While I was back in Canada for the holidays, a number of friends asked why I’d stopped blogging. The simple answer would be that life got in the way, that I wanted to focus on writing fiction which already soaked up most of my free time. Of course, answers like this are never that simple. Admittedly, part of me disliked the possibility of classmates, instructors, or potential freelance clients reading my blog and using it to judge my writing abilities. While I try to avoid posts that are utterly illegible, I wouldn’t call my itinerant ramblings an ideal sample of my work. On top of that, I realized that a successful blog requires a ridiculous amount of time and self-promotion. I regularly feel guilty publishing my blog posts on my own Facebook profile, so how could I ever expect to expand my reach beyond a contained circle of family and friends? However, the truth is that I miss blogging. Nobody expects Pulitzer-quality craftsmanship on packing strategies for backpackers, and I don’t know 3/4 of the people who read my blog posts. As for the time issue, that’s a poor excuse for anything. The amount of time I waste getting sucked into click-baited videos and articles each day would be more than enough to write a post of my own. More than anything, I came to the conclusion that I’d lost a bit of my identity in the past year. I became so focused on school and supplementing my studies with as much work as I could handle, that I slowly loosened my grip on the other important things in my life.
10 months + 12 countries= 861 meals.
From llama to cow intestines to ceviche to guinea pig to a LOT of rice and boiled potatoes, Latin America introduced me to a lot of new gastronomical challenges. Some were successes (I love alpaca!), while some left me feeling queasy (spit-roasted guinea pig is not a delicacy for me), but all reminded me that the secret to understanding a culture is through their food. Here is just a taste of what South American cuisine is all about.
Also, for a more detailed look at Peruvian cuisine, don’t forget to check out my post on the most typical Peruvian dishes.
The Salinas Grandes, located near Salta, are Argentina’s largest salt flats. Lauren and I booked a day-trip tour through our hostel (Hostel 7 Duendes) for 250 pesos each ($ 28 CAD). Our guide picked up at 7:30 AM. He immediately informed us that we would be ascending up to an altitude of over 4000 meters, and that we would stop at a gas station to pick up coca leaves to combat altitude sickness. He showed us how to roll the coca leaves and stick them in between our gums and cheek to suck out the juices.
Once we rounded up the rest of our group (seven of us altogether), we headed north along the highway.
The first stretch of the road was the worst. We climbed up around 1000 meters into some mountains and a sub-tropical rain forest. The road reminded me a lot of the road up to Holywell Park in Jamaica, full of very tight, windy turns. We all began feeling nauseous, and needed to stop for a break.
Soon, we left the province of Salta and arrived in the province Jujuy, which marked the beginning of the day’s largest climb in elevation. Jujuy is characterized by the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a dry, desert-like mountain range which resembles Arizona or Nevada. The mountains were a reddish-brown and covered in cacti.
We stopped outside a village called Purmamarca to admire El Cerro de los Siete Colores — the Hill of the Seven Colours — a magnificent rock formation caused by a combination of minerals.
The rest of the drive required a steep, rapid ascent up the side of two mountains. We ended up reaching an elevation of 4107 meters. When we got out of the van, we felt pretty lightheaded and short of breath, so we reached for another handful of coca leaves.
After the highest point, we descended slightly to reach the Salinas Grandes, over 200 km of salt flats. We were only allowed to stay on the flats for 30 minutes, because the sun was so strong out there. Even after such a short period, I could feel my cheeks burning.
The salt flats were exactly what I had anticipated: completely flat until they met the mountains, and blindingly white.
After we left the salt flats, we took the same road all the way back to Purmamarca, where we stopped for some lunch. In a small, touristy restaurant, I tried grilled, honey-glazed llama. It was nice to sample, but I found it pricey for the quality and taste. It was really dry, and didn’t come with any type of side dish.
Before leaving, we wandered the village, which was really just a giant artisan market surrounding the main square. In this part of Argentina, people looked a lot more indigenous than the Italian and Spaniards of Buenos Aires, a sign of the Quechua blood in the region.
At 5 PM, we drove back to Salta, arriving late in the evening.
Photos of Salta
There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in black and white. Maybe it’s because nothing ever is just that. Black and white is not our reality. We are forced into a world of colour, of multiple dimensions, of scents and smells and tastes. Yet once in awhile, we need to step and look at the simpler side of things. We need to see things in shades of grey.
Here of 50 black-and-white photos from South America. They look at the land, the cultures, and the people that I met along my journey.
