Sucre and Roadblocks: Welcome to Bolivia

After Uyuni our plan was to head to Potosi an old mining town for a day or two then on to Sucre, where we had an appointment to meet up with our friends from SprinterLife, Tree and Stevie and their beautiful daughter Sol who was still in her mama’s belly the last time we had hung out with them in Peru. As we were getting ready to leave Uyuni we found out that there were roadblocks in and out of town. Since pretty much every traveler we have talked to who has gone through Bolivia has experienced a road block or two we weren’t all that worried. Usually they are cleared up in a day or so and everybody goes about their business. Apparently road blocks are the thing to do in Bolivia, one Bolivian we talked to told us there are roadblocks in at least one place in the country 365 days a year. The next day was a Sunday and everybody we talked to in town seemed to know the roads would be open on Sunday so we planned to leave then. We got up early and headed out and found the roads clear. There were still piles of rocks on the road and the blackened carcasses of burned tires, but nobody on the road. We arrived in Potosi and started talking to locals and taxi drivers to try to find out what the road forecast was. It turns out these roadblocks weren’t the usual. The miners and teachers unions representing the entire country were demanding higher retirement pensions from the government who of course was refusing. Thus the entire country was getting shut down with roadblocks in and out of every major city and town in Bolivia, starting again the following day and going on indefinitely. We did some quick thinking and decided that while we would like to spend a day or two in Potosi, we really didn’t want to get stuck there indefinitely. We knew their was a campground in Sucre, so we hit the road.

The remains of the roadblock as we left the town of Uyuni.

Sucre is a mellow historical city, and was the original capital of Bolivia until the seat of power was moved to La Paz. In fact, Sucre remains the constitutional capitol of Bolivia. Sometimes referred to as la ciudad blanca or the white city, it is an attractive town with old architecture and lots of flower filled plazas. It turned out our prediction of being stuck for a while was true, but we weren’t all that put out to be stuck in Sucre. The campground is a great little place just a few blocks from the center of town with really friendly and helpful owners and we were stuck with a great group of overlanders. In the evenings we shared news and sat around chatting about the nomadic life.

A government building in front of the beautiful main plaza

The owner of the campground is a professor at the University and a member of the teachers union so he had pretty good information on the road situation. They had blocked off every road in and out of the city and were keeping the blockades going 24 hours a day. We talked online with other travelers who had taken a night bus to Sucre and the bus had to let them off outside of town, where they had to walk through the blockades and catch another bus into town.

Early in our stay in Sucre we found the municipal market which was only a few blocks away. It was one of the cleanest, nicest markets we’ve seen in South America and it had a huge section devoted to juice and fruit salad stands. Every day we made our way to the market for a bite to eat and a fresh fruit juice then headed back to camp for news. Everyday it was the same, the government refused to negotiate with the unions until they stopped the blockades, and the unions refused to stop the blockades until the government gave them what they wanted. Eventually the owner of the campground who is a professor and thus involved with the protests, was telling us he feared the protests were going to escalate and that we should leave the country. By the end of the week we had to make a decision. We really didn’t mind being stuck in Sucre as it was a great town, but eventually we had to leave. The problem was where to go. We could take the campground owners advise and leave the country, assuming we didn’t get stuck at roadblocks. The closest way out would be to go to Argentina. The thing was we really didn’t want to leave. We still wanted to see as much as Bolivia as we could, we really wanted to meet up with Sprinterlife, who at this point was stuck in La Paz also waiting out the roadblocks, and our plan was to head to Brazil next and we needed to get our visas which we could only do in La Paz (or another capital city of a neighboring country, all of which would be many days driving out of our way). Saturday rolled around and knowing that most likely the roads would be open on Sunday (even protestors need a break sometime), we decided to make a break for La Paz. A danish couple who had also been stuck at the campground for two weeks also wanted to head that way, so we decided to caravan. We set out at first light, not sure what we would find. We both let out a sigh of relief when we encountered only piles of rocks and blackened burned tires on the road leaving town.

