Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fellowship of the Mountain Goats

Cerro Aconcagua (above the hills of the Shire, it seemed)

Unfortunately closed for the season
Finally, FINALLY, I have found my way back into a tent. Granted, this time it’s a rented tent thanks to my beloved but out-of-commission Nemo Espri being back with my parents in Albuquerque, awaiting my return to repair it. Still, being tentless will not keep me away from my goal of trekking to an Aconcagua base camp! However, completely missing the memo on the end of the lower camp season will. My friends, Katie Gorman and Emily Seitz, and I set out on exceedingly short notice this weekend to Puente del Inca, a town of about eight buildings near the base of Aconcagua with plans to camp at Confluencia (3.300m) and day hike from there to the Plaza Francia Base Camp (4.254m).

Puente del Inca natural bridge
After Katie and I threw together food and rental provisions in a few hours before our late evening Friday class, the three of us headed out on a Saturday morning bus for a three-night weekend of backpacking, replete with Lord of the Rings references and singing at the tops of our lungs. Upon arriving in Puente del Inca, we stopped into a shop to get a map and met Mario, the owner of the shop, who turned out to be our biggest help of the weekend. Upon hearing our plan, he informed us that camping anywhere on the mountain, not just in the base camps as we had believed, was closed as of Semana Santa just a few weeks ago. We were two weeks late for even the non-full-tilt mountaineering season, despite there being zero snow anywhere below 5.000m, perfect temperatures, and beautiful weather. Now that we’re four hours away from Mendoza with our lives on our backs, what do we do? Well, leave it to Mario. He immediately sat us down and showed us a handful of fantastic alternatives to do over the next four days, so all was very much so not lost.

Hot tubbin': my efficient method of cooking in wind
Night after the gunshots
All three nights of our time in the high Andes were adventures in and of themselves. Our first was spent in Puente del Inca in some guy’s backyard designated for camping with picnic tables and a bathroom for AR$20 a person. All seemed well: I cooked up a pretty swell quinoa stir-fry with veggies and all, we scavenged for some firewood to make a fire, and pitched our tent as far away from civilization as we could, considering we, the three gringas, were the ONLY visitors in the entire “town.” After a fun night of chatting and such, we settled down to sleep with sounds floating down from elsewhere in town of what seemed to be quite the party going down. A few hours later, we all woke with a start to the pops of gunshots. All of us were still and terrified just as we heard three more go off. I was convinced it wasn’t a real gun, but still managed to scare myself to death by a combination of a man-looking shadow that had moved to the side of the tent with the moon and the sound of Emily moving her feet on the other side of the tent. Nonetheless, no one directly bothered the lone tent in town, and we were glad to bolt out of Puente del Inca the next morning.

Crossing the sketchiest bridge of all time
Back in Mario’s shop, he flagged us a bus to hitch a ride down the road to the one bridge across the river, saving us about an hour walk. Now finally away from civilization, we crossed easily the sketchiest bridge I have ever seen in my entire life and tore across the plain to reach the near-vertical wall of the Andes. It took us five hours to trudge our way along from 2.740m to ~3.300m, but it was one of the more beautiful hikes of my life and completely worth it considering we saw zero other humans (but two dead horses… which was rather ominous). After barefoot river crossings and far too many near trail collapses, plus Emily almost losing her sleeping pad down a cliff and into the river, we made it to Refugio Grajales. This clearly is very well attended during the season by the number of rock-walled campsites, but we had the entire plain to ourselves with a beautiful glacial river rapid as a direct water source and the sparse refugio as a wind block for our cooking (tonight was the winner for my backpacking stove experimentation: fancy soup packets are absolutely worth the extra peso or so).

