Monday, February 22, 2010

Argentina Pictures Are Up

Argentina blog pictures are up!  Traveling from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (the southernmost city of the world) by land.  Includes:  hiking around Bariloche, El Bolsón, and El Chaltén; visiting Glacier Perito Moreno (near Calafate), and hitchhiking with Sophie (a girl met on a long-distance bus) about 1500km down to Ushuaia and then into Puerto Natales, Chile.  In addition to the incredible trekking and mountains vistas, hitchhiking was a great way to travel.  We talked with a lot more local people, drank coffee and listened to cumbia music really loud during a 6-hour ride with a truck driver, and ended up staying in a few random people´s housing, grateful for unseen hospitality offered by the Argentine people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Patagonia Instalation #2: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Cerro Torre, the Fitz Roy, and Glacier Perito Moreno

The summer sun (no, that doesn´t mean it´s warm!) is shining today in El Calafate, Argentina. It´s great to feel its warm rays, and to forget that sun's cousins, rain and wind, are on temporary leave. Since Bariloche, I´ve made my way south over the past week. I spent a few days in El Bolsón (think Seattle or Boulder, yuppie hippies and farmers markets), El Chaltén (the "Trekking capital of Patagonia"), and El Calafate (a tourist town, gateway to Glaciar Perito Moreno). The bus ride from Bariloche to El Calafate is more than 35 hours in duration, along the infamous Route 40, the gravel "highway" along the eastern side of the Andes. While Route 40 is slowly becoming more paved, it is a road literally through nowhere, unless you count the scrubby bushes, dirt, and incredibly expansive views as somewhere. It´s been good to break the journey up with a few stops, and to experience more of Patagonia along the way.

El Bolsón

I spent a few days in El Bolsón, initially huddled in my tent or coffee shops, escaping the wind and rain. However, the sun eventually did shine, and I got in two day hikes, along blue blue rivers and through some nice forests. My first day I hiked with two Argentine ladies, the second day with three climbers from the U.S. who I´d met near Refugio Frey. They were waiting for the weather to clear (this can be a 2-3 week project in Patagonia) so they could return to Refugio Frey and get in some trad climbing.

El Chaltén

On the bus ride from El Bolsón to El Chaltén, I met up with a girl from France (Sophi) and a guy from Isreal (Oren). We ended up heading into the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares together, and had a great time making Israeli coffee, laughing over English-Spanish-Hebrew-French translation errors, and also delighting in the fact that YES, we actually saw Cerro Torre and the Fitz Roy! Before we arrived, people had waited four days or more for views of these incredible rock mountains. On our second day in the park, the skies cleared, and we stared in aw at the ragged beauty of these two formations. After three days/three nights in the backcountry, we all headed out, continuing the trek south.

El Calafate

From El Chaltén to El Calafate Sophi and I hitched a ride with a local singer and her sound guy. The two hours flew by, with great views out the back of our hitched vehicle, and sharing mate (the local tea) and conversation with two Argentineans. Since arrive in El Calafate, Sophi and I rented a car with three other people (it was cheaper than the bus) and visited the Glaciar Perito Moreno ( The glaciar is quite outstanding to see, as small and large chuncks of ice are constantly falling into the lake. The glaciar itself juts out 74 meters above the water; it's very beautiful, and one of the few glaciars in the world that is currently growing, not reatreating.

Our second day in El Calafate was spent as an "administrative day," catching up on emails and sleep. I also had a job (through Skype) interview with a company that leads international trips for students - Putney (, based out of Vermont. The interview went great, I was offered a job, and will spend the month of July co-leading a group of students in either Costa Rica, El Salvador, or Argentina. I´m excited to try education from a more experiential, out-of-the-classroom perspective, and also guide high school students through the experience of traveling and communicating in a different country. This means that I actually have plans (yikes!) and will be making my way back to Colorado mid-June after flying back up to the U.S. for leader orientation in Vermont.

Continuing South...

In just an hour or so, Sophi and I will pack up, again heading south. However, this time the hope is to arrive at Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego "por dedo" - a.k.a hitchhiking. It´s pretty common and safe to hitchhike in Patagonia, and also a lot more interesting, with more contact time with local people. Hopefully I will be able to post again in a few days, (2-4?) from the southernmost part of the Americas! Wish us luck!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Patagonia Instalation #1: Let There Be Snow

When I first got down to Patagonia, I emailed Ueli, a Swiss guy Hana and I had a great time trekking with in Nepal, and told him how excited I was to be here. Ueli emailed me back (he´d traveled southern Argentina and Chile before) and the last line he wrote was: "Have a good time and enjoy the southern sun. There will be wind and rain too:-)..." In my first days of summer sun in Patagonia, I brushed off the "weather warning." However, it was only a few days later that I realized how right Ueli was! He knew that even though the sun was shining for a moment, there would soon be wind, rain, (and snow!), too.

