Sunday, March 26, 2017

Six Weeks on the Road... Notes from a Weary Traveller

Six weeks on the road and I'm a gonna make it home tonight... well, not tonight, exactly, but the day after tomorrow night. Apologies to Dave Dudley for misquoting his classic sixties country and western song. And apologies to those who are not as familiar with (or as fond of) old country songs as me. We are in the home stretch of our trip... and I'm happy to be almost home. 

Mostly because I am tired. Soooo tired. Extended travel can be wonderful. And it can also be exhausting. Especially at the pace we've been setting since we left Arequipa, Peru a couple of weeks ago. After Bariloche we spent six wonderful days in and around Salta, including the best road trip we've ever taken. I'm saving that post for when we get home and I can do it justice. Then we were off to Peru and five days in Arequipa. Followed by tours, and bus trips, and island dancers. I have a priceless video of Hubby dancing on Isla Taquile in Lake Titikaka. Then there was the wonderful food, breathtaking scenery, heartbreaking poverty, and kindly, smiling people everywhere we went. This is a shot I took on our Colca Canyon trek. We'd stopped for coca tea, and a visit to the "banos," and I made two new friends. This is me (looking a bit rugged, as we say downeast) with Mary, her little brother and his (rather hapless) new kitten. 

Colca Canyon friends 
The culmination of our time in Peru was, of course, our journey to Machu Picchu. No.... we did not trek up the mountain. We didn't even contemplate doing that four day hike. As Hubby said when asked, "We know our limits. Those days are gone." Long gone, my friends. I like hiking. I love camping. I felt okay in the high altitude with a day or so of acclimatization. But all three together. No way, Jose. 

Machu Picchu 2017 

Yep, Peru has been wonderful. When we are back in Ottawa, I'll write a more extensive post about what we've been doing and seeing. The highs and lows. The melt-downs. Mine, of course. The people we've met. And the food we ate... and didn't eat. This is me, below, waiting for my mid-morning cappuccino on our last morning in Cusco. The very picture of the weary traveller. Right before I summoned up a grin when, in reply to my comment that I looked like you-know-what, Hubby said that at least my hair looked good. Ah. He does know the way to a girl's heart. Liar that he is.

the weary traveller in Cusco, Peru 

And now we're in Lima. And, holy cow, are we tired! Tired like Madeline Kahn in "Blazing Saddles." Remember that song... "I'm... so... tired?" The kind of tired where you feel like a well wrung-out dish cloth. Or maybe like a limp, over-cooked noodle. All loose-limbed, and a bit spacey in the head. The kind of tired where you can't summon up enthusiasm for much at all. Except a nap. Or a nice cup of tea and a good book. Oh my... I'd kill for a great cup of tea. The coffee down here has been delicious. But... sigh... I miss my cuppa. 

And you know what else I miss? Toast and peanut butter. A big bowl of popcorn, "Masterpiece Mystery" on television, and a fire in our wood stove. A nice glass of Pinot noir... instead of Malbec. My real clothes. I am so very tired of my fleece vest and my hiking boots. 

And I miss my family and friends. 

So we fly out of Lima early, early on Tuesday morning. Middle of the night, more like. But that's okay. We are so very ready to go home. Travel is amazing. Wonderful. We are lucky to be able to travel as much as we do. Really lucky. 

And more importantly, we're so very lucky to be going home to a country that is safe and economically stable, and to a life that is pretty darned good. Even if it is still snowing when we get there. 

See? I told you I could still conjure up a smile. Gad. I better message Carmen to make sure she can fit me in for a cut and colour when I get home. My hair is like straw. Sigh. I know... I'm so shallow. 

smiling in Cusco, Peru 

And once we are home, and the laundry is done, and we have food in the house, and I've slept in until at least ten o'clock for at least two or three days, and I've had a day to do nothing but drink tea and read my book... I'll get back to you. I can't wait to tell you more about our adventures. 

Until then, mis amigos.

Linking up with Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Beautiful Bariloche, Argentina... Almost Like We Never Left Home

A few weeks ago Hubby and I left southern Patagonia behind... but only in the flesh. It will be in our hearts forever. Like all those places we've been that make us smile, and sigh, and say to each other... "Ahhhh... Dawson City (or Boltby  or Broome  or Ispagnac ) remember when we were there?" So San Carlos de Bariloche, our next stop after El Calafate, was at a disadvantage from the beginning. Pity. I mean, I can't say that Bariloche wasn't beautiful, or that the people were unfriendly, or that the weather was terrible. Because it was lovely, the people were lovely and the weather was fabulous...except for one very windy, cool day. It's just that it wasn't El Calafate, or El Chaltan. 

