Sunday, April 29, 2007

Coming to an end...

So today we bought our tickets to return to Buenos Aires. The trip is slowly winding down. It is hard to believe that we are about to end this long vacation to return to a new version of our former lives. Well, we still have a few weeks left before we leave from Buenos Aires to go back to the states, but still, it just won't be the same for along time!

Right now we are in Salta. We met up with an English couple that we had met in El Bolson, and met up with again in Bariloche. The 6 of us rented a 4 door Gol, and have done three day trips out of Salta. The first day we hit the wineries and the beautiful national park in Cafayate. The sites were amazing. I was most impressed by the Devil's Throat and the Frog formations. Really impressive! We then hit two wineries, Etchart, and Domingo Hermanos. Etchart was great, we got to see the whole process from picking the grapes to bottling the wine. Domingo Hermanos was okay, but we found out that they had a goat farm as well, and provided a cheese tour. We headed to the other side of town, and ate some yummy cheese, and learned a lot about cheese making, and goat raising. From there we had the notorious wine ice cream (well, more like a wine sorbet). It was delicious, and the owner was a very sweet woman.

The next day we went off to another small town with all white houses. We saw huge fields of peppers, tomatoes, and chili peppers being naturally sun dried. We drove up these huge mountains, only to arrive to a cloud at 3348 meters. We continued on to see a huge landscape of enormous cactuses amongst beautiful red mountains. We had lunch in the town, and saw an archelogogy museum, which contained a lot of Native Indian works. The trip home was truly an adventure. We took the same cloud route, although now, the clouds had thickened and dropped to nearly the bottom of the valley. Tasha drove at about 30 kph, until we reached a point in which she could see more than a meter in front of her.

The final day we drove north of Jujuy to another small town, with the seven colored mountain. Every day, the mountains looked completely different, and provided new scenery. The variations were near miraculous for such a small area. This trip provided the most colorful. We ate lunch, and headed out to see the mountains. The colors, and mud formations were breathtaking. The small artesenal market was kind of a let down, because once again, there were native clad people, selling things they had not made. Every vendor had the same as his neighbor, and although the view of the market with all the colors was nice, it was a let down.

Today, we washed clothes, had lunch, and walked to the center plaza. Salta is a beautiful city. Very comprable to Puerto Madryn in its cleanliness and unique architechture. Last night we ate at the hostel, and enjoyed a glass of wine with the owner. She is quite a woman. One of those people who are very humble, but have amazingly accurate views on life. The conversation has provided me with some insight to how we will reform our lives when we get back to the US. She definitely provided a good end to the trip, and a message that I needed to hear.

So that's it.... maybe with time, I will update this with some more pics, and more detailed tales of our adventure... but for now... that's all she wrote!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kicking back and relaxing in La Rioja

Well, the past few days there have been quite a few changes in pace. As I explained in the last post, we had a heck of a bus trip. Coche Cama was wonderful, and we all slept well, but then we took the bus from Mendoza to La Rioja. That was a trip! It was only 8 hours, but it was a long eight hours. The kids slept the first two hours, but then, we had six hours to occupy them. When we got on the bus, for the first time we were given a lecture on keeping the bus clean, including that we couldn't flush toilet paper, much less make poopy (his words).

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Chile. She is a distant cousin of Facundo. She picked us up, and from there, the rest has just been one big family party. The kids have cousins to play with, we eat at midnight, take 3 hour naps, eat incredible food, and amazingly long conversations. We will see what Monday brings, as they all have to return to jobs.

Our next stopover will be in Chilecito, where the rest of this part of the family lives. There we are hoping to hit some wineries and olive farms.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes, and Neuquen

We arrived to Bariloche on a cold, rainy afternoon. There is currently a very large protest going on here in Argentina over a teacher that was shot by police while protesting wages. So upon entering into Bariloche, we were not able to enter the city directly due to the face covered men with burning tires barricading the streets. The police stood by to just make sure no one got hurt, and to redirect traffic. We finally got to the bus terminal only to find that the tourism office was closed. Our MO is to typically arrive in a city, go to the tourism office, find the cheapest place to stay, and plan our trip in that city. Well, considering it was raining and the office was closed, we set off on our own to find a hostel. The three hosteles we went to told us they didn't take families, which is understandable; I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable about partying on their vacation because of my kids. So we checked into a hotel. Our first one of the trip. It was basic, very basic, but it was luxurious to us. Having a shower that is in a room that is heated is like gold! There was even great water pressure, and the hot water didn't run out! We had two connecting rooms, and a tv in our room! The kids even opted for $2 pesos each to sleep in their own bed with no tv! I don't know who really won out on that deal! We then set out to get to know Bariloche. It was beautiful, and clean, and reminiscent of Georgetown in the incredibly expensive, brand name stores all along the avenue. It was expensive though.