Successful scrap wood campfire
Katie in the canyon portion of the valley
Barefoot river crossing

Halfway up the valley
Not too shabby to wake up to
We happily lounged around on our sleeping pads as the moon rose and the stars came out after a solid day on the trail—until we saw our first mouse. These mini-bears of the mountains have to be opportunists and guess what? We were the prime opportunity of the entire mountain at the moment. We immediately kicked into action and stuffed away the food into our packs and into the tent, the safest place available with bear bags not being necessary (we’re more concerned about mice than pumas, at this point). By the time we set up to make tea outside the tent vestibule, all was ready for the night, but we still ended up getting zero sleep. It is amazing how loud and terrifying mice can sound scurrying and squeaking around your tent all night long. I was lucky enough to be the one up against the side of the tent with the bags on the other side and Emily and Katie in the middle, so I had the lovely experience of feeling mice scampering next to me at my feet, my head, and my entire right side. Needless to say, I did not sleep at all.

The best of kitchen views
Clearly we avoided altitude sickness
Nevertheless, the next morning was easily the most gorgeous landscape I have ever had to cook with, and it was absolutely worth the sleepless night. We spent the morning day-hiking up towards Cerro Penitentes (4.356m), but turned back within a few hours due to very high winds that made the extremely steep and exposed ascent rather unsafe. Still, we had a fun time and some beautiful views, so we didn’t really mind not summiting. We got back to camp, saved our tent from getting flattened in the winds, and set off back down the way we had come the day before. Our previously five hour trek up now just barely took two hours down, thanks to altitude acclimation and few uphill sections, so we got to our next camp at the valley base super early in the afternoon. With the extra sunlight, we lounged around the nearby stream and rivers, drawing and napping in the sun, free of mice. All of us dropped the ball on finding cards before this weekend, so we got pretty creative with how we passed time and this final night was so much fun. Thanks to the mild lower-altitude night temperatures, we were able to hang out outside after the sun set to make tea and do some yoga on our sleeping pads. After crawling back into our tent, we spent the rest of the evening reading to each other from Emily’s book, The Best American Travel Writing, before falling asleep soundly, finally without rodents or gunfire.

Katie among the rushes at our last campsite

Mochilera amor
This was hands down my favorite weekend since getting to Mendoza, and it was wonderful to finally be back in my natural habitat and away from the city. It was ridiculously hard to drag ourselves back to Mendoza, and Katie and I had a pretty unwelcome return with the creepiest experience I’ve had yet in South America of being touched inappropriately and followed for a solid twenty minutes by a strange man. We finally lost him after a panicked speed-walk around the city we luckily know incredibly well, but that is a story for another time. All the more reason for me to want to get out of the city. Nevertheless, the weekend preceding that was spent with wonderful company in a beautiful place among the giants of the Andean Cordillera, so nothing short of perfect in my opinion.

Much love from the mountain goats of the Andes,
Moonrise atardecer above Los Penitentes ski valley and the giants of the Andes

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Yes, I do go to class

I swear, although it honestly still doesn’t feel like I do and I am starting to think it never will. Considering my final two semesters of college are shaping up to be killers that I will love in my usual academically masochistic ways, I am not even remotely ashamed for the classes I chose to take while on study abroad. What does that lead to? Well, if you know me well you can probably guess. Art, music, and nature. This is the kinda-final list of classes I’m registered for this semester:

-       Ecología de las zonas áridas
-       Modelado y color cerámica
-       Dibujo III
-       Instrumenta armónica: guitarra
-       Español

I don’t have a single class starting before noon, something I completely did not try for but am not complaining about. I really can’t decide which class is my favorite so far, but all of them are outrageously flexible in their Argentine ways.

Ecología is easily the most “legitimate” class I’m taking, with a classic lecture set-up and PowerPoints galore. It’s lucky that la profesora puts her PowerPoints on DropBox afterwards, so I am able to soak in the lecture and listen to the other students’ commentary during class. I still take a lot of notes and comprehension isn’t hard—many of the concepts are things I learned in high school Biology or just from a lifetime of being curious about the natural world, plus most of the Spanish terminology is cognates. That leaves the only real problem to spelling, if I am taking notes, and following when my profesora goes on high-speed rants about the water crisis in this region of the Andes. It is all SO SIMILAR to New Mexico that I’ve actually had some things to say. It was really fun once when the two gringas of the 25-person class, Katie y yo, got singled out to talk about Mount Saint Helens. You could feel the entire class shift their attention to the usually silent chicas at the front as we tripped out a commentary on a place neither of us have ever been to. Nonetheless, I really like how discussion-based the class is each week. It is my one class at Universidad de Congreso, the private university that is only slightly larger than Wheaton, so I love the welcoming and familiar atmosphere. It feels just like a Spanish class at Wheaton, but with the other students being wicked good at speaking Spanish. One crazy part about this class? It is once a week from 6 to 10pm on Fridays. Yes, I voluntarily have class until 10pm on Fridays. It’s actually perfectly fine, since that’s still time to get home for dinner con la familia and then out with friends by the early hour of midnight.

