8 months in review.....
Posts tagged ‘Argentina’
I crossed over the border to Bolivia today.
I was behind a few other tourists in line, but they were part of the list of countries that is able to get into Bolivia easily.
I, on the other hand, come from a country that is listed in a secondary group — along with Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and other similar countries. And the good ol´US of A. So, I had lots of fun paperwork to fill out and a hefty entrance fee (though good for 5 years) in order to get my visa.
But, here I am – in Bolivia.
I left the border town and headed for Tupiza where I am now. It is the SW of Bolivia…. so think SW… supposedly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their demise here.
There are all sorts of tourist options around here – including day trips by horse, jeep trips, etc. This is also a possible jumping off point for a 4 day trip to Salar de Uyuni — the one tour I definitely want to spend the money on (anyone have suggestions?).
I have some great pictures from the past few days, but wifi might be hard to come by in the next few days…. I will post when I get a chance.
I´m off to walk around, buy food at the market (always an exciting adventure when you can´t really understand what they are saying to you), and enjoy the sun.
hope you are all well.
I get scared each time I do something new.
I get scared when I change countries or take a bus for the first time in a country or when I have to communicate with people and we don’t share the same language or sometimes even when I change towns.
But once I do that new thing, once I take that first bus ride or figure out directions on my own, it as all ok again. Until the next new adventure, of course.
So, the other day when I left Mike and Beth and took a 21 hour bus ride north to Jujuy, I was really nervous. This was my first solo experience in Argentina. My first solo bus trip. My first foray into Spanish. I had been hiding behind Beth big time, on the Spanish front — having her do all my communicating! But now, it was all up to me….
It is the little things – the little steps that feel like big accomplishments. For instance, I had to make a transfer on my bus to get here (Jujuy). I was not sure of what the bus guy said (they speak so damn fast) and so I asked my bus neighbor. I found out I had to transfer buses at that moment.
Another accomplishment: I took the public bus to Lagunas de Yala — these three lakes that I hiked up to. I found the bus, took the bus, asked for directions and caught the bus back. All by myself.
I have gotten food in the market, ordered coffee and translated a whole newspaper article (that took me a long time and had to look up a lot of the words!).
These might not sound like a big deal, but with each success I feel more comfortable and confident. Sometimes traveling by myself, I spend a lot of time by myself and in my own head (especially with the language barrier). It is hard to not psyche myself out sometimes.
So — now I am feeling like I can make it on my own again (of course I knew that I could but…. like I said, sometimes I get scared….).
Tomorrow, I head north to Tilcara which is on the way to Bolivia. It is suppose to be a beautiful area that is just an hour and a halj north of here. I am not sure how long I will stay there, though I imagine that I will make my way into Bolivia around the first of the month. And I am sure that I will get scared once again. But until then, I think I am ready to tackle the challenges in front of me.
Oh, and did I mention that I am here during rainy season?
We choose to go in the Vacas Valley Route as this is less populated and would allow us to get a full view of the mountain as we would essential come in from the south, travel up the west side and then down the NE side (which is the normal route). About 75% of the people go up the normal route, so we expected it to be less crowded. Another difference between th Vacas Valley and the Horcones Valley (normal route) is that the approach is longer on the Vacas Valley side — it takes 3 days to get to base camp (versus two).
The walk in was up the valley, through the grasslands along a stream/river. It was quite hot during the day, but much cooler at night and at times we got a sense of how fierce the winds would be and we learned early to stake down our tents well.
Each day, we would pack up our two duffles (each weighing about 30 kilos) with food and some hard gear (double plastic boots, ice axes, crampons) and leave them for the muleteer, who would then strap them to the mules and take off. The muleteers camped where we did, so we could count on getting into our food bags each day.
Eventually, we reached base camp. Now…. imagine the pictures you have seen of mountain base camps – yep, looks the same. Some structures that are there all season long and then all the hopeful climbers and their tents. Base camp seems exciting — but really it is boring as hell. You are sitting around waiting to climb. We got there fairly early on the 3rd day (keeping true to my desire to hike early in the morning before it gets too hot!), had a rest day the next day, then a carry day and then a rest day. So – we got there on the 3rd day and we would not be leaving again, really, until 8th day. Yep, that’s a long time.
