March 26, 2008

Hasta Luego, South America

We hit the highlights of Patagonia during the second week of our two-week tour. Unfortunately, we had to skip the majestic FitzRoy mountains and could only stay for a short time in El Calafate, El Bolson, and Bariloche. But when Jared's sister Rachel got us two free tickets back to the states, we jumped at the chance to head home for a bit. (I was becoming more homesick by the day. When Jared vetoed Domino's pizza in Rio, I almost burst into tears.) Besides, after five months in South America, we were both ready for something new.

After leaving Torres del Paine, we crossed into Argentina for the fourth and final time. Just outside the Argentine border office was a huge sign that said "Las Malvinas son Argentinas," or "The Falkland Islands belong to Argentina." I had learned about the Falkland Islands War in school, but I was surprised to learn that Argentina still claims the tiny islands off the coast of Tierra del Fuego. The islands even grace the back of Argentina's brand new two peso coin. Apparently Great Britain is well aware of Argentina's claim on the islands, but it was certainly news to us.

No trip to Patagonia (even a whirlwind one) is complete without a visit to the majestic Perito Moreno glacier. At 180 feet tall, the glacier is a field of jagged blue ice that reminded me of planet Krypton in the Superman movies. Jared has hiked across several glaciers, but even he kept saying he'd never seen anything like this. Even small pebbles of ice echoed as they fell into the lake below. Imagine the thundering crash that sounded when a giant sheet of ice plunged from the glacier; the awesome noise sounded like an avalanche. The crash happened too quickly for us to get it on film; we could only stand and stare, completely in awe of the power of nature. Check out our video and photos of the glacier.

Aside from the glacier, there is not much going on in El Calafate, so we soon moved on to the tranquil town of El Bolson. In a rare treat, we flew from El Calafate to the city of Esquel, and then took a bus two hours from Esquel to El Bolson. (Interestingly, we flew on LADE, the airline of Argentina's air force.)

El Bolson is a sleepy little town in the shadow of the Andes. We met a cool American guy named Michael in our hostel; he and Jared went biking in the foothills of the mountains. We skipped the surprisingly pricey restaurants in town and instead Jared cooked us a feast of fresh trout. If you are in the area, don't miss El Bolson's artisan market, one of the best in the country. I gorged on homemade alfajores (like Argentine moon pies... yum) and Jared bought some microbrews while we stocked up on handmade gifts for our families.

From El Bolson we moved onto Bariloche in the Lakes District. I had heard so much about Bariloche, but I must say I was underwhelmed. We only had 24 hours in town, so maybe we just needed more time to take advantage of the national park that surrounds the city. Instead we went to the tiny Swiss Colony (Colonia Suiza), an hour outside of town. The trip to the Swiss Colony was worth it for the stunning lake views we saw on the bus, plus I scored a gorgeous pair of handmade earrings for $1 at the craft market. Before we left Bariloche, we made a pilgrimage to one of the town's most famous chocolate shops.

Next on our agenda was Mendoza, the capital of the Argentine wine industry. Several of our friends told us we would love Mendoza, and they were right. We instantly started plotting a way to move there. Maybe it was the leafy trees that shielded us from the desert sun. Maybe it was the proximity to the famous vineyards. Maybe it was that Mendoza was a smaller, cleaner, more manageable version of Buenos Aires. Whatever it was that made us love Mendoza, we wished we could have stayed longer than four days. Take a look at our photos of Bariloche and Mendoza.

Fortunately, we made the most of our brief time in Mendoza. Jared and I both took the plunge and went paragliding. We even managed to get our flights on video.

Once Jared and I were back on solid ground, we rented bikes to explore Mendoza's wineries. Though we had a great time riding crookedly from one winery to the next, we both agreed that we prefer the wineries of Cafayate. (Cafayate, we both agree, is one of our favorite places in South America.) Whereas Mendoza's bodegas are an hour out of town, there are several within walking distance of Cafayate's quaint town square. If you are going to be in the Northwest part of Argentina, take a bus three hours from Salta to Cafayate and sip on their famous Torrontes wine.

We took our last overnight bus from Mendoza to Buenos Aires and caught an overnight flight from Buenos Aires to Houston. More details on our North American leg are coming up soon. Until then, safe travels.

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