More remains of roadblocks as we made our way to La Paz

It was a very long drive to La Paz, over 10 hours, and we saw lots of signs of roadblocks but nobody manning them. It was very interesting to see what they used to block roads when needed, including pushing two defunct train cars together across the road. We did however see lots of people gathered at the soccer fields outside of the towns. I guess soccer takes precedence over protests :) . We finally made it to La Paz where we had a happy reunion not only with Sprinterlife, but also our other friends Raphael and Isabel of Daytrippers who we met in Argentina. We were “stuck” again in La Paz while the protests continued for another week or so, but we had plenty to do including visas for Brazil, some mechanical work and catching up with friends.

Soleil the youngest member of Sprinterlife

 

Hanging out with old friends at Hotel Oberland in La Paz

 

Tree and Luis a bromance made in hell :)

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The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

I remember, what seems like a lifetime ago, when we were saving and planning for this trip reading the blogs of people traveling South America and getting inspiration for our travels. Some places, in photo after photo, were so spectacular they became a must visit on my list of places to see, and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself. The Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia, was one of those places. Set at an elevation around 3,600 meters (almost 12,000 feet), the salar (salt flats) is the largest in the world. Thousands of years ago the area was covered by a giant lake, which dried up and left a huge expanse of flat salt stretching for miles. It is truly an otherworldly landscape, with nothing but flat whiteness for as far as the eye can see, distorting the size and appearance of anything in the distance.

During the wet season, the hard salt crusted surface becomes inundated with water and only but the very brave try to drive it. In the dry season, however, the water recedes leaving a hard crusty surface that is perfectly drivable. There are still places where the crust is thin, and we’ve heard horror stories of vehicles breaking through the salt and getting stuck. Luckily, there are 4×4 tours who make the drive out there daily, leaving black tracks leading out into nothingness all over the salar that you can follow in order to minimize the risk of breaking through.

 The salt from the salar is high in lithium (in fact the salar contains between 50-70% of the worlds lithium reserves which doesn’t bode well for the future preservation of the salt flats) and is collected by locals. The salt is literally scraped off the surface and piled into mounds to be collected later.

They’ve also made use of the salt for building hotels, built entirely of salt blocks and salt mortar which can be found around the edges of the salar. The first place to greet us as we headed onto the salar was one such salt hotel. The hotel is built with blocks of salt cut out of the salar. Inside the hotel even the tables and benches were made of salt. The colorful flags from all over the world out front of the hotel make a great contrast with the blue sky and the never ending expanse of white.

The center of the salar contains a few “islands” which are the remains of ancient volcanos that were submerged millions of years ago when the salar was a giant lake. These islands were our destination when we set out to visit the salar. As we started driving into the salar, everything was very disorientating. The mile after mile of flat whiteness makes it a very surreal landscape. Tiny objects appeared and disappeared on the horizon, as the 4×4 tours criss crossed our view. Driving 100 kilometers an hour it felt like we weren’t even moving at all, as the white scenery never changed. The salt itself was really cool to see. In some places the salt has dried into hexagon like shapes, while in other places the crust was rougher and not as flat.

 

The first island we came to was Isla Inca Wasi or Isla del Pescado, which is the standard tourist stop. After a quick stop to check it out and try to use the bathroom, we headed out to another near by island Isla Pescador (not to be confused with Isla Pescado :) ) to set up camp for the night. The islands are another weird landscape in the weird landscape of the salar. The islands are composed of fossilized coral and are covered in cacti. The islands also offer good campsite and protection from the wind as well as great views of the salar.

 

We set up camp on the “beach” of the island and were treated to an amazing sunset. We’ve camped in some pretty spectacular places on this 4 year long trip, but as we watched the beautiful colors of sunset fade into a pitch black sky with more stars then you can imagine we realized that this was one of the more magical of our camp spots. Because of the elevation on the salar it gets below freezing at night, which deters a lot of people from camping out there. After the 5 days we spent in the southwest district of Bolivia, it didn’t feel all that bad to us and the experience of staying the night out here was worth it.

