The Far North

over the last several days, we’ve slowly been making our way to Bolivia. step 1 was to take a 27 hour bus from puerto iguazu to a city called Salta in the far north of Argentina. we arrived in salta after midnight, totally exhausted, and went straight to sleep. i woke up the next morning, stepped outside, and realized that i was no longer in the Argentina that i was used to. the north of Argentina is completely different from the rest of the country. here in the north, things are way more like what i had expected from south America. first of all, there are way more indigenous people here. in the rest of Argentina, pretty much everyone is of European descent, and it really feels super modern and European. the north is more like Mexico, with people selling stuff on the streets, outdoor markets, etc. not only that, but the food is different up here as well. first off, the food is spicier and they actually have salsa. plus, they have tamales and other things that you just cant find in the south. although i definitely had a good time in the south, the north is much more exotic and was kind of what i was looking for when coming here… I’m starting to get really excited for Bolivia!

Salta isn’t exactly an enormous city, but it’s not really all that small either with about half a million people. the town is really nice with lots of cool colonial architecture and a really lively atmosphere. the town has lots of really large ornate churches and a big park in the middle for people to chill out in. if we weren’t pressed for time, it would totally have been a cool place to spend a few days in.

one thing that i keep meaning to write about is Maté. Maté is this kind of herbal tea that people in Argentina are *obsessed* with. you drink the tea out of a small container made out of wood or a gourd (also called a Maté) by using a special metal straw (called a bombilla) that has a strainer built in. everywhere in Argentina you can see people walking down the street, sipping Maté. they sip Maté on picnics, on their work breaks, in town, at restaurants, while hiking on trails… basically everywhere. people here just cant get enough of this stuff.

i had been wanting to try it for a while, and when i met up with Caryn in buenos aires, it turned out that she had bought her very own Maté and bombilla. drinking Maté is this whole procedure. there is one person who is in charge of pouring. they fill the gourd with the tea, add a tiny bit of sugar on top, pour hot water in it from a thermos or kettle, and then pass it to the first person. when the first person is done, they pass it back to the person on charge, who adds more sugar and more water and passes it to the second person, etc, etc. we were only two people, so there was less passing, but it was still cool. my first few sips of maté tasted kind of disgusting. it was really bitter. but after a while i got used to it and started liking it.

the tea itself tastes good, and after trying it a few times, you just want more and more. i can see why people here are so psyched on the stuff! but also, part of what i like about the whole thing is the whole ritual of it all. passing the maté back and forth, just spending time hanging out and drinking tea. for some reason it’s *really* enjoyable. it’s a great way to pass some time in the afternoon so Caryn and i ended up drinking maté a bunch of times. in salta, we took our mate to the town plaza, and hung out drinking maté and people watching.

at night, we went to this restaurant that had live music. it felt a bit contrived and touristy, but was cool anyway. they had a guy on stage in a full gaucho outfit (a gaucho is an Argentinean cowboy) with a huge wide-brimmed hat, and puffy pants and everything singing and playing guitar. they even pulled people from the crowd to come up and dance with him, and Caryn was one of the people who did it.

the next day, it was time to move on. our plan was to work our way to the Bolivian border slowly because of the extreme altitude. most of Bolivia is extremely high up, and the border is at 3,400 meters which is ridiculously high. we had read tons of stuff online about the dangers of altitude sickness which apparently can happen from anywhere starting at 2,500 meters. so, so as not to get sick, we took our time and decided to stop in several towns along the way.

after salta, our next stop was tilcara, a tiny little town with only 2,000 people. old crumbling adobe houses lined unpaved and dusty streets. it really felt like there should be cowboys walking the streets here. we stayed at a small hotel with two really friendly dogs, one of which would try to jump on us every time we got near it. one thing i keep forgetting to mention is how many dogs there are here in Argentina. they are *everywhere*. any town you go to, there will be tons of stray dogs wandering the street in packs. dogs of all different shapes and sizes. one other thing about the north is that food is getting cheaper here. we went to dinner at a small restaurant that had set menus. for the price of $1.30 i got: soup, a large plate of gnocchi w/ sauce and some thinly sliced steak, and dessert. crazy.

after tilcara, the next town was humahuaca. now, i definitely felt like we were in Arizona. there were large cacti everywhere, lots of dusty land with small shrubs. humahuaca was a bigger city than tilcara, but it was still pretty small. there were a few churches to see, a couple of statues and monuments, but really not much else. there is supposedly some good hiking nearby, but we stayed in the town only one day, so we didn’t do any. at night, the restaurant that we went to served llama. should i try it? on one hand i felt like i should just try anything. on the other hand, llamas are ridiculously cute.. could i eat one? well, i ate it. it was actually really good. tasted fairly mild and looked like white meat… kind of like pork maybe. poor llama!