We had a quick pizza, and went to bed!
The next day, we set out to really see the city, and to try to get Harrison's stitches out. Well, on the way to the hospital, we ran into the couple that we had met at our first stop. We knew they were going to be in Bariloche, but we had figured we had missed them. Well, the protests helped us out in this way, because they had to leave a day later because of all the chaos, and they were catching the bus to the terminal when we ran into them. The conversation was really neat because we could talk about some of the same cities, our impressions, and things that we saw that were different in the same time period.

We then headed to the hospital to see about Harrison's stitches. Well... they don't take stitches out on Tuesdays! So we basically ran around the hospital trying to get someone to take them out, until we ended up in the directors office. A doctor came in and said, don't worry, until his scab comes off, he can't get them off anyhow.

We went to one of the famous Bariloche chocolate shops to duck in out of the rain, and we had some wonderful cakes and ice cream. On our way out the door, we ran into the English couple from the last city. We talked with them for a little while, and then decided to meet up for dinner. We at this point are feeling very popular in the town of Bariloche!

Dinner was good, and not too pricey for Bariloche standards, and there was live music.

The next morning we caught a bus out to San Martin de los Andes. We went there only because that bus passes the Seven Lakes. But... it was raining, and the windows were foggy, so we didn't see too much of them, and at this point, we have seen lots of lakes and mountains, and as beautiful as they are, they can't change that drastically within the same region!

We spent the day around in SM de los Andes, and it too was beautiful. A lot smaller than Bariloche, and much of the same wood decorated, mountain home design. We wanted to get north though. The weather keeps getting worse. Time for some more hot days!

We took a bus that night from SM to Neuquen. It was a 5 hour trip, and we are now in Neuquen, with little spirit to do much of anything, and a lot of heavy eyelids. Today we have kept busy with parks, bowling, and an arcade. The kids need it because tonight brings our first cama coche trip (like business class seats of a plane, only on a bus!) of 10 or so hours to Mendoza, where we will have a half hour until we get on the next bus to La Rioja. So we leave tonight at 9PM, and get there on Friday at 4:30PM. Fun stuff! The kids need the arcade, and I need a few drinks!

Well, La Rioja should be a break. Not only is it cheaper, we will be staying with Facundo's family. Evidently there is a large family from his great uncle that all live there, and are very hospitable! After that we are debating what to do. We are tired, and it is hard to keep splitting with our money, but everyone says the north is something we can't miss... so we'll see! If we do all as planned, we should be back in the states sometime around the 18th of May!

Okay, that's about it for now.. I have to get back to the family foosball match showdown!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The people and El Bolson

So we took a three hour bus trip from Esquel to El Bolson. El Bolson is notorious for being a hippy town, and it is just that. The market here is wonderful, full of artesnal crafts and beer, and lots of yummy food for cheap! We decided to camp, as yesterday was hot, but as night fell, we began to realize this would be the true test of our sleeping bags. We managed to stay warm, and in the morning, the sun rose quickly enough to keep us happy. During the day we just really kicked back and relaxed. The kids played in the little park next to the huge market, and we sat on the lawn and drank some beer. We returned the campsite, and met our neighbors. They are really an incredible pair. The saved up money to take a year long journey through central and south America and are volunteering along the way. They have released sea turtles, worked as hospitality staff, worked on an organic farm picking pineapple, cacao, and avocados and now are headed off to the jungle of Bolivia to help retrain circus and abused animals to the wild. They did the work in exchange for food and shelter. They along the way, have also gone diving, glacier climbing, caving, you name it, they have done it. We spent the night thinking how cool all that would be. We asked them about the possibility of doing these projects with kids, and they said that they have heard it being done. What an awesome way that would to spend summers with my kids! So, if all goes well, hopefully our next trip will be in Central America doing some volunteer work.