Cerámica has been off to a very strange start. It took me weeks to finally get a straight answer as to which class to go to, after hearing different stories from five sources. Finally, I ended up in the right place at the right time, but only with three other students, all intercambios, in the entire class: two American friends from my same study abroad program and one super nice girl from Puerto Rico. We waited a whopping hour and a half for our professor to arrive and were about to give up when he finally showed up, decided he wanted to change the class time from 4-7pm to 6-9pm Thursdays, and then whipped out the clay. We can still arrive early to get cracking if we wish, and I absolutely plan to, every single week. I am lucky enough to already know how to throw pottery, and it is one of my absolute favorite things on this planet. The first and only art class I ever let myself take before college was Ceramics in my high school junior year and it essentially changed my life. Then I broke my foot, and couldn’t operate the wheel for the rest of the semester, only to continue on to a college that doesn’t have a ceramics department, so I have been deprived for a whopping four years. When I got back on that wheel, man, my life was made. It’s amazing how muscle memory works and I have every intention to be in that studio as often as they leave it unlocked.

Dibujo (drawing) has been a similar love reignited. I generally restrict myself to studying my other love of the sciences, and drawing, painting, and creating outside of formal classes. Last spring, I finally took the one and only art class I’ve taken at Wheaton: Drawing I. It was wonderful and possibly my favorite class so far at Wheaton (apologies to my major professors, I love CS and math too!). The professor had such an interesting way of linking art perspectives to life perspectives, and I have never been quite so challenged by drawing before. Here, I decided not to mess around and just went for it with the third and final year available to drawing. It’s essentially an open studio twice a week that is entirely figure drawing—the models will be there, so you can show up whenever you want to draw. I adore it and have already started experimenting with materials and new perceptions of the human body that are difficult for me. I constantly fear that I’m not allowed to be here with these super talented artists. I tried to go as long as I could without telling anyone that I was a computer science major, but failed miserably within about five minutes. Yes, I am studying art in Mendoza. Yes, I study la informática y las matemáticas en los Estados Unidos. I am aware that I am strange. Nevertheless, I’m actually keeping up to speed with the rest of the gigantic studio, and I am happy to be judged for my work rather than my resume. That’s art for you.

I haven’t even been to Guitarra yet, and it’s looking unlikely. I don’t need the credits, the Instituto Chopin is very far away by iffy micro (bus) service, and you need to buy your own guitar. I am still in search of a guitar and may switch to taking piano lessons to avoid the outrageously expensive lessons Wheaton offers, but I still have hope. If all else fails, I’m aiming to find the first person I see with a guitar and offer English lessons in exchange for guitar lessons. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Español is the required Spanish class through my program, IFSA-Butler, so it is entirely with other Americans twice a week in small classes of about eight people. Each is named after a character from a famous Argentine cartoon similar to Peanuts and ours, Susanita, has turned into a family. We’re the happy middle group and the teaching style of our profesora, Gladys, has finally started making sense. I’ve figured out what my problem with learning Spanish has been all these years—I’ve been taking classes. Don’t take classes. Just dump yourself in a Spanish-speaking country and flounder. You’ll figure it out: you have to.

That’s exactly what I did in Chile and now am concerned my Spanish is getting worse because of being around Americans so often and trying to be perfect in the class setting. That’s not the language; that is a test setting. The language is conversing and making a million mistakes but still getting your point across. I am so much more uncomfortable in the class and am timid in my Spanish, but when I’m out talking to native speakers anywhere else it’s like I’m a completely different person. I just power through and make friends easily, even if I didn’t get that conjugation right or have to awkwardly explain a word for not knowing the exact term. The first time my friend Katie heard me
I absolutely adore these trees
speak Spanish to an Argentine, she turned to me afterwards and said “so you really know how to speak Spanish!” …Evidently I do! But I’m just so much more confident with native speakers and Chile really was what got me to actually being able to converse. If I’m speaking with a fellow learning American, it is far too easy to not experiment with words, question yourself rather than going for it, or collapse back into English.

