Author Archives: Brandon

About Brandon

I like to surf and sail and explore the world!

Welcome to Chile

Have some down time (read: surf isn’t good today) and thought I’d share a post about my leaving Bariloche and heading to Chile.


After hiking back to reality from Frey everyone was down for what Argentina does best: a big steak cooked at a Parilla.  If you are in Bariloche then the go-to spot for a charred hunk of meat is El Boliche “de Alberto”.  The entire crew ate dinner there and followed it up with a few beers.


A must stop in Parilla experience in Bariloche

A must stop in Parilla experience in Bariloche

The complete crew together at Alberto's.  Tsungsu, myself, Luke, Kevi, Tom, Barbara and Vincenz

The complete crew together at Alberto’s. Tsungsu, myself, Luke, Kevi, Tom, Barbara and Vincenz


The next day I had just one goal, to buy a bus ticket.  My plan was to head to Osorno, Chile and along the journey decide if I wanted to head to Nevados de Chillán for more snow chasing at the mountain in South America that consistently receives the most snowfall (it’s like the Mount Baker of the Andes) or if I should head to Reñaca where my cousin Matti lives.  The economic turmoil in Argentina leads to frequent strikes one of which was scheduled by bus drivers for the next 2 days, but the Chilean companies were still operating, so I was good to go.  That evening I relaxed at my hotel, La Luna, and reflected on what an awesome time I had in Bariloche, meeting amazing people and taking in the sights at such a gorgeous place.  I have no doubt that I will one day return to Bariloche!

The hosteleria & cervezeria La Luna, where I stayed for over a week

The hosteleria & cervezeria La Luna, where I stayed for over a week

The view from the hotel room after returning from Frey

The view from the hotel room after returning from Frey

Lake Nahuel Huapi

A serene view of Lake Nahuel Huapi from the bus stop by La Luna


One thing I have to say about buses in Argentina & Chile: they are awesome.  Obviously buses are slower than flying, which for an American spending their 2 weeks-a-year vacation in South America makes them a poor choice, but the plus side is they are cheap and really comfortable and perfect for someone where time is less of the essence.  I spent just over $20 to get to Osorno and during the ride made the decision to head to Viña and meet up with Matti instead of journeying to Chillán via 3 more bus rides.  This seemed to me a more simple and relaxing plan, plus I’d get to spend more time with Matti.  My subsequent bus ticket to Viña de Mar was a whooping $37 for a cama seat (cama means bed and implies the seat fully reclines).  Of course the entire journey took about 24 hours including a 8 hour “layover” in Osorno, but the price was right!


welcome to chile-8

Monster buses are comfortable and cheap for getting around South America



One other tidbit about travelling internationally that is a relatively new development and worth mentioning is how easy modern cell phones enable connecting with people and finding your way around a foreign nation.  Before leaving on my trip I bought a Samsung Galaxy S5 unlocked phone.  That it is unlocked is key because it enables me to go to new countries and just plug in inexpensive pre-paid SIM cards, which gives me a local cell phone number and data access!  Having a local number is more convenient and way, way cheaper than dealing with international roaming.  Firstly, people in the country you’re visiting can text and call you with no problem whereas they won’t make an international call to your US number.  Secondly, its much, much cheaper: in Argentina I spent a total of about $20 for the entire month and with no problems was able to use 10MB per day of data.  I made calls to hotels and sent texts to people I’d met.  The first stop Donna and I made in Argentina was to the cell phone store and once I got to Osorno I ditched my Argentina SIM card and bought a Chilean SIM and plan for $10 so now I had a Chilean number and 200MB of data to use for the next 15 days!  The convenience is amazing — I’ve been using Google Maps to get directions and pinpoint my location while on the road, I’ve sent texts with locals to meet up at surf destinations, and I’ve been in constant communication via WhatsApp with Donna (in Shanghai) and Matti.  Also the coverage, especially for data, has been surprisingly good and speedy throughout all the places I’ve been so far.  Furthermore, international calling is no problem anyplace with halfway decent Wi-Fi, just use Skype and pay nothing to call other Skypers and about like $0.02/minute to call normal phone numbers anywhere in the world. All of this would have not been easily possible 8 years ago when I was last backpacking around the world and it is a development I really like!


