Thursday, November 8, 2012

Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay

Before boarding the ship I purchased in advance the Semester at Sea trip to El Calafate and Chalten in Patagonia, Argentina. As we approached South America I was a little hesitant about the trip, only because I would miss most of the time in Buenos Aires and Montevideo; the Patagonia trip was 4 nights and 5 days long, departing in Buenos Aires and rejoining the ship on a flight to Montevideo the night before leaving for Brazil. Also, none of my friends signed up for this trip and I didn’t know any of the students. My hesitations, as minor as they were, ended up being completely ridiculous; the Patagonia trip was a definite highlight of the voyage and one of the best trips I have ever been on in my life. I don’t really know what to say to capture Patagonia. I most likely can’t find the words to describe the surreal landscape. I already looked at my pictures and video, and although they give a good sense of what we saw, they don’t capture the feeling of standing there in person. I’ll won’t attempt to use superfluous words to describe a landscape that is somewhat indescribable, but I’ll first begin by saying that I fortunately got to see many parts of Buenos Aires on my one and only day in the city. I went on a city orientation Semester at Sea trip that drove through and stopped in different neighborhoods, including the Plaza de Mayo, La Boca, Puerto Madero, Palermo, and Recoleta, where we visited a variety of buildings, streets, and sights, such as La Casa Rosada, the pink government building in Plaza de Mayo, the colorful houses and tango artists on Caminito in La Boca, the streets and architecture of Puerto Madero and Palermo, and Evita’s grave in the Recoleta Cemetery. At night, a large group of us went out in Palermo for dinner and drinks. Don, Erika, Jake, Brett, Henri, Claire, Jessa, Kai, Kim, Holly, Patrick, and I went to a cool little bar while we waited for our tables at a popular local restaurant which ultimately lived up to its reputation, as they filled our table with Argentinian meats, sides, and dipping sauces in an impressive array of deliciousness. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the company of good friends. Soon after I joined our Patagonia trip in the Union at 3am for our early morning flight to El Calafate. What followed was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life. Our flight connected in Ushuaia, which is considered to be the southernmost city in the world, by Tierra del Fuego, where we flew over the massive snow-covered Andes Mountains, descending directly over the peaks, close enough to feel as if we might crash into the Andes. Upon arriving in El Calafate, our first stop was the Perito Moreno Glacier, a landmark that is often the picture used to represent Patagonia, and for good reasons. You look directly down on the massive glacier as it extends beyond the horizon and you can also walk further down to stand almost directly in front of the glacier. The contrast against the mountains on each side as well as the point where the glacier ends and the lake begins, creates a surreal landscape. The sound of huge pieces of ice falling off the glacier echoed through the silence of the area. Our evenings in town were also surprisingly fun. El Calafate is a charming small town, with great food, and I had a fun dinner with some students, followed by calafate ice cream and chocolate. Calafate is a local shrub grown for its fruit, with a unique taste that worked perfectly in ice cream and chocolate. The next day was the highlight of the trip for me and for many of the students as well. We started our morning in a small boat on a 3-hour ride through the Argentino Lake, passing through icebergs in what was without a doubt the best boat ride I’ve ever been on. The icebergs looked like CGI as we slowly passed by them and maneuvered in between them. We were all in wonder and awe at the glassy and still water and the various shades of blue in each iceberg, enhanced by the gray skies that actually brought out more color through the reflections on the icebergs. This would have been enough fun on its own, but from there we arrived at the Estancia Cristina, where we had lunch on the ranch before taking 4x4s up the mountain. The ride up the mountain became more interesting with every turn, as we ascended to a stunning view of the Andes Mountains. Once we arrived at the point where glacial erosion had occurred and we had to hike, we walked along the glacial rock, a surface that appears to belong on another planet. The hike led us to quite possibly the best viewpoint I have ever stood upon, as we looked at 3 different glaciers wedged between the Andes Mountains, most notably the Upsala Glacier. The small lake was a glowing shade of bluish-green that I had never seen before. Although the wind was incredibly powerful, making it difficult to talk into