Journeys in Latin America - January to June 2009

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Around Mendoza - Argentina

A few photos from our 500km trip from Mendoza into the Andean foothills, Uspallata, Puente del Inca near the Chilean border, the our hostel at 2500m at Vallecito, and return to Mendoza.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Mendoza 2

note above pic from weekend of 21st & 22nd Feb - there will be a whole post about our car-hiring driving, viewing appreciating and walking weekend... at the moment i dont have time to put photos on properly, so just a taste of more photos to come...

Hola mis amigos!

This week i have been mostly... learning Spanish. With a degree of success, it has to be said, although since my currently burst of stomach related illness began just in time for me to start my studies, and is now receeding as i am about to complete my 20hrs of teaching, i am tempted to say that i have been laid low by acute spanish poisoning...

But of course it is just an unfortunate co-incidence, and i have learned a lot - most of which i can´t recall, but it is my closer to my lingual grasp than it was, and i am also making headway into the vast forest of words and collecting up as many fruits as i can. The heat continues to be on the limits of comfort at about 35 degrees during the day, but there has been no wind, no rain, and almost no clouds for a week which is never a bad thing.

Last Sunday i went with a group from the hostel i´m staying in on a white water rafting trip on the Rio Mendoza, which took us up towards the Andean foothills where the water was running pretty healthily, supplied by mercifully chilly glacial waters. The river also picked up a lot of silt on the way, so the rafting was more dirty red or brown than white, but it was nevertheless a cracking trip in perfect conditions. We had about 4 hours on the water, rafting grade 3 & 4 rapids through a steep-sided and parched valley, with cacti & huge grasses visible along the less thirsty river side. After the trip we returned to the little village where the rafting company was based amongst beautiful shady trees (including peach trees & a few tomato vines) & got stuck in to an asado (roast) to finish off. My first "organized" escapade and it was pretty enjoyable.

So now, i have one day further of spanish learning, so ive got to get "home" and do my "homework"... at the weekend i´m thinking of hiring a car with another couple of folk from the hostel and heading up north a couple of hours form here where apprently there are some good walks and "other stuff" which is worth seeing... will update on the nature of the "stuff" if and when i ever see it!

thats all for now,


Friday, 13 February 2009


Almost all the wine in Argentina is made here. I have drunk some of it, and i have to say that my mouth has been very appreciative - i guess you can spend the same as you would for a decent bottle in the UK and get a cracking locally produced delight here to savour with the ubiquitous steak.

The hostel i´m staying in now in Mendoza is brilliant - Hostel Lao. Its just exactly what i think a hostel should be, with friendly relaxed staff, loads of nice people, excellent dorms, a nice little garden sitting area with hummingbirds drinking from beautiful red flowered trees, hammocks, guitars, and just a generally very nice feel to it.

So i have decided to stay for the whole of next week and study some Spanish (although they definately speak argentinian here...). 20 hours of one-to-one with a teacher, and i´m guaranteed to be completely 100% fluent by 5 o´clock next friday evening. splendid... I was planning on doing this in Buenos Aires but i think i will have more than enough time in that monsterous city, and would rather keep myself in the nice cosy hamlet of Mendoza´s 1 million inhabitants, each of whom i will probably know by name (again, by about 5pm next friday).

Apart from my throwing myself into an intense self-improvement regime next week, there are a few things that Mendoza seems to offer the interested traveller, the main one of which is tours of the vineyards. This can be done just with a bike, a lot of water, a map, and an ability to retain cycling skills throughout mild intoxification. I may go and do something like that, but it sounds like the sort of activity best done with a group of friends rather than alone, so i´ll see.

Anyway, i´m off now to locate two very important items - a decent pair of shorts, and a replacement for my murikami, i.e. a book that i similarly can´t put down. On the "factual" front, I have been attempting to improve my Argentinian history knowledge which is very "underdeveloped" - to that end i bought a nice little book which i have been trying to plough through - the road names in Chile & Argentina are invariably named after either a major figure in the history of the last few hundred years or a date of something important happening (i.e. 9 de mayo, 10 de noviembre etc etc). Currently i have no idea what revolution, declaration, coup, battle or independence gaining occurred on any of these dates and i feel like i should.

That´s me for now...


Bariloche 2

Hello again...

I did indeed hire a bike for my last few days in and around Bariloche. The sun continued to roast everything, and the sky allowed it free reign with zero clouds. Just generally beautiful.

The best bike trip i did was a classic route called the "circuito chico", a 60km road route that takes in some cracking scenery of the main lake, and some other lakes sandwiched between the main one and the precipitous slopes of some of the mountains to the south and west. The route itself was generally through gorgeous pine forest, with the delightful addition of a sub-forest of bamboo (!) underneath it. I was surprised to see my favourite type of grass inhabiting the shady forest floor; i suppose i just naively associated with asia... anyway, some cracking cycling was had, and some buenas vistas too. The next day i really felt it in the rear region...! Not having ridden a bike for years certainly has allowed a softenening of the posterior, and the next day cycling or sitting of most kinds had to be kept to a minimum.