 

Because of the huge expanse of flat white salt in the salar, there is no depth perception for photos. Over the years we’ve seen all manner of creative photos that people have taken. Not to be left out, we couldn’t resist having our own little photo shoot. We had meant to pick up some creative props before heading into the salar, but the town of Uyuni isn’t exactly shopping central, so we had to make due with what we had. The following day we spent the better part of the morning setting up and taking photos. We started with a group photo.

Then we started to get silly. Lacey had to show of her muscles and weight lifting skills.

We have been carrying around two mugs from Cafe Con Leche, the cafe owned by Luis’ mom, Tamara, since we left on the trip intending to take photos of them in exotic locations. We had already lost one mug after a tragic collision with a concrete floor, so we figured now would be a good time to bust out the remaining mug.

It seems that somewhere along our time together, Lacey has managed to get Luis in the palm of her hand and this picture proves it.

 At some point in the afternoon, we managed to get lost in a forrest of wine. Not a bad place to get lost I guess :)

Luis decided to relax and take a break for a while. I managed to catch him in this pose, which he likes to call “a man and his machine.” It’s not often I can actually snag a photo of Luis and I’m pretty proud of this one.

 

I know, you’re probably getting sick of these silly photos, so I’ll only put a few more. I guess we got a little more carried away than I even realized.

It is so nice when you arrive in a place you have seen in photos and find that it is even more spectacular than you could have believed. The Salar de Uyuni was that way for us. For any die hards who can’t get enough of the silly photos heres the rest. We really had a blast taking them.

 

 

 

 

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Is this Mars or Bolivia? Exploring Bolivia’s Southwest Circuit

The three things we seem to consistently hear about the southern lakes circuit of Bolivia was that the elevation is extremely high, the temperatures are extremely low (specially at night), and there is virtually nobody around. With this in mind we had been trying to get some exposure to elevation for the few weeks prior to heading into Bolivia. Unfortunately, no matter where we went and how high we got, we didn’t stick around long enough to acclimate. That and the road heading into bolivia from San Pedro Atacama, literally goes up 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) in less than a half hour driving time. I don’t think there was really any way to prepare for that.

The Bolivian flag flying at the customs station. Bolivia is our 16th country.

Hitting the dirt road into Bolivia.

When we arrived at the border station entering Bolivia, my head was spinning and it was really hard to think straight. Luckily for us the customs agent who issued our “visa” was really nice. He even changed our remaining Chilean Pesos for us at a rate I found out later was better than we had received in town (I found out later because my head was spinning too hard to even try to think about the exchange. I simply handed over the pesos and said thank you to the wad of Bolivianos without counting). A few miles up the dirt road from the border we arrived at Laguna Verde and the entrance to the  Reserva Nacional Eduardo Abaroa.

The beautiful Laguna Verde.

Sitting at elevations between 4,200 meters (13,800 feet) and 5,400 meters (17,700 feet), the park and surrounding area inhabits a spectacular landscape of brown and reddish colored gravelly hills covered with the occasional bunch grass, the only vegetation able to survive the inhospitable climate, and bright green and rich chocolatey brown lakes with flamingos and llamas grazing the shores. It is a landscape that I think is the closest I will ever come to being on Mars. In fact, a stop off at a geyser area within the park and you probably could convince your friends that you had in fact been to Mars. Interspersed in this amazing landscape are the tracks of the Toyota 4x4’s that make their way through daily carrying tourists back and forth (I say Toyota because the tour operators use Landcruisers almost exclusively). These tracks are really the only life line to getting in and out of the park, there are no signs and very few inhabitants. In short it is a barren, desolate and absolutely stunning landscape.