I´m currently back in Bariloche, after two nights in the mountains. I was trying to do a traverse, over a few passes, but the weather turned bad the first night I was out. It was actually a great introduction to the unbelievable ability of the weather to change around here at a pace unknown to me (and I thought the weather changed fast in Colorado! Patagonia takes it to a whole new level). I hiked up about 12km, and set camp around a lake, near a refugio where there were other people, and a bunch of climbers, hanging out. The afternoon was all sunshine, but towards evening, the wind and rain picked up. When I went to bed, it was raining. When i woke up..hahaha...i thought "Oh, it´s quiet out. So nice. The rain must have stopped." But then i heard soft touches on the roof of the tk tk tk...and thought, uh oh, that´s not rain! Unzipping the tent, and getting powdered with snow in the process, I also found about 4 inches of whiteness outside... Really, it was beautiful, and I love camping in the snow. But not with summer-like clothes! I didn´t have the right equipment to continue an icy/snowy scramble over the pass alone. So, instead of heading down the mountain (what would I do down in the city I couldn´t do up in the mountains?) I decided to stay and hung out with some people. I drank the day away with coffee and mate (Argentine tea, passed around between friends), and reading a bit as well. It ended up being really pleasant. However, the second night I found myself curled up in my 32 degree bag in definitely less than 32 degree weather, wearing everything I had on. In the middle of the night, after dumping my back out, I curled up on top of in search of anyway to insulate myself from the ground (oops...didn´t have a sleeping pad). The following morning after a leisurely breakfast of rice noodle soup (I definitely learned that in Laos), I headed back down the mountain to Bariloche, admits the freezing rain and wind (this is summer...hahaha...).

The hostel I´m at is pretty sweet - it´s filled with lots of super chill Argentineans and Chileans. I was planning on taking off today for El Bolsón, but I decided to hang out and read a bit, cook dinner again with some Argentineans, and catch up on the "administrative part" of traveling (i.e. this blog). While I´m not trekking through the wilderness at the moment, I am connecting to local travelers, which fits into what I´d hoped to find in South America. Headed south...more to come (soon).

A Few Days in Buenos Aires

Thoughts from Buenos Aires (email excerpts)...

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im in buenos aires, with a dog sleeping under my feet, and a cute kitty named felix running around. today i toured the city by bicycle with cecilia - the woman's house i'm staying at (note: i connected up with cecilia and alejandro through SERVAS ( similar to Hospitality Club ( it was really generous of her to take time to show me around. we took the train into the city (buenos aires has great public transportation) and then cycled around. most notable (or interesting for me) was seeing the plaza de mayo, where women still come every thursday to protest the disappearance of their sons...over 30,000 people disappeared (los desaparecidos) during the military dictatorship in the late 70's-early 80''s really tragic. it was good to see the monument, and reflect on the mothers that still come, in protest, to the human rights violations that took place.

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staying with cecilia and alejandro was great...i played with their animals, went to an asado (think a barbecue of cow that lasts 3-4hours plus wine/beer), and simply enjoyed meeting regular people. a hostel in the city. will probably stay here one more night, might move if i can find something cheaper...

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it's weird speaking spanish again. ha. it´s not like friends in india who are so used to moving back and forth multiple's taking me a bit to be able to do the same. it's like i operate in either english or spanish, but not both simultaneously. i'll find myself choking on my own thoughts as i walk down the street, because i'm thinking in spanish and can't remember a word. :) ha. it's kinda funny. it'll get all sorted out after being here awhile.

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buenos aires is different than all of the other latin american capitals i've been in (guatemala city, san salvador, managua, san jose, quito). it's a lot calmer - traffic obeys the laws - and it's also a lot more european. both culturally, in the food (pizza and pasta and bread. yikes!!! where's the rice??), and also that most people in the city are really light skinned. like, people can't tell just by looking at my that i'm not argentinean. it's a very different experience for me...than even walking around quito, for example, or another part of latin america. i almost feel more like i'm back in spain, for all those reasons, than in south america.