Most of the rest of the time i spent walking the streets, cycling in random directions and making up little routes in the area, or relaxing and reading. I´ve just finished a collection of short stories by Haruki Murikami ("Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman"), which i thought was terrific, with some great imagery and lovely writing.

But the time came after 5 nights to move on from Bariloche and head even further north to a city (certainly i´m in city territory now - 1 million human inhabitants!). The city of Mendoza, via another splendid bus journey of the much more manageable length of 16 hours...

By the way, i am waiting until i get enough photos to transfer to a CD, and then i will be able to get some onto this blog.


Saturday, 7 February 2009

San Carlos de Bariloche - Argentina

Hey ho! I was planning on doing a full post here but after writing some very hefty e-mails i´m afraid i will have to come back to it for another 2 hour internet session... the sun is shining with all it´s might outside so i really need to go and experience it some more.

I´m in Bariloche, where i arrived 2 days ago via most of Southern Argentina in a 31 hour bus marathon. The sun is out, the foliage is plentiful and splendid, and we´re right on the edge of a rather marvellous lake. Plenty of wandering around to be done, some already enjoyed... I guess we´re now around 40 degrees south, so it´s getting HOT.

I plan on hiring a bike tomorrow to go West about 25kms to the tracks and walks that i have heard are there and that afford magnificent views... More on that after it has occurred.

I had the most terrific burger yesterday - almost too big to physically lift, and crammed with all sorts of wonderfulness - bacon, cheese, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and served with some marvellous papas fritas. It was truly an excellent burger!

But to more interesting nuggets of text this blog will return, possibly on a less marvellous day...!


Monday, 2 February 2009

El Calafate - Argentina

I now find myself in Argentina, and in the sun! It has been highly pleasant wandering around in shorts and t-shirt with impunity...

Another interesting 6 hour bus journey brought me here a couple of days ago - a convoluted route which twisted and turned around to the SE of the Torres del Paine park. A couple of hours took us up to the Chilean Argentinian border, and two stops and a few stamps later I arrived in Argentina - in one of those weird co-incidences that occur now and then, the Canadian couple behind me in the passport-stamping queue knew one of the long serving BAS pilots, but had been out of contact with him for 25 years! I was therefore able to renew that acquaintance for them by providing the necessary e-mail address... Funny how things happen.

I´m afriad i slept through most of the rest of that journey, much to my disappointment, since the landscape is beautiful around that area - drier again than around Puerto Natales, and mostly consisting of low rolling hills with the odd tumbledown farm building here and there. Anyway, the bus got me to El Calafate, on the shore of Lago Argentino, a pretty little oasis. Most people come here to take launch a tour to El Chalten, in particular to see the nearby glacier calving - i however, am not too interested in taking such a bus tour, so i have been enjoying the more immediate and cheaper pleasures growing out of the ground or flying about. Cracking views from the little marshland waterfront a kilometre or two from my hostel, with flamingos, and geese of some kind, as well as other flying things. Plenty of horses to be seen too - a few of them being ridden by chaps that look (at least) like proper "gauchos" (cowboys).

The climate in itself is enough to please me, and it also allows the growth of pretty lush vegetation, and my particular favourite - lavender... I have been writing a lot, drawing quite a bit (i completely stopped doing this in the Antarctic), and working hard on the Spanish until my head hurts - although it hurts a lot more when you´re trying to book a multiple-leg bus trip and are struggling to keep up with the native speakers... Having said that the Argentinians are definately speaking Spanish! I wasn´t so sure in Chile sometimes... it almost had the blurred edges that i remember Hindi & Nepali having - each conversation just consisting of one very long word!

Last night i found out a bit of the less attractive side of staying in dorm rooms - at the moment i am in a small room with 2 bunks in it, and two of the other bunks were suddenly occupied last night by 2 of the noisiest Israelis i have ever come across - for some reason they were leaving early in the morning and therefore had to spend almost 3 hours in the middle of the night sorting out every single piece of their kit, which involved the light being on a much crumpling of plastic bags coupled with loud conversation... thankfully i can sleep through almost anything so it wasn´t too bad, but it´s an interesting thing to watch out for... as a lone traveller though, it is prohibitivey expensive to get a private room since they mostly contain 2 or 3 beds so you´re effectively paying twice or three times the amount just for the right to hear the noise though the walls instead of right near you, and to switch the light off when you want.... not much of a choice really!

It will be much easier i suppose when i meet up with my friend Vic in just over three weeks... This will be a very sweet moment, because she will be the first (and one of the best!) friends from home that i will see after 2 and a half years away from home. Very excited about that...!

So back to Calafate - I have pretty much tramped every street within miles, so it will be time to move on soon. I tried to book a bus ticket to Bariloche for tomorrow, but everything is booked up until Wednesday, so I will be heading North in a big leap during half of Wednesday and all of Thursday (its a 3 part journey of 25 - 30hrs) but which is really the quickest way to get north up the Andes. Bariloche has been recommended to me by quite a few people who have raved about the potential for mountain biking and walking and buenas vistas...

I have not (obviously!) worked out the photo uploading yet, but i will get some photos up soon...

More from Bariloche after that mammoth bus journey in a few days. Rob