Back in the Great North

As the photos from the post “Patagonia Shots,” revealed, we all had a blast in the southern national park trudging through whatever the weather had thrown at us. As we trekked for seven days, we dealt with an average of fifty kilometer winds, combinations of rain and snow, and we were even graced by the presence of the sun. Everyday seemed to have a different personality as well as each segment of the park. Within the past couple of months, there had been a large devastating fire set off by someone in the park, and within the first day we could already begin to see the damage. It was easy to imagine the speed of the monstrous fire that ravaged the area as we walked along the trail being encouraged by the ever-present winds. It was said that the alleged person responsible for the damage of the park had to pay a hefty sum of $5000 dollars!

On the far west side of the “W” circuit, just past one of the refugios, the five of us were shocked by the grandeur essence of Glacier Grey. The mammoth body of ice stretched out between the mountains as far as the eye could see. Its bluish color made it even more surreal. In my opinion, this part of the trek was the most beautiful and amazing, despite all the hype that surrounds the Torres Del Paine. We read an entry in a log book at Refugio Grey, that back in 1992, the glacier was able to be viewed from behind the refugio. Twenty years later, the glacier had receded back to Campamento Los Guardias, which is approximately four kilometers.

After we completed the trek, it was time to head back into the quaint little town, Puerto Natales. There we stayed at an incredibly amiable hostel, named Shakana(To locate this hostel, walk towards Plaza 1 de Mayo and go to the corner of Miraflores and Eleuterio Ramirez.). The owner, Shakana, was very comedic and social, providing a great place to stay and get out of the winter winds. As much as we wanted to stay and relax, the time had come for us to depart and head North back to Santiago, Chile where we would continue the last leg of our journey home. Jenny’s father, Don, left a day ahead of us while our two friends, Jess and Megan, were leaving South America a day after us. We had three flights in total, all connecting with barely anytime to spare between them. Each landing was accompanied by a mild panic of missing our next flight, and we almost did miss our last flight, running to the final gate and rushing through a hurried security check. Flashing our tickets and passports, the attendant pointed the last trail our feet would walk down in South America.

As our seat belts clicked, the rush and excitement fluttered away into the air, leaving us to sit back and fall into memories of the beginning of our trip. The luscious coffee region of Risaralda, the hustle and bustle of the streets of Quito, the barren desert of Peru and the mysterious ruins of the Incas, the pristine city of Sucre, and the loco culture of Argentina. With the memories of all the places and people we had met, still swirling’ round in our minds, the sky ripened into darkness, and the plane descended down towards the busy stream of lights that lit up the city of Toronto. It was time to relieve the trusty traveler shoes and reunite ourselves with lives we had left. See you sometime in the future, South America.

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Patagonia Shots

 

 

 

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Coast Art!

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Monkeying Around with the Dogs

 

A side-note blog, as travel is a daily matter and things get mixed up and muddled, the blog will take a back-track… think of it as a reflection of the traveller´s busy mind, that struggles to keep all the new things straight without a journal… and really, who has time to journal? Right now… back to first Cafayete before a quick stop off at the Mendoza zoo.

When we were in Mendoza we decided to do as you do when in Rome… or some other warm, wine-loving place and take to the wineries. We mounted bikes rented from a company in the plaza early in the morning and peddaled off to our destiny: drunken biking through the vineyards!! (if only it were true). Jenny and Matt were so excited to be back on bikes they peddaled along giddy and like children first learning without training wheels… free at last from the confines of two legs! Mounted on our two-wheeled steeds we raced towards the first winery along with a friend we picked up: a dog who thought a pack of bikes was as good a pack as any and came along for the ride.

 He weaved his way in and out of our bikes and happily chased any other dogs who tried to pursue us away. He was happy to work for us while we played and we were quite happy to have a new friend… so we named him Tinto after ¨Vino Tinto¨which just means, red wine. Once at the winery, we went inside the museum area and Tinto came along too… he fit right in and snuck off to the corner during the tour to sleep on the cold floor. A man at the winery translated the tour going on for us and afterwards we went for some samples… the beginning of what we thought would be the day everyone we knew talked about: a day with a free buzz on a bike. Off we went again, this time across town, leaving Tinto in the square somewhere… he apparently was done in by the first run and we waved our goodbyes as we went down down down a BIG hill toward another little town. I took my time through the fields, saying hello to a small owl sitting on a fence post and breathing in the fresh mountain air. Apparently I was taking too much time though and my compadre´s pulled off to the side to wait up… Matt narrowly missing flying over his handle bars as the bike tire bent under him, the metal of the tire awkwardly folding… leaving us with a lame steed and 10km from town. We attempted a hitch-hike but had little luck and so biked back and picked Matt up with the car. We took the bikes back and fought with the shop keeper who owned the bikes over paying for the tire and Jenny brought a police officer in off the street to help. Unfortunately, we were saddled with a 75AR fee and lost our bike priveleges for the day… cheers Cafayte!!

