Wednesday, December 1, 2010

to the south and back

Argentina just gets more amazing everyday. I knew even before I left that this trip would be hard to put into words once I got back, I just didn't realize how near impossible it would be for me to summarize the highlights.... mainly because I didn't think just about every point would be a high for me. The truth is, however, that when you take 80 outgoing, energetic, adventurous people from all over the world and put them on a bus to travel throughout gorgeous Patagonia for three weeks, you can't expect anything but a good time.

We arrived in Córdoba mid-morning on Tuesday the 9th and we spent the first couple hours in a shopping mall in the city getting to know each other. About a fourth of the crew I had already met during our weekend at Iguazu Falls, and since in the exchange-student world a weekend is all the time you need to become best friends, it was fun to reunite with so many of them. A few hours (and my first McDonalds experience in Argentina) later, we were loaded up on busses and headed for our first stop: Puerto Madryn.

Puerto Madryn
Though the drive was a long one (1,500 km!), time passes quickly when you're playing games or watching movies or turning the bus into a make-shaft disco and getting to know people from all over the world... and the final destination was well worth spending a night on the bus. We took advantage of a chance to stretch our legs immediately after arriving and spent the evening exploring the coastline, grabbing a bite to eat at a corner cafe, doing an already much-needed YouTube abs workout to try to battle our alfajore intake, and enjoying some quality girl-talk as we fell asleep (okay, crashed) in our rooms. 

The next morning we were up bright and early at 5:20am with an incredible day of sights ahead of us. Our first stop was at Puerto Pirámides. Here, we piled out of the busses, strapped on some lovely orange life jackets, and boarded the boats to go whale watching. Admittedly, I thought we were just in store for a nice boat ride and pretty view of the coast, with the chance of seeing a whale or two in the distance... but just a few minutes out on the water and we were snapping our cameras like crazy at whales not more than 10 meters away. Before heading back home, we stopped at Caleta Valdés where we saw one of the world's largest colonies of adorable, chubby sea elephants laying out in the sun. Back in Puerto Madryn that night, a group of us decided to get a game of ultimate frisbee going down on the beach, and once we realized that it was far too windy, we improvised and our game of frisbee turned into a two hour game of beach-rugby and one of my favorite nights of the trip. It was the perfect way to cap off our stay at Puerto Madryn before heading further south to El Calafate!

El Calafate
After another nightlong road trip (highlighted with satisfying my craving for microwave popcorn and stopping at a penguin colony!) we arrived in El Calafate, Argentina. Of all the amazing cities we stayed in throughout the trip, El Calafate ranked way up there. The clear touristic highlight of the trip was spending a day at the Perito Moreno glacier- the only growing inland glacier on earth. We took a million pictures of the glacier and the Cerro Fitz Roy mountain peaks from our cruise boat and from land, where we could really get a good view of the calving. Call me a sucker for the simple stuff- but as amazing as this day was, it was equally matched by the ways we spent our free time: tanning and playing frisbee at the base of the Andes, grazing through the souvenir shops and local art fairs, and making an "American breakfast" of french toast, scrambled eggs and bacon in our cabin.

 From El Calafate, we took off for EL FIN DEL MUNDO, Ushuaia!
I know I just said El Calafate ranked way up there, but I think hanging out in the Southern-most city in the world took the cake. If you look on a map, you'll see that the very tip of Argentina is actually not connected to the rest of the country, meaning that you have to drive through Chile in order to get to Ushuaia (more importantly, meaning more stamps to our passports and adding dolphins to our list of spotted wildlife!).

Though we didn't arrive in Ushuaia till late at night, it's far enough south that the sun was just setting behind the mountains and we got a perfect view of the city and harbor below lit up like a little Christmas village.
Our schedule for down in Ushuaia was really relaxed and open, with a few trips around the city or to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, allowing us lots of time to explore on our own and use the phrase "we're at the end of the world, why not?" as much as possible.

Lake District: Esquel, Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes

Before I knew it we were packing up our suitcases and heading off to the next stop. The drive from Ushuaia to Argentina's lake district is a long one, but almost two days, over 2000km, and about a dozen games of truth or dare later... we arrived.

Throughout the next five days, we traveled between Esquel, Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes. I don't know (or know if I want to know) how many pictures of the mountains and lakes I took- but every turn our bus took around the winding roads gave us a view that topped the last in sheer beauty. We went to National Parks, a chocolate factory, walked up and down the streets window shopping, and my personal favorite: swimming at the base of the Andes. 

The other exchange students on the trip were incredible and I feel like I've known some of them for years instead of just a few weeks. I met people from every background who, after this year, are going to head out in every direction.. but for this trip, we were all together to have a good time and see a little more of this awesome country. And it was better than I ever even imagined. 

ps- I've loaded all my pictures from this blog and a few more onto another tab titled (creatively) "photos"


Sam Estenson said...

yuuuuuusssss!!! So good mia

Barb Westre said...

egads (is that a word?)
Mia...your blog is so exciting and I can hear your voice in every word you write. Keep us posted on your adventures and we look forward to the final slide show and journal when you return! Love you! Uncle Brad and Aunt Barb said...

WOW, that sounds like it was incredible.

Samantha Weaver said...

felicidades amore mia! parece que ya hayas disfrutado de todo.... y ahora puedes volver a vernos! :) o no :) cuidate linda

Rachel said...

Wow!! Sounds like an adventure well enjoyed, documented, and shared! Keep enjoying:)