And that it reminded us too much of home. This is the view of Lago Nahuel Huapi in front of our hotel. Blue water, mountains in the distance, and huge evergreen trees. Wait a minute, blink, blink, shake my head... am I in Canada? 

Looking out over Lake Nahuel Huapi in San Carlos de Bariloche 

We wandered Bariloche for a day before we picked up our rental car and headed for San Martin de Los Andes, an easy three hour drive from Bariloche. Along the way we detoured on a gravel road to the small village of  Villa Traful which was described in Lonely Planet as being "achingly beautiful." The drive was fun. We do love to get off the main drag, and this heavily treed road, with lots of ups and downs, and tricky bone-jarring sections... was just up our street, if you'll forgive the pun. But Traful was a disappointment. The lake setting certainly was beautiful. But the village is on its way to becoming much too cutesy and developed for our taste. The drive, however was worth the two hour detour.

the unpaved road to Villa Traful 

the road to Villa Traful, near Bariloche, Argentina 

Back on the main road we were treated to a variety of very pretty lakes along the highway before we reached San Martin de Los Andes. Each was as lovely as the last. And they all looked like this. Now I don't want to sound churlish, and maybe we're jaded, but after the first or second, we looked at each other, shrugged and kept on driving, thinking we might as well be at home. I admit that the one below is pretty gorgeous. But ...well... it seemed to us that it could be Banff, or even somewhere in the Laurentians. 

Los Lagos, near Bariloche, Argentina 

Our accommodation in San Martin de Los Andes was pretty cool. Hosteria La Posta Del Cazador was huge with heavy wooden furniture, dark beams, and lots of quirky touches, like antler door pulls in the hallway. But the town was obviously set up to serve the skiing crowd, and the prices in the restaurants made it clear that this was a town that catered to the well-heeled set. 

Hosteria la Posta Del Cazador in San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina 
Besides skiing, this area is renowned for its trout fishing and farming, so we figured at the very least that we would treat ourselves to a delicious fish dinner. This is the restaurant we chose below. Attractively quirky and casual inside and recommended in Lonely Planet, we assumed we were in for a tasty and relaxing evening. Hubby has been an avid trout fisherman for years and years, and we both know fresh trout when we taste it. I'm sorry to say that this is not what we were served up. Mine had a very nice lemon sauce... but frozen trout has a distinctly different taste and texture than fresh. And lemon sauce could not disguise the fishy taste of frozen trout. Sigh. I picked away at mine and enjoyed my vegetables, but Hubby was incensed. The thought of buying trout in a restaurant was an anathema to him to begin with. But I had convinced him that he hadn't had fish for weeks and he'd enjoy it. Ha. The bill being considerably larger than we had been paying did nothing to help his mood. 

restaurant in San Martin de Los Andes 

Maybe we should have gone for the parrilla, or should that be parrillada, instead. I took a shot of this menu page. I think something was definitely lost in translation here. And the punctuation does not help clarify matters. Unless "kidney Chicken, empty, guts" really are a thing. 

Menu in San Martin de Los Andes... translation doesn't always work 

Ah well, poor San Martin de Los Andes did not redeem itself for us since we only stayed the one night before heading back to Bariloche. The huge cypress trees outside the hotel were diverting, though, I must say.

huge cypress trees in San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina 

The drive back to Bariloche the next day was pretty interesting. Lots of craggy rocks, and arid landscape not dissimilar to parts of southern Patagonia. And we had a gorgeous day for driving. This is Los Lagos below. 

lake enroute from San Martin de Los Andes and Bariloche, Argentina 

And we weren't permanently dispirited by our fishy suppers as you can see from the selfie I took below. Or should that be "selves-ie" do you think? I mean, we were on holiday. The scenery was beautiful. And considering the weather reports we'd been hearing from home... we felt darned privileged.

Los Lagos, near Bariloche, Argentina 

We had a couple of nights back in Bariloche before we headed for the north. Time to squeeze in a little walking. The views were nice. But...except for the "hola" greetings of other hikers, we might have been walking in Gatineau Park. 