The journey was uneventful.  I spent my layover in Osorno getting my Chilean phone number and then in typical digital nomad style: relaxing at a coffee shop with Wi-Fi and outlets.  Before I knew it 24 hours had past and I was getting picked up at the bus station on Friday morning in Viña del Mar by Matti and Berner.


Matti, Berner and myself

Matti, Berner and myself


This was my first time meeting Berner, Matti’s husband of ~3 months, and my first time seeing her new life in Chile.  For those of you who don’t know, Matti is my first cousin on my dad’s side (daughter of my dad’s sister Anneleis) and she is Dutch, having lived in Utrecht for most of her life.  Matti met Berner about a year and a half ago because they both worked at the same restaurant in Holland as chefs.  Yes, they both cook awesomely well and I’ve been eating like a king since arriving here!  Berner is culturally Dutch and has lived in Holland his entire life, but both of his parents are from Chile and much of his extended family lives here in Reñaca.  Shortly before starting to date Matti, Berner and his brother Mattías, who like Berner had lived in Holland his entire life, took the opportunity to buy into a family-owned restaurant in Reñaca called Delirio.  Reñaca is an upscale, beachside, tourist town just adjacent to Viña del Mar, which is just adjacent to the larger port city of Valparaíso, which is about an hour or so from Santiago.  The landscape in Reñaca reminds me of southern California, with green hills dotted with condos and homes and a nice whitesand beach with good surf.   Upon buying into the restaurant, Berner first moved to Chile and then Matti followed him about 3 months later and within a year and after some visa issues, they got married.


Renaca has the look and feel of a SoCal town like Laguna Beach.

Renaca has the look and feel of a SoCal town like Laguna Beach.

The view from Matti's apartment balcony.

The view from Matti’s apartment balcony.

There is a good surf spot at the north end of La Playa Renaca.

There is a good surf spot at the north end of La Playa Renaca.

This is the restaurant that Berner and his brother Mattias bought into and are now running.

This is the restaurant that Berner and his brother Mattias bought into and are now running.

Matti has adjusted quickly to Chile within the 7 months she’s been and here and her Spanish is already way better than mine.  Since getting a job seemed out of the question (restaurant worker jobs pay very little in Chile), Matti and Berner decided to open a to-go sandwicheria right next door to Delirio.  They are calling the place “Matti”, which I think is a good name as it lends personality shop and is easy for Chileans to pronounce.  The plan is to sell sell a variety of high-quality lunch items and dessert items to the affluent and increasingly health conscious local populace.  Matti noted to me that these kinds of establishments are already sprouting up in Santiago, so she is extrapolating the trend to the Reñaca and expecting that there will be demand for high quality foods amongst the tourist, well-to-do residents, and blue collar workers of Reñaca.  The sandwicheria is not ready for business yet and both Matti and Berner have been working everyday to finish the remodel and they plan to open the doors by mid-September (right around when I leave, bummer!)  I’ve had the tasty job of helping Matti test some of the new dulces (desserts) that she is going to sell at the new restaurant.  Luckily I’ve been completely able to self-entertain while they work, exploring the coast for good waves!  I find it very admirable what they are doing; I hope to one day be an entrepreneur and build something from scratch, and here is my younger cousin, taking a huge risk moving to a foreign country where she doesn’t even speak the language and starting her own business.  I wish her and Berner the best of success and from what I can tell they will find it!


The new spot

Matti showing me the inside of her sandwicheria, Matti


They used salvaged wood for one wall in there shop and here Matti is cleaning it before applying a finish.

They used salvaged wood for one wall in there shop and here Matti is cleaning it before applying a finish.

Berner painting the outside of Matti

Berner painting the outside of Matti

Matti whipping up desserts for testing purposes. I was stoked to be a taster!

Matti whipping up desserts for testing purposes. I was stoked to be a taster!

