Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carnaval in Floripa! Drag queens, caipirinhas, samba and white beaches…

Three flights. Three effing flights. Never again will I book a trip to somewhere with two stopovers. This time even the second flight left an hour late so made second change was a bit more “exciting”. But these are the things a girl needs to do to get to a nice carnival! So I flew from Argentina to Brazil, from Salta to Florianópolis (=Floripa), on the Thursday before the Carnaval. The Carnaval - a Catholic holiday - is a major event all over Brazil, in most places in South America as well as many places in the rest of the world as well. The Brazilian Carnaval though seems to have nothing to do with anything that resembles a religious holiday ;)

I had heard that Floripa is one of the nicest places to see the carnival in the southern Brazil. I manage to get the (idiotic) flight and a hostel there so I was all set! I was staying in the island in front of the city of Florianópolis, Ilha Santa Catarina, as most tourists do. The island is full of beaches and funky “towns” or neighbourhoods and there’s a lake as well. My spot was at the lake, Lagoa de Conceição. Lagoa is pretty much in the center of the island and there's plenty of shopping, restaurants, bars and hostels. Also kite surfing spots!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Salta - and final words on Argentina

I guess I needed some rest after all the touring during my Argentina leg of the trip so I decided I wouldn’t do anything in Salta. And it worked out pretty well. I was responding to emails, making updates on my blog, arranging photos, booking a flight… ok so not totally relaxing. But it was nice to not have a set “day plan”, I just walked around in the city – and somehow always managed to do that during siesta. Salta really closes down  for siesta, unlike some of the more “touristy” towns along my road.

One of the prettiest parks I've seen, in the center of Salta

Friday, February 24, 2012

The many colors of Northern Argentina - Jujuy

One of the most interesting places on my trip was the Jujuy region in the Northern Argentina. I was recommended to go there by a Porteño friend of mine Maria so I had put it on my long list. Jujuy or more specifically San Salvador de Jujuy is 90km north of “the capital of the Northern Argentina” Salta and wanted to make a visit there before Salta. I left Mendoza Saturday at noon and arrived to Jujuy at 8 am the next morning. I woke up a bit before we arrived so I got to “enjoy” the breakfast they served in the bus (tea or coffee, alfajor-cookie, bisquits and jam) and enjoy the views as we passed between green fields, forest covered hills and mountains.

I was fairly tired and moreover tired of travelling, packing, unpacking, walking, carrying my backpack… So doing nothing special for one day sounded like a good idea. I was relaxing in the hostel, playing with the kittens that lived in hostel roof, walked a bit around the town. I had a super heavy steak dinner in a nice restaurant (and it was cheap there!) and was ready sleep quite soon after that.

Lots of beautiful churches... 
The empty streets of Jujuy on Sunday

Vines and wines – Say Malbec, you’re in Mendoza!

Thanks for the beautiful Northern Argentina, the amazing Brazilian Carnaval and all the great people I've met I'm again behind on my blog. But no worries, I've used all (well some parts) of the long bus rides to write stuff and organise pictures so I can start making blog posts during all the quiet moments I have - so many fun stories & gorgeous pictures to share!

So --- I’m becoming an expert in long bus rides. Another 19 hours of sitting (with over two hours circling the different terminals in Neuquén) I got myself from Bariloche to Mendoza. Thankfully the bus seats are comfy, there are TVs with crappy movies and if you bring your own snacks, warm clothes (OMG tone down on the air con!) and some light entertainment – like your laptop – you’ll have a somewhat relaxing day ahead.

It was morning when I arrived in Mendoza. I had managed to pick a nice hostel again, this happened to have been voted the best hostel in South America (by hostelworld users, one myself). My bed wasn’t free that early but I got myself all cozied by in a hammock in the garden, frankly I was a bit tired. So after noon I was ready to venture out to the city.

My bible (Lonelyplanet) told me that Mendoza was once been eradicated by an earthquake and after that was built with wider avenues and larger plazas to help clearing out the next disaster – very nice for walking around and people watch. I walked through most of the leafy downtown which I admit was nice but it missed some of the wibe of Buenos Aires. Couldn’t put my finger on it but it wasn’t as interesting.

