Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

South America Ramblings

Monday, January 18th, 2010

A few odds and ends that didn’t deserve their own post…

No sooner do we touch down in Rio does the guy in the seat across the aisle poke me and say… “You staying in Rio?”. Me: “Yeah”. Him: “Be careful where you go with the camera.” Referring to Jeff taking photos out of the window on the plane. We’d heard it was a dangerous place. Great way to start the trip.

Despite Jeff’s reports to the contrary, I did NOT wear my underwear for four days straight while waiting for American Airlines to find our luggage. A trip to buy new underwear did take place

If you ever travel internationally, strongly consider buying credits on Skype. $0.05 per min to US. $0.02 min on toll free calls. This was a life saver when we were trying to track down our bags in Rio.

Beer is readily available in most places in Rio. There is seemingly no open container law but there is a no tolerance policy when it comes to drinking & driving… any alcohol & you lose your license.

If you get a chance to visit Brazil, make sure you try a Caipirinha. It’s the national drink of Brazil. Sugar, Lime, Cachaça (liquor from fermented sugar cane). A lot like a mojito.

While waiting in line at Sugarloaf Mountain in the oppressive heat and sun, Jeff, a gentlemen from South Africa and I tried to huddle under a small piece of shade. The guy’s girlfriend (from Rio) laughed when she saw this and dubbed us the “Three White Men”.

Jeff and I are both fairly competitive. On the list of “Dumb Things Tourists Do”, add “seeing who can toss a half-full bottle of water the furthest in the air without dropping it”. We did this in the mostly deserted Pelourinho Square in Salvador at around midnight.

One of the funniest moments of the trip… As Jeff and I are waiting to check-in at the Salvador airport, we hear a guy behind us scream as loud as he possibly can. The relatively small terminal goes dead quiet. We turn to see the guy arguing with an airline employee in Portuguese over what I assume is some flight dispute. He kicks his suitcase before grabbing his girlfriend’s hand and heading to the exit. Before he leaves the building, he turns and gives the entire airport the middle finger. Jeff and I got a kick out of re-enacting this throughout the rest of the trip.

Most music we heard in cabs in Buenos Aires was American. But it was random, older stuff like Gloria Estefan.

Everyone in Buenos Aires smokes.

In Buenos Aires, traffic lights turn yellow AND red right before a red light is about to turn green. This basically signals to cab drivers that they don’t have to slow down since the light is about to turn green. Makes for some exciting cab rides.

Jeff does a great impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Get to the chopper now!” “C’mon Cohagen. You got what you want. Give these people air!”

American Sports Team Jerseys Seen: Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys

You learn a lot about yourself while traveling internationally for 3 weeks.  I learned that I am not good at skipping stones.

The only thing besides friends and family that I truly missed during the trip was working out and playing soccer.

16,622 miles traveled, 1800 photos taken, 23 days of vacation, 13 flights, 5 countries seen (Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile in addition to Brazil & Argentina), 2 new FB friends, 1 crush

Great times.

The Last Hurrah in Buenos Aires

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Our time in Patagonia complete, Jeff and I made our way back to Buenos Aires to enjoy one last day in South America before boarding our return flight home. Our buddy Warren had secured an apartment in the city since we’d last seen him and was kind enough to let us crash, saving us the cost of another night in a hotel.

Our Aerolineas Argentina flight, my first ever in business class, arrived at 12:30am and after a short cab ride to Warren’s building, we found ourselves on the 21st floor which amazingly, was all Warren’s. The entire 21st floor. 4 bedrooms, 4 baths and an outdoor deck that provided a 360 degree view of the city. Jeff and I just looked at each other in stunned disbelief during our tour of the place. And not only had Warren scored seemingly one of the best apartments in all of Buenos Aires but he had also made some friends. Sitting on the deck enjoying a bottle of wine (or three) were three very attractive women from the US who happened to be staying in BA. Shortly thereafter, a Buenos Aires native named Diego showed up with another friend of his own.