Skip forward now to Mendoza again, back to the city we met Dana and Debbie of the vineyard. The zoo was on our list of things to do in the city… as any traveller gets weary of the regular tourist sites, we thought we would try something new. After walking for probably 5km through the heat of the city and our travellers lunch of choice: crackers and cheese…we meandered into the zoo. Many of the cages were sadly small and a lot of the animals were asleep in the shade to escape the heat of the day and, we couldn´t help but think, the bordeom of their lives. Many of the bears were from Canada, a few grizzlies and a polar bear… what was a polar bear doing in the heat of Mendoza with no water to swim in and no where to cool down… we were kind of regretting supporting this zoo… or maybe it was better we did. Anyway, we walked around watching the animals, the zoo had a lot of tucans and several of the big cats… and then came the monkey cage. You could hear them before we approached, loud fights between monkeys screaming somewhere in the distance. As we approached them, we realized why they were upset… there was a monkey who had escaped… sitting on the top of the cage. We all stared for a moment in disbelief and then started to laugh… what IS this place? The monkey ran around the outside of the cage taunting the ones inside who were frantically trying to find their own way to freedom. As the monkey climbed down the cage toward us, images of the vaccine website I read before I left popped into my head: recommended, rabbies it said. Shit… probably for moments like this, I thought.

We kind of backed up a bit and I glanced around for a zoo keeper, is this for real? But the monket turned instead to the man selling popcorn and like a child, took a few peices from his outstretched hand, stuffing his face in front of the now outraged caged monkets. The monkeys uninterested in these shenanigans were creating their own in their cage, laying sideways on the fake-rock to block the way of other monkeys, digging in the water trough, throwing things at each other… it was a bit like watching kids in a cafeteria at lunch time. Jenny and I were beside ourselves with laughter at the sight of all this, and the ridiculousness of an escaped monkey just wandering around outside the cage like it was no big deal, while Matt and Jess looked on speechless. What a day.

 

 

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Wine the heck not?

Cruising into Mendoza after a 12 hours on the longest straightest road through the dessert imaginable was like arriving in an oasis of life. We spent the day before driving, driving, driving some more. I was so bored I started connecting my freckles with a pen and trying to form pictures. I think my best one was a rather abstract looking dog. So straight and long was this road that the most exciting part of our day was turning corners… there would be HUGE signs with arrows and warnings to slow down and then… out of no where and for no apparent reason we could see, the road would very gently turn. Not meriting any kind of slow down at all. At one point in the day we did get a little adrenaline rush as the gas light popped onto the dash, delivering a series of doubtful glances at the long expanse of highway ahead before the next town on the map. Half an hour later, in the middle of no where in the middle of the desert, it started flashing…. and we started praying. We hadn´t passed a car in over an hour and we were very alone on a desert highway… speeding along with literally nothing in our tank toward literally nothing in the distance. It was really not a matter when we would find gas but more of when we would run out. And then, out of no where, an Esso station appeared as we choked our way into a small little town.

We rolled into Mendoza in the evening and settled into a hostel near the bus station, where we would spend the morning arguing with the car company in the morning. Over the trunk of our little car we fought with him about the clutch. Finally we gave up the fight, wishing afterwards SO much that we hadn´t. And so, the clutch is paid for… except they haven´t charged the card yet, so fingers crossed. Feeling down over the car, we walked the streets of Mendoza and Jess put in a call to someone she knows in the city and then our luck began to look up.

