Doin' the "W"

Trip Start Jul 06, 2005
Trip End Mar 10, 2006

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Saturday, December 3, 2005

My Family Rocks!

As this is likely to be the biggest forum I have to express this for some time, I'm going to open this entry with a very quick (but very BIG) thank you to my family. Not only have they put up with me for all these years, but have been unreasonably supportive in my travels, never-ending studies, and in whatever else happens to be important to me in life. Those of you who know them know it well, but for everyone else I have some of the most amazing parents and incredible little sis on the planet. With so much still to learn from each, I hope (and like to think) I've managed to take a little something from each, as each is very worthy of emulation. Lots of love from the opposite end of the Americas.

List of the day - You know you're a REAL backpacker when...

1) You see a 33 hour bus ride and instead of cringing think, "If I plan this right I could save on two nights accomodation!"

2-a) You become a staunch believer in the smell test as the only one that matters with regards to "clean" clothes.

2-b) You have faith in the power of the bag wash - dirty clothes left in a backpack for 4 days or more magically come out clean.

3 Having toilet paper perpetually on hand becomes critical to your daily existance.

4 You can be seated next to a farm animal, box of chickens, or family of three in one seat on a bus and it doesn't register as out of the ordinary.

5 The luxury of a hot shower is not taken for granted, or even expected. In the search of this hot shower you are willing to deal with old electric showerheads that frequently have wires poking out and have been known shock you if touched directly.

6 Your first instinct on hearing a price is no longer to pay it, but to decide how much the person is trying to overcharge you. EVERYTHING is negotiable.

7 More of a South America thing maybe but...You have come to realize that even if the person you are asking has NO IDEA where you are trying to get, they will just make it up and still give you directions as if they knew the way.

8 WALKING 30 kilometres both ways to Machu Picchu presents a viable option to taking the perfectly good (if somewhat pricey) train.

9 You and those around you have let their guard down enough to be capable of getting to know someone well enough to be sad they are leaving within about 3 hours. If we took the same bus into town there'a good chance we'll be hanging out later.

10 You have no qualms about pocketing the leftover cookies from other passengers meal trays.

Another day, another entry - so how is everyone? First impressions of Argentina were great. VERY different from Bolivia/Peru, not better necessarily but different. Argentina is clearly more European, dare I say civilized, but then it gives up a bit of the raw energy you find in a Bolivian marketplace (or virtually any street corner). Of course its hard to call a country where no-one eats dinner until 11 and the standard club night doesn't end until 7am lacking in energy....

You do feel you can let your guard down a LITTLE, just because everything seems so much more organized. For example, bus tickets cost what they cost, not the highest amount the little man behind the counter can squeeze out of you. Food is more sanitary so you don't live one meal to the next waiting for the inevitable and unmistakable tummy rumbles of doom.

Real Food

First night here we couldn't help ourselves...STEAK! Argentina is known for its steak, and we'd been eating average at best food for so long, and since the currency crisis in 2001 Argentina is cheap, sooooo, big steak/salad/bread/bottle of wine dinner! So good, and all in for under $5 each. This meal would easily have cost $40 at home, each. Here, more like $4.

B-day Insanity

So, we rocked into Buenos Aires and stayed a couple days, contrary to previous plans but wanted to catch up with some friends and make sure Mark didn't turn 24 on a freaking bus ride somewhere. Had a HUGE night out at a club called Pacha, massive Europe style club just outside downtown - expensive but well worth it. Caught up with Luke and Dom from the Secret Garden days, UK Rob from Colombia, and met some cool kids from Vancity itself! Clubs here don't get rolling until about 2am, and suffice it to say we never even went back to the hostel we were paying $7 to not sleep in. After some breakfast beers at a little cafe with the Vancouver boys we headed back to check out, went and caught a movie in town, and got on our 8 PM bus for the south. No sleep, BIG night out, and a 33 hour bus ride, equals PAIN.

Was also lucky enough to catch up with Elles, also from the Secret Garden days - didn't think we'd be able to meet up again in SA, but the fates (and some slight itinerary changes) had us cross paths again. Had a lovely day, then I managed to be entirely rude and not wake her up for Mark's party as I was supposed to, electing for a boys night out - made a lot of sense at the time as she hadn't slept the night before, but in hindsight not a fair call for me to make. Very sorry, but you know that....

I LOVE BUENOS AIRES. I could live here, no problem. Beautiful, vibrant city, full of beautiful, vibrant people. Can't wait to go back for Xmas.

