Monthly Archives: August 2014

Refugio Frey

From my good friend Grant Gary I learned that in the mountains behind Bariloche there exists a refugio, or mountain hut, open to all and surrounded by epic backcountry ski terrain.  A quick Google search confirmed its existence and awesomeness.  Called Refugio Frey, the hut is operated by Bariloche’s Club Andino and it even has it’s own Facebook page (check out here).  Even more incredible, I learned that the hut is open year round and operated with a fully stocked kitchen where the refugieros will make you breakfast lunch and dinner and even serve beer and wine, all for a very reasonable price. Of course you can also bring your own food and just pay a small fee for use of the kitchen, or even just camp outside the hut and pay absolutely.   The hut is extremely popular in the summer for trekkers and rock climbers but is also increasingly very popular in the winter as off piste skiing grows in popularity.  At any rate, this sounded like heaven on Earth to me and I knew I would surely pay Refugio Frey a visit while in the Bariloche area.

 

Refugio Frey and beautiful peaks that surround the isolated mountain hut

Refugio Frey and beautiful peaks that surround the isolated mountain hut

 

Originally the plan was for Donna to come along as well.  She was fully prepared with backpack, touring skis and sleeping bag, but, as revealed in her previous post, she made a last minute decision to go to China for intensive, full-immersion Chinese school in order to ensure acing INSEAD’s foreign language requirement exam.   Donna was very disappointed to miss out on a trip to the Frey as her backcountry skills were enhanced and love for ski touring fostered during an adventure last May to the West Fjords of Iceland (see this post for a sneak peak trailer of an eventually-going-be produced video that adventure!) It would have been awesome to share the experience with her, but rest assured she is having a great time in Shanghai!

 

donna bootpacking iceland

Donna bootpacking up an Icelandic snowfield

donna skiing iceland

Donna earned her turns in Iceland. She loves backcountry skiing!

 

After Donna left I did two more days at Cerro Catedral on my own.   The weather forecast kept calling for rain which resulted in me hesitating on hiking into Frey.  The first day at Cerro there were gorgeous clouds both covering Lake Nahuel Huapi below and whisping above the resort. It was clear to me why they named the crown jewel chairlift of Cerro Catedral Nubes, which means clouds in Spanish!  The second day the upper part of the resort, the only part with skiable terrain, was completely enveloped in the cloud and there was basically no visibility; I just did 6 groomer laps on the Nubes chair with my friend Miles and called it day.

 

The view from the top of Nubes chair on a cloudy laden day give credence to its name

The view from the top of Nubes chair on a cloud-laden day give credence to its name

Gorgeous pic, I've been impressed with the quality from my Samsung S5

Gorgeous pic, I’ve been impressed with the quality from my Samsung S5

 

After getting skunked with no visibilty on Friday and having been tricked by the weather forecast again, I decided to hike to the Frey rain or shine the next day.  I packed up my backpack with the “essentials”, which for me is way too much stuff as I still haven’t effectively learned the minimalist approach.  My back paid the price due to an overly heavy pack!  I walked from my hosteleria to the hitchhike spot and got a ride from a local to the ski resort.  I found the trailhead behind the main parking lot and began the 4 hour hike in.  The hike was beautiful and I greatly enjoyed the solitude and being surrounded by nature.

(remember you can click on a photo on the gallery and then browse through the photos in full res!)

 

 

I arrived to a hut that was bustling with activity.  First I met the refugiero, Vasco, who told me to pick my bunk by throwing my sleeping bag on it.  I took a short siesta and came down to socialize.  There was a group of 3 Argentinian men that I shared cheese with who had trekked in and toured the area on snowshoes.  Then I met Luke, a 30-year old American from Atlanta who has been living in San Rafael, Argentina for the last 8 months as he is working to produce a film based on an adaptation of a Daniel Fermani novel. Luke had hiked in with Vincenz, a 24-year old German who is spending the summer snowboarding in South America before he starts a masters program in Stuttgart, Germany.  The two young guys had met each other at a popular Bariloche hostel, although Vincenz would just hang out at the hostel to socialize since he was couch surfing (which means staying for free on a local’s couch! … www.couchsurfing.org  enables this was the genesis of the hugely successful AirBnB company!)  Vincenz and Luke were speaking Spanish to each other, but once I entered the scene the language naturally switched to English.  I wasn’t really happy about this as I should’ve been practicing my Spanish, but my discipline in forcing myself to speak Spanish at all times is rather weak.  It seems English is always the common denominator in mixed groups, which can make it that much harder to learn a foreign language whenever hanging with other foreigners.  After drinking some mate in walksKevin, a 37-year old avalanche forecaster hailing from Jackson Hole who I had met the previous day through I sign I put up at Club Andino in order to find backcountry ski partners.  Kevin had chosen to get to the Frey via the shorter route, which entails going up to the top of the Nubes chair at Cerro Catedral and hiking along the ridges in order to come in the back way.  I had heard this was possible, but you have to be kind of a badass to do it without a guide for your first time; Kevin fit that bill!  That evening I had a huge pizza prepared by Vasco and slept like a baby.

