Posted by: Dave | May 19, 2009

Back at it. Destination: Costa Rica

I’m leaving today for Costa Rica on a last minute, 1-week trip with my brother Jay.  We’re headed to Playa Hermosa, which is just a few kilometers south of Jaco on the Pacific Ocean, only an hour and half or so from the capital city of San Jose. Playa Hermosa is a surf destination, and that’s my brother’s M.O. … and I’m happy to tag along.

So… a little surfing, a lot of sun and hopefully some fun animals in the jungle. I’m sure I’ll be able to update photos and posts from touristy Jaco at the very least… so be on the lookout. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to do more photography… I’m sure I’ll get the chance (including actions shots of Jay surfing; monkeys, macaws, iguanas and other rainforest animals; dramatic coastline; etc.).

In the meantime, feel free to check out the “Recent” Posts on the right, which have my blog updates from my Jan-Mar trip to South America.

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Posted by: Dave | March 11, 2009

The Incas and a trek through their land.

I’m now back in Arizona. In my last post I talked a little bit about the Incas and my first few days in Peru. It’s been well over a week since that post, and I’ve trekked 45+ miles, eaten many, many potatoes, seen the mesmerizing Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins, and I’ve flown back to States. I’m glad I have let my trek and Machu Picchu experience sink in, rather than write about it right away. I think I have a little bit more perspective than I did right at the end of the trek. I think that’ll be more valuable than a play-by-play of the trek – although there certainly will be some of that.

The Inca Trail. Wide enough for a load bearing animal (llama, horse, etc), but that's about it. Yes, that's a cloud ... and a very long, steep drop off the side.

The Inca Trail. Wide enough for a load bearing animal (llama, horse, etc), but that's about it. Yes, that's a cloud ... and a very long, steep drop off the side.

The “famous” trek to Machu Picchu is a 4 or 5-day hike along the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail was the main thoroughfare for travel from Cuzco to Machu Picchu and some of the Inca settlements along the Urubamba river valley, and is now a well-used path for trekkers to reach Machu Picchu. The Peruvian government actually limits the number of people who can be on the Inca Trail each day to 500 (including all porters and guides).

What we historically call the Inca Empire is usually wrapped into a few centuries – from approximately 1300-1600 AD – but the civilization that we call “Inca” was certainly around for many thousands of years. As I mentioned in my post about Cuzco, the Incas were incredibly innovative. They built strong and durable buildings without the use of mortar. Through centuries of cultivation, they turned a small tuberous root into the white potato… which ultimately spread around the world and kept several other civilizations alive through drought and blight. They developed the sweet potato (and a couple of thousand other potato varieties) and maize. But amazingly they did not use the wheel nor did they have a written language. When the Spaniards came through in the early in 1500s, they destroyed a civilization and many  of its secrets were lost forever. Sad. The story of the Incas is fascinating – especially how a large, mature civilization could be quickly eradicated by less than 125 Spanish conquistadors. To read more about it, check out the Wikipedia entry on the Incas by clicking here (after you finishing reading my blog).

So back to the Inca Trail and our trek…

Our porters were awesome, carrying up to 15lbs of our stuff for us... and all the tents and food and such. Here they are just ahead of us on the trail... approaching the Inca ruins at Paucarkancha.

Our porters were awesome, carrying up to 15lbs of our stuff for us... and all the tents and food and such. Here they are just ahead of us on the trail, approaching the Inca ruins at Paucarkancha.

We opted for a 7-day trek that passed by Salkantay Mountain and met up with the Inca Trail after several days. Instead of doing the “standard” 4-day trek along with backpackers from around the world, we opted to do 4 days near Salkantay and then meet up with the Inca Trail and trek 3 days to Machu Picchu. What a stark contrast between the two segements… and each was fascinating. I highly recommend the company that we used for our trek, called Llama Path. They have by far the highest level of support for their porters, providing them superior clothing and gear and really creating a family feeling. If you do the Inca Trail or any other trek to Machu Picchu, check out Llama Path first.

I have well over 750 photos from this 7-day trek, and every day was so unique, but I’ll try to pare it down and avoid completely boring you with details.

Part 1: Salkantay (“The Savage”) Mountain
The Salkantay part of the trek took us away from the tourist masses to almost 4 full days without seeing a single other hiker. In fact, aside from our team of 25 trekkers, guides and porters, the only other people we saw were the native Peruvians who live in these remote valleys, often in huts with thatched roofs. Don’t even think about running water and electricity out here. It was amazing to see how primitive and simple people still live, and it provides fantastic perspective and appreciation for things we often take for granted – toilets, drinkable water, showers, etc.

This is our first campsite, after a beautiful trek through a valley. We camped in pastures that were often home to horses, cows and the presents they leave behind. The campsite vistas were all amazing.

This is our first campsite, after a beautiful trek through a valley. We camped in pastures that were often home to horses, cows and the presents they leave behind. The campsite vistas were all amazing.

I haven’t mentioned the altitude yet in this post. This experience is largely about altitude. Cusco is at approx. 11,000 feet (twice that of Denver) and on the Salkantay trek we reached points of approximately 17,000 feet. That’s some serious altitude and you can feel the lack of oxygen in the air. The first night we camped at about 12,000 feet, and the second night was at about 14,500 feet. On Day 3 we passed the highest point, the Incachiriaska Pass (Incachiriaska = point at which the Incas get cold) which crosses next to Salkantay Mountain at 17,000 feet. Of course it was snowing while we were at this peak. We hiked down to 13,500 for lunch and then back up to 17,000 again to look for a lake that our guide wanted to see. That’s a lot of up and down (and up and down) for one day… let alone at that altitude. It was amazing though.