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i've been debating since i arrived if i should go to uraguay or's really just right around the corner...and i'd be great to see another country...but the only thing to do really is go to the beaches and beach hop for a week or so (but i'm not really in the mood for beaches). otherwise, the transportation costs to get there for a quick trip just aren't worth it. i decided today that the mountains are calling me. i was looking at a book today with different trails/routes...and oh made my heart sing just thinking about possibilities. so, i'm headed to bariloche on the 29th, a 22hr. bus ride, arriving sometime on the 30th. from there...i'll spend some time in the lake district around bariloche, and eventually start making my way south, hopefully hopping on and off some day hikes to 3-5 day circuits...should be great. i got a confirmation from parque nacional torres del paine (it's pretty well known, i'm sure you've seen pictures of it) and will spend the first few weeks of march volunteering there.

Whirlwind Tour of the USA

It was a whirlwind after leaving India and getting prepared to go to South America. After nearly 22 hrs on a plane (Bangalore --> Delhi 2.5hrs, Delhi --> Chicago 16 hrs, Chicago --> Naples, FL 2.5 hrs) and many more hours in transit, I was able to spend 5 days with my grandparents and mom in Florida. It was great to be back in the US for a few days, mostly to catch up with people, most notably, be on almost the same time zone as everyone! However, those 5 days few by, in the attempt to juggle friends, family, and graduate school applications for the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in the fall. I´m hoping to start a dual degree in Latin American Studies and Community and Regional Planning (think: sustainable communities), but a lot will depend on if I can get funding or not. In the meantime, I have 4 or 5 months to disfrutar (enjoy) in South America.

Southern Perspectives on India

10 Days in Goa

After arriving in Bangalore (India) from Bangkok (Thailand) I met up with Kuttss, who was a leader from my NOLS mountaineering course. He lives in Bangalore part-time, when he´s not in the mountains, and he had time to travel in January. So, it worked to meet up to travel together, and shortly after I landed in India, we headed to the western coast of India to the state of Goa to spend Christmas with one of his friends (Xavier). My friend Hana (also on the NOLS course, we trekked in Nepal together), was also able to meet up with us. Together, Kuttss, Xavier, Matty (another friend), and Hana and I had a great time exploring the un-touristy parts of Goa. We zipped in and out of local beaches on motorbikes, ate delicious home-cooked Goan food (lots of fish curries and rice), visited Portuguese cathedrals from the 15th century, crashed weddings, and lazed around, avoiding the mid-day heat.

During these 10 days, we stayed in Xavier´s village. Throughout the Christmas to New Years season, the village is alive with many events. Because a lot of the villagers work on cruise ships for 9 months of the year (often times as cooks) or in the Gulf (Dubai), the community is seasonal and people take advantage of the times when everyone is back home. It was great fun to watch their week of Christmas and New Years events. Most mornings, there were different sports games such as soccer or volleyball. However, on New Years day, there was the equivalent of sports days. The whole village participated in events such as tug-of-war, egg tosses, short distance and long distance running races, slow cycling "race", and much more. The whole atmosphere was very festive and celebratory.

Speaking of celebrations...we also went wedding crashing two times and to Christmas Eve service. Xavier´s mom was kind enough to dress Hana and I up in sarees, and I learned important lessons such as: 1) don´t sit slouched down or with your legs spread in a saree, very un-lady or un-saree like (I horrified Xavier during Christmas Eve service!), and 2) how to ride a moped "side saddle" with both legs on one side while wrapped up in a saree. Not only was it fun to get to wear a saree, it also helped me understand a bit more how important, and personal, a saree is. For example, for Xavier´s mom to let me borrow a saree (the first time the saree was more basic, the second time fancier) was actually a pretty significant act of trust and sharing. Also, while women often wear a basic cotton saree, a nice, dressy saree could easily cost the equivalent of a prom dress or much much more. According to Xavier and Kuttss, the saree is the "sexiest dress in the world." I don´t know if that´s a fact, but the saree is definitely important to Indians, and like a Western person might say: "You look great in that dress!", an Indian person might say: "Wow, that saree looks really good on you."

A few more notes from Goa..
  • I didn´t realize that some states in India have a significant Christian population. Goa was heavily influenced by Portuguese missionaries, and a lot of that culture and ideology remains. Additionally, in Old Goa, there are many remaining cathedrals built in the Portuguese style.
  • Indians brush their teeth before breakfast so that that their mouth is clean and their food tastes better. One morning Xavier was confused why I was brushing my teeth after breakfast, and I said, "Well, to clean the food off of my teeth after I ate." He was quite confused, and at first I thought both Kutts and Xavier were pulling my leg, but no. They really do brush their teeth before breakfast.  It's just a different perspective, that's all.
  • One of the most hilarious moments of the entire month was probably when Kuttss, Xavier, and Hana and I (both dressed up in sarees) were dancing at a Goan Christian wedding, and the next song they played with the funky chicken. Hana´s jaw dropped and she completely froze, her face to be consumed only moments later with a goofy smile of the irony of dancing this song in India. We all had a great time moving to the funky chicken, 70's rock, and Bollywood/Hindi hits...while also hitting up the free buffet table. I highly recommend wedding crashing (it was a distant connection of Xavier´s, actually) if you can...
  • Realize that everyone, everywhere, has their own "home remedies." For us, if you feel sick, drink Sprite and eat soda crackers. For Xavier in Goa, drink "feni" - cashew liquor. Pour some into a glass, light it on fire, and then drink the warm feni. For Kuttss in Coorg (in the state of Karnataka), drink rum with hot water - you´ll wake up the next morning, good as new.
Kerala, "God´s Country"