my ghetto note

The ghetto note I put up at Club Andino when I was desperate to find backcountry ski partners. Turns out all I really needed to do was go to the Frey!

The next morning was foggy and we were supposed to have some weather.  By about noon it was lightly snowing!  Since it was Sunday and the next day was a work day, most of the Argentinians cleared out.  Vasco mentioned that we were lucky that there would only be about 6 people in the Frey that night because lately it has been very crowded, including almost 40 people just 2 weeks prior!  By 11am Vincenz, Luke, Kevin and I ventured out to go exploring.  We made it pretty high up, exploring the higher Laguna Schmoll area and had a decent run down. Visibility was bad so there wasn’t much “getting after it” to be done, but the whole time spirits were high as we saw snow accumulate.

 

 

Back at the hut by mid afternoon, I chilled out.  The snow stopped falling and we had a few new arrivals.  First a British couple in late thirties, Thomas and Barbara, arrived.  They have been in South America since about April chasing good rock for climbing and skiing. They showed me pictures of a Sprinter van they bought a few months back in Santiago and had converted into a camper, complete with a wood burning stove!  They’d been living in the van for the past few months while they traveled around; super cool!  You can check their blog out here.  The other arrival was Tsungsu, a 33-year old Taiwanese guy whose been living and working in Germany for the past decade.  I had also run into him a couple of days back at Club Andino in Bairloche and thought he might show up.  We had quiet the eclectic international crew staying in the Frey that evening!

 

Around 4pm the weather cleared a bit and Kevin, Luke and Thomas decided to climb the Principal chute and then skit down.  The rest of us watched as they slowly made their way up the ~1000 foot slope but we couldn’t see the decent as clouds moved back in!  Spirits were good though as we had about 4 inches of new snow and bluebird skies expected the next day.

 

 

We were not disappointed.  The next day I skied 2 couloirs and did a few more runs in the La Piedra Inclinida area, laying down fresh tracks on every run.  I was out all day and came back to the hut around 4pm exhausted.  The photos speak for themselves, but the one bit worth mentioning is that the dust-over-crust snow conditions made for difficult skinning and somehwat treacherous boot-packing.  The skinning conditions were as difficult as the crust just below the soft powder wasn’t conducive to edging so bootpacking was really the only way to get up the 30+ degree couloirs.  I didn’t have crampons so I took my time and followed already laid-down bootpack trails.  Slipping in some areas would’ve been disastrious as the slopes were steep and I had no way to arrest making impact with rocks likely in many areas.  Next time I go into conditions like that I will have crampons and an ice axe for sure!

 

panoramic-1

Panorama looking over the backside of Principal

Panorama from the top of La Piedra Inclinada.  Cerro Toronador is highest peak in the area and visible to the right.

Panorama from the top of La Piedra Inclinada. Cerro Toronador is highest peak in the area and visible to the right.

By the end of the afternoon a bunch of more people showed up, probably because of the good conditions for trekking and the allure of some freshies.  Thankfully we had done our best to track the couloirs out!  Our tight knit group of 7 was suddenly sharing the same space with 20 more people!  The entire operation was run amazingly efficiently as Vasco and another refugiero whipped up enough pizzas and pasta to feed everyone.  Those guys are incredible!  One of the groups that arrived was a guided tour of 6 Americans and Canadians who were accompanied by two pro skiers: Eric Hjorleifson and Chris Rubens.  It was cool hanging out with the two pros, they were very down to earth and I didn’t even realize who they were for awhile as we talked about Argentina, skiing and surfing.  I also played a few games of chess and won my first two, which made me el champeon until the point that Vasco caught wind of my success and challenged me.  He handidly beat me within about 25 moves.  Later in the evening Vincenz had the cool idea of taking some long exposure photos to capture the images of the stars and Milky Way.  During the 30 second exposure one person would run out in front of the camera and pose while someone else would quickly shine a light on them for a few seconds, which made for some cool shots.