This part of the trek on Day 2 is pretty indicative of the drama and isolation of the Salkantay Trek.

This part of the trek on Day 2 is pretty indicative of the drama and isolation of the Salkantay Trek.

Night 2 campsite at the foot of Salkantay Mountain.

Night 2 campsite at the foot of Salkantay Mountain.

Beautiful view of Salkantay Mountain in the morning. We saw/heard 3 avalanches while were here. Similar to glacial calving, that's a sound that can't be described in words.

Beautiful view of Salkantay Mountain in the morning. We saw/heard 3 avalanches while were here. Similar to glacial calving, that's a sound that can't be described in words.

Salkantay reflected in a puddle. Salkantay's peak is at just over 20,000 feet.

Salkantay reflected in a puddle. Salkantay's peak is at just over 20,000 feet.

After reaching camp, a 3 of us went an additional 1,000 feet or so withour guides to get a different perspective on the campsite.

After reaching camp, 3 of us went an additional 1,000 feet or so with our guides to get a different perspective on the campsite.

Here I am with our lead guide, Freddy, at the Incachiriaska Pass - the highest point on our trek. Gotta love snow and wind at 17,000 feet!

Here I am with our lead guide, Freddy, at the Incachiriaska Pass - the highest point on our trek. Gotta love snow and wind at 17,000 feet!

How do you enjoy being at 17,000 feet? Climb out on a ledge and smoke a Cuban cigar, of course.

How do you enjoy being at 17,000 feet? Climb out on a ledge and smoke a Cuban cigar, of course.

The hike into camp at the end of a full Day 3. Hiking through these glacial valleys in the Andes was dramatic every step of the way; low clouds, steep mountains, free-range animals, primitive homes and "villages".

The hike into camp at the end of a full Day 3. Hiking through these glacial valleys in the Andes was dramatic every step of the way; low clouds, steep mountains, free-range animals, primitive homes and "villages".

Day 4 brought us to the end of the Salkantay trek and to a small village called Paucarkancha where we had our passports checked before meeting up with the Inca Trail. By village I mean 3 houses and some Inca ruins. While our paperwork was getting done, I got what might be my favorite pic of the entire 7 weeks in South America….

Local in Paucarkancha where we met up with the Inca Trail.

Local in Paucarkancha where we met up with the Inca Trail.

Part 2: The Inca Trail
The first campsite on the Inca Trail is completely different than the ones we had on Salkantay. First of all there are many more people (the 500 or so I mentioned previously) and there are some amenities like a door on the toilet and running water (that’s not drinkable). The best part of the Night 4 campsite though was the soccer field. Our guide had been wanting to play for days, and we held a gringos v guides/porters match in the most scenic location that I’ve ever kicked a ball. The photos don’t do justice to the incredible setting in the Andes.

You know what they say about goalkeepers. They're all ...

You know what they say about goalkeepers. They're all ...

Best pic of the field we played on in the midst of the Andes. This is a group of porters playing after we finished our game. Definitely the best/craziest/most beautiful location where I've ever played.

Best pic of the field we played on in the midst of the Andes with Inca ruins on the sideline. This is a group of porters playing after we finished our game. Definitely the best/craziest/most beautiful location where I've ever played.

In case you’re wondering, the Peruvians beat the Americans 11-10 in a 2-hour game.  It was the first time that I had played soccer in 2 years… and I’m really, really happy about the way my hip responded. I miss playing and that might be the green light for me to try it out for real.

Now back to the Inca Trail… and all the people…

The hike out of camp on Day 5... now on the Inca Trail. Slightly different than the isolation of Salkantay.

The hike out of camp on Day 5... now on the Inca Trail. Slightly different than the isolation of Salkantay.

Inca ruins along the Inca Trail. These places were built as either storage/rest points for the couriers and travelers who walked the Inca Path or as a lookout to provide protection along the path.

Inca ruins along the Inca Trail. These places were built as either storage/rest points for the couriers and travelers who walked the Inca Path or as a lookout to provide protection along the path.

More Inca ruins along the Inca Trail.

More Inca ruins along the Inca Trail.

Peru has a wide variety of microclimates, and the Inca Trail took us into the Amazon basin. Here is the trail winding through the beginning of the jungle.

Peru has a wide variety of microclimates, and the Inca Trail took us into the Amazon basin. Here is the trail winding through the beginning of the jungle. This is the actual path that was built several hundred-plus years ago. The stones are just as old as the path itself.

Since the Incas were small people, there are often steep inclines that don't have steps. You should see the porters run up and down this path carrying 40+ lbs on their backs. Super fast and nimple... and often wearing only traditional Inca sandals.

Since the Incas were small people, there are often steep inclines that don't have steps. You should see the porters run up and down this path carrying 40+ lbs on their backs. Super fast and nimble... and often wearing only traditional Inca sandals.

A close-up of the Inca Trail... last photo in this blog that's just of a stone path, I promise.

A close-up of the Inca Trail... last photo in this blog that's just of a stone path, I promise.

The Inca Ruins at Winay Huayna, which is next to our last campsite on the Inca Trail. The Incas used the terraces not only to cultivate different crops, but also to conduct experiments on plant growth at different altitudes/irrigation/etc.

The Inca Ruins at Winay Huayna, which is next to our last campsite on the Inca Trail. The Incas used the terraces not only to cultivate different crops, but also to conduct experiments on plant growth at different altitudes/irrigation/etc.