From Goa, Kuttss and I headed south along the coast to the state of Kerala. There, we spent a few days with an old school friend of his before heading up off the coast and into the hills. Kerala was coined "God´s Country" by the tourist advertisements and while it is a beautiful state, the constant tourist promotions have made it difficult to navigate for non-tourist prices at times. In Kerala, we hiked up a hill/mountain (2100 meters), visited Fort Kochi (the first Portuguese colony in India, later fought over by the Dutch as well as the British), rode a slow boat through the Kerala backwaters, and watched men walk around in lungis (like a wrap-around skirt, really great for staying cool in the furnace-like heat of the Kerala summers). An interesting note is that Kerala is a communist state, and while the upward mobility of women in society isn´t very progressive, Kerala has succeeded in having one of the highest literacy rates in India, and also has one of the most successful health care systems as well. In Kerala, the predominant language in Malayalam (a palindrome).

The Southermost Point of India, and Northward Through the State of Tamil Nadu

After Kerala, we landed in Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of India. This point of land is the confluence of the Arabian Sea (from the west), the Indian Ocean (from the south), and the Bay of Bengal (from the east). Sunsets and sunrises are a main attraction, as well as it being a pilgrimage destination for many Indians. There is a large monument for Swami Vivekananda (a religious reformer and philosopher, formerly Hindu, who later adopted a spiritual worldview that was less "religion-centered"), a statue of Thiruvalluvar (Tamil poet), and also a Gandhi Memorial (where Gandhi's ashes were kept before being dispersed into the ocean. The memorial was designed in such a way that on Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, the first rays of the sun fall on the exact place where his ashes were kept).

From Kanyakumari, we went up to Madurai, an important Hindu temple town. The temple itself is quite impressive, full of colors and multitudes of figurines. However, it was a bit disappointing to find out that they´d changed the rules, and that foreigners are no longer allowed inside. After a few hours in Madurai, we had enough, and set out on a night bus to Pondicherry.

Pondicherry...Puducherry..Pondy...This formerly French colony has retained a strong French "feel" and culture. It was a fun city to visit, especially during Pongal (a 4-day Hindu harvest festival). We lucked out, and watched a very impressive dance performance that was staged on the street for Pongal. The dancers, a professional dance company, combined modern dance elements with dance traditional to Tamil Nadu, for a spectacular performance accompanied by local music. Overall, we didn´t "do" much in Pondicherry, but enjoyed a few days of moseying around, before starting the journey back to Bangalore.

Bangalore, Once Again

Back in Bangalore, I was fortunate enough to catch up with one of my college running buddies. She happened to see from a Facebook status message that I was in India. Of all the cities for her to be living in, it was great to spend a morning with her, catching up on life, and drinking South Indian filter (local) coffee. The last few days in Southern India flew by, eating my last few dosas (rice pancakes), drinking my last few South Indian coffees, and hanging out once again with Xavier and some of Xavier and Kuttss´ friends.

Saying Goodbye t
o India (for now...)

It might be an understatement so say that I really enjoyed my time in India - I really loved it. Compared to how I felt leaving home, thinking about India, I was surprised I liked it so much. India is a fascinating country. There is so much variety, so many languages, so many different cultural expectations (from when to brush your teeth to not passing a gift with your left hand), that after a month I still felt that I was only scratching the surface in regards to "knowing India." Also, I really enjoyed the food (Southern Indians LIVE on rice...oh so beautiful for my gluten-intolerant stomach) and getting to know local people, from Kuttss to Xavier to Xavier´s family and their group of friends.

Thus concludes nearly 5 months in Asia.  While I valued the opportunity to visit South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia), I don´t know if they are places that I will return to again soon. However, I still feel drawn to exploring in more depth the complexities of culture and natural beauty of India or Nepal. Now I´m off to chasing more mountains and summer sun in South America.