the next morning it was time for the final bus ride of our ascent. it was only a 2 hour bus ride to La Quiaca at the border. the scenery from the bus was amazing. all the towns that we had been passing through are located n a canyon, an this canyon is made up of rocks of all different colors. the canyon walls shimmer in red hues, green hues, yellow, and an almost blueish purplish color. the various layers or rock also made all sorts of different patterns which would change as you drove by them. the sky was an incredible shade of blue and driving through all this scenery while watching llamas and sheep running around was really cool.

so here i am. on the border of Argentina and Bolivia. already i see lots of old ladies dressed in colorful Bolivian clothes with large hats wandering round with babies strapped to their backs. Bolivia is just a few blocks away. the altitude here SUCKS. I’m tired, lethargic, and even walking across the room makes me start breathing heavily. as I’ve been typing, my headache has slowly been getting worse. hopefully these symptoms will go away soon… but regardless, I’m really excited to be here!



people always go gaga for waterfalls, and most any national park will have at least a couple of trails that lead to one. small waterfalls, large waterfalls, groups of waterfalls, etc etc… waterfalls are everywhere. next to sunsets, I would bet that waterfalls are one of the most photographed natural phenomena. I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of waterfalls in my lifetime. I’ve even seen the Niagara falls which is one of the largest waterfalls in north America. yet, I’ve heard that pretty much no waterfall can even come close to iguazu falls in Argentina. at about 2km wide and 80m tall, this is supposed to be one of the most impressive waterfalls anywhere.

near the falls is a small town called Puerto Iguazu which is where we stayed. the town itself is actually pretty nice. it’s really warm here and there’s a very tropical feel: large lush green jungle, palms, etc. we read that when there is a full moon, you can take a tour of the falls by moonlight which seemed like a really cool way of seeing the falls. after asking around all over town, it turned out we were totally in luck. due to bad weather, the moonlight tour had been cancelled for the last 3 days, but tonight it would be happening. perfect timing!

we took a bus to the park, and everyone piled out peering at the sky. clouds. lots of them and everywhere. the moon was nowhere to be seen, so we all started worrying that we wouldn’t even be able to see the falls. after waiting a bit, we boarded this gas powered train, and took the short ride to the “devil’s throat” which is supposed to be the most impressive part of the falls. after the train, we started the kilometer long walk to the devil’s throat. the walk went on and on a long metal catwalk over water. only after walking for quite a bit did it actually hit me… I was on *top* of the falls. the water I was walking over was the Iguazu river as it was about to plummet over the edge. for some reason I had thought that I would be seeing the falls from the side, and had no idea that I’d be looking down on them from above. it was a bit disconcerting, walking in the murky darkness on a wet slippery catwalk, and knowing that all the gurgling churning water rushing under your feet was on it’s way to a 260 foot drop.

eventually we got to the falls. the roar of the water all around us was incredibly loud. devil’s throat is “U” shaped, and you are standing over one leg of the “U”. this is a kind of perfect vantage point because you see the waters of one side of the falls crashing below you, but you can also look across the “U” and see the falls from the side as well. watching the water crashing all around under the moonlight was awesome. there is so much water crashing down at all times, that it sends up a cloud of mist that rises and falls, and on certain parts of the catwalk it felt like it was constantly raining. I took a few photos of the falls, but it was difficult since it was so dark. a few of them turned out ok.

the next day, I returned to the park. this time, I took two trails that take you level with the falls so you can see them from the side. the paths went through lush dense jungle, and there were butterflies and lizards everywhere I looked. I even got a photo of a toucan, but from far away… unfortunately the toucans are shy.

the falls themselves were amazing. of course, it had been really cool seeing them at night by moonlight, but during the day they were just insane. they seemed to just stretch on and on forever. the whole stretch of falls is made up of over 200 sections of falls. some are really wide and others narrow, but put them altogether and it really is quite a sight. there are so many waterfalls, and the stretch is so long, that from the ground there’s no way of actually seeing them all at once. at any given time, you’re only looking at a chunk of the falls, and even that is breathtaking. plus, one of the reasons why so many people prefer iguazu to Niagara, is the setting. the falls are in the middle of beautiful jungle which makes the view even better.

at the end of one of the trails, you get to a part of the catwalk that goes really close to the falls. the water is spraying everywhere as you look up at this monstrous waterfall. this thing is HUGE. if you saw this anywhere, you’d be absolutely impressed… and it was just mind boggling to think that this gigantic waterfall was just one tiny section of the iguazu falls. people were taking turns running out to the end of the catwalk and getting their photos taken, so I did too. I was instantly drenched.

insects and birds weren’t the only wildlife that we saw. there are also these small raccoon-like animals in the park called Coatis. they had long pointy noses, striped tails, and they roamed the park in small packs. these things were hella funny and at one point we saw a bunch of them all jumping on each other and rolling around while squeaking. these guys liked people food a little too much, and at one point we saw one climb into a garbage can with only it’s stripey tail sticking out.

