A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008

Ruta 40

Our journey to the end of the earth

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

Our journey on the infamous Ruta 40 started out nice enough. While driving out of Bariloche we were treated to great views of it's pristine lakes and mountains that are all part of Nahuel Huapi National Park. For the first half of the day there were paved roads, several cars and buses zooming past, lots of sheep and horse ranches, and plenty of Patagonian wildflowers to keep our curiosity arroused. At around 3 p.m. the pavement ended and the bus slowed to 30-40 mph, starting to bump, clunk and swerve as the driver navigated the dirt road for the rest of the 24 hour trip.

(Elizabeth´s two cents: If you thought the drive from Boston to Rochester was bad with no exits for 30 mile increments, then don´t do Ruta 40. No exits. No drastic scenery changes. And a ride where you probably should wear bike shorts on the bus for ultimate comfort!)

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As the journey progressed we noticed fewer signs of human life. The sheep were appearing more and more emaciated. A few wild horses and road runners crossed in front of the bus on occassion. Water was scarce, but to my amazement we passed a tiny pond after lunch that had pink flamingos basking in the sun. I wondered what the heck pink flamingos were doing near the end of the earth in the Patagonian desert. Although known for its mountains, Patagonia is primarily desert. I pointed the flamingos out to Elizabeth and she acknowledged them with little reaction. So, I figured I must have missed out on the Patagonian flamingo Discovery Channel special.

As we continued, the sheep were bordering anorexia and not due to a recent sheering! We then saw a strange species that was a cross between a llama and a deer. Elizabeth coined them Llameer, to later find out from a postcard they are really guanacas.

The flamingos had been on my mind for much of the day so I finally said to Elizabeth, "Who would have thought that pink flamingos would be in a place like this?" Apparently she didn't believe there were flamingos in Patagonia either. She thought the pink things in the pond were just pink booeys. Since there didn't appear to be much shipping traffic in the miniature pond, and it certainly couldn´t be designated a swimming area with population zero, we were at a loss as to which one of us was halucinating.

Moving on, we stayed the night in one of the few towns between Bariloche and El Chaltén called Perito Moreno of which there is nothing to say except our hotel was very sketchy. As efficient as it sounds, think twice about staying at a place where you can shower, brush your teeth, and go to the bathroom all at the same time.

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The next day, another 12 hour drive where the land became more barren. The amazing thing was we still stared out the window and enjoyed the scenery. Perhaps in amazement of the emptiness of this large landscape. We did see one strange species on this day, a group of mountain bikers biking the desolate Ruta 40! It probably took them at least a couple of weeks to complete the road.

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Nearing 10 p.m. and still light outside, things finally started to spring to life. We reached a huge lake, mountains, a river, sheep and horses as we neared El Chaltén. What a journey!

We spent a few days in El Chaltén, a city built circa 1985 that used zero urban planning skills. Built by a bunch of 20-something mountain guides for the sole purpose of trekking in Parque Nacional los Glaciares, this town has very little character, lots of old beater cars lying around, half built houses, and a location smack in the middle of a long, windy valley (this place might beat Mt. Washington in the Whites for avg. wind speed!)

(Elizabeth´s two cents: I´m taking the title of ´windy city´away from Chicago. They don´t deserve it! In El Chalten I could barely get my footing outside to make progress down the road. )

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Never-the-less we enjoyed two days of hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy. The hikes were long, but not too difficult. The first day was a beautiful six hour hike to Glaciar Torres. The highlight was on the way back when we learned a very valuable travel lesson. A herd of llamas came stampeding down the trail followed by their owner. Elizabeth and I jumped out of the way, but they were eventually slowed by a group of German hikers. The llama owner politely asked , "permiso?" which in spanish is short for "please permit me (and my llamas) to pass." I'm afraid in German it might mean "you are permitted to hug the animal." The owner quickly yelled and stopped the embarrassed German girl from petting the llama before it bit her hand off. It gave Elizabeth and I a good laugh for the better part of the two hours left in the hike. Moral of the story, if you don't understand the language, be careful what you assume someone is saying to you!

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The wind on the second day was so strong that Elizabeth couldn´t stand up straight, so started, but didn´t feel comfortable completing the hike. I went on and was rewarded with a truly special view of Fitz Roy Mountain and Laguna de los Tres. This glacial lake was such a bright emerald green I was suspicious the glaciar was contanimated with anti-freeze! Beautiful never-the-less.