San Carlos de Bariloche, hiking near the town 

Hubby and I were both struck by the similarity to Canada especially in the number of trees and lakes and more trees we saw. But the architecture of the town of Bariloche, now that was distinctly Tyrolean-style, especially the public buildings. Interestingly these buildings, so reminiscent of southern Germany, were built in the 1940's. Interesting, especially if you consider that Bariloche became infamous in the 1990's as the longtime place of refuge for a couple of Nazi war criminals. But let's not go there. 

public town square buildings in Tyrolean style in Bariloche, Argentina 

Did I mention the proliferation of chocolate shops in town? Oh my... the residents of Bariloche seem to be experts in everything chocolate. I resisted until our last night. And despite the chill in the air, I could not leave the next day without sampling the helado. Somehow I was sure that my Spanish was sufficient to order a small cone. But as Rosie commented on my Instagram post...the cone might be small, but the "helado" was huge! One lime scoop and one very rich, dark chocolate scoop. Heaven. And the coolish weather made it possible for me to eat it all (with a little help from my companion) without it running down my arm, or up my sleeve.

eating chocolate helado in Bariloche, Argentina 

After the ice cream we hoofed it back to the hotel to pack. We were heading north to Salta province the next day. Sigh. Bariloche was nice. The ice cream was stupendous. But it was all a bit too much like home. Don't get me wrong, we love home, but we didn't fly all the way down here to see what we can see a couple of hours drive away from our house. And this Argentinian Lake District was a bit too touristy for our taste. And not nearly as spectacular as the other parts of Patagonia we'd seen. In fact we were surprised when we saw that when we arrived in Bariloche we were still in Patagonia. 

And we were reminded of when we were in Scotland years ago. We stayed for a time near Aviemore and hiked in the Cairngorms. And we thought we were in the highlands. But a week or so later when we stayed in the far north, we were disavowed of that. And told that Durness, where our good-natured host raised sheep and ran a B&B, was in fact the "real highlands." Okay. Point taken. And so we might say that as pretty as Bariloche and the Lake District is, it will never be the "real Patagonia" to us. 

Sorry Bariloche. But our hearts still belong to El Chalten and El Calafate.

Two Traveling Texans

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Patagonia: Like Falling in Love

Hubby and I are beginning to wish that we'd planned our trip differently. That we had not come to Patagonia quite so early in our South America adventure. Because, from the moment we stepped off the plane in El Calafate, we fell head over heels for the place, and the people. And, frankly, we're a bit worried that nothing else after this will measure up.

El Calafate. How to describe this town? It's a place of contrasts. Set beside the blue, blue waters of Lago Argentino. Surrounded by mountains, and dry gorsey plains. Kind of ramshackle. Kind of cutesy. Dogs wander the streets, some strays, some not, most of weirdly mixed breeds. All quiet, docile, and obviously used to traffic. They wait patiently at the door of the "Supermarcado," or curl up in a patch of sunlight on the sidewalk. The main street has many restaurants and stores that sell high-end outdoor gear and Patagonia souvenirs. Line-ups for gas stretch away from the service stations and down the street most days, and like in Cuba or Coober Pedy (in Australia) residents drive beat up old cars that we never see in Canada any more... except maybe up north. Not all the residents drive beat up cars, of course. But enough to make it noticeable. Our room the first night looked out on the main drag that takes people down town, and out of town. And the number of wonky mufflers and backfiring engines we heard was amazing. I even actioned my ear plugs to be able to get some sleep. 

low stucco building with beautiful purple flowering heather bushes
Schilling Hostel Patagonica
The shot, above, is our accommodation in El Calafate. Schilling Hostel Patagonica. Our home away from home for five nights. The rooms are comfortable, if a bit in need of an upgrade. The breakfast is good, but no different from anywhere else: toast, yogurt, cereal, cakes, and coffee and tea. But we loved it here. The owner, her son, and the two girls on reception could not do enough to make us feel at home. There is help-yourself tea (yah!) and a help-yourself bookshelf in one of the common rooms. Guests pore over the partly finished jig-saw puzzles laid out on various small tables. In fact, one couple swore they could not leave until they had finished theirs, and we returned from dinner late one night to find them still bent over their task. The kitchen is open to guests from noon onwards. This made so much difference to us. We were able to buy food, keep it in the guest fridge and make our own lunches and, on one night, dinner, and avoid restaurant food at least for a few meals. 

