Torres del Paine: El lugar más hermoso que he visitado

Most people don’t know that Patagonia is actually the name of a massive region, and not just one place in particular. The region includes the whole southern half of Argentina, and also the southernmost reaches of Chile. So, as part of my grand Patagonian adventure, I crossed over the border and paid a short visit to the Chilean side of the region. The stay was brief and the logistical struggles were many, but it was so incredibly worth it.

On December 13th, Lauren and I took a bus from El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile. When I planned our trip, I was under the impression that Puerto Natales was the best place to stay for people looking to visit Torres del Paine National Park, which we were. On this map, you’ll see that El Calafate is almost the same distance from Torres del Paine as the crow flies, but there aren’t roadways that directly connect the two locations. For this reason, you have to take Route 40 a few hours south before crossing into Chile, and that drops you right at Puerto Natales.

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We arrived to Puerto Natales at about 11:00am with the intention of heading to Torres del Paine on the next available bus and spending the remainder of the day there. However, we soon learned that the next bus didn’t leave until 2:30pm, and the ride took almost three hours! If we waited around to take the bus, we wouldn’t arrive to the park until 5:30pm. And then we’d have no choice but to take the last bus back to Puerto Natales, which left the park like two hours later. No good. The receptionist at our hostel told us our only option was to rent a car, which was also somewhat troublesome. You see, neither Lauren nor I knew how to drive stick, and nearly all vehicles available for car rental in South America are manual. I say “nearly all vehicles” because the receptionist made some calls and pulled some strings, and miraculously managed to track down a guy who allegedly had an automatic. With our fingers crossed, we went to this guy Patricio’s office and found ourselves to be in luck! He did indeed have an automatic. Just one. And it was available. This was quite possibly the only automatic car for rental in the whole city.

We began filling out paperwork, and Lauren had to leave the office for a moment to withdraw some Chilean currency from the nearest ATM. Patricio only accepted cash. While she was gone, Patricio asked me for my passport, took a look at it, and said, “Espera… ¿Cuántos años tienen ustedes?” (“Wait… How old are you guys?”) I told him I was 21, and Lauren was 20. He seemed conflicted. He then informed me that we had to be 24 to legally rent a car in Chile, but that because we seemed responsible, he would be willing to look the other way this time. Phew! Lauren came back with the cash, we finished up the formalities, and set out for Torres del Paine!

When we arrived to the park, we had to stop off at the ranger station and pay an entrance fee. I hadn’t withdrawn any Chilean currency yet, so all we had between the two of us was what Lauren had leftover after paying for the car rental. This, ladies and gentlemen, was our second stroke of amazing luck. We had exactly enough. Not one peso more, not one peso less. The entrance fee wound up being pricier than we had anticipated, and they didn’t accept cards. If Lauren hadn’t had enough money, both of us would’ve been screwed. As I mentioned earlier, Puerto Natales is the nearest city to Torres del Paine, and it’s a full two hours away! I’m nearly certain the nearest ATM would have been all the way back in Puerto Natales. First the automatic rental car panned out, and then this! Luck was seriously siding with us.

For those of you who don’t speak a lick o’ Spanish, the title of this post is “Torres del Paine: The most beautiful place I’ve visited.” Not an overstatement. I feel that I should give credit where credit is due. I have done a fair amount of travel in my life thus far, and I have never been so blown away by that natural beauty of a place. Feast your eyes…

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This photo was taken before we entered the park. We still had to drive an hour or so down that road to reach the park boundary.

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Another scenic overlook, just before we entered the park

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The weather wasn’t our friend on this trip. A rain shower was rolling through just as we entered the park, hence the haziness.

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This distinct group of jagged mountains is called los cuernos, or “the horns.”

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Lake Grey, which meets Grey Glacier. It looks like that cloud got snagged on the mountain peak.

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Icebergs in Lake Grey. You can just see Grey Glacier in the background to the left.

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Lauren, are you a model for an outdoor clothing company? Photo credit: ME.

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The water is really that color. No lie.

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Doesn’t get much prettier than this.

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Gloomy, yet majestic

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A herd of wild guanacos, which are similar to llamas

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Guanaco Xing

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This guy fearlessly approached our car

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The view as we drove away from the park at the end of our first day

In hindsight, I’m very happy with the way we chose to manage our time in the park. On the first day, we drove around the whole thing and managed to see pretty much all of it. We stopped periodically to take pictures, but spent most of our time driving and admiring the scenery. On the second day, we drove directly to the trailhead for Mirador de las Torres. Like the other major hikes we’d done on this trip, this was also about 20km roundtrip. The trail took us up, up, up to a turquoise lagoon, which was overlooked by three daunting stone pillars, or towers (torres). The photos I took don’t do it justice whatsoever, but this was by far the most rewarding hike we did. Lauren and I were utterly flabbergasted when we reached the summit. It was a touch climb to the top, but we immediately forgot about our pounding hearts and wheezing lungs when we gazed upon what lay before us.