eventually, we noticed that the sky was getting more and more grey. then it started sprinkling. then it was raining, and soon it was pouring like crazy. we ran back to the train and stood there waiting with all the other dripping people. it was raining too hard to stay any longer, so we took the train back and then caught the bus back to town.

at that point we had a difficult decision to make. we had already been to the park twice now. but, we still hadn’t yet seen the devil’s throat during the day. should we go back a third time? on one hand, the devil’s throat is the best part… but going to the park *3* times?! plus, we were worried that the weather would continue being crap. that night it rained all night, and we were woken up over and over all night by thunder and lightning. surprisingly though, the next morning when we got up, the clouds had parted and it was warm and sunny. oh well… I guess it’s back to the park then.

of course, once we got there, we were really glad that we went. the devil’s throat is just amazing. there’s just so much water rushing everywhere. unfortunately, due to all the mist flying up, it’s really hard to get a good photo… all you get is cloudy mist everywhere.

so, yeah.. I’ve seen a million waterfalls. but of course, this was the best one. I cant imagine anything being bigger of better than iguazu…


From South To North

from el calafate in the far south of Argentina, I had to make my way north to Buenos Aires to meet up with caryn. unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to do this, at least without flying. my only option was to take a 5 hour bus to Rio Gallegos, and after sitting around there for a few hours killing time, I would need to take a *36* hour bus up to Buenos Aires. ouch. the first short bus ride was uneventful. I arrived in Rio Gallegos, and then went to an internet cafe a few blocks from the bus station to kill some time. it was crazy windy outside. insanely windy actually and I was literally being blown off the sidewalk as I walked along. after a few hours online, I headed back to the bus station to grab a quick snack before my bus ride. I was *starving*, and at 8pm, I still hadn’t eaten anything all day. at the station, I decided to buy a sandwich and some crackers, but the crackers were a bit far behind the cashier so I reached to put on my glasses to see what kind they were and… holy shit. my glasses were gone.

I frantically tried to remember what could have happened to them. I *know* I had them when I got off the bus. did I leave them at the internet cafe? I was pretty sure I hadn’t. I *know* I have a tendency to forget things, so I make sure to NEVER put my glasses down. if I’m not wearing them, I hang them on my shirt collar so I wont forget them. but who knows. maybe just this once I did actually put them down next to the computer. I run up to the bus attendant, and tell him I need to go find my glasses. he tells me I have 1 minute before the bus leaves. I start running. I run up to the internet cafe totally out of breath… no glasses. CRAP! I run back to the bus, and scramble on. I have no idea what happened to my glasses. my only guess is that they might have been blown off by the wind earlier. what a crap day. there I was… no glasses… no food… and a 36 hour bus ride ahead of me.

the bus ride was long. hella long. I went to sleep, only to be woken up by the snoring of the bus attendant. the whole bus was practically empty, yet he had chosen to go to sleep across from me. I moved, and fell asleep stretched out across 2 seats with my legs stretched across the aisle onto the seat across from me. I woke up the next day and realized that after all that time on the bus, I still had another whole day and night ahead of me. ugh. unlike previous bus rides, they made no effort to show movies in English or even have English subtitles. instead everything was in Spanish. in the span of 36 hours, I watched “pappy, you’re acting so crazy!” *twice*.

finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I got to Buenos Aires. it turned out that caryn’s bus would be 3 hours late, so I sat around at the station bored. finally though, her bus arrived. it had been a fun 3 weeks traveling solo. there’s something really nice about just being the master of your own destiny and just winging it on your own. but after 3 weeks of it, I was super excited to be meeting up with caryn again. it was great to reunite.

we spent the next few days just chilling in Buenos Aires. we found a hotel in the Palermo district, which is one of Buenos Aires’ nicer and more fun neighborhoods. we went to a bunch of good restaurants. we went out to a bunch of bars. we slept in. we lounged around. basically, we did everything except for sightseeing. during all of our time in Buenos Aires, we didn’t see a single sight. instead we just spent our time relaxing, and enjoying what big cities have to offer. it was really nice, and I can really see why people love Buenos Aires so much. it’s like a mixture of Spain and Italy, but at a third of the price.

there was one more thing we wanted to see in Argentina and that was Iguazu falls. they are in the very northeast tip of the country on the Brazilian border. 18 hours by bus. so once again, I was on the bus. this time, I almost didn’t even notice the time pass by. when we arrived, it actually seemed like it had been a short ride. I guess 18 hours is nothing compared to 36!!