The best thing about places like this, though, has to be the people we meet. We chatted with three American kids the first night over wine. We made lunch one day alongside two girls, one from Switzerland who lives in Norway, and her friend from the Netherlands who currently lives in Australia, but is moving to Canada. We talked health care with an American medical student from Kansas City who ruefully said he feels as if he might emigrate when he finishes his studies. And over beers in the garden one evening we chatted with two delightful guys from Brazil about sports... soccer, hockey... and surprisingly curling. One of them is fascinated by curling, how it works, how to play. And Hubby was in his element, demonstrating stone throwing technique, explaining how the rocks curl, and how to sweep. Except, of course, without the stones or the broom. And, like every trip we've ever been on, we met someone from home. On our last day we ate lunch with a young couple who live in Malaysia where the young woman works as a teacher. But she's originally from Almonte, Ontario... near Ottawa. And she even knows a former colleague of mine. Travel really does make the world seem small, sometimes.

road leading to white topped mountains
The road from El Calafate to El Chalten
After two days in El Calafate we picked up a rental car and hit the road for El Chalten. A kind of hippie/ hiker/ frontier village in Los Glaciares National Park. We saw llamas, actually guanacos would be more correct, along the highway as we drove, lots of gorgeous views, and then finally this. I stood in the middle of the road to get the shot above. I was definitely NOT taking my life in my hands, since there was no other traffic. That's Mount Fitzroy up ahead on the right. Pretty darned stunning. 

winding road down into small town overlooked my white topped mountains
The last stretch of highway down into El Chalten
This is the view as we rounded a bend in the highway and approached the village. We had worried that we might have gas problems here. The agent at the car rental company said there was a strike up north, and the tanker trucks had not been able to deliver gas to the one station in El Chalten. But he said if we were careful, our tank might just be able to get us the 214 km to El Chalten and back to El Calafate. Uh, okay. So we were happy when, as we neared town, we saw that the gas station was open and the line-up short. We pulled in and filled up. Phew. We were relieved that we would not have to undertake the drive back to El Calafate with the anxiety that we might run out of gas. Coz... other than the quaint hotel and restaurant at La Leona... there ain't anything between one place and the other, folks. One cool fact we learned when we stopped at La Leona for coffee, is that Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid stopped here too... back in the day, on their way to Bolivia. We hoped our adventure would turn out happier than theirs did.

sparkling lake overlooked by snow-capped mountains
Laguna Capri
 And of course it did. No bank robberies, ambushes, hail of gunfire... or anything of that nature. Just lots of hiking. Beautiful, amazing scenery. Friendly people. And very quirky restaurants. So we walked, huffed, puffed, ate, and chatted for four days. Heaven. That's Laguna Capri above, the destination on our first hike. Not too far, but up hill most of the way.  And then, of course, down...which is easy on the lungs, but much more challenging on the knees.

woman standing on hiking trail in front of snow-capped mountains
Setting off for Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado
Our second hike was a bit more daunting. Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado was recommended by one of the girls who work at our accommodation. Julia actually helped Hubby plan both our hikes. She is an experienced walker and climber and she and Hubby pored over the map one morning deciding what we should do. 

man looking down on glacier fed lake backed by snow-capped mountains
So... this was an okay place to have lunch.
This is the most challenging hike we've done in a few years. Four hours to the summit, the last couple across scree. Three hours to the view above. As we sat here and ate our lunch we decided that this beautiful view suited us fine. Just fine. We did not need to scramble across the scree for another hour to the summit. Besides, neither of us thought we had another hour of uphill left in us. And the two and a half hours of sometimes steep downhill we had yet to navigate made us glad that we had demurred. My knees, hips, and lower back thanked me the next day, I can tell you.

Let's just pause here to talk a bit about El Chalten the town. Although it looks nothing like Canada's Dawson City in the Yukon, it nevertheless reminded us of our visit there a few years ago. The same haphazard town "plan," gimcrack buildings that look as if there are constructed of tin and plywood, but of course they aren't. Dirt streets. Sidewalks that are so uneven it's safer to walk down the middle of the road, which is, of course, what everyone does. Backpackers abound. Camper vans are parked at the trail head, small lines of washing fluttering in the breeze. There are tons of small restaurants. Bars in the grassy front yards of many of these restaurants have wooden benches and thick tables right out of an episode of 'The Flintstones."

