In New Zealand I had a car and a fellow backpacker waiting for me but this time I was totally alone. Once again I had no plans prepared and the plane would land in a few hours to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I didn’t speak the language. No friends in the whole continent.
Buenos Aires – A concrete jungle
I calmed down when I remembered favorable statistics about English skills of Argentinean people. The plane landed. I started my traditional process: claim the baggage, withdraw some cash, a bus to hostel, food from a super market and go to sleep. I took my bag from the belt and went to ask for an ATM.
Quickly I learned that spanish would be way to go. I found the bus stop after stumbling across the airport area. The waiting time was very unpleasant one hour. The 10km bus trip to down town took more than one hour as well.
I was frightened while walking towards the hostel in darkness. It’s well known fact that South American people work 16-hour days in silver mines to obey the order of the king of Spain. After the work day they mug a couple of turists just for fun. That’s what many people think about the continent.
The next day I was brave enough to take a walk. I held my bag by both hands. I made it back to the hostel. Maybe this is not so unsafe place? By avoiding the districts with bad reputation, staying inside when it’s dark and keeping valuables hidden should be enough to make traveling safe. It’s more propable to get punched in eastern Helsinki than here. I know this by experience.
Buenos Aires is the most boring city I have ever been. Too much concrete and too many people. Too hot ass well. But it’s the traffic hub to South America along with Santiago de Chile and Sao Paulo, Brazil. I spent three days in Buenos Aires and on one of those days I went to Uruguay by ferry.
Bariloche – What doesn’t kill you makes you pissed off
I had to choose the next destination. The bus trip to Bariloche, known of its breath taking sceneries, took immense 24 hours. Going out from the bus to get your legs straight wasn’t an option. Nevertheless, sitting in the bus was surprisingly effortless while listening music and podcasts. By the way, a laptop with an USB-port is great alternative for a power bank!
I wanted to take it easy in Bariloche and spent one week there. I made a couple of hikes and hang around in the city. With the help of hostel staff I got familiar with mate – one of the most interesting aspects of South American culture.
Mate is a drink similiar to tea. People add hot water from a thermo bottle and some kind of powder from those huge bags to their mate mugs during the day. Mate can also be “played” as a social game that has certain rules and etiquette that integrates seamlessly to everyday life. Someone could just casually offer a bus driver a sip from his mate when hopping in the bus.
If there would be a Finnish version, you would probably offer a gulp of spirit called Minttu to the shop assistant in a grocery store.
Now when I mentioned grocery stores, this was the point that I started to get really frustrated to some aspects of South American culture. No matter when I went to a shop or how simple my purchase was, the checkout process was always a total mess. It was like a circus. Each buyer had long and heartfelt conversation with the person behind the cashier. Each product was then analyzed with a great care. As the grande finale, cash was summed up many times, as slowly as possible. Maybe they even asked Dorothy from the next cahier to take a look to the corgeous spring onion.
Someone would say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But I say what doesn’t kill you makes you pissed off. I’m not kidding. I can live with hot weather temporarily for example, but it won’t make it especially fun to stand under direct sun light. Maybe you can prepare better to these unpleasant moments but you definitely won’t become immune.
El Chalten – The trecking capital
After arriving to Bariloche I hadn’t decided whether to continue to south or north from there. Beautiful pictures from Andes convinced me to travel further south to Patagonia.
This was also the point when I had to do big decisions about the rest of my around the world trip. I made a plan to go all the way down to Tierra del Fuego and to fly from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Cape Town, South Africa before New Year’s. These two decisions set the frame for my journey.
The bus trip to El Chalten from Barioche took gigantic 28 hours. When the hours went by, the roads got narrower all the time. When the bus stopped at the El Chalten bus station I hopped off legs swollen and eye bags size of grapes. Sleeping was luxury during these trips.
Only when I arrived to El Chalten I realized how significant trecking destination it was. The whole village had been built to serve tourism.
I accommodated to pre booked hostel as always. I had a plan to do just some small walk during next three days. Long walks were not my thing.
After a short talk with the receptionist in my hostel, I was convinced that I would have enough time to shake my legs fresh in trecking paths already today. Well, why not? I wore my sneakers and walked out.
20 kilometers later I was back in the hostel, but the view had been rewarding.
I woke up on my second day in El Chalten and felt I would need some rest after yesterdays hike. I was broken. But human mind can be surprising. According to weather forecast, it should be raining during my last day (the third day) in El Chalten so this could be the last chance to explore the area.
I prepared some lunch buns and checked out the path from my map. But little I knew what was ahead.
Continues in the next episode…