Our lunch spot with a view of the valley stretched out below us.

We headed into Bolivia with our friend Max who is traveling South America by motorcycle. The first night we stopped at some hot springs at the edge of a marsh just off the road where we camped and Max wisely got a room inside. We enjoyed the evening sitting in the hot water and the amazing views until dark. When we got out of the water we found out how true the second most heard of item about this area is: It is freezing! Literally! In the time between changing out of our bathing suits and walking back to the truck our suits had frozen completely solid. Poor Luis had ice crystals in his beard (beardcicles?). Nevertheless our fearless chef (Luis) rallied to the cause and managed to cook us dinner in below zero temperatures, before we promptly retired to bed and our warm sleeping bag. The next morning we found our completely full 5 gallon water jerry can frozen solid. Now that is cold. We were also treated to the view of at least 20 Landcruisers full of tourists surrounding the hot springs. Wow! Glad we got our peaceful soaking in the night before.

Steam rising of the hot water of the springs.

Yep, that thing is solid!

The next day, on our way to Laguna Colorado we stopped off at the customs office to get our truck paperwork taken care of. It is a little weird that the customs office is 80 kms from the border and we were a little worried that we had already been in the country for a day but the guy didn’t seem to mind. The customs office is located at a boric acid mine and  has got to be one of the highest customs office in the world at 5,020 meters (16,469 feet). Wowzers!

On the way up to the customs office, we stopped off at some geysers nearby. Ummm, Mars anybody?

The heated viscous mud of the geysers.

Laguna Colorado is probably the most visited site in the park and for good reason. It is a shallow salt lake with rich red colored water which contrasts with the white salt islands in the middle. The lake is an important habitat and breeding area for the numerous flamingos hanging out around its shores. The bright red water, the flamingos, the occasional llama grazing along the shores with the reddish brown hills in the background make it a very picturesque place.

 

Enjoying the amazing scenery.

After checking out Laguna Colorado, we found a nice place to camp for the night inside a side canyon off the road. We quickly realized we had to think strategically when picking out a campsite here. Not only is some protection from the freezing wind that blows in the evenings desirable, but we needed to park the Landcruiser so that it got the rising sun first thing in the morning on the engine. The weather was so cold and the elevation so high, we had to wait until the sun had heat up the engine a while before attempting to start it, and even then it was a challenge.

Starting our diesel Landcruiser in the morning. Notice the giant cloud of smoke.

After Laguna Colorado, we drove out of the park and continued north through more desolate landscape, passing more green lakes and flamingos. It was slow going on the sandy sometimes washboard tracks, but we were in no hurry and were enjoying the scenery. In the afternoon, while looking for a campsite for the night we took a little traveled road up the mountain. After clearing debris from the trail and holding our breath a few times around some narrow hairpin turns we arrived at an abandoned mine at close to 5,000 meters. We quickly realized that the elevation was too much to try to camp, but the view was stunning. We ended up heading back down and making camp at another abandoned mine nearby. This one was a sulfur mine. The camp site was perfect except for the sulfur covering the ground which ended up covering everything we owned as well. The Landcruiser smelled like sulfur for a week afterward.

Tracks heading off in all directions.

The view from the top of the world.

The next afternoon we cruised into the little town of Uyuni happy to see some sign of civilization, if you could call it that, and looking forward to a shower. That night over excellent pizza and beer we agreed that in just the first few days we spent in Bolivia, it was already worth the 135 bucks a piece it cost to enter the country.