Part 3: Machu Picchu
But of course, the Inca Trail is primarily about Machu Picchu… at least it is in today’s tourist world.  Not much is known about Machu Picchu, as the Incas didn’t keep a written record of their lives and the Spanish effectively wiped out their civilization. So when the ruins were found in 1911 (seriously… only 100 years ago or so), there wasn’t much information to go on. In fact, Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain” in the native tongue of Quechua, which is how the American discoverer was told about the location by the locals he encoutered in the early part of the century. We don’t even know what this place was called by the Incas. Scientists also think that it was incomplete when the Incas abandoned it in the early 1600s or so.

But leave it to the Incas to build an impressive building in a completely inaccesible location! The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu in their conquest because from the river valley it is completely hidden. There is now a road that brings tourists to the site by bus, but before automobiles this was only accessible via the Inca Trail and was often completely covered by clouds.  There is some debate about Machu Picchu’s use… but the current favor is that it was more of a learning center/temple and not a fortress.

We set off early in the morning on Day 7 of our hike, in order to get to the Sun Gate at sunrise. Ok… enough blabber.. here are pics:

Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail after passing through the Sun Gate.

Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail after passing through the Sun Gate.

Machu Picchu. Incredibly lucky with the weather... again. I think the weather gods were on my side while I was in South America.

Machu Picchu. Incredibly lucky with the weather... again. I think the weather gods were on my side while I was in South America.

Again, amazing weather. It's the rainy season in Peru.

Again, amazing weather. It's the rainy season in Peru.

Llamas hanging in Machu Picchu. There are wild llamas and alpacas in the Andes, and we saw a few of them, but these llamas were introduced to Machu Picchu for the tourists enjoyment. Still fun to see them though...

Llamas hanging in Machu Picchu. There are wild llamas and alpacas in the Andes, and we saw a few of them, but these llamas were introduced to Machu Picchu for the tourists enjoyment. Still fun to see them though...

Wayna Picchu (the mountain in the background) overlooks Machu Picchu and served as a lookout.

Wayna Picchu (the mountain in the background) overlooks Machu Picchu and served as a lookout.

Again, a traditional view of Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu in the background

Again, a traditional view of Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu in the background

Blue skies at Machu Picchu

Blue skies at Machu Picchu

I think this photo does a good job of showing the drama of Machu Picchu's location in the Andes/Amazon basin.

I think this photo does a good job of showing the drama of Machu Picchu's location in the Andes/Amazon basin.

Inca architecture at Machu Picchu

Inca architecture at Machu Picchu

The Incas used simple but effective ways of splitting huge rocks for their construction needs.

The Incas used simple but effective ways of splitting huge rocks for their construction needs.

Terraces at Machu Picchu

Terraces at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

from Wayna Picchu... you can see the condor shape of Machu Picchu

The view from Wayna Picchu... you can see the condor shape of Machu Picchu

Terraces and blue skies at Machu Picchu.

Terraces and blue skies at Machu Picchu.

From the top of Wayna Picchu, overlooking Machu Picchu.

From the top of Wayna Picchu, overlooking Machu Picchu.

A chinchilla.... chinchillin' at Machu Picchu.

A chinchilla.... chinchillin' at Machu Picchu.

I could go on and on about the Incas and about the details of the trek to Machu Picchu. It really was a fascinating week for me, and since I didn’t know much about the Inca Empire, it was a great educational experience as well.

So now I’m back in Arizona and it’s time to get a job.  I have absolutely no regrets about my trip to South America. From Patagonia to Machu Picchu, I was overwhelmed by the people of South America. They were all so incredibly friendly and helpful and I never felt unsafe. Add Argentina, Chile and Peru to your bucket list; specifically Patagonia, Iguazu Falls and Machu Picchu.

I intend to keep writing on this blog. There is still more that I want to write about from my trip (the driving experience in Patagonia deserves a blog entry all to itself) and I’ll have a link to a complete collection of photos posted at some point … and hopefully there will be many more travel experiences in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks for checking in during my travels… stop by occasionally and see if there’s anything new.

Dave

Posted by: Dave | February 28, 2009

Cusco: Time for an Altitude Adjustment

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

I leave early tomorrow morning (Sunday) on the 7-day trek to Machu Picchu. Since arriving in Cusco, Peru on Thursday morning, I’ve learned from other travelers and trekkers that this 7-day endeavor is less common, and quite a challenge. I guess I knew all of that, but it’s interesting to meet people who have spent 4 and 5 days on the Inca Trail and other trails in the area and hear about their treks. We’re hiking for 3-4 days on the Salkantay Mountain range, and on Tuesday or Wednesday we’ll hike up over 16,000 feet . Cusco is at 11,000 feet and you can definitely feel that in the air. Just for a frame of reference, at 12,000 feet, the human body can only absorb 60% of the oxygen that it can at sea level. That’s why it was important to get here a few days before the hike started – to allow for acclimatization and adjustment to the altitude. What’s interesting is that while we start at 11,000 feet and go to 15,000, Machu Picchu is only at 8,000 feet…. so the last few days of the hike are essentially downhill. If you’re lost on all that – the tallest peak in the Colorado Rockies is 14,000 and Denver’s altitude is 5,281 feet.

Cusco is an interesting town. It was the “hub” of the Inca Empire and in the native language it is literally translated as “navel of the world.” There are important Incan ruins just outside of town and all over the nearby Sacred Valley. The closest is Saqsaywaman (strangely enough, it’s pronounced “sexy woman”) and we did the steep, short trek to the ruins. Here are some pics:

Saqsaywaman was destroyed by the Spanish when they invaded and conquered the Incan Empire.

Saqsaywaman was destroyed by the Spanish when they invaded and conquered the Incan Empire.

Imagine this temple in all it's glory 500+ years ago. It would have had 100 foot towers and dominated the skyline.

Imagine this temple in all it's glory 500+ years ago. It would have had 100 foot towers and dominated the skyline.