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On the trail to Mirador de las Torres

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Las Torres

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In my element

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The view on the way back down. These flowery bushes are all over Patagonia, creating lovely contrasting colors across the landscape.

Torres del Paine is, hands down, the most beautiful place I have ever been. That is all.

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Patagonia: …where the toupees roam free?

Picking up right where I left off in my last post, Lauren and I caught our flight from Ushuaia to El Calafate on December 9th. Evan did not continue on with us, because his family would be arriving in Buenos Aires on December 12th to visit him. That being the case, he spent a few extra days in Ushuaia on his own, and then flew directly back to BA to meet them.

The flight from Ushuaia to El Calafate was barely over an hour. Lauren and I arrived in the evening, so we checked in at our hostel and then sought out some dinner in town. Nothing too fancy. We packed it in early that night, because the next morning we’d be catching a 7:00am bus to nearby El Chaltén. It was about a 4 hour ride. El Chaltén is considered the trekking (aka hiking) capital of Argentina – and rightfully so! The tiny town, surrounded by sheer cliffs that attract rock climbing enthusiasts from all over the world, is also the access point for some of the most popular trails in Patagonia. As such, we planned to complete two major trails during our stay: Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres. Both hikes were about 20km (12 miles) roundtrip, and both contained some pretty steep sections. Good thing my parents hooked me up with some heavy duty hiking boots before I left, because they certainly came in handy.

Our bus rolled in to El Chaltén around 11:00am, which gave us time to check in at our hostel, scarf down some lunch, and spend the afternoon on the first of our two hikes. We decided to start with the Laguna Torre trail, because it was slightly shorter and we felt more confidently about our ability to finish it, despite our not-so-early start. Unfortunately, there were some low clouds that inhibited our view of the torres (towers), but you’ll see that the hike was still phenomenally beautiful:

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On our way!

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The three stone towers off to the right side are the torres for which this trail was named.

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We were already tuckered out when we reached Laguna Torre. Too bad we had to hike all the way back.

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This lil’ fella is called an Austral Parakeet. Here he is, in his natural habitat.

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Some of you may know that I’m a bit of a meteorology nerd. That is called a lenticular cloud, and I have always wanted to see one in real life. Wish granted!

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This is El Chaltén from above. You can see the sheer cliffs I was talking about, and also get an idea for how cute this hamlet is.

Coincidentally, my good friends Tien and Benjamin were also in El Chaltén at this time! To my utter delight, we were able to get in touch and arrange a dinner date together. Plus, another girl who Lauren and I were acquainted with was living and working in El Chaltén as a horseback riding guide. We weren’t sure where she worked or how to get ahold of her, but we mentioned her name to our hostel proprietor and he said, “Oh, I know Emily! She lives and works right down the road. I’m sure you can find her there.” He was absolutely correct. Thus, Lauren, Emily, Tien, Benjamin, and I ate a fabulous meal together. I ordered roasted lamb with mushroom sauce. It was among the best meals that I ate in Argentina, especially considering I was ravenous after a long afternoon of trekking. I guess the company was pretty good, too. 🙂

Early the next morning, Lauren and I set off on our second major hike, Laguna de los Tres. We’d heard that this trail had a nasty climbing section right at the very end. This was accurate. To put things into perspective, it took us two hours to hike nine of the ten kilometers. The last kilometer took us 45 minutes!! For those of you who are familiar with the Patagonia clothing company, you’ll recognize this logo:

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believe the mountain range silhouetted in the Patagonia logo is supposed to be the range that is visible from the Laguna de los Tres trail! The big peak is called Mount Fitz Roy, and it watches over El Chaltén like a wise sentinel. See for yourself…

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Once again, there was some pesky cloud cover. It prevented us from having a clear view of Mount Fitz Roy.

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The color of these Patagonian lakes is unreal. Apparently they’re so blue because there’s a certain type of mineral in the glacier meltwater that fills them.

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It was WAY colder up here at the summit than down in El Chaltén. It was even snowing a bit when we reached the top.

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This is the view from the summit looking out in the other direction. Almost equally as gorgeous.

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Doesn’t this valley look like the setting of a children’s book?