 

 

The next day it was time to go.  I probably would’ve stayed an extra night or two, except I had only brought 1000 pesos (or about $75) with me and I was close to that limit on my tab, so I had to leave.  Everyone else in our group had the same vibe, having scored great conditions the previous day and being somewhat put off by the newly arrived crowds.  Luke, Kevin, an Tsungsu decided to exit the “short” way along the ridge but I didn’t want feel like scaring myself with such a heavy back on gnarly Andes ridgelines, so I walked out with Vincenz and a Singaporean girl named Athena who had walked in the previous afternoon.  The hike was actually kind of gnarly with so much ice on the walkway and I again wished for crampons, but managed to navegate with falling.

 

All in the experience was awesome.  Refugio Frey is an amazing place and it is great to know that places like this exist in the world.  To the refugieros who run the hut I send my most sincere respect and good tidings!

 

 

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Categories: Argentina, Bariloche | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Exciting Changes

 

Although Brandon and I had a rough plan drawn together for our year of travels, we were gifted with good news in Bariloche when I learned that INSEAD admitted me into their program beginning January 2015!!

 

insead logo

 

a toast to celebrate

Upon learning the news just after Spanish school on a Friday, Brandon immediately bought a bottle of Champers to celebrate!

 

So what does this mean for the Radical Sabbatical? Some changes. Firstly, the one-year of uninterrupted travel is now 5 months as Brandon and I move to Fontainebleau, France in early January where I start business school. Secondly, I have left Argentina early and I am currently in Shanghai to brush up on my Mandarin in intensive reading/writing/speaking classes for the next three weeks. Brandon will continue to ski and surf his way around South America, hiking to Refugios in Patagonia before making his way to Santiago to see his cousin, Matti and finally the coast of Chile to surf. I expect that we’ll see some amazing photos in his next post!

From there, Brandon and I meet again in mid September in San Francisco for Jess Sawhney and Ganesh’s wedding!! I’m looking forward to celebrating their big day with so many good friends who will all be gathering in the Bay Area. We are also looking forward to seeing many of you in San Francisco during the second half of September!

Next up from will be a post from Shanghai !!!

 

donna cheering in front of centro civico

Heel kicks of happiness in front of Bariloche’s Centro Civico

 

donna cheering in front of lake nahuel huapi

More heel kicks of happiness in front of Lake Nahuel Huapi !!

Categories: Argentina, Bariloche, INSEAD | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Beautiful Bariloche

It’s difficult to know where to begin writing about Bariloche to give the place the description it deserves! My hope is that through the writing and photos in this post, you will all have a good understanding of a few things this amazing place has to offer and that you will one day visit. There’s something for everyone here!

As I write this, Brandon and I have enjoyed just over two weeks in Bariloche, Argentina, which falls in the northern section of Patagonia. We decided to give full immersion Spanish learning a try in Bariloche, signing up for a homestay and Spanish school. We lucked out with our decision – Mara (our homestay mother) welcomed us into her home with open arms. Every morning, we woke up to breathtaking views of Lake Nahuel Huapi from her balcony followed by a light breakfast and every flavor of tea you could imagine. For mate drinkers, there’s no shortage of mate in Argentina. Every night, Mara home-cooked a massive spread of dinner ranging from traditional empanadas and pizzas to Argentinian beef paired with potatoes and Argentinian-styled shepards pie. I will certainly miss her cooking.  Naturally, I befriended Mara’s cat, Poncho, spending many hours relaxing with him at the house. It was a full house. In addition to the two of us and Mara, her two daughters, Belen and Paula were also living there for the ski season which made it a lot of fun for Brandon and me to learn about life in Bariloche. Additionally, Mara is renting another two rooms to Martin, an Argentine who works as a ski instructor, and Gonzalo, who returned to Bariloche from Buenos Aires to work at Cerro Catedral for the South America winter. Nightly dinner discussions ran the gamut from conversations around their healthcare system to the government’s decision two years ago to limit the possession of USD among the Argentinians. On the lighter side, we learned about the history of Cerro Catedral and where to ski. We also learned about Bariloche in the summer: epic mountain bike trails, white water rafting, sailing on Lake Naguel Huapei and accessing hidden beaches, and waterfalls along day-long hikes through the mountains. For nature lovers, it’s breathtaking and all here at your fingertips to enjoy!

Panoramic sunrise captured from the balcony of our home stay: Casa de Mara

Panoramic sunrise captured from the balcony of our home stay: Casa de Mara

View from the dining room. Pancho is a lucky cat and he knows it.

View from the dining room. Pancho is a lucky cat and he knows it.

Brandon in front of our Bariloche homestay: Casa de Mara!

