Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Sorry for the lack of Lott updates recently.  After returning from Costa Rica I took a ski trip to Meany Lodge with a bunch of friends.  In true Safety Third fashion I was skiing aggressively on the sun warmed crusted snow - which was a lot of fun until I hit a patch that wasn't sun warmed. My skis stopped suddenly. I didn't.  I landed on my shoulder and did some damage to my AC joint.  I'd show you the x-ray, but HIPAA let's my doctor charge $20 for a copy of it, and I didn't think you care quite that much.  So for the past couple of weeks I've been hanging out in Seattle catching up with people and rehabbing the shoulder.

This past weekend I did get a chance to head out to Leavenworth with a bunch of guys for a little tradition we call BaconLab.  We spent some time in the great outdoors doing guy stuff.  Like chopping wood.  And hiking in Icicle Canyon.


And swimming in the Wenatchee River.


Tucker's just swum to the opposite bank and back.  Arnie and I are slightly less ambitious - fully submerged is good enough - the shoulder's in rehab, remember?  We also watched some March Madness. And ate bacon.  Lots of bacon.


Mattson is the benevolent dictator of BaconLab and he'd purchased 21 pounds of various types for us for the weekend.  Jon, a rookie this year, decided we should really focus on the Lab part of BaconLab and brought 8 pounds of uncured pork belly and his smoker.  Technically we didn't smoke them long enough to be proper bacon, but they were still amazing.  Chinese Five Spice, Molasses, Brown Sugar and Savory.


Next year we're adding a meat slicer to the equipment list so we can make thinner slices appropriate for wrapping dates, asparagus, cocktail wieners, mushrooms et al. With the smoker, we also decided we should try a Bacon Explosion.  Two pounds of bacon, two pounds of sausage, dry rubbed, smoked and slathered in BBQ sauce, it's gotten a lot of hype.


And worth every last ounce of it.  Sliced and served on toasted hoagie rolls, it didn't last 15 minutes. The other main experiment were Brian's Bacon Burgers.  Hamburger and chopped up bacon, formed into patties and grilled.


Delicious, but unfortunately timed to be done simultaneously with the Bacon Explosion.  They were both late lunch on Saturday and induced a bit of a basketball coma until the Bacon Apple Pie was ready.


We finished the weekend happy and full.


But the bacon had defeated us.  Three pounds were packed home so only 21 + 8 - 3 = 26 pounds on the weekend. Plus 2 pounds sausage and 4 pounds steak.


Funny, that's still a bit shy of 42.7.

Looking forward to BaconLab10!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What we've got here...

Large crowds of camera-toting Japanese tourists, tour bus included - check!
A well running public transportation system, including extensive subway service - check!
Credit cards accepted everywhere - check!
A Thai restaurant across the street from my hostel - check... well, almost. Sadly the restaurant has closed recently.

So it certainly isn't failure to communicate... It does, however, seem as if I'm suddenly not in some South American 3rd world country anymore, as in while I was asleep on my minibus from Argentina, I didn't just cross the Andes, I suddenly ended up in Europe somewhere... As it turns out, this's just what Santiago, Chile is like - certainly the most modern and developed city I've seen on this continent so far. Other signs of almost first worldliness, by the way, include comparatively non-existent crime rate, plenty of English speakers, a place to watch Duke basketball on TV (retrospect: I would've been better off not watching...), and, of course, high prices.

So, after spending a full month in Argentina, and thoroughly enjoying the sights and the people, I have finally crossed over the menacingly toweing Andes and ended up in Santiago de Chile.

Last couple of weeks briefly summarized in pictures:

St. Patrick's Day in Bariloche. At a hostel run by an Irish couple. Around 3AM there was a spontaneous street parade

In comfort on my CAMA bus riding through the Lakes District on the way up to Mendoza. This is the way to spend 18 hours on the road... not the mini or the rickshaw!

In Mendoza I met up with Tim and we went wine tasting. He bought some wine. And was quite pleased with himself.

Puente del Inca - a natural bridge high up in the Andes. Almost like the one back in Kentucky... but in a far cooler location!

I found this abandoned bus sitting in the midst of the mountains. And took lots of pictures of it.

I really liked the bus. I figure in Bolivia, this bus would have still been in service

Aconcagua - at over 6,900 meters, the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere... and the Southern hemisphere... basically anywhere but the Himalayas.