After finishing the Laguna de los Tres trail, we checked out of our hostel and took a 6:00pm bus back to El Calafate. Even though we only spent one night in El Chaltén, it made quite an impression! Surely some of the best hiking in the world, let alone Argentina.

The next day in El Calafate, Lauren had to finish up some schoolwork, but I was a free bird. I signed myself up for a horseback riding excursion, and wound up being the only person who signed up for the noon ride! I essentially got a two-hour private tour of the Patagonian hills on horseback. Just me, my guide, and our horses. Very relaxing. My guide was a young French woman who’d moved to Patagonia six years earlier. She and I really hit it off, and I picked her brain about her life as a ranch hand for the entire ride. We had some good laughs. She said that on more than one occasion, she’d had to chase after customers’ toupees that got blown off their heads by the infamous Patagonian winds. Too funny!

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Riding through the wild Patagonian hills

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My horse was named Electra.

The day after I went horseback riding, Lauren and I headed for Chile. We spent a couple nights there, and then returned to El Calafate. For this reason, I’m going to get out of chronological order a little bit and include the things we did upon returning to El Calafate in this post. So fast-forward a few days to December 16th, which was the last full day of our trip. On this day, we did a full day excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier, which is El Calafate’s best-known tourist attraction.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which is the 3rd largest mass of ice in the world, behind Antarctica and Greenland! It manages to remain frozen not necessarily because the temperatures are low, but due to extremely strong winds. Our excursion to the glacier had two parts: an hour-long walk on the glacier itself, and then an opportunity to the view the glacier from a scenic overlook. When walking on the glacier, we were required to wear crampons, which are spiky metal contraptions that strap onto the bottom of your footwear. The metal spikes dig into the ice and help give you traction on the slippery surfaces. I was already familiar with crampons because I’d read about them in Jon Krakauer’s novel Into Thin Air, which is about climbing Mt. Everest.

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We arrived to the glacier by boat

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It just keeps on goin’.

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The people standing on the observation decks below serve as a good scale for size.

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Periodically, we could hear thunderous cracking noises when parts of the glacier broke off, called calving.

Oh, and there’s one last thing that we did in El Calafate! We walked around a bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez, which is located right alongside Lago Argentino and just a 15-minute walk from the main street in El Calafate. Inside the sanctuary, we saw a flock of wild flamingos! How cool is that?!

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Flock of wild flamingos in the Laguna Nimez bird sanctuary

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The muddy shore of Lago Argentino

That’s all from El Calafate and El Chaltén! (I say “that’s all” as if there isn’t a lot…) I’ll be back soon to fill in the gaps and talk about the days we spent in Chile! I sincerely thank you for reading.

The End of the World

I got back from Iguazú Falls on the morning of December 3rd, and true to form, I left myself only a handful of days to prepare for my paramount trip of the semester. This next (and last) trip would take me to multiple destinations over the course of 12 days. Here’s a quick and dirty rundown of my itinerary:

December 6th: Depart Buenos Aires for Ushuaia, Argentina

December 9th: Depart Ushuaia, Argentina for El Calafate & El Chaltén, Argentina

December 13th: Depart El Calafate & El Chaltén, Argentina for Puerto Natales, Chile

December 15th: Return to El Calafate, Argentina from Puerto Natales, Chile

December 17th: Return to Buenos Aires from El Calafate, Argentina

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But, before I get ahead of myself, I need to touch on the aforementioned “handful of days” that I spent in Buenos Aires prior to departing YET again. These were some of the most bittersweet days of my young life. I felt so invigorated by the travel I’d already done, and also so eager for my grand finale trip that was just around the corner – this is the sweet part. The bitter part was that I knew I’d be returning to a different city when I got back from my last trip. While I was away traveling, some of the people I’d grown closest to would be moving away from Buenos Aires. Like me, they were there temporarily. And also like me, their stays in “The Paris of South America” were dwindling faster than anybody cared to admit. I don’t know that I’d ever experienced such emotional ambivalence before.

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Tien taught me how to make crab rangoons. This is me, channeling 1950s housewife while I fry them.

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Do we look happy or what?

My memories from this short stint in time are my fondest from the entire semester. They are the ones I cherish the most. And yet, as happy as I was, a little seed of sadness was sprouting within me the whole time. I knew that some difficult goodbyes were in order. Even now, over a month later, as I sit here in the apartment where I’ll be living for my final semester of college, my lower lip is trembling as I write. I wish that I could fully embrace the “Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened” mentality, but I am sad. There is no denying it. And there is no shortcut to getting over it. My semester in Buenos Aires as a whole, and especially this interim between trips, was the happiest time of my life. At least up to this point. 🙂 Now, let me claw my way out of this deep pit of despair I’ve been wallowing in for the last couple paragraphs and continue telling you about my trip!

