Argentina

Argentina - Our Route & Numbers

 Alex & Madie’s travel route in Argentina.

Alex & Madie’s travel route in Argentina.

Some Final Thoughts

Our time here feels unfinished. We thought we’d circle back to Buenos Aires so I could show Alex more of it’s culture (a tango show, a night at the theater, a few drinks in San Telmo or so), but we never returned. We also never explored the Argentinean of Patagonia, made it to Ushuaia, nor ventured north to the rainbow hills and rock formations of Jujuy and Salta. For those reasons, many more, and for as long as our friend Tonya is in this beautiful, vast country, we are sure to be back.
 

Numbers from Argentina

  • Days in Argentina: 15 days
  • Our daily average cost for lodging and food per person: ARS $630 ≈ $41.00
  • Cost of a 2L water: ARS $14 ≈ $0.90
  • Cost of an empanada: ARS $20 ≈ $1.30
  • Cost of a good bottle of Malbec: ARS $150 ≈ $9.75
     
  • Total time on an airplane: 15 hours
  • Total time on a bus: 30 hours
  • Total time on a boat: 1 hour
     

How We Got Around

 Alex & Madie’s mode of transportation in Argentina.

Alex & Madie’s mode of transportation in Argentina.

Chile & Argentina - Up a Volcano, Through the Lakes, Toward the New Year

 The view from our tiny wooden capsule room. Volcan Villarrica was beautiful to watch over the course of three days, changing as quickly as the sun and clouds would, and letting out steam whenever she cared to. She is one of the most active volcanos in Chile, and the day after we took this photo, we hiked to the top.

The view from our tiny wooden capsule room. Volcan Villarrica was beautiful to watch over the course of three days, changing as quickly as the sun and clouds would, and letting out steam whenever she cared to. She is one of the most active volcanos in Chile, and the day after we took this photo, we hiked to the top.

El Ten Eleven - Transitions

Pucón, Chile

Valdivia treated us to a Christmas dinner and German-Californian family. It’s time to leave again and cross the Andes for the second time. We hop on a bus to Pucón, a mountain town on the Chilean side of the range. It’s pretty, neat - maybe too neat - just like Tahoe or the Swiss Alps, with the obligatory chocolate shop at every corner. Villarrica, one of the world’s most active volcanos, paints the perfect picture overlooking town - the most volcano-looking volcano, with a superb cone shape, its top tier covered in snow, and a thin line of smoke slowly climbing up.

 Around the mountain town of Pucón, Chile.

Around the mountain town of Pucón, Chile.

Madie and I prepare our dinner at the hostel, debating for too long whether we should climb the peak. Everyone there recommends it, and so does the Malbec, so after an early breakfast the next morning, we hop on a small shuttle to the base of a ski resort. We get dressed, put on heavy boots and start climbing, first in dirt, then snow. One slow step at a time. Plant the ice axe, lodge your left foot into the snow, lodge the right one, and repeat - for five long hours. Someone forgot to tell us a volcano only gets steeper the higher you climb. We start zig-zagging. The walk is long and arduous, and the air starts getting thin as we approach 2,800 meters. But looking over to the valley we see the (literally) breathtaking sight of the Andes. In a couple days, we will cross them again, amongst the many lakes of the Lagos Provincia region. But for now, we keep climbing, one step at a time.

 Slow and steady wins the race. After over 4 hours hiking uphill, our treat was to slide down almost 2.5km of snow in snow pants and with a small plastic disc. Madie was laughing the whole way down!

Slow and steady wins the race. After over 4 hours hiking uphill, our treat was to slide down almost 2.5km of snow in snow pants and with a small plastic disc. Madie was laughing the whole way down!

The top is cold, windy, and gas masks are required for the occasional sulfur cloud blowing our way. I remember Kawah Ijen and my sore throat the following day. Madie peeks at the crater and sees lava spurting out. A short lunch just below the ridge and it’s already time to come down for the best part of our trek. We’re provided small plastic sleds. Madie will giggle for the next 45 minutes. Who can say they sled down a volcano?

San MartÍn de los Andes, Argentina

With little else to offer on a small budget, we leave Pucón and embark on a ride to San Martín de los Andes, a quaint town on the Argentinian side of the Andes. The dramatic scenery keeps us awake for the few hours of the ride. Tall trees only seen in this region (of which we’ll never know the name) make up the large forest, completely uninhabited. Another border crossing, this one ending on a dirt road of kilometers and long fields of bare trees. We arrive in San Martín de los Andes, with ice cream for lunch at a local chocolate shop. Our dinner at a parrilla brings us back to Argentina, to misplaced ‘shhs’ and perfect beef.

 Summer sun on the lake in San Martín de los Andes.

Summer sun on the lake in San Martín de los Andes.

