An entire week has gone by since my last blog, and now there is more to say than I could ever hope to put into words. We ended up spending a total of 5 days in Buenos Aires before taking a 20 hour bus ride to Bariloche, where we are currently working at the front desk of a wonderful hostel. Buenos Aires was worth seeing, and we managed to see an incredible amount in our time there, but now we are really excited to be in the mountains. Bariloche reminds us a lot of Tahoe and there is an endless amount of wilderness, lakes, and forests for us to explore. We have 2 weeks here before we go on a week long trek in the mountains and then head north. We are picking up more and more Spanish every day, and making new friends everywhere we go. Most of the travelers we meet are on extended trips like ours and they are all a wealth of information. We are really happy at Hostel Punto Sur and we´re sure that it is going to be hard to leave in 2 weeks. The vibe here is friendly and fun, and the work is very ¨tranquilo¨. We work in the later evenings, which leaves most of the day for exploration and hiking. As I write this I am sitting at the hostel´s front desk, listening to music, sipping café, and checking guests in and out when necessary.
On our third day in Buenos Aires (second full day) we walked at least another 7 miles, covering the neighborhoods of Palermo and Recoleta by foot, and ending our day at a ferry ticket office. Palermo is the ¨yuppie¨part of town, and also where most of Buenos Aires´ huge parks are located. We loved walking the tree-lined streets, eating a picnic lunch in a park near a little man-made lake, and watching hundreds of roller bladers showing off their skills. Apparently roller blading is still a popular fad in the city, and many people are experts at it, using it as a form of exercise or even for commuting. From Palermo we walked through the wealthy neighborhood of Recoleta and into the famous La Recoleta cemetery. I wasn´t too keen on visiting a cemetery, it´s not usually my thing, but this place was one of the most bizarre sights I have ever seen. As if just to prove their wealth, for over a hundred years rich Argentinians have been ¨buried¨ in the Recoleta cemetery in huge tombs that they have constructed for themselves or their whole family. We regret not taking a tour of this incredible ¨city of the dead¨, but we still found Evita Peron´s tomb and many other bizarre castle-like sites. From Recoleta we found the ticket office of the Seacat ferry and bought ourselves two tickets for the next day to the small seaside town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. We never had any intention of visiting Uruguay until we learned how money exchange works in Argentina. Our first mistake was to exchange most of our U.S. dollars at the bank at the airport for a measly 6 pesos per dollar. Once we got to our hostel we were informed by everyone that the dollar is actually worth 9.7 pesos in the ¨grey market¨and that everyone who had access to dollars used this exchange rate. At first I didn´t like the idea of using anything unofficial, but after talking to many travelers, I realized how the system worked. We decided to follow in the footsteps of all the other travelers by taking a day trip to Uruguay, getting out U.S. dollars at the ATM, and then bringing them back to Buenos Aires to exchange. The difference in the exchange rate would pay for the trip to Colonia in addition to giving us much more ¨bang for our buck¨. It also helped that we felt pretty overwhelmed by the size, noise and traffic of the big city, and were promised peaceful cobblestone streets and quiet beaches in Colonia. That night we went back to the hostel and prepared ourselves a classic backpacker dinner of pasta, cheese, and cheap wine.
Our early morning began with a subway ride to the huge ferry station and then a very tumultuous boat ride across the mouth of the Rio de La Plata to the wonderful town of Colonia. The beginning of our day was a bit stressful as we tried to get money out of multiple ATM´s without luck. Eventually we called my bank and got everything sorted out. Once we had money, we were able to spend the rest of the day in contented repose, wandering aimlessly and stopping whenever we felt a picture or a cup of coffee was warranted. We felt so pleased with ourselves and our day of relaxation that we allowed ourselves a bit of an indulgence upon our return to Buenos Aires. Some fellow travelers had told us about a parilla, or steakhouse, named Siga La Vaca, that they visited the night before where a person could pay one flat fee ($160 pesos) and get unlimited food (including a wide variety of steak and other meats) as well as your own individual bottle of wine, and dessert. We knew we needed to have some steak before leaving the city so that night we went out on the town and stuffed ourselves full with food and drink. It was an absolute blast and worth every penny.