Chile is a long country, measuring about 2,600 miles from north to south but averaging only about 110 miles wide.  The Andes rip through the entirety of the eastern portion of the country so skiing is good and of course that long coastline is rife with surf opportunities.  The buses are great, but if you want to surf a variety of waves you pretty much have to have car.  Thus I knew I needed to rent something and obtaining a suitable vehicle for surf & snow strikes was priority #1 for me upon getting settled in Reñaca.  Luckily for me, Berner was able to dial in a local rental company which offered up a 4×4 for the great price of $23 per day.  The downside is lowsey gas mileage of about 17 mpg and with gas prices ~$8 per gallon, it will be expensive to keep her going.  You win some, you lose some.  At any rate, I’m glad to have the 4×4, you know, just-in-case…


This is my whip in Chile.  Not bad for $23 per day!

This is my whip in Chile. Not bad for $23 per day!

A view towards the north and Renaca from central Vina del Mar.

A view towards the north and Renaca from central Vina del Mar.


One evening Matti and I headed to Valparaíso to get a have a nice dinner.  I knew nothing about the city, but we landed in a pretty cool neighborhood called Cerro Alegro.  Valparaíso is a city of hills and this particular hill had a very Bohemian feel to it, a destination for artists with many shops selling artwork and a number of cute restaurants all connected via a maze of cobblestone streets.  Matti and I got lost for a bit walking around in the labyrinth of cobbled alleys decorated with colorful murals.  The food was only so-so; Chile is simply does not compare to neighbor Argentina in the culinary arts.


Cerro Alegro

Valparaiso is a city of hills. This is the view north from Cerro Alegro.


This was a particularly cool alleyway staircase in the labyrinth of Valparaiso


I’ve spent the last week or so driving around in the Jeep and getting familiar with the coast surrounding Reñaca.  The weather has been pretty poor since I’ve arrived, with only the first two days I was here being sunny and the rest being cloudy with off and on rain showers.  It has rained at some point everyday for the past 5 days but still the surfing has been fun.  I’ve found some good waves and I am learning what wind and swell conditions mean for the different spots, all good information that enters the surf database I maintain in my head that will come in handy every time I come to Reñaca.  I’ll save the pics and details of what I’ve found surf-wise for another post…


The more typical weather during the bulk of my stay in Renaca thus far.

The more typical weather during the bulk of my stay in Renaca thus far.

We took a roadtrip to a small seaside village called Quintay south of Vina del Mar where scuba diving is a common activity.

We took a roadtrip to a small seaside village called Quintay south of Vina del Mar where scuba diving is a common activity.

Two nights ago (as I write this on the morning of Friday, September 5) was the 3-year party for Delirio.  What was noteworthy for me was the many compliments I received on my functional Spanish.  I’m definitely very gringo when I speak, but as I was meeting many friends of the family of Berner I was completely able to having meaningful conversations.  It felt good!  Also it was great to meet the many new people who make up my new extended family, I already feel very connected here in Chile, which is a great country rich in opportunities for both adventure and business!


Finally, last night Berner, Matti and I went back to Cerro Alegro in Valparaíso to eat at Samsara, the Thai restaurant Matti and I meant to try the previous time but couldn’t because they had no tables for us.  The food was pretty good, although surprisingly Chile doesn’t like spicy food, so the curry sauces were overly sweet compared for my liking, but it was still very good.  I’ll finish with the below picture of Matti and I.  Today I take off on a Chilean road trip to look for surf and snow.


We had a nice Thai dinner at Samsara in Cerro Alegro.

We had a nice Thai dinner at Samsara in Cerro Alegro.


Categories: Argentina, Bariloche, Chile, Reñaca | 1 Comment

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! …  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!



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!



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

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…


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

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!


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Saying Goodbye!

Saying goodbye to friends and colleagues doesn’t have to be a sad affair and probably the best way to ensure that saying goodbye is in fact a fun affair is to organize goodbye celebrations.  This is exactly what Donna and I did during our last two weeks living full time in San Francisco, thanks to a little planning on our part but more importantly to the amazing love and efforts our friends bestowed on us.

