We’ve collected some of our braindumps of the last days and have put them in one big post. They don’t really form a coherent story, but on the other hand we didn’t want to withhold you any of this information. For those who are only interested in certain topics: the first part goes about a great hike we did around El Bolson, the next bit treats the weary bus trip we are making while getting up North, then we have a short update on the vineyards of Mendoza, before handling the great re-discovery of couchsurfing and the last article is just covering the final fait-divers.
Hiking in El Bolson.
We left Futaluefu early in the morning to cross back in to Argentina for a final time on this trip (no doubt that we’ll come back here someday, there is so much left to discover in this amazing country). We arrived in Esquel and didn’t like it that much, we ended up doing a hike towards a nearby lake, spent a night in a peaceful hostel (at least before a group of 15 noisy Israelis arrived) and took an early bus towards El Bolson the next day.
This little town is gloriously located in an Andean valley surrounded by two long chains of mountains. It’s renown for two reasons: one is the warm micro-climate that makes this a great place for agriculture, the other is being the hippy town of Argentina. Although the first became abundantly clear to us when we were soaking in the good weather, the latter is less noticeable. People were very nice and there was a larger offering of organic foods, but the little market in town seemed to offer the same things as in other places while the radio kept offering us abundant doses of generic commercial music. We were lucky to find a great place to stay with Augustin and his wife. He’s an artist who has been living in the city for all his life and has build two lovely guest-houses on his property. Being the low season, we had one of the houses for ourselves at the cost of staying in a hostel, true luxury.
After having an abundant brunch we set off on a two day hike the following morning. The friendly people of Club Andino de Piltriquitron, the local hiking community, had suggested us to go to Refugio Lindo from where it was possible to get to the 2.200 meter high summit in a day trip. Since we’ve been trying to make our provisions increasingly more luxurious on these hiking trips, this time we were taking along lots of fresh fruit and veggies, different types of salami and a bottle of nice Malbec. It wouldn’t take long before we would regret our gastronomic aspirations, the ascent towards the refugio meant overcoming a 1400 meter height difference and our calves were suffering heavily under the load. When arriving at the refugio, we met our friendly host Ariel, dropped of our load and set off with rejuvenated legs to a nearby cascade. The bright mountain light inside the shady refugio sleeping room inspired us for a nice photo-session.
At night we sat along the glowing wood-stove, enjoying our salami with vegetable risotto (a classic dish since our adventures in Torres del Paine) and finishing off a game of chess along with our bottle of wine. The next morning we got Ariel to guide us to the summit of the Cerro Lindo, a glorious four hour hike along slippery waterfalls, crystal clear glacial lakes, snowed down slopes and amazing viewpoints. When standing on top of the mountain, we had to fight the furious winds blowing around us but were rewarded with a superb scenery that reached from the Chilean part of the Anders to the Tornador volcano next to Bariloche over a hundred kilometres away. On our way back we were surprised with an extremely colourful fall-scenery covering the valley, which very much resembled the work of a great pointillist painter.
Busy getting busted on the bus.
Greetings from the bus station of Neuquen, where we’re awaiting our connection towards Mendoza. We have to disappoint those of you who were thinking that a city with such an inspiring palindrome for a name would make us to stay longer, but we’re only using this place as a connection point. Sometimes travelling is not more than that, being on the road from one place towards another. It’s what we’ll be doing for much of the coming week. The idea is to make the connection from San Carlos de Bariloche, passing through the city of Neuquen, stopping briefly to bike through the vineyards around Mendoza, hitting Tucuman for a historical crash-course on the independence of Argentina, before stopping in exciting Salta, from there on we make a quick visit to the Unesco world heritage site of the Quebrada of Huemaca, finally we’ll cross the Andes and get to the beachtown of Iquique. Taking in account some breaks along the way we should get there by the Monday morning, in a timespan of 9 days we will have bussed 4260 kilometres and have spent 65 hours on a bus.
In most of the countries around the world this would be a hellish experience, not so in Argentina which has a great bus service. The long-distance busses offer “camas” which are luxurious, fully reclinable seats which come with a little blanket and pillow; during the ride you get offered a hot meal and drinks; the only down-side might be the blurting folk music dvd’s which are played constantly and are hard to ignore.