The Incas are known for the incredibly strong architecture.

The Incas are known for the incredibly strong architecture.

Mom - this one is for you. More color!

Mom - this one is for you. More color!

Me... chillin at Saqsaywaman.

Me... chillin at Saqsaywaman.

The town of Cusco maintains some of its native charm, but as the tourist base for Machu Picchu it has turned into a bustling town with vendors of all sorts who hassle turistas in the street. “Buy this,” and “eat here” gets annoying when you hear it every 2.12 seconds. It’s a really poor town, and it’s interesting to compare its situation to that of Calafate in Argentina which has done extremely well to develop into a nice small tourist town, capturing the business for those that visit the Perito Moreno glacier. What’s cool about Cusco is that it maintains that everyday life of a rural town. We wandered into a market and saw all sorts of handmade goods and a meat market that was incredible. You could see every cow part you ever imagined (and some you can’t imagine) among other animals. I’m holding back from some of the more vivid butcher photos, as I don’t want to lose any readers.

This photo has been rated PG-13

This photo has been rated PG-13

The butcher's block.

The butcher's block.

The native Incan culture is easy to see in local arts and crafts.

The native Incan culture is easy to see in local arts and crafts.

At the market in Cusco.

At the market in Cusco.

Outside the local football club's stadium.

Outside the local football club's stadium.

It’s been good to take it easy for the last few days in preparation for the hike, but I’m excited to get out there and finally get to Machu Picchu next weekend. That’s the end of my trip as I’ll be heading back to Arizona immediately afterwards (I’ll be home in Tues. Mar. 10).

No more posts on this blog until I’m back from Machu Picchu (and probably not until I’m home), but I’m hoping that my trek and visit to Machu Picchu provide some great stories and photos!

Thanks for checking in. Look for something on March 10/11.

Posted by: Dave | February 24, 2009

Iguaza Falls and Brazil, or not.

Iguazu Falls are special. They´re an overwhelming display of the earth´s raw power and a reminder that the land was shaped by forces that have nothing to do with humans.  I really don´t know what else to say about the falls other than that I was completely awed by the amount of water that tumbles over the myraid walls at any one time. This is not a waterfall (singular). This is a series of giant waterfalls that span as far as the eye can see. For most of us, the “go-to” visual for a waterfall is a river that´s cut in half and the water falls straight down and continues below. This is not Iguazu.  Iguazu is a large river that basically lost one of its sides… so some water falls here, some there, some later on. For about 3km. Imagine the Mississippi just lost it´s side for a mile and  half and the water dropped 270 feet. That´s Iguazu.

I arrived at Puerto Iguazu, the nearest city in Argentina to the falls, on Friday morning after my 18 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires. That was completely uneventful and easy, so we can gloss over it and get to the real subject – Iguazu Falls.  There are two places to view the falls: on the Argentinian side, where you get closer to the falls, and on the Brazilian side where you get more panoramic views.  The park is pretty well maintained, and is the most expensive of the parks that I´ve been to… AR$60 or $17-ish US.   The pictures really tell the story and give a far better feel than I can explain, but I need to add one detail: I think this is the hottest place I´ve ever been. It was about 100 degrees with 100% humidity. And no breeze.  I guess it is the middle of the jungle after all…

Brazil on the left, Argentina on the right, and one part of Iguazu Falls in the middle. That fall is called Garganta del Diablo.

Brazil on the left, Argentina on the right, and one part of Iguazu Falls in the middle. That fall is called Garganta del Diablo.

A different part of the falls... on the Argentine side.

A different part of the falls... on the Argentine side.

For some context, look at the viewing stand in the middle of the picture to get an idea of how tall the people are.

For some context, look at the viewing stand in the middle of the picture to get an idea of how tall the people are.

Two Black-headed Vultures look through Las Ventanas...

Two Black-headed Vultures look through Las Ventanas...

Lots of water...

Lots of water...

There really is water falling everywhere.

There really is water falling everywhere.

The San Martin falls... lots of water!

The San Martin falls... lots of water!

A toucan checking out the falls!

A toucan checking out the falls!

The view from the top of Garganta del Diablo

The view from the top of Garganta del Diablo

Butterflies everywhere...

Butterflies everywhere...

Using a slow shutter speed to get some different effects

Using a slow shutter speed to get some different effects

Another look at a part of the falls

Another look at a part of the falls

I have so many pictures (and I´ve had a nightmare getting them uploaded today), so I´ll attach a gallery of the full collection once I get home in a couple of weeks.

I had intended to go to Brazil on Sunday, but at 9am when I got to the border, I was informed that my lack of a visa to travel to Brazil would keep me out. Yeah… I got the Heisman from a Brazilian border official. That´s a pretty weird feeling.  Americans can´t visit Brazil without a visa… which is a silly thing that´s happened post-9/11 as Brazilian didn´t like our fingerprinting rules.  All reports were that the visa wasn´t needed for a day trip to the Brazilian side of the falls… but that leniency has been set aside temporarily. The guard I talked to blamed it on Carnivale, which is in full swing in Brazil. Oh well. So I went back to the Argentinian side and checked out some different angles that I hadn´t seen on Saturday.

Weird feeling, getting blocked from visiting a country.

Despite that hiccup, it was a phenomenal experience. Once again I was graced with great weather (including a cool t-storm overnight)… and Iguazu Falls goes very close to the top of my must-see-in-your-lifetime recommendations.

I´d really like to post more photos, but the computer situation is a real hassle and I don´t want to spend 5 hours inside an internet cafe when Buenos Aires is beckoning.

I leave tomorrow for Peru.  Will update from there before heading out on the trek to Machu Picchu.