The next day we met Debbie and Dana, the stepmother and father of Jess´s friend Jordan in the main plaza. They piled us all into their 1980s car, a car older then each of us, and it lugged the 6 of us, crammed tightly in its interior, out to thier winery. We spent some time walking the vineyard and marvelling at the couples bravery of buying a vineyard with no wine experience and learning as they go. Dana and Debbie, retired from the tree planting business, had a lot in common with Jess and Matt and Jenny and the three exchanged some stories from the plant. I feel like I could have chimed in with my own stories, spending so much time with planters I feel like I´ve put in my time on the block somehow. After a few bottles of Debbie and Dana´s best along with table grapes picked, still warm from the sun off the vines along with some cheese and crackers, we were all feeling tipsy and tired and layed on the couches of our new friends with bellies full and minds buzzing. Soon it was time to go back into town for a birthday party of their friends, which we were invited to attend too. Rodrigo was turning 30 something and he was ready to celebrate, which meant we got to meet all of their amazing friends. We were introduced to the whole gang of ex-pats hanging out in Mendoza including architects, beer brewers, vineyard and farm owners, ex-tree planters… everyone it seems was at the party! We drank some local brews, brewed by a Canadian living in Mendoza area at a bar named after his favourite dog… typical Canadian and his dog. One of the women there was interested in Jenny and Matt´s biking tales and summed up their adventure perfectly: ¨that is SO savage! Thats just SO savage!¨ she kept saying, throwing us all into fits of laughter. She had ¨gone savage¨ herself once, taking her rolly suitcase, lululemon headband and bleech blonde hair to a tree planting camp to rescue them when they were in desperate need of a cook. Her stories were legendary about making hippy food and straightening her hair on weekends, and struck a cord with the planting crew at the table.

After dinner came part three of our day, the Argentinian steak. Leaving Mendoza soon meant we needed to sink our teeth into their namesake dish: beef. So we asked some new friends at the party where to go and soon were seated with a bottle of Debbie and Dana´s reserve wine in a restaurant just down the street from the pub. A steak arrived at the table in front of Matt big enough to send a killer whale into a meat-coma… let alone Matt, but he devoured it all. Jenny and I also had steak, but a little bit smaller one and Jess, our vegetarian division, had a little bite too. The meat was amazingly delicious and a must-have of Argentina..we raved about it the rest of the night…come to think about it, I still spend time day dreaming about it here and there. On the way back we swung back into the bar to say goodnight and thank Debbie and Dana for our fabulous day with them. But we were not to escape the bar without being handed a drink by our friends who had been drinking while we ate… and a shot the size of a tumbler arrived in each of our hands. I tried politely to inquire about it to Rodrigo, the birthday boy..¨what is this?¨ I asked… he looked at me and smiled ¨do you like alcohol?¨ ¨.. ¨Si!¨, I said. ¨Then don´t ask questions!¨ I turned to Debbie instead, staring at this huge glass in front of me, ¨Hey Debbie, is there water involved in this at all?¨ ¨Nope!.. you are in Argentina!¨she laughed. We all guzzled back the lemon drop and began to walk home, bubbling about our day, forgetting the car completely…just feeling awesome after the steak and wine and lemon drop to top it off.

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Vamos Al Salinas Grandes

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A Photo Journey Around Northern Argentina

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Road Trip Slide Show

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Bugged Out!

As beautiful as the jungle was in striking contrast to the arid, dry mountains further north… there was still about a billion things I hated about the new place… and all of them were BUGS!!! The heat of the jungle hung almost heavier than in the city of Ledesma and it felt like we should have snorkels that poked out of the tree tops to breathe through the humidity. It was thick, stagnant air and the blood thirsty bugs hung in it, as if suspended, caught by the invisible water vapour. Pooling together our lunch materials we ate crackers with butter and a little fruit… some weird looking birds joined us for lunch… its always nice to meet new friends really, so that was fun.

We spent the afternoon siesta-ing through the heat almost floating on the air it was so thick with water, and roused ourselves around 3 and took to some trails. Climbing up the mountain and then descending down a trail we found ourselves on the riverbed and looking at footprints of jaguars as well as tapir and puma in the mud on the riverbank as the bugs cashed in on the goods in a different kind of bank: the Canadian blood bank. As we walked the bugs got thicker and we spent less and less time looking at tracks until finally without a word to each other we through it into 5th gear, practically running back to the tent. When we arrived, I dove into the tent in a heated itchy flurry. Jenny, Jess and I all huddled in the tent for a while… trying to breathe through the heat and the itch and the bugs while Matt tried in vain to make a fire to produce some smoke and refuge from the tiny winged vampires. Dressed in full siege attire: toque, pants, rain coat and socks on his flip-flopped feet, the three of us couldn´t help but laugh at him from our screened cocoon. It looked as though he were dressed for -40 in Saskatchewan instead of what felt like +40. After deciding cooking would be futile and the fire idea was abandonned at last, we huddled, the four of us in a two man tent, eating corn flakes and warm milk out of a salad bowl, taking turns with the spoon. With nothing left to do at 6pm but go to bed, we were feeling pathetic. So to remedy this, we went to town and finished off our dinner of champions with icecream and enjoyed the airconditioning before driving the gravel road back to our saunas… I mean tents… for bed.