There are 4 types of days in mountaineering. Here are my definitions:
- Carry days — you take as much stuff as you can – that you don’t need – and bring it up to your next camp. You have to be strategic though in case someone gets hurt or sick or weather comes in. For instance, you cannot bring up your tent, as you still need it down low. These days can be tough as you are still acclimating to the new elevation. But they also involved staying up the new elevation for a few hours (which for me, almost always involved a nap up high in the sun).
- Move days — the days you take all the rest of your stuff up to the next camp. These are usually permanent moves, such as from base camp to camp 1. Usually pretty exciting and usually faster than the carry day.
- Rest days — these are the most boring days in the world. you do….. literally…. nothing. I napped a whole lot on this expedition — like almost every day. But rest days, I pretty much spend the entire day in the tent, trying to nap, trying to stay out of the sun but getting way too hot in the tent. They would have been great days for a book…. if i had brought one….
- Summit days — these are the days you get up at some ungodly hour, like 2 in the morning, freezing, trying to boil water and keep yourself warm and then start walking slowly uphill for something like 7 hours. All for a summit. And then come back downhill for a few hours before passing out.
In any case, basecamp for us was a mix of rest days and carrys. It was good to get our systems figured out and eat, drink and acclimate. Here was where it was clear the difference between the classes. There were some people like us – going independently, without a guide. we were the ones with the big duffles, with bags that always looked full and did not have the most amazing meals on the mountain (tuna in a box, anyone?).
And then there were the guided groups. They were the ones who had people cook for them, went into the tents for dinner, had hot water delivered to their tents, and did not have to carry quite as much stuff up the mountain.
In any case, eventually it was time to move up to camp one. We were all mostly feeling well (Mike had some digestive stuff going on — though the tuna in the box seemed to be the culprit — it was pretty gross), so up we went from 4200m up to 5000m. All along, the weather was gorgeous — blue, clear skies every day. Not a cloud in sight and barely any wind.
Camp 1 definitely had a different feel — no services, people in transit or resting, no more real differences between people (unless your guide brought you hot water in the tent in the morning — but we tried to ignore that! :). Things just felt a bit more exciting.
After arriving at camp 1 – we had a carry day and then a move day. Camp 2 wasn’t too far — just another 450m (though of course 5450m is about 18,000 feet). Both our carry and moves went well – and we had amazing views of the mountain along the way. We also started our traverse from the west side of the mountain across to the north side where we would join up with the normal route. We also had some amazing views of the Polish Glacier which is suppose to be a pretty gnarly route up the mountain.
So – there we were at camp 2. We meet a guy, Grey, who was the only American in a group of Swiss. We spoke a bunch (we think he was lonely for english speakers!) and he let us borrow his sat phone (which I used to call Cody). We also asked him for weather information – as we figured the beautiful weather was not there to stay for long.
We carried up to camp 3, our high camp at 6000m (~20,000 feet) which went well for the most part. I was climbing really strong — made it from 5450 to 6000 in under 2.5 hours. Beth and Michael who had never been to such high elevations were struggling a bit more – plus Beth was coming down with a cold.
And then…. decision time. Basically, several groups decided to head up a day early (on the 12th) to try and summit on the 13th (even though the original plan was for the 14th like us). It was rumored that the weather on the 13th was going to be the best for awhile — clear skies and low winds. Our team discussed this and at first decided to go for it (which would mean missing a rest day at camp 2 and moving straight up to camp 3 the day after our carry day), but eventually it was decided that a rest day would be important to help Beth and Michael acclimate a bit better – so we stayed (along with just one other group).