Thanks for checking in…

Posted by: Dave | February 20, 2009

Mendoza (Wine Country) & Back to Buenos Aires

Aconcagua - the tallest peak outside of the Himalayas - towers over the Andes and Mendoza

Aconcagua - the tallest peak outside of the Himalayas - towers over the Andes and Mendoza

Mendoza is a great city.  And the wines of the region are great. And cheap. That´s actually been a consistent theme in Argentina – food and drink are on the (very) cheap side. At Alta Vista winery, one of the most well respected in Argentina, their very best wine – a 95 Wine Spectator ranking – goes for only US$90.   But the real value is seen in the fantastic wines that we have been buying for 30 Pesos… or US$8-9. Amazing Malbecs and Cabernets for what would easily be US$60 or so in the States. The food is similarly priced. Last night (now back in Buenos Aires) we visited a neighborhood parilla… which basically is an all-you can eat steak and meat fest… with a price of ARG$31 (US$9)!!! Of course, that doesn´t include the beverages… and our great bottle of wine was ARG$26 (US$8) and it was buy one get one free. HA! I can´t imagine what a $4 bottle of wine would be at home… Boone´s Farm?

Wine tasting was an adventure.. we drove to some wineries and did a bike tour to others. The experience differed from vineyard to vineyard and I think our collective favorite was Norton, as we got a private tour for no apparent reason. We did a tasting in the wine cellar… and, of course, the wines were phenomenal. Wine tasting tip of the day: go late in the day, and the guide will bring out a glass for herself and choose a better wine for you/her to drink. 

The private collection at Norton.

The private collection at Norton.

Plenty of vino aging in Norton´s cellars

Plenty of vino aging in Norton´s cellars

Norton´s barrel room

Norton´s barrel room

1974 Malbec. For sale possibly later this year. Such a special year... nothing bad could have been born that year.

1974 Malbec. For sale possibly later this year. Such a special year... nothing bad could have been born that year.

In an attempt to avoid the wino designation, I will point out that we left Mendoza early to head back to Buenos Aires. The motivation was primarily fatigue. Mendoza was an overall great experience – awesome city, great wines and a fantastic hostel – but all that time on the road in Patagonia took its toll.  Before jumping ahead to Buenos Aires, here are a few more pics from the time in Mendoza. Yes they mostly revolve around wine.

Vines everywhere...

Vines everywhere...

This is a normal street in downtown Mendoza

This is a normal street in downtown Mendoza

Hamburger for lunch in Chacras de Coria, outside of Mendoza. Yes that´s an olive, an egg and ham on the Hamburguesa Especial.

Hamburger for lunch in Chacras de Coria, outside of Mendoza. Yes that´s an olive, an egg and ham on the Hamburguesa Especial.

I realize that these photos don´t have the drama or aesthetic quality of some of the others that I´ve posted previously. The weather wasn´t perfect in Mendoza for stunning pics of Aconcagua and there wasn´t much beyond the city and the vineyards, but that doesn´t take away from Mendoza.  It´s definitely a city I would recommend to anyone traveling to Argentina.

But then back to the craziness that is Buenos Aires. It was a 10 hour drive, but at least this was on paved roads and highways.  I need to write a post about driving… it has been in adventure in Argentina.

The return to Buenos Aires brought a return to humidity. Yesterday was 95 and humid and today there is a full-on thunderstorm (hence all the time in the internet cafe).  I took the opportunity yesterday to walk down to La Boca, a neighborhood that is known for colorful buildings and as the home of  arguably the most popular soccer team in South America – Boca Juniors. Argentina is the home to many European immigrants and their decendents, most of which of Italian or Spanish decent. La Boca was a popular destination for Italian immigrants, and their work in the shipyards often led to bringing home extra cans of paint with which they painted their homes and gave the cartoonish feel that has been maintained today.

On the street of La Boca.

On the streets of La Boca.

Cafe in La Boca.

Cafe in La Boca.

Kids playing soccer in La Boca, just a block from La Bombonera.

Kids playing soccer in La Boca, just a block from La Bombonera.

Homes in La Boca

Homes in La Boca

More La Boca homes

More La Boca homes

La Bombonera, which means "The Chocolate Box" - home of Boca Juniors.

La Bombonera, which means "The Chocolate Box" - home of Boca Juniors.

This afternoon I start another adventure… an 18 hour bus ride to Iguazu Falls, way up in the northeast corner of the country, near the Brazilian and Paraguyan borders. I´m really excited about this part of my trip… I´ve been looking forward to going to here since I first learned of the falls on Planet Earth a couple of years ago. If you´re not familiar with Iguazu Falls, click here, or just wait for my post and pics. Hopefully I get good weather and get the chance to get some great photos. I´m really excited about this.

I return to Buenos Aires on Tuesday, then leave Wednesday for Cusco, Peru to get ready for the trek to Machu Picchu.

Thanks for checking in!

Posted by: Dave | February 15, 2009

The Lake District of Argentina

Typical day on Ruta 40, the major highway that runs up and down the western border of Argentina. Imagine I-95 on the US east coast, or the 5 Freeway on the west coast - only unpaved and with guanacos, sheep, goats, rabbits, cows or giant hawks sitting in the middle of the road.

Typical day on Ruta 40, the major highway that runs up and down the western border of Argentina. Imagine I-95 on the US east coast, or the 5 Freeway on the west coast - only unpaved and with guanacos, sheep, goats, rabbits, cows or giant hawks sitting in the middle of the road.