And lest we think Santiago doesn't actually have plenty in common with the rest of South America, rest assured, it does. Starting with a large statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city. Not quite Cristo in Rio, but still here to remind you about Catholicism... daily!

Late Breaking news update: she was wrong, the Thai restaurant isn't really closed! It is alive and well, and serves an excellent chicken curry. Now, I officially like Santiago!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bridges of El Balson county

Lest you think I was in any way dissauded by my prior adventures in the mountains... Spent a day resting back in Bariloche, then promptly packed up my bags again and went back to the mountains, this time taking a two hour bus ride to the nearby town of El Balson, commonly described as something of a Patagonia Hippie enclave. There were certainly some hippies, lots of organic produce, a farm 1300m up in the mountains, and this statue in the central plaza of the town:

I later heard some theory of why it may be there, but it´s honestly not all that interesting, so it´s better left as just a weird statue in El Balson

At 12:30, a local bus picked me up by the square and headed off to the nearby mountains (odd side note: you can´t get anything to eat, other than ice cream, in this town until noon. Some restaurants even have signs claiming their kitchens are open all day, however, they were all closed that day, until 12). Arriving at the trail head, it was obvious pretty quickly that I wasn´t hiking in a national park this time. No 30 peso entry fee and the trails aren`t in nearly as good of a condition or as well marked. Most emblematic were the bridges:

The first bridge I came to leaned a little to the right

Look out below!

After a few hours of going uphill, I was almost at the mountain hut and the bridge was even better

The trail markings saying ´hi´ along the way...

The hike itself was pleasant enough though as I reached the refugio in about 4 hours, after getting an estimate of 5-7 hours at the start. Even managed to go through 30 minutes of Spanish lessons on my iPod on the way up. At the end of my hike was Refugio Helio Azul, located in the middle of the woods at 1300m, yet featuring a farm (I´d never seen cows grazing in the middle of the woods before) and a rather deserted football field.

No tent to carry = light backpack!

Once at the top, there´s a few shorter hikes you can do to see some of the nearby attractions, starting with a little waterfall:

Smile for the camera... and hope it doesn´t fall into the water!

Water rushing down below

The next morning, instead of heading straight down the mountain, I instead went climbing some more to get up to the lake and glacier above the refugio:

The mountain near the refugio. Basked in bright blue skies in the morning after a disappointingly gray sky the day before

And at the top of that range, a lake and a glacier crawling down to it

Sporting some bright new sunglasses

The night before, at the refugio, there was the hut warden there, 3 israelis (you just don´t go a day in Patagonia without running into a bunch of Israelis) who were heading to another hut before dark, two people camping, me, and a couple from Buenos Aires (Florencia and Julian, who thankfully both spoke English), so it was a pretty relaxed evening. Considering that I got exactly three hours of sleep the night before, I slept quite peacefully for 11 hours up there! Before going to bed, a conversation with the Argentinian couple, highlighting the pitfalls of learning new languages, after the cat residing at the refugio came out to hang out with us:
Alex: What´s the Spanish word for cat?
Florencia: gato
A: Oh, just like ´cake´ in French...
F: Yes... it also means, well, a street girl, like in Palermo
A: funny, cat has a sexual connotation in English as well
F: Really?
A: (staying quiet, suddenly realizing that if they don´t know, I most certainly do not want to have to explain...)
a moment´s pause...
F: Oh, there´s that band, the Pussycats... So, does that mean street walkers also?
A: (experiencing dread) Well, no, it´s more of a reference to a part of the female anatomy...
F: Oh yes... I had heard that before
A: (sigh of relief)

So, yeah, I´m still making friends with the locals! The next morning, we said our goodbyes halfway up the ridge to the glacier (I had left earlier than they had, so met them on my way down), and I headed back down to El Balson (this time with no fears of missing my bus back to Bariloche). Decided that going down the same way would be boring, so took a different route, which was a couple hours longer, but didn´t requite a bus to get back to El Balson. At the end, after leaving the trail and on the way to town, run into some Argentine farm equipment:

Oh the deux cheveux... how we love thee - there´s a lot of them here in Argentina by the way, so yes, Cyrus, you should definitely buy one and drive it back to Seattle. And no, I am not coming with you. Even if you explain to me how that gear shift thing works!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Go big or go home: Argentina

Well, Buenos Aires was nice. It´s urban, and fun, and has good food... and after 5 days there, I was ready to get back to the outdoors. So, off on another 20 hour bus ride to Bariloche, a town deep in the Andes, near the Argentina - Chile border, in the Lakes district, at the Northern edge of Patagonia.