Bariloche, Argentina

In the morning we make our way to Bariloche, finding a new hostel where Tonya awaits us. Another dear friend, Adrian, joins us there and suddenly we’re in good company for New Year’s Eve, happy to exchange travel stories and gossip with them. Tonya’s friend invites us to a small refuge nestled against a lake, with mesmerizing views of the region.

 Our unforgettable New Year’s view in Bariloche, Argentina.

Our unforgettable New Year’s view in Bariloche, Argentina.

 Grateful to have spent the holiday in such a warm place, and in the company of friends, old and new.

Grateful to have spent the holiday in such a warm place, and in the company of friends, old and new.

 Ringing in the New Year.

Ringing in the New Year.

We spend a private New Year’s Eve with Tonya and Adrian, a few more folks (a businessman, an artist, a journalist, and two builder and fishermen brothers), and three dogs. New and old friends mingle, with the help of wine and BBQ lamb. We’re all so close, if only for one night. The next day’s hike reveals more of the lake district and how beautiful this place truly is. 

 Happy to celebrate the New Year with friends who will meet you on this side of the world, even on a whim.

Happy to celebrate the New Year with friends who will meet you on this side of the world, even on a whim.

Argentina - Traveling To and Through the Andes

 Just one landscape from the glorious drive through the Andes, from east to west, Argentina to Chile, a haze of warm earth tones before the cool greens and blues.

Just one landscape from the glorious drive through the Andes, from east to west, Argentina to Chile, a haze of warm earth tones before the cool greens and blues.

Victor Jara - Te Recuerdo Amanda

Córdoba

It’s time for goodbyes with Tonya. Madie and I embark on a long journey of bus rides through the Andes, where we hop between Argentina and Chile for a few weeks. Our first 10-hour ride takes us from Buenos Aires to Córdoba, only a layover for us. We heard good things about Córdoba but are too eager to get to the Andes. The city does introduce us to two Argentinian phenomena: the Sunday ghost town effect, with only us in the streets, and the Monday banking madness, with incredibly busy roads, packed sidewalks, and long lines at the ATMs, which will all be empty only a couple hours later. Argentina still has 20% inflation; holding cash in your bank account is not a good idea. 

 Quiet moments in Argentina’s wine country.

Quiet moments in Argentina’s wine country.

Mendoza

We’re on another night bus, this time in business-class airplane seats, to the city of Mendoza, the home of Malbec. Our budget is limited, so we opt for the place with free wine from 6 to 9 pm, and join the cheap tour with a guide named Miguel, a friend of the hostel. We’re immediately categorized as the SF wine snobs, especially the Frenchie who should have nothing to learn about wine. But we are taught two important things: organic wine is a gift from the devil (especially without sulfate), and after wine is made, the leftover hard paste is pressed once again to make the cheapest wine, usually in a box, for the perfect hangover headache. And yes, it’s probably the free wine we’re getting at the hostel.

 Scenes from the wine country of Mendoza, Argentina.

Scenes from the wine country of Mendoza, Argentina.

The next day we hang out with Miguel, who is back at our hostel and helping set up the parrilla. He shares stories about life in Mendoza and Córdoba. He is a River Plate fan, and his team just won the Copa Argentina so there is a lot to talk about. He drives hours every week to support his team. He tells us about Argentina, Chile, his girlfriend, and his two dogs; about his friends from high school who graduated in Buenos Aires and work in the petrol plants of Patagonia. They make a lot of money there, but they don’t even have time for football, he says. So what’s the point?

 The start of our 8-hour ride from Mendoza, Argentina over the Andes Mountains to coast of Valparaiso, Chile.

The start of our 8-hour ride from Mendoza, Argentina over the Andes Mountains to coast of Valparaiso, Chile.

The Andes

The third long bus ride in a week, this time by day as we prepare to cross the Andes. The scenery changes dramatically from the quaint wine country to the unforgiving dry and windy highlands. The Aconcagua’s snowy peak rises at 6,900 meters, amongst the jagged pink landscapes shaded in morning haze. We follow a vertical drop to a river below, reminiscent of canyons in Arizona and Utah. The plateau is bare, of small bushes and not a single bird in sight. The cold gusts at night prevent most wildlife from living here. Madie’s camera keeps clicking away, but the area’s solemn beauty is hard to capture. We get to the Chilean border, our first border crossing by land, huddled in our jackets to fight the icy chills. 

 Along this passage lies Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia. Usually asleep during long bus rides, Madie gazed out of the window the entire 8-hour ride, watching the clouds pass by and mountains transform with every turn.

Along this passage lies Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia. Usually asleep during long bus rides, Madie gazed out of the window the entire 8-hour ride, watching the clouds pass by and mountains transform with every turn.