We dined one night at Tapena, recommended by a couple we met in El Calafate, and our meal was delicious. But we loved best our meal at El Muro. Where we watched out the window as the owner chopped logs for the fire that was cooking lamb on a spit, then rushed inside, and reappeared in his chef's jacket in time to serve beer at the outside bar to a group of tired hikers. That's him below with Hubby and me after our meal. He kind of looks like a Spanish speaking Dennis Quaid don't you think? The shot below that is of one of two wide "boulevards" coming into town. The side streets are much narrower and not paved.  And overlooking everything is that amazing, gleaming, snow-covered mountain. 

two men and a woman standing in front of a cooking fire
Chatting with our host at El Muro, after our meal

wide streets leading to foot of snow-capped mountains
The main thoroughfare coming into El Chalten... one of the two paved streets in town.
We were sad to leave El Chalten behind. The morning we checked out Tatiana who works the desk at Hosteria Kaulem and I exchanged e-mail addresses. What a cutie she is. Bright, friendly, always happy to chat, whether about our hike the day before, or her own travel plans when the tourist season is over. She'd stand with her tray balanced on her hip as Hubby or I regaled her with stories over breakfast, giggling, nodding and saying, "Si, si, si."  In fact, as we drove out of town heading back to El Calafate, Hubby and I remarked how great all the young people we've met who work in the tourist industry seem to be. From Alejandro in Buenos Aires, Tatiana and Julia in El Chalten, to the lovely Antonella at Schilling Hostel in El Calafate, they have all been wonderful: helpful, knowledgeable, keen to explain their world to us, and interested in hearing about ours. As Hubby said, someone, sometime has done their job well. Whether parents, teachers, mentors or whomever, someone has helped these young people become who they are, a credit to their country. Gad, I'm tearing up as I write this. What an old softie! 

But we still had one more thing to see before we were ready to fly back north. Perito Moreno glacier, in Los Glaciares National Park, outside of El Calafate. I tried to do justice to its magnificence but I'm afraid my shots are a pale imitation. So huge and so very blue, my camera would not capture its grandeur. It's one of the most amazing natural wonders Hubby and I have seen. Rising 50-70 metres above the lake at its face, it's one of the few glaciers in the world that is still growing. We took a boat ride out to the face. And then walked along the shore, up a series of stairs and platforms called the balconies. I tried to capture in a video the sound and sight of the chunks that sheared off right in front of us, falling into the lake and creating their own mini-tsunami. Each time we heard a crack and a boom, I grabbed for my phone. But alas, I'm no "Quick Draw McGraw." Ha. I'm afraid that only those of you who are my vintage and who grew up on American cartoons will understand that allusion.

blue ice of a glacier and lake in front
Perito Moreno Glacier

blue ice of glacier and lake in front
Hard to believe that ice can be so very blue.
 And speaking of cartoon allusions. Let's discuss my ability, or inability, to speak Spanish. My frequent expostulations of "Ooh, la, la," or "Andale, andale. Arriba, arriba," are pure Speedy Gonzales, I'm sad to say. I can't help it. I grew up on Looney Tunes cartoons and those images and the voices of the characters are in my head for life. Still, Hubby and I have had so much fun trying to navigate the world in Spanish. With the help of kindly waiters, we've pretty much mastered the dinner menu thing. I've learned how to order chicken and not the game of polo, as I mentioned in my last post. I've learned that "bife" is not pronounced "biff," but should sound like "beef-ay." Which actually makes more sense. I've learned that 'g' sounds like I'm clearing my throat, that 'v' sounds like 'b,' which explains everyone being "berry happy" to see us. I now understand why no one knew what we were talking about when we asked for Vellagas Street. "How do I say that again, Suz?" Hubby queried the day after the clerk at our hotel taught us the proper pronunciation. "It's easy," I replied, "the 'v' sounds like 'b,' the double ll's sound like "sh" and the "g" sound is soft. Everything else is the same." Ha. He was not amused. 

I must admit though, that it's highly unlikely that I'll return home fluent in Spanish. I will, however, have a hard time breaking the habit of speaking English with a Spanish accent. I know. I'm such a mimic. I don't do it on purpose. I just open my mouth and it comes out. I can't help it. Seems like I can't help a lot of things these days, doesn't it? Sigh. I guess we can't all be perfect.

And speaking of perfect. Or imperfect, as the case may be. I've had trouble again, finding time to finish this post. I sat down a few days ago and in a couple of hours had it done. Then in my inexperience with this new ap, and the fact the internet went down when I was staying to save... I lost all my work. Crap. But there was nothing to be done but pack up the i-pad and go out for supper. After all we're in beautiful, historic Salta, now. There are sights to see, vino tinto to sample, and beef-ay ... always beef-ay... to eat. 

We're exactly half way through our adventure now. Only one more road trip to the "outback" of northern Argentina left on our agenda, then we're off to Peru. 

plane flying above arid plains and blue lakes
Farewell beautiful Patagonia