Posted by: Dave | January 24, 2009

Peninsula Valdes

Ok…  I think I´ve readjusted to hot weather as it´s now hot but very tolerable.

Driving here has been awesome. Imagine the remote roads of the desert southwest in the US. No add a relative lawlessness (passing on double yellow, blantant ignorance of posted speed), massive trucks that carry goods and supplies to/from the remote expanses of southern Patagonia, and incredibly monotonous terrain (so far) … you get the idea.  I´ll have more on the driving at a later date.

Peninsula Valdes is the first National Park that we´ve visited in Argentina. We have learned quickly that the definition of a national park down here is quite different… although the land and the wildlife is still protected. Puerto Piramides – a town inside the park – is a popular destination for beachgoers and there many of them… all packed into one campsite. This is a popular whale watching destination in the fall months, but right now it´s mostly Argentinians who are on their summer holiday. Crazy scene with crazy RVs and tents everywhere. Once you get away from the town, you can get to a couple of scenic viewpoints on the Atlantic to see some of the native marine animals, but the park is mostly inaccesible because it´s “private property”… there are several estancias (farms) inside the park. 

Magellan Penguin. Happy.

Magellan Penguin. Happy.

Anyway… the Magellan Penguins were awesome. We saw a colony of about  500… and tomorrow we´re heading to a park that has a colony approaching 1 million!  The babies who hatched in  November, are just about done shedding the grey fur and looking like adult penguins, but not yet. It´s really funny to watch them waddle around on the hills where they make their nests and then  swim so gracefully in the ocean.

We also saw a colony of elephant seals that was pretty big… and located at Punta Norte – a beach that´s world renonwed for killer whales storming the beach to catch seals and sea lions. Unfortunately, the orca season really starts next month, and we didn´t get to see any of the ominous black dorsal fins, let alone a beach attack. That must be an amazing sight for the visitors who are lucky enough to be there at the right time.  No orcas for me on the Alaska trip in June and now this one… I guess I´ll have to figure out where and when I´ll be able to try to see them next.

In lieu of writing some more,  here is some photo commentary:

The is a shot from the car on THE MAIN HIGHWAY to/in Patagonia - Ruta 3. The trucks are large and the road is small. And the double yellow line (when it exists) means nothing. Fun!

The is a shot from the car on THE MAIN HIGHWAY to/in Patagonia - Ruta 3. The trucks are large and the road is small. And the double yellow line (when it exists) means nothing. Fun!

Now add a dust storm in the middle of nowhere...

Now add a dust storm in the middle of nowhere...

Inquisitive pinguinos.

Inquisitive pinguinos.

The penguins build their homes in the cliff and waddle down to the beach... quite an adventure!

The penguins build their homes in the cliff and waddle down to the beach... quite an adventure!

Guanacos are all over this part of Patagonia. Nice of them to pose for this picture...

Guanacos are all over this part of Patagonia. Nice of them to pose for this picture...

Elefant Seal bulls can have "harums" of up to 100 females!

Elephant Seal bulls can have "harems" of up to 100 females!

Lounging on the beach.

Lounging on the beach.

Too bad there are no orcas storming the beach. But this is where the Elephant Seals and a few sea lions call home.

Too bad there are no orcas storming the beach. But this is where the Elephant Seals and a few sea lions call home.

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Posted by: Dave | January 22, 2009

Hace Calor

It’s hot. I’m writing this from my cot in a hostel in Bahia Blanca, a town of 300,000 that is just a convenient stopover on the way to Patagonia. It’s hot – maybe 90 and humid. At 3:30am. I would love to be asleep, but the heat + rumbling of cars and trucks outside my window is keeping me up. Awesome.

I’ve been here now for about 36 hours and it’s been fantastic so far. But now I’m just plain hot. Sweaty and frustrated that I can’t fall asleep.

Here’s a recap of my first day and a half in Argentina.