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Why We Love Buenos Aires

Aahh, Buenos Aires. The city of good air. We often say in our posts about cities that we are not huge fans of cities, but then go on to list all the reasons why we liked that particular city. For this post, I’m going to skip that opening. The truth is I’ve realized that sometimes cities can be quite nice. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to live in a city for more than a few weeks at a time, but sometimes a visit, especially after spending 3 months in the middle of Patagonia, can be quite enjoyable. Before we even left on this trip we knew that we were going to love Buenos Aires. In fact I have been entertaining ideas of getting an apartment and living there  for years now. After spending a week in Buenos Aires, I was actually looking up english teaching jobs and trying to figure out ways to talk Luis into staying for awhile. Buenos Aires is a huge city that combines a European feel with Latin America in just the right combination to give it charm. Each neighborhood in the downtown has it’s own vibe, from the ritzy upperclass Recoleta with it’s business district upperclass feel, to Palermo with its tidy clean swept streets and trendy boutiques with price tags to make your eyes pop, to San Telmo the more middle class bohemian artsy neighborhood with its old architecture, Sunday flea market and great graffiti. There really is something for everyone to enjoy. Here are our top reasons why we loved this particular city.

The first thing to welcome us to BA was rush hour traffic :)

 

Availability of Cheap Apartments for Rent
A quick google search of apartment rentals or airbnb type websites for Buenos Aires will soon overwhelm a person with the choices out there for rent. It seems to be a huge business in the city, and even better for the owners is that almost all charge in US dollars that are almost impossible to get a hold of in Argentina (a word of advice if you plan on renting an apartment  get some US dollars. In fact because of the “blue” or black market exchange on dollars you really want to bring US dollars for your entire stay in Argentina. It pretty much cuts your cost in half). The options are really all over the map and in every price range, starting at very affordable prices by the day, week, or month. Our first week we rented a beautiful apartment with the Remotely’s in the Recoletta neighborhood. It was in a neat old building within walking distance of the subte (BA’s subway system) and all manner of entertainment including the famous Recoletta cemetery, great cafes, restaurants and lots of plazas. It also had super fast internet and its own “at cost” wine cellar. All for only a little more than $100 a day split between the 5 of us. After the Remotely’s headed out we found a cute little apartment for a week in the San Telmo neighborhood. If I would have had my way and we stayed in BA for 6 months this is the apartment I would have wanted to live in. It was in a super old building and was built old spanish style with a great little patio entrance and all the rooms of the house opening up off the patio. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. This two bedroom apartment came with the hefty price tag of $35 a night. Our third week in BA we made the mistake of not reserving our apartment in advance and we ended up having to move again to another apartment in the San Telmo neighborhood. This one was only $30 a night and was a loft only a few blocks away. It too was pretty fabulous. We did some checking on hostel prices within the city. A decent private room with shared bathroom for 2 runs about $40-$45 a night. Much better to get your own, fully furnished private place with our own kitchen and OVEN! After nearly 4 years of living out of the truck, it felt like quite the luxury to have our own private space for a few weeks.

Luis enjoying the wonderful patio of our apartment.

The entrance way to our amazing apartment.

Amazing Restaurants
If your familiar with our blog you probably already know that we love food. We especially love trying local food. If Argentina is the capital of steakhouses then BA is the capital of the capital. Good food is to be had all over the city, including mind numbingly good steak. Jessica did some research and discovered that the restaurant La Cabrera one of the most famous steakhouses in the city has a happy hour special. If you arrive at 7:00 -which is incredibly early in a city that usually eats around 10p.m.- you get 40% off your bill. So we set off one night in the company of the Remotely’s and the Ruineds (Brenton and Shannon of Ruined Adventures who showed up for a few nights) for La Cabrera. After we were seated we learned the real deal. You are seated at 7 and have exactly 1 hour to order, eat, and get the hell out and in exchange you get 40% off the entire bill. We took this as a challenge and ordered a ridiculous amount of food and a bottle of wine. Within an hour we proceeded to eat our way through some of the best steaks I’ve ever had, delicious (at least according to Luis and Kobus) grilled tripe (stomach lining) and the hundreds of tiny side dishes that come with each meal, washed it down with a great bottle of wine, and walked out an hour later with a $100 bill for 7 people. If you are ever in BA I highly recommend a visit.

