Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Back to Paraguay, Back to Work

The strange thing about the South American school schedule, at least for my school, is that we have our long 9-week break in the middle of the school year-so when we return to work it is to the same students. Then after our shorter break, 3 weeks in July, we have a whole new group.

In many ways it was nice-for now at least, I'm not sure how I'll feel in July! It takes the kids awhile to get back into the swing of things, just as it does for the teachers. But it's a lot easier to review your routines and procedures than it is to start totally from scratch when you don't even know the kids' names to begin with!

Mentally, some things were really nice about being back after 8 weeks away. Laundry, my kitchen and spices, having my own space and my own bed, and not living out of a backpack are all the little things I miss during travel. The main difficult thing was the oppressive heat. I've never lived (or even visited) somewhere this hot AND humid. I've been in Death Valley and Las Vegas during 117 degree heat and yes, it's hot. But that saying about the humidity is true. The first few weeks back were often over 100 degrees (luckily I missed the record-setting 108 degree stretch) and extremely humid. I do not recommend visiting Paraguay between December-February! Fortunately I live and work in a place with air conditioning. I really don't know how people get by without it here.

Anyway now that the second semester has started, I will be doing more short trips close to home. I hope there is a lot to see here in Paraguay too!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Border Crossing: Argentina to Chile

The United States uses dogs to search for explosives and drugs. Chile uses dogs to make sure you're not illegally transporting produce into the country. I'm sure there is a good reason for this, but it makes going through customs at the border a time-consuming ordeal! I had friends who were stuck at the border crossing for 4 hours so I was a little nervous about it, but I think my bus got through in about an hour and a half. Since the border dividing Chile and Argentina is the Andes mountain range, it's quite a scenic location!

We had to get off the bus, go inside, and everyone had to go through a line to get stamped "out" of Argentina. Then go through another line to get stamped "into" Chile. Then we went back to the bus, where they take all the luggage out from below, and it goes through a metal detector (apple detector?) while dogs sniff all the bags. While that is happening, passengers take all their other luggage from the bus and put it on a table. Dogs run up and down the tables, smelling all the bags. A few guilty passengers had apples or other produce in their bags, which the dogs found and the people had to get rid of. 

It was all very strange.

Going back into Chile-a very windy, long, switchbacky road. This went on and on and on.
I was only back in Santiago for two nights before flying back home to Paraguay. I did not do anything of note or take any pictures there. I think I was ready to be done-I LOVE travel, but there are times it's nice to sleep in your own bed, in a bedroom without a bunch of strangers sleeping on bunk beds. I was ready to cook in my own kitchen and have my own ingredients and spices, and also know how to get somewhere without looking at a map. I was ready to see my friends, who have become close friends in a short period of time. Ready to go back to work? I'm not sure I'd go that far. Have I *ever* been ready to go back to work? No, but I was feeling refreshed and rejuvenated from seeing all those parts unknown!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Mendoza: Hostel Mora Review

I stayed in Mendoza, and at Hostel Mora, longer than any other city on my trip. I really liked it and was happy there. It was warm and welcoming, the staff was helpful in arranging excursions, and I especially loved the outdoor area with hammocks and tables as a spot to meet other travelers! Oh yeah, and did I mention WINE HAPPY HOUR? Hello! I stayed in the dorms most nights, with some single rooms thrown in for a break.
Yep, this is the only picture I took of the hostel.

All the stuff I mentioned above, plus it is easy walking distance to lots of places in the city if you want to do some sight-seeing. It's also only about 4-5 blocks walk from the bus station. BREAKFAST WAS AMAZING. Every morning they had freshly made crepes, tons of fresh fruit, good coffee, and eggs to order. As I said, great common areas and free wine make it an easy place to start up a conversation with other travelers. In addition to setting up tours, they offered activities in the hostel such as an empanada-making class, wine tasting, and an awesome asado. Don't miss the asado. The rooms-both private and dorms-are adequate. They're not 5-star, this is a hostel after all.

Did I mention, free wine? There's wine. And it's free.

Not many. The sign is tiny so it's hard to see; make sure you know the exact address or you'll walk right by it, I did! They book up quickly so if you want to extend your stay, let them know ASAP.