Vlad Versus the Ice Cube

in Argentina, there’s this huge ice cube named Perito Moreno. actually, calling it huge would be a ridiculous understatement. it’s fucking enormous. this thing is a glacier that is about 5km wide, 30km long, and at its deepest point, about 700 meters deep. yeah, it really is unspeakably big. seeing it was one of the things that I had been most looking forward to in Argentina even though I kind of didn’t really know what a glacier really was. I mean, what’s the difference between a glacier and just a ton of snow? is it the same thing? if you get enough snow together, then can you call it a glacier?

well, it turns out that a glacier is not at all the same as a bunch of snow. so, this glacier starts off in the mountains where it is basically snowing nonstop. there is so much snow, and it is so heavy, that it compacts on itself and becomes ice. but there is still more and more of this ice being made constantly, so the ice at the top of the mountain is pushing the rest of the ice outward and down the mountain. as one person put it, it’s basically like a river that flows down a hill… but instead of it being made up of water, it’s made out of ice. so, this massive wall of ice name Perito Moreno slowly makes its way down the mountain at about one yard per day and effortlessly plows through anything that gets in its way like massive boulders, full grown tress, etc. finally it reaches the water, and as the water melts the front end, enormous chunks of ice that are larger than tall buildings come crashing off of it. it’s pretty insane to think of this huge thing, larger than all of San Francisco, slowly moving along as if it were alive.

most people that come to see the glacier just go and stare at it from the viewing platforms across the water from it. but caryn told me that there is a company that takes you out to actually do some trekking on the glacier. this way you really get to see some of the more interesting features on the glacier’s surface. that sounded like quite an experience, so I signed up. in the morning, a bus picked me up from my hostel and took me out to the park. on the way to the glacier itself, we stopped to see it from a viewpoint. wow. it was really unbelievable how huge this things was. even from far far away, it really seemed incredibly immense. eventually, we got to the water near the glacier where we needed to wait for a boat to take us across the water. apparently the boat was delayed because there were too many icebergs in the water, and they needed to be cleared away. finally, we got to take the boat across, through a long field of ice chunks, dodging the larger sized icebergs that got in the way.

the glacier from far away

ice on the water

a *huge* iceberg in front of the glacier (keep in mind, that the glacier wall is 60 meters high, as big as a 20 story building

we got off the boat and got ready to go hike. most people who do the short glacier trek, go and walk out onto the glacier from here at its edge, but I had signed up for an extended trek (4 hours on the ice!) and this trek started a few kilometers away, so you were much deeper into the glacier. we hiked for about an hour and a half and then got ready to set out onto the glacier. to walk on the glacier, we had to wear crampons which are basically these spiky things you attach to your shoes to get good grip on the ice. we also wore harnesses just in case we fell into some huge chasm out there.

we got a lesson on how to walk using the crampons, but really it’s super easy and after like 2 minutes, you stop even noticing that you’re wearing them. being on the glacier was awesome. it was so incredibly beautiful out there, just ice stretching out in all directions for what seemed like eternity. so much white. but, the most beautiful thing wasn’t the white. wherever there was a tear in the glacier and you could look inside it, its insides were *blue*. you know the color of blue glowsticks? that kind of eerie artificial blue glow that obviously cant be found in nature? well, it actually can be found in nature… it’s the color inside a glacier. I’m still not exactly sure why the inside of the glacier glows blue, and maybe I’m biased cause I like the color blue but the glow is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. as we walked across the glacier, and we looked at fissures, caves, cracks, and sinkholes, all of them had that incredible glow from inside.

it was fascinating to see all the different kinds of surfaces this glacier has. a lot of it just long areas of hilly ice, kind of like your average snowy mountain, but a lot of it was not. there were huge chunks of ice that had broken off from the glacier that just sat there like odd geometric sculptures. there were huge sinkholes that were created whenever too much melted ice formed a river that slowly bore its way into the center of the glacier. these sinkholes could be extremely dangerous since they can be up to 700 meters deep, and if they are covered by snow, you could easily fall in and never get back out. there were areas where the land under the glacier was really uneven forcing the glacier to crack and from all sorts of ridges and peaks. so much varied topography out there on the ice.

one of the most striking things out there was the lagoons. often melted ice would form large pools of water, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep. these pools of water were a beautiful light blue color, not as dark vibrant blue as the crevices, but a paler blue. there would be small rivers leading into these pools and the water was safe to drink so we had some. it tasted incredibly delicious. there’s nothing like pure fresh glacier water straight from the source.

we spent about 4 hours hiking around on the ice, and I could easily have spent 4 more. it was just so nice to walk through the whiteness listening to the quiet crunch of ice under my feet. luckily, our group was also really small, only 6 people so there wasn’t a huge crowd plowing along. our guide showed us around and pointed out unique features and cool things to see. 2 of the cooler things we saw were this spot where there were 2 random horizontal holes in the glacier and another spot where there was a natural ice bridge formed that you could stand under.

eventually we came to a spot where the glacier stretched for 2km to either side of us. I just couldn’t stop marveling at the size of the glacier. after we ate our lunch and walked around some more, it was sadly time to head back. we got back to the lodge and there had to wait for the boat to leave. while at the lodge, all of us couldn’t help but stare at the glacier some more. really, even after all those hours, we just couldn’t get enough of it.

finally, the boat came and took us away. on the way back, our guide offered us each a shot of whisky that came in a glass with a huge glacier chunk of ice in it. it had been quite a day. I had taken a TON of photos and even as the boat sped away from the glacier, I kept snapping away. after caryn had seen the glacier, she had sent me an email saying that she had seen the coolest thing that she had seen out our whole one year trip. I can totally see how she could say that. the glacier was really *so* spectacular.


the end of the world

I had finally made it to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the whole world. I really like it here. the city is fairly small, right next to a bay and surrounded by snow covered mountains on all sides. anywhere you walk around town, you have beautiful scenery in all directions. the city itself is fairly chill which is nice. tourism is very big here and many of the streets are lined with hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. heh, Ushuaia really plays up its “end of the world” theme, and you can even get a stamp in your passport here saying you’ve been to the end of the world. this is definitely the kind of town where it’s nice to just walk around and take in the atmosphere.