The seasons have been out of whack for me this year.
I started off 2012 with a brisk Canadian winter, full of -30 days. That was normal. In March, I left on my trip, and began with a series of European winter-springs experiences: rain in the Netherlands, wind in Ireland, and sun in Portugal. From there, I headed to South America, and dove straight into autumn. In Brazil it was in the mid 30s, but by the time Lauren and I reached Patagonia, the days were crisp and the wind was fierce.
Despite that, we managed to have a few beautiful, sunny days in the Bariloche area. We took a beautiful road trip, climbed the ski slopes at Cerro Catedral, and checked out what National Geographic once called one of the World’s Top Viewpoints. Here are some of my favourite photos from our visit:
Carpe Diem. Two words written by the Roman poet, Horace.
Carpe Diem. Two words that I first learned while watching Robin Williams stand on desks in Dead Poets’ Society.
Carpe Diem. Two words that I pasted onto a cutout of a rock climber for my seventh grade English poster.
Carpe Diem. Two words that pop up on social media newsfeeds next to YOLO hashtags.
Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem.
Two words that we overuse. A cliché.
Yet a cliché that has stood through the centuries. A cliché we cling to, because of the hope it offers. Hope that we can live a full, rich life by plucking every opportunity while it is ripe. It’s this thought that helps us stop dreaming and start living.
So Carpe Diem are two words that I’ll hold on to, and words that I’ll now share with you in the form of some of my favourite travel quotes. Accompanying these quotes are photos from my road trip with my friend Lauren through the Seven Lakes district by San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. I hope you enjoy them, and perhaps find your own source of inspiration in the words and images.
Photo Friday: October 5, 2012: View From the Summit: Cerro Catedral, Bariloche, Patagonia — Argentina
Lauren and I spent a few hours hiking to the top of Cerro Catedral, a popular ski hill in Bariloche, Argentina. We were the only people that we passed who were hiking up; most took the chairlifts. With no clear signs or path to follow, we often found ourselves scrambling up the rock face, much to the amusement of the tourists who were passing over us, I’m sure. What a great feeling to finally reach the top and break open our well-deserved bag of Bariloche celebratory chocolate!
We were warned. Patagonia, at any time of year, is cold and windy. Patagonia in the winter? Don’t even go there.
But Lauren and I are brave Canadians, or so we’d like to think, so the cold was no excuse. We did decide to skip Ushuaia (the southernmost city on the planet), not just because of the weather, but moreso because we had just missed penguin season. Instead, we flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate.
El Calafate sits near the Chilean border, on the edge of Lago Argentino, the country’s largest lake. Characterized by cozy log cabins and chalets, the small town relies on the influx of tourists who come to visit El Parque Nacional de los Glaciares (National Glacier Park).
Through our hostel, we arranged to do a mini-trekking tour, which would give us the opportunity to cross a small section of the most famous glacier, Perito Moreno. With an area of 257 square kilometres, it’s the Earth’s third largest freshwater source. More importantly, it’s one of the world’s only stable glaciers, which makes it an important tool in global warming tests.
The morning of our tour, we woke up to a beautiful, red sunrise. But, like the sailors in the famous saying, we should have caught this warning. By the time we arrived at the national park, the rain was pelting down and the wind was merciless.
Our tour began with a short boat trip towards the glacial wall, which rises 60 meters above the water. We then walked through the forest to a rocky beach, where we strapped crampons on our shoes and began our glacial trek. The section that we crossed was full of dips and crevices, so we learned to walk up the ice “like a duck” and squat and kick our feet into the ice on the downward slopes.
Because of the terrain, I had trouble grasping the vastness of Perito Moreno from ground-level. To get a better idea, we took a bus to a nearby viewpoint. From there, we saw that the white-blue mass stretched all the way to the horizon. As we watched, several chunks of ice broke free and fell into the water with a canon-like blast.
By five-o-clock, we were drenched and shivering under our eight layers, so, we ended the day with a well-deserved hot chocolate in the visitors’ centre, where we debated our status as “tough Canadians.”
If You Go…
- Flights: Fly with Aerolineas Argentinas (Approx: $320 USD, one way from Buenos Aires)
- Stay: Hostel I Keu Ken (Budget option)
- Book a tour through the hostel or through one of the local tour agencies
- Our Mini-Trekking Tour: 550 Argentinian Pesos
- National Park Entrance Fee: 100 Argentinian Pesos