Patagonia!

Trip Start Aug 09, 2006
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Flag of Argentina  ,
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Although, I`ve been in a couple different cities since last writing, Bariloche sticks out the most.  Lots of good times there.  But first, after going back to Buenos Aires from Uruguay, a friend from the last trip was having a birthday party.  So I gathered a few folks from the hostel and had a killer time.  The whole time, the DJ was playing American 80s pop music so it was pretty funny.  The next day, met up with a friend from back in Rio.  It has been great in Buenos Aires and Montevideo to catch up with people.  Did a little more sight-seeing in BA:  Palermo Viejo, the zoo (cool), Japanese Garden (dumb), and a Planetarium (horrible).  Then an English friend asked if I was down for going to Bariloche and skiing/snowboarding.  I was definitely ready to leave the city by then.
 
Best bus trip ever.  Was a double decker, and we were in the front on top.  So nobody leaning back, unlimited leg space, and two gigantic windows in front.  Along with 3 movies, about 7 meals, wine, whiskey, you name it.  The countryside was pretty boring.  Flat, lots of cows, very unexciting, just played poker to pass the time.  Was an overnighter, so when morning came it was pretty amazing.  Very different environment.  Early morning colors, the Andes covered with snow, and the bus was weaving between gorgeous lakes and pines.  Entered Huapi park, and arrived in Bariloche.
 
A lot colder, but a great feeling to be in this type of environment after BA.  Arrived in the early morning, so we rushed around renting or buying stuff so we could hit the mountain the same day.  You take a bus from Bariloche up the mountain, Cerro Catedral, and it lasts about 40 minutes.  But it goes along a lake and the setting is absolutely gorgeous.  And then from the top of the mountain, also gorgeous.  There are other places that get better snow or are better skiing than Bariloche, but there can`t be many more prettier settings.  The mountains, curvy lakes, snow, and trees.  And on the top of the mountain you can see condors swooping around.
 
It almost seems like the town tries to be Swiss.  There is chocolate everywhere, big St. Bernard dogs you can have your picture with, and the snow sports of course.  Its pretty touristy, but its easy not to care because you have such a good time.  I decided I wanted to snowboard and there was a guy at the hostel who was an instructor back in the states, so for a couple drinks he gave me a lesson.  First day, I could make it down the hill, second day could ride on the toe edge, and the third day was going down black trails.  It would be difficult to become very good and do crazy tricks while snowboarding, but it is pretty easy to pick up and be able to do basic stuff.  Its also a ton more fun than skiing.  Given the option, I would do it over skiing any day.  And when there was a ton of snow on the ground, wiping out on a snowboard is a lot of fun (its just hard sometimes to crawl out of the hole you made).
 
So, I stayed in Bariloche for 2 weeks skiing, snowboarding, or hiking in the parks and mountains.  The two weeks blend together so I`m not even sure where to start.  Had a ridiculous amount of fun here and met a lot of awesome people that made it easy to stay for so long.  Wish I took more pictures instead of just relying on people to email me theirs.  But this was a great couple of weeks.  There is plenty more to tell about the time in Bariloche, but this will have to do.  Great places, great people, great times, good old-fashion fun.
 
After enough rainy days in a row, decided to move on.  A guy on a chair lift once told me about a spot he thought was even prettier, so I decided to go there, to Esquel.  Coming to Patagonia in the winter has had its advantages, but here is where I first noticed some of the disadvantages that would get me for awhile.  Transportation options are pretty bad because it is not the tourist season.  So, I ended up being stuck in Esquel for more time than I wanted.  There is the Old Patagonian Express train that still runs a little tourist route, but wasn`t leaving for a few days and I didn`t want to stick around.  So took a visit to the park nearby.  It is known for its alerces trees, which are super old.  Seeing lots of trees that are hundreds of years old, and one specifically that was 2,600 years old.  Pretty weird to think about it - but for being so old it wasn`t as tall as I thought.  The park was pretty, and I did a bunch of hiking and took a boat across one of the lakes to get to the trees, but I still think it would be way cooler in the summer.  It was a pretty cold hike. 
 