The first stop was Ushuaia, which is the southernmost city in the world! That’s why it’s commonly referred to as “The End of the World.” I traveled there with two friends from my study abroad program, Lauren and Evan. We arrived early in the morning because the super early flights are always the cheapest, and we were traveling on somewhat of a budget. We spent the rest of that first day napping in our hostel and exploring the city of Ushuaia on foot. It was very mellow. The next day, however, we ventured into Tierra del Fuego National Park for a full day of hiking!

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Obligatory photo with the sign

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There’s a post office at the end of the world! I didn’t mail anything, though.

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An afternoon storm was rolling in, which made the lake quite choppy.

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This is called pan del indio, or Indian bread. It’s a type of fungus, much like a mushroom, that grows like crazy inside the national park. Apparently it’s a culinary delicacy, and is quite expensive to buy in jars.

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These are called kelp geese, and 9 times out of 10, they are seen in mating pairs. The white one is the male and the brown one is the female. S’cute!

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The afternoon storm made way for a rainbow! I thought Skittles might be on to something, so I gave it a taste. (Creative credit to Lauren for this photo concept!)

The next day, we took a morning cruise around Beagle Channel. The highlight of this cruise was the sighting of wild penguin colonies, as well as hundreds of cormorants and several sea lions.

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View of Ushuaia as we pulled away from the port

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Super photogenic lighthouse

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These are NOT penguins! These are a white and black variety of cormorant.

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Sunbathing sea lions

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These, on the other hand, ARE penguins! We even got to see a few King penguins, which is fairly rare.

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Penguins penguining

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The beach was just littered with ’em.

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Me and Evan

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Pulling back into the port, with descending clouds

On our last day in Ushuaia, we hiked to Laguna Esmeralda, or Emerald Lagoon. We met another pair of American girls in our hostel, and they joined us on this outing. It even started to snow while we were hiking, which made everything all the more magical.

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Let it snow!

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Emerald Lagoon

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The squad, looking badass

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The blue-gray water and snow-covered dead trees made the scene a little eerie.

And, just because I wasn’t sure where else to put them, here’s another couple photos from our time in Ushuaia:

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Hot cocoa with a fruit-filled alfajor – just 45 pesos!

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Looking out over the city as the daylight waned

The next stops on this grand adventure are El Calafate & El Chaltén, which warrant their own post. Check back in a few days for the next installment!

Trip Report: Iguazú Falls

After returning from the IFSA Thanksgiving trip to Uruguay, I had just one day to recover before boarding a plane to Aeropuerto de Cataratas del Iguazú. Did I use this day sensibly? To launder my clothes, carefully repack my suitcase, and make sure I felt as rested as possible before taking off again? NOPE. I rolled out of bed and went out to lunch at Ninina in Palermo to say farewell to my friend Miranda, and then to a late afternoon polo match with Tien and Benjamin! I’d never seen polo played before, and now that I’ve watched a game, I have so much respect for polo players. I can’t even begin to fathom riding around on a frantically galloping horse, which is difficult enough in itself, and then trying to whack a softball-sized ball with what looks like a croquet mallet! So many moving parts! More power to ’em, is all I have to say.

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Good lookin’ lunch spread at Ninina, complete with sparkling rosé

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There they go!

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Here’s a short video of the action:

After a full day of fun, I had to set my alarm for some ungodly hour to make my 5:25 a.m. flight on November 1st. I traveled with two of my friends from IFSA, Elliot and Samantha. To give you an idea of where Iguazú Falls is located, here’s a map:

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Iguazú Falls is right where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge

Our flight left Buenos Aires so early that it was still very early in the morning when we arrived! In fact, we got to our hostel just as the breakfast began, and the guy at the reception desk told us we could go ahead and eat even though we technically hadn’t checked in yet. Our hostel was called Mango Chill, and we found it to be both very mango and very chill. Make of that what you will.

So anyway, we ate some breakfast and then headed to Parque Nacional Iguazú for our first of two days in the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the greatest weather for viewing the falls. It was super overcast, and the clouds were low in the sky. On sunny days, there are dozens of rainbows that appear in the mist of the thundering waterfalls, but without the sun, our view was rainbow-less. However, the weather conditions were much much worse on the second day, so I shouldn’t complain about the first.

Once inside the park, it became clear that it was ultra touristy. All of the walkways were paved (which is a big deal in South America), there were concession stands and souvenir stores all over the place, and there was even a choo choo train that transported guests. I had been expecting something a little more “rustic,” let’s say, but I suppose they want the falls to be accessible to as many people as possible. It is a massive tourist attraction, after all.