The day everyone (else) moved up was cold, windy, and snowy. A few groups carried up to camp 2 and one solo person moved up to our camp – so now there were 3 parties in camp 2. That night, while we were cooking dinner — the 3rd solo party came over to ask for help with his stove which he could not get going. We let him use our stove that night and then next morning and we got to hear his story.
Turns out that Alberto (aka ‘the machine’) had come up to camp 2 from base camp. He is an Italian mountain guide — works in the Dolomites and Chamonix primarily. But, we called him the machine because four days after arriving in Argentina he was in camp 2 and on the 5th day he moved up to camp 3. Yep — that is pretty much no time for acclimating. In any case, Alberto pretty much adopted us and was with us for the rest of his time in Argentina.
But — back to the weather and camp 2. As I mentioned, we decided not to head up on the 12th to take advantage of the weather on the 13th. We had heard one report that said that the 14th would be clear (though all the other reports we heard said it would be windy). Unfortunately, the morning of the 13th, when we woke, it was clear with very low winds — which would have made for a great summit day.
In fact, when we arrived at the high camp later that day – we saw two Germans who had started the same day we had (but moved up their summit day to take advantage of the weather). They had just returned from the summit and gave us glowing reports of low winds and amazing views. We hoped our chance was next…..
On the evening of the 13th, we heard weather reports of clear mornings but high winds. But — it seemed to be our only chance. We could tell that our bodies were not doing well the longer we stayed at the high elevations (it is reported that the human body starts to deteriorate above 5000m). For instance, the 2 hours and 20 minutes it took me to climb the 450m up to high camp? The second time we did it for the move — it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes. The goal was to get faster, not slower…..
But — it was go time.
Beth and I woke up at 3 (Mike had opted not to join us as he was still struggling with the elevation) and we got dressed. Mike, amazingly, woke and helped us get hot water so we could hydrate and have something warm to drink. The icy winds were rattling the tent every couple of minutes and I was already shivering. We spent quite a bit of time looking for others who were awake (where the winds too high? we weren’t sure — but eventually we saw other headlamps).
Finally, just before 5, Beth and I started up the mountain. Alberto joined us for a bit – but not surprising, the elevation was affecting him and he had to head down. We were climbing strong and quickly caught up with a group in front of us. Within two hours we had climbed about 300m (your goal is to be traveling at least 80-100m per hour — so we were doing really well). But the winds…. the winds were fierce and biting and sometimes almost knocked us off our feet. Our faces were at risk of freezing. My toes and fingers were cold (and I was wearing 6 layers on top – but had my big puffy in my bag as a backup). At times, we could see the wind heading our way (as it picked up snow) and we would lower our heads, prepared for the onslaught, but still almost got knocked over. It was rough.
Though we were the first to turn around, many others came down later that morning. though the sun was coming up, we knew that the winds were suppose to get even worse later in the day. It took us about an hour or so in our bags to warm up. The rest of the day was spent in tents, staying warm and eating food. Alberto decided to try for the next day (he was ultimately successful) but at that point we had been above 5000 for about 5 or 6 days — our bodies were tired.
And so, on day 14 of being on the mountain (on Feb. 15th) we headed down the mountain. It was a long scree field — but with plastic boots on I could make it down in about 3 hours. We went from 6000m down to base camp at 4300m. It was strange to head down to so many people (on the normal route — which I would never recommend) but our trip was over. The following day, we hiked the 7 hours (16 miles) out to the road and then caught a bus back to Mendoza.
The last two days have been full of running around the city, gathering supplies, buying a shitload of food and spending an even bigger shitload of money.
Food? ~$500 (maybe? haven’t totalled yet)/group
Mule? $360/for one
Bus ? $53/person
And of course there is fuel and backpack repairs and water bottles and whatever else we have gathered the last few days. Yesterday we traveled to a huge grocery store and got the bulk of our supplies. Today was spent getting odds and ends and packing up all said food. At this point, we are just about done…. which I have to say, I am SO thankful for. If you have ever done food packout for more than a few days, you know how annoying it can be!