I have fully intended to write about the great people I´ve met over the last month (locals, travelers, etc) and/or the amazing journey that has been the drive on “major roads” such as Ruta 3 and Ruta 40. But this beautiful country´s varying and dramatic landscape steals the show again.  I´m now in Mendoza, which is in central Argentina on the western border (near Chile) at the foot of the Andes – close to the largest mountain outside of the Himalayas, a peak called Aconcagua.  But what Mendoza is known for is wine… this is the Napa or Sonoma valley of Argentina.  More on that to come, I´m sure. 

My visit to the Argentinian Lakes District certainly deserves a great deal of attention and more photos. The tourism hub for the area is the town of Bariloche, which sits on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi in the national park of that name. In the winter it´s a ski destination, as the Andes surround the lakes and make for some of the most picturesque skiing in the world. The town itself is known for its location – and it´s the chocolate capital of Argentina. Of course I ate too much.  Bariloche has grown into a bustling tourist town itself, but its real purpose is to serve as the portal to the parks and slopes of the mountains around it. Municpal Park Llao Llao (pronounced “Jao Jao”) is the gem, sitting about 30km outside of Bariloche and nestled amongst several lakes. The plan included a hike up a mountain for a panoramic view of the area, and also exploring the Circuito Chico, which is the road connecting all of the lakes. Again… photos tell the best story.

First night in Bariloche and the moon is almost full...

First night in Bariloche and the moon is almost full...

The view on Punta Panaramico on the Circuito Chico. That´s the Hotel Llao Llao on the left... the most famous hotel in Argentina. Quite a setting. Just let it be said one more time, and apply it to all pics - the colors are real and unedited.

The view on Punta Panoramico on the Circuito Chico. That´s the Hotel Llao Llao on the left... the most famous hotel in Argentina. Quite a setting. Just let it be said one more time, and apply it to all pics - the colors are real and unedited.

I need a haircut... but the view is amazing. Mom - you asked for more pics of me... so here´s one!

I need a haircut... but the view is amazing. Mom - you asked for more pics of me... so here´s one!

The view from Cerro Lopez after climbing a quick 800 meters. Steep. As I´m loading these photos, I´m having trouble choosing which ones to show... they´re all so dramatic. Sorry in advance if it becomes overwhelming.

The view from Cerro Lopez after climbing a quick 800 meters. Steep. As I´m loading these photos, I´m having trouble choosing which ones to show... they´re all so dramatic. Sorry in advance if it becomes overwhelming.

Perfect weather above the Lakes District, and I could´ve stayed on this rock all day. (I love playing with the self-timer on the camera too.)

Perfect weather above the Lakes District, and I could´ve stayed on this rock all day. (I love playing with the self-timer on the camera too.)

The full moon rising over the Lake District and the Andes...

The full moon rising over the Lake District and the Andes...

Hopefully you can get an idea of how clear the water is in these lakes.

Hopefully you can get an idea of how clear the water is in these lakes.

The weather was again incredible for us, albeit a little windy after the first day. I took it pretty easy while my friends did a ridge hike where they had to battle winds that knocked them over (literally).  Again – super lucky with the weather… clear days like this make it easy to have amazing memories and fantastic photographs.

Leaving the Lakes District wasn´t easy, but the promise of wine country in and around Mendoza helped with that. Mendoza is a real city – about 1 million people live in and around it – and it´s good to be in a place that has some energy. Patagonia was great, its vast isolation and natural wonders are special and unforgettable, but it´s good to be back in a bustling city. The plan here is some more hiking and maybe some white-water rafting – and definitely a good amount of wine tasting. In fact, that was the priority for the first day here (yesterday), so I´ve already tried some of the region´s pride varietal: Malbec.  You have got to like the sign that greeted us at the first vineyard we rolled into:

For those of you who may not get the Spanish joke, "beber" is the Spanish word for "to drink" ... so it´s a play on the welcome greeting "bienvenidos". Good drinking!

For those of you who may not get the Spanish joke, "beber" is the Spanish word for "to drink" ... so it´s a play on the welcome greeting "bienvenidos". Good drinking!

It´s almost harvest time for this season´s grapes, so there are full vines everywhere. We´re headed out on bikes on Monday to explore more vineyards, and I´m sure there are plenty of pics to follow.  Looking forward to it…

Soon to become a nice Malbec 2009.

Soon to become a nice Malbec 2009.

Posted by: Dave | February 8, 2009

This country is great…

Calafate is, for all intents and purposes, a tourist town. It has seized the opportunity to thrive on tourism that comes to see the nearby Perito Moreno Glacier, which is in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares about 30km outside of town. Calafate is still quaint, but there are busses with tourists and over-priced (compared to what I´ve experienced in Argentina so far) restaurants and shops. But it´s worth it. The Perito Moreno Glacier is still advancing at a rate of up to 6 feet a day, which means it puts on a show. As a glacier pushes forward, the ice pushes in all sorts of directions, causing giant chunks to fall into the turquoise water below. I can´t even describe the sound it makes. Perito Moreno is about 180 feet high, and when even a “small” chunk makes a huge noise when calving off the face and splashing into the water.

This is part of the Perito Moreno glacier with a boat in the water for perspective. That boat holds about 200 people, and is probably about 1/4 mile from the face of the glacier. Now you can see how tall 180 feet of ice really is!

This is part of the Perito Moreno glacier with a boat in the water for perspective. That boat holds about 200 people, and is probably about 1/4 mile from the face of the glacier. Now you can see how tall 180 feet of ice really is!

Perito Moreno Glacier... incredible.

Perito Moreno Glacier... incredible.

One more of Perito Moreno.

One more of Perito Moreno.

I have photos of big pieces of the glacier falling off… but I´m having trouble loading pics, so I´ll do that at another time and link to it. Thanks to  my new camera for capturing these pics.. they´re awesome.