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We learned that the water is this murky brown color due to deforestation that’s taking place upriver. Apparently, the falls used to run clear, but the water has been tainted over the last few decades.

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See what I mean about the low-hanging clouds?

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The squad: Samantha, Elliot, and I

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This little guy is a coati. It’s basically the South American equivalent of a raccoon. Adorable, but QUITE the pest. They steal food from park patrons all day, every day. You can see in this photo that our little friend is surrounded by cookies and crackers, which he likely scared somebody into dropping for him.

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A lizard in the underbrush, in the process of shedding its skin

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Snek!

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A butterfly landed on Elliot’s shorts, and people were quick to start snapping photos. He had no choice but to remain stationary and let it happen.

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This is the butterfly that landed on his shorts! It stayed there for a solid 15 minutes, and continued to sit there even after he started walking again.

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Another beautiful butterfly specimen

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And another. 🙂

All of these photos were taken on our first day in the park, because on the second day, it was raining so heavily that I didn’t have a single opportunity to take my camera out without ruining it. We were able to see almost all of the park on the first day, though. The only thing we returned to see on the second day was the furthest waterfall, called La Garganta del Diablo, or the Devil’s Throat. They must really like calling things by that name in South America, because the little waterfall I’d hiked to in Tilcara just a week earlier was also called La Garganta del Diablo. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take any photos of this waterfall, because it was far and away one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Since it had been raining so much recently (not just on that day, but for several days prior), the flow of water that was coming over the falls was INCREDIBLY POWERFUL. It was mesmerizing to watch. Very humbling. I may have never felt so tiny before. This is about what it looked like on the day we were there:

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You can see the walkway and observation platforms across from the main part of the falls. We stood there and watched, awestruck, for at least 20 minutes.

Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, I like to think that I will have the opportunity to revisit Iguazú Falls in the future. Hopefully then I’ll get to see the rainbows, and do one of the boat cruises that takes you out into the river so you can get up close and personal with the falls! Plus, I spotted neither a wild monkey nor a toucan while I was walking around the park. I would like to see both of those critters next time.

That’s Iguazú in a nutshell. I hope you get to see it for yourself someday, if you haven’t already. Truly spectacular.

 

I’m back! (And at least as good as ever.)

Well, I finally feel moved to finish up the last few posts of this blog. I’ve already found myself feeling nostalgic about my semester in Buenos Aires, because yesterday I went back and read some of my blog posts from earlier in the semester – circa October 2015. Now that the semester has officially come to an end and I’m back at home in Columbus, I felt that I was reading the old posts with a new set of eyes. For a few minutes, I was transported to a different time and a different place. To the mountains of Patagonia, to the streets of Buenos Aires, to the dozens of delicious restaurants I dined in, and to the social gatherings I attended with my  group of friends (whom I miss dearly).

I made the important realization that even after being home for only 2 weeks, I already felt some of the details of my experience slipping away from memory. However, reading my blog posts took me back in time a little bit and helped to jog my memory. The whole reason I stopped blogging in the first place was because the memory card portal on my laptop crapped out at the end of November, which meant I was no longer able to upload any of the photos I’d been taking. I figured I should wait until I could upload photos again before I continued to blog. I admit, the hiatus wound up taking a bit longer than I’d initially expected. Even after getting home from Buenos Aires, I was still busy with family time and holiday activities and only now am I having the chance to sit down and finish what I started. I feel obligated to finish the documentation of my semester abroad in its entirety. I want to be able to remember as much of it as possible. I never want to forget how amazing it was, in all of its evolutionary phases. Finally, I want to be able to remind myself that adventure is out there, and that I’ll be able to go out and find it for the rest of my life as long as I prioritize it.

So, without further ado, I’ll just pick up where my last post left off.

I travelled to Salta, Jujuy, Purmamarca, Tilcara, and Humahuaca over the course of a four day weekend from November 20-23. Just 3 days after returning to Buenos Aires from that trip, I departed for Uruguay with my study abroad program! IFSA arranged a really amazing trip for us over Thanksgiving weekend, so that we could celebrate the American holiday amongst our fellow countrymen and also take advantage of the gradually warming weather by lounging on the posh Uruguayan beaches.

