Monthly Archives: January 2008

Valdes Penninsula Wildlife!

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Yesterday I was happy to look out and see that it was dawn, but I went back to sleep for 15 more minutes. I woke up again and threw on my pants and went to wake up the girls – I was in a guys’ dorm and they were in the girls’. We had a crappy breakfast but were excited because we were going to Punto Norte, the furthest point on the desert penninsula. A two hour drive to see, hopefully, orcas that rode up in the waves and snatched seals off the beach.

We got in the car and started across the desert, still early in the morning, still what I´d call dawn, as the sun made long shadows and felt cool. We saw all sorts of wildlife on the drive, more than we´d seen the day before. We saw the regular llamas and sheep, but in addition we saw foxes and packs of emus crossing the road. The highlight was when a jackrabbit saw us coming and went sprinting ahead of the car. We pulled even with him – going SIXTY kilometers per hour! I was hanging out the passenger side (of my best friend´s ride) with the good camera and I managed to snap two really good shots of the thing, background blurry and all. It´s really a great picture because I think it´s very rare that people get to take a picture of a sprinting jackrabbit at the same speed.

We got to the North Point but unfortunately the tide was low (fun little miscommunication with the rangers). We got to see the elephant seals, though, which are nasty creatures. They´re essentially sacks of guts, poorly designed, constantly grumpy. They were screaming at each other and fighting all the time, not a quiet moment. There were some dead pups being fed on by birds, the mother occasionally scaring them off, but the birds did eventually get the best of the carcass.

From there we drove, pretty uneventfully, the rest of the way around the penninsula, the trip took about 4 or 5 hours on dirt roads, in all. We stopped at one point to look at an enormous salt flat, empty and hot looking. We couldn´t go out onto it because of a fence, but it was cool just to be on the “shore”. Autsy drove us back safely to the town for some lunch and a siesta.

When we woke up Azure and I went for a walk around the hill on the west side of the town to, you know, see what was there. It turns out that the ground dropped 20 feet down to the beach and the only way to access it was by lowering yourself down a rope. I was excited to do it, of course, but azure didn´t want any part. I liked how the beach was in plain view but almost inaccessible. It felt private. After I lowered myself down I saw there was a wall of mussels that was kinda a cave carved out by the waves and I saw the reflection of water on the ceiling even though the tide was low. I tucked my head in to investigate and found a little puddle with stuff sliming around in it, but the cool thing was I stuck my head in a parabola, so I could hear whatever was behind me, and I swear I heard a whale squealing. I didn´t see it, though.

Anyway, I climbed back up the rope and walked a little along the edge of the cliff looking at fossils in the ground. There´s this weird phenomenon at Piramides where the ground you´re walking on is all old mud that has fossils in it, so you´re literally walking on thousands and thousands of visible fossils the whole time. I imagine that when it rains, the top layer of the ground erodes and some of the fossils come loose.

After dinner I demanded that since we were so close to the desert and it would be a moonless night we should drive way out away from the lights and look at the stars. We took off just after sunset, and I´m glad we went so early because when we got to a lookout point, the sky was alarming… It was a clear, clear night and when you looked at where the sun had set, you could see the curve of the earth in the atmosphere where the dark sky and stars met the blue. I could see all the colors of the rainbow in the remaining band of sky. It was, I imagine, the most pure sunset you can see. No interference from land or pollution or dust or clouds. Just air and light.

At the same time the stars were appearing dozens at a time, so many that I looked at Orion´s belt and wondered why they picked those three out of the handfulls around them. We saw four celestial events: a plane, a satellite and two shooting stars. One of the shooting start tore a light blue streak slowly across the sky, only Autsy and I saw it. The Milky Way was cool and I had one of those moments, laying on my back on the ground, where I could actually imagine we were on a ball in the three dimensional space of the stars, that the black sky had depth. Times like that you feel like you´re not looking up, but out.

I managed to take some cool pictures, I guess I´ll see how they turn out on the computer. I´m really excited about them, but I don´t know if the smaller stars will come out they way they looked last night. I mean, I´m sure they won´t, but it would be cool if they did.

That arc of blue.

It came out well.

60 KPH!!

Fossil mud.

Desert in the morning.

Shut up!

Click here to see more wildlife pictures.



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Autsy´s blog

For those of you who don´t, do check Autsy´s blog. She has some great posts and writes a lot even when we don´t. She has a great pictoral post of our time in and around Bariloche called ¨Fun for all.¨

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Everyone loves pictures of water

Again, all these photos can be found here.