There is SO MUCH to do in and around Mendoza. If you don't know where to start, hit up a hostel or travel agent and they'll help you get started!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Rafting and Rappeling Outside of Mendoza

The last organized tour deal I did was for a half day of rafting and a half day of hiking. It was so much fun! It was very close to the area of my first hike. We got bused (vanned?) from Mendoza to the "base" area in the mountains. Then we got all outfitted down to the sexy moon boots for rafting. Just like rafting in CO, they use old school buses to get you to the start point. Then they give you the unnerving "what to do if you fall out" speech (I hate that part). Luckily there was a guide that spoke English so I was with him, along with 2 Aussies, a couple of Australians, and I think an American guy. Here we are "before:"

There were enough rapids to make it a pretty exciting raft trip. Obviously, our guide (back) wasn't too worried, although we were paddling our little hearts out!

And the "after" shot!
Don't judge. I'd been rafting all morning
and then wearing a hat. Of COURSE my
hair is a disaster!
 After a fun morning of rafting, we had a break to have lunch, shower, and/or relax by the little pool at the base area. After that I had an afternoon of hiking and rappeling again. This rappeling was harder and scarier than the previous one, I think because you can't see the top or the bottom when you're doing it--and it's longer. And I wasn't so sure that the guy at the top was *really* holding the rope in case I lost my grip on it. This caused me to hold the rope in a death grip-especially in my left hand, which you aren't supposed to do.
Plus this outfit didn't give us gloves for rappeling, unlike the first place, so I got some really nasty blisters on my hands. Dang, that rope gets HOT! I did, however, survive, much to my relief.

I can't really say that I enjoyed rappeling. It is more  means to and end for me-the fastest way down and to a cold beer.

Mendoza: Empanada Class

I wish that every time I cooked, all the ingredients were measured out for me in bowls!
 One of the best things about my hostel, Hostel Mora, was that there were always lots of activities. Many were through travel agencies around town, but they also had some classes offered right at the hostel. One of these was an empanada-making class, which was lots of fun! This cute little Argentinian lady came in and showed us how it was done!
Our instructor

It was kind of funny-first she showed us how to hand make the dough for the empanadas, but we couldn't understand why she was making such a tiny amount of dough. After she made one, she explained: "You CAN make it by hand. Everyone pretty much buys the disks here. But, once you return to your countries, now you know how to make it if you can't buy the empanada disks there.

We chopped up some onions and browned ground beef with them and some seasoning, and then put in a chunk of hard-boiled egg.
We learn how to close our empanadas, and made some distinguising marks on them so we could tell which ones were ours when they were done cooking.

After we'd formed all our empanadas, we were sent out into the backyard to drink some red wine...this is Mendoza, after all! This is how I met the two Norwegian travelers on the left. Our teacher baked the empanadas instead of frying them (less mess, to be sure!) and brought them out for a taste test. A success!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hiking and Rappeling in the Andes

One cool thing about Mendoza is that even though it's in a valley, it has all these mountains around it. So, there are lots of tours and outdoor activities you can do.I looked around at the tourist agencies in town to find a hike in the nearby Andes mountains. Several had minimum people requirements or multiple activities. All I wanted was a ride to somewhere I could hike! But the closest "package" I could find included rappeling. So I figured, what the heck. Why not try it out.
 Here is some of the hiking. It was easy, not too steep at all. Lots of times crossing back and forth over this little stream.
 A little waterfall on the way up.

 The guides went up ahead to set up the ropes and equipment for rappeling. We left all our stuff at the bottom, and scrambled up to the top (it was a bit more gradual on the left). Then...time to rappel! I was one of the last ones to go. It is kind of unnerving, backing off a cliff backwards! It was okay but I didn't love it. Especially when you ended up going not quite straight down, and then swinging a bit! But I made it down all in one piece.

Here's a view of the surroundings on the way down. Beautiful, but very much a desert, and different from the mountains I'm used to, and the mountains I'd been in on the trip thus far. Luckily, there was plenty of free malbec waiting for me at the hotel after this adventure!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Patagonia Part 10/ Mendoza Part 1 Bike and Wine Tour

OK, fine. Mendoza isn't really part of Patagonia. Get over it, it was part of the same trip!