Apologies for the lack of photos in this rather boring post and for writing twice in way too short a time, but I promise I’ll have more interesting things to say in future! (And may try to take photos of the studios to put on this post). Off to trek to the Plaza Francia Base Camp at 4,254 m on Aconcagua for a short weekend jaunt! So excited! Hallelujah, mountains!!

Much love from a happily art-drowned gringa,

Monday, April 15, 2013

La mitad del camino

The High Andes as seen from Bodega Alta Vista in Maipú, to the south of Mendoza
It is officially my halfway point! Thirteen weeks of a solid six months on this continent down. I feel celebration is in order, as to not getting attacked by a puma or irreversibly lost on a micro in Mendoza (yet)—how so? Chocolate chip cookies, man. Bring ‘em on.
My mom was wonderfully generous and brought me many a wondrous American product—peanut butter and Nutella and Clif bars and green chile and chocolate chips and curry powder and the third Game of Thrones book. I’m saving the peanut butter for when I next go trekking in May but, in a moment of weakness and hunger for hazelnut, I broke down and opened the Nutella a few days ago. It made my day, possibly my week.

Sheer chocolate chip cookie happiness

But now, Katie and I took the plunge of the ultimate American nostalgia trip of baking chocolate chip cookies, making curry, and catching up on Game of Thrones season one and two, plus plans to bite the bullet and buy tickets for our plans for May break. It. Was. Awesome. Our wingin’ it of a curry stir-fry shindig (couldn’t find coconut milk) and our chocolate chip cookies without baking soda, brown sugar, OR vanilla both turned out phenomenally and it was a great night, even if we never actually got around to watching Game of Thrones or buying flights—it was super fun to just hang out, a concept that is one of the most impossible things to pull off here on study abroad. Visiting other host houses is rare at best, so the only time we intercambio students spend together in groups all boils down to being out at bars. Fun, but that gets old fast for a whole lot of reasons, so many of us have started getting creative. It certainly makes you miss the ease of college life and living in a house of twelve of my closest friends.

Food with taste is surprisingly rare down here, apart from way too much oil and salt on everything (Salt on lettuce? This was super weird for me, and I happen to love salt. Still, too far, man. Too far), so Katie and I have both been on a fruitless search for curry since day one. I’ve been trying to attribute my habits to experiencing the food culture, but I definitely haven’t eaten this unhealthily since I can remember. I’m really looking forward to weird things like Greek yogurt and pretzels, but hey, I will certainly continue to enjoy the helado here.

In retrospect from this halfway point, food has been the source of the hardest part for me to grapple with since arriving in Mendoza. I have been off the Wheaton meal plan and cooking for myself for two years now, and love it. I never ate meat in the dining hall my first year as it dependably made me incredibly sick, and since then I’ve cooked meat, apart from seafood, three times in my time at Wheaton and don’t miss it much at all. It’s just too much effort and expense for one person, when I can exist healthily, enjoy a variety of food, and still run marathons while being a pseudo-vegetarian/pescatarian/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-if-you-require-a-label. Thus, I wrote “vegetarian, but would like to eat Argentine meat” on my host questionnaire for study abroad. Little did I know, this was a disaster waiting to happen. My host mom is vegetarian, but I have learned that others’ definitions of “vegetarian” can be outrageously different than my own very educated system that often revolves around running. I’m not strict (Nutella is a staple, not an option) and I won’t get into it, but I am constantly aware of needing protein. My host mom is really more of a vegan in a culture with hardly any raw nuts available, so lentils will appear every few days and garbanzo beans happened once. I’ve learned that I cannot survive off of this with a fast metabolism and still keeping up the running; I was borderline starving for my first month in Mendoza compared to my usual and had no idea what to do about it.
Curry hot date (plus avocado!)