So…. we off tomorrow…. we will catch a bus to a camp that is run by the company we purchased our mule support from. There we will get bags ready for the mule and spend one last night organizing. And then on the 2nd, we will depart for base camp — eat and sleep and acclimate.
Here is our itin for you nerds out there who are interested in this stuff (starting on Feb. 1)
- Bus ride at 3:30; Camp at Los Puquios
- Start up Vacas Valley, camp at Pampade Lenas (2800m)
- Camp at Casa de Piedra (3200m)
- Plaza Argentina (4200m)
- Rest day
- Carry up to Camp 1 (5000m); stay at Plaza Argentina
- Rest at Plaza Argentina
- Travel up to Camp 1 to stay (5000m)
- Rest day
- Carry to Camp 2 (5850m); stay at Camp 1
- Go to Camp 2 (5850m) to stay
- Carry to White Rocks (Traverse — 6000m); stay at Camp 2
- Go to White Rocks to stay (6000m)
- Summit (with love and to celebrate Valentino)!; sleep at White Rocks
- Descend to Plaza de Mulas (4300m)
- Descend to Los Puquios
- Bus back to Mendoza, celebrate with much wine and steak
We also can build in two days into this schedule (for alternative summit days, for bad weather, for altitude acclimitization, etc.), but we must be back in Mendoza on the 19th. So, there you go….
So… why do it? Why climb uphill for 14 days in a row? Why put our bodies through the damage of high altitude climbing?
Mountaineering is just really walking uphill day after day — trying to stay warm and eat enough calories. But, if you have ever stood on the summit of a mountain, no matter how high, but if you have worked hard to get there…. you know the amazing feeling of the wind and sun on your face and the feeling of accomplishment.
That is what we are hoping for.
So — keep us in your minds and hearts. send us as much go-juice-energy as you can muster!
We will be thinking of you all and doing our best staying safe out there on the mountain! We will be in touch as soon as can.
Much love — aurora
Today was a flurry of activity as Mike, Beth and I shopped for a mule. Yes, a mule. You see when we head up Aconcagua in a week, we will be carrying over two weeks worth of food. Plus all our gear (two tents, two stoves, two pots, -20 degree bag, puffy jackets, long underwear, etc.). So, those packs will be heavy. So, we got ourselves a mule.
The mules bring in your gear (up to 60kg per mule) to the base camp. We are hoping to do what is called the 360 route — which takes us up one side and down the other – and that means our walk in is two days longer than the normal route. So, our mule price is much higher. We are hoping to keep our weight under 60kg and then we can hire just one mule (who comes with a muleteer – who obviously speaks mule). The mule (and muleteer) will walk in with us for the then first three days and then we will be on our own. And how much does one mule cost, you wonder? Well, it is certainly not cheap — it is about $290 for the one way. Then we will arrange for our other mule on our way out (giving us the freedom if we don’t make it up and over the mountain or if we come back earlier/later).
Since this is an expensive trip, we decided to wait until the high season ends for a cheaper permit, which means we decided to wait until Feb. 1 to start our climb. So, what to do in the mean time? Well, we read about another climb –Cerro Plata— that will help prepare us for Aconcagua. It will help because:
1. It is almost 6000m – which helps us acclimate to high altitudes
2. it could be cold – which will help us test our gear
3. we get to test our systems and our team
4. it is short, but not technical – allowing us to get in shape and again, acclimate
So — our plan is this:
head out tomorrow to Cerro Plata, climb and hike for 5 days. Then we will be back here on the evening of the 28th to eat a big meal (we are all about the protein right now!). Then we will have the 29th, 30th and 31st to pull together 16+ days of food, our permit, any gear we need, etc. And then, on to Aconcagua – which is 6962m tall — so it will be a good challenge!
Take care friends — hope to share with you a great summit shot when we get back!
… and motorcycles, buses, rickshaws.
Over the past 4.5 months, i have taken a wide variety of public transportation options. From auto-ricksaws to cycle-rickshaws to motorcycles. Trains are hands-down my favorite. There is nothing like watching the India countryside speed by while sipping a hot cup of chai. But, the buses have been the most varied.