After all this running around, hiking, exploring, kayaking, and bus ride after bus ride, I was ready to stay in one place for awhile, so I booked a whole week in Mendoza. It was really nice to be in one place that long. I didn't feel like I had to pack every day with every activity and experience I could fit in, and I could afford to have some lazy days-yet I still did a ton of stuff. It was a perfect last leg of five weeks traveling. I was there long enough, and was busy enough, that I'll need several posts to cover it all.

My first activity in Mendoza was the most obvious: a bike and wine tour! The hostel I stayed at arranged tours and this one included 3 wineries (tour and tasting) and short bike rides in between.
The first vineyard, Tapiz, was the most extensive, giving lots of
information about the whole process.

Here is vineyard #2,  Dolium.

Vineyard #3, Norton, was enor
For some reason, we were greeted at Norton with glasses of champagne. Not what I expected, but who am I to complain?

See? Gigantic. Looking in the other direction was the same amount of vats on the other side too.

Norton had this creepy dark basement where they age all their wine. For such a big, "modern" looking place, the basement was old school. Everything was dusty and the only way to identify the year/type of wine was by signs. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Patagonia, Part 9: Back to Bariloche and onwards to Mendoza...or, I Live On a Long Distance Bus

When I left you, dear readers, I was holding on for dear life in the brutal Patagonian wind, looking for a place to spend the night. Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad. But it was pretty bad.

Anyway I got to the bus station in El Chalten after the bus out of town had already boarded and I had to ask the bus driver to find me the ticket seller so I could get on! Predictably, she was taking a break, but luckily it was a break with the bus driver. Anyhoo I got a ticket and had a couple hours to relax and thaw out on the way back to Calafate. It is kind of nice, when traveling, to get to a city that is even the slightest bit familiar. Apparently the downside of that is that I didn't take a single picture this time. Oops. Even though I only spent 2 nights in Calafate I knew the main street and was able to find my new hotel easily. Did you notice I said hotel? Not hostel? Well I decided it was time to splurge a little bit and I sure did enjoy the luxury of not only my own room but also my own bathroom. Ahhhh. Although I had to venture out and eat, I mostly reveled in having all this space to myself. And had them do my laundry. Fellow travelers know that can be a big deal. And actually, they had hostel rooms as well, but I can't speak to the quality of those.

After my night of rest and solitude, I took a good long run in the morning, and then I was back at the bus station for the 30-hour trip back up to Bariloche! And I pretty much did nothing there as it rained the whole. entire. time. I was there. But I met some really great people at the hostel I stayed at, and continued drinking great Patagonia beer, just like the first time I was there. But it was a good chance to just rest. Then I got on ANOTHER long bus ride (this one "only" 14 hours!) to head to Mendoza. This company was way better. We actually played a whole-bus bingo game. And there was wine with dinner. This is where a normal person would put the name of the bus line so someone else could use this information. But I can't remember it. =( Sorry, fellow nomads.

STAY (Calafate)
This time I stayed at a place called Albergue & Hostal del Glacier Libertador. It was a little confusing because it's two separate places about a block apart, and I didn't know which one I was booking when I booked online. I believe I stayed in the Albergue site.
PROS-the private room was nice, clean, and reasonably spacious. It was also a pretty good deal. The location is good too, you're just outside of the town area and it's an easy walk to the main street or bus station. Wifi was so-so, and better in the common room. Breakfast was also average, which is to say not that great, but I've had worse. They also book a lot of tours-but I didn't use them so can't evaluate them! They have a full kitchen for guests, which is nice with a regular hotel room. It was crowded and not stocked especially well, and you had to pay a deposit for silverware. But at least it was SOMETHING, to avoid going out for a meal.
CONS-I was happy with my stay here. The common areas aren't great, although they do have a little TV room. If I was staying longer than a night I probably would have gotten bored as it seemed it would be hard to meet people.

For my other recommendations about El Calafate, you can click here.