On the morning of November 26th, we took a Buquebus ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay. The journey took only an hour and fifteen minutes, because Uruguay is very nearby and the ferry moves at a pretty good clip. Upon arriving to Colonia’s port, we disembarked the ferry and loaded onto charter buses that would transport us to our program director’s (Mario’s) house. There were about 80 of us on the trip, so I’d been thinking to myself that Mario’s house must be pretty large to accommodate such a big group. I had heard tidbits about the house before, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Even if I’d had expectations for it, I can guarantee you that they would have been blown away by how gorgeous Mario’s house turned out to be! I don’t even think “house” is the right word for it. Let’s call it an estate.

We arrived to his home, which is called La Casa de los Limoneros.  This means “The House of the Lemon Trees.” Aptly named. It turned out that his house is actually an upscale inn and special events venue. I believe Mario rents it out for the weekends that he and his husband don’t plan on spending there. The house and its grounds were pristine, to say the least. See for yourself:

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Not too shabby, am I right?

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Some of the landscaping, including the edge of a lily pond

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Looking out over the lily pond

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Rows and rows of lemon trees in the orchard on the grounds of Mario’s house

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The trees were LOADED with big, juicy lemons

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Just one of the many varieties of vibrant flora

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Simple, but elegant.

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They smelled good.

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Some of the other people in my study abroad program, hanging out and sipping their freshly squeezed lemonade

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The Thanksgiving feast! If I remember correctly, Mario had 11 turkeys prepared. Every table had its own.

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Caprese tarta for the vegetarians

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Many of us went for a dip in this pool in the late afternoon. 🙂

After enjoying an afternoon of frolic at La Casa de los Limoneros, as well as some swimming time in the Río de la Plata at a nearby river beach, we loaded back onto charter buses and went to check in to our hotels in the city of Colonia. After having a little time in the rooms to shower and refresh ourselves, we went on short, twilight walking tour of Colonia. The city is charming, with cobblestone streets and some remnants of a Spanish stone fortress that lie on the city’s edge.

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Sunset in Colonia

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One of my favorite photos of Tien and I

There was a dance group practicing in one of the main plazas of Colonia:

We spent just one night in quaint Colonia before heading to a vacation hotspot called Punta del Este, which is on Uruguay’s Atlantic coast.  There, we stayed in a luxe hotel, and had the freedom to wander Punta del Este as we pleased. It’s located on a narrow peninsula, so there are beaches on two sides of the land. One beach was más tranqui (calmer) than the other, which had wavier water. This weekend getaway could not have come at a better time, as almost everyone had just finished up with their classes. It was nice to get away from the city and have time to decompress. Plus, the trip afforded us the opportunity to have one last hurrah together before everyone went their separate ways and returned to the States. Despite getting absolutely annihilated by the sun, I had a very pleasant time on the trip. All of our hotel accommodations were extremely comfortable, especially in comparison to the dorm-style hostels I normally book for myself. And another highlight was the meals that IFSA arranged! We were spoiled enough to be fed multi-course meals at reputable restaurants, which were elegantly served to us in private dining rooms.

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Beach in Punta del Este

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Iconic hand statue

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Fried fish filet, served at one of the lunches IFSA organized

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Catherine, Nick, Evan, and George on the boardwalk

I must say, it feels good to be back in the ole “blogging saddle.” I have invested a lot of time and thought into this blog, and I look forward to reaping the benefits when I browse through its contents years down the road. There’s something kind of ironic about the whole thing, actually. I always felt that the photos were the most important part of the blog, and that the written portions were merely supplementary to them. But now, I feel exactly the opposite way. Yesterday when I went back and reread some of my entries, it was hearing my own voice reciting the entries in my head that made the experience so moving. In the future, I’ll want to remember what I thought and how I felt about my time in Buenos Aires, not just see static photographs of it. The irony of it is that I stopped blogging because I thought nobody would be interested in reading posts that consisted exclusively of text. Joke’s on me, I guess.

I’ll be back with more in just a few days. Stay tuned.

I owe y’all an explanation…

Firstly, I would like to apologize for my prolonged silence. Secondly, I would like to assure you that I’m alive, and extremely well. And thirdly, I would like to explain my lack of posting. You see, what happened is that the memory card slot on my laptop mysteriously stopped working a couple weeks ago. Before that happened, I could just take the memory card out of my camera, pop it into said slot, and download all of my photos to my laptop. Since it stopped working, I haven’t been able to transfer photos to my computer. I think we can all agree that blog posts are significantly richer with some visuals, so my blog is on hiatus until I can upload photos.

I’m currently in El Calafate, Argentina, and it’s possible (though not likely) that I’ll be able to find an electronics store here where I can buy a cord of some sort to connect my camera and laptop. But if I’m unable to do so, I’ll just wait until I get home to Columbus to upload the hundreds of photos I’ve taken between the time of my last blog post and now. I’ve been doing a lot of adventuring, and I have lots of photos to show for it. Unfortunately, they may not be available for sharing for some time.

