After ten days together, it was time for the Patagonia dream team to part ways. My sister, Beth, headed straight to the Argentina side of Patagonia, while Claire and Kyle headed back up north to Santiago and over to the west coast. That left Elizabeth, Evan and I to head to Valdivia, Chile where Evan’s cousins live. This was the picture perfect place to recover from our long trek. It is literally paradise. Keith and Magda live on a farm and have two kids, an eight-year old girl and a five year-old boy. Their property is set right along the River Calle Calle, which made for a great spot to jump off the dock and swim in the heat of the day. They also have every type of fresh fruit we could have dreamed of growing right outside their house. Every day, we picked fresh blueberries, plums, pears, cherries, figs, and strawberries as we pleased. It was so neat. However, I don’t think my colon has ever dealt with so much fiber…. But that’s another story. It was an incredible experience to live the every day, relaxed routine of a true Chilean family- it’s amazing how many similarities as well as differences there are in the family unit around the world. I only pray I can instill in my family what Keith, Magda, Eva and Oliver have together.
Elizabeth spent the second half of the week in Chiloe, an island in southern Chile rich with culture and indigenous people while I finished the week with Evan and his family. The four days apart were almost too much for us to handle, so thank God we were set on meeting in Bariloche, Argentina next. And, fortunately, Claire and Kyle (Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law) were meeting us there too!
Thus started nearly three weeks of travels, mischief, adventures, laughter, wine, beer, love, and some more laughter with FOUR of us.
After traveling together almost completely one-on-one for three months, Elizabeth and I have realized how rare it is to find people that travel the same as we do, and “fit” into our travel quirks/norms/desires. It didn’t take long to realize that us four knuckleheads would travel together like four peas in a pod.
Destination #1 with the Fab Four: Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche is in southern Argentina, part of Argentina’s Patagonia. So after a week of rest and tranquility, it was back to crushing some outdoors activities. Bariloche is literally an outdoors playground. (It quickly became one of my favorite places we’ve visited…. I could have stayed there for good…)
A quick note about our living quarters in Bariloche: Shelter on the Lake. A married couple from the States decided a few years ago to move their young family to Bariloche (after discovering it as backpackers themselves) and start a guesthouse for backpackers– and they made it so that the stay would be FREE. We heard about this place and were slightly skeptical about the reality that a place like this existed (and/or what the catch was), but the rumors turned out to be BETTER than true. “The Shelter” became a home to us for three days. And to feel at home while living the nomadic life of a backpacker literally means the world. They stocked it with food, super comfortable beds, wonderful people, blessed conversations and an INSANE lake and mountain view out the common room window.
Main Bariloche highlights:
– Rock climbing! Real life, real rocks, real outdoors rock climbing folks. The Shelter took us basically for free to learn and lead climbs. We were all so out of our element (#citykids) that with each climb and small victory along the way, we were constantly encouraging and applauding each other. A couple hours in, the two main guides remarked, “We think you four are the most positive group we have ever taken climbing….” In all honesty, I thought Elizabeth and I were an encouraging and positive pair, but when we added Claire and Kyle to the mix, the positivity scale escalated to dangerous levels… This remained true for the rest of our travels together 🙂
– Circuito Chico: This was a 20-some-mile bike ride through the mountains, lakes, and pueblos in the Bariloche area. It was definitely not a ride for ninnies. It was super hilly and unbelievably beautiful. It was all on paved road, and I swear we got up to 40 miles per hour on some of the downhills… . And the views and landscape on this ride were just INSANE.
-Steak, wine, and chocolate dinner: Argentina is known for “asado” (grill out/ barbecue) and all things meat. Thus, we found ourselves a nice steak dinner one night. It did not disappoint– it made for one of the best and cheapest steak dinners I’ve ever had (aside from my dad’s grilled steak of course). The wine in Argentina is also the cheapest and best wine we’ve ever tasted– you can get a nice bottle for $3! Well, at least we considered it nice. And we left the surrounding/neighboring tables with a few cheap laughs- they served the wine in a ceramic pitcher shaped like a penguin and the wine flowed out of its mouth, so every time Kyle refilled our cups he made the most outrageous barfing sound I’ve ever heard…. It was objectively hilarious, and I’m still laughing as I think about it while writing this.
-Hike to El Frey: On our final day in Bariloche, Elizabeth and I hiked to one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen. It had a backdrop of the highest, most jagged, and beautiful rocks. Along the way, we met Hai, a Vietnamese Australian who bought us coffee at the Refugio at the top (nicest man ever) and shared with us his stories of escaping Vietnam with his family during the Vietnam War. His stories were truly incredible and his outlook on life was inspirational. He has encouraged me to learn more about and reach out to the many Vietnamese in the US- they are a beautiful people!
On Friday after a “Shabot” dinner with our new family at Shelter on the Lake, our time in Bariloche had to come to an end. All four of us found flights to Buenos Aires for cheaper than a bus ticket, so we hopped on that bandwagon real quick and made it to the capital city of Argentina in two hours instead of 24.
Destination #2 with the Fab Four: Uruguay
After a few-hour pitstop in Buenos Aires (where we discovered the answer to our cheap Argentinian food prayers, a restaurant called La Rey), we boarded what we thought was a five hour ferry across “Rio de la Plata” to spend five days in the country of Uruguay. There was a little confusion amongst the four of us when the ferry arrived at the port in Colonia, Uruguay. In typical South American fashion, it was not clear that we would all be getting off the ferry and on to a bus to get to Montevideo (we thought we were taking the ferry all the way to Montevideo). So, as more and more people got off the boat at Colonia, we were second guessing our plans of arriving in the capital city of a country none of us were familiar with at midnight on a Friday night. After what turned out to be a hilarious ten minutes of discussion and dispute amongst our group of four (we thought all the other passengers had changed their minds and knew better than to reach the capital city so late), we finally realized what the deal was… But not until we became the final passengers aboard the ferry and the cleaning crews came aboard…. You’d think one of the four of us, who can all speak adequate Spanish, would have asked someone what was going on. You probably had to be there for this one, but it was funny.
We made it on to a bus to Montevideo (along with everyone else from the ferry) and arrived around midnight, still with no place to stay. After hours of searching for a hostel (and even calling actual hotels) we admitted defeat. It was a Carnaval weekend in Montevideo, and there was literally NO room in any inn…. What to do when you’re legitimately homeless in Uruguay? What else is there to do other than hit the town with the locals until 530 am, and then sleep it off in the bus station. Although we were able to make lemonade out of lemons, this experience (and many similar experiences we’ve had while traveling) gives us such a deeper gratitude for simply having a place to stay and a FLAT surface to sleep on. Sidenote- We were “vertical” for so many hours in a row that my and Elizabeth’s ankles and feet swelled like balloons! (Nurses: Talk about +3 pitting edema!)
The rest of our short visit to Uruguay was wonderful. It proved to be the most “tranquilo” and calm country we have visited, and the people were genuinely so kind. We had a great ‘Uruguallo’ guide through Montevideo, Joaquin, who showed us a great time. We ate Uruguallo asado, went to a traditional Carnaval show, ate delicious Chivitos (the country’s famous sandwich), walked by every single person drinking and carrying their own ‘mate’ tea, went to a couple beaches that were half salt water and half freshwater (the ol’ where the river meets the ocean routine), drank beers in the street because it’s legal (marijuana is also now legal throughout the country, but we didn’t partake in that one), and even woke up with bedbugs one morning (we earned our long term traveler’s wings with this one). Then we boarded the ferry back to Argentina.
Overall, Uruguay was a wonderful stop for us– next up, Iguazu Falls, Argentina!