From the first buses that Katherine and I took in Nepal — the microbuses that were hot and crowded. Then we found the public buses that were also hot and crowded, but these had a whole of people on the roofs. My first bus in India tooked like it was on its last wheel and people had to get out each time the bus stalled to push it to pop the clutch. And I could see the ground through the 4-speed gear shaft. And did I mention how comfortable the seats were? Ha. And that was the ‘express’ bus that I got scammed for.
But buses in argentina are a whole new world. I unfortunately do not have any pictures, but let me describe them to you. First off, they are double deckers. Secondly, there are a gazillion companies and various options for travel. Since Beth and I were traveling overnight, we took the ‘cama’ – which is not the most delux, but not the worst, either.
In cama, there are just 3 seats across (two, then aisle, then one). So, the seats are bigger, wider, plush. comfortable. they play movies (mostly american films with spanish subtitles). there is free coffee that you can drink all day. there is a bathroom. they serve you food. I got wine the other night. yeah, this ain’t no greyhound.
Though the buses are expensive, everyone takes them – there is a good mix of Argentines and tourists on the buses. The buses travel all over the country, though it takes awhile. For instance, we traveled from Southern Patagonia up to Mendoza and over the course of 3 days (left at 4 in the afternoon and got to Mendoza around 7:30 two days later) we were on a bus or in a bus station for close to 50 hours! Fairly insane.
Argentina is big, there are a lot of sheep and lots and lots of prickly plants.
A quick note about food….
I cane from the land of amazing food (that land would be india and thailand and vietnam) — so the food here had high expectations to live up to. I am so so so sorry to say that it failed miserably. Argentines eat an amazing amount of bread and meat. With not a whole lot of flavor. The other day, on the bus, we had a total of 5 different bread products. with meat. it definitely leaves a bit to be desired….
next post…. our so very exciting plans for the nest few days! 🙂
Patagonia is sick. There is really nothing else to say about it. But I will.
Big mountains, big glaciers and big winds. Patagonia is just big. Beth and I just got back from a fairly epic 5 day trek that involved lots of route finding, crossing freezing cold streams and a glacier, some high passes with strong winds that almost blew us over, and some life lessons.
Lesson #1: Don’t blindly listen to others.
The second morning of our trek was our first real challenge – crossing the Humel River, which incidentally comes straight from the glacier hanging right above it. To say that it is cold would be an understatement. As you might imagine water coming fresh off of a huge icecube would be. We arrived at the stream early, hoping for the river to be at its lowest. As soon as we arrrived, a man ran over to the bank across from us and told us that there was better crossing below. Instead of scouting the river, we headed downstream as he instructed and tried several times to cross the river. To the point where I was worried about hypothermia. To the point where Beth and I got worried that we would not be able to keep going. The river was high and fast. After hopping around, putting on almost all my upper layers, after frantically trying to rewarm our toes – at that point we finally scouted the river and found a good place to cross. Lesson learned — sure, take advice of others, but also trust what you know.
Lesson #2: Don’t take the easy way out.
On day 3 of our trek, we crossed our second pass. It was a beautiful day and we contoured along the hillside overlooking the Patagonia icefield. The day before we had a rest day at a beautiful lake and did an afternoon hike to a look out over the icefield which was incredibly windy, but incredibly beautiful. In any case, we finally arrived at the top of the pass, found some shelter from the wind and had a snack break. We looked around and figured that the narrow pass through the rocks must be the way down. It seemed that there was a path, there were plenty of other footprints. And even though it got really steep and seemed to be a drainage – we figured we were going the right way. Soon, we realized just how wrong we were.
All of a sudden, the drainage got narrower and steeper. We both expressed concern to each other, but we were still seeing footsteps. And, when we got our permit, the women told us about a very steep section that had a rope to aid with the descent. So, we continued on. When I say steep, I mean — if one of us had taken a fall, death would be certain when you slipped down the screen field and over the cliff into the lake below (but such a great view of the glacier meeting the lake). When the scree slope ended at the cliffs, we realized we needed to turn around, climb back up the 1000 feet we had just come down and look for the right way down. Needless to say, it was tough. Though I am not sure I have ever climbed that fast. we did not take a break until we reached the top and found the real trail.