That’s the sitch, ladies & gentlemen. I’m doing great. I’m having the time of my life. I’m lamenting my rapidly approaching departure from this part of the world, and the inevitable conclusion of this study abroad experience. With luck, I may be able to post some photos today, but don’t count on it. T-minus 10 days until I step off the plane in Columbus. ¡Hasta pronto!

 

Salta & Beyond…

I finished up with all of my academic obligations last Thursday, and Friday morning I was at the airport en route to Salta! Quite a nice way to celebrate, don’t you think? Salta is a city in the northern part of Argentina, fairly close to the Bolivian border. It’s considered to be a much more indigenous zone of the country, with far less European influence than Buenos Aires and far more retention of the traditional culture. This was the first time I’ve ever traveled solo, and I can honestly say it was a smashing success. Considering I was technically traveling alone, I spent very little time by myself. Luck was on my side, and I encountered some travel companions faster than I thought was possible.

On my flight from Buenos Aires to Salta, I sat next to a girl who I could tell was foreign, but I wasn’t sure where she was from. We didn’t talk during the flight, and we went out separate ways when the plane landed. I collected my suitcase from the baggage claim, took a cab to my hostel, and checked into my room. Lo and behold, who was one of my roommates in the dormitory-style hostel? The girl who had been sitting next to me! She was traveling with 2 other girls as well, all of whom would be sleeping in my room. Just minutes after I arrived to the hostel, the three of them invited me to find some food with them. Two of the girls were from Finland, and one was from Sweden. They all spoke English extremely well, and we hit it off right away. After dining together, we decided to visit one of the attractions that our hostel receptionist had recommended to us. It was a scenic overlook of the city of Salta, which could be accessed either on foot or by way of a gondola. We decided to stretch our legs and hike to the top, and this is what we found:

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The city of Salta sprawling below, and a gondola on its way up the hill

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Me, Ella (Finland), Sanni (Finland)

Being from the United States, I never actually learned how to drive manual. I didn’t have access to a stick shift car when I was learning to drive, and I haven’t felt the need to learn since. All the cars that are available for rental in Argentina are manual, which meant that wasn’t an option for me. However, all of my newly found friends were capable stick shift drivers, and they had already arranged to rent a car the next morning. By a stroke of luck, we had also planned to spend our second night in the same town, Tilcara, though at different hostels this time. This meant that I could tag along with them throughout the following day, and then they could drop me off at my hostel when we reached Tilcara. This was a far better (and more fun) arrangement than what I had anticipated. I thought I’d be relying on bus service to go from town to town, but they offered to let me ride along! I gratefully accepted the offer, and on Saturday morning we set out together from our hostel.

From Salta, we drove 2 hours north to Jujuy. Little did we know, this drive would feature a dramatic change in landscape! As we gradually ascended into the mountainous terrain that lies between Salta and Jujuy, we felt as if we’d entered the heart of the jungle! Lush vegetation, serpentine vines, and a roof-like canopy of tree boughs overhead encompassed the windy road. At one point, a curious looking bird scuttled across the road in front of our car, and we all had the same reaction: “Was that a dinosaur?!” Something about the way the bird moved, its bobbing head and its frantic scurry, made it look like a little velociraptor.

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Looking out over the jungle

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Stretching break

We pitstopped for lunch in Jujuy, and then made our way toward Salinas Grandes – a vast salt plain that lies at the foot of the mountains. After departing from Jujuy, the landscape underwent another dramatic shift. We left behind the jungle and found ourselves in a barren dessert with little more vegetation than tumbleweeds and cacti. The mountains around us were no longer covered in dense forest, but were totally exposed, revealing colorful rock formations like I’d never seen before. The drive to Salinas Grandes took a couple hours, but the time went by quickly due to the nonstop scenery. It just kept getting more and more beautiful as we went on. I actually wasn’t able to photograph some of the most gorgeous parts of this trip because they were difficult to capture while driving, but the photos that I do have should give you a decent idea of the terrain.

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Along the highway

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The little town of Purmamarca, nestled among the mountains. We stopped here for coffee and souvenir shopping.

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The sunlight created a rainbow effect in the clouds

We reached Salinas Grandes in the late afternoon, and stopped for an obligatory photo shoot. Taking goofy pictures here is pretty much a must. The salt plain isn’t terribly exciting in the sense that there’s really nothing to do there, but it makes for a nice photo backdrop and as I said previously, the scenery on the way to the salt plain was jaw-dropping.

