tells us the area was underwater 1000’s of years ago. Afterwards we drive to the salt caves, crawling through pitch darkness with occasional openings of light. Areas with salt crystals, a wall that talks (creaks).
Around 5pm we drive to the main valley to see the sunset. Nothing on this world like it. Craters, valleys, rivers, salt, dunes, peaks. All changes colours with the sunset. On our return others go to the star observatory while Jill & I cook pasta and sleep early.

Early morning departure, exiting the Chilean border, seeing groups of retired folks in a South America rally with old jeeps and cars.

Places: Patagonia, El Calafate, Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Cafayate, Cordoba, Puerto Iguacu
Writers: Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar
Figures and politics: Eva Peron, Che Guevara, Maradona, Carlos Gardel
Food and drink: mate, asados, Quilmes, Brahma, Palermo, Austral, Mendoza vinos Malbec, Cabernet Sav, tango, milonga

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