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Elizabeth couldn´t take the wind anymore, so we got back on Ruta 40 and headed to El Calafate, a town with a lot more charm, artesenal shops, and home to one of the few expanding glaciers in the world, the Perito Moreno Glacier. We did an ice trek around the glacier and were awed by its immensity. The amazing thing is that the Perito Moreno Glacier is a tiny fraction of the immense size of the Patagonian ice field that it is attached. The glacier is 8 km wide and the ice cap is 84 km wide and nearly as long as Patagonia itself. Another interesting fact is that the glacier exists below tree line near sea level and in a relatively warm climate due to the snow generated by the Pacific Ocean and Andes Mountains. We enjoyed listening to the loud cracking and splashing as large chunks of ice continually broke and fell into the water. It was so loud that it could have been confused for sounds of a war going on in the distance.

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(Elizabeth´s two cents: A few other notes about El Calafate. Dave found an inexpensive wedding ring to wear during our year trip. Although his bargaining skills aren´t up to Chernack standards, he is now wearing a fantastic, unique ring made by a local artist. ((Dave´s two cents: Who bargains for a ring that costs just over $18 U.S.?)) Also in El Calafate, there was a power outage while we were using an ATM machine. Dave´s card got sucked in and never popped out. The next day we spent several hours at the bank, where lines are worse than any deli counter during Thanksgiving. Good news though...he got his card back! To kill time while he was in the bank, I went to the drug store to get anti-itch creme for some bug bites. With my little Spanish, I simply pulled up my pant leg to show the pharmacist the bites. He said, aha, and came back with several Veet hair removal products. I got a good laugh on that one and got the subtle hint too! With a little more charades, I was successful and left with calamine lotion.)

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Over the past few weeks we've also been getting to know great people from all over the world. Tonight we had drinks with Jelle and Evelyn from Holland, Kath from South Africa, and Syndey from Atlanta, Georgia. One of the best parts about meeting up with other travellers is sharing stories and getting their thoughts and tips on places we may visit in the future.

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In El Calafate we also solved the pink flamingo mystery with yet another informational post card. Sure enough, pink flamingos migrate to these parts during the Patagonia summer (Nov. - May).

We're now in Puerto Natales, Chile, and off of Ruta 40. This is our launching point for our trek in the Torres del Paine National Park where once again we'll be out of internet range. So, until we arrive in Punta Arenas (the land of penguins), signing off!

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 10:53 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

Bunking in Bariloche

Our week in Bariloche, Argentina

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

Most honeymooners sleep on a king size bed covered in rose pedals. Dave and I prefer bunk beds .... at least our wallets do. Thus, we bunked in Bariloche for the week!
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Bariloche, Arg. is another Swiss-like ski village in the lakes region of Argentina. It is the entry way to Patagonia where all of the glaciers are located. In appearance it is a cross between San Francisco with curvy streets and Lake Tahoe with a pristine lake surrounded by beautiful mountains.
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We were here for seven nights, a bit longer than needed. The week started slow with a chair lift ride up to Cerro Campanario for a lazy man´s view of Bariloche. Our second hike to the top of Cerro Lopez took a little more skill. It took five hours and was steep, starting on very dry and rocky ground, finishing at a snow topped peak.
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Our third hike was around a popular trekking and bike circuit called Circuito Chico at Parque Municipal Llao-Llao. Here we enjoyed our typical lunch of the most fabulous sweet croissant (stolen from our free breakfast) with sliced tomato and avocado bought from our favorite neighborhood produce store.
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Even on the go, we also appreciate the traditional siesta where everything closes from 12:30 - 4:30 p.m. This is a lengthy siesta, but in a town where the nightlife starts at 1 a.m. and goes until 7 a.m., it is much needed.
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Our 9 p.m. dinners cooked in our hostel, Hostel 41 Below, were considered early by Argentinian standards.
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In Bariloche for dessert, and breakfast, lunch and dinner where applicable, chocolate is the food of choice, originating from the city´s Swiss ancestry. Without hesitation, Dave and I took a self-guided and self-created chocolate tour, hitting two factories and several shops on popular Mitre and Moreno streets. In addition to free samples galore, we bought one or two items from each store to make sure they were safe for the general public ; - )
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After three shops, I was on to something. One of the most popular chocolates was fudge with a mint center. Aha....Andes Candies, a favorite of Dave and my grandmothers'. We suspect some American entrepreneur stole the idea and brought it back to the U.S. for us all to enjoy!
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To close, just a few other observations on Bariloche:
- The town mascot is the St. Bernard, although a smattering of other street dogs are everywhere.
- No one in this town can make change. The bank even sent us to a change store, who then tried to send us back to the bank.
- This is a very expensive South American town. We found that activities like rafting and kayaking, and lodging were double the price from neighboring Chile and from what we´ve heard, more than quadruple the price of Bolivia.
- Like most of South America the plumbing is not what we are used to in the States. Flushing systems are unique and all toilet paper must be thrown into the bucket. Oh the smell!
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At 6 a.m. tomorrow, we head on the legendary Ruta 40, a three-day bus ride down a dirt road to the epicenter of the Patagonia region.