I’m staying at a hostel here and decided to make use of the kitchen, since it’s cheaper to eat that way, and plus it’s been ages since I’ve actually cooked anything. I went to the grocery store, and wow… food here is so cheap! for only 5 dollars, I bought enough steak for two dinners, instant mashed potatoes, milk, butter, chimichuri, and cornflakes. so basically, food for 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts for just 5 bucks. wine at the store sells for as little as a dollar a bottle! so, for the next few days, I didn’t go out to eat at all, just cooked in the hostel.

the next morning, this guy Richard from new Zealand and I went on a boat tour of the beagle channel (named after Darwin’s famous boat). the tour was pretty cool with fantastic views of the mountains jutting out of the waters. we made a few stops on the tour. first we stopped at a couple of islands where there were tons of sea lions. we watched some of them lazily sleep on the rocks while others lumbered into or out of the water while barking furiously. man, those sea lions smelled like crazy! next stop was an island filled with these black and white birds called rock cormorants. the last stop was to see this famous lighthouse which is one of the symbols of Tierra del fuego. it was really cold being out there in the bay, so even though we really enjoyed the sights, eventually everyone had to hide inside the boat to stay warm.

gears on the boat

after the boat tour, we went to coffee w/ some Dutch and German people we had met on the boat. I ordered this type of tea called Mate which is the traditional drink of Argentina. it’s supposed to come in a special cup with a weird straw to drink it (the straw has a strainer to keep out the leaves), but for some reason this place just served the tea in a teabag so I didn’t get the full experience. oh well guess I’ll have to try it again.

the toughest hike in the world

the next day we had decided to do a hike in the Tierra del fuego park. this park has lots of trails to hike around, and as far as I knew, we weren’t really sure which one to take. but, I guess Richard had already decided where he wanted to go. he woke me up in the morning saying that we better get going since the trail takes 4 hours up and then 4 hours back down. 8 hour round trip hike? well, cant be that hard, right? I threw together a lunch, and we set off to the park.

at the park, we had to put our names and passport numbers down so that someone would know if we never returned. hrm, that’s odd. so we start hiking. the beginning of the hike was easy and down a small trail next to a small lake. the forest and mountains all around us were really beautiful. after a bit, the trail started sloping upwards. and then more upwards, and then more. pretty soon, the trail was pretty damn steep. my heart was starting to really race and I was panting like a dog. this was some fairly tough hiking. I joked to Richard “heh, wouldn’t it be crazy if the whole trail was like this, all super steep the whole way!” “um, actually, the whole trail is like this. it is uphill the whole way. actually, this isn’t even the toughest park. the toughest part is in the end, when we get to the snowline”. “oh.” hrm, I was beginning to wonder what I had signed up for. as we kept walking, Richard asked me “so, do you do much hiking or trekking back home in san Francisco” “heh, no, most of my time back home is spent sitting in an office or sitting around outside of the office. what about you?” “oh yeah, I actually go trekking all the time.” “oh”.

pretty soon, I was having to stop fairly often to catch my breath. I was totally exhausted. I told Richard to just go on ahead since I didn’t want to slow him down. he started walking and pretty soon he was out of sight. I kept trudging up the hill. eventually, after a long time, I ran into another guy coming down who said something to me in Spanish. “no hablo espanol” I say, and he replies “UP. 3 more kilometers and nothing except up, up, and more up.” great. the guy had given up before reaching the top. so, I kept pushing my way up the hill. the “trail” was a bit hard to find a lot of the time. I was walking through dense forest, and the trail markers were just these skinny yellow sticks that you would see every now and then. often I had to scan around and try to figure out if I was even going the right direction, and there were several times when I would realize I had been going the wrong way and had to go back and retrace my steps. there were trees everywhere and some of the time I had to climb over/under fallen ones.

after what seemed like forever, I made it out of the forest and trail leveled out for a bit. this part of the trail followed a stream and I had to be careful not to sink too deep into the mud. finally, I reached the snowline, and the trail started going steeply up the mountain again. going up a mountain in the snow isn’t easy. you could never tell how deep the snow was, and every once in a while my feet would plunge through the snow and I’d be knee deep. when this happened, snow came in through the top of my shoes, and soon my socks were completely drenched. not only that, but from all the exertion, I had been sweating like crazy, so my shirt was drenched too. the wind was fierce and freezing cold, and I had somehow managed to forget my windbreaker on the bus to the park. was cold, wet, and tired, but I kept pushing on.