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Salinas Grandes

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They were “blown away” by Salinas Grandes. (insert chuckle here)

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I actually look kind of graceful in this, which is unusual.

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This is the view in the opposite direction. The ground only had the distinctive crack marks on the other side of the plain.

After visiting Salinas Grandes, we drove the rest of the way into Tilcara, where we would spend the night. I had plans to stay in Tilcara for two nights, but my travel companions were only staying for one. Nevertheless, there was still one more outing in the Tilcara area that they wanted to do before leaving. They agreed to pick me up from my hostel the next morning so we could do this last outing together before they left and I stayed behind. We drove to Humahuaca, which is another rustic town about an hour up the road from Tilcara. There, we ascended into the mountains (by car) and reached the most stunning viewpoint yet. It looked out over El Cerro de Catorce Colores, which basically translates as Fourteen Color Mountain.

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A herd of wild vicuñas, close relatives of the llama

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Elevation: 4,350 meters

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There aren’t even words.

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It almost looks like shark teeth, doesn’t it?

We drove back to Tilcara so that my travel companions could drop me off before continuing on their way. Before they hit the road, we indulged in a fancy lunch to make light of the sad farewell.

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Grilled chicken breast with potatoes, arugula, cherry tomatoes, bacon, and cream sauce

After they rolled out of Tilcara, I was actually alone for the first time of the trip. However, being alone proved to be a nice opportunity for some reflection and introspection. I opted to hike a trail to La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), which is a rather intimidating name for a small waterfall. The trailhead was near my hostel and I’d read some pretty good reviews on TripAdvisor, so I decided to give it a go. I was very happy to be out of the car, and to finally have a chance to use my hiking boots!

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Trailhead

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Just me and the cacti

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A fellow hiker snapped this photo for me

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The waterfall initiates this creek through the canyon

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This photo was the product of 10-second self timer

After completing the hike, which took about three hours total, I headed back into town and photographed sleepy little Tilcara. For such a small town, it has a surprisingly large number of hostels. Tourism is its big business. Other than that, there are a few restaurants, a few shops, one gas station, and… not much else.

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Tilcara could also be called Happy Valley

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Some streets were paved, some weren’t

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On my last night, I was once again the beneficiary of some very good luck. After finishing my hike and my photoshoot around town, I returned to the hostel to get cleaned up and figure out what to do about dinner. This was the first time during the whole trip that I felt a brief twinge of loneliness. There were other travelers staying at my hostel, but they all seemed to have buddies, and I wasn’t quite sure who to approach in an attempt to make friends. Then, as if my prayers were being answered, two new travelers arrived to the hostel. They were a boyfriend and girlfriend from Holland who were a few weeks into a five month backpacking expedition around South America. We ended up going out to dinner together, enjoying the golden combination of pizza and beer, and getting to know each other really well. We talked about it all: work, school, family, travel, languages, current events, etc. Truly an engaging pair of people. Also, while we were out to dinner, the result of Argentina’s presidential election was announced! Here is a video of a celebratory parade that wound its way through Tilcara’s streets:

The following morning, I woke up early, scarfed down some bread with dulce de leche, and took one last stroll around Tilcara before heading homeward. It made for a long day of travel. First, I took a bus from Tilcara to Jujuy. Then, I took another bus from Jujuy to Salta. Next was a taxi from the bus terminal to the airport, and then a flight from Salta to Buenos Aires. Finally, I took a taxi from the airport to my apartment.

It was a short trip, but it reminded me how eager I am to get out and see the great big world. It was a much needed reminder, because I have come to feel extremely content in Buenos Aires – a little too content. Before taking this trip, there was part of me that wanted to spend the rest of my time in the city. I have friends here, I have a routine here, I have a life here. Leaving the city for the weekend was bittersweet, because my time here is ever so limited and I like Buenos Aires ever so much. There was part of me that fell prey to FOMO. For those of you who aren’t familiar with FOMO, it’s an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out.” I knew that I should feel more excited by the prospect of traveling, but traveling meant I had to leave my “home” and miss out on all the fun things that my friends were doing there.

However, during my trip, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. My thoughts rarely went back to Buenos Aires. It was a very rejuvenating experience. I lived in the moment, made new friends, absorbed the tranquility around me, and remembered why I consider myself to be a victim of the infamous “travel bug.” The world is a beautiful place, and I want to see as much of it as possible. Looking forward, I still have three major trips yet to come. These trips will change me, and I couldn’t be more ready for it. Next stop, Uruguay!

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The view from my hostel in Tilcara