I headed towards the San Martin park and the sheer size of it just hit me when I arrived. It was something in the scale of Central Park, maybe even bigger, I think the full length was around 5km? So forget about walking through all the park, actually you can drive through the various tree lined streets. Unfortunately the park also lacked all the charm. Just a trees here and there and worn down grass, t didn’t invite you to walk around the green areas, you’d basically just stroll around the streets. The lake was quite pretty and there I found some flowers as well. There was a big tennis club where there was also a pool – that looks like a nice way to spend a hot day and I’m sure that’s where the city people flock during the weekends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lakes lakes lakes – Bariloche

After the icy adventures in El Calafate I got on yet another bus, this time it would be the longest bus ride of my life (so far): 28 hours. We’d leave at 4pm from El Calafate and arrive 8pm the following day to Bariloche. I met some people at my hostel who were taking the same bus so I didn’t feel too lonely on this ride. The bus was a nice “cama” class bus with only three seats in one row, a footrest and plenty of space for a tiny person like myself. This ride also came with some meals.

So what to do in a bus for 28 hours? Eat. Listen to your mp3-player til your ears start to hurt. Watch movies on the bus TV screens (we had some English speaking movies on this one, yay!). Arrange your pictures and write stuff your blog on your laptop. Organise your mp3-player because you get bored of your playlists. Read a guidebook and plan the next couple weeks of your trip. Sleep. And sleep some more. Luckily I have no problems sleeping in moving vehicles at the moment so I think I slept at least 10 hours. The rest of the time went very fast too. We stopped maybe three times on the way to stretch our legs and once to change a bus.

After what felt like 10 hours we arrived to Bariloche, the Argentinian lake district. This was another “ski resort look-alike” kind of town but bigger than El Calafate. And it was next to one the most beautiful blue lake, Lago Nahuel Huapi. The winds tended to be quite strong here but when they calmed down it was rather warm. I was surprised to see 22C in the weather forecast but I admit that’s what it felt like! Locally Bariloche is known for “artesan” chocolate shops (on in every corner), the hills that surround it that offer magnificent hiking, cycling, kayaking.. you name it.. and the ash. There was a volcano eruption close to the city and the ash clouds closed the city airport for quite a while and slowed down the tourism there for this season. The best hostels still tend to get booked up in Jan-Feb so book yours as early as you can. There’s also gorgeous cabanas, house and hotels on the shore of the lake, a bit out of the city, that I would have loved to stay in if I were in town longer!

You can take the local busses to the foots of the hills by the lake. I climbed two peaks – Cerro Campanario (1049m) and Cerro Llao LLao (about 1km). On the first day I had actually thought about doing nothing to recover from the bus ride and an enormous steak I had in the locally famous Parilla Alberto after we arrived. But with a small European team (two Germans, one Dane and one Italian) I left to 17 km west from Bariloche to “take a nice walk” art Cerro Campanario. It turned out to be this 1km hill we would ascend. Ok, I’m game for anything! The hill was pretty steep though, and the ground was covered by sand (or was that ash?) so it was a challenge for sure. So decided I’ll just climb as fast I can so that it’s over and done with. It took about a half an hour to reach the top. And yes, the views were great.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I’d like my whiskey with ice, please!

Not tired of hiking in the mountains, valleys and around lakes in the beautiful Patagonia yet? Well welcome back to Argentina! About 4-5 hours (depending on how fast the border crossing is) north of Chile’s Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine is Argentina’s El Calafate. Yes yes, it's another pretty village with nice shops and restaurants, looks actually more like a ski resort than a South American small town. The night life is pretty busy and there’s big casino in town as well but most people come here to see one more Patagonian natural wonder: the Perito Moreno glacier.

I had a lovely bus ride from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, sitting on the first row to see the beautifully boring Patagonian landscape all the way. At last when the sun set behind the flat Patagonian wilderness I could fall asleep. It was a late at night when I arrived to El Calafate but with the help of my hostel there I had manage to book a tour to the glacier early next morning. 

Nothing - as far as the eye can see

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Torres del Paine - the towers of ..pain?

As long I was in Southern Chile, there was another must-see destination: Torres del Paine. One of the trekking capitals of the south, Puerto Natales, is the closest town (or a village really) to the mountain and the national park. It’s a windy little place with some quaint cafes and restaurants and tons of tour agencies and trekking outfitters. At the local hostel Erratic Rock they hold an information briefing for trekkers every day. I went in to have a peak of what they tell there and the place was full of gore text clad 20 and 30 something trekking enthusiast. This is really the area where you should head if you like to hike and camp in the mountains. If you hope it’ll be cheap – it won’t be. Just to get in to the park grounds you have to pay 15000 Chilean pesos (23€). You can either stay at the refugios along the trails or camp - not cheap either. But I’m sure the experience and the sceneries will be worth it.