Until then,
- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 08:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

Feels like home

Rest and recovery in Pucon, Chile

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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Volcan Villarrica. The main attraction in Pucon, Chile

Our stay in Pucon, Chile, was pretty low key. Elizabeth had already been there and since she unsuccessfully attempted to summit the main attraction, the Villarrica Volcano, three times, and I was recovering from a bad cold, we decided to take it easy and enjoy the quaint, Swiss-like ski town. We did manage a mountain bike ride through some beautiful ranches with views of the area's three volcanoes and a few waterfalls. (Although getting there came with a few hurdles. Elizabeth, a novice mountain bike rider, fell off her bike towards the beginning of the ride and wasn't a happy camper until paved roads returned. I'm still working on toughening her up for the mountains.)

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The beach in Pucon

Before we started our around the world adventure I imagined that being ill overseas might make us home sick, highlighting the fact that we're gone for a whole year. To my surprise it didn't. We are only in our second location together, but I asked Elizabeth if she felt like we were traveling yet and far from home. She said no. I then offered a theory about this to her, "I think it's because to me, you are my home... it doesn't matter where we are in the world, as long as I'm with you, I feel at home."

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View from the bus on our trip entering the Chilean Andes and then into Argentina on the way to Bariloche

We're now in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, an easy nine hour bus ride through the Andes with plenty of amazing mountains, as well as volcanoes popping out of nowhere to keep us occupied. Bariloche is a beautiful town with a lot of outdoor activities. Now that I'm over my cold we can't wait to get out there!

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Crossing the border into Argentina

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 13:13 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Traveling with Chernack

Our first days together ...

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

As my plane was pulling away from Logan with the beautiful skyline in the background, it finally hit me that I am not returning to Boston for at least one year. The trip to Santiago, Chile, was without incident, although the couple sitting in front of me told the flight attendant they were just married and heading on their honeymoon. She graciously brought them free champagne. My longing for Boston was quickly replaced by jealousy for my husband and a nice bottle of free bubbly! I was heading on my honeymoon too, but without Dave by my side, I figured it would be a tough sell. Moral or the story...don´t start your honeymoon solo : - )

Dave and I met up at the airport in Santiago. His friend Fernando picked us up. First stop was the bus station, so we could buy our tickets to Mendoza, Argentina, for five relaxing days in wine country. For those of you who don´t know, traveling with Chernack always entails a little more adventure than you bargained for and this time it didn´t take long.

I had been with Dave for about one hour when we found out the border crossing between Chile and Argentina just closed (Argentinian custom officers are striking for higher salaries) and wouldn´t be open until Friday at the earliest, so Dave and I will get a bottle of Malbec later and head to Pucon, Chile instead, as we need to get south. Pucon is a town at the base of an active Volcano, which I attempted to climb three times with Wendy a few years ago.

For our one night and two full days in Santiago, Fernando treated us like royalty. We stayed in his girlfriend Valeria´s home (a one bedroom, one bathroom, lodge) situated in the back of her parent´s house.

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It is common for children to stay at home until they are married even when they are in their 30´s and 40´s. (I can only imagine!)

For dinner Valeria´s family made us a traditional Chilean meal full of steak, sausage, potatoes, wine and an odd, yet tasty combination of Fanta orange soda and lager beer. Fresh apricots from a backyard tree and pisco sour (a lemon alcohol) were served for dessert.

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Valeria, Fernando, mama Lola and papa Juan.

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Fernando kept us busy during the day. We went to a large, outdoor craft market, a bizarre cheese, olive oil, and jam trade show, and one of the busiest malls I´ve ever been too with every store you can imagine, including live entertainment in the outdoor courtyard. Plus we met a famous, yet extraordinarily kind and humble Chilean athlete, Christian Bustos, a friend of Fernando´s, who ironically works for Boston based New Balance in Santiago. The mall security guard was in awe of Christian, a man who had a great career and was wildly respected in his country, even earning a visit with Chile´s President.