I was hesitant about approaching this—I have already paid for all my meals while here, so eating out or buying my own food was essentially out of the question. More importantly, I had no clue what to do with the cultural implications of my family situation and how to navigate those waters. I was not sure if I should directly ask for specific foods or how bold I should be in eating the house out, and did not dare try to cook for myself. I am living with a single mother and her young son; there is no father involved. Still, the gender and age norms of Latin America were difficult for me to learn, until I finally figured things out. The mother of the house still does absolutely everything, which is why the unspoken lack of encouragement to use the kitchen exists. I have forced myself to quit my hard-earned habit of always doing my dishes, and I only just recently started using the stove to make tea (and still feel guilty doing so).

Shamelessly super pumped about fresh veggies
Furthermore, children live with their parents much longer than is customary in United States households, especially my own.  I’ve known this, but it took me embarrassingly long to figure out that now, here, this applies to me. My host mom isn’t patronizing me on a daily basis, she’s just following the culture norm. After being self-sufficient for a few years, and especially after coming off of being completely alone in Chile and conquering the biggest independent challenge of my life thus far, I was super confused, frustrated, and even offended by the way my host mom treated me at first. I am still figuring things out, but I’ve accepted the family social construct and beat my independence ego down quite a bit. I am still completely not myself here and am timid to a fault. I really dislike this strange person I am here, but let’s face it, I’ve never lived
Wine tasting at Bodega Alta Vista with Shawny and Katie
in a complete stranger’s house for an extended time before. Once I realized that I am just a guest, not an extension of the family, and that my host family is getting a paycheck for my presence, I’ve started faulting myself less for not feeling entirely comfortable. I have only really known of my father and aunt’s host family experiences: my whole family knows Herr Oelerich, Dad’s host dad from college, who we have visited multiple times in Erlangen, Germany, and my aunt just returned to Denmark recently for her host mom’s 80th birthday. Both were life-long friendships, and are completely and utterly different from my experience thus far.

Success even without half the recipe
Why? I’ve been considering this my entire time here, and I attribute a HUGE part of this complete lack of closeness to the ease of international communication and how outstandingly common study abroad is now. Internet is a killer. To keep a long rant brief, communicating with my home world is way too ridiculously easy, but it is what I am accustomed to. I tried to cut myself completely off from internet when I was in Chile, but it was just too difficult on top of my difficulty there in the first place. I spoke to my family and very few friends while I was down there, and that contact helped me tremendously. I needed that, because I am used to constant conversation, especially with my family. When my dad studied abroad in Germany for a year, he got to call his parents once as his Christmas present. I cannot fathom this, considering I have the good fortune that the internet exists. Granted, my internet dies for weeks at a time, but I can still email friends from the study abroad office and if I do have wi-fi, I can Skype to actually speak to people. This is the world we live in now, and I am absolutely aware of how it affects my life, both at home and abroad.

As for study abroad being common, my family just doesn’t care to engage me as much as I hoped, regardless of how I try. I have far more curiosity about learning about this culture than they have for teaching me about it. I think this is a personal case to my specific family, but I am nonetheless trying not to be disappointed. Plus, meeting Argentines has proven infinitely more difficult than meeting Chileans in Magallanes. Native speakers I have spoken to most thus far here in Mendoza have been from Mexico and Puerto Rico, not Argentina. So far, my opinion between my experiences in Chile and Argentina is rather warped and I do not consider it complete or accurate. A huge part may be the fact of the geographical locations, as the small, friendly town of Puerto Natales is no fair comparison to the large city that is Mendoza. Nevertheless, I am finding new ways of meeting people as my few classes thus far are so rare that it makes it difficult to get to know Argentines: I met quite a few friendly folks at the dancing places I’ve gone for salsa and tango, and I’m getting a membership to a yoga place around the corner from my house, plus I’ve started testing out to find people for hiking and climbing.

I’m not a city person in the least and I miss the wonderful friendly faces in Torres del Paine and all of my close friends there every day, but I am trying my best here in Mendoza, slowly but surely. What is living in a completely foreign country for a few months if not difficult? After all, I am only halfway.