As most of you know I’m traveling with my friend Kristin and her friend Ally. They arrived a couple of weeks ago and have things pretty well figured out. That made arrival day easy for me. I arrived on Wednesday around noon and was met by my pre-arranged “remise” – basically private car service… in someone’s private car! (Special thanks to my sister for making making the spanish-language arrangements.) Nestor was my driver and of course his English was good and wanted to use it. As he was a 50ish guy with decent English, I was curious as to how/when be learned. The answer was simple. The Beatles. In order to keep up with the lyrics, he was motivated to learn the language. Fantastic! With the amount of U2 I’ve listened to …. nevermind. Nestor also wanted to talk about Obama. He said that all of Argentina is excited about the change – and that Obama’s election proves that anything is still possible in America. Great to see the hope and optimism that’s so prevalent at home now spreading across the world.

My brief encounter with Buenos Aires was great. People were amazingly friendly and it’s a pretty easy city. We had an amazing steak dinner – at 11pm. I’m pretty sure I’ll be eating a lot of steak. Argentina is known for producing great beef, and it’s incredibly inexpensive. A dinner that included salad, appetizers and a pile of diffferent cuts of beef: US$8. Not to mention the US$8 bottle of excellent wine that’s buy one get one free.

But Thursday meant it was time to begin the journey to Patagonia. An early start was delayed by a late night at a club with some guys that Kristin and Ally met. They spoke practically no English at all, so it was fun. Getting into a Maradona vs Pele discussion was awesome. The club was interesting – and a recap is probably not blog-suitable.

Thursday from noon to 9pm (still daylight) entailed driving out of Buenos Aires and through Las Pampas, which I’m pretty sure means “nothing but cows.” There was absolutely nothing of note other than endless fields of sunflowers and cows. Incidentally, it might be interesting to note that sunflowers “face” away from the sun (Ally suggests that they’re shy) and cows don’t do much interesting when you pass them at 130km/hr. Driving in Argentina is similar to Mexico: few road rules. I drove us out of Buenos Aires … starting with what I’ve heard is “the craziest street in the wold.” It has 16 lanes and goes right through the center of downtown. And no one pays any attention to the painted lines. And I’m driving a 3-door French car.

The car – a Peugeot- is actually pretty good. 8+ hours on a 2-lane road with some beastie tractor-trailers and it held its own. Passing on double-yellow lines is both common and fun!

Tonight in Bahia Blanca we’re in a hostel that has wifi but no AC. Interesting prioriries. Did I mention that it’s really hot? Had a great steak dinner (2nights, 2 steaks) in this random little city. Tomorrow we continue the crazy drive towards Patagonia and Argentina’s many National Parks. Friday’s target is Peninsula Valdes, home of Magellan penguins, sea lions, orcas and right whales. The whales are out of season, so we won’t see them, but we’re hoping to see many of the others! For those of you that watch Planet Earth or similar shows, Peninsula Valdes is where the orcas raid the beach and try to steal sea lions from the “safety” of dry land.

Thanks for checking in. Internet access is awful so far. Super slow and inconvenient.

Posted by: Dave | January 20, 2009

Hope

I’m on the plane between Phoenix and Houston – the very beginning of what will undoubtedly be an amazing trip. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about getting to South America to explore vast wilderness, learn about ancient civilizations and experience unique culture. And hopefully catch a soccer game or two. Excitement doesn’t come easy for me. Which is why I’m inspired to write at the moment.

I’m excited because I feel hopeful about all sorts of things, not just my trip. Today’s presidential inauguration was full of hope. It’s fun to be hopeful about our country’s expected improved perception around the globe. Maybe I’m a little too inflated at the moment, but I’m proud to be an American traveling in South America. I expect to come across shared hope as I meet people from around the world.

I have made jokes about how I won’t be able to see inauguration coverage while on my layover – at George Bush(!) International Airport in Houston. I know that’s not true and, while sitting in the terminal at PHX waiting to board my Continental Airlines flight, the pride and hope was palpable. A bunch of people I don’t know and will never see again are clearly hopeful for myriad of things.