The next morning we didn´t feel quite ready to pack up our bags and travel across the country, so we decided to pày for another night in our hostel, and hit up a few more places that we hadn´t yet seen. It´s a good thing we stayed becuse even though the National Library and famous El Ateneo bookstore weren´t as impressive as we´d hoped, the neighborhood of Caminito in the larger barrio of La Boca was one of the highlights of our whole first week. Caminito Street is only a few blocks long, but it is brightly colored and filled with life-size figurines and many different tango dancers. Most of the restaurants feature an outdoor stage with dancers and even live musicians. We walked around, ate chocolate, window shopped, and eventually began the long walk north to San Telmo, where we caught a free (for the price of a couple happy hour drinks) full-length tango show in the neighborhood´s bustling square. We dragged ourselves back to the hostel exhausted, starving (we eventually succumbed to a late-night McDonalds run), and ready to move on the next morning. Buenos Aires had been good to us, but we were worn out and feeling homesick for mountains and cool, fresh air. We were ready for Bariloche.
Thursday was uneventful and mostly consisted of many hours waiting in a crowded and dirty bus terminal, followed by 20 hours on a bus to Bariloche. We ended up spending a little more on a bus than we had intended, but we were promised fully reclining seats, less time waiting in the bus terminal, hot food, and even alcoholic beverages. As it turns out, our seats were comfy and everything was fine, but from what we´ve heard, all the buses had hot food and drinks, so we may have been taken just a bit. The bus ride was not nearly as rough as we had expected, and neither of us had trouble sleeping 8 hours through the night. As we neared Bariloche the scenery turned from flat fields and farmland to lush mountains and sparkling blue lakes. We got increasingly excited with each turn in the road, and by the time we reached Bariloche, we were in heaven. We took a short ride on a local bus into town and carried our packs up a steep hill to what would be our home for the next two weeks. We were happy to see that our hostel was the most colorful, clean, and busy on the whole street, and the greeting we got immediately eased our nerves. We spent the afternoon settling in, writing emails, and meeting some of the hostel´s guests and employees. We walked into town briefly, stopped at the grocery store for the next day´s lunch (bread, cheese, olives, wine and chorizo…people here think we´re French) and then mingled at the hostel for the rest of the evening.
Yesterday we had the whole day off, but unfortunately the weather wasn´t great. We took a bus to the trailhead for Cerro Campanario and then ate our picnic near the road while we waited out some heavy rain. When it let up we began a steep but short hike up a mountain to a wonderful lodge with indescribable views. We sipped on coffee while we watched the clouds roll in and out over the many lakes below and studied all the mountains that we hoped to summit in the coming weeks. Once down and back in town, we strolled some more, and then settled back into the hostel for the night. Our work here consists of sitting at the front desk and helpìng out wherever we can. We have great hours (if Don and I switch off then we only work every other day for 5 days a week from 4pm to midnight) and the work gives a chance to meet lots of people and practice our Spanish. In return we get to stay at this wonderful hostel for free and they even feed us 3 times a day. We couldn´t ask for a better experience as our first work exchange in South America. We have also become friends with a few of the tourists here (from Buenos Aires, England, the states, Mexico, and Spain), so we look forward to spending more time with all of them.
Today we worked for most of the day, but we took turns going out into the town and exploring. I finally had a chance to discover the main tourist street in town where every other building is a chocolate shop. Some of them are so big they are like chocolate malls…and they almost all offer free samples! This town just continues to impress. The National Park office is incredibly helpful and gave us tons of free maps and info about the surrounding area. One map details 22 different 1 to 2 day treks and we can´t wait to begin our exploration. Tomorrow we are hoping to trek to a Refugio (a mountain hut that can take anywhere from 3 hours to multiple days to trek to) where we can camp under the stars and be back the next day in time to work by 4pm. There is a lot to plan in order to make these adventures happen, but we are up to the challenge. We are beginning to think about what´s next, but for now we are excited to have found this backpacker´s oasis and are enjoying every moment. ¡Hasta luego!