Brandon in front of our Bariloche homestay: Casa de Mara!

Fine wining, dining and conversing in Casa de Mara! We enjoyed a traditional Argentinian Asado (bbq) cooked by Gonzalo!

Fine wining, dining and conversing in Casa de Mara! On this night we enjoyed a traditional Argentinian Asado (bbq) cooked by Gonzalo!

Looking regal and majestic, this is Pancho, the king of Casa de Mara!

Looking regal and majestic, this is Pancho, the king of Casa de Mara!

 

Fireworks on the last day of a SnowFest celebration in Bariloche. The Cathedral is beautifully lit on the right!

Fireworks on the last day of a SnowFest celebration in Bariloche. The Cathedral is beautifully lit on the right!

Sunset from Casa de Mara!

Sunset from Casa de Mara!

More Bariloche sunsets!

More Bariloche sunsets!

Surf-able waves on Lake Naguel Huapei!

Surf-able waves on Lake Naguel Huapei!

 

Brandon and I filled our weekday mornings in an intensive Spanish school at the Academia Bariloche (muchas gracias to Mike Stewart for the recommendation). My Spanish went from hola and gracias to a few full sentences and Brandon’s has improved drastically! Because Brandon was the only intermediate student signed up for the course the last two weeks, he had private lessons with his Professor, Sol (pictured below). For my first week, I had solo lessons with my Professor Fatima before Stefano, an Italian, joined my class the second week. Although Stefano and I had the same number of hours learning Spanish (approximately 15 hours EVER), he picked up the language as if he knew it from a prior life. Clearly because Italian is so similar to Spanish, those speaking Italian can pick up Spanish faster than English speakers! Overall the Spanish school was challenging and I found that I enjoy learning a new languages and I hope to continue to study Spanish over the coming months.

The last day of class was interactive as we played guessing games entirely over Spanish where I overused the phrase, “Como se dice en espanol?” Also on “graduation day,” we learned to make beef empanadas, so when Brandon and I return to SF or visit any of you in your respective cities, we promise to whip up some homemade, piping hot empanadas!

 

Interactive Spanish Learning. Do you know what we are??

Interactive Spanish Learning. Do you know what we are??

Brandon's Spanish teacher, Sol, explaining to him the difference between the Objeto Directo and Objeto Indirecto at Academia Bariloche

Brandon’s Spanish teacher at Academia Bariloche, Sol.

 

Learning to make empanadas with our classmates on the last day of Spanish school!

Learning to make empanadas with our classmates on the last day of Spanish school!

 

A Bariloche post wouldn’t be complete without discussing the massive quantities of beer that this town produces!  When we decided to come to Bariloche it was primarily because we wanted to check out northern Patagonia and do some skiing.  Unbeknown to us, Bariloche also happens to be a beer connoissuer’s heaven, which certainly made Brandon very happy.  In the Bariloche area there are no less than 20 ceverzerias.  Here, being a ceverzeria means that you make your own beer, which is kind of like a micro-brew in California, except the beer they make here they call “artesenal” and it is basically homebrew.  Each of the ceverzerias makes an assortment of different beers, with negros (black Stouts and Porters), ales (pale ale, IPA, blondes), and rubias (reds, Scottish) being the most popular.  Brandon has tried about 30 different kinds of beers so far like he is on some kind of crusade to try them all.  Also, for us the beer is cheap!  Everyplace has happy hours that begin around 6pm and go until about 9pm and you can get pints for $2.  So awesome!

A colorful assortment of Patagonia Cervezas!

A colorful assortment of Patagonia Cervezas!

Brandon enjoying a Cerveza at one of our favorite Cervezaria's in town, Manush. Beer flows like water in this town (and costs just as much)!

Brandon enjoying a Cerveza at one of our favorite Cervezaria’s in town, Manush. Beer flows like water in this town (and costs just as much)!

Cervezaria Manush

Cervezaria Manush

Brandon having (another) Cerveza on the coast of Lake Nahuel Huapi.

Brandon having (another) Cerveza

Finally, one last fun activity that filled an afternoon was biking El Circuito.  This was about a 25km ride that loops around the western part of Bariloche, half of which is a protected, undeveloped forest.  The glacier carved land here is rather with frequent ups and downs which made the ride a tad harder than perhaps we expected.  During the ride we visited the famous Loao Loao hotel, made frequent stops to “take it all in”, found Lago Escondida (Hidden Lake), and were able to get a real feel for the land.  I think I originally thought that everything would be too cold and snowy for biking here in Bariloche, but the lake is only about 1500 feet in elevation and so even in the winter it has proven warm and nice enough to go biking.  I love Bariloche!