Having our own bedroom and bathroom for the night, Jeff and I put our bags away and cleaned up before rejoining the crew. After relaxing on the deck for a bit, the group made it’s way out on the town at around 3:30am. Just another normal night in Buenos Aires. As we learned in Rio with Tati, having a native resident with us seemed to make all the difference in the world with regards to night life. Diego took the group to a trendy club unlike anything Jeff and I found on our own during our prior time in the city. Still no real English speakers to meet but having a group to hang out with and good music to dance to made all of the difference. After dancing the night away in the dark, laser light filled club, we were greeted by bright sunshine as we rolled home around 6:30am.

Morning Sun in Buenos Aires

After getting in a good amount of sleep, Jeff, Warren and I woke up around 1pm. Our flight was at 9:30pm so we had plenty of time for a lazy lunch and afternoon before heading to the airport. A return to La Cabrera, site of our best meal on the trip, was the unanimous decision for lunch and it did not disappoint. We headed back to Warren’s to pack and made time to record an MTV Cribs-style video of his place. Again, incredible.

La Cabrera Return Visit

All set to go, we said our good-byes to Warren and hopped a cab to the airport. Before we walked in the terminal doors, I stopped to turn around and take in the final sights, sounds and warmth of South America. As we stood in line at security, I snapped a photo of a Tiger Woods Accenture ad that loosely translated said “What counts is what you do from here”. Ironic for Tiger but, while clichéd, also oddly fitting for Jeff and I as well. My second, big international adventure was over and I was already thinking about the third.

Can’t wait.

Accenture Ad

The Glaciers of El Calafate

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Jeff and I arrived in El Calafate early in the evening on Thursday which gave us time to check into our hotel, clean ourselves up, and make our way to downtown El Calafate for dinner. What was for dinner you ask? Oh, just some all-you-can-eat meat. No matter where you end up in Argentina, this is always an option and it never seems to disappoint. Following dinner, a brief exploration of the relatively small downtown area, and a few drinks at one of the local bars, we turned in around midnight knowing that we had an early 6:30am wake up the next morning.

El Calafate sits about 350 miles north of Ushuaia and just south of Lago Argentino, the largest freshwater lake in Argentina. The primary tourist attractions in El Calafate are the massive glaciers on the lake so while the tours in Ushuaia were all about landscapes and hiking, our El Calafate itinerary focused almost exclusively on the glaciers.

Day 1 of our tour package had us in the VIP section of a large catamaran for a tour of Lago Argentino and the Upsala, Onelli, and Perito Moreno glaciers. Being two of the first people on the boat, Jeff joked that VIP stood for “Very Isolated Persons” but eventually it did fill up.

VIP Section

As we departed from the dock, what stood out immediately to me was the green-blue color of the water. The wind whipped up white caps on the surface of the lake but the size of the catamaran made for a very smooth ride. Before long, we were treated to our first glimpses of small ice chunks that had recently broken off from the glaciers.

Lago Argentino

Floating Chunk of Ice

Sadly due to the rapid recession of the Upsala Glacier, the largest in South America, and the number of icebergs separating our boat from a close up view of Upsala, our captain had to divert from our original course and instead took us to a different section of the lake that provided close up views of the Spegazzini Glacier. During our stop at Spegazzini a member of the catamaran crew broke out a large piece of ice that was supposedly formerly part of the glacier making for a classic tourist photo op for Jeff and me.

Spegazzini Glacier

Jeff & the Iceberg

Doug & the Iceberg

When we could get close to the face of the glaciers, the captain would skillfully steer the boat back and forth while passengers would jockey for position along the railings looking to get the best photos possible. The boat would come to a stop for a bit and allow us to hear the cracking and popping sounds the ice makes as it melts. A few times we were lucky to catch a glimpse of large chunks of ice falling from the face of the glacier into the lake.

Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno

Day 2 in El Calafate took us off of the boat and directly on to the glacier for some hiking on Perito Moreno. After another early 6:30am wake up, an hour bus ride into the Los Glaciares National Park, and a quick 15 minute boat ride from one shore of Lago Argentino to the other, we were met by our crew of tour guides for the morning.

The Glacier Hiking Tour Guides

Our English-speaking tour guide, Cunni, kicked things off with an intro to the region, the glacier, and some educational information about how glaciers are formed. Not being a native-English speaker, Cunni had a humorous verbal tick of saying “yes?” at the end of every sentence but was a genuinely nice guy who ended up helping Jeff find good spots to take photos once we made it onto the glacier. So after some brief safety instructions from Cunni and strapping on our crampons, it was off to the glacier for a 90 minute hike.

Hikers on Perito Moreno

On the Glacier

Much like the green-blue water of Lago Argentino, I was blown away by some of the colorful blues seen during the hike.

The Blue Crevasse

Despite the dirty, brown look of the glacier in spots, the ice and water that melts away is actually quite clean. Jeff stopped for a quick sip of the running water and the group was treated to whiskey chilled by ice chipped directly off the glacier at the end of the hike.

A Refreshing Drink

Jeff & his Whiskey

Following the hike, we had a final hour or two to walk along the viewing platforms back on the north face of Perito Moreno and take in the final sites of Patagonia. It was here that we caught the most impressive images (and video!) of ice breaking off the face and into the lake.

Having seen our fill of glaciers and our time in Patagonia having come to a close, it’s back to Buenos Aires for one last day before heading back home.

Ushuaia Day Two

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Day 2 in Ushuaia began with another 8am pickup by Frasco and a short drive with a group of about 10 to the Tierra del Fuego National Park for another full-day tour. On the schedule for the morning was an 8 km (5 mile) hike through the park and along the shores of Ensenada Bay & Lapataia Bay. We were given a choice of activities for the afternoon… either another canoe adventure on the bay or a motorboat ride to Redondo Island for an hour of free time. Not being fully awake yet, Jeff and I held off until lunchtime to make that call.

Throughout the morning hike, Frasco would stop from time-to-time to talk about the local vegetation, the animal inhabitants, and the historical significance of the land. I have really come to appreciate the added information a guide on an organized tour provides. It’s certainly great to have the freedom of exploring a city or place on your own but you’re often doing little more than taking in the sights. While it adds a bit of cost to the trip, having the added information and knowing the significance of what you’re seeing makes for a more fulfilling experience.

Frasco

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Hiking the Shores

The hike along the shore and through the park lasted about three hours and provided more majestic views of the Ushuaia landscape that matched and at times exceeded what we had seen the day before. While the air was a bit chilly, it certainly was not uncomfortably cold, and we continued our run of good luck in avoiding the rain. Towards the end of the morning, the sun broke through bringing the vibrant colors of the landscape to life.

The Shores of Lapataia Bay

Apparently still a bit tired and sore from the rowing the day before, Jeff made the call after lunch to skip the canoeing and to take the motorboat ride to Redondo Island. The remainder of the group was locked in on the canoe adventure so after seeing them off, we headed to the dock. Being by ourselves for the afternoon gave us the opportunity to stop at various scenic spots including the end of Route 3 which is a road that starts in Alaska, just a short 18,000km up the road. It’s also the southernmost point on the planet to which you can drive.

The Glassy Water of Patagonia

Photo Stop

The End of Route 3

Once at the dock, we boarded a small inflatable motorboat called a Zodiac for a 30 minute boat ride across the clear, blue waters. Upon reaching the island, Jeff and I were greeted by an energetic and beautiful black lab(ish) dog named Rocky. Seemingly the friendliest dog in the world, we stayed for just a bit to pet him and enjoy the mutual affection before setting out on a hike of the small island.