100-foot blue

Shallower blue


Circle vs Line

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Many Menagè-a-trois

Ok, so that was a completely unnecesary title, but Tom and Maya say that the more racy the title, the more hits we will get. It is also a tribute to our favorite hostel worker, Juanny Depp, whom Autsy has referred to in her posts. The night we went for the moonlight swim, he said, ¨After the swim, we can have many menage-a-trois¨, of course he meant orgy, but didn´t know the word, but the idea of the thirty people on the beach clustering up for many of them gave us a giggle. I love messed up translations.

Since my partners in travel have been very good about updating regulary, I thought I would just do another played recap. I´ll try to estabolish myslef as the big picture girl, while they can write about the details.

Thursday of last, the three of us hop on a bus to Bariloche. The ride is ok, except for the very loud Jack Black movie playing. If I haven´t commented on the state of the movies of the overnight busses, I should. They are horrible. I mean 2 of them were on the Seattle Times movie critic´s list of the 5 movies she wishes she could forget. The drive was beautiful, desolate for much of it and then out of nowhere comes trees and huge lakes. Our main goal for heading was to escape the heat and get some good lake swimming in, but like most places on this trip, it was not what we expected.

The first day there, it was cool and windy. The town, as you can see in Mike´s photos looks quite German, set on a hill sloping down to the water. We went to the rocky beach the first night and realized why we hadn´t seen anyone swimming in the lake — it was haultingly cold. I mean, my foot cramped as my toe was barely touching the water. Perhaps I even gave a small yelp!

The first night we spent in a double room, Autsy and I on the bed, Mike on the floor (he offered!). It was really nice of the guy to give us the room, many people wouldn´t have allowed it. We really noticed how nice and relaxed people were when w got there. We think it might have something to do with the climate. That day we got our first glimpse of Hostel 1004, which has been raved about by both of my companions. The minute we stepped foot in it´s luxurious common room, we knew we had to stay there. Having no space avalable for the next 3 nights, we made reservations when we could get them and looked for a car rental place. The next morning we found the cheapest deal in town and headed to El Bolson.

In El Bolson, there were a lot of Hippies. Everyone had a backpack and people were all over the streets and the plaza. It was a small town set between two mountains. It actually looks a lot like North Bend, in a valley, with hills all around. Since we had a car, we were able to drive out of the center to a great little place in a the middle of a big garden or park or something. It was cute and made of great wood beams and had the nice wooden details that makes a place charming. We went to town and got to eat at what seemed like the most popular area in town. First had locally made beers and ice cream at an outdoor table, while doing some good people watching, then had diner inside. The food was pretty good, but we had to go back because Mike and Autsy had been having ¨stomach issues¨ since the buffet at the Iguazu hostel — another hazard of travelling, but we have been pretty lucky.

The next morning, we asked for another night, but they were full, so we decided to hang out at one of the nearby lakes and swim before returning to Bariloche. At breakfast, we picked up a fourth, a girl named Nadia from LA, who was spending time in a desert in Chile by herself to become happy again. Of course a long story, but detail is not the name of my game. We took her to the lake, which was f-ing cold as well, but Mike, Autsy and I were determined, so we went in to the stares of all the other people on the beach. More yelping and we mad Nadia take some photos of us for proof. I wish I could blog temperature, but this computer does not have the ¨feel function¨ yet, someday. We stopped at the cerveceria for some lunch before heading back to Bariloche. Stopped at a lake, Mike skipped rocks and took some photos. He is becoming a self-proclaimed ¨nature photographer¨, but much of the wildlife he captures is Autsy and I (see the photo of me eating the burger in his post).

Made it back to Bariloche, had a nice dinner, stayed at a nice hotel, left the next morning for the 7 lakes tour, which we ended up messing up and taking the longer route. It was beautiful, both Mike and Autsy learned how to drive stick and both took some really hard terrain. Stopped at some remote lakes, ate at a remote town, drove on dirt roads for probably 4 hours, almost ran out of gas, found a cute place that ended up being more than we thought, and turned the car in Monday morning. Having a car in my experience is always worth the extra money. Everytime we rent one, the feeling of freedom is tangible and we are always sop light and happy having control to stop wherever we want.