 

Taking in the beautiful views from our cycling tour

Taking in the beautiful views from our cycling tour

Brandon taking in the Bariloche landscape

Brandon taking in the Bariloche landscape

Biking!

Taking a panoramic break along El Circuto.

View from the top of our bike ride... and I thought SF was hilly...

View from the top of our bike ride… and I thought SF was hilly…

Categories: Argentina, Bariloche | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Skiing at Cerro Catedral

Donna looks up at me near the top of Nubes with gorgeous Lake Nahuel Huapi in the background.

Donna looks up at me near the top of Nubes with gorgeous Lake Nahuel Huapi in the background.

There are two reasons you need to come to Bariloche, Argentina and a 3rd reason why you need to come right now.  The first is that Bariloche is an epic beer town.  More on that to come in a different post, but suffice to say, there are over 20 cervezerias that each make their own assortment of “artesenal” homebrews.  You could literally drink a new beer here everyday of the year, it’s awesome.  The second reason is what this post is all about: Cerro Catedral is a big, bad-ass ski mountain, with over 2,800 acres of terrain and easily accessible off piste terrain if you’re willing to hike or skin a little.  Finally, the reason you need to come right now is that Argentina’s economic woes mean your dollar is stronger (and more needed here) than ever; see this article for more info for why you can get 35% more for your dollar if your bring Benjamin’s down here and exchange them at the so-called “blue rate”.

Cerro Catedral is the reason most people make the trek to Bariloche in the winter months.  It’s pretty much the Aspen of South America, which means its a big ski destination but with its own quirks and a distinctively Latin flair.  One of the oddest quirks is that it is a right of passage for graduating high school students from around Argentina and even Brasil to come to Bariloche for a spring-break-esque week of drinking and partying along with a stop at Cerro Catedral for a taste of skiing.  You can tell the estudiantes because they rove in large packs around town or at the mountain all wearing the same jacket so the supervisors can keep track of them.  Our friends Belen and Martin are ski instructors and detest the influx of obnoxious teenage partiers, mainly because teaching them to ski really sucks.  I guess the only bright side to their presence is that they bring lots of money to the town.  It’s like Bariloche is the equivalent of Cancun for Argentinians.

Large groups of Argentinian students roam Bariloche and the mountain on their right-of-passage bing-drinking trip upon graduation

Large groups of Argentinian students roam Bariloche and the mountain on their right-of-passage bing-drinking trip upon graduation

The most notable bit of Latin flair is that the lift lines are a kind of organized chaos.  Unlike in the US, where line separators keep things organized and groups of people take turns when merging, here it is just a huge free for all.  Get used to getting your skis or board stepped on and having to be a little aggressive at times to keep your place!  Another nuance is that trails aren’t really well marked, unlike in the US where everything is mapped out perfectly.  I guess in both these senses, the resort “feels” more European.

Lift line choas

Lift lines in South America are chaotic. You’d better be somewhat aggressive!

 

The other thing about Cerro is that it often closes lifts and sometimes almost the entire mountain due to high winds.  This is Patagonia and it is windy here.  The lift technology is, well, generally less awesome than the Doppelmayer high-speeders that you see everywhere at a place like Vail, and the mountain has had lift issues in the past so for safety’s sake they just close things down if there is too much wind.  If you’ve bought a ticket, too bad.  You need to watch weather forecasts closely to ensure you don’t get skunked.

The setup in Bariloche and Cerro Catedral is very Tahoe-ish.  There is a big gorgeous lake and a ski resort with picturesque views of said lake.  Like in Tahoe, the hope is always that the weather will stay cold enough for snow to fall instead of rain when precipitation comes, so it is ever important where what the freeze altitude will be.   Also like in Tahoe, all too often the freeze altitude is too high and you get rain on the mountain where you want to it to be snowing.  Unlike Tahoe, the town of Bariloche is pretty low at an altitude 900m (3000 feet), so it is rare to see town covered in snow.  The base of Catedral is at 1150m, mid-mountain is at 1650m and the top gets up to about 2100m, which is lower than the highest Tahoe resorts.  One shouldn’t be too scared by the initial view from the first chairlift from the bottom of the base, there is snow up top!

 

This is Patagonia and bone dry at the bottom is common.

This is Patagonia and bone dry at the bottom is common.