Next stop was El Chaltén, a (very) small town about 2 hours to the north, just on the north edge of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. There are two beautiful peaks that tower over town – Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.

The drive into El Chaltén. That´s Cerro Fitz Roy up in the clouds, and Cerro Torre more in the middle (kind of spikey).

The drive into El Chaltén. That´s Cerro Fitz Roy up in the clouds, and Cerro Torre more in the middle (kind of spikey).

We did an overnight hike into the park to see the peaks up close and on Day 1 were fortunate enough to have the morning clouds disappear to provide stunning views of Cerro Fitz Roy, named after the captain of the Beagle – the man responsible for inviting Charles Darwin to come along on a certain voyage. We have learned that this was truly exceptional weather and that Cerro Fitz Roy often is hiding in the clouds. I think the pics tell the best story.

This is after about 1 hour of the hike.

This is after about 1 hour of the hike.

... and this is about 2 hours later.

... and this is about 2 hours later.

Yes... this is a 100% real photo. Not a fake backdrop. Not a model standing in for me. Ha.

Yes... this is a 100% real photo. Not a fake backdrop. Not a model standing in for me. Ha.

On Day 2, the hike to Cerro Torre was fairly easy and it was a beautiful day, but the jagged peaks were hiding in a cloud bank and didn´t provide the views that we had the day before. It´s ok. The weather has been treating me extremely well so I won´t complain! I don´t have pics uploaded from this day as Cerro Torre was completely hidden. Oh well… you can see it above in the first pic.

El Chaltén has taken top spot as my favorite town in the world. It was only established in 1985, in an attempt to keep Chile from claiming the land. Weird. It´s now a 600-resident town that serves as the base for trekkers and climbers who want to explore the northern part of Nacional Parque Los Glaciares.  Add El Chaltén to your must-do-soon list… as it´s likely to grow as word spreads.

We left El Chaltén the next morning to begin a journey to Bariloche, in the Argentinian Lake District. Route 40, the major north/south road on the western side of Argentina is mostly dirt.. and terrible. I can´t even explain how bad this national highway is in some parts. Imagine the worst dirt road you can. And that´s it. I need to write about our driving experience, and I have a lot of pics of random but beautiful roads… so look for that soon.

Here in Bariloche I´ll be doing more hiking and maybe some mountain biking and kayaking. Amazing weather continues today… we´ll see if it holds up.

Posted by: Dave | February 3, 2009

The “W”

The W. No, not the posh hotel found in major cities worldwide.  This W is the shape of the trail in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (pronounced pie-NAY) that takes several days to trek. After 4 days of trekking and camping, we had completed the W… and my body felt it.

The trek covered a lot of ground. Day 1 was a 14km (about 9 miles) and then a 3km hike up a steep, rocky hill to see the Torres del Paine up close. Day 2 started with me repeating that steep ascent in a failed effort to capture the peaks at sunrise (it turned out to be too cloudy to get the red peaks I had heard about) and then a 21 km (13 mi) hike to the next campsite. Day 3 was 27 km (17 mi) hike to camp near Glacier Grey. And finally Day 4 about 13 km (8 mi) to catch the boat to end the W trek. That´s a lot of miles in 3 days… especially while carrying a 50 lb pack. My hips really didn´t respond too well, which is kind of disappointing, and makes me a bit concerned about further “heavy” trekking.

The Torres del Paine park is amazing. It´s a huge National Park in Chile, that is often referred to as the “best” National Park in South America. It certainly may be. It´s huge… and has such diverse terrain; praries, mountains, desert, glaciers, etc.  It´s actually not a part of the Andes, but rather an anomoly that shot up in some seismic shift millions of years ago.  I´m feeling a bit short of words, so here are some photos from the trek.

These are the Torres del Paine - the Towers of Blue. They´re roughly at 9000 feet... and I´m taking this from about 3000. There´s a glacier in front of them, and then a glacial lake. I have better pics of the towers, but the person in the foreground of this pic provides the right perspective.

These are the Torres del Paine - the Towers of Blue. They´re roughly at 9000 feet... and I´m taking this from about 3000. There´s a glacier in front of them, and then a glacial lake. I have better pics of the towers, but the person in the foreground of this pic provides the right perspective.

This is a self-portrait of me waiting for sunrise after a steep 2km hike to the viewpoint... at 5am. Sunrise didn´t really produce much of an effect on the Cerros (peaks) that morning. And it was SUPER-cold and windy. I look happy, right?

This is a self-portrait of me waiting for sunrise after a steep 2km hike to the viewpoint... at 5am. Sunrise didn´t really produce much of an effect on the Cerros (peaks) that morning. And it was SUPER-cold and windy. I look happy, right?

The water that´s cascading down the mountains is come of the best tastnig water I´ve ever had. It´s so clean that you don´t even have to treat it. You can just fill up and drink. It´s cold and pure... as it´s glacier runoff that has melted within the previous couple of hours.

The water that´s cascading down the mountains is some of the best tasting water I´ve ever had. It´s so clean that you don´t even have to treat it. You can just fill up and drink. It´s cold and pure... as it´s glacier runoff that has melted within the previous couple of hours.

Just another vista of Torres del Paine national park

Just another vista of Torres del Paine national park

Sunny day on Day 3 of the hike. This is Lake Pehoe. The photo is 100% unedited. All colors are as seen with the naked eye.

Sunny day on Day 3 of the hike. This is Lake Pehoe. The photo is 100% unedited. All colors are as seen with the naked eye.

This is a typical vista on the trail...

This is a typical vista on the trail...