While I´m thinking about it, siesta time is starting to annoy me.  It`d be awesome if I was working.  But if you`re not, you can count on not getting anything done between 1 and 5pm.  No food, nothing.  And it is the worst in small towns like Esquel.  Just like Brazil, I`ve had a hard time adjusting to the eating times:  pretty much nothing for breakfast, 1pm lunch, and 9pm supper.  If you`re not on that schedule, hope you`ve got some stuff in the fridge.
 
Not a whole lot interested me on the western border of Argentina.  So went east, to Puerto Madryn.  The weird looking Penninsula Valdès sticking out of Argentina right there at Puerto Madryn is full of cool stuff.  Sea lion colonies, elephant seals, Commorson dolphins, whale watching (Southern Right Whale), and Magellenic penguins are all over the place.  Actually, this whole eastern coast seems to be full of these things, but Penninsula Valdès especially is full of the whales.  So wanted to do some whale watching.  Their season was just starting, as well as the penguin season, so good timing.  Didn`t expect a whole lot from the whale watching, but I gotta say that it was pretty amazing.  They seriously have no problem, mother and calf, coming right up to the boat.  I think the boat has to stop 100m from them, but then the whales actually approach the watercraft.  Very curious, swimming under it and stuff, spraying everybody with water, mother and calf swmming over and under each other.  I was really impressed.  Even if you`re on the sidewalk walking around town, it is amazing because you can easily see them.  At times, they can`t be more than 15-20 meters off from shore, no exaggeration.  Saw a couple breaches, from a long distance though.  Was my first whale watching excursion ever and it`ll be tough to top.
 
Seeing seals and stuff didn`t really interest me.  Have seen a billion and went snorkeling with them on the Mexico trip.  So, the biggest penguin colony in South America is at nearby Punta Tombo.  5 of us at the hostel got together, rented a car, and headed down there (Otherwise, the cost to get there, tour, or whatever is ridiculous.  One thing about Patagonia, some of the things you want to go do or see, you need a car to get to since no buses go there.  Different from Brazil that way).  It is about 2.5 hours south of Puerto Madryn, but it was really worth it.  I drove the whole thing, so that was cool.  Although the scenery is nothing.  Somehow the park guy believed I was Argentine (foreigner prices at every park or attraction are way higher - ie, here 10 pesos for native, 40 for gringos).  This is the season that the penguins are arriving for breeding after swimming nonstop since April.  By October and November, there will be eggs, and early next year little chicks.  Then feeding before everybody leaves again in April.  Would be cool to come back and see the little ones, but it was cool anyway.  There are penguins seriously everywhere.  And they`re just hanging out living with guanacos, very strange.  Not afraid of humans either.  And you just can watch them pop out of the ocean, one by one, stretch, shake off, then march up the beach and off to their holes that the males fix up before the females arrive.  Everything was beautiful here.  Super cool trip.  Actually, have some pretty cool movies of the whales and penguins but they`re way to big to upload here.  On the way back to Puerto Madryn, stopped off in Trelew and Gaiman, a couple of old Welsch towns, but that was a pretty pointless detour.
 
The plan is to head south, then swing back up on the Chilean side.  Down here, the stuff might not excite you guys as much, given how much time you`ve spent in Alaska.  There are a few things of interest between Puerto Madryn and where I am now, Rio Gallegos, but like I said, getting there is impossible without a car or a huge bankroll.  And there was no way I was going to find 4 others to split car costs to go to a petrified forest or a cave with old hand paintings, so I`m scrapping it.  Not a whole lot here in Rio Gallegos, but I think its been my first day of good weather (freezing but at least clear) in a couple weeks.  It's a big city with not too much for out-of-towners to find interest in.  But really, the whole eastern Patagonian coast is full of wildlife interests, but I figure you seen one, you seen em all.  So no more penguin or seal watching stuff probably.  Off to the end of the world tomorrow.  Going to the city closest to Antarctica, during its wintertime.  Brilliant!

(Truth is, I`m pretty excited for this leg of the trip)
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