the wind, nobody wanted to leave. We were in an incredibly remote part of the world, where few people have probably stood, and I was in wonder and awe at my place in the world at that moment. On the way back to El Calafate, I had fun talking to our guides, who offered their thoughts on living on the ranch and exploring Patagonia, while sharing mate with me. Upon returning to town, all 16 of us had dinner together at one table, like a big Thanksgiving dinner. The next day we took a short boat ride to the Viedma Glacier, where we went ice climbing and ice trekking. To be honest, when I was guided along a thin ledge of snow to climb the ice with a crevasse below me, even though I had 2 ice picks in my hand, crampons on my boots, and a climbing rope, I was slightly hesitant upon looking up at the steep glacial ice in front of me; however, ascending was actually easier than going back down. Despite trusting the guide with the rope, repelling down is not easy without the proper posture and somewhat blind footwork to allow for a quicker descent. Ice climbing was definitely a rush and I wish I had more time to climb again. Afterwards we walked along the glacier, which provided stunning views of the expansive glacier. Looking ahead of me and seeing our group walking on top of the glacier, with crevasses everywhere in sight, appeared as if we were somewhere exceptionally difficult to reach, and in fact, we were. The glacial ice of Patagonia is a remote location seen by few people, and as we finished the day by having chilled Baileys with snow as our ice, served happily by our guides, we all marveled at the multitude of sights we were seeing. For the evening we moved on to our next location in Chalten, a much smaller town where we had dinner in a small charming log cabin with a fireplace. The next day we braved the Laguna de los Tres hike despite potentially bad weather. The first part of the hike was clear, as we walked through the forest with mountains and glaciers appearing on our side, but upon beginning the more challenging elevation gain, the weather turned bad. Most of us decided to hike anyway, through the rain which caused the rocky ascent to sound like and appear to be a koi pond waterfall. As we continued to ascend towards Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres the rain soon became snow, and our footing was on progressively deeper snow-covered ground. Although the viewpoints were diminished once we started to hike in a blizzard of snow, and Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres were not clearly seen, the thrill and adventure was clear, as we reached the summit with wind taking away our breath and snow falling in our faces. The hike was by no means over. Once we came back down towards the base camp, we hiked in a different direction back to the town of El Chalten. The hike provided us a great opportunity to talk to each other and at times hike silently, reflecting on the adventures of the past several days. The guides were fun to talk to. Talking to the locals in every country is always a highlight, helping our time in port feel more like an immersion in the country and feel much less touristy. The hike was a total of 28 kilometers, taking up the entire day and definitely wearing us down. The next day was clear and on our way out of El Chalten we were able to stop at a viewpoint that offered us a beautiful view of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres. We also stopped at La Leona, the historic hotel where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid away when they were on the run after robbing a bank. Our flight to Montevideo from Buenos Aires was delayed and it was a long day and night getting back to the ship, but all of us were grateful for every adventure in Patagonia. We all felt as if we shared a unique experience and visited some of the most beautiful sights in the world. Our closeness was evident, especially the next day when we all got together to make the most out of our one day in Montevideo. We walked around the new and old parts of the city until ship time at 1800 hours. I returned to the ship with various pastries that provided decadent snacks in my cabin on the voyage to our next port of Rio de Janeiro. Reflecting upon the trip to Patagonia helped me realize the importance of trying new experiences, going to places few have gone before, and having a curiosity and gratitude for the peacefulness and beauty of the world in which we live. Travel, explore, don’t hesitate, and see what’s out there, for this world is truly not to be missed!          


  1. Wow, Jonathan...what an absolutely amazing adventure you've been on! Thank you so much for sharing it with us through this blog! What an opportunity of a lifetime.

  2. My experiences started when I was 7-years-old and ultimately I'm sure that my experiences happened at that time so that one day I would meet excellent people like Jonathan.