Parrillada for 2. Think there is enough meat?

The San Telmo Neighborhood
As I said earlier, BA has a variety of neighborhoods with a little something for everyone. Our favorite by far is San Telmo. The guide books describe San Telmo as the artsy bohemian neighborhood, and that is true to a degree, but it is much more than that. San Telmo was originally home to many of the rich in BA, and many wealthy families built huge mansions in the neighborhood. Then in 1871 an epidemic of yellow fever swept through the neighborhood and the wealthy fled to the barrio norte, north of San Telmo. Barrio Norte later became Recoleta and Palermo. The mansions that were left vacated by the exodus of the wealthy were turned into tenement housing and the neighborhood populated with the working class and immigrants. To this day, San Telmo has more of the gritty working class feel to it then the other neighborhoods, but it also has a lot of charm. Walking around there are many beautifully restored mansions as well as lots of mansions crumbling away, some great graffiti and street art, tons of antique stores and small local shops, great restaurants and sidewalk cafes and you can find tango dancing just about any time of day at San Telmo’s main plaza, Plaza Dorego. One of the main highlights of San Telmo is the Sunday flea market held every Sunday. Starting at Plaza Dorego you can peruse stands of all manner of antiques, then heading down Calle Defensa the feria continues for block after block of stalls selling all kinds of hand made crafts, leather, clothes, jewelry, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Our favorite thing was to walk and peruse for awhile, then stop and grab a ChoriPan (grilled chorizo on toasted bread with lots of chimichurri sauce) and take in a little tango before walking some more.

Standing in the middle of the madness.

Capturing one of our favorite buildings in San Telmo.

Tango

One of the things Buenos Aires is probably most famous for is Tango. The tango is a style of dance that came about in Argentina (and some say Uruguay as well) in the late 1800′s. The dance is a blending of styles from a variety of backgrounds including European and African. It came about in the working class neighborhoods where immigrants from all over lived side by side. Originally is was considered very risque and lower class only, but eventually it spread in popularity across all economic classes. Today Argentinians are very proud of the Tango, and one thing for certain is that you can’t spend any amount of time in BA without being exposed to Tango.  There are Tango dinner theaters for tourists, tango classes, one can go to a Milonga which is a bar that specializes in Tango dancing, or one can simply watch some dancing on the street, as you can almost always find dancers performing for a crowd. We really enjoyed watching the dancing. It seems to me to be fairly complicated in the footwork but the right dancer can make it look very graceful and sexy. We talked a lot about taking some lessons, but Luis only dances when he is drunk and I have two left feet, so we decided to remain spectators. Now that we are gone I think that just maybe I should have spiked Luis’ drink and forgotten about my two left feet :)

Every Sunday evening at the plaza in San Telmo these couples gather to dance Tango. Anybody can join. These couples were some of the best dancers we saw in BA.

Recoletta Cemetery
Going on a tourist outing to a cemetery might sound a bit morbid, but the Recoleta Cemetery really is not to be missed in BA. The cemetery is where the city’s rich and famous are buried. Walking through the cemetery is like getting a lesson on the whos who of the history of BA. Many ex presidents as well as Eva “Evita” Peron are buried here. What really makes this cemetery special is that all the burial sites are mausoleums that resemble mini mansions. The cemetery is laid out like a small city with tree lined walkways and park benches breaking up the intersections, and pathways leading off lined with mausoleums. It seemed to us that everybody is trying to outdo their neighbors resulting in huge mini mansions made of marble with large statues decorating the outsides in a variety of architectural styles, laid out in a city grid giving the visitor the impression they really are walking through a city of the dead. Many of the mausoleums are well maintained, while some are crumbling into ruin, with broken windows and rotting doors giving a glimpse of the coffin and bones inside. As we were walking around we saw a cleaning staff going in and out of some of them, dusting and tidying up. I can’t say I would want that job. After our visit I found this website that I wish I would have known about. They profile all the people buried in the cemetery, giving a history and accomplishments of the person. It would make for a pretty interesting accompaniment to a visit: http://www.recoletacemetery.com/.