But I wasn’t going to sign up for the 3, 4 or even 9 day hikes you can do around the mountains. No, I didn’t have the equipment for it or the time or the money – or the trekking enthusiasm. The next morning after I arrived there I went on a tour to the National Park around the mountains and I was happy I wasn’t going to camp or hike on the mountains. The weather was very unpredictable, one minute rain and sunshine the other, the winds were “knock you off your feet” –strong and the views sometime obscured by the clouds. I was quite happy with my cheap & easy option, the full day tour, safe & sound close to a shelter (a minivan) all the time.

First on the tour was a visit to the Milodon cave, a huge cave which was thousands of years ago the home to these huge mammals. It’s not a very interesting site but I was surprised to hear later they use the cave also to host some cultural events of the village – that sounds fun! After that we entered the park and headed to the lakes, first Lago Toro and then Lago Grey, where the Glaciar Grey icebergs float to shore.

Lago Toro - yes, the colours are crazy!
Entering the park

Friday, February 10, 2012

Suit up! First dip into the Chilean Patagonia

After two days in Ushuaia I had to say goodbye to Argentina again and take a bus to the Chilean side of Patagonia. The island Tierra del Fuego is actually quite small and when you start going up from the southern tip  you will cross between Chile and Argentina a couple times at least. Personally I hadn’t planned to spend a lot of time in Patagonia, a few weeks, which may sound like a fair amount of time but frankly doesn’t give you a chance to see nearly half of everything there is in the beautiful southern South America.

Knowing there aren’t that many buses up from Ushuaia I booked mine a week before. It was an 11 hour day trip (no night buses – come on!!?) to the “next town”, Punta Arenas in Chile. Right after we passed the mountains surrounding Ushuaia the landscape turned rather flat and dry, farmland. You could see the same landscape continued for miles, houses were far in between. There were lots of sheep, some horses – and to my delight some random guanacos on the side of the road and even ostriches. First we crossed the border and later the Magellan Strait on a ferry and the dolphins escorted us from the Tierra del Fuego to the mainland!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

End of the world - Ushuaia

A trip to the end of the world - fin del mundo - was one of the top things on my list for the big trip. After all it seemed like I was already so close, in the same continent, in the same country (Argentina). But 3000km away! I opted for the cheapest flight I could find: a 4 hour hop from Bs As to Ushuaia that made me got up at 2.30 in the morning... So I got just 2 hours of sleep before I had to catch the 4.45 am flight. And when I got on the plane I fell asleep immediately.

As the plane was approaching Ushuaia I hesistantly forced myself to wake up and open the window curtain – just in time to see the plane pass through the clouds and the view of the Beagle Channel and the snow-tipped mountain range opened in front of me. I don’t know if I’ve ever woken up and got my camera that fast. The views were amazing! And I was wide awake after that.

In Ushuaia I had the hostel with the best service so far. They were really helpful as even though I had planned to come here I had no idea what to do or see there – simply hadn’t had the time or energy to look into it. So the first day I just walked around the city and the shoreline, admiring the views to the Andes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The hot and cool Bs As

Back to the city life after the Iguazu Falls, I had 8 days to kill in Buenos Aires before my flight to Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, so I was looking forward to getting some rest. When I got to my hostel I was greeted by two Australian guys (who are ruggedly handsome as Mike would say) travelling through the Americas on two motorcycles. They asked me if I would like to join them for a tango evening and I couldn’t resist – I was on a mission to dance! The tango class & dinner took place in Palermo, a fancy neighbourhood on the other side of the center. The big Australian & Argentinian group and I had a really fun night, learning the 7 basic steps, watching the incredible dancers (more about that on my previous post) and having many many bottles of wine.

Getting some rest was on the agenda and I think I did succeed in that, at least a few late mornings. I did a lot of sightseeing as well, one of the most interesting places in Buenos Aires was the Recoleta Cemetary. The site houses the resting places of thousands and is full of beautiful small stone buildings. There were lots of different style of graves, some with most intricate and detailed carvings, with bronze plates describing the deceased and statues on top – to the very simplistic black marble boxes with merely the last name. I wandered quite a while between the hot houses and took tons of pictures.