Southward Bound

So, desperately sleep deprived we crawled on board for our 33 hour bus to Rio Gallegos, connecting point for a lot of the southern destinations. Matt managed to guess which bus we'd be on and just magically showed up at one of the stops along the way so the dastardly trio was reunited again - trouble to come I assure you. Hopped straight off that bus onto another to El Calafate, a small town which essentially exists to service tourists heading to the Moreno Glaciar and El Chalten/Fitzroy, a beautiful trekking region.

Rented a car for the first time - after recruiting Alan the random wayward Alaskan, it was WAY cheaper between four of us than the bus options and gave us so much flexibility. Headed out to Moreno Glaciar, the only one on the planet currently ADVANCING - it extends into a beautiful lake and regularly releases massive icebergs with a thunderous crack and splash - simply awe inspiring to watch. Had arrived early to avoid the park entry fee, but on the way out they called us on it and demanded we pay. After arguing for a bit, Matt, our most fluent spanish speaker and driver at the time simply said,

"Sorry, we're in a hurry and don't have time to talk about it. Thanks!" And just drove off!

Yoiks, so the park ranger radios...someone, we had no idea who. Meanwhile there is ONE road back to town and we expect to see the police roll over the hill any second. They have our credit card info on the car (MY credit card info), and there's no way to get through town unseen if we tried. The actual result was the boss of the rental car company essentially waiting for us on the one road through town, stopping the car, dragging us to the park office and forcing us to pay before we could continue our trip. It isn't pocket change, the fee is like $10 each which is silly expensive for a backpacker, hence the attempted dodge around and our lame continued insistance that we HAD paid and they couldn't prove otherwise. In the end they held all the cards - funny story, even if at the time visions of South American prisons were dancing through our heads.

Anyway, still the same day we drove 200 K on a dirt/rock road in a Chevy Corsa (small little commuter type car, now off roading!) to El Chalten. We raced through town to rent some tents and took off at about 6 PM into the mountains to try to reach the camping site below Mount Fitzroy before dark (3 hr hike and sunset at about 10 PM these days as we're so far south). AMAZING scenery, great hike, and good fun with the boys. Froze my arse off as my sleeping bag is way to light, but we were up at the crack of dawn anyway to climb part way up the mountain, trudging through the snow for the last bit. Check the pics for some epic shots.

Slid back down the side of the hill in the snow (soaking my pants but what the hell), and set out to hike the 5-6 hours back to town. Stopped off for a little swim in a glacial lake (ridiculously cold in other words), music bopping away the whole day from the iPod and speaker we rigged up to Matt's back pack. Great little adventure, only to be topped by the dramas of almost running out of gas on the way home. 200+ Ks with NOTHING but dirt road and scenery, somehow made it the last 80 in the red, and I coasted into town on fumes. Filled up and got 44.9 litres in a 45 litres tank - thats right, we had 100 millilitres of gas left.

Random Alaskan Mishaps and Drunken Tomfoolery

Had a massive bbq at the hostel back in El Calafate to celebrate the adventure, 2.5 kilos of steak and lots of Argentinean red wine. Decided to head out to the local club as Matt had arranged a date with some local girls before we left - problem being Matt passed out before we ever left the hostel! Seriously, mid-sentence at the dining room table, plunk. Oh well, he more than makes up for it most nights and I can't say he ever sleeps, made for some funny pics though! We had all drunk too much and the scene at the bar was just mayhem, all over the map. We all lost eachother, left with different people, and staggered home at random intervals throughout the wee hours. All that is, except Alan the Alaskan, our latest recruit - when we woke up at 7:50, for our 8 am bus, he was nowhere to be found!

TURNS OUT, he woke up freezing, under a bush in a park, clutching a brand new pink towel, no recollection of the end of the night and no idea how to find the hostel again. His watch said 10:30 so he gave up on the bus which had left at 8, only to discover hours later that the watch was somehow 4 hours fast and he'd woken up at 6:30, with more than enough time! We forgot to even leave a note we left in such a rush to race for the bus, and with no way to contact him figured we'd lost him for good. Just in case, we waited an extra day here, in Puerto Natales, Chile, and lo and behold who should step off of the bus today (was waiting there just in case), and hence how we know the story!

A happy ending it would seem, and more adventures to come. We're headed off into Parque Torres del Paine for a 4 or 5 day trek, hauling all our own trekking and camping gear for the first time in the trip. This is supposedly the mecca of serious trekkers and it should be pretty crazy, really looking forward to it. We've also met a couple of cool Israeli girls here who will be joining us for the trek (essentially grabbed us in the street and told us they're are coming along), so should be a good group. Next update will be back in Argentina after our little Chilean side trip. Chile, here in particular is EXPENSIVE, although complete with all the comforts of home. Anyway, only here for a few days so until we meet again,

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