 

Good Graffiti
BA has some of the best and most graffiti we have seen on this trip. I’m talking about the street art variety of graffiti, where somebody has taken the time to create a piece of art on the side of a building or wall. Walking around San Telmo there is colorful good graffiti everywhere. Graffiti is so prolific in BA a group called graffitimundo has started giving graffiti walking tours around the city. We only have lame excuses why we could never manage to show up at the appointed time for a tour in our entire 3 weeks here, but looking back on it, we really wish we would have.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid
El Ateneo is a bookstore chain in Argentina who did something amazing. They renovated a beautiful old theater that mainly used to host Tango shows and keeping almost everything original, including the balconies, ceiling frescos, and sculptures, put a bookstore in it. For book lovers and theater lovers alike, this bookstore is absolutely amazing. There are three levels of books you can peruse under the soft theater lighting. If you find something you like and want to check out, you can grab yourself a seat nestled in one of the balconies and enjoy your book with a view of the whole theater. If the balcony seating is full, the stage has been turned into a little cafe serving great coffee and beautiful views of the theater. We went on a rainy day and ended up spending hours wandering around the books, soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying some coffee.

Great Walking City

Sometimes when all is said and done, our favorite thing to do in places is to walk for hours and see what we can find. BA is great for this. Because of the subway system, all of the neighborhoods are easy to get to and from there you can walk to your hearts content. Some days we literally spent the entire day wondering around on foot without getting bored. There is always something to see. From great graffitti to beautiful old architecture to huge parks and little plazas to great little sidewalk cafes. We would walk until we were tired, stop for a coffee or a beer, then walk some more. Everyday we found something new, and the best part is that it is a cheap way to really get to know a city.

 

Walking the streets of BA with Brenton and Shannon of Ruined Adventures.

A Russian Orthodox church.

I’m sure I’m forgetting all kinds of things we loved about the city, and as soon as I post this, I will remember all of them. We had a great time here, taking a break from the road, enjoying a little private space, taking advantage of having an oven (I think I baked at least 3 batches of cookies :) ), and enjoying the sites and sounds of a splendid city. I still hold out hope that one day I will be back, and this time for at least a few months.

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Ushuaia to Bariloche: The End of the Road to the Badass Bariloche Bovine Bonanza

After 3 years, 6 months, and 27 days, 3 trips back to the US (for a total of 10 months), 45,400 miles driven, 2,400 gallons of diesel (approximately 18 miles/gal), 14 countries, 21 border crossings, more than 15 gallons of propane, 8 broken camp chairs, 1 roof top tent eaten by rodents, and countless memories worth several lifetimes, we finally pulled into Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

After so many years thinking about this place, I realized it wasn’t at all what I had expected. After endless miles of driving through flat paramo through most of Argentinian Patagonia, as we were approaching our last 100 kilometers from Ushuaia, the land turned mountainous again, with the road winding up and down the peaks, covered in green forests and emerald lakes. It quite took me by surprise. The town itself turned out to not be anything all that impressive, without managing to offend either. The downtown was a nightmare of a tourist trap catering to the tourists off the cruise ships, but at least the campground is located up the hill on the other side of town with a great view of the Beagle Channel below. It didn’t really matter to us what the town was like anyway, it could have been a dilapidated hell hole, and we still would have been happy to be here. For us it was more about the symbology of finally having made it here, after 3 years of planning and saving in the US dreaming about our drive from California to Ushuaia and another 3 years of making our way down through Central and South America. It is amazing what we have learned along the way, and how much our ideas of our lives, our travels, and the world have changed since starting out. I think it is safe to say we will never be the same again.

Our camp in Ushuaia during a rare moment of blue sky.