 

 

Up and up again away from the jungle towards Tilcara our little car with its intrepid driver, Jenny, went. Again, back to the desert, back to the reds and the browns and the greys and purples in the rock. Back to the cold nights and hot days and dusty roads in even dustier towns. After driving around the narrow streets for a while we found a fabulous hostel. We were able to set up our tent and use their kitchen. While the landscape was striking, perhaps the people we met in this town were even more so. Two people took an immediate interest in Jenny and Matt´s biking adventures and Jess and I sat in for the show, learning new stories as they talked. Meeting new people means Jess and I get to hear new stories from Matt and Jenny which is almost like getting an exclusive blog entry that doesn´t exist. One guy was from Orlando who had been travelling on a bus built as a moving hostel… where they offered other travellers rides and a place to stay in exchange for money. He had been travelling for almost 2 years and had a lot of great stories and an infectious smile. Another man was from Holland and had done biking trips before so he was particularily intruiged by Matt and Jenny´s 2-wheeled adventures. The four of them bantered for a while and eventaully Jess and I retired to the kitchen to find something to eat.

 

After having soup dinner in a cute cabin kitchen among a myriad of other travellers from around the world, we were coaxed into going out for drinks. We tried at first to give into our exhaustion but fellow travellers had heard all the excuses before and were having none of it. We met the group in a small bar in town and were greeted by a father-son duo playing tradition folk music. The father´s cheek was packed with coco leaves, making his face look lop-sided and the son sat with a drum and played an incredible beat. Soon a shady character with blonde dreadlocks to his knees came in, face shadowed by the lamp-shade looking hats you see in the tourist shops and sauntered up to the bar. If it weren´t for the dreads and weird hat, this could have been right out of a Western movie. I thought we looked out of place, but he trumped us for sure. As the night wore on and our group of travelling friends got more into the drink, the dancing began. Jess, Matt, Jenny and I sat and watched the show with amusement but soon tiredness, helped along by a glass of beer, won out against the good beats and song and dance and we said our goodnights. Drifting off in the cooler air of the desert was a relief from the jungle heat the night before and we laughed at the craziness of wearing sweaters to bed after the previous night. It seemed I had just barely fallen asleep when a BANG!! came from somewhere nearby. My eyes popped opened and I contemplated the source: a gun?… are we safe?. I decided that no one else seemed concerned so I rolled over and tried to make a break for sleep again. It was my dreams that deciphered the continuing BANGS! to be fireworks… fireworks that fired every ten minutes or so after the church bells sent out a loud warning of the coming firework, and drums and singing in the distance filled in the silence between all the louder noises, coupled with the noise of barking dogs and a night almost too cool and damp to allow for a solid slumber, the weary, beer-tired travellers would have to fight hard to find sleep this night.

I poked my head out of the tent in the morning to find Jenny looking my way, laughing. How was that night, eh? she laughed. We both shook off the tiredness and headed for the showers… we were to go hiking to Devil´s throat with the Dutch man we met the night before. After breakfast of porrige, and with nothing on our backs except some bread and water we began the accent to the waterfall in the mountains. The Dutch man relayed some travel stories and Jenny and Matt exchanged more of theirs. The climb was breath-taking… figuratively and also literally… which is a little concerning considering we would be climbing into Patagonia in a few weeks. Hopefully these practice hikes in the alititude will be of some service for us for the big hike. We parted ways at the top of the trail with the man from Holland so he could climb and explore onward. It was time for us to hit the road soon and we wanted to make the town market before it closed at lunch.

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The Bargain

It was astonishing seeing the immediate change after crossing the Bolivian border to Argentina, we noted the immediate amount of wealth that was all around us. The streets were fully constructed and almost every building we passed was as well. The modern architecture alongside the colonial architecture was very pleasing to the eyes. Our feet clapped against the pavement of the roads that surrounded verdant parks and plazas. The only word that was echoing in my mind was wow.” 

We ventured deeper into Argentina, being further amazed by the luxurious buses that offered air-conditioning, movies, fully reclining chairs (Known as semi-camas and camas, translating to half bed and bed.), and sometimes even offering meals mid-trip depending on what time of day the bus was travelling. It was almost like being in a dream! In Bolivia, not even the bathrooms on the buses functioned if there was one at all! We had definitely crossed into a different realm.