One of us had said on the way down…. strange that the trail follows a drainage…. yeah. funny, because it is not a trail! trust your instincts!
Lesson #3: Always consult your resources.
On day 5, after camping on the lake in view of the glacier and listening to the glacier break off during the night, we thought we had an easy day in front of us. Ha.
Basically, we had to contour along the shoreline in order to reach the farside of the lake (and yet another river crossing). There were a few problems with this though — one, patagonia is full of prickly plants. And by prickly, i mean sharp thorns. So, frequent thorns and prickly plants were in our pants and hands and trekking poles. We did not talk much – as it was hot and hard work — other than exclamations of pain here and there. And two — the path was hard to follow — we frequently lost it and when we found it, we weren’t sure if that was the path or just a cow trail.
Finally, when we were getting close, we could see the end of the trail — so we started down – figuring we could make it down to the flat ground (we were contouring along a steep slope). We did all this without looking at our map – which would have told us that we did not descend until we reached the river – which was a long ways away…. up and over. So, once again, we had to retrace our steps. Lesson learned — consult your resources if you have them!
Tomorrow Beth and I will visit the glacier Perito Morreno, which is here in El Calafate. From what I hear — it is huge and amazing. i am ready to be awed.
following that day trip (it is about an hour and a half bus ride each way), we will take a 3 hour bus ride to El Chalten to start a trek on wednesday — this will be a 5 day, 4 night trek that brings us up near ice fields with hopefully some amazing glacier views within the Fitz Roy Range. It is supposed to be amazing. Looking over the map today during our planning session, i got so excited for it.
Following our trek, we will do another day trip (or possibly an overnight) but we are constrained by trying to get to Mendoza on the 22nd to meet Mike to prepare for Aconcagua. And, well, it is a 50 hour bus ride to get up there….. so, it takes a bit of planning.
I already know i want to stay in Patagonia a lot longer than I will be here. I will have to decide after Aconcagua whether I will come back or not (but buses here are SUPER expensive… but then again, it is Patagonia… when am i going to come back?). Or maybe just keep heading north to see the rest of the Andes. Who knows.
But what I do know is… I am so excited to see the Andes tomorrow and the Fitz Roy range. I look forward to sharing soon.
Take care friends — aurora
p.s. — if you want to see more (or see all our gear) — here is my friend Beth’s blog: http://wildmountains.wordpress.com/
As I am about to board my VERY VERY (did I mention very?) long flight to south america, I am struck by this transition. This feels big — both from the perspective that it is the half way point of my trip and that it is a big transition in location, and away from Asia.
By the way — did I mention that my flight is long? Yeah — almost 29 hours of flying time, plus just under a 3 hour layover. how is that for long?! I guess I am traveling half way around the world.
So, what is it about this part of the world that I have fallen in love with? I could say that it is the people (which is true) or the food (which is also true), but that is not the full story. In Nepal it was the moutains, along with the people. In India, it was the diversity, the food and the people. In Bangkok and Vietnam, it was how different it was (for me), and the food!
But, that isn’t all of it either. That doesn’t fully explain leaving part of my heart in India and Nepal. Maybe it was how hard you (sometimes) have to work in those places to get your big rewards. Or the contrast of worlds. Or the interplay of spirituality and every day life – and all the messiness that it brings. That there is this dicotomy between simplicity and complexity, and how nothing is one or the either. Maybe it is how much those two countries make me smile (and sometimes make my angry). Whatever it is, it is powerful.
So — away I go – off to another place, another world. Which, I am sure will be amazing and full of greatness — just as all of the world have proven to be for me. But, seeing as I am leaving part of myself here, I will just have to come back some time soon.
See you all in Buenos Aires!