We cheacked in to the best Hostel ever and spent the next 4 days hanging around the town. We took a trip out to Llao Llao, which is the fancy hotel out on the point, our view was better and we only paid $13 per night versus $390 for the cheapest room. We met a bunch of cool people and got most of their cantact information. We cooked dinner in every night, which was a great experience because most of the 30 other people staying in the hostel did the same thing, so there was a sense of community and there were new people to talk to without having to go out. We went to the vegetable stand every night and cooked fresh veggies or had salads. Every morning, they gave us an oatmeal concoction for breakfast that was great. We went out for lunches and spent the days either walking around town or heading to the local rocky beach, the one that I dipped my toe in the first day, but now we would actually go in since the moonlight splash. It broke the seal in a way and we went in everyday following that event. At night, we could sit out on the balcony of the hostel and look at where the houses on the hill hit the water and across the lake to all of the untouched shores. From our room, we could see the lake and the moonrise and the plaza, which unfortunately came with a lot of teens playing really loud, not very good music at full blast from their cars. Who knew sound travels up so well.

The last night was a little sad, they had a BBQ, not for us, but sort of because we had asked about it. We got prime seats for the view and the weather was so warm we could sit there until well after sunset. We kept asking ourselves why we would want to leave, it was so good to us, but it was time. We caught a bus to Puerto Madryn last night, got in at 7am, a better idea in theory than in practice. Everything was shut down in the small beach town and we waited around until 9:30 to find a place. It is what all beach towns are in the summer, crowded and commercial, with lots of bad restaurants and families trying to have a good time together. It made me realize how little experience I have with this culture, as we never seemed to, and still don´t travel much in the summers. We have a car reserved to drive down and see some penguins and up to see some whales. In a way, I´m glad it is so different from Bariloche because at least it isn´t a lesser version of something great. The landscape is different and the feel is opposite. We are spending tonight readjusting, using the internet and catching up on some sleep that we lost on the bus last night.

For fun, here is a picture Mike took of Autsy and I on the last night at the Hostel. These are our prime seats for the BBQ.


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Awe-inspiring views

All of these can be found here


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Hostel 1004 swim

From the 10th floor we watched the full moon come up last night, enormous and orange and visibly rising.  The moon drew a path between us starting at our window and dropping down onto the windshields of cars below where it disappeared and reappeared with traffic. It then went white onto the stones on the beach and reflected broadly as a yellow band across the lake. It ran on the opposite shore, up the silhouettes of mountains and finally ended in some clouds where the sky glowed. We could find the moon no problem, we were connected. We could walk there if needed.  Slowly the full moon rose and the night felt like an event – like we might be there the one and only time this happened.

The doorman at the hostel organized everyone for a moonlight swim, we´d leave at 11:30 and take a plunge together.  He said that this was, in fact, the first time they´d ever done this with the hostel, so maybe it really was the one and only time.  I like to think so.

There was a woman from Sacramento who didn´t go.  Later that night, we´d be talking on the balcony and she´d tell me the stock market fell hard yesterday, the Feds dropped the rates again and the dollar plummeted against the Euro.

We left in a large group from the hostel – the elevator could fit 7 at a time so we emerged on the ground floor in clumps until finally everyone was down and ready to go.  It was cold out, and from earlier swimming we knew the water was freezing, barely tolerable.  None of us was really looking forward to the actual act, just the momentousness of it – that we were spontaneous and present.  Isn´t that travel?

It would be, I realized, one of the most beautiful things I´ve done – and I´m glad I realized that on the beach beforehand because it made it much easier to go in.  We took off our clothes (we were wearing bathing suits, unfortunately), stepped out of our sandals onto the stones, and we cautiously walked down the beach.  I waded into the water yelping, everyone else was screaming and splashing.  You could see the bottom, the moon being so bright and the water so clear, and I thought some people might break their toes on large rocks if they went running into the water. 

I dunked my head under and all my skin went numb. The water was shocking, it was literally breathtaking.  I stayed in maybe 30 seconds, just enough to enjoy watching everyone jump around in the moonlight against the mountains, then I scurried to get out.  Az and Autsy came in a bit after me, so I left them back in the water, screaming and howling themselves.  When we were all standing on the rocky shore the air and wind felt so warm that I actually let myself dry without using a towel.


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Bariloche & the Seven Lakes Tour

Hola everyone!

The morning after I wrote the last email, we left the hippieish El Bolson (taking with us an American named Nadia who we met at breakfast) and started back on the 4-hour drive to Bariloche.  On the way we stopped and hung out at the rocky beach on one of the lakes.  I skipped stones and talked politics with Nadia while Az and Autsy waded and paddled around in the freezing water. 