Around seven in the morning, we arrived in Salta in a hazy state somewhere between dreaming and awake. Almost immediately we were bombarded by people advertising hostals, and after declining their offers but taking their fliers, we rushed out of the bus terminal and into the frantic streets. It was a few hours until we found the right place, called Casa De Los Angeles (Which we recommend if you are staying in Salta for a while, it’s amazing!), and afterwards, we began to search for the right car rental company.

Our friends, Jess and Megan, we going to be arriving in two days and we had wanted to get acquainted with the city and find the best car rental package. We checked a few of the international companies, all costing about 5, 400 Argentinian Pesos ($1174 Canadian), and then we stumbled upon a lesser known company called A Anymo Car Rental. Their price was significantly lower, 3,800 AR, because they were founded in 2010 or 2009. The staff was very helpful, spoke to us in English and the price seemed right to us. It was almost too good to be true and as time would tell, it was…

Jess and Meghan arrived at the airport at three in the afternoon. Jenny and I were happy to see them. As we cruised back into the city center in a shuttle bus, Jess and Meghan told us what had happened during the week the spent in Buenos Aires. It was refreshing to hear their stories, which were hilarious and interesting at the same time. The entire day we walked the streets of Salta and then when it was dark, we enjoyed a bottle of Argentina’s delicious wine.

The next day we sealed the deal with A Anymo and the day after, we left Salta heading North to Purmamarca. Everything seemed to be working out. It felt good to have an independent source of travel again as we sped along on the open road surrounded by a vibrant lush forest. No longer we were locked in the confines of the city. However as we drove North, the beauty of the forest began to vanish.

We rolled into the dusty little town of Purmamarca, a town reputed to have a multicolored mountain known as La Montaña de Siete Colores. It was a beautiful sight, seeing all the layers of colors emanating out of the skin of the mountain that towered over the town. Despite its beauty, the real reason we travelled North was to see the blinding salt flats, known as Salinas Grandes. The hour and a half drive through the winding switch back roads was well worth it. The four of us arrived and were eager to stretch our legs across the white sprawling deposit. The slim layer of water atop the flats created the reflection of the horizon. The water’s warm caress was soothing to bare feet as well. One of the tendencies of a tourist while visiting the flats is to take funny photos using perspective. For example, having one person walk off into the distance then coordinating a funny pose with another person that is standing closer to the camera, making it look the smaller person is being eaten by the larger person. We played around with that concept for a while, and then decided to leave the flats to venture into a national park.

The town outside of the park was named, Ledesma. Everything seemed completely normal, it was a calm Sunday afternoon and the streets were relatively quiet. We were parked at a red light waiting for it to change, all the while thinking about how great it will be to spend a night in the jungle. The green light shines and silence is broken by the loud revving of our engine. I look over to see Jenny shifting it into first gear and then proceeding to accelerate. The only problem was that we never moved an inch…

After realising there was a problem, we pushed the car off the road and popped the hood. Everything looked in order. A local saw our predicament and came to help. Minutes passed as we investigated and the conclusion was that the clutch was destroyed. It was strange, we had only driven two days and Jenny was driving the vehicle the way any other person would. The Local offered to call a mechanic and we agreed it was a good idea, but after the call was made and two hours passed, the mechanic never showed and we decided to call the rental company and get a hotel.

The rental company came the next day at five in the evening. They brought their own mechanic and said they would figure out the problem and if we were to blame. We told them what happened and the mechanic popped the hood. After about a minute, the mechanic deduced that we had been revving the engine with the clutch disengaged and “glazed” the clutch. They both told us it was our fault. It didn’t come to a surprise, we thought that it was a little strange for them to bring their own mechanic and tell us not to bring it to one in Ledesma. We argued a few different points, one being the age of the clutch and that it was impossible to burn out a clutch in two days of driving the car in a normal manner. The employee of the rental agency, Armando, said that it happened no other way. We couldn’t believe the ridiculous statement. It was a rental car, how many other people (including the employees) drive these cars? Despite our response, theirs simply remained the same. They told us that they would take the car back to Salta and would further assess it there, and then email us with the results. We were handed a new set of keys and another car to continue our trip into the national park.

The next day, the more we drove into the jungle the further away the issue with last car we had seemed to be. The jungle’s welcoming embrace seemed to ward away the headache and frustration that was the broken clutch. Our moods lifted and we bumped along the rocky road towards the national park.

 

 

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