There´s not much to the town itself... does have this nice little Cathedral, built about 60 years ago

Bariloche sits on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi

And the outdoors in Bariloche certainly doesn´t disappoint. It´s a big ski resort in the winter, while in the summer, you can hike all around, coming up to specatacular views of the mountains, glaciers, and lakes all around.

So, after a brief visit to the local park information office, I hopped onto a bus to the mountains and set off on a brief hike up to Refugio Frey.

A bit of a balancing act on the way up

The Refugio Frey mountain hut sits in a picturesque little valley, surrounded by mountains and flanked by a clear blue lake. To get back from Frey to the bus stop, you can either take the same route back as you took up, or scale the nearby mountains, cut across to the nearby top of the chair lifts and follow them back down to town.

The view from Refugio Frey

Since coming back down the same way is so obiously boring, I was inclined to go over the mountains and along the chairlift (go big or go home...). The hut warden lady (who appeared to be fluent in Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, German, and probably some others) assured me that the whole trek would take about two hours to the top of the chair lifts and another hour down, so I was leaving around 5, getting back down to town by 8 shouldn´t be a problem, and since it doesn´t get dark until after 8 here, and the last bus back to Bariloche was at 9:15, obviousoly I was off!

Passing by an even higher alpine lake on the way up

Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, making the pass in 3 hours likely involves knowing the proper path to take (it´s not particularly well marked) as opposed to the approach I was left with: go straight up, then aim for the top of the chairlift.

There was good news about reaching the top of the lift around 8 o´clock:

The moon coming up over the mountains was a pretty site from the top of the ridge

Sadly, there was also bad news: it was getting dark, I didn´t really know the best way down the mountain, and I now had about an hour to make my bus. Turns out it´s a fairly tall mountain, and the way down is in no way obvious, so when I came trotting out of the woods towards the bus station at 9:18, I was glad to know that the buses here don´t run quite as on schedule as in, say, Japan... Five minutes later, the bus showed up, and I was exchanging stories of the trek down with some other hikers catching the last bus. My highlights included galloping down the mountain side trying to dodge the bigger pieces of the underbrush and gathering as many of my belongings as I could in the dark after my backpack came open half way down (this cost me a pair of sunglasses...). By about 10:15, I was back at my hostel, enjoying the free dinner they provided.

No rest for the weary, so next day, I was up bright and early once more, catching another bus out of Bariloche, on my way to rent a bike and spend a day pedaling around Circuito Chico catching glimpses of the many lake vists out here (they don´t call it the Lake District for nothing). The bike ride was nice, but the circuit wasn´t really all that spectacular, and as you are simply pedaling down a paved road, was rather touristy, with plenty of cars and tour buses coming along for the ride.

Punto Panoramico did offer an impressive view of the lakes and the mountains though

And the next day, I decided it was time to visit the big mountain in the neighborhood: 3478m Mt. Tronador. Another 2 hour bus ride deposited a bunch of us in the tiny outpost of Pampa Linda, from which I set off on the hike up the mountain.

Passing by a spectacular waterfall coming out from under a glacier at the top of the mountain

And that evening, I was up close and personal with Mt. Tronador:

Usually a bit obscured by clouds

And a commanding view of the surrounding mountains from the peak, featuring a brilliant sunset here

The fun didn´t have to end there, as the next day five of us (plus a guide) were off to explore the nearby glacier:

featuring some very large crevasses

then learning how to climb straight up the wall of ice

And finally, yesterday I had a choice: do another hike across the glacier, descending to a camp site on the other side, camping there, then hiking up to Puerto Blest and catching a boat across the lake from there back to Bariloche (go big), or hiking back down to Pampa Linda, relaxing for a couple hours in the sun there, then catching the boring ´ol bus back to Bariloche, just in time to have dinner at the only Mexican restaurant in town (go home). Normally, I´d be all for going big in this case, but a few things were bothering me: cost of boring ´ol bus back to Bariloche: 35 pesos; the hike/boat: 270 pesos for the hike guide + 150 more for the boat. (Incidentally, the net difference of 385 pesos is approximately the price of a Bolivian visa). Furthermore, it was supposed to rain today (lies!) and not knowing that this was a lie, I wasn´t excited about hiking in the rain, and finally, the tent, I had rented specifically for that campsite (I camped at the refugio at the base of Tronador, but did also have a choice of just sleeping in the hut), was rather heavy, so not being overly excited about carrying it along for two more days, I headed straight back down to Pampa Linda and my Mexican food back in Bariloche... And, of course, back in Bariloche, I ran into Alfred, who was one of the passengers on the Antarctica cruise a month ago:

Alfred was making friends too...