The first celebration was thanks to Donna’s friend and colleague Dan Landers.  Dan is from Brazil and he invited us over to his apartment for a going away meal.  He made for Donna and myself some churrascaria style steaks and taught us how to make chimmichurri dipping sauce for the meat.  In classic Dan style he also whipped up for us Donna’s favorite Brazilian drink called the cairpirinhai, which is a sweet drink made from sugarcane rum, lime and sugar.  In addition to the excellent food we had an amazing bottle of wine to drink thanks to Kayvan Malek, a colleague of mine at Blackrock who runs our group’s commodities team.  A few months back Kayvan gave me a Cabernet from 1991 and on this evening the perfectly aged wine paired most excellently with Dan’s steaks.  It was a meal I won’t soon forget!

Dan Landers made a fine churrascaria steak dinner and we drank a '91 Cabernet thanks to Kayvan Malek

Dan Landers made a fine churrascaria steak dinner and we drank a ’91 Cabernet thanks to Kayvan Malek

On the day before our last day at Blackrock, Donna and I’s respective teams joined forces to sponsor a tandem going away drinks celebration.  Many thanks to Paul Harrison and Brian Feurtado for approving this awesome use of company funds; yes the team-building and camaraderie was worth it!  We rented out a private area at Local Edition, a spot with excellent mixed drinks and a speakeasy style atmosphere.  The turnout was awesome and it was fantastic to see everyone come out to enjoy each other’s company.  For a few of us the night kept going with a dinner at Hakkasan followed by a bottle of champagne at Phil Hodge’s house.  What a great evening, thanks everyone!

The most wild of the celebrations was organized by none other than Donna’s amazing roommate Natalie Ragan.  She rented out the back area of Rosewood, a bar that straddles the border between Chinatown and North Beach on Broadway street.  Our group had control of the jukebox, a bar complete with customized drinks, a projected stream of photos collected over the years, and enough space for about 100 of our San Francisco friends to get wild together!  Appropriately, the amazing night ended with cheap Chinese food next door after we were booted out at 2am.  Good times and much love to all who showed up!

I also have to throw a shout out to Dave Piazza, my former jefe at Blackrock, who organized a more personal gathering for myself and a few others at his place in Lower Haight.  His backyard is awesome and we enjoyed fresh abalone (fished out of the water and prepared by me!) and a lot of other delicious dishes prepared by Stephanie Lee.  Thanks everyone!

There is a reason why this backyard has been prominently featured in a local blog called "Backyards of the Lower Haight"

There is a reason why this backyard has been prominently featured in a local blog called “Backyards of the Lower Haight”

The following week was one of the busiest of my life.  My last day at Blackrock was July 18 and our departure to South America was to happen on July 29, which means I had about 10 days to 1) finish repowering my sailboat, Joyous, with diesel motor — a project I’ve been working on for the last 8 months, 2) pack up everything I own into a storage unit and move out of my house, and 3) pack clothes and snow gear for our trip to South America.  It was a whirlwind indeed, but by Thursday July 24, Jonah Lane, Chris Coleman and I were motoring around the SF Bay and Joyous was BACK.  Although I am not going to immediately enjoy the fruits of the long, laborious journey that was this project, I am eager to do some sailing when I get back to SF in mid-September.

Just in time for me to leave to South America we finished the diesel repower for Joyous; but I will enjoy sailing her when I am back!

Just in time for me to leave to South America we finished the diesel repower for Joyous; but I will enjoy sailing her when I am back!

Meanwhile, as I was feverishly finishing up the work on Joyous, Donna made a short trip back to New York to visit with her parents and sister, Arlana, to say goodbye. They were able to squeeze in a fun family excursion to canoe down the Delaware Water Gap, re-living a family tradition since they were young kids. The water was warm and tranquil (aside from the occasional rapids) and was a very nice getaway with family before traveling down to Argentina.

Family Canoe Pic!

Family Canoe Pic!

By Monday, July 29, Donna and I had gotten all of our worldly possessions stuffed into a 6x6x8 foot Uhaul storage unit.  We didn’t pack up any furniture as our respective households were happy to take beds, TVs and desks off our hands.  I am actually glad not to have had to sell my stuff and to know that it is getting good use at the Great Highway Beach House.  By that evening we said our final goodbyes and the next afternoon we took off for Houston and the beginning of our adventure!

Categories: San Francisco | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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