near the snowline, the trail markers ended. there wasn’t any indication of which way to go up, so I followed the footprints in the snow that were left by Richard and/or other hikers.

soon, I got to a place where there was a break in the snow and I was walking up crumbling slate. this part of the trail was even steeper than before, and I had to rest almost constantly. this is when I started worrying about the bus. we had started the hike at noon, and the last bus out of the park leaves at 7pm. if I didn’t make it to the top of the mountain by 4pm, I would be screwed. my pace had been becoming slower and slower, and I was kind of unsure whether I would actually make it on time. the slate that I was walking on was crumbly and slippery and often I would find myself sliding down on it. a few times I fell over and cut my fingers on it as well. in the next photo you can kind of see the squiggly trail in the slate.

eventually, I got back onto snow. this part was really tough. I was hiking not just upwards, but towards the right as well, so I had to hold my feet at an angle with every step. the snow was quite icy and slippery so unless I punched each step down fairly hard, my feet would completely slip out from under me which happened quite a bit. I looked down the mountain and saw Richard hiking back. he must have taken some alternate route back down, since he was below me for some reason. eventually, as the snow got more icy, the footprints I was following got more and more faint, and then disappeared altogether. crap. where the hell as I going. by this point, I didn’t even know if I was going the right way. there hadn’t been a marker for at least a kilometer. I started wondering to myself, should I even keep going? I was SO tired. I was SO cold. my hands were numb from all the times I had to cling to the snow so as not to slide down the mountain. why the hell had I even decided to do this hike?! the problem with me though, is I don’t like to give up. I had started this hike, and I was going to finish it. despite everything.

as I kept going up, the snow would alternate between totally icy so I was slipping and falling, or deep powder so my feet were getting soaked from it. but I was close. I could see the top. I knew that if I pushed myself just a bit more, I’d be there. so, I pushed and pushed and then made it to the top…. or so I thought. CRAP! this wasn’t the top. I hadn’t been able to see from below, but there was still a long section of trail heading off to the right and higher up.

I was on the ridge of the mountain now though, and the views from here we absolutely incredible. I could see hella far in all directions. this would have been a great place to take some time out and enjoy the views, but I had no time to spare. there was still more walking to do. after what seemed like another eternity, I made it to the top. there at the top was a lonely yellow stick, the only trail marker I had seen in ages. I sat down to eat a quick lunch. I had been looking forward to eating this lunch for hours now, but now that I was finally doing it, I couldn’t enjoy it that much. at the top, the wind blew from all directions and it made it all the much colder. I sat there shivering, trying to defrost my hands and eating my cold sandwich.

I finished my food, and it was time to make my way down. nice! this would be the easy part right?! I didn’t see any footprints in the snow, so I assumed that Richard had slid down using the slate… probably quicker and easier than working your way though the snow. so I did the same. I kept half hopping half sliding down the mountain sending showers of chunky slate in my wake. I had to be a bit careful cause if I started sliding too fats, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop. I kept cutting down and right, down and right. as I kept going, I searched in vain for the trail markers that would lead me back to the forest. ummmm. there weren’t any. I kept going and going, but there were no trail markers to be seen. I was starting to get worried. I had no idea how far down or how far to the right I had gotten. nothing looked familiar. how far did I have to go still? or, had I passed the spot?!? there definitely was a good chance that I could have totally overshot it and gone too far to the right. I looked at my watch. 5pm. and I had no clue where I was.

I started getting worried. what if I missed the last bus? or, what if I never found the trail at all? crap. I kept going, and eventually reached this crazy bog. every step I took was squishing through mud and water. my shoes were a total wreck, and my pants were hopelessly muddy. this area was completely unfamiliar, and I hadn’t walked through anything like this on the way up, but I thought this was just cause I had come down too fast and still had a long way to go to the right. witch each step my feet were sinking deep in the goo, and I was totally soaked. at other points I was scrambling on top of thorny bushes, trying not to fall onto them and trying not to get stuck in the patches of super deep snow I would cross once in a while. the mush curved upwards. a bad sign… I should be going down not up. where the hell was I?! I scanned the horizon frantically. not trail markers to be seen. which way should I go? keep going? turn back? I decided to plow ahead and try to get to the top of the boggy part to see if I could see anything from there.

at the top of the little hill, I finally saw a yellow stick far off in the distance. I have never been happier to see a yellow stick in my life. I hurried over to the stick, and then started making my way towards the woods. I got to the river I had walked along before, and promptly slipped in the mud, getting myself even dirtier than before. finally, I got to the woods and plowed down the trail as fast as I could… which wasn’t all that fast as my knees were aching and plus it’s not the best idea to go too fast down a step hill.