The conditions for our first day of skiing were great.  We skied on a Sunday and 2 weeks prior had seen about 6 feet of snowfall at the highest elevations.  The previous week while we were in Spanish school there were some epic days (read here) with even more new snow and then on Saturday night it snowed some more so there was a nice layer of about 6-8 inches of pulvo (powder) up top.  Donna and I woke up early and Canzalo, a housemate at Mara’s place, showed us how to take the collectivo to the mountain.

Speaking of the collectivo warrants a small side discussion about the difficulties getting to Cerro Catedral from town to ski.  First off, there isn’t a whole lot of accommodations at the base of the mountain so unless you’re willing to pay more well over $200 a night you won’t be ski-in / ski-out. Donna and I are on a budget, so that isn’t an option.  The real issue is that the mountain is a good 18 km from Bariloche proper and isolated at the end of a 10 km road, so you need to drive there.  So ideally you rent a car, but that’s at least 60 USD per day, so again not the best option for the budget traveler.  That leaves 2 remaining options: the collectivo or hitchhiking.  The collectivo is great, but only 1 per hour runs and it gets super crowded, so unless you are at the beginning of the line (as Mara’s house is) then it may just blow by you if its full.  Hitchhiking also works and the spot to get picked up is at the beginning of the 10 km road.  We did that on our second day of skiing.  It is great to see that hitchhiking still works; it has a bad rep in the USand its a shame that a few bad seeds can destroy such an amicable and useful way of getting around; but in places like Argentina has less of a stigma and that’s great because otherwise I don’t know what we would’ve done!  Getting back to town from the mountain can be just as tricky, but there is one big collectivo line and we had more luck taking the collectivo back to town.  Finally, given that it is a big pain in the butt to ride a crowded bus or hitchhike with skis, poles and boots, it is worth mentioning that many people pay ~$6 / day to leave their gear in lockers at the mountain.  There are tons of lockers and this is a smart play if you are doing multiple days in a row without a car.

So Donna and I arrive early on our first day and have no problem getting tickets.  The mountain didn’t feel that crowded and we were up on some runs by about 9:30am!  The snow was great and it was bluebird… what more could one ask for!  We spent the first half of the day cruising around.  The view from the top of Nubes chair is breathtaking.  In the mid-afternoon we put on our skins and headed to the off piste area known as La Laguna.  There were guys throwing some big hucks back there that day the terrain was unreal, unlike anything I’ve seen so easily accessible from a resort except for at Revelstoke in Bristish Colombia.  We explored the area and then finished our day with a hot chocolate at a mid-mountain lodge before heading back down to the base via the gondola. 

Below is a gallery of pics from the first day.  Click the first pic and then you can browse through the remaining pics in full screen.

 

Over the following week it got significantly warm (40s at mid-mountain!) and there were also a couple of days when the mountain was altogether closed due to high winds.  We were in Spanish school, so it didn’t really affect us, though, but we hoped to be able to ski again that weekend.  The mountain ended up being closed both Saturday and Sunday, but Monday had gorgeous weather and so we hit it again.  At this point we had left Mara’s and were staying near to the beginning of the 10 km road, so we hitchhiked up with our gear, thanks to the nice Brazilian dude who picked us up.  We got to the mountain a little late, at like 10:30am, and did not not anticipate how fricken’ crowded it would be.  Apparently that Monday was an Argentine holiday and combined with the mountain being closed all weekend, there were lots of hungry skiers.  Additionally it was WARM and the mountain looked significantly more barren thanks to melting over the previous week.  It was a total spring condition day, so being late wasn’t actually that bad since the snow softened up nicely for us by the time we got our first run in around noon.  Yes, it took 1.5 hours to get to our first run after arriving as the line to buy lift tickets was 45 minutes and then the base to mid-mountain chair line (pictured at the beginning of this post) was another 45 minutes.  But we had a great day nonetheless, cruising the mountain and getting nice turns on the non-icy northwestern aspects.

At the end of the day we headed to the Catedral Apres-Ski, which is more like a club.  They literally shut out the light with huge drapes and rage like its a 3am discoteca in Buenos Aires from 5-8pm.  Pretty hilarious, really.

Gallery from Day 2 at Cerro Catedral is below.

 

Also here is quick GoPro edit of some skiing / boarding action from Day 2.

 

 

Next up I look forward to getting more into the backcountry, as there is seemingly limitless terrain to explore and lots of like-minded ski tourers to join in the fun!

 

 

Categories: Argentina, Bariloche | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Cerro Campanario photo day

Hello from Bariloche!  Donna have been here for about a week and a half now and we have a lot to write about, but just haven’t gotten around to a creating a detailed post about our Spanish school, the homestay and the beautiful city of Bariloche that we’ve been exploring.  However, in order to not leave everyone hanging, I am putting up this quick photo-post of our day today — Tuesday, August 12.