Endorsement of the Day: Go buy the current issue of Esquire magazine (with Obama on the cover). Lots of great reading, most notably “What the Hell Just Happened?” by Tom Junod. It’s about the last eight years and why we are where we are. (Hint: don’t blame “him”.) A great read for anyone regardless of party or political slant.

Ok. Now I’m just going to write about travel.

I always find my iPod’s shuffle selections/combinations intriguing. Here’s the playlist that “happened” as I wrote this:

Why Go – Pearl Jam
Overture – Patrick Wolf
Acid 8000 – Fatboy Slim
Space Age Love Song – A Flock of Seagulls
Undone – Weezer
Lucifer’s Jigsaw – Jaydiohead (Jay-Z/Radiohead mash-up. Check out Jaydiohead.com for free download)
Acid Food – Mogwai
Stagger Lee – Grateful Dead
Bokkie – Elefant
Everything Will Be Alright – The Killers

Time to land at IAH. Next stop Buenos Aires.

Posted by: Dave | January 13, 2009

Preparing for a big trip

Since early November, I’ve had a trip planned to do a 7-day hike to Machu Picchu with some friends. Since late December, I’ve planned to tack on an additional month in Argentina beforehand. Some of you may see it as irresponsible or imprudent to go halfway around the world while unemployed, and you may be right. But rare are the opportunites in life to take this kind of time to do something that you love. Traveling in Argentina will be an incredible opportunity to explore a country that has vast wilderness and is active in protecting it. Hiking to Machu Picchu will be a fascinating way to learn about past civilizations and test my individual meddle above 12,000 feet.

My friend Kristin orchestrated the Machu Picchu trip in conjunction with her 6-month adventure in South America and Africa. Kristin and her friend Ally are in Argentina already, and I’ll meet up with them and we’ll head to Patagonia and Mendoza before they head to Bolivia. I’ll head to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, then meet up with them again in Cusco, Peru to do our awesome hike to Machu Picchu.

I leave a week from today and I’m just realizing how much I’ve done to prepare for my trip… and what remains.  Let’s look at what’s been done so far:

  • Shots. A lot of them. In the course of 2 days last week, I had Hep A, Hep B, Flu, Typhoid and Yellow Fever shots. I also started taking anti-Malaria medication and I have filled prescriptions for antibiotics just in case. My instestines are already thanking me for that one.
  • REI: home away from home. I think I’ve been there every day for the past 5 days now… as they’ve had a massive clearance sale… and just because it’s the best store ever. I got a sweet new daypack and a killer sleeping bag… and a bunch of other random key travel items (pack towel, etc).
  • Research. Reading about Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Mendoza, Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Cusco and other exciting places has filled a lot of time.
  • Organize auto-pay for bills while I’m gone.
  • Learn to use my new Nikon D80 camera. With a new camera, there’s always a learning curve, and I haven’t had to deal with shutter speed and aperture since I was photography editor of the high school yearbook (seriously). I can’t wait to use this camera “for real” …
  • Set up a blog!

What’s not been done:

  • Pack.
  • Figure out what pack/bag I’ll be packing.
  • Find a job for when I return.
  • … that’s it!

“That’s it”… famous last words. I’m sure this weekend will bring more planning and work than I’m expecting. Not to mention that finding a job is not a small to-do item!

Posted by: Dave | January 4, 2009

A sort of travel blog

With an upcoming trip, I figured it was time to create a blog and (publicly) record my thoughts and experiences as I’m traveling. Hopefully you (friends and family) will find this an easy way to keep up with me and my adventures wherever/whenever they occur.

So I’m wrestling with WordPress to set the page up to accurately convey the information that I want to. I have a feeling that it’ll be a work in progress. The photo in the header is a favorite of mine. I took it by myself in Homer, Alaska, during my trip in June 2008, using a self-timer on my Canon point-and-shoot camera that’s sitting on a convenient bench overlooking the sound. [Note: this photo has been changed to keep the page fresh and fun. If you want to see the image from Homer, click here]

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