Headed to Redondo Island

Jeff & Rocky

About 15 minutes into the hike, we came to an opening in the forest near the northeast corner of the island that provided a view that rivaled anything else I had seen on the trip to date. In the foreground was the clear blue water of Ensenada Bay which separated us from the lush greens of the mainland and the national park. In the distance rested the snow-capped Andes. The sky was peppered with a few small clouds but not enough to hide much of the beautiful blue sky or block the warmth of the sun. I did everything I could to capture the view with my camera. Initially I was a little disappointed we opted for free time over the canoeing but in the end, I wouldn’t have traded that view and that time on the island for about anything else on the trip. As had been the case time-and-time again, things just seemed to work out for the best. I could have sat there for hours.

Ensenada Bay

Following another 30 minutes of hiking, we made our way back to the dock, signed the island’s guestbook, said goodbye to Rocky and boarded the Zodiac for a quick 10 minute ride back to the mainland to meet back up with Frasco and the rest of the group.

Redondo Island

Our tour over and our day nearly done, we spent our last night in Ushuaia enjoying dinner at a slightly more upscale restaurant before returning to Dublin for a few final beverages.  Tomorrow it is on to El Calafate and the second half of our Patagonia adventure.

First Stop in Patagonia: Ushuaia

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Having wrapped up four great days in Buenos Aires, soaking up as much sun and warmth as possible, Jeff and I boarded an Aerolineas Argentinas flight on Monday bound for Ushuaia, a city in Patagonia that touts itself as the southernmost city in the world.  Weather reports aren’t pretty with the sun and mid-80s of Buenos Aires being replaced by forecasts for rain with temps only reaching the mid-40s.  Sure enough, as our plane made its descent through thick cloud cover into the Ushuaia airport, we landed in the midst of a cold drizzle. Having arrived fairly late in the evening, we made time for a great dinner by the water at a restaurant called El Volver (salmon instead of red meat for me for a change) followed by some drinks at an actual bar called Dublin before calling it a night.

Southern Tip of South America (GPS)

We were picked up the next morning at a little after 8am by our tour guide, Frasco.  Frasco spoke great English, did his best to make the group of about 13 feel welcome by remembering everyone’s names, and had a surprising ability to name the NBA team of all of the American tourists’ home towns.  He correctly identified the Wizards for Jeff and I as well as the Bulls for a family from Chicago.

After a 90 minute bus ride to the Harberton Estancia, we stopped near a stream and began our day’s adventure by boarding inflatable rafts for a paddling tour of Beagle Channel.  Being paired with an Austrian couple with little canoeing experience and Jeff who was somewhat limited by his camera, captain duties on the boat fell to me.  This really meant nothing more than I got to steer.

Jeff's on a Boat

Doug in the Canoe

Canoeing through the Kelp

Following the paddling, a motorboat took us to Hammer Island where we were able to observe both Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. This was really the only part of the trip where I recall being cold. The rain had held off so far but with thick cloud cover overhead, a pretty vicious wind, and little protection on the island from the wind, I was happy to move on after only about 20 minutes or so.

Penguin Island

Penguins

Loving the Views

From there, it was another brief motorboat ride to Gable Island where we stopped at a cabin for a family-style lunch of sandwiches, potato chips, olives, cheese and red wine. Following the lunch stop, we made our way back outside for a three hour hike across the island through pastures and woods where we were treated to amazing views of the beautiful Patagonian landscape.

Afternoon Hike

Patagonia Landscape

After returning to the hotel to rest and clean up a bit, we made our way back downtown for dinner and a return to our red meat ways. Once again finding a lively, tourist hangout proved to be challenging. Ushuaia actually seems to have several bars offering the potential for social activity but most are either sparsely populated or have closed leading Jeff and I to wonder if it’s time to lobby TripAdvisor to add a “nightlife” section to their website. We decided to call it a night relatively early by Argentine standards and rolled home a little after midnight.

We lucked out during the day with the weather with rain only hitting us while we were indoors and a few hints of sun throughout the day. Despite being so far south and so close to Antarctica, and aside from the windy Penguin Island, it’s really not super-cold. Hoping for the same luck with the weather tomorrow.