A brief rundown of the day is as follows.  My Spanish lesson ended an hour earlier than Donna’s since I am the only intermediate student in the school and therefore they are 1-on-1, so I walked around town for about half an hour and took a few pics of the Civic Center area and Lake Nahuel Huapi.  Once Donna was released we had lunch at a restaurant with a gorgeous view of the lake.  Then we caught a collectivo over to  Cerro Campanario, which is a small mountain (more of a hill, really, by the standards of Patagonia) with a stunning view of the many “finger lakes” that extend in and around the area.  We hiked up to see this spot that is revered to be one of the 5 best vistas in the world. I think the below pictures do that at least a little bit of justice!

After that we headed back to Bariloche and eventually back to la casa de Mara, where we’ve been staying since we arrived two Sundays ago.  More to come…

CLICK ON THE BELOW PHOTOS TO BRING UP A SLIDESHOW GALLERY WITH BIGGER VERSIONS!

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Buenos Aires Part 1

 

Buenos Aires enjoys its long afternoon breaks over coffee and good company

After a long journey from San Francisco to Argentina, Brandon and I were very excited to have arrived in Buenos Aires on July 31st to begin our travels! The moment we landed, we booked an airbnb in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires where we dropped our bags and immediately crashed for 12 hours. Sleep had never felt so good.

Once we were well rested, it was time to tour the city and enjoy traditional Argentinian meals. Of course, before we could do anything, we needed to exchange USD for pesos. Heeding advice from our friend, Grant, who recently planned to visit Argentina and had learned the ropes while in Chile, we brought with us crisp, sequential $100 bills to exchange for pesos. Because of the capital controls in place in Argentina and the government’s control of the exchange rate, we learned we could find a better rate in the “black market” for pesos in the city.  However, first we had to use Brandon’s debit card to get only a small amount pesos from an ATM at the airport so we could catch a cab into the city.  The exchange rate at the ATM was a paltry 8 pesos per $1.  We quickly learned that Argentina is desperate for USDs as its own currency continues to lose value (nearly) by day, and because the Argentinian government makes it incredibly difficult for the Argentine’s to retrieve USD from their banks. Not to mention, Argentina was in the midst of a default against the US, which literally happened the day we arrived! This meant that in the black market, we were able to achieve a more favorable exchange rate of 12 pesos to 1 USD. In reality, Argentinians consider this so-called “blue rate” the true exchange rate.

With pesos in hand, we first toured around the Palermo District and had lunch near our place. Wow is the food good in Buenos Aires – from vegetarian dishes to steak and chorizo options, you cannot go wrong in this city. After lunch, we walked towards the downtown area of BA and came upon city bikes, which we learned were free for both the locals and for tourists. By simply bringing a copy of our passports to any city bike rental station, we were able to use the bikes for an hour at a time. We took advantage, riding around what is considered their Central Park, taking in the city around us.

That night, we met up with Josh Kazdin’s cousin, Agustin, who is very plugged into the Buenos Aires scene. Agustin brought us to the fun, trendy Las Cañitas area to have drinks at 2am. There he gave us the download on BA living, sharing the traditional nightly schedule to prepare us for the following evening:

8pm-10pm: nap
11pm-1am: dinner
1am-3am: bar,
3am-6am: disco-tech

This was a typical night in Buenos Aires?? Even my years in NYC just after graduation didn’t yield nights past 4am! My blood sugar levels fell just listening to his proposed schedule for Saturday night, but we followed his expert suggestions, and it turns out that Agustin was spot on. Brandon and I kicked off our night at Don Julio’s Argentinian steakhouse at 11pm, following an awesome recommendation from Todd Evans.  Then we meet up with Agustin for a drink at 1am. Finally at 2:30am we found ourselves in front of the first disco-tech, The Rose Bar. The dance floor was empty inside. Augustin explained that most people won’t start showing up until after 3am… and again, he was right. We switched to another disco-tech, Keki, which was going CRAZY at 4am as if the party had just begun! We had a great time thanks to Agustin who showed us the best of the Argentinian nightlife.