We made it to Bariloche, managed to spend the night in a nice French-themed hotel (which we wouldn´t have been able to afford with less than 4 people) and the next morning headed out of the city, leaving Nadia behind.  We were going on the Seven Lakes Tour, which is a 180 kilometer loop north into the mountains, past lakes and rivers and streams and ponds and valleys, etc.

We had half a tank of gas when we passed the gas station, the first half had taken us 250km, so we figured we were fine. What could possibly go wrong?  We turned off the paved highway and drove next to a river into this valley that was untouched – there was some of that deserty brush and a lot of pine trees.  I seem to remember seeing a house or a barn or something, but I don´t think there was one in the first valley.  We were actually in more of a canyon, I guess, with rock formations on either side.  We were talking about what it would be like to spend a night out there, mountains blocking out all the city light, no sounds, no traffic, no planes overhead. 

The valley turned and we started an ascent.  To our left was another rock formation, like Mount Si, but smaller, and there were all these strange trees at its base:  they were large like evergreens but half the tree appeared to be dead while the other half was alive and well.  It was haunting, all those skeletons mixed in.  The dirt road continued to wind up the hill, through the strange trees, hairpin turns.  Every corner we had a view down the valley.  Finally we crested the hill and, guess what, another green valley relaxing in front of us, the dirt road ahead, the river next to it.   We drove down into the valley and I took my turn driving, my first time ever driving stick shift, if you can believe that.

We came to a bridge that really looked like a) it wasn´t fit for foot traffic, let alone cars and b) the tire paths were too wide for our little car.  Having never driven stick, I couldn´t afford to hesitate so we gunned it across the bridge.  No problem.

After a few hours in and out of valleys, mostly alone except the occasional vehicle going the opposite direction, we finally came to a cluster of buildings that I think was a town. It was on a little hill that dropped to meet the foot of an enormous blue lake, and we stopped for food.  Azure and Autsy had burgers, I had a ¨milanesa,¨ which is a piece of pork breaded and put in a bun about half its size.  Of course we´re in Argentina, so of course they put ham and cheese in the pork sandwich.  We sat outside in the sun, though it´s chilly here in the mountains, and the restaurant played a nice mix of Celine (I can´t figure out how to spell this) Dion and Christina Aguliera (I can´t figure out how to spell this). 

We hopped back in the car with Autsy driving, and I think it was about this time that we realized we were running low on gas.  It was also about this time that we realized that way back when we turned off the paved road, we actually turned onto the dirt road running on the NORTH side of the river, not the south side as we intended.  In other words, our 180 kilometer loop was actually going to end up being about 280. 

The ride from there on was kinda a blur.  I kept glancing at the gas gauge every 3 seconds and occasionally out the window at the lakes and valleys.  Autsy was driving, but Azure soon took over because she´s the most experienced of us three (and actually the only who had driven stick before this trip) and would hopefully be most economical with the gas.  It´s tough on a dirt road to coast, the rocks slow you down.  She´d try to speed up to 55 mph (we estimated) because we seemed to remember that was the most efficient speed, but there was always a reason to slow down, like another slow car or a weird curve.

Another half hour worrying about the gas and we passed a turnoff that we had thought was 40 km behind us. That was bad news.  I was sure we weren´t going to make it because the road took this weird route around the top of a lake instead of the other way.  The dirt road just never seemed to end and we kept getting stuck behind slow drivers.  The car was absolutely soaked in dust, inside and out.   It was crisis time, I started envisioning my night of hitchhiking into town, buying a gas can, buying gas, hitchhiking back out to the car and driving out of the mountains, hopefully making it back to civilization by sunrise.  I wasn´t excited about it.

Finally we came to the paved road and there was only 7 km to go, but the gauge had long been in the red.  Azure relaxed on the coasting thing (I think she figured that worst-case scenario we´d only have to hitch hike a short distance) but I got on her case, saying that coming up even 100 meters short of the gas station would mean pushing a car 100 meters. 

Anyway, we turned a corner and finally, like the beacon of hope it was, the gas station came into sight.  What a relief!  We made it to the pump without incident.  Then that evening we made it to a little hotel that was lovely and ripped us off, then the next morning back into Bariloche.  We´re currently in a wonderful hostel on the top floor of the tallest building in town.   It´s an eyesore from the outside, but probably the nicest views in the whole city from the inside. 

Much love,

Mike (& Azure & Autsy)


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