Much love,

P.S.- I finished roping together all the little video clips I took while in Torres del Paine and put together a kinda goofy video. It's pretty much just for my memory, but the two friends I've mentioned it to were pretty pumped, so if others are interested, I'd love it if you checked it out! (Watching it in HD is worth the wait, it really makes a huge difference).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Road Trippin' with the Rents

The infamous, desolate, beautiful, and super fun Ruta 40 de Argentina
The Baldwin fam has been strewn across every time zone in the United States for a few years now, so getting just a few of us together at any time is fairly rare, usually difficult to arrange, and always an adventure. I was lucky enough to have my parents visit me for a whole week during my vacation from classes for Semana Santa (Easter), and man, it was certainly an adventure even with Mom’s rule against sleeping in a tent for this trip. Dad happens to have an international driver’s license that rarely gets much use, so he decided to take on the crazy Argentine drivers and we rented a car for a week of road trippin’ from Mendoza to Northern Patagonia and back. After watching these crazies from my pedestrian point of view for the last few weeks, I was shocked. Nevertheless, we narrowly missed any accidents for the entire trip and the transmission never did fall out of the car despite having one of the crappiest rentals I’ve ever seen … it had character, I suppose?

Sunset on the first driving night, north of Malargüe

The Shining hotel in the middle-of-nowhere Los Molles
Our first night we arrived late to our reserved hotel up in the middle-of-nowhere mountains of Los Molles, Argentina, a ski “town” on the end of the summer season. We were one of a whopping three groups in the entire rather gigantic hotel-lodge and lemme tell you, The Shining jokes were rampant (“How long til Dad goes crazy? We should hide the hatchet.”) Dad never did go insane, but Mom laughed til she cried at dinner remembering his entrance to the hotel: it was dark, and we couldn’t find the entrance road to the parking lot. What did Dad do? Off-road’d it in our pathetic little Chevy across the front “lawn,” unknowingly right in front of the windows with all the other dinner patrons. At least the lawn was dirt…

Car-eating puddle in middle-of-nowhere Ruta 40
After escaping the Las Molles hotel without recreating The Shining, we finished our 1,200 km drive to San Carlos de Bariloche in a day that ended up taking far longer than planned. It turns out Argentina’s Ruta 40 is indeed infamous for being unpredictable and we ended up on dirt roads for a few solid hours. The worst was when we encountered a surprisingly deep, opaque, and car-eating puddle lake that took over the entire road, right in the middle of the desert. After 10 minutes of sitting there to observe and consider, the sedan in front of us had their co-pilot get out and wade barefoot across to test the depth. We decided to go for it and miraculously didn’t drown! Congrats to the little Chevy for not flooding. The major plus of going this way was that we were essentially alone on the road the entire time and were able to take in the scenery—it was a geologist’s paradise, complete with some of the most colorful mountains I’ve ever seen, volcanoes dotting the horizon, and millions of years of history layered into all of the surrounding rocks.

Geologist paradise all over the place
Super cool sunglasses means he drives really really fast
Hours later and well into the night, while just an hour away from Bariloche, we had the worst near-death car experience yet (for me, at least). On a straight stretch going at 120 km/hr, Dad and I in the front seat noticed there were four lights across rather than just two coming around the next curve, much closer than usual, with neither moving to the side. With nothing else to do and on extremely short notice, Dad veered off the road and barreled onto the rough shoulder, still at very high speed, to barely miss the parallel semi-trucks by a few seconds (still not changing back to their proper lanes). We narrowly avoided going over the embankment, but the tiny little Chevy still ended up fishtailing for awhile before we got back onto the road, all very shaken. Do the physics: two objects hurtling towards each other well above 100 km/hr each, with us in a tiny sedan without airbags. We absolutely all would have been dead on impact had Dad not done such a phenomenal job of keeping the car in control.