At Keki's in Buenos Aires with Agustin, our gracious host to the Argentinian nightlife

At Keki’s in Buenos Aires with Agustin, our gracious host to the Argentinian nightlife

On Sunday morning we slept in and recovered from the previous late night.  We would’ve slept in later than 11am for sure, but we had to check out of our room since that afternoon we had to catch a plane to Bariloche.  We spent the early part of the afternoon at a cafe and having lunch and then we caught a taxi to the airport and caught our plane to Patagonia…

 

 

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Lessons Learned in Traveling Internationally

Donna and I didn’t initially plan on more than a layover in Buenos Aires on our way to Bariloche to begin our travels, but sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and this time the flow brought us directly to Argentina.  We knew that we needed to be in Bariloche, Argentina, by August 4th to begin our Spanish language school, so originally we decided that we’d head to Rio de Janeiro for about 4 days of R&R in a warm climate with white sand beaches before catching a flight on August 3rd through Buenos Aires to Bariloche.  The allure of seeing Brazil, even if only for a long weekend, was too much to resist!  With this in mind, we flew on Tuesday, July 29th, to Houston, Texas.

 

Why Houston?  Well, it all has to do with the great perk that Donna and I get to enjoy courtesy of Donna’s father.  Harold works for United Airlines and therefore is able to confer on Donna and myself the ability to fly United on “stand-by”, which means that if the plane is not full, then we can get on for usually about ⅓ the price. ( thanks Harold!!! )  Thusly, on Wednesday Donna and I leave our cheap motel and drive to the Woodlands to have lunch with Donna’s uncle James. It is my first time meeting James and I come away with the clear impression that James is one “cool Uncle,” just like my own Uncle, Terry.  At the end of our meeting, James reminds me to “take care of the special cargo” and I assure him that of course my number one priority is to make sure Donna stays safe!  Then Donna and I spend the remainder of the day planning our stay in Brazil at an air conditioned mall where we find relief from the hot and humid Houston weather.  The planning includes myself eagerly booking an AirBnB in the trendy, beachside Leglon district of Rio, where I learn from our good friend, Dan Landers, that we can walk to the beach in minutes and I can surf.  I also purchase the flight from Rio to Bariloche that we’d need that Sunday in order to get to our more permanent destination.  Once the time comes, we take the rental car back to George Bush Sr. International and attempt to check into our flight to Rio…

 

And that is when we learn one very important lesson: always check a country’s visa regulations a few weeks before attempting to catch a flight to a new country!  As usual we are running tight on time, but we made it with all of our luggage to the counter with just over an hour to spare before takeoff. We attempt to check in.  I scan my passport and then a box pops up on the check-in screen saying “visa required: show attendant.”  “What visa?”, I ask the attendant.  “Oh, you don’t have a visa,” she replies, “well you need a visa to go to Brasil… I don’t think you’ll be going today!”  Wow.  Big lesson learned!  I realize now that as an American citizen I enjoy a luxury that is not the norm for most countries, which is the ability to obtain a visa in most countries upon entry.  I have gotten an “official” visa before a trip once before, but this was only because I went to Indonesia a few years back with the intention of staying for more than a month.  Other than that, for all of the dozen or more countries I’ve been to, I’ve just gingerly showed up passport in hand, sometimes paid a nominal fee, and been granted access with a stamp or occasionally a nice visa-looking sticker in my passport.  Brazil, however, has a reciprocity policy that it will require an official visa for citizens of any country that requires an official visa for Brazilian citizens: hence because the United States requires a visa for Brazilians to enter the US, Donna and I would need official visas to go to Rio and obviously we did not have them.  There is no way to get these visas rushed and normally you’d want to go through the process at least 2 weeks before a trip, so we were pretty much out of luck.  And so we quickly developed a plan B…

 

Fortunately for us at the same time that the Rio flight left there was another flight departing for Buenos Aires.  Since we were flying standby it wasn’t 100% guaranteed that we’d get on, but the awesomely helpful United attendant thought that we’d have a chance, so she checked our bags into that flight and printed us some tickets.  This attendant was so awesome that she also allowed us to use their back-room computer to pay the $160 “reciprocity fee” that Argentina requires all citizens of the US, Australia and Canada to pay in order to enter Argentina.  The fee does not go towards the cost of a visa since US citizens don’t need a visa to enter Argentina, but is levied because the US charges Argentinians $160 for a visa.  I am starting to get it now… here in South America, countries like to be treated equitably as those from the US!  Anyway, after paying the fee we hurried to the gate and were told that the Buenos Aires flight was over-booked and we probably weren’t going to make it onto the plane.  @##@@#@ , at this point, after well over 24 hours of traveling and one major setback, I was bummed and frustrated to hear this, but just before the gate closed we got called into 2 seats next to each other, apparently because some other couple had missed a connection and weren’t going to make the flight.  And just like that we were off to start our adventure in Buenos Aires!

 

Categories: Argentina, Brasil | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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