So I´m finally posting pics with me in them. Many of you asked (maybe some will now ask for pics w/o me)... This is at the first Mirador (viewpoint) of Glacier Grey. You probably know that I love glaciers.. so get ready for (hundreds of) more pics to come.

So I´m finally posting pics with me in them. Many of you asked (maybe some will now ask for pics w/o me)... This is at the first Mirador (viewpoint) of Glacier Grey. You probably know that I love glaciers.. so get ready for (hundreds of) more pics to come.

Here´s an awesome pic of my feet soaking in 36 degree water. Not the same water that I was drinking in the above photo.

Here´s an awesome pic of my feet soaking in 36 degree water. Not the same water that I was drinking in the above photo. The pic isn´t awesome itself, but it´s awesome that you´re looking at a pic of my feet.

Here is Glacier Grey again. All colors are real.

Glacier Grey again. All colors are real.

Glacier Grey 02

An attempt to capture the expanse of Glacier Grey. It goes for miles and miles. I don´t have the words to describe how impressive this glacier is. All glaciers, for that matter. Please make an effort to see a glacier sometime soon. You can find great ones in Alaska, Canada, Norway, Argentina, Chile, etc. It´s more than worth the effort and will overwhelm you.

I was amazed when I saw an American Condor at the Grand Canyon. Here is an Andean Condor soaring overhead while I was checking out Glacier Grey. Hopefully you get an idea how big he is.

I was amazed when I saw an American Condor at the Grand Canyon. Here is an Andean Condor soaring overhead while I was checking out Glacier Grey. Hopefully you get an idea how big he is.

Here is a view back at Los Cuernos from the boat on our way back to the car post-hike. So impressive.

Here is a view back at Los Cuernos from the boat on our way back to the car post-hike. So impressive.

As you can see from the photos of Torres del Paine, everything about Patagonia (Argentinian Patagonia and Chilean Patagonia) has been dramatic. Vast endless deserts, deep blue seas, mountains plunging into seas, fierce winds, and towers of rock that dominate a landscape. I have hundreds more photos that I´d like to share, but I don´t have time to organize them so not to overwhelm.  I´ll try to get to that soon.

Today I´m in El Calafate, Argentina, which is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, which ADVANCES 6 feet a day. Will check that out tomorrow, then head to El Chalten to hike two more impressive peaks – Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre – which are located at the north end of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina.

Posted by: Dave | January 29, 2009

Chile

Today started with rain in Tierra del Fuego and ended with brisk cold air in Puerto Natales, Chile.

Puerto Natales is basically the base camp for Torres del Paine National Park, which located in the southern part of Chile and is generally considered the best national park in South America. I’m headed into the park tomorrow to do a 4-5 day trek that will be among some of most dramatic scenery I’ve ever witnesses. Glaciers, towering peaks, etc. That means no updates to the blog for a while. I know I need to post some more pics, I just haven’t had the time at a computer. Maybe on Tuesday or so.

Yesterday I was still in Tierra del Fuego and we tackled a hike in Tierra del Fuego up the Cerro Guanaco peak. It was 973 meters in elevation, and we did it in just under 5 hours. 973 meters is a lot of elevation to tackle in 5km and 2.5 hours uphill. For those of you familiar with Camelback Mountain, this hike was as difficult a climb as the Echo Canyon trail, but was twice as long (3.1 miles) and with three times the elevation change! I know I took the last few months off of working out (sick, lazy, etc) but that hike showed me how much leg strength I have lost since my hip surgery last March. Being out of shape is something I expected, but not being strong uphill was really frustrating for me. Good thing Ive got plenty more time on the trail before the Machu Piccho.

4-5 days on the trail. I’ll try to put together more of a post when I can get back online.

Posted by: Dave | January 27, 2009

Cash & Tierra del Fuego

I´m at an internet cafe in Ushuaia, which is the southernmost city in the world. Surprisingly, it´s not as far south as many inhabited places in the northern equivalent. Ushuaia is located on Tierra del Fuego and is just north of the 55th south parallel. In the northern hemisphere, that´s about where Juneau, Alaska is… and Scotland… and much of Russia. So… not as impressive as I once thought. Ushuaia is the base for Antarctic expeditions… and it´s really tempting to go. Antarctica is only about 750 miles from here, and the boats leave daily. Unfortunately they are 12-day trips, and right now (peak season) cost about $4000. Maybe some other time.

It´s great to be somewhere that isn´t pure flat desert (which is what the Patgonian steppe basically is). After 4.5 days of driving, the mountains and lakes and glaciers are much-welcomed scenery.  Today´s hike to a small glacier near town was welcome exercise after all that sitting in the car. Now the fun part of the trip really begins… trekking, camping, rafting, etc… all in the Andes of Argentina and Chile. (Passed through Chile on the way into Tierra del Fuego… so I can add that stamp to the passport!).

I forgot to bring the cable to upload more pics. Since my last post (from Peninsula Valdes), we have visiting another penguin colony that makes the first one look like an ant farm. Punta Tombo has over 1 MILLION penguins, and you can walk among them. They walk up to a 1/4 mile from the beach into the hills to make their nests, and you can walk right next to them. I have some great pics of them that I´ll post tomorrow hopefully.

Hassle: losing your ATM card in a foreign country. I don´t have a clue how or where I lost it, but I have my drivers license and credit card, but no debit card. They´re always in the same place. Anyway, I don´t know the PIN to my credit card, so I´ve had a real hassle getting cash.  Note to all of you: know the PIN to your credit card in case you lose your ATM card. All is good now… thanks to my parents!! It´s been hard to call BofA from here, so their help has been invaluable! Thanks mom and dad!

OK… time to go outside and wait for sunset … at 10:30pm or so.

Thanks for checking in.

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