This is what happens when engineers need to dry their socks. Long story.
 In happier news and brighter, life-loving spirits for the rest of the vacation, our arrival in Bariloche was a pretty hilarious hubbub. In the frenzy of checking into our hotel, there was some sort of confusion regarding parking. With me as the Designated Parent Spanish Translator of the week working out the situation between Dad and the hotel attendants, a fellow guest who wanted to help suddenly asked my Dad “sprechen sie Deutsch?” After the complete look of shock left his face, he replied “Ja!” with sheer joy. My dad has lived in both Germany and Austria for three years with the rest of my family when I was a young’un. In the middle of Bariloche, Argentina, a woman asks my non-German father if he speaks German out of the blue and, of course, he does. It basically made my dad’s week. Turns out this German woman and her husband moved to Argentina after the war and are completely fluent in both languages, and very friendly. After the wife and my dad broke out into some ridiculous German conversation, the bell boy of the hotel turned to me and, in plain English, asked me “Where are you from?”—baffled. Yup, Baldwins are crazy.

Fall colors above San Carlos de Bariloche
Mom and Dad on Cerro Otto
The rest of the trip went smoothly and is better explained in photos, which still fail to do the landscape of Northern Patagonia any justice. With Bariloche absolutely jam-packed by Argentines in search of the best chocolate in the country for Easter, we escaped the city by hiking to the nearby city-overlook of Cerro Otto to take the tram down. I was talking to a tram worker and when he learned I live in Mendoza, he said “Ahh, qué lástima”—“what a bummer.” Well… yeah… I’d rather be living in Northern Patagonia, too, but Bariloche certainly isn’t shy. We also spent our last day in the area driving a 400 km round trip from Bariloche, along the partially-dirt road of la Ruta de Siete Lagos to San Martín de los Andes through the National Parks of Nahuel Huapi and Lanin. I loved our brief time in San Martín as it reminded me so much of Puerto Natales and my beloved other area of Patagonia, still a whopping 1,600 km south. I cannot put into words how amazing the landscape was and how great it was to be back in the mountains. This area was what I would imagine the Canadian Rockies to be like, and it was probably the highlight of my entire trip.

Lago Nahuel Huapi next to San Carlos de Bariloche

Outside of San Martín de los Andes

Alpenglow along the Ruta de Siete Lagos

Low morning fog after leaving Bariloche

My most-frequented Mendoza spot: Parque San Martín
After a wearisome 16-hour drive back straight from Bariloche that all of the Argentines at my parent’s Mendocino hotel thought was absolutely crazy, we arrived back to my home. We spent a day walking around Mendoza to all of my favorite areas and packing my parents full of helado, plus eating the tastiest lunch I’ve had in months. For my parents’ last day, we were back in the car and did yet another dirt-road loop in the Chevy from the springs in Villavicencio, home to mineral water for all over the country, to the high Andes above Uspallata to the lake by Potrerillos to the wineries of Lujan and Maípu. The highlight of this day was absolutely seeing Aconcagua, the monster of the high Andes at 6,950.8 meters. From our perspective, it took much map and compass sleuthing to differentiate Aconcagua from the much closer, but whopping MILE shorter peak of Cerro del Tambillo. We were looking at Aconcagua from about 50km away as the crow flies and already at about 9,300 ft altitude, so it was absolutely insane to imagine how GIGANTIC that peak is. My brother just had a couple of friends attempt to summit right as I was arriving in Mendoza at the end of the climbing season. I was hoping to at least do a trek to one of the many altitude camps, but alas, now is far too late for that to be safe. I’m still convinced it’s summer, but the mountains are already covered in snow after being bare when I saw them my second day in Mendoza. Let’s face it, I have no clue what season it is anywhere.

The best bife de lomo of all time.
Now my parents are safely back in the United States and I’ve got another three months to rock on this continent. Seeing them was fantastic but unfortunately has got me into a bit of a homesick funk for my first time since the first few days when I had my bags lost in Chile. Still, seeing my friends returning from their Semana Santa travels has been great, there are exciting plans for the next few weeks in the works, and I might actually be having my first FULL week of classes! Plus, Mom brought me green chile, so life has to be pretty swell.

Much love from the land of the best* ice cream of my entire life,

*If you ever go to El Bolsón, Argentina, go to Jauja Heladaría and get Chocolate Profundo. There was another location in Bariloche that we went to. I got it. I died of helado happiness.

Sunset along the Ruta de Siete Lagos