South America has been surprsingly good about constantly running into people I either know from back home or had met earlier in the trip.

And after a relaxing (and not rainy!) Sunday here in Bariloche, tomorrow I´m off to do another couple of days of hiking at the nearby town of El Bason.

PS. Oh, and just one more thing here in Bariloche (just for you, Lott). Today was the ACC title game, and even though quite sadly it´s not on TV down here, I did get to find out that Duke beat Maryland in the semi-finals yesterday to advance to the championship game this afternoon, where they went on to defeat Florida State for the title - Go Duke!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On the road in Argentina

A few things in Argentina, other than the weird sculpture garden apparently celebrating Trans-Atlantic communications...

First things first, Cyrus and I got to Iguazu falls and spent a two days there, one each on the Brazilian and Argentinian side. At that point, Cyrus caught a flight on to Buenos Aires, while I decided to hang around and relax for a couple of days. Being encouraged by the fact that I was staying at the nicest hostel I´ve ever been to:

Argentinian luxury! It´s a former casino, and yes that´s a huge pool out front!

After a couple of days of this, I managed to tear myself away, and started heading for Buenos Aires myself. Now travel in Argentina is pretty amazing - being in no rush, I hopped on a bus, which took 20 hours to get to Rosario (which is on the way to Buenos Aires):

Here´s what you get: three seats to a row, meaning you get nice, wide armchairs. It reclines almost 180 degrees, so you can actually sleep. You get dinner service on board. You get entertainment, which is a good thing when they play the last Bond movie, and a horrible thing when they decide to play some astoundingly bad early 80´s music videos... It´s a double decker, so my seat in the front row had a panoramic view of the surroundings (sadly, the surroundings were characterized by rain for much of the journey). And apparently, Iguazu-Rosario is a route they really should discontinue, as the bus was virtually empty. All in all, high luxury.

The next day, I was in Rosario, which is a pretty little city a little ways up the river from Buneos Aires. It´s certainly smaller, and not quite as touristy, but quite pleasant to walk around in, and I suspect that if the rain didn´t insist on persisting intermittently, the waterfront would´ve been a really pleasant place to hang out. There´s also a large monument commemorating the creator of the Argentinian flag:

Not sure why the eternal flame was there, but I thought it did make for a nice photo op

And then, it was another 4 hours on an Argentinian bus to get back to Buenos Aires, just in time to catch up with Cyrus once more before he was to take off for Seattle. Buenos Aires is pretty compact, so it was a few more days of walking around and sight-seeing all around:

The Recoleta cemetery may be the most famous landmark in the city. The tombstones and mausoleums are quite remarkable. And there´s remarkably little grass to be seen, considering that this is a cemetery

Of course, everybody runs straight for Evita´s tomb. It´s actually fairly unremarkable...

The aluminum flower of Buenos Aires. It opens up in the morning, and closes again at night

And I recruited some Chilean tourists to get a picture of me in front of the flower

The Argentinian Congress building is pretty cool... loosely modeled on the Capitol in Washington, DC

And I´m not sure what this was, but it was a cool sight

And for some more unexpected things to do in Buenos Aires:

Not sure who decided it was a good idea to name a pizzeria chain ´Kentucky...´My first reaction was to duly avoid, but I ended up going there a couple days later and I have to admit, the KY special pizza with ham, mozzarella, mushrooms, anchovies, and roasted red peppers is actually quite good.

Also, the Davis Cup is on in Buenos Aires this weekend... So, I went and spent a very hot afternoon watching Juan Ignacio Chela beat somebody from Holland in five sets. The Dutch cheering section was the star of the show.

Today, I´m spending one last day hanging out in Buenos Aires, meeting up with Iris, who has also apparently decided to randomly show up in South America, then off to the mountains in Bariloche (on another fine Argentinian bus) this evening.