finally, at 6:30, I made it back to the bus station. I couldn’t believe it. only then did I stop to think about how cool it was that I had made it to the top of the mountain. this was a hike that was really pretty far beyond my skill set. I’m not much of an outdoorsy person, and hiking isn’t my forte. I really shouldn’t have even attempted the hike, and probably should have at least given up halfway. but I didn’t. I pushed myself to the top, despite everything. all in all, it was totally worth it. of course, the next day, I was totally sore as hell, but I guess that’s the price you pay…


more buses

after seeing the penguins, I took the 18 hour bus ride down to Rio Gallegos. luckily, I was tired so I slept through most of the night. in the morning, looking out the window, the scenery was mostly the same as the day before. dry with grey and green splotchy bushes everywhere. most of Patagonia is on a huge flat plateau, so everything around you in all directions is perfectly flat as far as the eye can see. just flat, flat, and more flat. eventually, I got to Rio Gallegos, found the cheapest hostel I could find which ended up being pretty far from downtown, checked in, showered, and made the long walk into town. it was raining, but luckily I had an umbrella. unluckily though, I snapped the handle to the umbrella 5 minutes later. doh!

I was staring when I got into town, but it was late afternoon and all the restaurants were shut for the break between lunch and dinner. I walked up and down the street for a long time. no luck. I would have to wait. in the meantime, I killed some time online. eventually, I went to eat. what I wanted was a steak, but to save money, I got a hot dog with some mashed potatoes for 3 bucks. after eating, got back online, and then when I realized it was way too freezing to walk all the way back to my hostel, I caught a cab. the guy didn’t know how to get to my hostel. apparently, he also didn’t know how to read maps, because even though I showed him exactly where he needed to go on a map, he still was confused and dint take me to the right place. the whole time, he kept talking to me in Spanish, even though I had told him I don’t speak it.

it was midnight when I go to the hostel and all of a sudden I remembered something: they hadn’t given me a key. to make matters worse, this place had this insane doorbell. one of those super annoying ones that plays a song that goes on and on for like 20 seconds at a million decibels. crap. I totally didn’t think I could ring that bell at this hour. I peaked inside the window and all was dark. oh man. I could just picture them coming to the door all angry and slamming it in my face. so I knocked quietly, hoping not to wake everyone. then louder. then louder still. luckily, finally someone came to the door and I never had to ring the bell. I snuck into my dorm room and, seeing that someone was in there sleeping, didn’t turn on the light. but I guess I woke the guy up, cause all of a sudden a hear all this yelling and he flips on the light. oops! he wasn’t angry though, and then, like everyone else, he started talking to me in Spanish even after I told him I didn’t speak it. I don’t know why everyone does this. eventually he stopped talking and we went to sleep. in the middle of the night, I woke up to insane snoring. seriously, it sounded like this guy was choking in his sleep. so annoying.

the next morning, it was off on another bus ride. this one was 12 hours. if you look closely at the southern tip of south America, you’ll see that the bottom tip isn’t actually connected to the mainland. so, in some ways, I guess Tierra del fuego is an island. both Chile and Argentina wanted to own the island, and eventually they ended up dividing the island into sections, with Chile owning the west half, and Argentina owning the east. the problem though is that to get to the Argentinean side, you have to drive through the Chilean side. here’s a map to have it make a bit more sense. yellow is Argentina and orange is Chile:

so, we drove south from Rio Gallegos, then in Punta Delgado we got out of the bus to have the Argentineans stamp our passports. then we got out of the bus to have the Chileans stamp our passports. then the bus was loaded on this huge ferry that hauled us across the straight of Magellan. after driving a few hours, we got to the next border. we got out of the bus to have the Chileans stamp our passports. we got out of the bus to have the Argentineans stamp our passports. then, we drove to Rio Grande where everyone had to get off the bus and get on another bus. basically, this bus ride involved us getting on and off the bus over and over. not to mention, now I have 4 new stamps in my passport and I’m a bit worried that it’s gonna fill up soon!

as we kept driving farther and farther south, the landscape slowly changed. it got colder and colder. soon, everything around us wasn’t flat anymore, there were mountains everywhere, and eventually snow on the mountains. there were now trees and forests. and finally, as the sun was setting, we arrived at Ushuaia… the city at the end of the world. I couldn’t believe I made it. but I was also exhausted. in the last 4 days, I had been on 3 bus rides: 18 hours, 18 hours, and 12 hours. ouch!



trying to figure out what to do near peninsula valdes was really hard. i wanted to go whale watching. but i also wanted to see penguins. the problem was that the prices for activities here were wayyyy more than the guidebook had predicted. to go see whales, although the boat tour costs 20 bucks, you also have to pay another 12$ to get into the reserve, and then another 40$ to take a tour to get you there. so, i wold basically have to spend 72$ altogether. my budget for argentina was set at 30$ a day. hrm. going to see the penguins would cost 40$ for the tour, 6$ for the reserve, and an optional 20$ if i wanted to go see this rare species of dolphin that lives only off this coast of argentina. doing both activities would just be too much money, so in the end i opted for the penguins of course, but decided to throw in the dolphin thing too.