We also met a guy in Esquel that had driven for 7 months from Argentina to Alaska in an RV. It was really impressive, and he could remember every place that he had seen alone the way, not to mention the route he and his wife had taken. The RV impressed Facundo so much that he wants that to be the purchase that follows the house, and two cars when we get back to the states. We'll see about that. I think we need a year or two of recuperation of normality before we set off on another adventure.

Harrison visited a hospital yesterday for a check up on his stitches, and he can now go without his big white bandage on his chin. Next Monday, they come out, so hopefully all will have healed well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The mountains!!

So we have now been in Esquel for 4 days. We took the famous Trochita, and were disappointed by the Nahuel Pan. They weren't really Indians, they were more like people who knew this train would arrive in a town and they could sell us things claiming to be Indians. We did buy stuff though! The train ride was nice, and the sights were amazing. Afterwards, we ate the patagonian tradition of cordero, lamb, and watched a show of Techuelche music.
Better than the train was the horse back riding that we did on Monday. It was two hours through the mountains. The weather was brisk, but we were just us with the tour guide, and had a wonderful time. Kaylan was so relaxed that she fell asleep. We asked our guides the ages of our horses, and mine was 33, Facundo's was 29, and the tour guides was 4. We wondered at times if the horses were going to live! Yesterday we just walked around doing not much of anything.
The only drama we have had as of yet, was Harrison falling from the second level of a three level bunk bed! Facundo slept with him to make sure he didn't fall, and he fell anyhow! In the middle of the night Facundo rushed him to the hospital, where a surgeon gave him two stitches under his chin. We now have to return to the hospital daily to get them cleaned! He hates getting them touched, but loves having to not take a bath!
Facundo has admitted it isn't as magical as he had hoped, so the trip won't be the ever desired 2 months, but we haven't gotten north yet to see how long we want to take! We are enjoying ourselves though. Tomorrow we are renting a car and driving through the national park to see the second oldest tree on earth, and some beautiful lakes. So far it hasn't rained even once, although there was an earthquake that we didn¡t feel! Hopefully the weather keeps holding out! The days have all been glorious!

The final day that we spent in Esquel was renting a car and driving through the national park. It was gorgeous! The lakes were crystal clear, with greens and blues. They were amazing, impecable, incredible! We had a view of the glacier, and met a 300 year old tree, but couldn't make the 5 hour hike out to the second oldest tree in the world, and didn't want to pay the $85 pesos per person to take the boat. We didn't need it anyhow, the sights we saw were incredible. We took a few of the small hikes to see some waterfalls, and sat next to one of the lakes to enjoy our lunch. Harrison once again wanted to dive right in, regardless of how absolutely frigid the water was. He managed to get his pants soaked, but didn't mind the cold weather at all. Kaylan was a good girl as always and got her feet wet, but not her clothes. She did for some reason though, decide to kind of wash her hair in the water! They are really funny. This part of the trip with the hiking in nature, they have seemed to enjoy the most. Running around, and just being free seems to be their favorite things to do these days!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Puerto Madryn and Penisula Valdes

We took a double decker bus from Las Grutas to Puerto Madryn. It was a three hour ride, and uneventful, with the usual desert landscape to watch. We arrived in Puerto Madryn, and set up camp. This city actually feels like people can live here. Las Grutas was truly a tourism town, with hardly anything going on outside of the summer. Here, there is movement! We took a walk along the gorgeous coastline, and ate some gigantic empanadas at Miguelitos. We tucked in for the night, and found that it was less cold here than Las Grutas too! We all slept comfortably.

The next day, we had rented a car, to make the long trip around Penisula Valdes. The trip took us from 10 AM from Puerto Madryn until 10 PM at night. The roads were mostly rubble, but the animals were worth it! Unfortunately, there were no whales to be seen, and the killer whales thought the waves were too rough to make the trip in shore to eat some seals. We did see the seals, and the penguins, and sea elephants. It was incredible, although we couldn't get too close for obvious reasons. The sea was super blue, quite a contrast to the tan land. The town in Puerto Piramides was a quaint little town that we are considering just taking a day trip to. It is within some mountains, and overlooks the sea, so the vistas are breathtaking!

Tomorrow it is off to Trelew, and today, we are going to rent some bikes, and see if we can see some dolphins in the harbor!