So why the urge to get up North so all of the sudden and skip the most of central Argentina and Chile? Multiple things have made us choose for this, but the principal ones are:
1. a desire for great weather; since winter was slowly taking over Patagonia starting to cover a lot of places with a tiny layer of snow
2. a need to get back into civilization; despite all it’s marvellous nature Patagonia clearly lacks a cosmopolitan vibe we haven’t experienced since our first days in Buenos Aires
3. trying to get to cheaper parts of South America; Argentina and Chile are two of the most developed countries in S-Am and we’re slightly starting to feel this in our wallets; we’re hoping that Bolivia and Peru will be nicer to us in this respect
4. time for a change in scenery; we’ve hiked through so much beautiful national parks and reserves with all their enormous glaciars, mirror-like lakes, carved-out canyons, funny guanacos snowed-down summits and thrilling waterfalls, that we’re sometimes no longer amazed. If we were to translate a Belgian cliche, we no longer see the forest through all the trees. A different landscape will hopefully rejuvenate our senses.
Winetasting in Mendoza
An overnight bus dropped us off in Mendoza early in the morning. We went straight away to the hostel that was recommended to us by a Dutch couple and got some extra hours of sleep. Just before lunch we set out to discover the city. Mendoza was destroyed by an earthquake some decades ago, which gave them the opportunity to redesign the complete city lay-out. This resulted in wide avenidas, tons of parks and some very nicely restored buildings.
The following day we left the hostel with a South-African couple we’ve met in the hostel towards the city of Maipu. In its surroundings you can find the largest and most famous Argentine vineyards. We hooked up with Senor Hugo who’s the local bike dealer and gave us some fine rides. It wouldn’t take long before our Flandrien roots would take over and in no time we had lost sight of our South Africans, a pity since they were very nice company. We continued on our bikes and visited two of the family bodegas on our way and tried out some of the local Malbec and Torrentos wines. We finalised our tour by visiting the Trappiche vineyards, which are the biggest exporters of wine in Argentina. There, our lovely guide showed us around and made us try some new grape varieties.
Couchsurfing in Yerba Buena, Tucuman
After travelling for almost fifty days in hostels and hospedajes, you sometimes feel like you’re living in a separate world designed for travellers only. All day long you meet amazing people from all over the world, who have great advice on where to go next, which activities to do and which hostel to stay at.
So we decided to pick up an old habitude, couchsurfing. During our time in Brussels we had hosted some guest from all over the world and David had already used it during his travels in New York and Bulgaria. We hadn’t tried so before since the CS-community isn’t that big in Patagonia, but around Tucuman there seemed to be a lot of people who were willing to host two Belgian gringos. Julio was the first one to respond and he turned out to be an amazing host. Together with his family, Julio lives in the nearby city of Yerba Buena. Upon arrival we were received with extreme friendliness and had no choice but to join the family for lunch. In the afternoon Julio took us up to the pueblo of San Javier from where we had an amazing view of the city. We settled down and ordered some tea. Unfortunately David had to wait a bit longer for his “té de menta”, because weirdly enough the waiter kept forgetting this part of the order. Later at night we felt like the two newly adopted sons of the family while we were sharing the empenadas, for which Tucuman is famous. We’re so grateful for this great reception and wished we could have stayed longer, but bearing in mind this great experience we definitely plan on couchsurfing more often.
Some random facts
– While being in Yerba Buena, we started feeling slightly ashamed with our hair-do’s that had gone wild in the last couple of weeks. Travelling through the wilderness of Patagonia we appeared to be tough gauchos, in our current civilised environment we looked like weary, homeless religion teachers. Julio set us up with the local barber, who transferred David in an up-to-date version of Freddy Mercury (with mandatory moustache) and Tom in a slightly more sophisticated version of himself.
– On our way from Tucuman to Salta, we made a detour in the tiny village of Cafayate. We settled in the cosy hostel El Balcon and went biking through the nearby Quebrada the next morning. The weather was great (28 degrees Celsius) as was the company (Benjamin from France and Jose from Brasil) and the beautiful environment, the bikes were a bit dodgy though (2 flat tires and one broken gear between the four of us).
– We’ve updated our travel map.
– Great news for everyone who’s ever been in desperate need for a ingenious flower composition, a wide choice of in/outdoor plants or wants to express his creativity during some of the best flower arranging courses in the world, as they can now find Bernadette De Winter on-line. Music by Miles Davis, webdesign by David.
¡Mucha suerte y hasta luego!