got up the next morning and was ushered into a van w/3 other people who didnt speak any english. the poor guide had to say everything twice, once in spanish, and then in broken english. after an hour´s drive, we arrived near the shore where we had to wait for an hour till the boat was ready to take us out. the people had warned us that although the dophins are seen on 90% of the trips, sometimes none are seen, so i was a bit worried that i might end up being unlucky.

i didnt need to worry. as soon as the boat left the river and got out to the ocean, we started seing the commerson´s dolphins. tons of them. these things were so damn cool. first off, they are fast. super fast. trying to take a photo of them was nearly impossibe, ad tons of my photos ended up showing nothing but ocean. these guy love to play in the boats wake, so as we would speed along, they would folow the boat, gliding on the waves, and leaping out of the water. seriously, this was like being at a show at marine world. the dolphins would surface, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups of 2 or 3, and then either just pop out of the water and resubmerge, or they would literally leap out of the water. they would make this funny little puffing sound “pfft” as they surfaced and blew air out. all around us, these streaks of black and white and constant “pfft! pfft! pfft!”. i snapped away like crazy w/ my camera, and then took some video as well. i was SO glad that i had decided to take the dolphin option. i think this was way more exciting than it would have been to see whales… and then to my shock, we saw a whale too. the cool thing was that we were in this small little boat, so we were abe to approach the whale hella close. it was crazy being in the middle of the ocean, just a few yards away from this MASSIVE thing. the whale would suface, and then submerge, and then come back up and stick just one of its flippers out… and during this whole time, commerson´s dolphins are flying through the air all around us. surreal.

we then went back to shore, and it was off to see the penguins. i was hoping that i hadn´t made a mistake by coming too early in the season. eventually there would be a whopping 400,000 penguins here on the beach, all of them coming ashore to breed. but, this was still early. breading season had just started. the office of tourism had told me that there were ony 100 pengins there so far!! but others had said numbers like 1,000 or even 100,000. who was right?

once again i needn´t have worried. when we got to the reserve, there were plenty of penguins. thousands of them. so many! penguins *everywhere*! at this time of year, the penguins all need to some ashore to make babies. the males come first, and if this isn´t their first time breeding, they´ll come and find the same nest that they used in the previous years. they wander ahout, pick up twigs, bury in the dirt, and fix up the nests to get them ready. then the females arrive. the males make these crazy sounds that kind of sound like a braying donkey to alert the females, and the females come and find the same male that they mated w/ the previous year. it´s kind of crazy to see this faithful monogamy going on in the animal kingdom. then they mate, lay eggs, and take turns sitting on the eggs while the other goes to eat, and then they switch off.

so the shore was full of these penguins, all making their nests, laying around, and… something i never would have wanted to see… having sex. it´s weird because when i imagine penguins, i imagine them floating around on icebergs or all covered w/ snow. yet here were penguins, chilling on the beach and chilling under shrubs… not exactly the kind of environs you associate w/ penguins. the penguins were insanely adorable. i totally love the way they walk all funny. i even got a video of one jumping (they cant really climb over obstaces, so they do this funny little hop). the penguins, when not building their nests or mating, spend a lot of time cleaning themselves and keeping their plumage nice. i dont know if it´s because of that or what, but all of the penguins on the beach kept sneezing a lot. it´s pretty funny to see a penguin sneeze, and they´d often shake their little tails afterwards.

honestly, i think i could have been entertained for hours just walking around and watching the penguins. plus, it was really cool to learn so much about them. did you know that penguins dont have any natural predators? the only things these guys have to fear really is mankind. any kind of oil in the water can get on their plumage, and it messes up their insulation. they become too cold to stay in the water, so they have to go and huddle on land, where they eventually starve to death cause they cant go back in the water to catch fish. so sad!

on the way back, i flipped through this book about the birds of argentina. it turns out that there are all sorts of different types of penguins. the ones that i saw were magellanic penguins, but now i want to see all the other types too. unfortunately, i´d have to go to either antarctica or the falkand islands for that. *sigh* . one totally crazy penguin i found out about was the rockhopper penguin. these guys have this crazy yellow fruffy stuff on the side of their heads. check ot a photo!

after the tour, i got dropped off in Trelew. from there, i hopped on an 18 hour bus down to Rio Galegos, near the south of argentina. this time, i took the third class seating instead of second class. the seats were so much less nice!! oh well.. gotta save money.

sadly enough, after getting to Rio Galegos, i found out that there is one island off the coast of argentina where you can see these rockhopper penguins, but it was somewhere along the 18 hour strecth of road that i had passed. damn!! well, maybe on my way back up north, i can make a detour to see them…

oh, and since everyone asked… here´s the picture of the super penguin, as far as i can remember how to draw it. dont laugh… i was a little kid when i learned to draw this!