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Pueblito Los Dominicos market in Los Condes, Chile.

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The boys enjoying some java at the market!

And before hopping on an overnight bus to Pucon I took a spinning class that Fernando (a professional triathlete and sports coach) was teaching.
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Now in Pucon, I can report I wasn´t sitting next to any livestock on the bus, but the snoring and snorting was out of control. I was awake for most of the 10 hour journey and I wasn´t even allowed to stare out the window. For security reasons all shades had to be closed for the duration of the ride. Hmmm.

We´ll be back in Santiago to do more historical adventures in six weeks.
- Eliz

Posted by daveliz 12:21 Archived in Chile Comments (5)

¡Obama Ganado!

Machu Picchu Experience

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View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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Ellen, Fredi, and Pat at the start of the 4 day Inca Trail trek.

I knew that hiking the Inca Trail was going to be a great time, but I didn't imagine how special the experience would be for me. Trekking on a trail built by Incan architects more than 500 years ago (way ahead of their time) for Incan royalty to travel, was enough to get me excited about the hike. I also found it interesting/ironic that a huge part of the region's economy is based on the work of an empire destroyed by conquistadors who are still a major influence in South American culture. Today's Andinos give thanks to the Incas by carrying on their traditions, Quechua language and culture. The trail itself meanders through old Peruvian ranches, ancient Incan ruins and spectacular mountainous scenery. The ranches are still farmed by Andinos using oxen to plow irrigation channels for their crop. On our hike, we saw these methods being passed down to a new generation of Andinos, as a young girl copied her mother picking weeds out in the field.

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Andino Woman and daughter at one of our rest stops.

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Old fashion plowing.

I backpacked with my 2nd cousins (in Latin American culture they are considered my aunts) Pat and Ellen who are two of the most fun, outgoing & friendly travelers to be with. We met many other trekkers all who are always friendly and many Peruvian locals all who are incredibly kind.

This was luxury backpacking! All of our heavy stuff was carried by porters. All we had to carry was enough water, snacks and rain gear for the day's hike. The porters are absolutely incredible. They carried all of the heavy stuff in huge, makeshift backpacks, and with just sandals on their feet, they ran up and over 14,000 foot mountain passes. The lifestyle of a porter is grueling but they do it with a smile on their face. After a 4 day trek they return home to wash their belongings, leave their 300 soles ($100 US, tip included!) earnings with their family and then get in line in the town center to get hired for the next trek. As if the trek wasn't enough, they play soccer for hours while waiting to get hired!

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Ellen with Quintin, one of our porters. Salkantay (15025 ft) in the background.

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Porter tending to his foot.

We began the trek by giving our group a name. Since we knew we wouldn't see the results of the election for a few days after the election, we decided to name our team El Camino para Obama (a.k.a The walk for Obama). People we met from all over the world were rooting for Obama. It was apparent that this election was important not only to us in the U.S., but to people in other countries too. On Nov. 6 (2 days after the election results were announced), at one of the most stunningly beautiful spots on the trek, Phuyupatamarka, our guide Fredi had enough cell phone coverage to call his friend to find out what happened. We nervously waited, finally hearing him say two wonderful words "¡Obama Ganado!" (Obama won!).

We cheered so loudly in celebration that others in the area caught on and joined us. Everyone was overwhelmed with emotion from the news and the amazing scenery. It was such a magical moment! On our way back from Machu Picchu to the base town of Cusco our taxi driver put it best, "Espero que Obama resuelve muchos de los problemas que enfrentan en los EE.UU. y los que nos enfrentamos en el mundo (I hope Obama helps to solve many of the problems you face in the US and we face in the world.)" He was expressing hope rather than doubt... what a nice change from the last 8 years! All I could say was, "Mi tambien, mi tambien." (Me too, me too)

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Just after we found out Obama had won at Phuyupatamarka.

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The view from Phuyupatamarka.

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Another view from Phuyupatamarka with the original Inca Trail. Salkantay (15025 ft) in the background.

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Machu Picchu reveals itself through the clouds on the way down from the Sun Gate.

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Descending into Machu Picchu

- Dave
(see the photo gallery for more pictures from the trek)

Posted by daveliz 11:58 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

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