We were really bad tourists while in Ushuaia, not really caring to do or see all that much. We did have a great celebratory dinner in town, where I got to try my first Argentinean steak, which by the way was as excellent as I had hoped. After a couple days of hanging at the campground, we turned around and started to head north. It was a little weird to think that from here on out it would be always north, after so long of always south.

On our way back up the island of Tierra del Fuego, we swung west a little in search of a colony of king penguins we had heard about. After miles of horrible dirt roads we finally found the little colony. What we weren’t expecting was the $25 per person entrance fee! All to go on a measly 5 minute walk to stare at some penguins on the other side of a river. After going out of our way to get here and our decided love of penguins, we decided to suck it up and pay. It was after all the first penguins we’ve seen up close in the wild.

It might look like a nice day but it is cold in Tierra del Fuego. Hood up and poofy jacket on was pretty much my wardrobe here.

After much debate about our route north, we decided to head up the Ruta 3 which follows along the Atlantic Coast. Almost every overlander we’ve met or read has said that it is one of the most boring drives in the Americas. I guess it is good we went into it with low expectations, because we actually really enjoyed the drive. We found another penguin colony in the Parque Monte Leon, this time some Magellanic Penguins.

This little guy is being cute for the camera.

These penguins have good taste, they picked a beautiful beach to nest. If you look closely you'll see little black penguins dotting the beach.

Yes those thousands of little black dots in the above picture really are penguins.

We also managed to find a lot of dirt roads that wound along the cliff tops overlooking the ocean, with some amazing views, that got us off the Ruta 3 as much as possible. Along the way we also got to see some more wildlife.

We really should know the name of these beautiful birds since there was a sign next to their nesting grounds, but we don't. They were really pretty though :)

After slowly making our way up the coast a ways, we decided to cut across back to the Ruta 40. After losing our tent poles while packing up in the middle of a down pour, we finally arrived in the small town of El Bolson, nestled in the mountains, and camping behind a brewery. That’s right a brewery. They even included a beer in the price of the camping. Our main reason for speeding it up and crossing back to the 40 when we did was that we were scheduled to meet the infamous trio Life Remotely and a bunch of other overlanders in Bariloche. The Remotelys managed to catch us in El Bolson after we enticed them with the promise of good camping and beers.

A few days later we headed up to Bariloche to get down to business with the B^4. For all you lay people that translates to the Badass Bariloche Bovine Bonanza (thanks to Cesar of Capital South Bound for coming up with that). And what a Bonanza it was! We managed to take over a good portion of a great campground on the shore of the lake. Over the next few days while more and more people drifted in, The Remotely’s, with Jessica leading the way (Fox 40 whistle and all) managed to convince the owner of the campground to let us dig a giant pit in the ground, track down a butcher and buy a whole baby pig, whole lamb, and the biggest rack of ribs I’ve ever seen in my life, organize wood collection (courtesy of Home on the Highway James), track down the necessary crucification implements for cooking said animals, and keep everybody on track to make sure we got to have an amazing meal. The rest of the time was spent drinking and hanging out with all the cool people (a lot of whom we’ve known online for quite a while), drinking, eating good food, enjoying the sunshine and the great views of the lake, and did I mention drinking? There was quite a bit of that.

This picture of James pretty much sums it up :)

The meat trifecta in action.

In the end 9 rigs showed up with a total of 22 overlanders, including James and Lauren of Home on the Highway, Cesar and Danny of Capitol South Bound, Jed and Megan of Adventure Americas, Zack and Jill of Anywhere That’s Wild, Graemme and Luisa and their two kids of A2A, Stephan and Emma, and of course Jared, Jessica and Kobus of Life Remotely. It may not seem like that many people, but you have to realize that getting people together who have different plans, with different schedules, and who are spread out from Peru to Chile to Argentina, and in the case of A2A Uruguay, is quite the feat. Thanks again to the Remotely’s for organizing this little shindig, an awesome time was had by all.

The whole gang.

 

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